If there is one characteristic about Lendon Gray that we can all agree on, it’s enthusiasm: about horses and horsemanship, about dressage, about education. And she infects everyone who drifts into her orbit with that enthusiasm.
I’ve spent the past couple weeks working on the program for Gray’s Youth Dressage Festival, which takes place the second week in August. I got involved with the Festival and Gray’s Dressage4Kids (D4K) organization when I lived near her base in Bedford New York. Just because I moved to North Carolina three years ago doesn’t get me off the hook. I still go back to judge every year and also to help at D4K’s Weekend Educational Program in February. There are D4K committee members scattered from Maine to Florida and points west. Gray’s gravitational pull and long reach are hard to resist.
If you love dressage, but you haven’t heard about the festival, then you are missing out on a great idea. It has a unique format, and Gray would like to export the concept to every corner of the country, to be borrowed or adapted to suit the needs and interests of a particular area. And the idea doesn’t have to be just for kids.
The festival, which takes place in Saugerties New York, regularly attracts 300 or more riders, and there are similar mini festivals in other states. The format includes a dressage test, equitation class and written test (based on a preset reading list), and entrants must do all three to qualify for awards. There are numerous other classes and educational activities, such as a practice jog, conformation judging and handling, tackroom decorating, demos, freestyles, prix caprilli and even dressage trail.
The show is also the site for the USDF Region 8 youth team competition, and there can be more than 60 teams involved, from up and down the East Coast, not just New England, and some even from foreign countries on borrowed horses. This creates an amazing sight when they all line up in the arena (without horses, thank goodness!) following the Saturday evening dinner. I have judged youth team competitions in other regions where there might be fewer than half a dozen teams. Gray’s imaginative approach seems to draw in hordes of riders, not just because the kids like it but also so do their parents and coaches.
This competition also seems to defy the everyone-must-get-a-ribbon direction of regular dressage shows. The divisions are drawn up after the entries are processed and are divided not just by level but also by age so that the riders are on a relatively even playing field. But the divisions aren’t small, usually around 15 riders each. That means that half of riders won’t get ribbons, not even team ribbons. Often, however, the riders who don’t get ribbons in the divisions on Saturday will bounce back in the “fun” classes that are held on Sunday.
The festival is the flagship event of the parent organization, Dressage4Kids, which has a variety of training programs and also provides scholarships. Take a look at www.dressage4kids. I’m going to talk about those other “fun” classes here next week.