Believe In Yourself and Keep Trying


By Harper Kane

Photos by Jessica Kane

First of all, I would like to start by thanking USDF and everyone else who contributed to making this grant possible.The Ravel Education Grant recognizes the outstanding displays of sportsmanship among USDF youth riders. I am so humbled and grateful to have been awarded this honor. But for me, this grant was far more than that, it is an incredible opportunity to learn and grow as a dressage rider, and realize the impact that each of us can have by encouraging each other along the way. 

From the very beginning, training in dressage, the art of harmonious communication between horse and rider has captured my heart. I loved watching the musical freestyles that show off each graceful stride, each gentle cue, revealing a partnership built on trust, respect, and understanding. It’s what made me want to give this sport a try when I was in Pony Club just learning to ride. Little did I know how amazing and difficult this journey would be at times. Last year was an amazing first year competing with Catalina, my wonderful Oldenburg mare that my parents helped me buy when my pony’s lease came to an end.

We really worked hard and accomplished a lot more than I ever expected, even making it to the US Dressage Finals Presented by Adequan® at Training Level, where we placed 4th! I was also fortunate enough to be awarded the Ravel Grant, which provided an opportunity to clinic with exceptional trainer and FEI rider, Julio Mendoza. It is through this experience that I hope to share what I have learned from this opportunity. 

When I first stepped into the arena, I was filled with anticipation. And I was also quite nervous. What would it be like to ride with such an accomplished trainer? What if I mess up? Would he wonder why we were there? Here Cat and I were, just learning First Level movements, surrounded by exceptional riders from all across the state, training and competing at the highest FEI levels. My nerves were about to get the best of me, but then I met Julio. He had a big smile, asked me a little about Cat and our journey together, and instantly soothed all my worries. He reminded me that no one starts off being great, because then we wouldn’t have a sport to play if we all excelled at it the first time we tried. That first day, Cat and I did some things really well, and some things I could have ridden better. I shared a little with Julio about some of the challenges that we’ve had since we finished the season. I have learned that setbacks are not the end of the journey, but rather stepping stones along the way; that progress isn’t always a linear path.

Throughout this clinic, I was reminded of what it means to be a true dressage rider. It doesn’t matter what level you compete at if you have not mastered the basics. Julio taught me that dressage is not about fancy tricks but about basic, solid riding. Great transitions are well prepared for, and your basics are your foundation. I learned a lot about being supple, and allowing the horse to move through the whole body, riding from the back to the front. For example, we are working a lot on extensions at both the trot and the canter. Julio said something that really made sense to me, which was that an active hind leg does not mean running or ‘going faster’ but having more power to step through. At age 13, a lot of the dressage concepts can be a little challenging to understand, and Julio was great at helping make sense of what it meant, while also explaining how it felt to ride the movement correctly. 

I have to embrace the importance of simplicity; that while it may sound really complex, it isn’t when you consider how the horse is meant to move. I know that the more we work as a team and really work together, the more I learn to ride for feel, and we will both become more supple and relaxed. As my connection continues to grow with Cat, even through the clinic, I was reminded of the beauty of true partnership and the power of mutual respect. In understanding this, Cat becomes my companion, where every aid becomes a conversation, and every step becomes a testament to the trust we share, even at the very basic movements we are learning. I am encouraged to pick myself up when I stumble, to persevere when faced with something difficult I’m asking for, and to believe in the strength within our partnership that we can do this. All of this is possible because of Julio, who is not just a teacher, but a fellow rider. He has been where I am now and has put in effort and perseverance, and something great has come out of it. He constantly said “you have to believe in yourself” throughout the clinic and he’s right. His faith in me is what inspired the newfound confidence that I will carry through the ups and downs of my equestrian journey. 

Beyond the arena, I am grateful for the connections made with fellow riders, people who understand the highs and lows of this journey in dressage. It was so nice to feel a sense of community, lifting each other up during moments of doubt, and celebrating each other’s triumphs throughout the two days. Together, we learn that setbacks do not define us, but rather shape us into the riders we aspire to be, and it’s always a learning process. 

I left the clinic not only with a new toolbox of skills, but also a newfound belief in my abilities. This experience has taught me that no one is ever perfect, but we can strive to be better than who we were a year ago, or even yesterday.

I now realize that it is okay to make mistakes, and those mistakes are just detours that lead to growth and newfound strength to try again. I am filled with gratitude for the Ravel Grant which has made this transformative journey possible, and for the confidence it has instilled within me. I hope to meet other young riders out there trying, and to offer an encouraging smile and support – we can all use it, because this sport is challenging, but with perseverance and determination, it can be a really rewarding experience.

Do you know an outstanding youth who deserves an opportunity like this? Check out The Children Are Our Future and Sweet Child O’ Centerline to learn about more opportunities for youth dressage riders!


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