On March 25, 2017, Peter Barry of Dunham, QC suffered a stroke on the grounds of the Carolina Horse Park in Reaford, NC. Approximately one year later, the Canadian Eventing Olympian is making great strides in his rehabilitation, motivated by his desire to get back into the saddle.
In February 2018, Barry visited the neighbouring farm of his friend and two-time eventing Olympic gold medalist, Phillip Dutton (USA). He was there to watch Canadian Equestrian Team athlete, Colleen Loach ride, as the fellow Dunham native competes with several of Barry’s horses at the FEI level.
“It was a day I will not forget,” said Barry. “I mentioned to Phillip that I was missing riding so much, and he said, ‘Why don’t you come over tomorrow and we’ll ride?’”
The mount Dutton chose for Barry’s return to the saddle was third-place finisher in the 2008 Preakness Stakes, Icabad Crane (Jump Start x Rahy). Barry was initially dubious that the 13-year-old Thoroughbred gelding owned by Herringswell Stables Ltd. was the appropriate choice, but Dutton quickly assured him that Icabad was perfect.
“I asked Phillip, ‘Why we would take a Thoroughbred racehorse for my first ride?’” said Barry. “He said, ‘First, he has a great mind, second, he’s only 15 hands,’ and the rest is history.”
“Peter was thrilled with the idea but also a bit nervous at the same time,” explained Loach. “I assured him that if at any time he was uncomfortable, we could stop. That proved unnecessary. Once Peter was up in the saddle you couldn’t wipe the grin off his face.”
Barry has now ridden with Dutton and Loach several times, both for pleasure and therapeutic benefit.
“It helps you with your sense of balance, it supples you, and, most important, gives you something to do,” said Barry of riding as rehabilitation. “I was always very active, spending most of my day in the saddle, and now I find it very difficult to pass my days. So, you cannot believe what a great relief it is to be back in the saddle and go back to doing what you enjoy and what you spent so much time doing.”
After his stroke, Barry relied on the use of a wheelchair. Now, he has progressed to only needing a small walking aid. The high level of physical fitness he maintained as a top athlete has been a great advantage in his rehabilitation; however, he has not found the same to be true of the other attributes that aided him in his high performance career.
“The competitiveness, and wanting to do and work harder is not necessarily useful with a stroke,” explained Barry. “It takes a tremendous amount of patience. I made good progress because I had good help from my family; my wife, Susan; and from Colleen. I greatly appreciate their input.”
Despite the steady improvement of his mobility, Barry is realistic about his rehabilitation goals.
“I think for me to look back at my old riding and be too ambitious would be foolish,” said Barry. “I need to learn to get the feeling back, get my control of my body better, and enjoy every minute I’m sitting in the saddle.”
While the amount of time that Barry currently spends in the saddle might be limited, he remains heavily involved with horses through his roles as an owner and breeder. With the newest crop of foals soon to arrive and the 2018 competition season underway, Barry has remained committed to his busy equestrian lifestyle, even with the added challenge of recovery.
Barry’s current top horse is Qorry Blue d’Argouges, a 14-year-old Selle Français gelding sired by Mr. Blue. Qorry has been partnered with Loach for five years. Their journey has included the 2016 Rio Olympics the 2015 Toronto Pan American Games, where they helped the Canadian Eventing Team earn a bronze medal. Barry finds great pleasure in contributing to the duo’s training and competition planning, and attends events whenever possible.
“Peter has approached his recovery in the same manner he has approached every other challenge in his life: with a focus and determination that is hard to come by,” said Loach. “He has obviously been a huge influence on my career and even my lifestyle.”
Qorry’s 2018 competition season has begun, kicked off poignantly at the site of Barry’s stroke one year ago: the Carolina Horse Park in Reaford, NC. There, he and Loach finished 12th out of a strong field of 41 competitors on March 21. The team’s sights are now set on the 2018 Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event and FEI World Equestrian Games.
“Even though it is not quite the same as actually riding himself, I believe and hope that he gains a certain satisfaction out of watching his lovely horses go,” said Loach of Barry’s ownership role. “I think he should enjoy it and be proud as Qorry and I head into our final prep for our first ever Kentucky 4* because, after all, he has been a huge influence in shaping us into the team we have become.”