February 22, 2019
Lendon Gray’s Dressage4Kids Atlanta Youth Festival
Lendon Gray is a well-known and very successful dressage rider and trainer. She was a member of the U.S. team at the Seoul Olympics in 1988 and representative at the 1991 World Cup in Paris. She has trained with Col. Bengt Ljungquist, Michael Poulin, and was inducted into the USDF Hall of Fame in 2011.
Gray has long been interested in encouraging and developing talented young riders to improve the future of American dressage. In 1999, she started her Youth Dressage Festival, held in Saugerties, NY. A natural progression from the Youth Festival was the creation of a non-profit organization, Dressage4Kids, which runs a variety of programs and offers scholarships for every sort of dressage rider. Gray now offers several dressage programs through her Dressage4Kids, and this year marked the fifth year for the Atlanta Youth Festival. This year, Caitlyn Massey attended this festival and following is her account of her experiences.
By Caitlyn Massey
Lendon Gray’s Dressage4Kids TEAM Program was held at the Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers, Georgia on October 27-29, 2017. I attended with my pony, Zassafrass (Zoey). TEAM stands for “Training, Education, and Mentoring” and is for young dressage riders, ages 25 and under. Riders who want to participate must first fill out an application to the program and submit a video of their riding.
We started the first day in a meeting with Lendon Gray, in which where she gave instructions and expectations.
Everyone was instructed to be present with notebook in hand for each clinic ride and meeting. Lendon makes every second count during your lesson and has high expectations of each rider. She wants to see improvement and expects to see the rider try to make corrections; even if we didn’t get the correct response, she encouraged us to keep trying. In addition to riding with Lendon, we had the opportunity to ride with trainer Jos Sevriens. I was able to ride with both and found they each covered different aspects of my riding and training.
We spent the entire time working as a group, making new friends and encouraging each other through our rides and competition. Our group ranged in age from 11 to 25 and had riders at levels from Intro to Intermediare I. Lendon is insistent on correctness and neatness. Youth riders were expected to do their own braids and polo wraps for their clinic rides.
During the panel session, we heard about some of Lendon’s past horses with whom she won gold medals at Olympic competitions from 1978 to 1988. She is very humble about her accomplishments, saying, “I probably ruined some horses along the way; that is what young trainers do.” She said if she could now go back, her horses would have benefitted from her current experience. She encouraged us to learn from our mistakes.
On Sunday, October 29 the Atlanta Fall Festival began. This is an expansion of the flagship event of Dressage4Kids in New York. The morning started with a written test on the assigned reading material. Those riding at FEI and second level and above participated in the soundness “jog” in which horses are evaluated/accepted as sound for competition. As we went out for our dressage classes, there was the “turnout inspection” done by inspectors from Pony Club. This was a thorough inspection of the horses for cleanliness and the rider’s turnout. It was a cold windy day for our classes, which made riding much more challenging. All participants rode in an Equitation class in their appropriate division. I rode in the FEI Equitation Division that included both group and individual workouts.
We competed in classes both as individuals and as teams. Not knowing the other riders, I was assigned to a team with others in the same situation. We had a team stall decoration contest and team competition that included points accumulated through the show and testing. We all were required to do volunteer work during the clinic and show.
The event concluded with Awards. I was happy that Zoey and I won several amazing prizes, such as a cooler, saddle pad, saddle cover, and a belt – and great ribbons! We finished with High Point Pony, First Place FEI Equitation Division, High Point Equitation Score (86%), High Point Team Award, Best Turnout, and Reserve Champion for the Fall Festival (points accumulated from the written test, dressage test, and equitation test).
Overall, this was an amazing educational experience that I would recommend to any youth dressage rider. I can’t thank Lendon Gray enough for making these clinics available and encouraging youth riders.
Editor’s note: Find more information about Dressage4Kids and the various programs Gray offers at: http://dressage4kids.org/. Read more about Lendon Gray at the USDF Hall of Fame website: https://www.usdf.org/halloffame/inductees/profiles/LendonGray.asp
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