Elite Amateur Sport Equestrian Para Sport

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Therapeutic approach to life keeps para-equestrian rider Jody Schloss balanced

Jody Schloss. Photo: Cealy Tetley

By Martin Cleary

PARALYMPICS BOUND: If there’s one word that underscores the courageous life of Jody Schloss, it’s this – therapeutic. You’ll find it sprinkled throughout her life – in her past, her present and likely her future.

It’s there, when she made her raw return to equestrian riding at age 25, which was two years after a serious car accident in California. The accident left her in a coma for four months and took the life of her friend.

When Schloss, who started riding as an 11-year-old in Edmonton, got back on the horse, it was through a therapeutic riding course at the Community Association for Riders with Disabilities.

Schloss suffered a serious brain injury and a speech disability. She followed a strenuous rehab program, which allowed her to reconnect with riding again. But she needed two side-walkers and three braces around her trunk to start the process.

It’s there, when she wrote her 125-page, recently published book From Anguish to Hope. It focused on her recovery to give other survivors hope and allowed her to express herself better through her writing and her own poetry.

“That’s why it was therapeutic, because I got a lot out on paper and I didn’t end up yelling with people because I was able to process it,” Schloss told Globe and Mail writer Paul Attfield.

It’s there, when Schloss, a certified Equine Specialist for the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association, continues her education studies for a Therapeutic Recreation Diploma at Canadore College.

And it’s there, when Schloss moved to Ottawa in 2011 to train with a coach before her first Paralympic Games in London in 2012. She lived at an accessible retirement home in Barrhaven and “soon fell in love with where I lived.” Therapeutic as well.

Now Toronto-based, Schloss trains with coach Karis Van Essen at M2 Dressage in Millgrove, ON. She has dealt with adversity and change admirably and is in the final stages preparing for her second Paralympics this month in Tokyo.

Schloss and horse Lieutenant Lobin were named to Equestrian Canada’s para-dressage team with Lauren Barwick (Aldergrove, B.C.) and Sandrino, Winona Hartvikson (Langley, B.C.) and Onyx and Roberta Sheffield (Lincolnshire, Great Britain) and Fairuza.

Classified as a Grade 1 competitor, Schloss will ride Lobin in the individual test on Friday, Aug. 27, the dressage team test to music on Aug. 28, and the freestyle test on Aug. 30.

When Schloss competed at the London Paralympics with Inspector Rebus, they placed 11th in both the individual and freestyle events. Rebus contracted Cushing’s disease after the Games and needs a medication that is on the competition banned list.

“Nothing is the same between the Paralympics in London and that in Tokyo,” Schloss wrote in an email interview from a recent training camp in Aachen, Germany. “The major difference is the pandemic.

“I am more prepared for stress under pressure. I have been in many stressful competitions and a World Equestrian Games (2019). The difference will be that there will be no spectators visible to the eye.

“The good thing is my horse, Lobin, won’t be scared by the crowds. There is a lot of pressure to do well. After all, it is the Paralympics. In that respect, hopefully the Paralympics in London have trained me not to put excess pressure on myself.”

The 17-month-old COVID-19 pandemic affected a disappointed Schloss in two different ways. At the beginning of the pandemic, she wasn’t permitted to see Lobin for three months. Eventually, the barn owners allowed her to train with Lobin privately.

There were no dressage shows last summer because of the pandemic and the COVID equivalent for horses called Equine Herpes Virus, which was “running rampant at that time,” Schloss added.

But Schloss and Lobin did get into the competition mood last summer, when the COVID numbers improved. They had a mock Tokyo Paralympic meet at her coach’s barn.

Schloss wore a fleece jacket and winter riding breeches and Lobin was dressed with a wool quarter sheet in the hot sun to simulate the expected heat and humidity of Tokyo.

“Everything ran according to a tight schedule, and we adapted the outdoor ring to be the size for a Grade 1 rider,” Schloss explained. “So for Lobin, it was the same as a show.

“So even though we did not really show, we prepared for it like we were showing. Lobin and I have had lots of show experience (in five years). He has been performing beautifully lately. So, I am very excited for the Paralympics.”

Schloss, who participated as a torchbearer in the 2015 Parapan American Games relay, has had 87 dressage starts with Rebus and Lobin and earned 16 victories. Ranked third nationally, a top-eight Paralympic result is a reasonable goal.

Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.

When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.

Martin can be reached by e-mail at martincleary51@gmail.com and on Twitter @martincleary.

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