- Keep yourself as physically fit as possible. This will help you to imitate able-bodied riders more easily. You need to sit straight, for example. I have feeling from my belly button up, so I try to get the most out of what I've got. The better I sit straight, the better my horse goes because less weight is on his back, and I am able to push him more forward.
- Develop a good position. Just like the able-bodied riders, you just have to start with right position. Then everything comes easier.
- Keep your extra equipment as simple as possible. The best equipment helps you stay steady on the horse and also is useable on other saddles. One thing that really helps me--and is particularly good for paraplegics--is a surcingle with two hand grips that I can put around any saddle that fits my horse.
- Avoid chaffing. Any rider can get sores from rubbing against the saddle. Try to get the most comfortable saddle you can--one that fits the horse and you. Good equipment for special-needs riders is not a luxury. I use a Wintec saddle because it is light to handle.
- Don't be afraid of the horse going faster. In therapeutic riding, I was always at a slow pace. To become a competitive rider I had to learn how to push my horse more forward and create impulsion. To get a horse's back to come up under you requires more movement from him. When the back comes up, it is more comfortable, you sit better and you stop bouncing. Before, I never wanted to let my horse's head go because I was afraid he would take off at the canter. Now I am not afraid because, if he takes off in the canter, it means we got even more impulsion.
- Feel what the horse is doing. Begin to develop feel and a good seat by sitting just on a blanket over the horse's back so you can feel his motion. Then move to a saddle with a surcingle or whatever you need.
- The best horse to learn on is one with a quiet, forgiving temperament and a wide barrel, which helps you to balance in the center of the horse.
- Begin riding at a good therapy barn if you've never ridden before. It's great to be outdoors doing your therapy. If you know horses already and rode before you became disabled, you might not need to start at a therapy barn. Try a regular barn instead and ask them to assist you.
- To be competitive, disabled riders--like able-bodied riders--need sponsorship. It would be nice to have sponsors for disabled riders, too. They have all the same exact issues as the able-bodied riders, including finances.
- Find the right instructor. If the first person doesn't work out, keep looking. Keep following though. Be persistent.
- You have to find the right horse, especially when you're just getting started. You can't start off with a 5-year-old. I think the horse has made a big difference in the way I have progressed.
- Enjoy your time on top of the horse. I now can go on trail rides and not worry. It's like I have four legs when I'm walking through the woods. That's just incredible. For me to go walking through the woods or through the pasture is the biggest deal. I couldn't have done that without a horse.
To read more about Lynn Seidemann and dressage competitions for disabled riders, check out the January 2003 issue of Dressage Today magazine. For more information about national and international competition opportunities and training for riders with physical disabilities, visit the National Disability Sports Alliance Web site at www.ndsaequestrian.org.
Training Tips for Disabled Riders
U.S. Paralympic team member Lynn Seidemann gives her training advice to disabled riders and their instructors.