I was able to host a rider, Marlena Kurz (16 – USDF Dressage Seat Medal Final Winner) and her mother, Anna, at my house and was also fortunate enough to get to speak to the riders at dinner one night as a "Young Rider Graduate" who moved on to be a successful professional. I was excited to talk with the riders and share my experiences and insights, and hopefully motivate them to keep going, work hard, and keep your chin up. I found it very interesting that the riders had the same questions and issues that I had when I fist came to compete in Wellington from rural San Antonio, Texas 10 years ago as a junior rider. The riders were experiencing the same feelings of intimidation and excitement/giddiness that I remember completely. Wellington and our "real" dressage world here is extremely daunting, and most of the rider's were certainly feeling the culture-shock.
It took a bit of time in the beginning for me to realize that the community is extremely helpful and welcoming. I told Marlena to never be afraid to ask for help, ask for lessons, ask to watch, ask for an explanation- people are friendly and willing to help you. Get comfortable, because people want you to do well and are supportive. One of the most important parts of this program is to be able to find our aspiring and talented riders and get them an education and keep them motivated. They were able to build networks amongst each other and with professionals. They were also able to truly get to know one another and build friendships, which will be very beneficial to them all as they meet again and again in their competitions.
The riding abilities of the riders impressed me, as did their dedication. Even after daily fitness/torture sessions with Robert's trainer that left them aching with sore muscles, everyone remained positive, and most importantly grateful for the opportunity given to them to grasp so much knowledge and experience. Marlena was so sore she could not walk up the stairs or lift her hands above her head, but she was writing in her journal every night, never late to get up and get started, and never once complained. All the girls I met and chatted with were extremely appreciative of everyone's time and efforts, and never stooped smiling and giving 100%. Their work ethic is commendable.
All of this said, the program worked. Riders came in timid and intimidated, but left with a huge conglomeration of knowledge to help them become true horsemen, and a feeling of support from professionals (especially us newer professionals) who have "been there, done that" and can give advice and help them through their upcoming trials. I wish them all the best of luck and I hope they stay in touch with each other and all of us who were a part of a wonderful week for our sport.