Meet the L Graduate – Lydia Gray


Dr. Lydia Gray is the Staff Veterinarian – Research & Medical Director for SmartPak. In this position, she develops new equine supplements, provides horse health and nutrition education for horse owners as well as the Customer Care Team, and supports the colic surgery reimbursement program, ColiCare, along with other veterinary relationship efforts.

How long have you been involved in the sport?

I got my first horse the summer after 7th grade (when I was 13), but it wasn’t until the summer of my sophomore year in high school (when I was 16) that I “discovered” dressage. So that was like, 36 years ago.

How long have you been a USDF member?

Oh boy, I think I joined when I graduated from veterinary school and had a nice Off-Track Thoroughbred that I began competing in recognized shows. That would have been 1994 (26 years ago).

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

Many moons ago, there was a session in my area that I audited and was SHOCKED at the priceless information the participants were getting. I thought “even if I never judge, having a better understanding of what judges are looking for – and just dressage in general – is going to make me a better rider, competitor, and trainer.”

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

Unfortunately, I had a “gap year” because our original group was made up of 20 people for A, B, and C, but only 10 can participate in Part 2 (evaluative sessions).

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 would love to pursue my dressage education and become a licensed official, but I do not have the scores to go on. My horse passed away as we were showing Third Level/schooling Fourth Level.

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 do about 3-4 shows a year. I also scribe quite a bit at recognized shows and learned how to e-scribe in 2020!

What impact did the program have on your dressage knowledge?

Being an equine veterinarian, I’ve always had a pretty good “eye” for movement, but the USDF L Education Program provided structure to my assessment of the gaits and a horse’s physique (and the rider’s position and effectiveness).

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

Judges want to give the rider the benefit of the doubt and are looking for ways to reward them for effort, not looking for ways to take away points.

Basics are everything, and the quality of the gaits is the basis for the score in every single box. For example, you can have a good walk to trot transition (8) but if the quality of the walk before the transition or the quality of the trot after the transition was poor, the judge cannot give an 8.

Judges really do use the Purpose of the Level as well as the Directives for each movement to base the score on, so riders and trainers should read and understand them thoroughly.

Tell us about your horse(s).

I recently had to have my longtime partner, Newman, put down at age 19. With this beautiful bay Trakehner gelding, I earned my USDF Bronze Medal and was one score short of the Bronze Freestyle Bar. Most recently, as it was clear he wasn’t going up the levels any more due to health and soundness issues, I began competing in Dressage Equitation – earning my Elementary and Accomplished pins – and began to go back through the levels riding sidesaddle! He was also a lovely combined driving horse, of course excelling in the dressage phase of the sport.

Now I have a tall, dark bay, three-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding nicknamed “Stan Lee” in honor of the founder of Marvel Comics. I enjoy developing a bond with him and look forward to introducing him to groundwork, starting him under saddle, and teaching him to drive.

Phone: (630) 557-0241


Dr. Lydia Gray has been featured numerous times on YourDressage, sharing her valuable insight about horse health.  To learn more from her, check out her articles “Dressage Seat Equitation: Calling All Adult Amateurs”, “Cross Training Our Way to Fun and Excitement”, and “Travel Tips for a Healthy and Happy Horse”  as well as the videos “Ask the Vet: COVID-19 and Equine Coronavirus” and “The Effects of Turmeric and Devil’s Claw on Horse Stomach Health”.

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