Meet the L Graduate- Ken Borden

Rashka at Dressage at Devon in 2013. (Louise Beil)

Ken Borden, Jr., breeds, trains, and sells horses for dressage, hunter/jumper, and eventing at his family’s Little Bit Farm in Wilmington, IL. He is a USDF Gold Medalist, an L Graduate with Distinction, an in-demand clinician, and from 2009 through 2011, the USDF and US Equestrian Leading Dressage Breeder. He has bred 16 approved stallions and many USDF Horse of the Year winners. Ken holds a Master of Arts degree in theatre from the University of Texas at Austin.

How long have you been involved in the sport?

I have been involved in active equine competition for over 40 years.

How long have you been a USDF member?

I have been a USDF member for over 30 years.

What made you decide to participate in the USDF L Education Program?

                I decided to participate in the L Education Program because I am a teacher at heart. I always want to help others advance in their abilities and learn from mistakes. It’s why I am also a trainer and clinician. I believe judges play an important role in educating riders, especially those who give more than cursory comments with their scores.

How long did it take to complete the program, start to finish?

I graduated from the L Education Program with distinction over 24 years ago. It took me one season to complete that program. I have audited numerous USDF programs including even the L Education Program again several times.  

Do you plan to further your dressage education and to continue to apply what you learned in the program to become a licensed official?

I always seek to further my dressage education and would definitely like to advance as a judge, but I have decided to not pursue it at the moment because the time and expense required seriously diminishes my ability to be a successful breeder, trainer, and competitor, which is how I earn my living.

Do you serve as a judge for schooling shows in your capacity as an L Graduate? If so, on average, how many per year?

Although it is one of my favorite things to do, I rarely have time to judge. I am an active competitor, well-known clinician, and have a busy training schedule with various horses in many US Equestrian disciplines, so I have time to judge schooling shows perhaps two or three times a year.

What impact did the program have on your dressage knowledge?

  • I admire, respect, and want to ride (or scribe) for judges who routinely use the full scale, and whose comments actually reflect their scores.
  • At the lower levels, unfortunately, the walk score is often miss-scored by lower-level judges. Lateral walks are often “seen” when there is brilliance being shown. I’ve scored many 10s on the walk with various horses, who then receive 5s from other judges at the same show. It is the most frustrating part of the walk scoring.  
  • I’m glad to see that the lower-level judges are now, finally, no longer as afraid to give out higher scores as they once were. At one point, I refused to show for r and R judges because their scores were so much lower. That is quickly changing … finally!

Name three things you took away from the program that you think every rider should know.

I will never forget some of the things I learned during the L Education Program and while auditing the many sessions I have attended since that time.

1.) Balance over brilliance is more important.

2.) Criteria and basics should equal the final score. 

3.) The benefit of the doubt should always be given to the horse and rider. As a college professor for over 20 years, I always try to do this anyway. I believe USDF decided this course of action when they created half points about eight years ago.

4.) I always try to look for a way to make the impulsion and the submission scores slightly different, to help influence the rider in his or her understanding and to advance the horse/rider partnership.

Tell us about your horse(s).

I’ve bred, shown, and qualified many horses for USDF competitions. Highlights of some stallions I have bred include Raymeister (now GP Raymeister), whom I showed until he was sold as a seven-year-old, Rashka, with whom I showed through the FEI levels, Ovation, Altemus, and Masterpiece. I have also bred many mares and fillies that were successful in the USDF Dressage Sport Horse Breeding Horse Of the Year rankings. I would be remiss not to mention Reuters Tiamo Trocadero. Although he came to me at the end of his long career, which included being an alternate for the 2000 Olympics, I earned my USDF Gold Medal with him.

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