Meet the L Graduate- Jennifer Kotylo

Swann Studio LLC

Jennifer Kotylo, of Chicago, IL, is a USDF L Graduate with Distinction who has also earned her USDF Silver Medal.

How long have you been involved in the sport?

I have been riding since I was a teenager and involved with dressage and USDF since it began. I have been an L Graduate for so long, I can’t really remember when I took the course, but it’s been at least 18, if not 20 years.

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

One of the main reasons I decided to participate in the L Education Program was to increase my education level and to figure out if judging was something that I wanted to do full time. 

I live in Chicago but participated in a program based in the Phoenix area, which was held monthly in the fall and winter months – a boon for a Chicago girl. Heading to Phoenix monthly made our typical bad winter go much more quickly. My instructors were some of the original L faculty and included Ashton Moore, who was a brilliant biomechanics lecturer, and Axel Steiner. (He could be a bit intimidating but has an amazing eye.) We did most of our practice judging at back-to-back CDIs in Chandler, AZ. How lucky was I to get to sit with some of the most highly respected international judges at the time – Uwe Mechlem and Stephen Clarke. Tom Poulin was one of our instructors at that session, and he spent so much time with us, watching all sorts of tests from Training Level to Grand Prix, again really trying to educate our eyes.

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

I would say, start to finish, it took less than a year to begin the program and then test out.

I feel like I took the L Education Program twice, as I also organized and ran an L program for the Illinois Dressage and Combined Training Association about 15 years ago. We used a completely different faculty and of course, we weren’t in sunny Arizona, but instead worked out of a hotel for the classroom sessions and a few rather chilly barns for the riding portions of the program. I ran this program on a tight schedule. I wanted the participants to be able to participate in the program and test out in less than a year.

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 did continue on and take the classes and the testing for my “r,” but never completed all of the sitting requirements. I loved the education but decided that sitting in a booth and judging for 8 hours a day, 2 or 3 days in a row was not really for me. My career changed focus towards teaching rider biomechanics and body awareness. In that regard, I am a certified Pilates teacher, a certified Equilates teacher, and a certified Balimo instructor. Teaching is a much more physical endeavor and more suited to my personality. With that said, I could not more heartily recommend the L Education Program for any serious student of dressage.

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

I augment my teaching and clinic schedule with judging schooling shows – both dressage and combined events – in the Chicago area. We are quite lucky to have a robust schooling show series here, complete with championship shows, so I judge one or two shows a month during our show season – typically from May to September.

What impact did the program have on your dressage knowledge?

The L Education Program was extremely impactful on my riding, teaching, and showing. This may sound silly, but one of the biggest things I learned was that judges were sitting in their booth cheering you on, not waiting to tear you apart. I used to have supreme stage fright, which was dramatically reduced after taking the program. Judges are just waiting for highlights, waiting to say, “wow,” waiting to be excited for your ride. They are also very empathetic when things go wrong.  The program made judges real people for me.

Another “ah-ha” realization was that, although all the instructors and students were taught the same methodology, people are people and they see the same things very differently sometimes. This is not to say one person is right and one is wrong (well sometimes they are!) but dressage is a very subjective sport. As a competitor this was eye-opening, just realizing one judge’s hot bottom wasn’t that important to another.

As a student of human biomechanics, I really was enthused with the biomechanical part of the L Education Program – how conformation can help or hinder performance, etc.  It helped to show me how to highlight one aspect of athleticism (either human or equine) and make do with other parts. (I.E. – if a horse has a long back and short legs, it’s going to be really hard, if not impossible, to over track in the free walk. If a human has short legs and rather closed hip sockets, riding a round barreled horse is going to be tough.)

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

In addition to participating in and leading a second L Education Program, I have hosted a variety of continuing education classes for the Illinois Dressage & Combined Training Association, including a week-long symposium with Echart Myners and an annual “How to Scribe” clinic. I am one of that club’s past presidents. I have written an article for USDF Connection on how to supple a rider’s hips and was a guest on the USDF Podcast.

Tell us about your horse(s).

Nimo is a 22- year-old Hanovarian gelding, which I competed through Intermediare I. Due to some congenital neck issues, as well as some hind suspensory problems, he has been retired for a few years, although I do get on him and play a bit. He is a joy.

Phone: (312) 719-0283


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