When I was 9 years old, my parents paid for my first 10 lessons at the local riding stable in West Orange, New Jersey. I was in heaven as I was given longe lessons on a little bay pony named Sir Chumley. But after my 10th ride, reality hit. This hobby was just too expensive for my family, and I needed to find another way to keep this dream alive. With my parents’ approval (and support), I approached the manager of the farm, and thus began my tenure as a working student.
I was your typical “barn rat,” who soaked up every bit of knowledge I could and did whatever chores needed tending in exchange for saddle time. My parents paid for all my gear and buggy-lugged me back and forth to the barn every day. As my riding improved, I was lucky enough to ride more often and eventually began riding the sale horses. Lessons increased as did my general horsemanship. It was hard work, but well worth it.
My story came to mind while reading this month’s article by Lendon Gray, two-time U.S. Olympian and founder of Lendon’s Youth Dressage Festival. Known for teaching young riders who have an interest in dressage to be better all-around horsemen, Gray shares some great advice with trainers (and parents). She also offers guidance to the kids, saying: “Make yourself indispensible in some way. Be willing to muck stalls, to clean tack, to pick rocks and then maybe someone will be willing to give you some opportunities. But you have to be willing to do the grunt work.” Boy, did that ever ring true. Read “9 Tips to Develop Young Dressage Riders” on p. 34.
From young riders to senior horses, we switch gears in our two-part series on the aging dressage horse. In this month’s Part One, “Aging Gracefully,” Germany’s Uta Gräf offers advice on how she manages her young horses in such a way to keep them going well into their later years. Part of her routine is actually a change in routine. She asks: “Why always train in the dressage arena? While youngsters need to learn to deal with outside influences, older horses, in particular, enjoy a regular change of scenery.” She goes on to say that without a change in scenery, a young horse doesn’t learn effectively and an older horse loses his sparkle and expression. You can find her story on p. 42.
There’s plenty more in this issue, and each story is a reflection of how hard work pays off. Today, my 9-year-old daughter is riding. While a working-student situation hasn’t presented itself yet, I hope it does. I learned more during my days as a barn rat than I could even learn from one lesson a week. I can only hope she finds the same opportunity.
Until next time.