To honor her steadfast belief that dressage benefits all equines and all riders, especially youth, Lendon Gray was a member of the 2011 class of Roemer Foundation/USDF Hall of Fame Inductees. From Olympic Games and USDF Instructor Certification, to her Dressage4Kids organization with its scholarship program and Lendon’s Youth Dressage Festival and Emerging Athletes Dressage Program, she has been a champion for kids, ponies, straight talk, hard work, good instruction, and great horsemanship. Here is the induction speech, given by then-USDF President George Williams, at her induction.
I can honestly say forty three years ago, the summer I turned thirteen, while I was swimming in the pond at Puckerbrush Farm it never occurred to me that I would be one day standing here honoring this year’s inductee to the USDF Roemer Hall of Fame. A lot has happened in those forty three years, especially for Lendon. Growing up in Maine, Lendon, the daughter of Corinne and Sam Braley Gray, was riding a horse with her mother before she could walk. In 1988 she said of this wonderful woman who generously gave back to the horse world and who I knew through her involvement with the US Pony Club: “My only teacher was my mother, a Virginia horsewoman who had transplanted her enthusiasms to New England.”
Lendon was quoted in an article from 1980 as saying: “I grew up careening around the hillside, playing games like tag and follow-the-leader, leaping things I should not have leapt,” and as it was summed up at one point on the “dressage4kids” website “generally having fun riding and caring for horses.”
She became a member of the Penobscott Pony Club at the age of seven and worked her way up and at the age of 16 received the ‘A’ Rating. Based on her performance at a Pony Club Rally she was invited by US Three Day Coach, Jack Le Goff to participate in a young riders’ clinic held at the USET.
In that same 1980 article Lendon explained: “I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time. I was found by the Three-day team at a Pony Club rally and was invited by Jack Le Goff to train with the Three-day team. He happened to be there and I happened to be there. I got into dressage by accident from three-day.”
Lendon and her sister Marshall both took a shine to eventing, Lendon progressed up the ladder on an Appaloosa named Shavano’s Pride. In a 1990 interview with The Chronicle of the Horse, Lendon said of him: “He was a wonderful horse that I could do anything with. I was very successful with him eventing because even then I would get far enough ahead in dressage that I could make some mistakes. We used to pull a lot of rails in stadium and still win.”
In the late ‘60s Lendon and Marshall were invited to train with the USET Three-day squad. Lendon left in early 1971. “I got to advanced and that’s where I said, “This isn’t for me,” said Gray.
Lendon attended Sweet Briar College in Virginia and continued her riding in their equestrian program under the direction of Paul Cronin. In a rider profile Lendon filled out in 1988 for the USDF Horse of the Year Champion, when it asked “Who has had important influences in your dressage life?” Lendon listed Col Ljungquist “who introduced me to dressage”, Michael Poulin “who trained me” and Paul Cronin “who taught me quality and softness while I learned forward riding.”
After graduating in 1971 with degrees in Latin and Greek, because as she said “I already knew I was going into horses”, she continued on at Sweet Briar as a hunt seat instructor. At that time she also began to train with Col. Bengt Ljungquist, where she had the opportunity to ride upper level horses.
She left Sweet Briar in 1974 and ended up with a job offer with Mrs. Peggy Whitehurst of Alabama. The job entailed anything from breaking young horses to competing in local shows. However, it led to what became a longstanding owner/trainer relationship, and one which gave much to Lendon’s career.
Crown Juel, one of Mrs. Whitehurst’s young horses, was selected for dressage work, and only then did Lendon turn her full attention to dressage. As she said later in an interview: “I was riding a mare named Crown Juel. We started her eventing, but she was such a fine animal that we decided she should do dressage instead. I started showing her at second level and then brought her home to Maine and took my first dressage lessons with Michael Poulin.” Michael would quickly become her long time coach and mentor. That fall, she won the AHSA Third Level Championship with Crown Juel.
The following year, in 1977, while still working with Crown Juel, she accidently began her partnership with Seldom Seen. The wonderful Connemara cross was Mrs. Whitehurst’s event horse. Lendon took him to an event one weekend when Mrs Whitehurst had the flu and the two hit it off. When Mrs Whitehurst decided not to move up to training level in combined training, Lendon got Seldom Seen as a dressage horse.
In an article published by the “Northeast Horseman” July 6, 1980, Lendon is quoted as saying “I have this pony, Seldom Seen, who has done extremely well. In nine competitions, he got three seconds and six firsts, all this at Third and Fourth Level. It is thoroughly ridiculous for someone my size riding a pony. It is thoroughly ridiculous to have a pony competing at higher level dressage. I am learning a lot schooling him. I have every intention of making him a Grand Prix horse, pony, whatever. They would laugh him out of Europe because of his size, so what.” I think, as the saying goes, Lendon got the last laugh, especially now as she joins Seldom Seen in the USDF Roemer Foundation Hall of Fame.
In 1977, Lendon was invited to attend a USET clinic with Col. Ljungquist for promising riders. He helped her find an upper level school master, Casanova, and soon she began to compete at Prix St. Georges. Then in 1978, Beppo, a green grand Prix horse, was sent to Lendon with the stipulation that she try out for the upcoming World Championships.
With only three months to prepare, she returned to work with Michael Poulin, riding many horses, and watching films of competition. Although she placed fifth in the tryouts, she made the traveling team and rode Prix St Georges and Intermediaire at several shows in Europe. Two years later, Lendon and Beppo represented the US, competing in the “Alternate Olympics” in 1980 at Goodwood, England.
In 1988, she was a member of the US team at the Seoul Olympics with Later On, and the pair was our representative at the 1991 World Cup in Paris. Besides these international highlights, Lendon’s competition career was long and successful on the national level as well. By 1990 she had over 40 regional and national wins on such horses as Medallion, Idle Moon, Last Scene, Royal Rival, Zelvarino, Bert, and Mariupol.
Lendon operated Gleneden Dressage, a stable with over 50 horses and numerous students under her supervision at the historic Sunnyfield Farm in Bedford, NY for 18 years. Today she continues to teach at various stables in the area as well as continuing with her hectic clinic schedule. She has conducted clinics literally around the world in countries such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Iceland, Uraguay, and here in the US.
In that same USDF Rider profile from 1988 I mentioned earlier when asked “What do you do when not riding?” Lendon answered with one word “sleep”.
Actually, that turned out not to be true, or if it was at least not for long. Lendon’s interest in the youth had been brewing for a long time.
In July of 1980 “The Northeast Horseman” said in an article by India Baker: “Lendon’s dressage success relied on the help and encouragement from the USET coaches. She believes they can do even more to encourage young and talented riders, and improve the future of American dressage:” The article then goes on to quote Lendon: “There are a lot of kids out there that are fantastic riders. They have parental support, but if they were to be recognized in some way, if the team said, ‘listen, keep at it’, give them some sort of clinic or competition, at a level they could shine at, these parents would say, ‘maybe this kid has some talent.”
Lendon’s Youth Dressage Festival, formerly known as The Northeast Junior/Young Rider Championships, was started in 1999 and is now held in Saugerties, NY. The Dressage4Kids website describes it this way:
“This show started as an effort to see today’s youth be awarded for more than riding trained horses. The competition has three equal parts: a written test on riding theory and stable management; a group equitation class, and a dressage test with levels from Training through FEI Young Rider. There is also a Prix Caprilli (dressage test with jumps), tack room decorating competition, dressage trail class, as well as a wide variety of exhibitions, and demonstrations.” In fact, there are now smaller-scaled Youth Dressage Festivals held in Florida and Michigan.
A natural progression from the Youth Festival was the creation of the non-profit organization, “Dressage4Kids which runs a variety of programs and offers scholarships for every sort of dressage rider. Some scholarships are geared towards riders travelling to Europe, others toward the small child with a backyard pony just wanting to be able to afford lessons, but they all speak to Lendon’s dedication to ‘leveling the playing field’ of dressage. With this same goal in mind Dressage4Kids events are highly subsidized to make them affordable to even the most limited budgets.”
The mission statement of Dressage4Kids could sum up Lendon as well: “To encourage riders under 21 to become true horsemen; to offer scholarships; to develop good sportsmanship; to support programs for adults who in turn educate youth; and to have fun.”
Most recently Lendon, along with Robert Dover and Courtney King, has been developing the Emerging Dressage Athlete Program to search out and recognize talented young dressage riders.
Over the years Lendon has been very active with organizations such as USET, USEF, US Pony Club, TDF, Dressage4Kids, and of course, USDF. Through these organizations she has been very involved and was an early promoter of several current programs such as the USDF Instructor Certification Program, Dressage Seat Equitation, The Graduate Young Rider Program, and the FEI Pony National Championships held as part of the Festival of Champions.
In her free time she has written for numerous publications, including the Chronicle of the Horse, Dressage Today, Practical Horseman, Horse People and Equine Journal. Her book, “Lessons with Lendon” is very clear, concise and straightforward and belongs on every rider’s bookshelf.
In 1989 Lendon received the Governor’s Award from the Maine Sports Hall of Fame, in 2004 she was awarded the title of USPC Legend, and in 2006 she was inducted into the Sweet Briar College Sports Hall of Fame. The USDF is proud to continue to recognize Lendon for her performance and service by inducting her into the USDF Roemer Foundation Hall of Fame.
I would like to finish by reading to you from an article in the Chronicle of the Horse published in June of 1990 ” ‘I have been blessed with some pretty terrific horses,’ said Gray, always quick to show her horses are the wind beneath her wings.” – Lendon, throughout your life you have been the wind beneath the wings for hundreds of aspiring riders. Thank you and Congratulations.
- For more on Lendon Gray – Dressage is 4 Everybody