American Dressage Legends: Judith Noone

GROUNDBREAKING: The late Judith Noone’s seminal efforts on behalf of the USDF were honored in 2010 when she received the USDF Lifetime Achievement Award from USDF president George Williams (Jennifer Bryant photo)

Reprinted from May 2018 USDF Connection magazine

If you or your children have participated in any sort of US dressage program for youth—from USDF’s clinics for juniors and young riders, to national and FEI Jr/YR competition, and even to 4-H and US Pony Clubs offerings—it’s likely that you have Judith Noone to thank for the opportunity.

You may not have heard of Noone, who died March 20 at the age of 79. And that would be a shame, for she was honored in 2010 with USDF’s Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of her many volunteer contributions. In the November 2003 issue of USDF Connection celebrating USDF’s 30th anniversary, then-USDF president Sam Barish named Noone one of the organization’s 20 most influential members.

Blazing a Trail for Youth in Dressage

Noone was known for two passions: dressage and children (son Tom Noone is a well-known FEI-level competitor).

“It is an absolute joy doing anything for kids,” Noone told USDF Connection in 2003. Like many parents, Noone wanted to create more and better opportunities for children. The Abington, MA,-based mom started locally, in 1978 proposing a program for juniors and young riders to the New England Dressage Association (NEDA), her USDF group-member organization (GMO). Noone’s efforts caught the attention of USDF founder Lowell Boomer, and in 1983, she recalled, Boomer called “and asked if I would lead the USDF junior/young rider program.”

Encouraged by what she saw as the USDF’s “warm, caring, nonpolitical values,” Noone said yes to Boomer’s request. She became the inaugural chair of the USDF Junior/Young Rider Programs Committee (a group that’s since been split into what are now known as the Youth Programs Committee and the FEI Junior/Young Rider Committee), serving from 1983 to 1994.

Noone’s tenure as committee chair encompassed numerous significant firsts. She established the USDF’s policy of including youth governance representation, in what’s now called the USDF Youth Programs Advisory Subcommittee; began regional Jr/YR training sessions (now the Jr/YR Clinics and, most recently, the Youth Outreach Clinics); founded the Junior/Young Rider Regional Team Championships; and saw USDF’s youth membership triple in numbers.

Noone’s youth-focused efforts didn’t end with the USDF. In the early 1990s she created Just for Juniors, a three-part educational video series on dressage. Copies went to Pony Clubs and 4-H clubs as well as to each USDF region. As she recounted to USDF Connection, she did the video editing in the hours when studios didn’t charge usage fees—from 1:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m.

Why did Noone work so hard and give so much of herself for the cause? Because, to hear her tell it, she saw dressage as much more than a fun pastime for children.
“I view dressage as more than a sport, which is why it is important to young people. It is an example of true ideals, beauty, grace, and can touch your soul,” she said.

“A Magnificent Obsession”

FAMILY VALUES: Embracing what she saw as the value of dressage and the USDF, Noone (at an early USDF convention in an undated photo) threw her support behind the organization

Some movers and shakers have their hands in so many proverbial pies that it’s practically impossible to imagine how they find the time to do it all. Noone was one of these go-getters.

In the 1970s Noone began managing dressage shows, from local to national. According to The Dressage Foundation (TDF), Lincoln, NE, of which Noone served as a board member (and later treasurer) since the organization’s inception in 1990, the competition now known as the US Dressage Festival of Champions was her concept, and she helped to organize the first two events.

Noone organized the first CDIs (FEI-recognized dressage competitions) in New England, wrote a business plan for the USDF Regional Championships, and also created (and, for 30 years, produced) NEDA’s widely emulated Omnibus Prize List of competitions, according to TDF.

For adult amateurs, Noone developed USDF Adult Camps and the East Coast Riders Cup competition. She gave lectures on how to create musical freestyles—from experience including her work designing the choreography and the music for son Tom’s freestyle at the 2001 FEI Dressage World Cup Final.

Judge education was another cause Noone championed. According to TDF, she created and organized an early “Sit with the Judges” program that was a forerunner to the USDF L Education Program.

Olympian Lendon Gray’s Dressage4Kids organization honored Noone in 2009 with its Braley Gray award for extraordinary achievements in dressage. That same year, she was named USDF’s Region 8 Volunteer of the Year. Noone’s national-scale contributions were recognized with the USDF Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010.

As she accepted the award at the 2010 USDF convention, Noone quipped that “I’ve been a member for so long, my member number is 147.” Turning more serious, she reflected on the sport that she’d made her life’s work.
“It’s a magnificent obsession, isn’t it?” she said.

It is indeed—and all of us in the American dressage community are the better for it, and for Noone’s passion.

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