By Tessa Holloran
I remember driving down to the Youth Dressage Festival, in August, when we got the e-mail that I was accepted to the 2017 Winter Intensive Training (WIT) Program in Wellington, Florida. I was so excited, I wasn’t sure if I would get in because the participants are usually a little older than twelve. The next several months were spent getting ready, finding a place to live, packing, and making sure Beau was fit and able to handle the intense training. I have been involved with Dressage4Kids for many years, and as soon as I learned about WIT, I started dreaming of going someday.
Beau is my KWPN mare, her registered name is Usela, and I had only been working with her for about a year and a half. During that time, we faced a few setbacks and our training really stalled for several months. I thought the WIT program would be a great opportunity to really focus in and see if we could make up some lost time. I had also ridden with Lendon several times, and loved the way she pushes you outside your comfort level and finds ways to help you get results.
WIT is possible thanks to the generosity of Kim van Kampen, who hosts the program at her beautiful Hampton Green Farm. There were fourteen girls in the program, and it was a great experience to spend time with younger riders because, at home, my barns have always been all adults. We were able to watch and meet some of the biggest names in the dressage world. Our trips included auditing Lisa Wilcox, Steffen Peters, and Robert Dover. I also got to attend the USDF Trainers Conference, and also hear Debbie McDonald give a terrific talk on training tips. We met every member of the U.S. Olympic Dressage Team, and even held their bronze medal from the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. Everyone had to interview someone who inspired them in the horse world, and I got to sit down with Laura Graves and talk to her about her riding. I was always amazed at how these very famous and busy professionals would make time for us and help us learn from their experiences.
I took five lessons a week with Lendon, and while she can be very tough at times, she is always fair. I loved every minute, and am so excited with the progress Beau and I have made. A large part of our training focused on getting a more balanced uphill canter and more suppleness in all gaits. We also showed five times at the Adequan® Global Dressage Festival and faced the judges fourteen times, earning a few qualifying scores for regionals later this year. Lendon’s coaching was a huge part of our success.
While we were all enjoying the nice weather, the days were a lot of hard work. Every day started at 6:30 a.m., with barn chores then fitness, and ended around 4:30 p.m. We rode six days a week, took field trips to other farms, had weekly written tests, and volunteered. But we also had a lot of fun. We enjoyed going over and watching the warm ups at the Adequan® Global Dressage Festival, the Friday night freestyles, the jumpers on Saturday, sponsor parties, and even just going for yogurt.
Since I’m in seventh grade, in our public middle school, I was very lucky that my teachers supported this training. I wasn’t sure how they would feel about me missing three months of school. I had to keep up with my classes from Florida, and did quite a bit of my schoolwork at the barn, and on our day off. It was a little challenging at times, but it all worked out.
I am so appreciative to Lendon and all the Dressage4Kids volunteers and sponsors, who make these programs possible for younger riders. And of course my family and friends, who are so supportive with time, money, and even Facetiming to help me with homework. It was an amazing experience, but I did miss my dad, sister, and dogs, who all stayed home in Massachusetts.
Besides the intense training and time in the saddle, I really enjoyed making new friends. Everyone was so encouraging, and we learned a lot from each other. Whether you were eleven or nineteen years old, we all had different backgrounds and had something helpful to share with others. Many of us have been keeping in touch, and I hope our friendships will last forever.
Now that we are back home, I plan to ride with Lendon as much as possible at the D4K TEAM Clinics (formerly EDAP), so we can continue to build on everything from Florida. I’m looking forward to our show season.
Update: Tessa was recently invited to the 2017 USEF Children Dressage National Championship at the US Dressage Festival of Champions, August 23-27 in Wayne, IL.