The Vermont Winter Circuit

by Elizabeth Austin, Photos by Betsy Nye

Last winter I was lucky enough to accompany dressage professional, Jennifer Baumert, to Florida as a working student. Spending three-and-a-half months in Loxahatchee was a wonderful experience to say the least, and heading back north in April was a painful task. Who doesn't dream about riding amidst palm trees, hacking down beautiful canals and being surrounded by some of the best horses and riders in the country?

The winter dressage season is a funny thing. It seems like nearly all of the major professionals in New England head south for the winter, whether it be to Southern Pines or Orlando or Wellington, from December to April (and sometimes longer), the northeast definitely gets more than a little deserted.

And this year, try as I might, I couldn't convince my mom to let me take another semester off from school to continue my equine education in sunny south Florida.

For most of December and January this year it's been too cold and nasty to ride outside, so we've been stuck indoors training; working; seeing the same set of letters every day under the same artificial lights. But finally, in early February, I was lucky enough to take my stallion, Olivier, out in the snow for a little romp. We had a blast.

If I had been able to borrow a judge from one of the Wellington or White Fences shows to come see us, (and keep said judge thawed out), our gallop definitely would have gotten a "9," with our passage right up there, as well. Nothing like a a huge open field to add some expression to the paces! Perhaps our submission score would have been knocked down a little because of a few involuntary (but wildly fun) bucks, but the "ease of movements" component was definitely there! Never before have we had such impulsion, and aside from my two-point for the galloping, I think I would have scored just fine for rider's position and seat.

Sometimes it's easy to get too caught up in our own riding goals, (I've got to get these tempi changes… How can I keep him straight… I'm nervous about moving up a level…) and forget the special out-of-arena moments that make the bond in the show arena so much stronger. So, as much as I wish I was in Florida piaffing on the centerline, I'm having a pretty darn good time figuring out passage in the snow, and I don't think my horse has ever been happier. Most of all, I hope when the regular show season comes around, and we're going across that diagonal in extended canter, we both have a little flashback, and are once again galloping without an arena railing to stop us, in one of those moments when a horse and his rider become something greater.

Related Links
Austin at The 2004 Kentucky Horse Park Dressage Symposium
Great Learning Experience for Austin and Malone at CDI-YR Hagen