Tokyo Paralympics. Opening Ceremonies. The horses are not going!

The para’s horses will not be in the Opening Ceremonies today. They will be resting up in their stalls as on Wednesday the competition will begin. In the mornings the grooms take them out while the the air is cooler and give them some grass.

Photo courtesy of Alan Manning Team veterinarian.

So….what sort of horse is the right sort of horse for the Paralympics? A steady eddy? A steady packer? There are some very disabled riders on these horses surely safety is paramount. No, not really. Steady packer horses are not what is wanted. These para’s horses have to compete on some of the biggest stages in the world. They must be show horses. The most important thing is that they are suited for the job of having a para rider. That means they may take all their cues from two whips if the rider is not able to use their legs. Their rider may not be able to balance well and so the horse will adjust for that . Horses suited to para equestrian can do those things.

These horses know their rider needs help. When I interviewed J.P. Hourdegbait,equine massage therapist for the USA Para Team, he told me that the horse of American para equestrian Roxanne Trunnell is not a Steady Eddy at 5all! He said: “the horse ridden by Roxy Trunnell is a very flamboyant and hot horse but with Roxy he is quiet and he is her guardian. He says “don’t mess with my rider”. 

Roxanne is the highest ranked para dressage rider in the world as seen in the FEI Para Dressage World Individual ranking. She is in the most disabled category Grade 1. All of her test is at the walk. For this you must have a horse with an excellent walk. A walk that can score a 10 out of 10.

Roxanne and her horse Dolton .He has a fabulous walk!!
Roxanne’s trainer leads Dolton of the arena when they have finished their test. I took this photo at a CPEDI in Wellington Florida in early 2020.

I have no doubt Roxanne knows how important Dolton is for her riding and success in competition. She recently put up a photo on Facebook and this is what the caption said. “No matter how good or bad the ride, always be thankful to your horse…..He never sets out to disappoint you, horses don’t think that way.’ This is something we all need to remember as riders, para or able bodied!

The para horses are not just ridden by their para riders. They will have a groom, assistant or trainer who will get on and give the horse some exercise. What they will do with the horse depends on what level the rider is competing at. The Grade 1, who only walk, will not need to be so fit. But the upper grades who have walk and trot in their tests, and canter in their freestyle tests, will need to be fitter. However….the person who rides the para horse must remember how the para rides the horse and ride it the same way. For example ,Lauren Barwick, on the Canadian Para Equestrian Team in Tokyo , cannot use her legs so she gives her aids by using a tap with two whips that she carries. The able bodied rider who exercises the horse must do the same or the horse will be confused.

Finally I have a story to tell you about a horse I met several years ago when I volunteered at a para competition. The rider was a Paralympian severely disabled with Cerebral Palsy. I spoke with his assistant who exercised the horse. I asked her what the horse was like. “He can be quite saucy with me but with his rider he is always calm. He looks after him. ” Years later when the rider died there was a memorial service for him and the horse was brought to stand at the side. The wife of the rider spoke about him and what riding and the horse had meant to him. As she was speaking the horse threw his head up and called out with a long whiny. It was as if he knew his rider was gone and he was saying good bye. I have to add that the rider had left the horse to another para rider in his will so that horse is helping another para rider now.

This is Canadian Para Equestrian Jody Schloss. She will be competing in Tokyo. She rides without stirrups as for some riders having their feet in stirrups increases spasticity. Also if a rider should fall off it is safer as they will not be caught in the stirrup iron and dragged.

The Para Equestrian events are being live streamed by the CBC. But at 2am! So I will not be seeing that unless they show replays later in the day. I hope they will! I salute the Paralympic Equestrians and wish them the very best of luck.

15 Comments Add yours

  1. Lesley says:

    Thank you so much Anne for this wonderful post! It’s fascinating to read of the relationship between the horses and their riders and I love what Roxanne Trunnell says – that the horses never set out to disappoint us. It’s so true of all animals that we have a relationship with. If we are happy – they are happy. It’s been enlightening for me to read about the paralympians and their horses. I’d never given much thought to the technicalities of it before and I appreciate what they do a lot more now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      Thank you Lesley for this comment. I am happy to give these Paralympians some exposure both riders and horses!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. cigarman501 says:

    Thank you for clarifying many questions. Good luck to your team.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      Thank you so much for letting me know you were getting something from the posts.

      Like

  3. Jeff Rab says:

    Great post, and love the funeral story!!! Inspiring!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      Yes that was an amazing moment. Horses have extra perceptions that we had but have lost over our evolution . Thanks for your comment Jeff.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you ❣️ for this post. It’s amazing how the horses react on the riders. I love the way you describe and tell about the horses behaviour from your own experience too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      Thank you so much for this comment. I’m always hoping readers will see all the aspects of horses and their relationships with humans.

      Like

      1. You are welcome. You are doing an excellent job.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Diana says:

    Thank you for sharing the Paralympians! Beautiful post about amazing horses, riders and all the trainers and grooms included. ❤️❤️❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      Thanks Diana. I think these horses and riders and their support teams all need to be recognized! so thank you for this lovely comment!!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Great post here and great recent series of posts about the Tokyo Paralympics, the human athletes and their horses. And what an excellent quote “No matter how good or bad the ride, always be thankful to your horse…..He never sets out to disappoint you, horses don’t think that way.’” Definitely a needed reminder for all of us riders.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      I agree we all need to remember that . Thanks for commenting and I am happy to know you have found the posts interesting.

      Like

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