Friday, February 3, 2012

For Sake of Appearance

Today I struggled once again with the issue of trying my best to look like everyone else and ride just like all the other capable riders in our barn.   In particular, the issue which came up was using a piece of equipment which as a para rider I am allowed to use versus struggling away to figure it out and perhaps not achieve such an easy or neat result.   I find it hard to explain my dilema, but In a nutshell, I do not like being labeled as "different", or as though I had special advantages.   I work very hard to minimize my own disabilities when seen in public and that goes for riding as well.   To me the best complement is when someone notices my mount and I riding really well together not realizing until later when I am unmounted that I am in fact disabled.    If I felt that my horse's well being was in any way compromised, I would use any legal device without hesitation.    That has not been the case for me so far.    I do wonder how my fellow para riders feel about this issue.


  1. Hi Dale, it's Jessica (we met at Waterloo, I took some photos of you).

    Keep in mind that I have had my disability my entire life, so I only know my body as it is, there isn't any as it was in my case.

    I rode for years and years with only a bucking strap. I rode all kinds of horses in various situations. It wasn't until 2009 when I rode with Jenny Nell that I learned about rubber bands. I band every ride now. I have the version where it's velcro. It's nearly impossible to see on a black rider boot. Bands helped me be a better rider for my horse, provided me with better stability and even helped to increase my confidence after a bout with a difficult horse who I had fallen from many times.

    I've tried a few other things here and there but it's the bands that made the biggest difference for me, in a positive way. I look at the aids as ways to help my team, me and my horse do what we need to do. At most I feel a little high maintenance but if there's one area of my life where I try very hard not to compare myself to others, it's in riding. At the end of the day it's about me and my horse, not me and those other riders.

    Unfortunately, people will have reactions to and it doesn't take being a person with a disability for that to happen. I have had trainers outright refuse to let me ride with my bands because of "safety" ie: they are uncomfortable, without letting me show them what a difference it makes. I would suggest trying some different things at home to see if they are beneficial. If you are uncomfortable with the aesthetic side, try doing it at an odd hour when fewer people will be around.

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I have been lucky and so far have been able with practice to ride with assistive devices or aids only temporarily. I do wonder if some of my own issue is a struggle to deal with a change in personal identity since I acquired my disability. I have always struggled to dress and fit in with peers - a hold over from teenage angst I am sure. I do ride daily with Ellie Brimmer and she swears by the On Tyte system of magnets in stirrups and boots. More expensive to start but undetectable and perhaps felt safer to instructors. There are some para coaches such as Kai Handt in Texas who feel that all paras should use rubber bands with every ride for security as losing a stirrup at a critical moment can be disasterous.
      Enjoy your riding during this warmer than average winter. I will be back in Ann Arbor by April 1. Hope to see you this spring. Dale

    2. Yep, I've tried the OnTytes via the trial system when Syd came and rode with Jenny at my barn, Syd is sponsored by OnTyte and had the trial booties. They prohibit my ankles from moving at all which is counter to my body, especially on a choppy or big mover, my right leg is not strong enough for me to release myself independently. If I can't independently remove myself from my aids I'm not comfortable using them. I also don't ride enough at the moment to justify the financial commitment that is the OnTyte system. They work great for some, but I didn't like them.

  2. Interesting post Dale!

    It made me think about my fist show as a para (plegic- not equestrian... LOL), and looking back I cannot believe the stuff I was trying to accomplish without any adaptations. I remember losing my stirrups on a 20m circle and thinking to myself, "$%#$%. I am going to have to stop now and try to get them because I don't dare canter with nothing!" So my horse came to the most perfect halt on the circle (everyone mumbling and whispering to each other "Why did she STOP!"), I somehow managed to use my crop to wiggle my feet back into the stirrups, and off we went. Those were the days...

    When we came to Del Mar, I was amazed by all of the things available to help! Granted, I am allowed far more adaptation than I would ever use at this point, some things, like bands, have made riding so much safer (and much less frustrating when I don't lost my stirrups at every corner). I agree that sometimes it is a struggle, and frustrating when people see you as different. On the other hand, the bands (nearly invisible unless you know) are what allow my disability to become almost invisible on a horse. I think that is one of the most amazing things about our great sport. Off a horse, we may never be able to run, never walk without looking down, and always look just a little "off." But on our horses, adaptations or none, we are able to fly. If people can't look beyond an extra whip or a band, then shame on them. True equestrians know that horses supply power, beauty and grace in even the most daunting of situations. As paras, I think we feel that every time we get on and never take that power or beauty for granted. We are blessed to have the opportunity to use equipment to make something that we would do with or without it, a little bit safer.

  3. Dale,

    I have struggled with this also. I just(last week) had a small handle put on the right side of my saddle for extentions. I have to say as beautifully as it was crafted, at first I hated it. But having it helps to give me extra sensory imput for that hand, as if I hit it, I know my right hand is too far back, almost indirect. On tytes are essential for dori flexion at all. I have gone thru design after design of split rein for my double to try to figure out the balance that is fair to the horse. After all this, I'm back to just my snaffle unaltered.

    But what I think you are talking about is the need to be perceived as "normal"...capable and all those other words paras don't often talk about. I've had cp all my life and have spent my life finding ways to "pass" as normal. Smoke and mirrors. All this out of fear of being labeled as disabled. I would tell past instructors that I had a slight weekness on my right side, because anybody who is normal can have a slight anything.

    Being in the para program has forced me to look at some of this. It's a slow and often private journey but an important one. I think using them as training aids is a great place to start. Then see how you feel. But NOTHING replaces good hard work. There is no cure all or 100% rule that every para should xyz...except wear a every rider should.I'll send you a link to lee persons recent article about placement of the paralympics. It boiled down to we have to see ourselves as equal to abled bodied athlete and live in that reality to model any problems in perception others may have. Modifications enable athletes. There's nothing to hide about that. There's no shame in being who you are. I admire you for opening it up to discussion. First time that I have seen anyone do that. Wendy