Lendon Gray’s Meandering Thoughts from North American Junior/Young Rider Championships

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Lendon Gray. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

LENDON GRAY has ridden for the United States in two Olympics, world championships and the World Cup. In recent years, she has devoted much of her energy to Dressage4Kids and the Youth Dressage Festival.

She reports from the North American Junior/Young Rider Championships in Lexington, Kentucky, this week.

I have been coming to NAJYRC for over 20 years and thought I would share some of my rambling thoughts on this year’s experience. I am here with two students (who also have their own regular trainer who couldn’t come) so I have lots of time to watch and listen.

Most competitors arrived Sunday. Some flew their horses, others had very long drives in extreme heat–as much as 24 hours. Some left at 4 or 5 in the afternoon and drove all night to keep the trip in the coolest part of the day–flat tires, wicked storms slowed the trip for some. Probably the only common denominator for everyone here is excitement and a hope–for continued success for those with high qualifying scores and for something special happening for those with lower scores. Probably every parent here thinks their child is truly special and unique in his/her talents. Ask any parent and they will probably tell you that no one works harder, is more deserving of a gold medal than their child.

For those who think that the success of the rest of their lives depends on how they do here, let me mention two of my students who bombed at NAJYRC–Chris Hickey and Courtney King. And look at the names of past gold medalists of whom we haven’t heard again as competitive riders.

I remember when I first brought riders to NAYRC. Our team, selected by the region, was made up of the riders who could do the test… kinda. We had team members on “interesting” horses who could turn around fast at the canter (pirouette) and go from one lead to the other without breaking (flying change). Yes, there were some riders well mounted, but there were a lot of not such quality performances. We had fun, though, and it was the beginning of a major development in the quality of our youth. (If only parents and trainers would consider good instruction for younger ones on ponies.)

I also want to comment on those who don’t make it to NAJYRC, either because their scores weren’t high enough or because they don’t ride well enough or don’t have a good enough horse or the finances.

This past couple of weeks I have been working with two 17-year-olds: one with lots of international experience, wonderful instructors, and a super horse; the other has a pony of limited talent and desire. In the past I offered this one a horse to try out for the champs as she certainly has the talent, but she would have had to give up her pony. She chose to keep her difficult pony. And what a wonderful job she has done bringing him to beginning fourth level. I am so proud of her. She has learned so much about patience, perseverance, and loyalty, not to mention about dressage training. Yes, I would love to see her show off her abilities here this weekend, but my respect and admiration for what she has done is huge. For some, everything lines up at the right moment and here they are. For others, there are many other ways of proving their abilities.

Another difference between “the old days” and now as well as the quality of the horses, and more important, is the quality of riding.

One reason I started Dressage4kids and the Youth Dressage Festival was that I saw so much poor riding at NAYRC, I wanted to have a competition that included equitation. Today, as I watched the riders I was impressed with how well many of the riders sit. Interestingly, the riders on the best horses do not always have the best positions; do they not work on it because their horses will do good work without such good riding? I am still sad that so many riders hang on the curb, but that is not seen just with the youth. It will also be interesting to see how the judges evaluate horses with flashy movement who are so rigid in their bodies–flash or suppleness, self carriage, and harmony–the age old question.

The first real riding day is always interesting. It is so difficult for the riders (of any age) to be out there amongst other good riders with lovely horses. The tendency is to want to out do the others, or show off, or just try to fix that problem that has been a problem for months or years. The confident riders (or trainers) worked their horses lightly after their long trip, stretching, elasticizing, building confidence, and acknowledging that there is a long hot week ahead.

There are some truly wonderful school horses, some with several successful trips to the championships. I was so amused watching the 20-year-old horse Jonkara from California looking like she’d never been away from home before. And I love that riders are still qualifying with non-fancy warmbloods. My two riders are on a Morgan and a PRE.

One thing that hasn’t changed that is wonderful is the fact that most of the dressage riders are their own grooms. There are mothers, fathers, friends here to help, but so far I haven’t seen professional grooms as we see with the jumpers. These riders spend so much time caring for, knowing, and loving their horses. They are working at truly being horsemen and women.

Tuesday is the day to school in the show arena where the World Equestrian Games was held last year. Wow! And the jog.