A Tale of Two Horse Shows

Spoiler alert: this story has a happy ending, but it was a bit dicey getting there. Some of the lessons I learned are general to the world of dressage in the digital age and some are specific to para. Of course, I had no idea what I didn’t know and really bumbled through the process. There were several minor and one profuse apology along the way. 

Read on, PLEASE learn from my mistakes! In my area, there doesn’t seem to be any other para riders showing in para classes, so it’s unchartered territory for everyone. My horse show experience is almost exclusively in the hunter realm from 1994 to roughly 2012 where there were no ride times, digital entries, or emailing show secretaries! I am totally new to online entries and dynamic, digital show schedules and scores. I should have asked the following questions and taken steps early in the registration process to have avoided some snafus.

  1. Do memberships, Safe Sport training, horse recordings well in advance of registering for horse shows. The memberships take a few days to be official and if there are errors, they can be caught and corrected early. Get coggins and vaccines in PDF format.
  2. Find USDF-sanctioned horse shows offering para on the USDF calendar. Check the prize list as soon as it’s posted online. Am I planning to ride more than one para test? Are there two para TOC classes listed on the prize list? If not, can accommodations be made?
  3. Send the show secretary USEF classification/dispensation and blank tests after getting answers about para TOC classes. 
  4. Ask about ride times, can I request riding back to back early in the process?
  5. Bring hard copies of all documents submitted online to the horse show. Also, have digital version available for easy emailing from my phone.
  6. Use the digital tools! Check ride times early and often on the online platform.

There were two rated shows sanctioned for para still standing on the USDF website after all the cancelled shows due to coronavirus. Snags from the beginning! I created an account on and went to register – oh, no! The classes I wanted to enter weren’t there. I emailed the show secretary and got the following response, “We aren’t offering para. We had it on our prize list for years, but never had entries.” I was devastated because USDF had listed them as being sanctioned for para. I sent a pleading response and she offered to ask show management. Eureka! They agreed. I kept plugging away on the entry – what?!  They only offered one para test of choice (TOC) and one musical freestyle (MFS). I needed two TOC classes; again, emailed the show secretary, she said, “Just register for the MFS and I’ll correct it later.” Phew! Ok, all ahead go. (This was a hard lesson learned later!) As the show approached, we still had outstanding items: Ann-Louise’s Safe Sport certificate, vaccinations, sending dispensations. Once the entries were submitted through the website, all corrections were sent directly to the show secretary via email. I finally got the clearance that everything was done. Now it was horse show time. 

In the COVID era of horse showing, there was a very socially distanced check-in process and *gasp* I didn’t have my membership cards with me. I didn’t think I would need them because I had put all of that information into the system when I registered, whoops! Fortunately, they were able to look them up on the spot. Then I had an outstanding late fee (because of all the stuff I had turned in late) which I paid with Venmo. God bless technology! The show manager tracked me down and said some incredibly encouraging words and conveyed they were so pleased to have someone entered in the para classes.

As a Grade II rider, my tests are ridden in a 20 x 40 ring. At this facility, there was room for an entire ring and warmup space for me. My tests went great. The judge loved Robin. We got scores that qualified us for Nationals. All was well.

Seeing as the first rated show went so well and we now had Nationals on the horizon, Ann-Louise and I thought we should get another big horse show under our belts. (Robin didn’t weigh in, but I’m sure he would have been in favor.) I dutifully logged into the online platform thinking this time would be a breeze. I had all the memberships done, waivers signed, vaccines, coggins, and Safe Sport. I double checked their online prize list. Yup, para TOC and para MFS were both listed. There was only one TOC, so I signed up one para TOC and one para MFS with my grade and test choices. Ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom I was feeling like maybe I had the hang of something. WRONG! The show secretary said I could not enter the MFS as a second TOC. Also, there was a discrepancy between Robin’s USEF card and my online entry. I hastily replied that this is what I had done at my other horse shows (of course omitting the fact that “my other horse shows” included two schooling shows and one rated show). She quickly informed me that this was not common and I should not have presumed that I could swap classes. Also, the discrepancy was not to be brushed off and that needed to be dealt with ASAP. She, of course, was right. My best course of action would have been to contact her ahead of time to see if two TOC was an option. I had assumed that because the first show had handled it this way that it was common practice. Unfortunately, my eagerness and inexperience came across as presumptiveness and arrogance. Enter my immediate, profuse, and very sincere apology. How could I possibly have made such a blunder? I was a wreck and contemplated scratching all together! I tried to be calm; technically, she never said it couldn’t happen and I not-so-patiently, but quietly waited for a response. I contacted USEF to get Robin’s registration fixed in the meantime. I had been the one to register him, so it defaulted to me as the owner rather than Ann-Louise. USEF graciously corrected the error without charging me the transfer fee. Then, to my amazement, the show secretary responded that they would make accommodations so I could ride both tests. Good! I was still feeling very sheepish about my gaffes, but was now focused on horse showing. 

The Tuesday before the horse show, the ride times arrived in my email. I had one ride before the lunch break and one ride after the lunch break. This was a fairly substantial hiccup for me. Conserving energy is one of my main focuses in life, not just in the riding sphere. My tests had always been back to back and I had no idea how it would go to ride an hour apart. I had not thought to ask for back to back ride times. This meant I had to reach out to the show secretary again, something I was not so keen on. I was afraid she was going to think I knew how to better schedule the rings (this couldn’t have been farther from the truth!) With a little encouragement from a friend (apparently most riders don’t want to go back to back), I emailed the show secretary again, this time very, very humbly, and asked if I could ride back to back. She said she would find out, but it indeed needed to be truly back to back. I assured her, I would come out of the ring for a few words from my trainer and march right back in. I waited and waited and waited for a response. It was Friday night, my ride times were 15 hours away with no word! I finally caved and emailed her again. About 30 seconds after hitting send, I remembered the ride times were posted online. DUH! I quickly checked, yup, my ride times had been rearranged back to back. I shot back another email telling her I found the updates and sorry for wasting her time. Goodness gracious, I felt like such a buffoon!

By show morning, I was a nervous wreck. I was so embarrassed to go face “these people.” This was a horse show where I knew more people, felt like I had more eyes on me, and I had been such a bumbling idiot through the whole registration process. I had let all of this get in my head and really lost sight of how much I love taking Robin into the show ring. As I drove to the barn, I was thinking, “If this is what big horse shows are like, I’m not sure I want to do this.” Then I saw Robin’s sweet face. Then we were at the horse show. Then I was warming up. He felt like a million bucks. Then I was in and out of the show ring. And yes, in fact, I love to do this more than anything else on the planet! 

These were some important lessons learned – from when and who to email to the confirmation that I really love this – now we’re even more ready for the next horse show. To reiterate again: get stuff done early, check the websites and prize lists early, ask questions early and humbly, have digital and hard copy documents at the ready, and use the online tools. Maybe there’s some way to let horse shows know that para riders need two para TOC classes. Maybe I’ll save that for my next series of blunders…

My MS mindspace.

This blog was originally titled, We All Enter At A, which is a paradressage euphemism for “we all put our pants on one leg at a time,” because all riders, disabled or able-bodied, start a dressage test by entering the ring at “A.” I stunted this blog by constricting it only to horses and my conversion from able-bodied hunter/jumpers to paradressage. The title MS Mindspace is literally both the space for my brain, where my MS resides, and also where my mind and identity dwell, harboring my ever-changing id, ego, and superego.

I adventure to emulate a New York Times blog I love. I admire its scope and rhetorical nature. The motif is food, but it wittingly promotes literature, music, people, and movements the author, Sam Sifton, finds worthy. Its appearance in my inbox is always cause for celebration.

Over the weekend, I spectated at a dressage show at Morven Park. It was a glorious day for a horse show. Spring is unveiling – hymnal birds, impending blossoms, life-reviving sunshine. Nimbus, my mobility scooter, and I rattled along the gravel drives and parking lots, anything but subtle. Presumptuously, I parked myself with the indoor ring steward and watched from the ingate. The rides were delightful; precise and stoic upper-level tests and lower-level tests which were clumsy, yet jubilant, in comparison. Eagerly, I envision myself bumbling through Intro A next month, my jaw already sore from the grin.


Morven Park has attempted to make the grounds handicap friendly. I was elated to see a ramp mounting block for paraequestrians. However, a four-inch step to the ramp for the indoor arena’s viewing area is not accessible for wheels. The number of times accessibility efforts fall short is astounding, not that I condemn anyone for it, it just doesn’t occur to most able-bodied people. I sent an inquiry via Morven’s website and hope to get an apologetic and action-promising response. I encourage you to do the same if you ever observe a similar oversight.

It’s almost garden planting time! I am vaguely aware of necessities like watering and weeding, but only just. Last year’s yield from our raised, micro garden (so named for its dwarf crops, not its acreage) was less than plentiful, nourishing mostly the wildlife. I have hopes for this year’s plot, equipped with my in-laws’ rototiller, high fences, and an automatic water. Is that basil I smell?

A coconut cream pie, fajitas on the grill, and an Easter egg hunt are on the docket for this weekend, I’ll let you know how those go. Hopefully by next week, the kids will be ear infection free and the rain will have stayed away. Humor as promised: Does February like March? No, but April may.

Exciting things are afoot!

Support team: check. Horse: check. Trainer: check. Plan: check. Funds: in progress.

I have made a lot of progress on my para-dressage journey in the last six months. My relationship with Brooke Waldron and Sprout Therapeutic Riding and Education Center is a foundational element of the triumph’s in the last months. Brooke was able to find Cody, a 14 year-old Oldenburg gelding who is the perfect eqine partner for me at this stage of this amazing journey. We found Lisa Hellmer to be my coach. She brings the technical aspects of the sport to the forefront and guides Cody and I as we develop as athletes. Before the end of the year, Cody and I will debut in the show ring.

In order for us to reach these goals, I need your help. I need to raise $13,075.40 for the remainder of the year to cover the cost of Cody, training, and competing.

I am doing a kickoff fundraiser called “144 envelopes.” It is a way for people to show their support in high and low dollar amounts. Imagine 144 envelopes, each with a number from 1 to 144 written on them. People choose an envelope with the dollar amount they would like to contribute. When all of the envelopes have been “filled” it totals $10,440. This is my kickoff fundraiser and will almost completely fund this journey in 2018. Thank you so much for your support whether or not you can make a donation. If you would prefer to donate using something other than Paypal, let me know via email, text, phone, or Facebook Messenger.

Old dog, two whips

The weather for my ride on Saturday was dreary, cold, late winter rain. Yuck! Duke, Maggie, and I were grateful for the lovely lit indoor ring. We worked on walk-trot transitions on a 20m circle. Are anyone’s transitions ever perfect enough they don’t need work? Well, ours aren’t even close to perfect. Without a leg aid to speak of, I am honing the use and timing of my seat and whip for transitions. Duke is in turn learning, but sees very little urgency in trotting and with my weak aids, who can blame him.

For the first time in my life, I rode with two dressage whips. What a sight! As a former hunter/eq rider, I’m used to my short little bat that never got in the way of anything. In dressage, keeping the whip across the thigh is one more thing to think about; two is almost a full-time job. Once I got used to the fistful of stuff in each hand (is this possible with double reins?!), it was amazingly useful. After about 15 minutes, Duke was piecing together that bilateral whip could equate to bilateral squeeze. Progress.

After the transition work, we did some spiral circles working on using my seat bones to ask for lateral movement. Both Duke and I put about 75% effort into this. But we did manage a recognizable 1/4 turn on the haunches.

I slipped on ice and badly sprained my right ankle when I was in college. For the last two to three years that I rode hunters, I had to tape it to keep it from rolling in the stirrup. I’ve been taping my right ankle for the past six weeks, but for Saturday, I taped both. My MS causes my leg to stiffen, jut in front of me, turning the knee and below down and in which is pretty much exactly where you don’t want your leg when you’re riding. Because the toes point in and down and because my ankles are so weak right now, they just break and roll in. The taping seems to help. It usually seems too tight as I do it, but never bothers me when I ride.

The spring schedule for lessons is out, I’m hoping to start riding twice a week. I know I’m on the schedule for Tuesday; so only eight days until I’m back in the saddle.

Seat’s seat is step number one

File Feb 10, 9 10 28 PMSo, last week Duke was perfectly fine for the lesson before mine, but was off as soon as I was in the tack. We assumed he took a bad step, but when it happened exactly the same way again today, I immediately thought, “It has to be the saddle.” New saddle, new horse.

I was gung-ho today! I wanted to work –hard–I wanted to be sore and tired and out of breath. I was not disappointed.

I have almost no control over where my legs are, while working or at rest. I asked Maggie to pull my leg out, rotate in, and pull it back. It slowly works its way forward and infront of me, but I hope it will work its way back in due time. I have been so concerned about how badly my leg jutted in front of me, how awful my ankles must look, and God forbid, I was pounding on this poor animal’s back, I forgot that I have gentle hands and a pretty decent seat. I tried to hone in on my seat and hands and as long as my legs didn’t hurt and weren’t punishing him, then let them do their thing.

Second breakthrough today was to just get moving – forget where his head is, forget how straight he is, just go! Thank goodness for the grab strap on the new saddle, I spent a few minutes just kicking (but let’s be honest, mostly whip) and flapping in the breeze. The great thing that came out of this is MOMENTUM, once I got him going, I actually had something to frame up. Back to basics, right?!

I also felt like I just need to spend time in the trot to let my body think and remember and figure it out. It really worked! We were moving, we were connected, we were straightening out, and then I could finally think about putting some thought into relaxing those spastic thigh and calf muscles. I need to strengthen my abdomen so I can rotate my pelvis forward. I hope that if I tip the pelvis forward it will drive the thigh back and in turn, the lower leg. If at least the lower leg was in a more appropriate place, it would at least look right and not be a hinderance, even if it’s not effective whatsoever.

After several minutes working in and out of the trot, I was winded, my entire leg was shaking, and my heart was pumping. I had a BEAUTIFUL final minute or so and we quit on a super high. I just lost it; I sobbed. There was a big part of me that thought I’d NEVER do this again, that this stupid disease had robbed this euphoria from me. For several minutes, I laid on Duke’s neck and just cried into his mane. Incredibly happy, triumphant tears. Similar to the ones running down my face now. I can’t believe I have to wait six more days before I’m in the saddle again.