It is every little girl’s dream to have a pony, to braid its mane, and to ride around without a care in the world. Then there are the girls who take this dream and turn it into something extraordinary. Currently ranked 20th in the world, Laura Graves is one of those girls. Graves was one of the keynote speakers at Lendon Gray’s Dressage4Kids’ 13th Annual Weekend Educational Program, a Program where riders of all ages and levels had the opportunity to come together and learn from one another. “Put yourself in situations where you are proud of your success, proud of your achievements, but you continue to strive and get better,” said Graves. Laura’s advice touched everyone in the audience in some way or another because success can be achieved at any level. Girls ran up to her asking for autographs and pictures, admiring her accomplishments and dedication to the sport. When speaking about competing at the World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France, Graves talked about the sense of pride that overcame her. “Seeing a perfect stranger holding the American flag for me gave me a sense of pride that I can’t even put into words. It was the big bang.”
Another girl with a dream, and another speaker at the Dressage4Kids’ Weekend Educational Program, Ayden Uhlir spoke about her life and horses. North American Junior Dressage Champion in 2012 and North American Young Rider Champion in 2013, Uhlir is the first ever equestrian to be sponsored by Nike. From the time Uhlir “found her thing” as a child riding her neighbor’s horse, she has worked hard to become the highly accomplished equestrian she is today. Although the journey has not always been easy, Uhlir has helped herself along the way by surrounding herself with people who motivate her, and by remaining proactive, positive and realistic. “Be true to yourself, and have the courage to go for it. Be great at whatever you’re doing, and Just Do It” (with a little wink to her sponsor, Nike).
Then there is Liz Webb, the equine management teacher from Nonnewaug High School, the school where the Dressage4Kids’ Weekend Educational Program was held. Mrs. Webb may not be a USDF Gold Medalist, but to her students she is even greater than that. “Sharing my passion with young people; it’s just the way to win.” And it is. Passion is so important. Most riders reach a point in their career when they or someone else will question why they are doing what they are doing; it is at that moment that if you remember and follow your passion, you will jump right back into your purpose. “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity,” Graves reminded the audience. And that’s the key – work hard, prepare, and be ready to take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way.
For more information regarding the Weekend Educational Program, please go to www.dressage4kids.org. Dressage4Kids, Inc. is a non-profit organization incorporated for the express purpose of providing educational and competitive opportunities for youth riders and the adults who support them.
Madison Canalori is a junior at Nonnewaug High School where she is in the Equine Management program. She loves to write about anything and everything, but her passion for writing and her love of horses make her a natural for equestrian journalism.