Monday, April 19, 2010
Para Dressage Athlete Mary Jordan (USA) Blogs About Her Journey to the 2010 Games
My name is Mary Jordan and I am a Grade 4 Para- Equestrian Dressage rider with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) from Wells, Maine. I am sitting in a plane somewhere over the United States on my way to speak at a special program for MS patients, savoring this quiet time to start my blog, to chronicle my journey toward the 2010 Alltech World Equestrian Games (WEG) in Para-Equestrian Dressage. What an exciting year it has been! My goal is to earn a slot on Team USA at the WEG. Currently 13 US Para-Equestrians scores (including myself) have scores that will allow us to compete in the US Selection Trials June 24-27, 2010 at Lamplight Equestrian Center in Wayne, Illinois, outside of Chicago. A total of 10 riders will be selected for the WEG; four will make the team and six will ride as individuals. I thought along the way I would share my training experiences with my horse “Paxton Abbey,” a Hanoverian cross mare who was born in my lap and who has been my loyal competition partner, as well as share my physical training I am doing as an MS patient to be ready for this level of competition. (Pictured: Alan, Mary and Tristan Jordan with her two horses, P. Sparrow Socks (left) and Paxton Abbey (right)).
First, A Little Background…
As a lifelong equestrian growing up in Clinton, New York I had an inexplicable love of horses from the time I could walk and talk and wander around the dairy farms of upstate New York. Over the years I have seriously and successfully competed at the regional and national levels in dressage and eventing on horses I have bred, raised and trained myself. Along the way I spent my earliest years around hunter/jumpers, was involved in the US Pony Clubs, served as a staff member in foxhunting, and later bred my own horses and showed them in-hand at major breed shows such as Dressage at Devon.
Riding is clearly one thing I love to do; the other is writing. On the professional side of things I have worked as a journalist, editor, freelance writer, therapeutic riding instructor and public relations (PR) professional. I currently am an MS motivational speaker working with the MS community around the country and also work with Pennfield Equine Feed Technologies as a Territory Manager in New England and New York. I always keep my hand in a variety of written projects which I enjoy. I work full-time and I am a mother and wife as well! I love doing all the things I do in my life!
My world, however, changed eight years ago when I became the third person in my family diagnosed with MS, a chronic neurologic disorder that affects approximately 440,000 people in the United States. A botched spinal tap early on left me unable to stand and walk for a short period of time and I feared I would never ride and compete again. I had four horses at the time and I put them up for sale. Despite that initial shock, I never gave up my dream to pursue my goals and I directed all of my energies to moving forward in a positive manner.
My fate was quite different, however, than the severe disability suffered by my father James, an Episcopal Minister and College Philosophy Professor who was quadriplegic I never saw stand or walk. The difference in our experience with the disease was largely because new medications that were available when I was first diagnosed were not invented at the time he showed symptoms as a young boy; sadly he lived and died when they were not available. I, however, immediately started daily injections of my MS medication three days after my diagnosis and it has made a world of difference.
Every day I feel blessed to be doing all that I am doing. To help move things forward I am involved in several MS research studies in Boston and am doing everything I can to contribute to finding a cure for MS, as well as helping people afflicted by the disease by sharing my story to offer them hope, inspiration and information.
Although I have been a dressage and event rider all of my life, my Para-Equestrian adventure started a year ago when I first got my classification as a Grade 4 Para-Equestrian in Seattle, which is basically the most able-bodied a Para athlete can be. The dressage is the equivalent of 3rd level, with the freestyle allowing more advanced movements.
From the start of this, my quest and goal was to ride internationally, to someday represent my country as an equestrian. Just 3 months after my classification I found myself in Holland and Germany training for the European Para-Equestrian Dressage 4* CPEDI Championships in Kristiansand, Norway with Dutch Coach Paulien Alberts of Emmen, Holland and riding a German Grand Prix stallion “Bohmer’s As” who was owned by her student Martina Bohmer of Lingen, Germany. We dubbed ourselves “Team International” since I was the sole American at the competition.
It was an intense immersion into the sport at this level, but it was an invaluable learning experience, showing me I could go above and beyond what I thought I was capable of achieving. In the training arena we had hybrids of 3 languages flowing, intense daily training and work, and three short weeks to transform ourselves into an international class FEI rider. Riding before five Olympic judges I wanted to give it my all and perform my best. No pressure!
From the start we were on a mission in Norway to achieve my qualifying scores which would allow me to ride in the US Selection Trials for the World Equestrian Games (WEG), riding against the highest quality and most inspirational horse and rider combinations in the world, some of whom went to the Olympics. I was the sole American, the wildcard, and I was tested on every level: my borrowed stallion had to be re-inspected at the jog after a long trailer and ferry ride from Germany to Norway and ultimately he passed with the amazing help from the British Equestrian Federation who stepped in to help since I was there alone (I am forever grateful!). In the end, however, we were successful earning three scores over 60 % from five Olympic judges and breaking into the Top 10 in the Musical Freestyle portion of the competition–the highest showing of any American Grade 4 rider at a 4-star level. One judge placed me as high as 5th with a score in the 70s…and I was thrilled!
Coming into this winter I dedicated myself into working with my mares “Paxton Abbey” and “P. Sparrow Socks” aka “Clever,” her little sister. Both horses are award-winning Hanoverian crosses I bred, raised and trained myself. They are phenomenal mares, thriving on working and showing, and they are very much a part of our family. Paxton will be my mount for the US Selection Trails and hopefully the WEG, and I am looking at several additional prospects now to borrow and bring as a second mount to the trials.
I thought in my blog I would share our journey, riding and training my horses, as well as insights into what I am doing to train myself physically as an MS patient. There is no mistake… any success from horses is a team effort, and as an MS patient sometimes you need to develop an even a larger support team than usual! I am indebted to the many people in my life and sponsors I have along the way, helping me on a number of different levels (I apologize if I left anyone out!!): my family and dear friends… all of you!!!; my MS sponsor for their inspiration and support; my neurologist Dr. Guy Buckle of MS Partners Center in Boston; my coach Paulien Alberts of Holland, her family and stable at De Oude Meerdijk in Emmen…as well as the legion of quality coaches I have had all along the way in jumping, eventing, dressage…so many of you have taught and inspired me; my dear friend Anna Kjellstrom and the entire staff at both and Kentucky Equine Research and Pennfield Equine Feed Technologies for their support and who also helped formulate my horses diets and offered unprecedented guidance and products to bring my horses into peak fitness; my vets past and present… the amazing Dr. Heidi Jorden, Dr. Jay Merriam and the TNT staff by Dr. Deme Erikson; my farrier Larry Giles, who himself has family members with MS; the staff at Quest Fitness in Kennebunk, Maine for their expertise and support into transforming me into a fit athlete; Back On Track, Horse Quencher and Charles Owen for your innovation and support!
GETTING STARTED…WHERE HAS EVERYBODY GONE?
January in Maine. A time of resolutions. A time of looking ahead to the spring US Selection Trials. Time to get fit. Ride. Plan ahead.
And then there is a Maine winter. Snow and more snow. Ice and 60 mph winds toppling 80-foot White Pines in my yard. Where did everyone go? I look around my wintry world and any dressage rider and trainer worth their salt have pointed their trailers south, to Florida and the Carolinas to escape the elements and train.
With my family here and my 13-year-old son in Junior High School the Wellington option was not in the cards. So we put the ‘ole Yankee ingenuity into play. Paulien, my coach from Holland, offered to come monthly to Maine for winter clinics to train me. I contacted my fellow snowbound Para-athletes and able-body dressage riders to come for weekend clinics which included help with musical freestyles –Paulien’s specialty.
I think people here thought I was nuts. I think people in Holland must have thought Paulien was nuts, flying into Boston on a Thursday in the winter, teaching two and a half days solid and then leaving for Amsterdam Sunday afternoon. But all I know is that Paulien and I, and our friends who are all diehards, are having a heck of a lot of fun and learning a lots about riding dressage.
It hasn’t been exactly easy. I fantasize about training around palm trees. Since I don’t have an indoor I have to truck over for every ride to nearby Spring Creek Farm, owned by Sarah and Nick Armentrout, who graciously hosted the clinics which were full each and every month. One Sunday morning it was -9 degrees below zero. Another evening I trucked to the indoor in a blizzard. On the trailer ride from my barn to the ring Paxton’s whiskers once completely froze. I live in layers of polar fleece and heat packs for my hands and feet, and I drink endless cups of hot coffee or tea to keep the blood flowing. But as Paulien and I both say in our weekly Skype chats: we are on a mission!
Stay tuned for Mary's next blog about how she stays fit as an athlete, and how she keeps her horses in top condition.