With content provided by: Maude Boulanger-Bouchard

As with many young girls who grow up riding recreationally and lessoning at a local barn, Michèle Forget never lost her connection with horses. Even though she left the sport as she got older, a life altering car accident brought Forget back as a mature rider in her 50s with as much interest and passion as decades before.

In 2015, Forget of Boisbriand, QC, suffered the loss of her left leg in a road collision as well as injuries to her right shoulder and several displaced disks in her back. It was a devastating accident but her story of perseverance, tenacity and strength didn’t stop with her initial physical healing and recovery.

A few years following the accident, now an amputee in her early 50s, Forget decided that she wanted to explore the opportunity of riding again. She contacted Maude Boulanger-Bouchard, an EC NCCP HP1 (High Performance) Hunter/Jumper Coach at the Centre Hippique (CH) Anémo in Mirabel, QC, about the possibility of taking lessons.

“I happened to answer the call when I was home between shows,” said Boulanger-Bouchard. “Being unaccustomed to helping amputees, I wasn’t ready to ask any of our instructors to take on the challenge and so I agreed to teach her myself on her older pony. It was the beginning of an adventure!”

CH Anémo is an Équi-Qualité certified boarding stable and classical riding centre that specializes in show jumping and athletes aspiring to elite levels of the sport. Forget began taking lessons and quickly became part of the barn family experiencing the other riders, boarders and teaching team to be very welcoming.

Forget and her newfound coach worked together to find ways to adapt and accommodate her disability and learned beside one another. They explored alternative mounting techniques, had her fitted for an air vest, and modified her breeches. Before Forget was fitted for a newer prosthetic, she sometimes had to ride with one leg due to scar tissue discomfort at her injury site.   

Parallel Lines: Hunter/Jumper Para Athlete Never Gave Up on Riding

Before Forget’s last surgery with her leased pony Cashemire and teammate Carolyne Hamel
Photo Credit: Maude Boulanger-Bouchard

In 2019, Forget was the recipient of an innovative surgery and received a new prosthetic. The updated technology and improved mobility were the catalyst for her to consider a performance pathway. She decided to ramp up her training and set her sights on the show ring.

Like for so many, the global pandemic restricted her lesson activities when the riding school had to close. So, to keep riding, Forget chose to lease one of the centre’s ponies a 22-year-old gelding named Cashemire.

After Cashemire’s retirement in 2020, Forget took on the lease of a former show horse owned by CH Anémo named Romance Vivaldi. She and the 21-year-old Canadian warmblood sired by Rajah, didn’t waste any time in their partnership and began training to compete in the cross rails division.

In 2022 Boulanger-Bouchard then suggested Forget join the team for the EC Gold show circuit in Ontario and the pair signed up and traveled to compete at the Ottawa Equestrian Tournaments at Wesley Clover. After 10 years away from competition himself, Vivaldi had his passport renewed and the then 23-year-old and his 57 year old rider took on new challenges. 

Forget and Vivaldi competing in the Ottawa National
Photo Credit: Sunkist Media

With few hunter/jumper para-athletes, it was new territory for both coach and officials to approach a competition with an athlete accommodation. While riding, Forget uses a dressage crop to ensure Vivaldi understands all of her aids.

Wanting to be completely clear, they contacted organizers in advance and met with the head stewards at each show to explain Forget’s situation and request the crop accommodation. The organizing committee was nothing but supportive and continued to keep the judges informed of the permission throughout the circuit.

The pair not only entered the show ring but went on to finish the circuit as Reserve Champions for 2022! Forget is now a full member of the barn’s performance team and has shared that she is the healthiest and most active she has been since 2015.

Forget is continuing to build her knowledge, taking on her EC Rider Levels and successfully obtaining her Level 3 in 2022. With a circuit stall in Ottawa for the 2023 season, Forget and Vivaldi are off to a great start – they were champions in their division at the recent Ottawa Welcome in May.

Outside the barn, Forget continues to dedicate her time to several organizations working to improve life and services to amputees. Her success in the show ring, let alone returning to the saddle, is proof that given the opportunity and support along with hope and determination – anything is possible. And that no matter your age or level of ability, equestrian sport is for everyone. 

Parallel Lines: Hunter/Jumper Para Athlete Never Gave Up on Riding

Forget and Vivaldi earning a winning ribbon
Photo Credit: Sunkist Media

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