By Rickie Londe Swink

“If I did it, you certainly can.” My friend’s words shifted my gears into thinking that maybe, just maybe, I could. I always thought that the Bronze Medal was for those other ladies, the ones who really could ride. After all, at 36 I took my first riding lesson and learned that sitting in the saddle wasn’t actually riding at all, and if I had known at that time that dressage was such a long hard row to hoe, I would never have taken that lesson. As the years passed, medals simply weren’t on my radar.

My friend’s encouragement came last year. So, at 64, with the closest show almost 5 hours away, I dedicated the summer to more serious showing. And lo and behold, I did it! I earned my Bronze Medal on my 15-year-old mare I raised from a yearling, and in December, here I was at the Adequan®/USDF Annual Convention to pick up the medal in person.

Since my mom lives in St. Louis, and my sister was visiting, I signed them up to attend the awards dinner with me. They were astounded to see the room filled with respectable people, who were all off-the-charts enthusiastic about everything horse. It was a shock for them to learn that the black-sheep-of-the-family (me) wasn’t the only totally horse crazy adult. The entire evening’s conversation, at our table of ten, remained fixated on horses.

Arriving at the convention, I was apprehensive. I was alone and pondering “what in the world was I thinking.” But the registration folks couldn’t have been more welcoming, and presented me with a beautiful United States Dressage Federation tote filled with all the information and items I would need over the next few days. My hotel room was cozy with a terrific front row view of the incredible architectural and engineering masterpiece, the Gateway Arch and the Mississippi River. I was OK.

Meetings, meetings, and more meetings. Some folks were on their phones, pads, sudokuing, or knitting, but most were listening intensely and participating in the grinding of the stone that keeps the USDF running at peak performance. The Board of Governors, Regional Directors, committees, and their chairmen are the haunches driving the organization. These men and women are professional, competent, enthusiastic and passionate about keeping the Federation healthy and sustainable and ensuring riders are educated and rewarded, while enjoying their beloved horses. I was impressed by the heart, love for the horse, love for the sport, and tireless energy that pours into keeping USDF an evolving thriving entity focused on all members and their horses, not only those in “Dressage County, USA”, but also riders like me, who live way off the beaten path.

One of my favorite moments was walking out of a lecture hall and being elevated to cloud nine by bumping into some of our great Olympians and Para Olympians. I was (and still am) so awestruck by these amazing riders that I had to touch them. It was an honor to be in their presence, and a pleasure to converse a bit. Later, I was thrilled to sit in the front row for the team interview and listen to them talk about their experiences and what riding in the Olympic competition meant to them. They were a tight knit group and thought the world of each other. Each seemed as starstruck with their teammates as I was. And yes, I had my USDF tote autographed.

Another favorite was Pilates. Up early and excited about the day ahead, I threw on stretchy pants and a shirt and dragged my raggedy self down the elevator to early morning Pilates. When I felt a stretch in my spine that I had never felt before and clearly grasped the idea that this will help me sit my mare’s extended trot, Pilates catapulted to my favorites list. I stretch every day before I ride, I do yoga, and I’ve done a bit of Pilates. However, Janice Dulak’s class took me where I hadn’t been before.

The days were filled with educational lectures straight from the “horse’s mouths” of men and women who are doing research, and writing the articles and books many of us have read. I felt privileged to be in their presence and have the opportunity to meet those leading their fields.

After an intense three days, there I was hearing this fabulous beaming voice announce “Rickie Swink from Colorado.” I walked onstage to applause and cheers. The smile, warmth, and genuine interest radiating from USDF Executive Director Stephan Hienzsch, presenting my Bronze Medal, made me feel like maybe, just maybe, I really could ride.

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