Roz Kinstler Pays It Forward

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BEHIND THE SCENES: When 2015 USDF Volunteer of the Year Roz Kinstler (right) talks, dressage VIPs including USDF president George Williams (left) listen

For the 2015 USDF Volunteer of the Year, it’s about a love of teaching and sharing our sport

Reprinted from the November 2016 issue of USDF Connection

By Fran Severn-Levy

Growing up outside New York City, the high point of Rosalind “Roz” Kinstler’s childhood was going to a summer riding camp. That girlhood love of horses led to a career of teaching and competing in dressage, and—with a little bit of urging from friends in the USDF—a long and deep involvement in USDF projects. In recognition of those efforts, Kinstler, 66, of Whitmore Lake, MI, was named the 2015 USDF Volunteer of the Year. When you read the list of her volunteer activities, you’ll understand why.

ACCOMPLISHED: Kinstler is an experienced and successful dressage competitor and instructor/trainer PHOTO CREDIT: DIANA HADSALL

Kinstler’s USDF volunteer résumé includes serving as the current chair of the Youth Programs Committee and as a member of the USDF Junior/Young Rider and Historical Recognition Committees, and of the USDF Activities Council. She’s the longtime Region 2 FEI junior/young rider coordinator and chef d’équipe at the FEI North American Junior and Young Rider Championships. She was a driving force in developing the biennial USDF/US Equestrian Federation Young Rider Graduate Program and the new youth clinics that will run concurrently with USDF Jr/YR clinics starting in 2017. Outside of her USDF activities, she works with 4-H clubs and Pony Clubs to introduce kids to dressage. And all of that is in addition to her work as a professional dressage instructor/trainer.

Hooked on Dressage

As a youth, Kinstler rode jumpers (dressage was a nearly alien term in those days) and worked with professionals like Harry de Leyer, owner and trainer of the legendary Snowman. But a visit to Camp Teela-Wooket in Vermont, then a riding camp, at the age of 17 altered Kinstler’s equestrian focus forever.

At the camp, she watched the head instructor, the late T. Frederik “Cappy” Marsman, give an upper-level dressage demonstration aboard a Morgan horse, “and I was hooked.”

“Jumping is a kick, a thrill,” Kinstler says, “but the discipline in dressage is fascinating. It’s the difficulty of it. The mental descriptions are a lot like music. You’re analyzing what you can do with horses.”

But Kinstler’s parents tolerated, rather than encouraged, her passion for horses. When it came time for her to look at colleges, “There was no question of looking at a school with a riding program. That was a waste of time. College was for training for a profession.”

Kinstler majored in biology and chemistry at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, with a minor in music. The lure of horses remained strong, however, and during college she began a sideline as a riding instructor. After graduation, she worked as a small-animal veterinary technician and continued instructing and riding. Eventually the veterinary career fell by the wayside, and Kinstler has been a full-time equestrian pro ever since.

After marriage to the “non-horsey” John Kinstler, the couple moved to Michigan when John got transferred. It was there that Roz Kinstler began riding with the late legendary master Chuck Grant and became “totally involved with dressage.” Soon she was a regular competitor at area dressage shows. She joined the USDF and made friends throughout the dressage community, including future USDF president George Williams and his wife, Roberta; and the late Region 2 dressage supporter Miki Christophersen.

The Youth Champion

In 1998, then-USDF Region 2 director Sue Hughes suggested that Kinstler apply to serve as the region’s FEI Jr/YR coordinator. The coordinator handles the logistics of transporting and housing the kids and their horses, completing and processing entries, fund-raising, and the administrative details.

Hughes thought that Kinstler’s background and personality were a good fit for the job: “Roz was doing things with the Michigan Dressage Association, was an active instructor, and knew everyone,” she says. “She was working with students at an advanced level, and she had a cadre of people she could call on.”

BIG TIME: At the 2012 London Paralympic Games with student Dr. Dale Dedrick and Bonifatius PHOTO CREDIT: LINDSAY Y. MCCALL

Initially surprised at the suggestion, Kinstler accepted, in no small part because it allowed her to focus attention on one of her major interests: young riders.

“I was interested because I love kids,” Kinstler says. “I love teaching kids how to ride. I wanted to pass that on to the next group coming up.”

From Jr/YR coordinator, Kinstler went on to become the Region 2 NAJYRC chef d’équipe. Equal parts chaperone, den mother, and stable manager, the chef supervises the horses’ care, keeps track of the competition schedules, and basically ensures that the riders need concern themselves with nothing besides their own performances.

The chef’s job is challenging enough when the team consists of professional riders; at the youth level, add the stresses of dealing with inexperienced teenagers and their coaches and parents. Emotions can run high, but “Roz is the gold standard,” says Roberta Williams. “She keeps the waters calm. She is a master at dealing with parents and coaches. She is also very generous in helping people new to those positions learn how to do them.”

The USDF isn’t all about elite riders, and neither is Kinstler, who in her work with the Youth Programs Committee focuses on what she calls “normal” youth.

“There are already programs for the top young riders, but most kids are not and never will be competing at that level,” she says. “These are the kids on a Quarter Horse or a ‘backyard’ horse who will never compete at the higher levels or outside a local schooling show. But that’s not the point. It’s not about the award. It’s about the sport. We need to have programs that get them interested and draw them in. They don’t have to go to the Olympics, or have a super-highlevel horse, or even want to ride dressage as their sport. We can use dressage to help hunter/jumpers improve their flat work. What’s important is enlarging the base of riders in dressage. The kids are the future of the sport.”

That attitude is one reason former USDF Region 1 director Alison Head nominated Kinstler for the Volunteer of the Year award. “She is a tireless defender of youth programs for the grass-roots kids,” Head says. “She has the ability to work with everyone on a committee and gets them to do more and try harder.”

For Kinstler, volunteer work is a case of paying it both back and forward. “I’ve gotten an incredible amount from the sport, and volunteering is my way of returning the favor. The paybacks are huge. Kids from Region 2 teams, from the Graduate Program, they stay in touch. I hear from people that I didn’t know I influenced. It’s cool to pass it along to the next group coming up.”

Into the Spotlight

Kinstler’s dressage involvement goes way beyond her behind- the-scenes activities. Both she and her students have attained competitive success, most recently at the US Dressage Finals. In 2014, Kinstler placed fourth at Third Level Open on London Swing, a horse owned by her students Liza MacMillan and Eleanor Brimmer. Last year, aboard the half-Arabian Trifecta, student Courtney Horst-Cutright placed seventh at the Finals in the adult-amateur Prix St. Georges, and also won the PSG national title at the Sport Horse National Arabian and Half-Arabian Championships. But for sheer magnitude, nothing compares to 2012, when Kinstler accompanied her student Dale Dedrick, MD, to the London Paralympic Games.

Dedrick, 60, of Ann Arbor, MI, was an orthopedic surgeon and a Grand Prix-level rider who had to retire from both of those careers in 1992 when she was diagnosed with lupus. Making matters worse, she later sustained severe injuries when she was hit by a car.

Dedrick eventually decided to try to ride again, with Kinstler’s help.

“Roz opened the world back up to me,” she says.

Initially, Dedrick rode just for fun. But when the women learned about the growing sport of para-equestrian dressage, they decided to explore the possibilities, and Dedrick began competing as a Grade II athlete aboard her striking gray Hanoverian gelding, Bonifatius.

“We didn’t even know the rules when we went to the [USEF Para-Equestrian Dressage] National Championship in 2011,” Dedrick recalls. “We just tried to figure it out and do what we could. I finished just a quarter-point from winning the national championship.”

STUDENT/TEACHER: A lover of learning, Kinstler enjoys passing along her dressage knowledge, particularly to young people PHOTO CREDIT: DIANA HADSALL

Coached by Kinstler, Dedrick and “Erik” made the US 2012 Paralympic team. Competing in London was a peak experience for both, even though Team USA didn’t medal.

Today instructor and student are exploring a new sport: para-reining.

“Para-equestrian, para-reining—it all comes back to dressage,” says Dedrick. “And that comes back to basics. And with Roz, you get well-grounded basics. She is a genius with amateur and average riders. She’s always thinking about how do you help a rider who is less than perfect. Roz delights in taking an average horse and getting the best damn movement out of it that she possibly can.” 

The Eternal Student

Kinstler claims she’s cutting back on teaching somewhat so she can focus on her new personal horse, but “I love teaching as much as riding. I ride three or four horses every day and teach three or four lessons at all levels and abilities.” She also finds time to pursue her newest hobby: agility training and competition with her Springer Spaniels.

After 30 years in dressage, Kinstler still finds the sport as exciting as she did when she saw that demonstration at Camp Teela-Wooket.

“There is always something new to learn. You never know when the next opportunity will come. I love the sport. It’s taken me to places I never thought I would go, and I want to pass that along.”

To the woman Dedrick calls an “eternal student,” learning, teaching, and volunteering are all intertwined—and the American dressage community is the better for it.

Roz Kinstler: Tips for Low-Stress Volunteering

Are you too busy to volunteer? Many people don’t step up because they think volunteering means a huge time investment. Not necessarily, says Roz Kinstler, the 2015 USDF Volunteer of the Year.

“Volunteering doesn’t have to be a big commitment. Go to a clinic and let yourself get known. Go to a 4-H club and take a young rider, or give a demo yourself. See someone who is interested and give
them a lesson.”

Fran Severn-Levy is a freelance writer who focuses on travel and horses. She lives in Maryland with her husband, three dogs, and her Holsteiner cross, Chance Encounter, who is teaching her First Level dressage.

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