From One Horse Parent To Another

A dressage mom recounts the blessings of her daughter’s equestrian education.
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Dr. Jillian Costello-Chavers is pursuing a career in equine lameness and sports medicine. (Courtesy, Annette Costello)

Dr. Jillian Costello-Chavers is pursuing a career in equine lameness and sports medicine. (Courtesy, Annette Costello)

Dressage. I had never even heard the word before my daughter, Jillian, was born. When she was little, we put her on a pony, one of those round-walker-type pony rides at the flea market. That was it. A horse lover was born. She was 2 at the time. Years later, she took her horse to college with her and even with a full schedule, she continued to train, show and win. At every level of riding she was focused, intent and brilliant. 

As a parent throughout all this, you enter this equestrian lifestyle with other moms and dads. After a while, you get to be a veteran and some parents ask you about life after their child’s competitive dressage career. Will their child ever love or work this hard for anything else in her life like she has for dressage? I had the same concerns, but I was certain there was plenty to come. 

 My answer to these worried parents has always been the same: Yes, there is life after dressage. All you parents of horse-crazy kids, rest assured they are building character with every stride. They are creating hard work ethics with every 20-meter circle—and there are thousands of 20-meter circles. Patience comes with learning the difference between four different types of walk. They learn how to deal with frustration when their horse breaks in the extended trot but that turns to exuberance when balance and strength are discovered and those breaks stop happening. They learn how to deal with disappointment when the judges’ scores don’t reflect their hard work and they get back on and get right back at it. Dedication arises out of working with a partner who has a heartbeat. It’s not like a soccer player or football player, who has a ball to maneuver. This kind of partner is a living animal. 

My daughter eventually competed through the North American Junior Young Rider Championship (NAJYRC) in the dressage discipline. She graduated from the University of Florida, entered Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine and graduated suma cum laude with her doctorate in veterinary medicine, all the while she continued to ride. 

 I thank dressage for this. She learned those building blocks of success thanks to it. Dressage requires dedication, focus, patience, courage and lots of hard work. On the up side, there was little time left after studying and riding to get into trouble. Her father and I didn’t spend any money on bailing her out of trouble—instead, we spent it on breeches, show coats, field boots, show boots and a myriad of brushes, bits, bridles, creams and salves. 

To my fellow parents: Those days will pass much too soon. At least they did for us. As it turns out, your support of your dressage enthusiast leads to great things. I am just a mom of a great kid and I was lucky enough to be able to provide my daughter with the gift of horsemanship. But I did not go willingly. I never knew the horse world before her obsession, for lack of a better word. 

 Jillian now works for Virginia Equine Imaging, pursuing a career in lameness and sports medicine. She is doing what she loves—following her dream. She is focused and dedicated. She no longer has time to show, but dressage is in her blood and I think it has helped to make her what she is today. She was fortunate to have great trainers: Heidi Welch, Christie Lehnert-Slayton and Melissa Taylor. 

 For me, I am not sorry for any of the horse craziness. I have another daughter, Sydnie, who loves dressage. She has ridden and shown and loves her equine partners. She aspires to be a dentist. She learned the same discipline in her life from riding. 

There is life—a good, full life—after dressage, mom and dad. Embrace it while you can. It will be over far too soon and it will leave a beautiful, well-disciplined, successful person in its wake.    

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