Weekend Educational Program Fires Up Hundreds of Young Dressage Riders

Waterbury, CT - February’s first weekend, frigid enough deter even the hardiest riders from saddling up, found over 300 equestrians from 10 states filling classrooms on the Post University campus in Waterbury, Connecticut to attend the Fifth Annual Weekend Educational Program.

Conceived by two-time Olympic dressage rider Lendon Gray of Bedford, NY, the program is conducted by the non-profit organization Dressage4Kids, Inc. with the assistance of the Post University Equine Program. The weekend of learning featured 40 lectures, demonstrations and hands-on activities, all conducted by experts in such fields as veterinary medicine, equine business planning, judging, instructing and fitness training. Breakout sessions were tailored to the specific needs and interests of youth riders, adult amateurs, trainers and parents.

Vicki Hammers O’Neil, a U.S. Dressage Federation certified instructor from Meriden, CT, revealed to a capacity audience the answer to every rider’s lament: “If I’m not supposed to use my hands, why are my rein aids so important?”

Susan E. Harris, international clinician, riding teacher and equestrian author and artist from Courtland, NY, conducted several sessions, amazing everyone with her extensive knowledge of horse gaits, balance and movement and how to influence them through correct position and effective use of the seat aids. Ms. Harris also shared her tips for turning out the perfectly groomed horse and captivated the youngest participants with her lessons on how to draw horses. She worked tirelessly throughout the weekend. Between her scheduled talks Ms. Harris was usually in the hallway working with riders on the stationary horse or a trampoline, helping them to discover how their bodies worked.



By: Theresa Davidson

Marketing consultant Laura Akin of Warwick, NY worked individually both days with youth riders in designing personal profiles for use in soliciting sponsorship.

Teaching methods were shared with professionals by Boston, MA resident, Alison End, a USDF certified instructor and Balimo Equestrian Training Program Core Instructor. Ms. End detailed ways instructors can help their students become effective learners. She opened her session with the younger riders with the brilliant question: “If you were your horse or pony, what would you like your rider to be like?” Throughout the weekend Ms. End also worked with riders on the Balimo chair, a revolutionary device designed to help riders develop effective use of their seat aids.

Lendon Gray’s sessions included teaching riders how to develop their eye to recognize what dressage movements should look like and various approaches to training and horse management. Her topic on using cavaletti for dressage horses was the most popular, appealing to dressage riders and the many Pony Club members alike.

Hailing from South Deerfield, MA, was equine business management consultant Beth Clarke, who detailed for parents and professionals alike the nuances of liability releases and unraveled the mysteries of various types of equine insurance coverage. Her talks on what buyers should know when horse shopping and how to assess the quality of instruction at an equestrian training facility were eye openers for both parents and riders of all ages in attendance.

In her sessions Margaret Freeman of Mount Kisco, NY, a U.S. Equestrian Federation “Senior” dressage judge, walked riders through all five levels of newly released USEF dressage tests and explained the technical and artistic aspects that form the basis of judging a musical freestyle test. She also worked individually with riders on designing their freestyles. Her team trivia game, meant for the youngest riders, was hugely popular with all ages.



By: Theresa Davidson

Fern Feldman, of Cheshire, CT, who is the USDF director for New England (Region 8), conducted a session indoctrinating parents new to the horse world.Chappaqua, New York-based personal trainer Robin Levine put attendees through the paces of her fitness regimen, drawing parallels between their fitness and that of their horses. Christina Braun, DVM, of Brookfield, CT, provided practical tips on recognizing diseases of today, appealing to horsemen to use ommon sense. USDF certified instructor Jessica van Eyck of Bondville, VT, presented on the techniques and benefits of equine massage therapy.

Although sessions boasted capacity enrollment, attendees wanted even more opportunities to learn and network, so groups formed spontaneously, staking out their territory in every corner of the building. One group discussed qualification requirements for the North American Junior and Young Rider Dressage Championships. Another planned fundraisers for teams going the Youth Dressage Festival (the flagship event of Dressage4Kids, Inc.) Current and future working students convened to discuss what the job really entails.

“Interesting topics and fabulous experts and speakers” attracted Honey Hollow Pony Club parent, Felycia Sugarman and her daughter to the Weekend Educational Program. “Thank you for putting this together,” she told organizers. “It is a great program for kids, parents, instructors and all riders. The price is very reasonable, making this valuable information accessible to so many. Bravo!”

The weekend drew to a close with Ms. Sugarman and her fellow participants returning home armed with information, skills and techniques designed to improve their riding and produce happier, healthier horses.