The three month inaugural Lendon Gray Winter Intensive Training Program started the first week in January 2013 and finished last week, March 28th in Wellington, Florida. Lendon selected sixteen youth from across the United States from an application posted on the dressage4kids website. The selected youth had to show commitment to the program, efficiency in time management (they were expected to keep up with their school-work), as well as show a passion to learn the sport of dressage. Twenty year old Molly Maloney from Dover Plains, NY said, “Overall, it’s been a wonderful program. Wellington is such a mass of professionals and top quality horses. I think we are really lucky. It was a large group of kids so we’ve had a lot of fun. It’s been nice to come to a laid back environment. We are like one huge unified team. The level of my riding has definitely increased. I came down with a green FEI horse and I’m leaving with something to work with. I really hope I can take that home and be competitive at Young Riders this season.”
Lendon is a strong leader in helping kids map out how to learn. Clearly creative with the exercises to improve a person’s understanding of their own body and its influence on the horse’s movement, Lendon teaches classical dressage. Her commitment to the goal in the development of the student’s horses’ movement, gaits and understanding could be called honorable, kind and effective.
Lendon keeps the focus on the task at hand. Twenty-one year old Brittaney Stanley, a Saint Louis native said, “She definitely makes you ride, every single corner, every single diagonal, every single centerline.” She continued, “The one thing we have talked about is how we Americans don’t want to touch the reins because we’ve heard pulling is so bad. Lendon says, ‘don’t drop your horse. Don’t give him one message and when he says okay, then give[away the contact], and not be there at all.’ The horse is saying, ‘hey, I just gave to you and your’re gone.’ For me, that is something to carry forward, how to keep the conversation going with the horse rather than ending by saying, “see ya.”
Seventeen year old Eleni Econopouly from Reinbeck, NY said, “The thing that stuck with me the most from Lendon is when she would say, ‘Ride every stride.” I would just ride say a half-pass, but she would say, “You’ve got to ride every stride. Set him up for success.’ I learned it’s a lot about preparation.”
Not every youth plans to competing in only dressage. There were two event riders who participated in the program. Seventeen year old Nicholas (Nick) Hansen said, “Overall, I’ve learned how to be a better rider, understanding how you have to do something to make your horse be correct in his movements. Not pushing the horse far enough and become frustrated, but having a goal and pushing for that. The experience here and the ridiculously talented horses that are here is insane. I’m an HA in Pony Club and I plan this summer to go for my A in the Traditional (eventing track). Pony Club has just been a tremendous help for me. If there is a question in the barn as far as what’s going on with a horse, I try to do my best to help whatever it is, and try to fix it or at least make it better. I’ve loved helping everyone if they have a question. The Pony Club has helped me with the basic knowledge they have given me.”
To emphasize the tools she teaches in the arena on biomechanics, Lendon had an outside educator from the horse industry spend 45 minutes to an hour each afternoon sharing their knowledge on the improvement of horse and/or rider. Molly Maloney “We have gotten so much information [this season] that it takes processing time. We’ve learned so much. We’ve done everything: How to shoe a horse, how to vet a horse, teeth, every part of the body.”
Participation in Wellington Shows: All the youth participated in showing throughout the three month program. Making sure each rider worked first to build a solid foundation, Lendon mentored the kids through the correct level. As it turned out, all the kids competed at a level higher than ever before. As the Young Riders moved on into building their foundations by competing, they learned about pressure in short sequences as well as how to take steps back to continue building their horse and rider partnership. The heart and soul of the program involved the training. These young riders had a chance to find confidence by learning how to test the training by showing, and how to strategize the basics with Lendon there on their team.
Also during the three months, there were educational dressage seminars where the kids could be seen volunteering their time in order to watch and learn. During one panel discussion at the Global Dressage Forum NA, Lendon Gray asked clinician Steffen Peters a perfect question, “When is the right time to punish a horse? What is the difference between a punishment and correction?” Peters replied, “All horses have a certain comfort zone. The punishment is always, to me, something I need to be careful about, because I think a normal human reaction when we get a bit frustrated, we get aggressive. The rider needs to understand when we think about a correction or even punishment.” He continued, “If the rider has the capability of staying very cool and under control in their emotions, then I think the correction is the right thing. It’s a very big responsibility for us as riders to say to ourselves, ‘listen you are doing too much. This is getting out of hand.’ Let’s face it, I have seen warm-ups where I would like to see the TD stepping in more and being straightforward about this.” And finally he said, “Especially the young people who are trying to become professionals. The pressure of proving themselves out there in the arena is huge and that pressure can get to us very easily. I’ve found that the most important thing to say at the end of the day when you look in the mirror is, ‘Did I train my horse with the best horsemanship in mind?”
To conclude: Tough, but honest, what Lendon has done for these sixteen kids will forever be in their memories, and one day, they too, will share this experience and in-turn teach another a piece of the dressage puzzle learned through this program. Wellington, Florida, the high-level region of the country where more than 12 FEI dressage shows take place in the area, became a perfect place to host such an educational opportunity, and Hampton Green Farm, the perfect farm to focus on learning.
The Champions of the program: Lendon Gray (Coach), Kim Boyer (Facility Owner) and Karen Clark (Stable Manager) are clearly champions.
“Winners are those who win. Champions are those who help others win.” - unknown
The List of Youth and Young riders:
• Asia Ondaatje Rupert is a 12 year old pony rider from Bedford Corners, NY
• Katelyn Victoria Kok (Katie) (19 years old) from New Hampshire
• Meghan Watt is 16 years old from Saratoga Springs, NY
• Eleni Econopouly, 17 year old from Reinbeck, NY
• Grace Gregory, 19 yrs old from Tennessee
• Nicholas Hansen (Nick) 17 years old, is coming from his family farm in Pennsylvania
• Hannah Corjulo, 17-year-old from Kingston, NY
• Brittany Stanley is 21 yrs old, a Saint Louis native
• Jenny Salinger, a 17 year old, Bannock Urn, Illinois
• Allyssia Bryant is 17 years old from a little farm in Livermore Falls, Maine
• Alexandra Singh a 17 year old from Slingerlands, NY
• Molly Maloney 20 years old from Dover Plains, NY
• Alexa Derr is an 18 year-old native of Reinholds, PA
• Sarah Roda 14 yrs old from Miami
• Maureen Trundy a 17 year old from Maine
• Rachel Chowanec 18 yrs old, comes from Columbia, Connecticut
• Kerrigan Gluch is 16 yrs old from Michigan
For More Information on next year’s Winter Intensive Training Program:
Upcoming Youth Dressage Festivals
All Photos: Betsy LaBelle