Wellington, FL - Let’s say you were able to watch some of the top dressage trainers in the U.S. give lessons to a variety of riders on a variety of horses. We are talking superstars like Debbie McDonald, Robert Dover, Adrienne Lyle, George Williams, Charlotte Brendahl-Baker and Laura Graves. Would you jump at the chance to learn and maybe get some tips to train your horse? And let’s say you could attend lectures from some of the top pros in the country on topics like saddle fitting, horseshoeing, basic horse care, media training and sports psychology. Would you go? Of course you would. But most professional dressage trainers and amateurs in the Wellington area are not taking advantage of the opportunity to audit the Robert Dover Horsemastership Clinic, sponsored in part by Dressage4Kids, and Dover is not happy about that. Lendon Gray, the force behind Dressage4Kids, isn’t too happy either.
“There have been some trainers who have come out to watch and that is gratifying, but we are in a town where there are so many riders and trainers who could all learn from watching this,” Dover said. “We are in a community where great stuff happens including world-class shows at amazing show grounds surrounded by beautiful farms with a lot of professional riders. But instead of saying, ‘Oh my gosh! Debbie McDonald and Adrienne Lyle are teaching today. What can I get out of that and how can I show that I'm supportive of it?’”
The Robert Dover Horsemastership Clinic is five days of intensive training for young riders with the potential to move up the ladder. The riders take lessons each day with one of the coaches and they attend lectures to increase their knowledge of horsemanship. All the lessons and lectures are open to auditors for a $25 a day donation to Dressage4Kids. The clinic runs through Wednesday, Jan. 7 at the Van Kampen Arena at the Stadium at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center.
“We hear from the adult amateurs so often that there aren't educational activities for them,” Gray said. “So here you have three rings going on with riders from Grand Prix to Second or Third level, whose problems probably relate more closely to that of an average rider. What an amazing opportunity they are missing to learn. And if you don't like one lesson, you can walk 20 feet and listen to another lesson. It's five full days of education.”
Auditors who have attended heaped praise on the clinic. Madison Lacy, 13, of Waco, Texas, is a participating auditor and it’s her first time at the clinic. “I really liked how Robert Dover explained the half-halt because it was kind of vague to me,” she said. “I understood it but he really explained what each of your aids is supposed to do and what the aids are.” She added that she is learning new exercises to use with her 11-year-old Oldenburg. ”This is really cool because I've never seen so many talented people in one area,” she said.
Her mother, Noell Lacey, said she is learning what her daughter’s horse needs to do to be competitive. “Some of the riders brought their younger horses so it's nice to get to see the training process,” she said. “I have a better idea of where to go from where we are and where she should be.”
Madison’s younger sister, 10-year-old Morgan, said she is going to use some of the information she’s learned on her 14-hand pony, Gwyneth. She was intrigued by Dr. Laura King, a hypnotist and life coach. “The hypnotist taught us about the mind and how it works for sports,” she said. “She told us that if you watch your competition you'll mess up. Your brain remembers what you see.”
She also took Dover’s first lecture to heart. “I like how he always says you are one half-halt away from perfect.”
Alie Perkins, 21, from Lincolnville, Maine, has been a part of Gray’s Winter Intensive Training twice, so she has attended parts of the Dover clinic before but this is her first year as an official auditor. “My favorite so far was Robert’s opening lecture which was about the theory of the half-halt,” she said. “ He really broke it down. It was my second time to hear the lecture and it was huge to hear it twice because I picked up on things I hadn't heard the first time.”
The University of Maine at Farmington student said she will use what she has learned on her 18-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding, Piper. Perkins is majoring in education and wants to be a professional trainer and she’s especially interested in teaching beginners. “I think any opportunities down here, you can't say no them,” she said. ”Just show up and ask questions.”
Hanna Benne, 14, is from Cocoa, Florida, and it’s her first time to audit the clinic. She said she's learning a lot by watching the riders and how the clinicians fix problems. “You can say, ‘Oh, you put your leg just a little bit behind the girth,’” she said. “We all have basically the same problems and these awesome trainers teach you how to fix them.” She rides 7-year-old Helluva Dream Maker, a Belgian Warmblood pony, and has competed with him twice in the Festival of Champion. She wants to be a professional trainer and her goal is to be one of the riders for the clinic in the future.
Dover said that young riders like these deserve to be supported. “I know the professionals here work very hard, but even if they came out for an hour they would say, ‘I am here showing my support for this program,’” he said. “For amateurs, the whole thing is just fantastic for a person who just wants to sit and soak up all of this knowledge for a little tiny bit of money. “
Dover was not lecturing or teaching lessons on Monday, but he still came to the venue and watched the riders and clinicians. “I came to audit today because there are great trainers and riders here,” he said.