Dressage Therapy – How Dressage Has Helped My Daughter

Payton at the Houston Dressage Society's Laborious Day Show in Katy, Texas

By Jennie Pruden

I grew up in the horse world- with my aunt and grandmother as mentors. We had a family farm, and I showed English pleasure. Even though I was surrounded by horses, I just didn’t have the “horse gene.” Anyone in the horse world knows what it is; I saw it in my daughter Payton Anderson the first time she met a horse. Little did I know that riding would have such an impact on her. 

A young Payton

Payton became a member of USDF in May of this year.  She has been riding for over nine years; however, her journey to her first USDF show this August is unique. Payton has autism and rode her first eight years with a therapeutic riding center, The JF Shea Center in California.  Their foundation is in dressage and many of their instructors are USDF members, and it was at the JF Shea center that Payton got her first taste of dressage learning how to leg yield.  We moved to Texas last year and her lead trainer from the Shea Center, Janelle Evans said that if we could find a barn with the right instructor, Payton could make the leap to training in dressage.  

We were blessed to find White Fences in Austin and Payton’s new trainer, Daemie Kennedy.  She started riding in April on O’Keefe.  The two became instantly connected.  At the Shea Center she used the dressage letters to help her learn how to tell time and learn math.  She would guide her horse in a basic pattern, halt on a letter, and complete a question.  Riding continues to help her with her processing and confidence.  We feel blessed to be part of the young rider program at White Fences.  She was able to transition to Intro Test A and B at White Fences.  She competed in the Houston Dressage Society’s Laborious Day Show in Katy, Texas this August.  She finished on day one with a 1st in Intro A and a 4th in test B and on day two she finished with a 1st and a 2nd in Intro B.  She improved her score on Intro B by 4 points from day one to day two.  

Payton on O’Keefe

Now, our first show under our belt, I am back at the barn with her watching her excel in something she truly enjoys. My daughter made the comment, “Mom all your horse experience is coming back to you,” as I was helping out at the show. I had to laugh as I enjoyed the moment with her. The first time she heard about Wellington, she said, “That’s my goal!” As a mom, dressage has given us a new way to talk about goals. We talk about realistic expectations and goals- we have goals and stretch goals. Wellington is a stretch goal. Her goals for her first show were to finish the first test, get above a 40 and get a ribbon. She exceeded all of her goals at her first show. As a mother, I was so happy that she realized her hard work has paid off.  Dressage has also given us another family – from our team at the barn, White Fences, and horse show family. Everyone was so welcoming and supportive – it’s about the rider and the horse. I can’t count the number of people that congratulated my daughter on her first show. That is what you want is for your children to be involved in a positive atmosphere. 

With kiddos on the spectrum, the goal is to keep moving forward. Yes, there will be ups and downs, but keep progressing. We have a motto in our house – “Progress not perfection”. That is the way we approach dressage – progressing a little bit each time.  That is why her scores in Intro B meant so much to her; she improved by 4 points from day one to day two. Even her idol, Charlotte Dujardin, hasn’t had a perfect score… that is a really great lesson for life. Continue to keep working and try your best. That is why we love dressage.

Payton has officially caught the horse bug and is looking forward to the 2020 season. I could not be prouder of her as a mom.

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