In 1984, 19-year-old Cindy Rawson (née Collier) and a chestnut mare named Deer Creek finished their first CCI4* at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event. In spite of a fall on the cross-country, they completed inside the time and with a clear show jumping round finished the event in 13th place. “Mike Huber, who I trained with for five years, had previously evented Deer Creek (she was a jumping machine!) and together they gave me the confidence to ride at that level at a relatively young age.”
The Rolex experience instilled a huge passion for the sport in Cindy and led to her selection for five years of participation in U.S. Chef d’Equipe Jack LeGoff’s Young Riders’ program in South Hamilton, Massachusetts. It afforded her the opportunity to travel to Saumur, France to ride at the l’École National d’Équitation. “It was all organized by Jack, because he’d been a former Master of the Cadre Noir in Saumur,” Rawson said. “It was a very formative and educational experience for me, and I give Jack huge credit for what I became as a rider.”
When LeGoff was preparing to retire in 1988, he had a discussion with Rawson about what her next steps should be, and he advised her to move to Europe to continue her training. “I had a few horses, so I sold two and my truck – whatever I could – and made my way to England.”
Rawson acquired a position with British Olympic gold medalist Jane Holderness-Roddam and spent two years working for her. “She was fantastic,” Rawson said. “She showed me the ropes and taught me to ‘kick on, slip the reins and sit back!’ This last was a fairly foreign concept to someone educated in the French forward style seat! I took two horses with me and immersed myself in the British eventing world.” Rawson won the British National Intermediate Championship in her first year in the UK, narrowly defeating Mary King and her young King William.
Next, Rawson was offered a position by a Swiss rider to come and work for their operation in Switzerland for a winter. “I thought it was a perfect opportunity to improve my show jumping with some top-class riders. I went over for three months and that turned into five years,” she said. “I was asked to train the Swiss Eventing Team and worked with them for a couple of years. During that time, I built up my own string of horses and was fortunate enough to find some excellent sponsors. The training was fantastic - I spent many months learning from world eventing champion Hans-Ueli Schmitz and Olympic show jumper Tomas Batliner. They really added some education and polish to my training regime.”
In 1997, Rawson returned to the UK from Switzerland with two horses. Three years earlier Captain Mark Phillips had taken over training the U.S. team, for which Rawson had been long-listed. “I had horses ready to compete at the four-star level, so wanted to be back in England. I found a position at a farm in Devon, England where I taught and evented out of their facility for about a year.” 1998 saw Rawson travel to Rome to ride at the World Equestrian Games in Italy. “It was so exciting to be part of the team,” Rawson said. “To actually compete for the U.S. was inspirational.”
Rawson had always expected that life would lead her back to the States after a few years abroad, but after meeting and marrying her husband, an officer in the British Royal Navy, she made the decision to remain in the UK. She set up her own yard and had a successful riding and training business there for many years. “It’s such a wonderful place to be for equestrian sport, with short distances to travel for events and close proximity to the best riders in the world, competing against them every weekend,” Rawson reflected.
With a career that has included top placings and wins at major international events all over Europe, such as Burghley, Boekelo, Luhmuhlen, Gatcombe, Chatsworth, Pau, Punchestown, Blarney Castle, Bramham, Chantilly, Thirlestane Castle, Compiegne, Windsor, and Lummen, Rawson was also long listed several times for Olympic teams. “Unfortunately, the timing never worked out as injuries to me or my horses took us out of the running at strategic moments. But I count myself as extremely fortunate to have enjoyed and benefited from the Team experience at least once - how many people can say that?”
Fast forward to 2013, Rawson suffered a bad break to her wrist that required surgery, but afterwards she had lost all the mobility in her wrist. “I had extensive physiotherapy but they were at their wit’s end with what to do with me,” she said. “I was desperate to have it move properly and also tried many alternative therapies but nothing worked. Then a friend said, ‘Why don’t you try myofascial release?’ I had no idea what it was, but decided it wouldn’t hurt to try!”
Myofascial release, or MFR, is a soft tissue therapy that works on the connective tissue, also known as fascial tissue. This type of tissue surrounds each cell in the body and runs through all organs, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones, allowing them to slide and glide over and around one another. The entire fascial system is interconnected, so issues in one area will create compensation patterns in other parts of the body. A few common causes of restrictions can be injuries and the resulting scar tissue, repetitive strain, dehydration and emotional trauma. The restricted tissue limits full mobility; causing stiffness and pain from tissue pressure on nerve endings. MFR is a hands-on therapy that works to encourage fascial tissue restrictions to release, breaking up scar tissue, restoring range of motion and flexibility throughout the muscles, tendons, and ligaments of the body and relieving the tissue pressure on nerve endings.
“After my first session of MFR I was able to turn my wrist over, which had been immobile, and I was blown away at what the practitioner had been able to accomplish in one hour with such a gentle therapy,” Rawson said. “That was my lightbulb moment. I realized what this could potentially do for horses. You can work and train as scientifically as possible and have the best trainers, vets, and farriers – in America we have such great support teams – and still there are injuries. I realize that there are so many variables that can contribute to these mishaps, but I felt that there had to be some way to help the horses even more with injury prevention and recovery.”
Rawson began inquiries, first with the practitioner who treated her, to find out how she might go about learning these techniques so she could apply them to horses. “I started researching and found that there are equine qualifications available,” she said, “So I immediately enrolled in the best educational program I could find. I spent three years studying, but with my practitioner to help and mentor me, I mastered the basic techniques quite quickly. After 25 years as a professional rider, I understood the movement, anatomy, and compensation issues of sport horses, so in no time I was working on all the horses in my stable and having great results.”
Gradually, as her clients saw the effect her work was having on the horses, Rawson had more and more people requesting that she perform MFR on their horses. It wasn’t long after that people began to ask if Rawson could do for them what she was doing for their horses. “The MFR started to take over my life, so I let some of the lower level horses go. The work and results were so rewarding that I ended up keeping a couple of horses to event for fun and doing the MFR full time.”
Often, veterinarians contact Rawson when horses have been x-rayed, MRI scanned, and nerve blocked and still no specific reason for lameness is found. “In these cases, it’s often fascial restrictions causing the lack of mobility and compensation patterns that can cause both chronic and acute lameness.”
Rawson also expanded her studies to include skeletal mobilization. She noted, “The beauty of MFR is that once tissue restrictions are released and joints are mobilized, skeletal imbalances often disappear.” Rawson continues to study and expand her repertoire in manual therapy, attending courses in Canada, England, and the U.S. She now specializes in sport horses, using her eventing background to ride clients’ horses and assist riders in building their horses’ strength and flexibility with a true cross-training approach.
Rawson’s husband was recently offered a position in Washington, D.C. and thus Rawson has returned to the States. “It was a more challenging transition than I thought it was going to be,” Rawson admitted. “We speak the same language but it’s quite different when you’ve been immersed in another culture for so long, and I really loved living in England. It’s a different sense of humor over here for one thing! They’re very environmentally aware over there, which shocked me slightly coming back to the D.C. area. But Americans are so friendly and so incredibly generous and welcoming. I think that’s the best of America. I’ve never seen people pay it forward like they do here, and I’m lucky to enjoy the best of both worlds.”
“I still go over to England every three to four months and do several weeks of work. I get to see my clients and friends and work on them and all their horses. I feel very fortunate because I’m able to live in these two different worlds and have the privilege of making a positive difference in both.”
Rawson has a busy schedule already planned here in the states, with plans to compete at the Three Lakes Horse Trials and ride with Andreas Dibowski as a demo rider in the USEA Educational Symposium. Based in Ocala at Target Hill Farm South with Hillary Irwin and Conor Rollins, Rawson welcomes inquiries from those who would like more information on myofascial release and its benefits. Full explanations of the therapy can be found on her website, www.cindyrawsonmfr.com, and you can find her lecture and demo schedule at eventclinics.com.
The USEA is made up of over 12,000 members, each with their own special horses and experiences. The USEA's Now on Course series highlights the many unique stories of our membership. Do you and your horse have a tale to tell? Do you know someone who deserves recognition? Submit your story to Jessica Duffy at [email protected] to be featured.
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