Adaptations for Harmonious Dressage
A t the 2015 Professional Association for Therapeutic Horsemanship International Horse Exposition at Fieldstone Farm in Ohio, Lauren Barwick’s mare, Fergi, is clearly energized by the cold, the audience and the unfamiliar arena, yet her attention remains on Barwick. After groundwork, Barwick cues Fergi to come to the center of the circle. She drops the rope, ground-tying the large bay mare who stands quietly. Barwick elevates the seat of her wheelchair; then, without assistance, she lifts a dressage saddle over her head and onto Fergi’s back, proceeding to tack the mare completely. Next, two friends assist Barwick from her wheelchair onto Fergi’s back. She settles into her customized saddle, which features large standard knee rolls, extra blocks behind her thighs and a mounted handle bar. She applies Velcro straps, designed to break loose in an emergency, over her thighs while her assistants do the same with straps around boots and stirrups. The straps help Barwick maintain the position of her lower extremities, over which she has no visceral control. An assistant then hands Barwick two dressage whips, one for each hand, which she uses to cue Fergi in place of typical leg aids.
At Barwick’s cue, Fergi marches forward with an energetic, swinging free walk. An assistant turns on pop music with inspirational lyrics (think Sara Bareilles’s “Brave”). Barwick and Fergi school at walk, trot and canter, including collection and extension at all gaits, lateral movements and flying changes of lead. The accuracy, precision and fluidity with which the pair execute advanced movements highlight Barwick’s exceptional athleticism and showcase Fergi’s dynamic warmblood gaits. They are clearly an intently focused world-class competitive team. At the same time, Barwick’s playful approach, frequent praise for her horse and choice of music also give the impression of a deeply intuitive rider out having fantastic fun with her highly engaged horse. Among the audience, there is the undeniable feeling of reverence, captivation and elevation that watching the very best dressage inspires. We bear witness to a level of harmony between horse and rider where each is empowered by the other to become greater than she would be alone.
Barwick’s custom saddle features large standard knee rolls, extra blocks behind her thighs and a mounted handle bar. Velcro straps, designed to break loose in an emergency, go over her thighs and around her boots and stirrups. The straps help Barwick maintain the position of her lower extremities, over which she has no visceral control.