Wellington, FL – It takes a lot of confidence and even more chutzpah to ride a borrowed horse in lessons with dressage superstars Robert Dover, George Williams, Charlotte Brendahl-Baker and Laura Graves. Four plucky young women with nerve and know-how did just that when they mounted loaned horses they had never ridden to participate in the fourth annual Robert Dover Horsemastership Clinic, sponsored in part by Lendon Gray’s Dressage4Kids. Although all four riders said they were intimidated working with Dover, they each made breakthroughs at the clinic. Generous horse owners sharing with riders unable to bring their personal mounts made participation possible at the clinic held in the Van Kampen Arena at the Stadium at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center from Saturday, Jan. 3 through Wednesday, Jan. 7.
Rosie Simoes, 18, of Barrington, Illinois, rode Thys, a 9-year-old Friesian stallion owned by Phil Bailey. Sunday’s lesson with Dover was only the fourth time Simoes had ridden the horse. Thys is in training with Liz Austin and is for sale. “I’m finally starting to figure out what his legs are doing,” Simoes said. “Today we worked on figuring out how to get an effective half-halt on him. He’s been shown in the Prix St Georges and has been doing some of the Grand Prix work, but because he’s so powerful and there is so much coming from behind, I wasn’t sure how to manage that and harness that power.”
In Saturday’s lesson with Berdahl-Baker, the horse and rider did some exercises that Simoes said she will be able to take home to use on her own two horses as well as her competition horse, an 11-year-old 18-hand horse named Proteus, owned by her mother and trainer, Julie Julian. “I was definitely a little nervous coming into the week with a breed I had never ridden and a stallion at that, but Liz has been really wonderful.” Simoes said. “I think a big part is being comfortable with the horse and knowing that Liz is confident in me and trusting me to do this.
Austin said she tries to give back to the community and this was one way to do so. “I’ve been involved with things Lendon has done for a few decades,” Austin said. “It’s really nice for me to pay it forward. I wanted a rider to have an opportunity to have fun. Thys has a great character. He’s the nicest Friesian I’ve ever seen and he has a really, really special talent for piaffe/passage.”
Hannah McCabe, 19, of Lee, New Hampshire, rode Cheryl Holekamp’s 9-year-old Trakehner mare, Schwalbe NSF, also known as “Sophie.” Sophie is also for sale. “It’s been a real pleasure working with her,” McCabe said. “She’s so sweet and has been trying really hard. This is her first big experience.”
On Saturday, the pair rode with Dover and on Sunday they were with Graves. “With Robert we worked more on the brilliance and making the gaits bigger and more beautiful,” McCabe said. “With Laura we worked more on relaxation because she’s a horse that holds a lot of tension and we worked on getting her to accept the connection and really relax.”
Holekamp, who owns New Spring Farm in Columbia, Missouri and Ocala, Florida, saw a posting on Facebook asking for horses the riders could borrow for the event and realized this could be a situation to benefit both her horse and an emerging young rider.
“I thought since I’m kind of a homebody and the mare is kind of a homebody, this would be a good experience for her to be in a very controlled environment with excellent instruction and, hopefully, an excellent rider and all of the above have been fulfilled,” Holekamp said.
Mattie Zepernick, 17, is from Lafayette, Louisiana but living in Destin, Florida, and training with Jodie Kelly. She rode Leandro, an 11-year-old Westphalian gelding owned by Rebecca Reno and trained by Marcel Van der Burgh. “He’s a really good horse but it’s been very hard for me to get used to him,” Zepernick said. “All my other horses are so forward thinking. It’s been very different but it’s been an amazing experience.”
On Sunday she rode with Dover and Saturday with Brendahl-Baker. She said Dover helped her with contact by having her ride really forward and into the snaffle and she is confident she can use the knowledge on other horses. “Marcel was so generous to lend him to me, she said. “It was a little scary but I’m glad I had the opportunity.”
Van der Burgh said he wanted the horse to gain some experience and that it’s important for young riders in this country to get experience as well. “I think it’s important for me to be supportive of this group,” he said. “She did very well on a borrowed horse she didn’t know. She just flew in and didn’t even have a chance to ride him before!”
Rachel Chowanec, 20, taking a semester off from college to work for Lauren Chumley for the winter, rode Ella, a 5-year-old PRE mare owned by Maria Lithander. Although Chowanec rode Ella briefly on Thursday, today’s lesson with Dover was the first time she rode her in the clinic.
She said that Dover’s “rubber band” exercise helped the mare to get more through and it would be useful exercise for any horse. “You do a 20-meter circle and over the centerline once you do a strong half-halt where you bring the horse back with a passage-y type trot and back into collection,” she said. “On the open half of the 20-meter circle, you go for an extended trot and go forward using the impulsion from the collection.”
Lithander offered her horse after Gray asked if Chowanec could borrow her. The owner already knew the rider is a talented veteran and trusts her completely. “When Lendon asks, you don’t say no,” she said. “I love Lendon to death and I would do anything for her. And you have to help these kids any way you can. It’s a great program.”
Chowanec is grateful for Lithander’s generosity. “I just want to thank Ella’s owner for letting me ride her,” she said. “To be able to participate in this clinic is incredible and the opportunity that Maria gave me to work with these trainers by letting me ride her horse is unreal. And amazing. I don’t even have words to describe how thankful I am to her.”
To check out the clinic schedule for the rest of the Robert Dover Horsemastership Clinic, go to http://www.dressage4kids.org/robert-dover-horsemastership-clinic. Auditors are welcome to attend and a daily $25 donation to Dressage4Kids is encouraged.
To learn more about Dressage4Kids, log onto www.dressage4kids.org.