The Ups and Downs of a Beginning Rider


By Hayden Kane; Photos by Jessica Kane

I’m Hayden Kane, and I was so fortunate to receive the Ravel Education Grant from the United States Dressage Federation (USDF) this past year. The Ravel Grant is designed to recognize the outstanding displays of sportsmanship among USDF youth riders, and help them along their dressage journey. 

I started riding only a couple of years ago, on my rescue pony K5 Wee Biscuit, and recently moved up to my new horse, a 4-year-old 15.2h PRE, Havana CDF, that I hope to train and compete up the levels in the years to come.  The Ravel Grant provided us with an opportunity to clinic with, and learn from, exceptional trainer and FEI rider, Julio Mendoza. 

Hayden with Havana CDF and Julio Mendoza

Julio grew up riding on his father’s farm in Ecuador before coming to the United States, and now trains and successfully competes at the Grand Prix level with several horses, internationally.  Needless to say, I was a little intimidated to be studying under such a prestigious, advanced trainer; however, once we started the clinic, Julio immediately put both Havana and I at ease, and built our confidence over the two days we had together. It was an amazing experience I’m excited to share with other youth or newer riders starting out on their dressage journey. 

I love riding dressage; the training, the precision, and the ability to be a partner with your horse is really unlike any other sport I’ve participated in.  However, the path of a successful rider is not always easy. We all have moments of frustration, disappointment, and setbacks that threaten to shatter our confidence. But it is in these moments that the true test of character lies. I know this to be true because my horse is just a baby, and I’m learning along the way with her.  Some people are able to acquire a horse that is already trained, so they can learn from the horse while they, too, are learning.  We didn’t take that path, somewhat due to our budget, but also because I really wanted to learn how to train her from the start, which in turn, I hope will make me a better rider.

Julio is a very skilled rider but, more importantly, Julio was an exceptional trainer, teaching me many new and useful tips for our riding approach.  He also put us immediately at ease, since we’re just at Training Level and most of the other participants were working on Prix St. Georges and I-1 or I-2.  Throughout the clinic, I did not merely acquire riding skills, but I also gained a profound understanding of the intricacies that define dressage. I learned the importance of suppleness, rhythm, and balance, the essential building blocks that lay the foundation for success. I also learned things like always having a conversation with their mouths; meaning that you always have to keep them thinking throughout the lesson, to keep them round and supple. I have to do this a lot because Havana is just a baby and doesn’t yet know self-carriage, consistently, so it is my job to teach her. Another thing I learned is that it’s not a bad thing to go over basics again – sometimes you need a refresher. 

Hayden and Harper (read her story about the Julio Mendoza clinic here!) at their first (and only) leadline class at age 4

What I have learned is that Havana is not going to be perfect all the time, or always know what to do, so it’s up to me to help and teach her these things. And it’s not always going to be easy. We have definitely had ups and downs, good and bad days, but knowing what we need to fix and then improving that, we will be loads better in our next ride, whether that’s in our barn or at a competition, and that is all centered on a solid foundation of dressage basics.

One of the most important things that Julio told me, and will stick with me through this journey, is that “you have to believe in yourself before getting on every day, because if you are feeling confident, she will feel confident too.” Now, today, and every day before I get on, I tell myself I can do it, and even if my ride had some mistakes, because mistakes make us human, it shows that we’re learning and can be fixed. I am learning new things every day and, before I know it, those mistakes are already fixed. And that makes me feel confident, which makes Havana feel confident, and if we believe in each other, then the ride will be amazing. The dedication, discipline, and unwavering commitment demanded by this sport inspired me to push beyond my limits, to strive for excellence.

Hayden with her trainer, Hailey Guard of Guardian Dressage

I am filled with immense gratitude for the people that have helped me make my dream possible. That dream is to continue to learn and grow as a pair, to move up the levels, and to improve our scores every time out.  Coming out of that clinic, I felt stronger and more confident.  I acquired new riding skills and tips that I can apply every day. Not only did I walk out of that clinic feeling that way, but I feel way more capable of doing well in shows, and in my riding abilities.  Now, Havana and I are already practicing with our trainer and getting ready to go to a few shows this summer. I cannot wait to put mine and Havana’s skills to the test and show off what we have learned together.

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!

Leave a Reply