How Dressage Became My Future

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By Emily Karls

I love dressage. In fact, it’s an obsession I’m sure many can relate to. The past year has held some of the most influential experiences in my life because of this love, this obsession. It became more than a hobby or a sport. Dressage became my future.

Last summer, after my high school graduation, one of my favorite clinicians and idols, JJ Tate, offered me a position as her working student in South Carolina. This motivated me to go on an educational adventure over the past year.

In addition to getting to visit her barn, JJ got me involved in the Emerging Dressage Athlete Program (EDAP) and Lendon Gray’s Dressage 4 Kids (D4K). In July, I was also able to audit the 2015 Courtney King Dye Horsemastership Clinic and, in January, my participation in these programs allowed me to become a participating auditor in the 2016 Robert Dover Horsemastership Clinic.

Traveling to Wellington for the Robert Dover Clinic was absolutely incredible. The caliber of the young riders, trainers, and professionals was inspiring. The instructors- Robert Dover, Laura Graves, George Williams, Charlotte Bredahl-Baker, and Steffen Peters- were so positive and effective. A common phrase I heard throughout the clinic was “Don’t work so hard”. By making riders not work so hard, the trainers created a harmony in the horses and riders that I hadn’t realized was missing. I specifically remember Robert creating the piaffe by establishing so much forward motion, with quick upward and downward transitions, that the horse quite literally piaffed on its own. Suddenly,constant micromanagement of the horse faded into mere instinct, and the horse could sit in an impeccably effortless piaffe.

Robert Dover Horsemastership Clinic

For the first time, I was able to witness the development of truly invisible aids. We’ve all seen the “greats” who have accomplished invisible aids, and we’ve all seen the not-so-greats. At this clinic, I got to see these students in their transition to greatness.

These clinics and programs have opened my mind and shown me so much of the big dressage world that I think, many times, we don’t get to experience in rural Colorado. All I could think of was how much I want to be a part of this sport, and how lucky I am to have the opportunity to experience these great moments. This is the dream of every young dressage rider.

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