Many of the big winners at the 2015 USEF Dressage Seat Medal Finals and the USEF Festival of Champions for Pony, Junior, Young Rider and Brentina Cup riders have been active in Lendon Gray’s Dressage4Kids (D4K) programs. In fact, 25 alumnae of the various programs qualified and competed at the Lamplight Equestrian Center in Wayne, Illinois, Aug. 19-23, including eight former participants of the Winter Intensive Program (WIT) and 17 Emerging Dressage Athlete Program (EDAP) veterans.
Of those riders who qualified for the prestigious finals, many of them, and their parents, credit Gray and her programs with their success.
USEF Dressage Seat Medal Finals 14-18 Years-Old
Alexander Dawson, 14, from Kenosha, Wisconsin, won the dressage seat medal crown with an 85 percent in the 14-18 Year-Old class on Shamrock H, a 16-year-old KWPN gelding (Metall – Negra) owned by Lynda Chesser. Dawson said he and his trainer have been working on his position and the horse being on his aids.
As an EDAP participant for two years, Dawson remained in dressage instead of pursuing another equestrian discipline when he learned that he was not alone as a young person. The EDAP program is for dedicated, determined riders of all levels to develop them to become the international riders and trainers of the future.
“The first year I had gone, I had never seen another kid in dressage before,” he said. “There were boys and girls and every single age group was filled and there were so many ponies. It was really awesome. It helped keep me in it because I was really feeling alone with a bunch of adults. The second year, I went with my cousins and it’s really fun because you meet so many different people. There was a Brazilian team that year and people from all around the U.S.”
Dawson praised Gray’s educational program because, not only does she insist on good riding, but she teaches about the horse industry in general. “She really opened us up to the whole horse world,” he said.
Asia Ondaatje Rupert, 15, from Greenwich, Connecticut, was the second place medal winner in the same division, with an 84 percent on Twelfth Night, her own 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare (Gribaldi – Muppet). She and her horse also qualified for the Junior Championships. Rupert is a former WIT participant, an intensive 12-week program for determined, driven, passionate riders in which they are immersed in dressage during the winter show season in Wellington, Florida.
“I rode with Lendon for awhile,” she said. “She was one of my first dressage trainers. I didn’t have a lot of friends my age when I started dressage, and it opened up a whole new community of people. I did the Winter Intensive Training program two years ago and I always take care of my horse at shows but, with school, I don’t usually get the opportunity to be around the barn 24/7. Dressage4Kids really helped educate me in the stable and an all-around horsemanship education.”
Her parents, Sarah and David Rupert, have high praise for Gray’s D4K programs.
“They are incredibly valuable for riders of all ability levels,” David Rupert said. “So, for those who are just starting off, they’re not intimidating because she fosters a very friendly, encouraging, sportsmanship kind of environment. Those who aren’t as experienced are encouraged to progress at their own pace and they’re given lots of support along the way. At the same time, she manages to provide challenge for those who are more experienced riders. For me, to be able to do both within the same program is a testament to Lendon and a testament to how well this program works.”
Asia Rupert did a variation of the Winter Intensive Program because her school wouldn’t allow her to be away for 12 weeks. She flew down on Thursdays and spent the weekends in Florida. Although her spring break was supposed to be two weeks duration, her good grades earned her an extra week of vacation, which she spent at Hampton Green Farm in Florida, the home of the WIT program.
“That was really cool because of all the great equestrians Lendon attracts who were down in Wellington,” David Rupert said. “After you get over the awe that it’s this Olympian or that Olympian, they’re really focused on inspiring and giving lessons or encouragement to the younger riders. She really loved that program.”
Asia’s mother also praised Gray’s hard work. “Oh my gosh!” Sarah Rupert said.” Lendon has been a godsend. She’s has given us direction and helped us when we needed it and helped us find a good fit for Asia horse wise.”
USEF Pony Rider National Championship
Allison Nemeth, also a WIT alum, won the USEF Pony Rider National Championship with a 70.165 percent total score on Pablo S, her won 19-year-old German riding pony gelding (Pico – Polly). “This whole experience has been amazing,” she said of the championships. “I just feel so lucky that I got to be a part of it.”
She recently took part in another D4K program, the Courtney King Dye Horsemastership Clinic, held at Hassler Dressage in Chesapeake City, Maryland, July 28-Aug. 1. “It was really great,” Nemeth said. “We worked with a bunch of different trainers and we were able focus on different things with each person. It really helped me prepare for this competition.” Nemeth will continue on getting qualifying scores with her pony for the 2016 championships and is considering moving up to Junior Riders.
Brynne Varvel, 16, another EDAP participant, earned third place in the Pony Rider National Championships with a 64.665 total score on V Back in Black, her own 10-year-old Morgan gelding (Seasons Forever French – Livin On the Edge).
Varvel said she was honored to be in competition with such accomplished riders and she will push toward NAJYRC for Junior and Young Riders in the future. She was inspired watching the Markel/USEF Young Horse Championships and is considering moving to that area in her riding.
Dressage Seat Medal Finals 13 and Under
Julia Lee Barton, 13, from Lawrence, Kansas, another EDAP participant, rode Bonnaroo, her own 16-year-old Weser-Ems mare (FE Don’t Worry – Buttercup)to win the Dressage Seat Medal Final 13 and Under division with an 88.00 percent. She’s owned the mare for two years and practiced for the equitation classes by riding without stirrups, focusing on keeping her toes in and not sitting too far back. She started in dressage because her original trainer was focused on the sport and because her mother was focused on it.
“I love the foundation it puts on a horse,” she said. “If you took a dressage horse and took it jumping, it would usually be just fine because it puts a lot of control and a really good foundation on any horse’s training.” She thought her pony was responsive, allowing her to focusing on her aids and plans on working on bringing Bonnaroo up to the FEI level with designs on returning to the show in 2016.
USEF Junior Rider Championships
Madelyn Guthrie is another WIT program member and rode in the FEI Junior Team and Individual Tests, where she came in ninth on Tannehauser, a 20-year-old Trakhener gelding (Enrico Caruso – Tansanita) owned by Alison Bush. Her mother Maria Guthrie believes Gray’s influence helped her daughter achieve her goal of qualifying for the championships.
“We first met Lendon Gray when Maddie was 10 years old when we attended a pony clinic in New York,” she said. “We’re from Chicago and Lendon set up for us to lease a pony at the pony clinic. I have a background in hunter/jumpers and I knew nothing about dressage. I googled dressage and Lendon’s name kept coming up and I thought, ‘This is somebody we should get to know because there aren’t a lot of kids in dressage in our area.’”
A few months later, Madelyn participated in a USEF Young Rider Clinic in Chicago and then she attended the first EDAP clinic at Hampton Green Farm in Michigan. From there, she was chosen to be in the Robert Dover Horsemastership Clinic and she’s been involved in several EDAP clinics.
“We love Lendon, “Maria Guthrie said. “She teaches them not only to be equestrian competitors, but to be gracious in and out of the arena and to be all-around horse people. They learn how to take care of their horses and that it’s not just about riding your test, but it’s everything that goes into riding your test. She has very high expectations of how they behave and their sportsmanship. It transforms our young riders into young, responsible people. She’s no nonsense and has high expectations and the children rise to the expectation.”
Madelyn participated in the 2015 WIT program. This year, she qualified for the Festival of Champions and placed in the Top 10 in both the team and individual tests at NAJYRC. Maria Guthrie believes that participating in Dressage4Kids programs helped her daughter reach such high levels of success.
“To have all the opportunities to be trained by Lendon as well as all the other trainers and then to have the experience to compete in CDIs, it just sets the stage to be successful in dressage,” she said. “She would love to go to Wellington again. It’s a full day program and you have to commit to it, but Maddie was able to postpone her schooling and then make it up with online courses. It’s well worth it to immerse yourself into dressage.”