Leave it to Lendon Gray to pull another gem from her bottomless bag of tricks. The two-time Olympic Dressage rider got tired of waiting for someone to create a year-round program that emphasized the teaching of correct basics, provided opportunities for riders to acquire knowledge in all aspects of riding and horse care and allowed them to hone their competitive skills. Never known for her patience, Lendon, assisted by USDF Region 8 director Fern Feldman and a handful of like-minded horsewomen, grabbed a hold of the reins, as it were, and instituted the Northeast Junior/Young Rider Dressage Championships in 1999.
The fifth annual NEJ/YR Dressage Championships will be held Friday, August 15, 2003 through Sunday, August 17, 2003 at the landmark Ox Ridge Hunt Club in Darien, Connecticut.
The championships have been said to redefine the term unique. Targeted exclusively to riders under 21, this is the only equestrian event to actively solicit participation from riders in all disciplines and to attract competitors from across the globe. Riders compete in the three-phrase event, which includes a written exam, a dressage test and a group equitation ride. The combined score for the three equally weighted phases determines the winner for each age group within each division (Training through 4th levels). Riders may assemble teams and vie for the USDF Region 8 Team Championships, and a leadline class is offered for the very youngest aspiring equestrians.
Determined to make the event accessible to any qualified rider, Gray has arranged to have horses loaned and she offers clinics at her Bedford, New York training facility for a nominal fee. Young professional riders, nearly all of who have represented Region 8 at the North American Young Rider Championships, assist competitors with complementary coaching during the weekend.
Keeping a hawk’s eye on the competitors’ every move are world-renowned judges from the Dressage, Event and Hunter/Jumper worlds. Demonstrations, lectures and narrated rides offered throughout the weekend are as entertaining as they are educational. On the lighter side, a tack-room/stall area decorating competition is offered. As well, prizes are awarded for such “achievements” as best groom under four feet, most colorful attire and most talkative horse.
Thanks to generous sponsorship, prizes run the gamut from whimsical to sensational and have included trips to the Aachen Show, tuition for a two-week course at the International Academy of Equestrian Studies in Warendorf, Germany, saddles from every major saddler, and the full range of apparel for horse and rider.
Having conquered unique and insured inclusive, the event organizers decided to perfect innovative. In 2000 a website, www.dressage4kids.com made information about the event immediately accessible to countless riders, sponsors and fans. The same year, the parent organization, Dressage4Kids, was formed and incorporated as a not-for-profit organization, making it possible to receive tax-deductible donations for sponsorship. With profits from the event, the organizers established a scholarship fund which allows recipients to pursue educational opportunities in the US and abroad.
To honor the memory of Gray’s father and the efforts of others who played a key role in the development of dressage in the U.S., the tradition of presenting the S. Braley Gray Award began. To date, such visionaries as Migi Serrell, Lazelle Knocke and Priscilla Endicott have been honored. This year’s recipient is Lowell Boomer, a founder of the USDF, the Nebraska Dressage Association and The Dressage Foundation.
As if that weren’t enough, the following year, Gray resurrected the Prix Caprilli, a dressage ride at the Training or First Level incorporating jumps up to two feet high. To her surprise and delight, a full one-third of the 240 competitors tested their mettle in this class. “Dressage riders realized that jumping isn’t so simple and hunter/jumper riders discovered that it’s not so easy to bring a horse back after clearing a fence!” Gray recalls with a knowing smile and chuckle.
USA Equestrian Junior Dressage Seat Equitation Medal Finals
But it is with much pride and excitement that Gray announced one of this year’s new features. “We are honored this year to host the inaugural USA Equestrian Junior Dressage Seat Equitation Medal Finals!” Gray announced in her welcome letter to competitors. “For past 20 years I have been working to get riders to take correct seat, position and use of aids more seriously and I tried to get the USET, USDF and USAE to offer some sort of equitation program.”
Gray explains, “In a dressage test, the quality of the horse’s gaits influence the overall score, but an equitation class puts all emphasis on the rider. That’s why we included an equitation phase at our event and gave it equal weight to the dressage test and written exam.”
Finally, last year the first USA Equestrian Dressage Seat Medal Semi-Finals were held. Semi-finalists in two age groups (13 and under and 14 through 18) from the nine USAE/USDF Regional Championships have advanced to the Nationals Medal Finals. “We hope all 36 will attend,” Gray stated emphatically, “And to make country-wide participation possible, riders may compete in the Finals on borrowed horses.”
Not content to lounge on her laurels, Gray devised another learning opportunity for competitors in 2003, the event’s fifth year. “In order to help riders learn the proper procedure required at international shows (CDIs) and championships,” Gray explains, “we are requiring all riders competing at Second Level and above to do a practice vet jog.” This will be done for educational purposes only, and some guidelines on jogging a horse for an FEI vet inspection will be posted on the organization’s website. Also, special recognition will be given this year to a select group of individuals, five-year competitors.
What began as a one-day event with an anticipated attendance of less than 100, the Northeast Junior/Young Rider Dressage Championships has grown in four short years to a three-day extravaganza of innovation, unique learning opportunities and just plain fun that is both internationally acclaimed and nationally replicated. Undoubtedly fans of Lendon Gray and her inexhaustible band of event organizers are already wondering what’s in store for 2004?
By: Theresa Davidson