Melissa Taylor Yee – DIFOPL Amateur Championships Contender Sets Sights On Olympics
With scores consistently in the 60 percentile, Adult Amateur Melissa Taylor Yee, 32, of Northampton, Pennsylvania, is in contention for the top awards in the 2003 DIFOPL Amateur Dressage Championships, which will wrap up at the end of April. Melissa is competing two horses – Ike at Prix St. Georges/Intermediaire I and Cidor at Grand Prix. Melissa describes herself as a full-time housewife, married to stockbroker Ken Yee. She trains with Lars Peterson.
Melissa entered the Amateur Championships on the recommendation of a friend because, “I’ve just been having a really good year.” At her most recent show, the Zada Enterprises LLC WEF Dressage Classic in Wellington, March 13-16, Melissa rode Ike to a fifth place ribbon in the Open Prix St. Georges (64.417%) and third place in the I-I (64.750%).
And though she admits that she usually prefers to stay in the background and not seek the spotlight of a championship, she is supporting the DIFOPL Amateur Championships because she perceives the program as a good way to bring more financial support from sponsors to dressage competitions, an aspect of the industry that she is working on with rider friends who are also financial consultants and principals in major businesses.
A Natural Talent
Melissa has been a rider since she was a small child, but started to focus on dressage just four years ago. She has moved up the levels at a rapid clip, and has already earned her USDF Silver and Gold medals. A former hunter who did a bit of eventing, Melissa first became interested in dressage because she enjoyed watching, but became captivated when she discovered, “There’s just such a connection between the horse and rider. It’s not just a ‘push and go’. You really need to be able to feel your horse. It has to be so rhythmical between both the horse and the rider. It’s very beautiful and it’s very hard. I like a challenge and it’s extremely challenging. It fascinates me. The more I learn the more I want to learn. I want to be able to do it on different horses – you do your best when you can actually apply it to every single horse you get on.”
Prior to her partnership with Lars Peterson – who moved to Virginia from his native Denmark in May 2002 – Melissa trained with Todd Bryan and Belinda Nairn Wertman. Melissa purchased both her horses from Belinda. “She knew the horses inside out and so she really helped me with the little problems I was having along the way.”
Stellar Support System
Melissa also credits her husband, Ken, for her success and quick rise in competitive dressage. Because of the nature of his business, he is able to travel with her, and they can remain in Florida for the season. “I have an extremely supportive husband. He’s wonderful. He supports me not just emotionally and physically, he is also my number one sponsor,” Melissa states. She manages to juggle her intense riding schedule with her role as housewife with Ken’s help. “He knows how to give a good half halt,” she laughs. “Every now and then if I step out of line or I get a little too crazy or a little too overzealous, he’ll give me a little half halt there. I think we just have a good balance. I don’t push my limits – I know that I need to be there and support him as much as he supports me.”
At home in Pennsylvania, Melissa arrives at the barn by 9am or earlier, and is home by 3pm. She rides each horse twice. “One time is to make them stretch long and low, and just get them over their back. The second time is usually a good work out or vice versa – a good work out first and then stretching.” She trains on her own for the most part, but regularly travels to Virginia for weeks at a time, living near Lars’ stable in her mobile home/RV (“it’s actually a bus chassis”) so that she can take daily lessons. While in Florida for the Winter Equestrian Festival, Melissa has four or five lessons each week with Lars. “I’m so excited right now because I’ve grown so fast with Lars. He knows when to push you and when to back off. That’s something a lot of trainers don’t understand. They need to know when to back off and he does. When it comes to shows, he mellows out.”
Melissa’s ultimate goal is to become a member of the United States Equestrian Team. “I’d love to make the Olympic team – that is honestly my long term goal,” and she adds with a laugh, “I’m a little ambitious – four years of riding and I want to make the team!” She points out that she considers herself fortunate that for the past four years she has been able to focus completely on her riding; though she attended college and has a dental hygienist’s background, she has not pursued that as a career. “I sacrificed my friends and my family and many weekends and many events and social parties. I’ve really dedicated myself.”
In the future Melissa would like to become a professional rider and teach dressage – but not just yet. “I think I’m still a sponge that needs to keep absorbing as much as I can. I wouldn’t mind helping young kids one day because I’m sure I can help kids, but I’m not ready to go out and start giving a lot of lessons.”
Melissa is in the process of looking for two more mounts to add to her current band. Ike is a 13-year-old KWPN gelding by Zep out of Tosca; and Cidor is a 19-year-old, KWPN gelding by Nimmerdor. “He’s fabulous. I call him my Yoda, because he’s taught me so much – my schoolmaster.”
Regarding her present status of successful amateur, Melissa is philosophical about her achievements. “When you surround yourself with greatness, that’s what you have to become. So you stand here and you’re around it all and you just want to be so much better than what you are.”
Mary Hilton for DressageDaily.com