Inside the Robert Dover Horsemastership Clinic

Two unique stories emerge from riders at this intensive training session.

The Adequan Global Dressage Festival showgrounds in Wellington, Florida, saw much young talent at the Robert Dover HorseMastership Clinic (RDHC) in early January. A handful of top riders and auditors—chosen based on competitive success as well as attendance at other Emerging Dressage Athlete clinics and programs—came to glean wisdom from some of the biggest superstars in the business, including Steffen Peters, Laura Graves, George Williams, Charlotte Bredahl-Baker and U.S. Dressage Chef d’equipe Dover himself. As the fifth annual RDHC progressed, the athletes not only learned riding skills from international competitors, but valuable information from some of the best in ancillary disciplines, including veterinary medicine from USET team vet Dr. Rick Mitchell, how to behave like a champion from author and dressage mentor Jane Savoie, the management of dressage horses for performance and soundness from veterinarian and author Dr. Hilary Clayton and goal-setting and positive self-talk from life coach and hypnotist Laura King. 

Fourteen-year-old Julia Barton, riding Carol Cohen’s Dolce Vita, received much praise from U.S. Dressage Chef d’equipe Robert Dover during the 2016 Robert Dover HorseMastership Clinic. (Credit: Amy K. Dragoo)

Two RDHC participants who came to sharpen their skills caught the attention of the clinic organizers: an auditor who jumped at a last-minute chance to ride, and a 14-year-old who rose to the top on a borrowed horse. Read on to learn how talent and hard work helped two determined young women get their chance to shine and what they learned from their coaches at the clinic.

The Force Was with Her

Top Young Riders and auditors were picked to attend the Robert Dover HorseMastership Clinic based on their competitive success as well as attendance at other Emerging Dressage Athlete clinics and programs. (Credit: Amy K. Dragoo)

Texas auditor Jessica Fan, 17, arrived early every morning to the barn at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center where all the horses for the clinic were housed. It was her second year of auditing the RDHC and her cheerful attitude, thoughtful questions and willingness to grab a broom and sweep the barn aisle caught the attention of barn manager Liv Gude. “She was a participating auditor who blew my socks off,” Gude said. “She was interested, she asked questions, she was intelligent, she wanted to learn. She was a giant sponge.”

When a hole in the ride schedule opened up, clinic organizers Lendon Gray and Anne Cizadlo asked Gude who deserved to be given the leg up. Gude immediately suggested Fan and the wheels were set in motion. Fan had two hours to find a horse.

Fan’s mother, Leslie, helped, but she insisted her daughter do the work herself, and Fan began calling around. “I had her make all the phone calls,” her mother said. “We didn’t have a trailer, and she arranged for transport. I helped get some of the numbers, but she did all the calls.” 

They called seven contacts, and one of her trainers in south Texas knew a trainer in Florida, Benny Pfabe, and he helped her find a horse. Within hours, she was ready to ride with Charlotte Bredahl-Baker on a horse owned by Mary Hawkins named Luke Skywalker, a schoolmaster who had competed at Intermediaire I. 

“She borrowed breeches, she borrowed boots, she borrowed a grooming box, she borrowed a braiding kit, she borrowed buckets,” Gude said. The contingent of other riders and auditors banded together to dismantle a tack stall so her horse could have a stall. It took three people to help her zip up boots borrowed from fellow Texan Allison Cyprus. 

Fan’s first lesson with Bredahl-Baker began after she had ridden Luke Skywalker a total of 10 minutes. She was instructed to work on transitions in a canter by doing simple changes in a three-loop serpentine. “When you cross the centerline, he should be parallel to the short side of the wall. It’s three half-20-meter circles. Try to make it precise and don’t go into the corner when you are on a serpentine,” Bredahl-Baker coached.

Then they worked on getting the horse listening to her leg aids by doing a leg yield to a half-pass to a leg yield, starting on the quarterline and going back and forth. “It’s one of my favorite exercises,” Bredahl-Baker said. “It gets them really rideable. Make sure he looks where you want to go. Don’t let him ignore you when you ask to go sideways.” 

Fan said she took away that every horse is not easy, but she likes to see what each horse can give to his riders and how you can connect each horse to make him better and take him to the next level. “For [Luke Skywalker] it’s going forward and getting his hind legs a little bit more active,” Fan said. “He’s actually really sticky off my legs. We were working on the lateral work to get him a little more supple. Then we worked on being able to put that all together while keeping him round and doing a little collected work and seeing if he would give me his back. It’s all about the connection and how well you know your horse and how much you can bring out of him.”

Fan braids horses and grooms at shows to earn money and she and works hard at everything she does. The high-school senior dreams of being a research oncologist. She is quick to thank those who helped her ride at the clinic. “I like setting goals and I like to achieve them,” she said. “I’m just so excited for this opportunity. This would not have been possible without the help of Liv and Lendon. All of the riders and auditors helped a lot but it was Liv and Lendon.”

One to Watch

When a spot in the clinic opened at the last minute, Texas auditor Jessica Fan, 17, jumped at the opportunity. Within hours, she was ready to ride with Charlotte Bredahl-Baker on a borrowed horse named Luke Skywalker, owned by Mary Hawkins. (Credit: Amy K. Dragoo)

Dover is a man with a vision of taking Team USA to gold-medal-winning glory and sometimes that makes him a tough taskmaster. So when he lavishly praised 14-year-old Julia Barton after her ride with him on the fourth day of the five-day clinic, people took note. As Barton finished her lesson on Carol Cohen’s Dolce Vita, Dover heaped on the accolades. “Did anyone ever tell you that you are going to be an amazing rider?” Dover asked. “You ride super, super, super. I get excited when I see riders like you riding like that. There is no limit to what you can do.”

Barton looked a bit shell-shocked as she exited the arena and said she was excited and a bit overwhelmed. “I can’t really breathe,” she said tearfully. “I don’t have a trainer at home. I travel 10 hours to get training.”

Her mother, Jenny Barton, was surprised by her daughter’s reaction. “She does not cry,” she said.

The freshman at Bishop Seabury Academy in Lawrence, Kansas, primarily trains with Claire Krska, who is in medical school in Colorado. She also gets help from Arlene Rigdon-Grant, Sharon Schneidman and Nicole Gusenkamp. Although Barton is passionately serious about dressage, she also participates in eventing, mounted games, foxhunting and Pony Club. She has done much of the training on her 14.2-hand, yet leggy, Quarter Horse/German Riding Pony, Bonaroo. She planned to debut the liver chestnut at the FEI Pony Level this year, and then move up to Juniors and Young Riders. That was until Dover encouraged her to fast-track her plans because of her talent and innate sense of feel on a horse. 

“My goals changed about 30 minutes ago,” she said as she left her lesson. “I think right now my goals are going to depend on my opportunities. My goal was to compete at FEI Pony Level for the next few years, but Robert seems to think I need to go a bit quicker and go up to Juniors and Young Riders.” 

Since her trainer moved to Colorado, the rider is without a coach and she has brought Bonnaroo up through the ranks on her own. “In a way, it’s been good because I’ve had to learn to develop my instincts, my feel and my ability to be a trainer,” she said. “I still have to make progress day to day and week to week.”

As it was her second time to participate in the clinic, she had already heard Dover’s admonishment to ride from half halt to half halt. “Last year I was riding at Training Level and it didn’t apply quite so much to the balance of the horse because then you are just trying to get them going forward. So I’m going to use that a lot because the half halt is the ultimate balancing tool and that’s exactly what my mare needs.”

Dover may have been impressed by Barton, but he cut her no slack with her lesson. He drilled her on transitioning from medium trot to passage. “That was a real passage, girl,” he said to her.

He moved on to the canter aids and how they relate to the flying change. He told her to imagine she was cantering on the left lead. “When you want that flying change, with your left leg at the girth and the right leg behind the girth, as the horse is on the bah-bah-BUM [the three beats of the canter], as it’s going bah-bah you’re changing your leg so that your new inside leg is on the girth and the new outside leg is behind the girth. So you close your outside hand in a fist like you are snatching a fly out of the air. That is your half halt when the horse goes bah-bah-BUM, bah-bah-BUM. At that signal—at the one, two, three and NOW—not only is the inside leg at the girth saying you go forward, but it says keep stepping through to the outside rein.” 

Barton said she was lucky to be able to ride Cohen’s young KWPN mare in the clinic as Dolce Vita is similar to her horse at home. “She has an amazing trot, but she doesn’t show it if you don’t work for it.” Barton worked on keeping the mare light in the clinic. 

“It was love at first sight with the two of them,” Cohen said of Barton and Dolce Vita—Cohen’s newly purchased mare. “She’s very forward. I say she’s got a lot of za-za-zoom. I was telling Jenny [Barton’s mother] what beschert means; it means ‘meant to be’ in Yiddish. It was beschert for those two.”

Whether traveling hours to train with her coach, organizing last-minute arrangements to receive world-class lessons or borrowing talented horses, these two young riders did whatever it took to make the Robert Dover HorseMastership Clinic a true learning experience. It’s no wonder they, as well as the 14 other riders selected to participate, caught the eye of clinic organizers. You’ll be seeing more about these dedicated athletes in the future. 

Meet the 2016 RDHC Riders

The riders invited to be a part of the 2016 Robert Dover HorseMastership Clinic are among the most promising and talented young dressage athletes in the United States. They were selected from the riders with the highest scores at the U.S. Dressage Seat Medals, FEI North American Junior and Young Rider Championships (NAJYRC), USDF National Championships and from the Dressage4Kids Emerging Dressage Athlete Program. 

FROM LEFT: Clinic organizers Lendon Gray—also the founder of Dressage4Kids—and Anne Cizadlo with U.S. Dressage Chef d’equipe Robert Dover. (Credit: Amy K. Dragoo)

Julia Barton, 14, has been a dressage rider since she was 9 and her primary mentor and coach is Clare Krska. At home in Lawrence, Kansas, she rides her pony, Bonnaroo, whom she is bringing up the ranks herself. Although she’s passionate about dressage and plans to debut “Bonnie” at FEI this year, she participates in eventing, mounted games, foxhunting and her local Pony Club. She rode Carol Cohen’s Dolce Vita, a 7-year-old KWPN mare, at the clinic.

Kristin Counterman, 15, is a USDF bronze and silver medalist and a member of the Emerging Dressage Athletes Program. She trains with Lauren Sprieser in Northern Virginia, and competes with Three Times, a 15-year-old KWPN gelding recently donated to Dressage4Kids by Caroline Stephens. Counterman and Three Times are moving up to the Young Rider level after a successful 2015 Junior season. 

Allie Cyprus, 17, hails from Magnolia, Texas, and trains with Nancy Hinz at Yellow Rose Dressage. At the 2015 U.S. Dressage Finals, she earned championship titles at Fourth Level Freestyle and the Prix St. Georges and reserve champion in Fourth Level aboard her own Madoc Gareth, a 12-year-old Welsh Cob gelding. Her goals for 2016 include competing at the NAJYRC as a Young Rider and she plans to attend Texas A&M in the fall.

Alexander Dawson, 15, lives in Brighton, Wisconsin, and works with Patti Becker. He has been riding Uno, a 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood, since the spring of 2015. He won the 2015 USEF Dressage Seat Medals Final in the 14–18 division aboard Lynda Chesser’s Shamrock. He looks forward to building his partnership with Uno with hopes of earning a spot to represent Region 2 at the 2016 NAJYRC. 

Jessica Fan, 17, is from Lake Jackson, Texas, and began the clinic as a participating auditor and ended it riding Luke Skywalker, a borrowed horse owned by Mary Hawkins. She was the 2014 national reserve champion in the USEF Pony Rider Dressage National Championship with her Welsh Cob, Madoc Prince Phillip, and rides with Ida Mattinson.

Mickayla Frederick, 18, is from Johnston, Iowa. She began riding at the age of 8 and is working toward moving up to Young Rider. She and her 13-year-old Hanoverian gelding, Wrainier Q, claimed the 2015 AGCO/USEF Junior Dressage National Championship at the Festival of Champions. She doesn’t have a full-time trainer but clinics with Betsy Steiner and works with her while she is in Florida. 

Cassidy Gallman, 21, is from Palway, California, and rides out of Dove Hollow Dressage Center in Encinitas, California. She was a member of the 2014 and the 2015 gold-medal-winning Region 7 Young Rider teams aboard Grand Makana, her own 16-year-old Hanoverian gelding.

Kerrigan Gluch, 19, is from a small town in Michigan and now lives in Wellington, Florida, where she is a working student for Hampton Green Farm. She was given the opportunity to ride Vaquero HGF, a 9-year-old PRE stallion owned by Hampton Green Farm, and they successfully showed in the Young Rider division. The pair competed in the 2015 NAJYRC and the 2015 USEF Dressage Festival of Champions.

Nicholas Hansen, 20, and his 14-year-old Westphalian gelding, Ritter Benno, have been together for more than three years and he became involved in upper-level dressage when Dressage4Kids donated Ritter to him. The duo took part in the inaugural Winter Intensive Training Program in 2013 and travel to Wellington from Catawissa, Pennsylvania. Hansen trains with Canadian Olympian Jacquie Brooks. 

Lindsey Holleger, 19, a student at Florida State University, has been riding since the age of 2. She now rides Friedensfürst, her 13-year-old Trakehner gelding. The pair climbed the ranks from First Level to schooling the Grand Prix and have won multiple regional championships along the way. She’s also won NAJYRC Junior team bronze, individual gold, and Young Rider team silver medals. Holleger trains with Erin Brinkman of Wellborn, Florida,
who bred Friedensfürst.

Allison Hopkins, 17, is from Dallas, Texas, and trains with Yvonne Kusserow at Rocking M Stables. She is currently competing in FEI Juniors at Fourth Level and Prix St. Georges. In 2015, Hopkins made the Region 9 FEI Junior team on her new horse, Windsor, a 13-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding. The team earned the bronze medal at NAJYRC and placed fifth in the nation at the USEF Festival of Champions.

Otillia “Tillie” Jones, 14, is from Lincoln, Nebraska. She is the owner of Boegely’s Mauricio, a Danish Warmblood, and trains with Jami Kment. Jones was awarded her USDF bronze medal at the age of 11. She competed in the 2015 NAJYRC and the 2015 USDF Festival of Champions. She qualified to go to the National Dressage Finals to compete in the Open Third Level Freestyle championship class, where she placed eighth. 

Helen Claire McNulty, 15, is from Holland, Michigan. In 2014, she was the USEF 13 and Under Dressage Seat Equitation Champion. She was also the 2015 NAJYRC FEI Junior individual gold medalist and FEI Junior Freestyle silver medalist. She and her horse, Checkmate, a 12-year-old KWPN gelding by Obelisk, are schooling the Grand Prix and intend to move up to the FEI Young Rider division.

Allison Nemeth, 13, and her pony, Pablo S, have been training and competing together for the past three years. They are the 2015 USEF Pony Rider Dressage National Champions and the 2015 National Dressage Pony Cup FEI Pony Year-End Champions. Although she is continuing her training with Pablo S, she is also working with Dafoe, her 12-year-old Hanoverian, in hopes of competing in the FEI Junior test. 

Molly Paris, 19, is from North Carolina and has been riding for 13 years. She competed at NAJYRC in 2014 and 2015 on her horse, Diamant Sky. She brought a 13-year-old Danish Warmblood named Countess to the clinic. Although Countess is a new mount for her, Paris’ goal is to compete in the Under-25 division with the mare.

Asia Ondaatje Rupert, 15, is showing at the FEI Junior level. She has been competing in the FEI Pony and Junior divisions in Wellington, Florida, for the past four years and is training with Karin Persson in Bedford, New York. She attended the 2015 NAJYRC, and Dressage Seat Medal Finals, where she took 14–18 Reserve Seat Medal Champion. She rode Juan Matute’s 9-year-old gelding, Firmamento, in the clinic.

Lilli Simons, 20, moved into the FEI Young Rider division, and she and Willoughby, her Dutch Warmblood gelding, qualified for the 2015 North American Young Rider Championship as a member of Region 8’s Young Rider Team. She attends Mt. Holyoke College and trains with Wes Dunham. 

Anna Weniger, 17, is a USDF bronze and silver medalist. She has competed two horses through Prix St. Georges, one of whom she trained herself. Her current mount is Izeffia, an 11-year-old KWPN mare. “Izzy” came out at Third Level in 2015, and she and her rider placed third in the AGCO/USEF Junior Dressage National Championships. They represented Region 1 at the 2015 NAJYRC. Weniger plans to compete in FEI Juniors again this year.






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