SUPPORT TEAM: The writer (right) and her gold-medal partner, Ali, with trainer Adam Lastowka and husband John Eaton PHOTO COURTESY OF KELLY EATON

Precious USDF gold medal comes with unexpected life lessons

Reprinted from the November 2016 issue of USDF Connection

By Kelly Eaton

On April 8, I received the final score for my USDF gold medal.

People have differing opinions about the USDF rider medals and what they mean. Some think that they are too easy to achieve. The scores and the number of rides required, they say, are too low for a medal to be considered a significant award.

Then there are those who struggle, day in and day out, to get those precious scores of 60 percent. The medals represent the blood, sweat, and tears put into every ride; the traveling to and from lessons; the writing down of every detail of the lesson so they don’t forget. For this group, these medals are priceless. I am one of these, and I’d like to explain what the medals means to me.

First, the medals mean humility. Without fail, just when I thought I had mastered some dressage skill set, my Thoroughbred cross gelding, Ali, would tell me that, no silly girl, you know nothing—and here is a dirt sandwich to remind you of your ignorance. Thank you, Ali, for the lessons in humility.

The medals mean faith. My longtime trainer and friend, Adam Lastowka, has seen Ali and me progress from Training Level to Grand Prix. Not once did he tell me that this was something we couldn’t or shouldn’t do. There were times along the way when it looked as if Ali might make it to Grand Prix, but maybe I couldn’t. Other times, the reverse seemed more likely. With his cleverness, determination, and kindness, Adam was able to make this unlikely pair capable of the impossible. For the many times Ali and I failed, he was there to say, “OK, we’ll try this again next time.” On April 8, that “next time” came, and we accomplished something truly extraordinary. Thank you, Adam, for your faith.

The medals mean guidance. Dr. Laura Molony is not only a good friend, but also one of the most gifted veterinarians I have ever known. Her skill in keeping Ali comfortable and happy is one of the reasons my horse has become more pleasant as he has aged and his workload has gotten harder. She is always there with advice, support, and a wicked sense of humor. Thank you, Laura, for your guidance.

The medals mean love. The USDF should acknowledge members’ husbands, wives, and partners with their own special award! The sacrifices my husband, John, has made so that I could do this thing are beyond measure. He has illuminated my arena with truck lights so that I could ride in the earlymorning darkness before a foxhunt. He has always pushed me to get in another ride, another lesson. “Don’t give up,” he said a million times. He would often quote Adam: “Mud is good for passage, so go ride in the rain.” My favorite was when John told Adam to put a Moon Pie in every corner of the arena in an effort to get me to ride into one! Thank you, John, for your love.

A dressage judge once told me that every center line is a reflection of a lifetime of stories. Respect them all, as you don’t know what it took for that horse and rider to get to that center line. The same, I feel, is true for the USDF medals.

So cheers and congratulations to those who have achieved, and to those who are achieving, kick on and tallyho! I’ll be around, looking for those Moon Pies.     

Kelly Eaton, of Hull, GA, is the first whipper-in at the Shakerag Hounds near Athens, GA, where her husband, John, is the huntsman. Kelly also trains and teaches out of Pascova Farm in Athens. She has competed in the upper levels of eventing. In dressage, she is a USDF bronze, silver, and gold medalist and a USDF L graduate.   

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