By Lucy Valandra
As it turns out, pony camp is just as fun as an adult as it was when I was a kid! I’d been looking forward to the Virginia Dressage Association (VADA)/ Northern Virginia (NOVA) Dressage Summer Camp since it was first announced, and it certainly did not disappoint. Mary Callan kicked it off with a dance party to welcome attendees into the barn, and the fun and enthusiasm carried through the whole experience. Thursday night featured a demonstration and lecture on musical freestyles, with Mary exhibiting her Grand Prix freestyle on her own horse, Kaboom. Getting fresh perspective from both a top rider, and the insight from a FEI judge, gave everyone some inspiration and ideas for their next freestyle. (Including the suggestion of sitting in the judges booth during sound check to make sure it’s an appropriate noise level)
Each rider enjoyed two lessons from USDF Gold Medalist Jim Koford, and two lessons with USEF “S” Dressage judge Debbie Rodriguez. Camp culminated in a warm up with Jim, followed by a fix-a-test ride in front of Debbie on Saturday. While the lessons were intense, they were properly suited to each of the horse and riders’ skills, goals, and fitness. From First Level through Grand Prix, all the riders came away with more tools in their toolbox, and new friends!
I brought my Third Level Trakehner gelding, Honorable. He’s still fairly new to me, so this was a great way for us to bond in and out of the saddle. “Henri” is built relatively long so Jim had us working on getting him forward and supple in the warmup with a long-and-low frame that was truly connected. After a walk break, we worked on riding the shoulder uphill using a mixture of shoulder in, haunches in, and renvers, and all the transitions to make sure he stayed on my aids. These exercises set Henri up to finish each session with balanced flying changes and working canter pirouettes. Each lesson was positive and productive for us, and one of the highlights included Jim telling me that I have an FEI horse in Henri.
Thank you to Shelli King, Mary Callan, Jim Koford, Debbie Rodgriguez, VADA/NOVA, and all the volunteers who helped to put on a fun, educational, and rewarding camp. Already counting down the days ‘til next year.
This educational event was made possible with the help of a USDF Group Member Organization (GMO) Education Initiative Grant. The primary objective of the GMO Education Initiative (formerly known as the National Education Initiative) is to create and support new and affordable programs to engage members. GMOs hosting approved programs are eligible to apply for a USDF GMO Education Initiative Grant. Learn more here.