My Dressage4Kids TEAM Dressage Clinic Experience

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By Maria Sandy

This article was an honorable mention in the 2018 GMO Newsletter Award in first person experience for GMOs with 175-499 members. It first appeared in the August 2018
NODA News newsletter, Northern Ohio Dressage Association.

The June Dressage4Kids TEAM Clinic with Lendon Gray was an enlightening experience for myself and my horse. 

I found out about Dressage4Kids (D4K) through a friend who had posted it on social media.  Prior to this I was unfamiliar with the program.  

Maria and Lendon

After reading about D4K and Lendon Gray on their website, I knew I had to apply when I learned about Lendon’s reputation for “taking unremarkable horses and making them good” and that she “proved to the world that bigger isn’t necessarily better” when she successfully competed with her 14.2-½ hand pony, Seldom Seen. I ride a 14.2 hand Rocky Mountain pony with very limited dressage experience, so I was very excited about the opportunity and began the application process. 

The application consisted of an extensive packet and a video demonstrating several riding skills.  I answered questions about my horse, my riding experience, future goals, and previous accomplishments.  In the video, we demonstrated skills such as turn on the forehand, transitions, and leg yields.  Once admitted in the D4K TEAM (Training Education And Mentoring) Program, we were chosen to participate in D4K TEAM Clinic with Lendon Gray at Chagrin Valley Farms. Thank you to Kate Poulin for organizing this local clinic, NODA for sponsoring our lunches, and to Chagrin Valley Farms for hosting!

Prior to the clinic, selected riders received several emails with instructions regarding behavior and presentation.  The emails explained how to show respect, gratitude, courtesy and responsibility. 

Throughout the clinic, it was expected that we respected our horses, parents, peers, presenters, and the facility.  It was insisted upon that we kept our stalls and area clean at all times and that we try to leave it better than it was when we arrived.  We needed to be sure that we braided and bandaged our horses and that our horse and tack were immaculately clean. We showed gratitude and courtesy to our speakers by arriving on time to lectures, asking questions, taking detailed notes, paying close attention, and writing thank you notes.  We showed responsibility by getting our horses ready on our own, taking turns cleaning up after horses in the arena, preparing ourselves for our ride, and being punctual for our peers’ lessons, our own lessons, and for lectures.  With these expectations, Lendon was not only helping us to become better riders, but better people too.

Participants audit the clinic

We began the clinic with opening remarks from Lendon.  She gave us each a folder with diagrams, articles, schedules, and worksheets.  She explained how the clinic would be run.  We were expected to watch and take notes on the other riders’ lessons. Lendon feels that journaling about our riding experiences is very helpful.

Every day, we participated in two lectures, along with riding lessons.  Our first lecture was with Dr. Ken Keckler, a local veterinarian.  He shared a slide show and discussed the difference between emergency and non-emergency situations with horses.

The second lecture was with Rosalind Kinstler.  She explained the different dressage organizations we could get involved in and how they could help us on our journey to become better riders and competitors.  

Learning stretches

The third lecture was very different from the rest.  We learned stretches and exercises with physical therapist, Matt Stevens, to enhance our cardiovascular and muscular endurance to help us with our riding.  

Our final lecture was with Lisa Gorretta.  She explained some of the attire and equipment regulations for USDF.  All the lectures were very informative, and we were thankful to NODA for providing delicious lunches while we listened to the speakers.

Lunch presentation

When it was time to ride, we had approximately 10 minutes to warm up in the ring.  When it was our turn, we would first talk about our horse and experience with Lendon and the other riders and auditors.  Then we had a 45-minute riding lesson.  During the lessons, Lendon used many different techniques to get her point across.  She was energetic and fun to work with, firm but entertaining and understanding. 

Some of my favorite lessons included her explanation of contact as a tee shirt allowing you to move but never leaving you naked.  She was insistent on elasticity in your arms and the ability to do nothing.  She also explained that your leg must mean go, not, ‘don’t slow down’ or ‘don’t stop’.  Lendon always encouraged us to be doing our very best from start to finish.  Even when cooling down, she would ask us “Is that your best walk?”

In my lesson, I rode Mocha, a Rocky Mountain pony who I lease.  I am so thankful to Dani Marinucci, Mocha’s owner, for allowing me the opportunity to ride, love, and learn with her pony!  Working with Lendon was a major turning point for both Mocha and I.  Before the clinic, we were working on and sometimes struggling with accepting contact, going too fast, proper bend, and balance.  

Within 10 minutes, we were already improving greatly!  Now she is softer, more controlled, and much more balanced.  It was empowering to hear Lendon encourage us as a pair and recognize our potential. 

I’d also like to recognize my incredible trainers, Jane Papke and Marty Costello, for all their help in getting Mocha and I where we are today. They have been a wonderful and encouraging influence on my riding. 

Time spent riding with Lendon reinforced that we are on the right track at home and gave us new approaches with which to work.  I feel confident that this pony can be something great!

Lendon helped all riders to set goals and continue along the path of dressage.  It was an honor to watch other talented riders learn and grow throughout the weekend.  Working with Lendon was truly a gift, and I am very thankful to have been able to participate in it!

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