Meet the L Graduate – Tara Manion

Tara and Lago (Amber Kimball photo)

Tara Manion participated in the USDF L Education Program hosted by the New England Dressage Association (NEDA) in 2011-2012. Originally from Connecticut, Tara currently resides in Ocala, Florida, and trains with Amber Kimball at Southern Lights Dressage. Tara also regularly participates in clinics with Ilse Schwarz, in addition to judging schooling shows in Florida and Connecticut. She has also judged several times at Lendon Gray’s Youth Dressage Festival. Tara is a USDF Bronze Medalist and is actively working towards her Silver. As if that wasn’t enough, she also has a full-time job as a Senior Medical Writer with Pfizer.

 How long have you been involved in the sport?

I have been involved in dressage for approximately 20 years.

How long have you been a USDF member?

I have been a USDF member for approximately 20 years.

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

I wanted to gain a better understanding of what judges were looking for and to share this knowledge as an L Graduate.

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

Approximately a year and a half, including the sitting and scribing requirements.

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 strongly believe in furthering my dressage education, regardless of long-term goals. I would like to participate in the USEF/USDF “r” Dressage Judge Training Program at some point in the future. 

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

Yes. I judge schooling shows in Florida, Connecticut, and New York. The number of shows ranges from about eight to ten per year, total. Due to travel restrictions in 2020, I was unable to judge outside of Florida and the number of shows that I have judged this year is half of what I normally do.

What impact did the program have on your dressage knowledge?

The USDF L Education Program had a significant impact on my dressage knowledge, and I highly recommend every person who shows to at least audit the first portion. I came away from the program with a greater understanding of the rules, the purpose of the levels, what the judges are looking for and how they arrive at their scores, and how to critically evaluate a horse/rider combination from a judge’s perspective.  The only “negative” is that I now find myself scoring and commenting for my own movements as I ride, and that can get a bit distracting.

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

You don’t need a “fancy-prancy” horse to get good dressage scores. There are plenty of opportunities to get good scores with a horse with three clean gaits, provided you understand the basics, the purpose of the level at which you are riding, perform the required movements with some degree of ease/harmony (ie., are showing at an appropriate level), and ride an accurate test.

It is not the responsibility of the judge to make sure you get to the ring on time. It is also not the judge’s responsibility to make sure you know the rules and the purpose of the level for which you are riding/showing. Come prepared.

The judge *wants* to give you good scores. They follow a specific method of determining the score for a specific movement, as well as overall. A low score does not mean “they don’t like you/your horse”, a low score means that for whatever reason, you did not meet the requirements of a particular movement or the purpose of the test. The purpose of the level and directives for each movement are clearly outlined on each test. Between those items and the rule book, you have all that you need (you do also need a horse, of course)!

Have you participated in or completed other USDF programs? Describe.

Yes! After I completed the USDF L Education Program, I volunteered to scribe for several candidates in subsequent L Programs hosted by NEDA. It was a great opportunity to continue my education, as well as give back to a valuable program/dressage community. I also scribed for a USEF “r” Dressage Judge candidate for her final exam (NEDA hosted). I attended the 2020 Adequan®/USDF FEI-Level Trainers Conference. I participated in my local GMO’s (STRIDE) “View from C” clinic in 2018 with Natalie Lamping with my gelding Iago, at Training Level. I also participated in a2009Platinum Performance/USDF Adult Clinic with Charlotte Bredahl-Baker, at Carbery Fields Farm in Lebanon, CT, with my Lipizzan mare, Breanna.

Tell us about your horse(s).

I have a 21-year-old retired Lipizzan mare, Breanna, and a seven-year-old KWPN gelding bred by Cornell Equine Park, Lago, that is currently schooling Third Level.

Phone: (860) 377-8083                                                                                          


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