The Europeans better start worrying now because when it comes to promoting dressage ventures, Lendon Gray clearly has a golden touch. Her annual Youth Dressage Festival, which began in 1999 as the Northeast Junior/Young Rider Championships, was dominated by riders from the Northeast but has now blossomed into a real international competition attracting teams of young riders from all over the world.
Despite her own success as a competitor, all of Lendon's efforts aimed at young riders emphasize horsemanship over victory. Lendon herself has a well-rounded equestrian education. Although best known as a dressage rider and trainer, as a child growing up in Maine, Lendon did all types of riding - western, hunt seat, sidesaddle and even bareback. She also drove horses and enjoyed gymkhanas. In the early years of her competitive career, she focused on eventing and spent two years training with the U.S. Three-day Event team under the guidance of Jack LeGoff. Not until her late 20s did she make the switch to dressage.
Discouraged by the traditional dressage competition in which youngsters who can afford trained horses tend to win, Lendon designed her Youth Dressage Festival to emphasize the rider not the horse. The competition has three equal parts: a written test on riding theory and stable management; a group equitation class; and a dressage test with levels from Training through FEI Young Rider. There is also a Prix Caprilli (dressage test with jumps), a dressage trail class, a tack room decorating competition, a "horseless" Grand Prix Prix Caprilli Pas de Deux, exhibitions, demonstrations designed to educate the young riders. In addition, "spies" watch for acts of good sportsmanship that earn awards.
Along with the Youth Dressage Festival, Lendon has successfully launched some other ventures that promote horsemanship above all else. One is the USEF Dressage Seat Medal Classes. An inequality of competition today is that some young riders can afford higher-quality, better-trained horses than others. Most riding disciplines have classes that emphasize the rider's use of seat and aids over the quality of the horse in the show ring. Lendon believed dressage should do the same. Hence, she promoted the development of the Dressage Seat Medal Classes. "I felt our riders were not being encouraged to develop their riding properly from the beginning," Lendon said.
Lendon was also the force behind the USDF Graduate Young Rider Program that helps young riders become successful professionals and/or international riders. This program consists of a weekend of lectures and a mentoring program that matches the graduates with some of the best professionals in the U.S.