By Sophia Chavonelle
Editor’s Note: Sophia is a USDF Youth Convention Scholarship Winners
My dad and I arrived on Wednesday, November 29, and planned out our week, that included both the Adequan®/USDF Annual Convention and as much sightseeing as we could manage.
The Bluegrass State is unlike any other I have been to. As soon as our plane was beneath the clouds, all you could see for miles and miles were horse farms, rolling hills, blackboard fences, and small paddock sheds, with specks of white, bay, and chestnut dotting the fields.
On Thursday, activity began at 6am, with a “Stretch and Strengthen” session with Jackie Beasley. We started with easy yoga poses and sun salutations, then moved to focus on the core and glutes. The exercises made me feel so much better after the long day of traveling the day before. Jackie was an excellent host, and made sure to offer many variations to make each exercise easier or harder! The morning fitness sessions are a brilliant addition to the convention that I hope more people attend in the future.
After fitness, my dad and I went for breakfast and then headed to the Region 8 meeting. It was great to see all of our summer friends again! My perspective of the meeting was different from last year’s, in that I was now a proxy for the State of Maine Dressage Association (SMDA), meaning that I held votes in representation of SMDA during the Board of Governors General Assemby (BOG). In the USDF Region 8 meeting, we discussed various issues that involved our region individually.
After the Region 8 meeting, my dad and I were free for the afternoon and raced straight for the Kentucky Horse Park (KHP). I had been to the Lexington area before, as a groom at the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®, but since this was my dad’s first time in the state, I was excited to show him horse country. At KHP, we took advantage of our time to explore as much as possible. Starting at my favorite place, the Alltech Arena, we made our way around the stables, which were eerily desolate in their off-season. We then made our way toward the famous Rolex Arena and stood where so many icons had won medals, broken records, and made history. It was incredibly inspiring to stand in its enormity.
On Friday, we attended various forums and the BOG meeting. We also had our second regional meeting of the week, where we reviewed the minutes of the committees from the day before and discussed changes made to the proposal for local show recognition. Afterward, I got my sticker as SMDA’s proxy and headed to the Competition Forum.
The Competition Forum began with a discussion about freestyles, particularly regarding the rider’s responsibilities. Next was a discussion about the judge’s responsibility, where we were reminded that all judges represent USDF and USEF, and that they should maintain fairness to the rider, but above all else, be advocates for the horse. Also, “riders and trainers will produce what judges reward,” always.
After this forum, I worked on some homework (yay), and then attended my very first BOG! Beginning at 1:30 “sharp,” Margaret Freeman began the delegate roll call, making those who had not logged into the computer system execute the “walk of shame,” which I thankfully avoided.
While my dad and I had been looking forward to the featured education that night, our busy day had us in bed by 7pm. On our final full day, Saturday, we started out strong in the BOG, once again. I left the BOG a bit early to attend the Youth Education Forum, “Clinics: Getting the Biggest Bang for Your Buck”, with Charlotte Bredhal-Baker and Roz Kinstler, and the Youth Open Forum.
I was surprised to hear about the struggles that some of the other regions have with increasing the youth involvement in clinics. Some voiced a concern about a lack of clinics in their area, while others had challenges getting their youth riders interested in clinics. It made me realize how lucky I am to be a part of Region 8, which has a strong network of dedicated people. Further discussion was had about the importance of monitoring online resources, such as the USDF website and youth programs pages, as well as establishing local networks of riders and trainers. I will definitely continue to think about the youth involvement on a national level.
Later in the day, Eileen Phethean held a lecture titled “Prohibited Substances in Feed and Supplements,” which was very eye-opening. From Kentucky Equine Research, Eileen has worked with top horse owners, riders, and trainers for many years; one of her biggest projects involved cross-checking the grain and supplements for the 2016 US Olympic horses. She warned against various feed hazards and suggested to look only for medication-free, equine-only grain that has been sourced and tested as frequently as possible. She also recommended seeking the help of an equine nutritionist, feed representative, and veterinarian to determine your horse’s best feeding regimen. Eileen then went on to explain responsibility; all parties involved with the caretaking of the horse can be held accountable for any positive finding within the horse. What Eileen’s lecture came down to was this: if you give your horse a substance with the aim of changing the horse’s behavior, it is illegal. All horse folk must try to be aware of the substances that enter their horse, whether through the mouth, skin, or nose.
The next lecture was “Joint Health,” presented by Adequan® representative Allyn Mann. His presentation involved a technical evaluation of a horse’s joint, describing the intricate membranes, fluids, and cartilage. One thing that stood out to me was the age at which many horses begin to need heavier joint support: 10 years, my own horse’s upcoming age!
Next was my favorite part of the convention: the USEF Athlete Forum. The buzz all weekend was surrounding the Athlete Forum, it seemed, and I was absolutely determined to go. Headlined by Hallye Griffin, George Williams, Charlotte Bredhal-Baker, Debbie McDonald, and Christine Traurig, the meeting’s theme was high performance dressage, as well as the pipeline from youth to professional. Rule changes by the FEI, published three days before our meeting, were discussed first. Next, the audience and Hallye came up with some tricky questions to ask the people in the panel. I loved this forum! It was wonderful to see so many of the country’s top dressage athletes and supporters in one room; many great minds were working together.
After the USEF Athlete Forum was our final event of the convention, the Salute Gala & Annual Awards Banquet. It was both heartwarming and encouraging to watch the multitude of riders, owners, trainers, judges, and breeders being honored by USDF. Not a single person left the banquet disappointed. Stories of the past were told, as were goals for the future, both bringing tears to the audience. This year at the banquet, I was honored with presenting Meghan Slaughter with the Youth Volunteer of the Year award; while I did not get to meet Meghan, her story of commitment to horsemanship was inspiring and I hope I get to meet her in the future!
Thank you to Adequan® and USDF for hosting this amazing event! I met a lot of inspiring people, learned even more about our sport, and discussed ways of bettering the national joy of horses. I cannot recommend this event more to aspiring professionals, as it is the best way to hear developments, get questions answered, and have your voice heard.