SOUTH WOODSTOCK, Vt. (WCAX) One-hundred riders and their horses enjoyed an afternoon of competition in South Woodstock last Sunday.
Claudette Lawton, however, had a case of butterflies. "Let's go take a walk, then we can get saddled," Lawton said to her horse Finnegan. "I'm red as a beet inside."
Lawton and Finnegan on this day are performing at the Green Mountain Horse Association. It will be the ride of her life.
Reporter Joe Carroll: Finnegan's pretty big.
Claudette Lawton: No, he's small...
Reporter Joe Carroll: Then you're short.
Claudette Lawton: So maybe we go together.
They've been a team for close to 15 years. Dressage is precision movements by the horse with little or no signals from the rider. "It's a dance, you're performing a dance" Lawton explained.
Lawton didn't begin riding seriously until she was in her 60s. Now, just a month away from 81, she is celebrating a milestone -- a century ride -- where the combined age of horse and rider is at least 100.
"Listen girl, if you ski like you can ski, you can ride like you can ride," said Lawton's husband, Ben.
Only about 400 people nationwide have completed this feat. "It's very unusual, yes," said Pam LaFave, Lawton's trainer. "Just really proud of her. It takes a lot to be daring enough and go out and perform."
But first let's rewind to 1989, a year Lawton would like to forget. It was a full-frontal assault by mosquitos in the Lake Dunmore area. It took a sting on tourism, but it was almost fatal for Lawton. She contracted viral encephalitis -- most likely from a mosquito. "She was in a coma for about a month," LaFave said.
There was swelling of her brain and Lawton says she couldn't walk or talk. "You need to re-activate the transference as what's in your brain to your body, so that's a slow process," she said.
Reporter Joe Carroll: Was that frustrating?
Claudette Lawton: I was scared. I was afraid that I was stuck there.
It took her two years to fully recover. Later, she was diagnosed with breast cancer -- twice. Lawton decided it was time to start experiencing the things that were only dreams in the past. "You realize how just special each day is," she said.
In the performing ring all eyes are on Lawton. "For example, right now she's working on a trotting circle that's about 20-meters. And that little piece alone will have its own score, 1 through 10," LaFave said. And now, once again, she's going to halt, salute the judge and respect to thank."
After the applause and congratulations , there's a ribbon for her achievement. But for Lawton, a life of living is her reward. "Thank you all team!" she said.