August seventh through ninth was three days of excitement and accomplishment for the 225 young women and men who participated in the eleventh assembly of Lendon’s Youth Dressage Festival. These young folks gathered from across the northeast (as far west as Ohio whence came three hardy souls) and from Canada as well. Their just rewards are not only the memory of testing their skills against riders their own age, but there were hundreds of ribbons awarded as well as prizes ranging from pony brushes to flat screen TV’s. At the close of these three exhilarating days everyone returned home a champion.
Of course, there were tests ridden, which means that some scored better than others. There was a roller coaster coverage of teams and individuals who topped the charts as well as several other noteworthy accomplishments.
Finishing at the top of the heap in team competition were four young ladies known as the “Piaffe Posse” (congratulations to Charlotte Woody, Hanna McCabe, Bobbie Kerr, and Sian Walker!). When their names were called at the Saturday evening banquet, their squeals of delight told all of us that they were oh-so-pleasantly surprised. The reserve champions made the trek from north of the border (outside of Montreal, Ste-Marthe, Quebec, to be precise), Team Valkenhof. Proud bearers of Maple leaf flags and the fleur-de-lis, one and all. (You should have seen those flags flapping with joy as the Valkenhoffers cantered down the ring in the parade of teams!)
Prior to the announcement of the team winners, we were treated to a demonstration of how high these young people may rise in the ranks of this sport. Jocelyn Wiese, winner of the National Young Adult “Brentina Cup,” rode a splendid test on Lamborghini (a Dutch gelding, Michellino x Abbey Row). The audience enjoyed Jocelyn’s ride all the more as it was narrated by a long-time volunteer judge at Lendon’s festival, Pam Goodrich. As Jocelyn and Lamborghini passed by you could see the look on the faces of all the youngsters, “I can do that . . . someday.”
A second highlight of the evening’s banquet was the bestowing of awards that recognize the major contributions all our dams and sires make to who we are. Lendon’s Dad (S. Braley Gray) and her Mom (Corinne F. Gray) obviously produced a litter that knows what it means to give of oneself for the good of others.
The first of these awards went to Margaret Freeman, an “S” judge who has donated her services at this festival for many years and who does much more to further the work of Dressage4Kids. The award given in the name of Lendon’s Mom honored Judy Noone, past Chair of the USDF Junior/Young Rider Council and so much more. It makes one proud to be part of a community that produces such self-sacrificing individuals!
There were many great stories connected with individual contestants: the Chowanec family which filled out the ranks of the Festival with four siblings who competed in almost everything ranging from walk/trot right on up to FEI Pony Division and Katie Berube who was part of a vaulting exhibition team and went on to win the FEI Pony class.
To watch her go during the Sunday Freestyle you would have thought that Grace Gregory from Brentwood, TN, was only one amongst the many talented young folks trotting their stuff. When I commented to the anonymous lady standing next to him, “They’re going really well,” I discovered to my delight that the lady was Grace’s Mom, Susan. “She’s riding a borrowed horse, you know. We could never afford to bring a horse all the way from Tennessee up here, so Lendon helped us. This is the greatest horse show we’ve ever been to.”Lendon with her own Flurry and Father Mack's corgi, Fiona
But the story of Grace and her Mom, Susan, doesn’t end there. That’s right, Grace rises to each new day – and every ride -- facing up to the challenges of autism. And there she was, not only holding her own amongst less tried children, but going on TO WIN HER DIVISION. I am quite certain that the trip back to Brentwood felt as if this mother and daughter were floating on a cloud.
My second sketch concerns a young lady who won both of the divisions in which she competed and was THE OVERALL WINNER OF THE ENTIRE FESTIVAL. She is Megan Heeder of East Lansing, MI. Like Grace Gregory, Megan’s chronicle involves her Mom nearly as much as it does Megan. This Youth Dressage Festival would not be possible without scores of men, women, and children who work behind the scenes.
Photo: Written test in action
Ranging from the board members of Dressage4Kids (like Ms. Noone), to Lendon Gray herself (who rode horses other people thought unsuitable for the lofty atmosphere of haute école dressage to win at the highest levels of the sport), and carrying on to the Moms and Dads and other volunteers, this is a horse show that extols the contribution of all of us. (Right down to the puppies who stay out from under hoof and admire the work of both horse and rider while trying to keep our mouths shut.)
Mary Beth Heeder (Megan’s Mom, as you have probably guessed) took time from her job (Director of Orientation at the University of Michigan) on the eve of her being inundated with incoming students. And there she was –dashing from her role as one of the Festival’s irreplaceable volunteers to ringside so she could see Megan excel in test after test – and all of this because of the love they hold for these young people and their love of the horse.
Megan and Mary Beth Heeder and Grace and Susan Gregory are but two examples of the many, many great stories that unfold at horse shows such as this. Roving trainers who contributed their talented advice to their juniors: Micaela [Mica] Mabragana, Annie Morris, and Jocelyn Wiese . . . You gals ROCK! Michael Barisone stepped in at the eleventh hour as a volunteer judge when Robert Dover fell ill and was unable to attend. How about that, kids? The reserve rider from the 2008 Olympic Games judging in the wilds of the Catskill Mountains!Photo: Christmas in August with Heavenbound Farm
The many, many winners at the eleventh incarnation of Lendon’s Youth Dressage Festival are a testimonyto Lendon Gray and for everyone who makes this event the delight that it is.
Photos by Ruth McCormick