August is Youth Month on YourDressage! From stories about remarkable young dressage enthusiasts across the country, to articles about some of the opportunities USDF offers to youth riders, join us all month long as we celebrate equestrians aged 25 and under. They are the future of our sport!
Here, a Region 1 mother who grew up loving horses shares about passing this trait down to her young daughter, who now has a passion for dressage.
By Ashley Meeder
I have always loved animals, particularly horses, and at the age of eight my grandmother Sheena decided to pay for me to take horseback riding lessons. This began a lifelong dressage passion that would follow me into adulthood. As I began college, I took ten years off riding to get married, begin my career, and have my own children: two boys, Kade and Kyson, and a girl named Aubrey.
As my own children grew, my husband and I wanted them to try many sports, to explore, and find a hobby or passion that suited each of them. When a friend suggested horseback riding lessons, of course my heart leapt at the chance to revisit my childhood passion and share this with my own kids. When my children began lessons, I too got back into riding, and have not looked back since. In the years to come my boys explored other sports, but my daughter, Aubrey, continued to want to ride and learn horsemanship.
I saw how much Aubrey loved every aspect of horses, from caring, feeding, and cleaning, to riding, she was in the barn with me as much as possible. I saw much of myself in her. When Aubrey turned eight years old, she began to show interest in dressage and asked to participate in her first horse show, the Potomac Valley Dressage Association Fall Chapter Challenge, on her ever-faithful horse, Tinkerbell. Tinkerbell is a 20-year-old Quarter Horse who has done it all and knows her job; take care of her rider. When we agreed to let her show at Intro A, we explained that she would need to practice and learn her test. Aubrey did just that, she practiced in and out of the ring, drawing her test, and memorizing the movements at each letter, and took on the task of learning about the sport of dressage, tempo, and practiced developing a balanced seat. She even lessoned with my trainer, USDF Gold Medalist Sally Buchheister, in preparation for her test.
The day of the show was exciting, the weather was beautiful, and the early fall air was crisp and cool. The showgrounds were buzzing with riders busily preparing their horses for early morning rides, checking in, and doing chores around the stables. This was my first time as a horse show mom, and I watched Aubrey meticulously groom and tack Tinkerbell and head to the warmup arena as her ride time neared. Aubrey was all business as she practiced her walk, trot, and halt transitions, while managing to stay safe with other riders in the arena. Tinkerbell never missed a beat, never phased by other horses or the bustling atmosphere, and perked her ears up as she knew her job.
When their number was called, we headed to the arena. I was prepared to call her test and my husband had the camera ready in hand. The previous rider left the arena, and the judge and scribe were still discussing and preparing to ring the bell. I saw that Aubrey remembered what she had practiced, walking around the arena until it was her time. The judge rang the bell and Aubrey looked at me worriedly, I smiled and gave her a “you got this!” look and then said, “A enter working trot rising!”. I watched as her face changed to one of determination and focus, and she trotted down centerline to salute at the judge. Aubrey and Tinkerbell executed every movement of the test directives, and as I called the last directive, “X halt salute” I choked back tears of pride. Tinkerbell halted and Aubrey saluted the judge.
Just as she had practiced, when the salute was finished, she walked up to thank the judge. The kind judge offered her constructive feedback, complimented Tinkerbell, and told Aubrey she was a promising young rider. I watched her taking in all the feedback from the judge, and listened with tears in my eyes and a smile on my face. I was proud of her for working hard towards this goal!
As she left the arena, she immediately wanted to head back to the stables to untack and care for Tinkerbell, who got all the scratches and a peppermint for a job well done. Once untacked and groomed, Aubrey gave her hay and water, and began to clean out her stall. I was in such awe that my girl was so focused on making sure her horse was taken care of.
The lessons learned from this show were so much more than I really imagined. Aubrey learned the value of correct riding, caring for her animal, hard work, determination, and bravery. I hope that as she continues her riding journey, she looks back fondly on this memory and takes these life lessons with her always.