Eventing dreams to Para Dressage at NAJYRC – Madison Lawson is an inspiration

Madison seeing her beloved K-Low for the first time after the accident.


Madison Lawson is my best friend and she introduced me to the sport of Eventing when we were 10-years-old. We dreamed of Eventing at the upper levels together, but two years into our friendship, Madison’s Eventing dreams came to an abrupt end after a freak riding accident.

Together, we learned early that life is unfair and that you need to make the best from every situation. She has taught me more life lessons about sport than anyone else. Quitting is not an option when you have a dream. Madison and her amazing mom Nathalie are two of my biggest supporters and fans. My family watches these two in awe as they soldier on enjoying and loving the sport of dressage despite the hardships life has tossed their way.

Madison will be one of the first athletes to represent Canada at the North American Junior Young Rider Championships in the newly added Para Dressage, this week in Lexington, Kentucky,

Madison at 21-years-old, will be competing in the Young Rider division on Lawrence, a 14-year-old, Canadian Warmblood, gelding. Although she is proud to be making history by being one of the first riders to compete at the Para-Dressage championships, as a child she was an ambitious eventer.

Madison has risen above adversity and is accomplishing everything she dreamed of and more, just in a different discipline. Here is her story in her own words and she also answered some questions for all of you…


Madison and K-Low competing in early 2007.

Madison and K-low competing in early 2007.


From Sick Kids Hospital to the 2010 World Equestrian Games
On June 29, 2007, I was hacking a friend’s horse in our “field of dreams” with a small group from the barn. For some unknown reason, the horse spooked, reared, tossed me off, lost its balance and fell on top of me. I felt a sharp pain in my back, then couldn’t feel my legs. I knew my back was broken and with no feeling in my legs, I knew I was paralyzed and feared I would never ride again. I suffered a traumatic spinal cord injury.

I was airlifted to Sick Kids Hospital where I underwent a 13 hour operation to rebuild the crushed vertebrae in the middle and lower part of my back and fuse them to my spine using titanium rods. When asked if I would ever be able to ride again, my surgeon Dr. Reinhard Zeller’s response was, “I don’t know if you will even be able to walk again”, but he NEVER let me lose hope!


Madison during her recovery at Sick Children's Hospital in Toronto.

Madison during her recovery at Sick Children’s Hospital in Toronto.


Once I was stable enough, I was transferred to Bloorview Kids Rehab to start a very long and daunting journey of rehabilitation. I told my physiotherapist that my first goal was to walk ten steps which raised more than a few eyebrows! The first time I tried standing was the second most painful thing I’d ever experienced, with the accident being the first most painful. With much support, I did indeed manage to attain this goal.

Madison learning to walk again.

Madison learning to walk again.


I learned how to function normally with limited feeling in my legs. I even learned to do some fancy tricks in a wheelchair. It was many months of agonizing work before I could walk short distances without the aid of a walker.

I was so unhappy watching everyone riding around me that it made me decide to attempt riding again. With fierce determination, I got myself back in the saddle, eight months after the accident. Because of my handicap, I soon realized that I could no longer do Eventing; therefore, I changed course and focused all of my energy and attention on Dressage.

However, it soon became clear that my small thoroughbred was not suited for the Para Dressage discipline; so the search began. My dressage coach Elaine Potter was instrumental in bringing McGuire, my first real Dressage horse, into my life. I was in love the moment I met him. Once he became mine, it took awhile to digest that I owned such a talented and capable Dressage horse. We were a wonderful match and the work to cement our partnership began.

We started showing in 2009 and after a successful and busy year we managed to earn a spot on Canada’s Para Dressage team and compete at the 2010 WEGs in Lexington, Kentucky. Competing for my country was amazing.


Madison and McGuire at the 2010 WEG in schooling.

Madison and McGuire at the 2010 WEG during a schooling ride.


Meet Lawrence (aka ‘Rain Man’)
Towards the end of 2014 McGuire who was 18-years-old then, started to show some signs that he was getting too old to continue competing at the top levels. I made the difficult decision to sell him, but I knew it was for the best and he went to a 10-star home. After a lot of searching for a suitable replacement I eventually came across Lawrence. He’s trained to the Intermediate I level and has been shown since he was 4-years-old. He’s quite the handsome thing, very pretty but muscular with the cutest “come pet me” look. The “come pet me” look gets you every time. When I first got him, I got that look, went in for a nose kiss and almost got my face taken off. It’s been a year and a half since that day and lets just say I never go for the nose kiss. You have to peel back a gazillion layers to reach his sweet spot. The rest of the time he’s a mischievous, aggressive little turd.

The catch is, he’s a dream to ride and even better to show. The horse knows his job, outside the ring he’s ‘Lawrence the amputator’ (he likes arms, legs, torsos and faces) but when he’s in the ring he likes to pretend he’s Valegro. He’s a bit of a cheater, taking out his competition in the warm-up ring, literally. Come to close and he goes into attack mode and will go after any horse and/or rider that’s about 25 feet away.

He’s been a great learning experience, a horse with so much power but can remain elegant. Lawrence described in a few words would be an aggressive ‘Rain Man’. He likes his routine, change it and face the biggest hissy fit of your life (your teenagers and toddlers got nothing on this guy). But keep the same routine, give him carrots and scratch his withers and he’ll be your best friend for life.


Lawrence in Kentucky at NAJYRC with his stall sectioned off to keep everyone walking by safe.

Lawrence in Kentucky at NAJYRC with his stall sectioned off to keep everyone walking by safe.


What do you think the recent inclusion of Para Dressage at NAJYRCs means for young riders, juniors, and children who have a physical disability?
I think the recent inclusion is a big step forward for the younger generation of riders with a disability. The sport is mainly dominated by senior team members, you rarely see someone who is younger then 25 years old that’s very competitive so this is encouraging younger riders with a physical disability to get out there, get known and be very competitive against others their own age. Eventually the senior team members will go on and do something else or retire, who will then be there to replace them and keep Canada on the World ranking?

How does it feel to be one of the first athletes to represent Canada at NAJYRCs in Para Dressage?
Feels great! It’s an honour to be part of something that’s happening for the first time and will hopefully continue on.


Madison’s disability does not let that keep her out of able-bodied competitions. In 2012, she received special permission from the FEI to compete in able-bodied competitions. Because of her paralysis, her stirrups are tied down and she is allowed to carry a whip in the ring. In 2012, she represented Canada in Dressage as a Junior rider on McGuire at NAJYRC and then in 2013 they returned to NAJYRC in the Young Rider division.

Madison is an inspiration to everyone with a disability as she she has proven that with hard work you can achieve your goals, despite the curves life throws at you.

Madison has not won an FEI medal yet, but by the end of this weekend, I’m sure she will be adding that to her list of accomplished goals.


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