The 2015 Special Olympics World Games will be the largest sports and humanitarian event anywhere in the world this year. From July 28 through August 1, the Los Angeles Equestrian Center will be the competition site for the equestrian portion of the Games. Over 130 athletes from 27 countries, speaking 16 languages compete in four disciplines: equitation, trail, dressage and a team relay. The equestrian portion is being organized by Ride On, a local therapeutic riding program.
Lehua Custer, trainer and L.A. Chapter board member, has been invited to judge the dressage competition to be held on July 30, and she has graciously answered some questions for us!
How did you get involved with the Special Olympics World Games?
I was approached to judge the dressage portion of the Special Olympics by the equestrian coordinator, Bryan McQueeney of Ride On. For the last few years, I have judged the CALNET (California Network for Equestrian Therapy, Unlimited) show, an annual event that brings together local therapeutic riding programs with many types of riders involved: able-bodied, physically handicapped, and mentally handicapped.
After completing the USDF "L" program, I have judged many schooling shows. The judging is largely the same as for any dressage show. There are special dressage tests that have been formulated specifically for the Special Olympics, but I use the same general techniques and follow the same standard for every rider.
What horses will be used in the Games?
The horses that will be used must be very special horses. Ride On is supplying its horses, and the others are volunteered by private owners. The horses must be extremely well mannered under saddle and must be sound enough to comfortably complete the competition. The testers looked for safe, healthy, and tolerant horses. The horses must deal with multiple riders trying them out and then more than one rider using them throughout the games.
How will the athletes prepare for competition with their (new) partners?
The riders and horses will assemble a few days before the competition begins. The horses will need time to settle, and the riders will begin trying them out for the competition. That process will continue for a few days until all riders are matched with horses.
Who else from your barn, Lehua Custer Dressage, will be volunteering—in both the volunteer ranks, and in the ring?
As far as I know, the volunteers from my barn include Bettina Martin, Angela Tinsley, Bryce Quinto, and Kristin Madsen (there may be others). The horses that we will be donating include Ramazotti (owned by me), Jack (owned by Bryce), and possibly Cyprus (owned by Katy Wanner).
How can the public support the Special Olympics World Games?
Official volunteering registration has closed, but there are still opportunities to get involved in this amazing event:
Horses are in integral part of many successful therapy programs. What benefits do you (personally) think horses can provide for people with disabilities?
I have had the pleasure of volunteering at therapeutic riding centers and judging CALNET, so I've been able to watch people light up when they are around horses. Horses provide legs for people who can't walk. Horses help insecure people find confidence. They bring shutdown people out of their shells. You are totally living in the moment when you're on a horse; it's therapeutic for all riders.