[Grade 3 Para Dressage rider] Charlotte does not have use of her legs at all, so we have to train and teach the horses with other aids: weight, voice and balance are an integral part of this. And the horse has to be open minded, a super mover and generous to learn an entire new set of aids.Ruth Hogan-Poulsen
Grade 3 Para Dressage rider Charlotte Merle-Smith and her horse, Guata (Gigi), commute from their Ocala, Florida, home to fine-tune their training with Ruth Hogan-Poulsen at Bespoke Farm during the winter season.
Horses were always a part of Charlotte’s life, and she’d always dreamed of representing her country on the U.S. Equestrian Team (USET).
“However, in October 2007 I had to make some goal modifications after an ATV accident left me with spinal cord and brain injuries. My life is different now, and my riding discipline has change from Eventing to Para Dressage, but my desire to ride for my country at the Olympics and World Games remains a primary focus.”
Coaching a Para Dressage Rider
“I have been working with Charlotte for 8-10 years now… Time flies!” exclaimed Ruth recently.
A fellow native Vermonter, Charlotte knew of Ruth when she was living in Charlotte, Vermont, but they didn’t meet until 2012, after her accident. Charlotte said that Ruth worked hard to understand what the requirements and challenges are for the Grade 3 Para Dressage rider.
“Ruth wants to learn about it [coaching a para athlete] and wants to be involved. It makes me realize how great of a person she is because, no matter how wild her schedule is, she’ll make a spot for me.”Charlotte Merle-Smith
Ruth looks back at her time coaching Charlotte and all she has learned through the years working with Charlotte and her horses.
“Charlotte does not have use of her legs at all, so we have to train and teach the horses with other aids: weight, voice and balance are an integral part of this,” said Ruth, as she described the requirements of a Para dressage horse. “And the horse has to be open minded, a super mover and generous to learn an entire new set of aids.
As for coaching Charlotte and her equine partners in Para dressage, Ruth has enjoyed the creativity that these new challenges have inspired in her.
“I was up for the challenge and have loved every minute of having to be creative in teaching the horse new aids and yet still present the horse in a classical dressage frame and balance with power. I’m so proud and humbled to be a part of this team. I also have created all her competition freestyles. That also made me happy – and I always cry when she rides her freestyle in public 😊”
Training a Team Para Dressage Horse
In the early days, Ruth started working with Charlotte and her horse Ben, who had been her young rider eventing horse, and they have been on the journey together to find Charlotte the right equine partner for Para Dressage since then.
“It takes a very special horse to be a Team Para dressage horse,” explained Ruth. “That has been Charlotte’s goal from the beginning: to represent the USA in Para Dressage. Many trials and sale horses later, GiGi entered our lives. A blessing of a mare!”
This summer, Charlotte and Gigi, an eleven-year-old KWPN, took a major step closer to achieving this goal as they were selected as a reserve horse and rider for the Tokyo Paralympics.
“As a reserve pair, Gigi and I will travel to Aachen, Germany to quarantine and train with the team in preparation for Tokyo,” Charlotte described. “I will potentially be called up to compete should a team member be unable.”
To fulfill her commitment to the Team, Charlotte recently launched a GoFundMe to cover the costs beyond travel, board and lodging expenses for Gigi and her (which are covered by USET.)
“There are countless costs that are not covered, including: day fees for my critical support crew and our travel to and from team points of departure and arrival, horse shipping expenses prior to team departure and after return to the U.S., and increased training and therapeutic expenses related competing at the Olympic level—the list is long and costly!”
The U.S. Para Dressage Team is currently #1 in world rankings, so to be a reserve combination is a huge honor and accomplishment. Charlotte asks for help to fund her Team goal and the successful competitive partnership that she and Gigi have already proven.
Charlotte, her mom Susan and Ruth will leave for the PEQ quarantine and horse acclimation in Aachen, Germany on August 6. As the traveling reserve, they will travel and train with the team and step up to fulfill any position that is necessary.
Thanks for everyone’s support!
Interested in an training with Ruth Hogan-Poulsen? Ruth in-person and remote occasionally has slots become available. Read more about training with Ruth!