Ninth Annual Dressage For Kids Youth Dressage Festival

How Do the Judges Describe Youth Dressage Festival? Fabulous, Amazing, Inspiring


Saugerties, New York – After spending all day judging youngsters at the Ninth Annual Youth Dressage Festival, Scott and Susanne Hassler decided it was the perfect venue for a young rider they know – their 11-year-old daughter Sara.

“The more I watched this, the more I thought that this event is really our daughter’s cup of tea. Along with the dressage, there are so many other wonderful extra things going on – dressage, equitation, the trail classes and prix caprilli. I can see her signing up for everything,” Susanne Hassler said.

Her husband echoed her view saying, “This kind of atmosphere is fabulous. I think our youngest should come here next year and ride. It’s great, just great.”

The Youth Dressage Festival is the creation of Olympian Lendon Gray, who is today probably one of America’s leading promoters of programs for young riders that emphasizes horsemanship above all else. In the Youth Dressage Festival, which draws hundreds of youngsters from throughout the U.S., Canada and several foreign countries each year, riders must compete in three phases – a written test, equitation test and dressage test. The written and equitation tests judge the rider, not the horse. Hence, kids who don’t have access to an expensive, well-trained dressage horse still have a very good chance of winning. In fact, many competitors, especially those who come from abroad to participate, compete on borrowed horses.


Attitude Most Impressed the Judges


The written test phase of the Youth Dressage Festival was held on Monday and the riding phases began on Tuesday. And while Tuesday was certainly a wet day, it was by no means a dreary one, and that’s what so impressed many of the judges. Several of them who had gathered in the VIP pavilion for Tuesday evening’s festival dinner had nothing but good things to say about competitors, especially their attitudes.

“I’ve been so impressed with the level of sportsmanship shown by the kids and also with the level of volunteerism,” said Janet Hannon. “I judge all over the country and this competition is unique.”

L-R- Margaret Freeman, Karin Offield, Susanne Hassler, Scott Hassler,Janet Hannon, Lendon Gray

Hannon, who lives in Colorado, judged at the Youth Dressage Festival last year. She’s been so impressed by the event that she’d like to start a similar one in Colorado. Karen Reid-Offield, who’s also serving as a judge at the Festival, backs the idea of spreading similar festivals around the U.S.

“This is as good as it gets and I think that if we could make five of these events possible in the U.S. from Florida to California, we’d really have something going. I hope people use this as a model. I love it. And now that they’ve been doing this one for years and have all the logistical parts worked out, they can provide a model for how to do this,” she said.

Hannon and Reid-Offield weren’t the only judges impressed by the attitude of competitors. So too were Scott Hassler and Margaret Freeman, who has judged many times at the Youth Dressage Festival, including the first year.

“The attitudes I saw today were so positive. And the kids seriously wanted your feedback. They were very appreciative,” Scott Hassler said. “Their attitude was so good. I’d watch them leave the ring even after having a not so good ride and they were still very kind to their horses. The horsemanship was excellent.”

Freeman has a bit of an historical perspective and she thinks the riders have gotten better and better each year. “The idea of sportsmanship and caring for your horse and doing the best you can even if it doesn’t work out, has been building over the years. Sportsmanship is a huge part of this show and that’s not always the case at shows.”


Judges Give Credit to Lendon Gray


When it comes to taking credit for the creation and atmosphere of the Youth Dressage Festival, Lendon Gray doesn’t seek it, but the judges certainly offered it. Gray has an amazing knack for getting tremendous support for the event from both sponsors and parents and it shows, Reid-Offield said.

“One thing I liked best about what I saw today was the family participation. It reminds me of where the sport really starts from and it starts from the parents encouraging the children and the parents participating. The parent participation and sponsor participation really makes this show work,” she said.

“I’ve said it many times, but I’ll say it again. What a success Lendon has done here. It’s much more than I ever expected,” Scott Hassler said. It’s Gray’s focus on horsemanship that the Hasslers said made the Youth Dressage Festival such an important and fabulous event.

“It’s been such an inspirational day to see so many kids come out and try their best and be proud of themselves as riders regardless if they are at Training Level or FEI. I so appreciate the atmosphere that Lendon has created. The focus is all about the kids,” Susanne Hassler said.

And the riding talent of those kids astounded her husband who said that he “was shocked by the quality of the riding. They really, really did a good job. And we’re really enthused by this event. Its success over just nine years is tremendous.”

Wednesday is the final day of competition and it’s one of the most fun with such events as the dressage trail and prix caprilli classes.


Rachel Chowanec Cleans Up at Youth Dressage Festival


Saugerties, New York – Just call her a repeat winner. This year’s overall champion at the Youth Dressage Festival is 13-year-old Rachel Chowanec. Add to that her many division and special award wins at the Festival and the young rider from Columbia, Connecticut went home with an armload of prizes.

It was the second win for Chowanec. Her first was two years ago when she was only 11. And she looked mighty tired at the awards ceremony, although one couldn’t tell if it was from six days of competition or from getting up and down to accept awards.

This year’s Youth Dressage Festival, created by two-time Olympian Lendon Gray, was held August 20-23 at the HITS-on-the-Hudson show grounds. It followed right on the heels of the Centerline Events CDI-W and that meant that many young riders, Chowanec included, had spent six days at HITS competing.

“We’re just tired of living in a hotel and ready to head home,” said Chandra Chowanec, Rachel’s mother.

The young Chowanec trains with both her mother and with Lendon Gray. When asked why she did so well her answer was, “I practice a lot.”

Her mother concurs. “She works very, very hard.”


Winning Team Beats Out a Crowded Field


The winning team was Pegasus Dressage trained by Debbie Lockemeyer of Shortsville, New York. They beat out 40 other teams and they did it with only three riders. Most teams had four riders, which meant they could drop their lowest score. Pegasus Dressage had no choice. The second-placed team was from Lendon Gray’s home base of Gleneden Dressage. The winning team score was 258.533, but the second-place team was close with a score of 258.156.

The win was no surprised to Pegasus team members Samantha Namenyi, 14, of Xenia, Ohio; Joseph Syndennis, 18, of Matawan, New Jersey; and Caroline McCarthy, 20, of Geneva, New York.

“The win was great for us and great for Debbie. It shows that she can train really well,” Syndennis said.

“Debbie put a lot of time into us and everybody worked really hard,” McCarthy said.


Leadline Class Highlights a Sharing Attitude


Among the youngest competitors, the big winner was seven-year-old Claire Filak riding a horse she borrowed from her new friend. “New” because she just met eight-year-old Sofie Lutfy during the Festival. Little Claire’s mother was a volunteer at the show and Claire lives near HITS. Sofie lives in Milford, Pennsylvania.

“They met on Sunday and now they’re friends – fast friends,” said Claire’s mother Suzie Filak.

When asked what she had to do to win, Claire said ride well and talk to the judge. And what did the judge say to her? “She asked what this was and I said, the bridle. Then she asked my name and my pony’s name.”

The winning pony, “It is All in the Attitude,” goes by the barn name of Cody and the person who led him into the ring was Claire’s new friend, Sofie. It was Sofie’s first time being the “leader” for a leadline class, but she insisted on that role. She wouldn’t let anyone else led her pony.

Claire’s victory earned her a load of prizes that were quickly piled onto her new friend. When asked if she thought Claire might share with her, Sofie replied, “No, I’ll give them all to her because she won them.”

Sofie was so willing to share that when asked if she owned Cody she had to stop and think before saying, “Well, sort of, but she’s half Claire’s today.”

And that’s the sort of good sportsmanship and sharing attitude on which the Youth Dressage Festival has been built.


Lindsay Jacob Remembered


Fondly remembered at this year’s Youth Dressage Festival by family and friends was Lindsay Jacob. Jacob passed away late this spring at 21 after losing her battle to a rare type of cancer. She had competed in the Youth Dressage Festival last year. It was her one and only time, but she loved every minute of it. She ended up tying for first place in the highest score on the written test portion of the competition.

To honor her, Jacob’s barn mates donated a perpetual trophy in her name to be awarded each year at the Youth Dressage Festival. The first to win that trophy this year was Katherine Greene, 17, of Chittenango, New York.

“I feel very honored and humble to receive this,” she said.

Greene, who trains with Carmela Wilbur, won it for having the highest score in equitation for 18-21 year olds. She earned a 95 percent.

“Words can’t explain the feelings we have right now. I know that Lindsay is here right now and smiling,” said Lindsay’s former trainer Francine Gentile of Fire Creek Farm in Connecticut.

Lindsay’s fan club sported shirts that had been designed by her before she died and the shirt design had been incorporated into the trophy design.

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