Para-Equestrian Dressage Symposium Energizes U.S. Riders and Trainers

Coaches Kai Handt and Wes Dunham demonstrate working together with rider Sydney Collier and horse Wentworth. Photos by Lindsay McCall.

Lyman, Maine – June 2, 2013 – One term often used in reference to future medal winning U.S. high-performance equestrians is the word ‘development’. By further educating and integrating the athletes, judges, trainers, and supporters from all levels will help develop and evolve each discipline. The 2013 U.S. Para-Equestrian Dressage Symposium created the platform to accomplish this task. At the Carlisle Academy Integrative Equine Therapy & Sports in Lyman, Maine, internationally acclaimed trainers and judges stepped forward to conduct a weekend of Para-Dressage education. From May 29 – June 1, equestrians from Grade Ia – Grade IV received classroom training, lectures, video training, and live riding lessons. In addition to equestrian training there was the “Train the Trainer” program and “SmartPak Coaches Forum”. Subjects addressed at the symposium included training the coaches, teamwork, and building upon each athlete’s current skills. Expert leaders at the symposium were FEI “O” Judge and Olympic Technical Delegate Hanneke Gerritsen of Holland, Gold medal Great Britain Paralympic coach Clive Milkins, international Dressage rider Catherine Haddad Staller, and former USEF High Performance Dressage Director Gil Merrick. Carlisle has partnered with the United States Equestrian Federation, United States Para-Equestrian Association, and SmartPak for the first in a series of educational events across the United States.

For the past three years Hanneke Gerritsen has traveled to Lyman, Maine, as the original education leader.  In 2013, Gerritsen was impressed with how far the event had come. She noted, “I think it was a great event, very well organized, and a pleasure for everyone involved. I was delighted to see how the athletes improved in only three to four days. In a short amount of time they understood what we like to see as judges and trainers. Riders’ skills ranged from beginners to advanced and the up and coming ones I saw were really doing well. Equestrians I saw in the past have come back and each one has improved. The discipline – it’s growing slowly. It’s so important to be together, ride together, and see each other in one venue and informational atmosphere. I am seeing things that we hoped for years ago and now find on an everyday basis.”

Gerritsen continued, “The Symposium is a very good concept especially for the future. It was nice to see beginners react to this event in a positive way. It’s important for riders see more and hear more whether they are new to the sport or veteran athletes.”

Derrick Perkins and Mabel
Derrick Perkins and Mabel

Derrick Perkins of Texas, who rides with U.S. Paralympic trainer Kai Handt, was one of the newer Para-Dressage athletes. He joked, “I have been getting flashbacks of boot camp. On a serious note, the weekend has been wonderful. A lot of little details can make a world of difference in my riding. I am excited to get home and back to work with Kai.”

Model, actress, and brand new Para-Dressage athlete Elle Wooley agreed: “I couldn’t have imagined the symposium being as beneficial as it was. It really helped my confidence. When I watch upper level able-bodied riders I get a little jealous, so being around Para-Equestrians who are incredible riders and other people with ailments almost evens the playing field. Everyone cheered for each other and was really encouraging over the weekend.”

When Wooley approached the ring for her session with Hanneke Gerritsen, Hanneke said Wooley looked elegant on the horse Clever, owned by Mary Jordan, and she noted that it was rare to see a match well suited for a rider so quickly. Wooley commented, “Hanneke was wonderful. She was really helpful with accuracy, working on advanced movements, and creating the total package.”

Wooley continued, “Catherine was also very helpful with teaching me a new way to hold the reins. I have trouble turning to the right because I don’t have enough motion in my body, so that was something Catherine gave me pointers to work with. Before the symposium, I did not let myself dream I could earn a spot on the team for the World Equestrian Games or Rio. Now with my confidence and competitive drive, I am aiming for it. I would love to thank Carlisle for putting on the symposium. It was an incredible opportunity and I couldn’t have imagined it going so well.”

Para-Dressage rider Holly Jacobson brought her new horse George to the 2013 Symposium. “This was a great opportunity to bring my new horse, test out what I have been feeling, and receive feedback from Para-Dressage professionals,” articulated Jacobson. “This was our first road trip together and I couldn’t be happier with how mellow and well-behaved George was. I want to commend Carlisle for bringing in all different angles of Para-Dressage and working to gather this collection of riders new and old across the country. The energy a rider feels from this symposium makes you believe you can do things you didn’t realize you could.”

Catherine Haddad Staller agreed: “It was very helpful to the riders that they had a variety of clinicians that could help them. They also got to watch each other which was important as a learning experience. It’s always great when you can get a group of people together with similar goals. Good riding is good riding whether you are doing it as a Para-Equestrian or an able-bodied rider. What’s really fascinating to me is that there are a lot of riders that attended the clinic that have to ride one handed. I have done a lot of one handed riding in my life and I see how beneficial it is to the horse and how much it teaches people about correct contact. Overall, it was a really good experience and eye opening to see all of these people with their determination and drive. It is most moving for me to see how much horses really affect our lives at every level and how people, who have lost a lot of their motor skills, can still communicate on an extremely fine and high level with the horse. It’s fascinating for me.”

Athlete and Grade IV rider, Mary Jordan, said, “The symposium was a really wonderful experience. Riding Sebastian at the symposium took nothing away from the training that I have had at Blue Hill Farm with my coach Jessica Ransehousen. It was a great experience to go to a new environment. I really got a lot out of it and learned some new techniques for my horse. I never thought I would get a chance to ride with Clive and that was a thrill. Trying to become supple is a ‘chicken before the egg’ thing. It was the first item both Clive and Catherine focused on with me. Catherine was amazing with the tools she gave me to improve Sebastian’s walk. He has a correct walk but not always the biggest walk. To go from over tracking to really over tracking felt amazing.”

Gil Merrick enjoyed working with each rider and learning more about the Para-Dressage sport. He explained, “I have learned so much about this sport and I recognize it is so different from able-bodied. I also felt the symposium allowed for all of the participants, friends, family, owners, auditors and the clinicians to be able to spend four days as a community all committed to education. I was pleased to see the camaraderie among the riders. I know the quest to make it as a high-performance rider is shared by all. Nowhere did I hear the attitude that there was a long way to go. What I heard was, ‘Here is where we are and here’s the plan on how we are going to get to our next point.’ There is so much room for growth within the U.S. in this country and through the Para-Equestrian movement.”

Coach Kai Handt from the North Texas Equestrian Center addressed the need for growth: “I think it’s great that we had Clive Milkins here in the United States. He’s the number one coach in the world for Grades Ia and Ib. We learned a lot from him, he had good ideas, and he knows what he is doing; Clive is awesome. I think we have a lot of very good riders in the US but they need to be in a planned environment for competition. I feel riders need to have a two-staged system including national riders with a national championship and international riders. This would get more people involved and create a broader base to choose from. In Europe the Para-Equestrians begin from their first riding lesson at a young age. They know straightness and precision first before they are allowed to move beyond that. We really need to grow the Para-Dressage discipline domestically and from the young potential equestrians.”

The United States Para-Equestrian Association would like to thank all of the trainers, judges, athletes, auditors, sponsors, horse owners, and equestrian enthusiasts for being involved in the 2013 Para-Equestrian Dressage Symposium. President of the USPEA Hope Hand expressed, “On behalf of our organization we would like to thank USEF and SmartPak for partnering on this educational event. We would also like to express our gratitude to Carlisle Academy Integrative Equine Therapy & Sports. Extreme thanks go to Sarah Armentrout, the staff at Carlisle Academy, and everyone else involved within the symposium. We look forward to future collaborations.”

For more information on the symposium contact Carlisle’s Training & Leadership Program Director Joyce Brown at at 207.985.0374. Questions can also be directed to USPEA President Hope Hand at

WCSH News Channel 6 Portland, Maine Video about the 2013 Para-Equestrian Dressage Symposium:

SmartPak Blog Update Day 1 of the 2013 Para-Equestrian Dressage Symposium:

SmartPak Blog Update Day 2 of the 2013 Para-Equestrian Dressage Symposium:

Written by: Lindsay Y McCall

To view an online version of this press release with more photos, please visit:

About United States Para-Equestrian Association:

The USPEA is a network of riders, judges, national federation board members, and equestrian enthusiasts.  The association gives athletes the ability to get involved and expand their knowledge and experience in the Para-Equestrian sport. The USPEA encourages para-athletes to participate in all disciplines under the para-equestrian umbrella.

The USPEA is a recognized affiliate of the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) which serves as the National Governing Body for the equestrian sport.  This relationship between the USPEA and USEF is to encourage para-equestrian competitors, leisure riders, coaches, fans and enthusiasts to network and get involved with the entire equestrian sport.

Ultimately the goal of the USPEA is to foster growth in the para-equestrian discipline.  From growth in the number of participants to growth as a team, and growth in the experience and knowledge of all involved.  From local horse shows to international Olympic Games, the USPEA will provide para-equestrians the knowledge of what they need to succeed.  The USPEA connects with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI), the United States Dressage Federation (USDF), and USEF which provides Para-Equestrians the top equestrian resources.

In June 2010, the USPEA earned its 501 (c)(3) status which has encouraged supporters to help supply funding to the Para-Equestrian Team as a recognized affiliate of the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF).

For more information about the USPEA, please visit or contact USPEA President Hope Hand by e-mail: or by phone: (610)356-6481.

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