Townsend, Mass. – Kerrigan Gluch traveled 900 miles in 16 hours to participate in the May 1-3 Junior/Young Rider symposium held at Dot and Nick Demis's Settlement Farm. And because she's only 12, Gluch had to bring along an entourage that included her parents, Tina and Brent, and her trainer, Sue Thome. Even after she arrived, Gluch still couldn't quite believe she was there. "I never thought this would happen," said the youngster. "When I got the call that I could come, I was too amazed to do anything." Her mother knew what to do. "I just started making calls. We were so excited." Gluch, last year's USDF Region 2 Training Level champion, was one of 11 young riders who made the cut to compete in a clinic that combined a unique learning experience with a fundraiser for The Dressage Foundation and The Renee Isler Dressage Support Fund. Isler said she threw her support behind creation of the clinic because she wants today's young riders to have opportunities that didn't exist when she was young.
On the Friday of the clinic, the young riders rode a test before the skillful eyes of judges Anne Gribbons and Kathy Connelly. Problems identified in the tests were addressed the following day during intensive training sessions with Courtney King-Dye and Lendon Gray. Making the experience even more educational for riders was the fact that not only did they have the benefit of instruction from King-Dye and Gray, but they also got additional feedback from Gribbons, who watched the lessons and provided comment. On Sunday, riders received a short "tune-up" lesson before re-riding their tests with Connelly as judge.
The educational portion of the weekend was serious business and instructors and judges pulled no punches in terms of being frank with riders on both their strengths and their weaknesses. Commenting on her Friday test ride, Gribbons told Karen Jeannotte, "We had a bit of a messy test." Jeannotte nearly missed out on the symposium after her own horse became ill. But Isler saved the day by loaning Jeannotte her 20-year-old Hanoverian gelding, named River. Jeannotte only had two rides on the horse before the symposium and while her test ride wasn't the best, partly because of that, after her Saturday lesson, both King-Dye and Gribbons admitted there was much improvement. "This is a good learning opportunity on how to deal with a new horse," King-Dye told Jeannotte.
While the central focus of the symposium was education, it wasn't the only goal of the event. The three-day clinic also aimed to provide young riders with an opportunity to interact, Gray said. "This gives them the chance to meet other young riders and to feel part of a team and see that they aren't the only ones out there doing this." A Friday night barbecue, hosted by Ten Broeck Farm, provided a perfect venue for the riders not only to mingle with one another, but also with the instructors and judges. A Saturday evening dinner and dance featured King-Dye, Gray, Isler and Gil Merrick, managing direction of Dressage Sport Programs for USEF, as speakers.
Credit for the format of the clinic goes to Isler. Although she was reluctant to take the credit, others said that's where it belonged. "It really was Renee's idea," said Merrick, who was on hand not only to be a speaker and show USEF support, but also to see how well the format worked. For their part, the young riders gave the clinic format a clear thumbs up. "I love this format. I learned a lot and it's really nice that we're doing this right before the show season," Jeannotte said. "I know that I can take what I learned and apply this to my rides on my own horse."
Most of the riders reported that they not only learned what they came to learn, but also much more. When asked what she most hoped to get out of the clinic, young rider Meagan Davis replied, "to learn how to get my horse more through in his back." And that's exactly what King-Dye focused on after noting that most of Gribbons' comments from the Friday test related to tightness in the back of the horse. The error, as is often the case, was with the rider not the horse and the change after Davis corrected her shoulder position and aids in the half-halt was very evident in the horse.
When asked if she learned anything, Gluch replied, "Yea, a ton." One of her biggest problems in her test had been keeping her 10-year-old Oldenburg mare, Bijoux, on a straight line. King-Dye and Gribbons placed most of the blame on Gluch herself. "Your body wiggles," Gribbons told her. "You move from seat bone to seat bone and that's why your horse also has trouble with straight." After one trip across the diagonal, King-Dye commented, "Kerrigan, you're on a bit of a drunken line there. You've got to get your eyeballs up and go straight." By the end of her lesson, Gluch and Bijoux were straight.
The young riders could not have asked for a better group of clinicians, all of whom are dedicated to their advancement. "Things like this are great opportunities for young riders," Connelly said. "And one thing we want them to know is that there are many of us who are here to help them and support them." This group of young riders didn't let these supporters down. They gave it their all during the symposium and it showed, a prime example being Mary Bahniuk Lauritsen. She didn’t' have the best of test riders on Friday, but so successfully improved during her lesson that by the end, King-Dye could only say, "Well, I'm impressed. It shows that you can do it."
All of the clinicians echoed the comment of Gribbons that this group of young riders gives hope for the future of dressage and they send a "Well done" to all the participants – Katlyn Berube, Kristin Nowack, Meagan Davis, Kerrigan Gluch, Micaela Mabragana, Rachel Chowanek, Nicole Nowack, Mary Bahniuk Lauritsen, Karen Jeannotte, Alexa Rice and Jocelyn Wiese.