Reprinted from the April 2017 USDF Connection magazine.
Some of the most important people in American dressage aren’t famous riders or trainers. Instead, they make significant behind-the-scenes contributions that better our sport.
Some do so through volunteer involvement with the USDF on a national scale, and the USDF honors these most influential and dedicated contributors with its Lifetime Achievement Award.
The Lifetime Achievement Award was initiated in 2002, and one of the first two recipients that year was Lazelle Knocke. Knocke died in 2011 at the age of 94, but her contributions to the USDF and to US dressage live on. Let’s meet her now.
A Life Filled with Firsts
Somebody has to be first in any endeavor. In Knocke’s case, that somebody was usually herself.
The Readington, NJ, horsewoman was among the small group of US dressage enthusiasts who helped to get things started back in the 1960s. She helped to establish the Maryland-based Potomac Valley Dressage Association and the Pennsylvania-based Delaware Valley Combined Training Association. “Then I said, now you have got to help me out,” Knocke told USDF Connection in 2003. “I want to get something going in Jersey.” That something was the Eastern States Dressage Association (now the Eastern States Dressage and Combined Training Association), founded in 1969.
All three clubs would become charter group-member organizations (GMOs) of the USDF upon its establishment in 1973. And of course Knocke was there for that, too, answering Lowell Boomer’s call for regional dressage-club representatives to gather in Lincoln, NE, to found a national dressage organization.
Knocke was tapped to serve as the USDF’s first president but declined, instead serving as vice president under Stephen Schwartz from 1973 to 1974. She was the USDF VP again from 1983 to 1988 (under Boomer), finally taking the presidential reins from 1989 to 1993. From 1976 to 1977, she served as an “Eastern representative”—that being a precursor position to today’s regional directors.
“We only had three regions in those days—East, Middle, and West—because there weren’t enough clubs,” Knocke recalled. “Then, as more people got twenty-five folks together and made another club, we got enough people so we could have more regions. [USDF] was the fastest-growing nonprofit organization in the US for many years.”
As president, Knocke said, she discovered an effective strategy for getting things done: “If you can convince three or four other people that they thought of it first, they’ll take it and run with it.” Knocke, who was a US Equestrian and an FEI dressage judge, had the idea of establishing a USDF Judges Council, and she planted the seed with her vice president, the late Elizabeth Searle (who received the other USDF Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002). Searle, a fellow judge, was enthusiastic about the idea, and their efforts eventually became the USDF’s flagship L Education Program.
Another program that commenced during Knocke’s presidency was instructor certification, which she called “one of the more important things” that her administration accomplished. Although she was justifiably proud of the achievements, in interviews she was reluctant to take credit, saying that “things were just evolving anyway. I was just lucky that some of the ideas caught on quickly and came to the forefront.”
One dream of Knocke’s that did not come to fruition was her desire for the establishment of regional dressage schools around the country, funded either by the USDF or by an independent benefactor. An aspect of her wish, however, has seen the light: her hope that such a school would offer “some wonderful basic curriculum work that goes through the whole triangle of training.” Much “basic curriculum work” is now offered not only through the L and certification programs, but also to all USDF members via eTRAK, its online educational database.
A former surgical nurse (who co-wrote the book Orthopedic Nursing with her husband, Dr. Frederick Knocke), Knocke was a lifelong rider, trainer, and instructor at her Hobby Horse Hill Farm in Readington. In 1996, she achieved another first in dressage: becoming the inaugural member of The Dressage Foundation’s Century Club (for riding a dressage test aboard a horse whose combined age with the rider is at least 100) with her horse Don Perignon. Knocke also served on The Dressage Foundation’s Board of Directors.
All of us in US dressage owe our sport’s pioneers a debt of gratitude. We’ll always remember Lazelle Knocke for her contributions and her can-do spirit.