Austin Dressage Unlimited (ADU), located in central Texas, is known for its innovative and popular dressage programs. These programs serve the dual purpose of providing quality dressage educational opportunities in an enjoyable atmosphere that encourages enthusiasts from all over the region to come together, socialize and network (see flyer here).
True to their reputation, ADU recently organized a Dressage Seat Symposium and High Tea. Held at the lovely Fair Oaks Ranch in Dripping Springs, Texas on June 6, 2010, the dressage educational portion was presented by Nancy Fair, USDF Gold Medalist and "L" Program graduate. The term "high tea" refers to an afternoon tea party or social gathering in which tea and little snacks, cakes, breads, and pastries are served on good china.
What a spectacular afternoon it was! Over 40 dressage enthusiasts from multiple central Texas cities attended. Many sported delightful hats that came in handy on this sunny summer day.
The dressage educational afternoon began under the shade of a grove of large oak trees, with a cool Texas breeze blowing through the leaves. Here Nancy gave an enlightening lecture that concentrated on the effects of the seat in both proper and improper positions. She emphasized the importance of maintaining the proper overall position at all times while riding. Nancy shared her favorite dressage instructional books and used illustrations to complement her verbal instruction. She had prepared and distributed brochures created specifically for this event. The brochures included brief write-ups describing how to achieve an independent seat, the importance and effect of an independent seat, suggested readings and biographies of the four demonstration riders and Nancy. Over and over again, Nancy praised the knowledge and instruction she had so regularly received throughout much of her dressage career from the legendary Franz Rockowansky. Nancy credits "Rocky" for developing her into the successful trainer, instructor, and competitor that she is. His teachings continue to inspire her.
After the lecture under the trees, the crowd then moved to the area of Nancy's dressage arena, a lovely pastoral setting with a beautiful view looking out over what is called the "Texas Hill Country." Live demonstrations began with 12-year-old Aly Mulconnery, a C2 Pony Clubber, being given a longeing session without reins or stirrups, on her horse Aspen. Nancy put Aly through the paces with a variety of physical exercises, demonstrating to attendees how practicing these exercises improves a rider's balance, position and independent seat in the saddle. Nancy strongly suggested that longe lessons become a regular part of every dressage rider's training program, no matter what level the rider is at.
Next to follow in the arena was a sequence of three riders of different levels riding their own horses. First was Michelle Hefner riding her Thoroughbred gelding, Spridle. She was followed by Susan Fuller, riding the beautiful gray Oldenburg mare, Eowyn, owned by breeder Debbie Graves of Oakhaven Farms. Also in the arena was Erika James riding the Hanoverian gelding Wunderland. In joking about Erika, Nancy said "I hate her. Erika has the ideal body build for dressage--tall, lean, long legged." But whether or not you are born with a favorable physique, the only way to achieve an independent and effective dressage seat is through hard, consistent work and training.
After the symposium attendees' brains were full, they were then invited to fill their bellies inside Nancy's lovely home at the fabulously prepared "High Tea." It looked like Rachael Ray and Paula Dean had been there with all of the fancy little sandwiches and finger foods, a variety of scones and muffins, jams, jellies and butters, pastries, fresh fruits and stuffed vegetables, chocolate covered strawberries, divinity, fine chocolates, you name it. All were elegantly presented on silver and pewter platters, bowls and beautiful horse pattern china. Large vases of tall Texas wildflowers complemented the tables. Candles provided an inviting glow to the high tea's welcoming atmosphere. Rows of fine china teacups and saucers, many in horse patterns, graced one side table.
A couple of young riders, Julie Bieszk and Natalie Katalenas, were even somehow conned into dressing in FEI attire, top hats and shadbellies, and they served guests tea from the array of teapots offering eight different flavors. A repeated question was asked if ADU had hired caterers for this High Tea, it was that nicely done. But no, the ADU Education Team Co-Leaders, Carol Schmickrath and Cean Embrey, just organized a lot of very hard-working, dedicated and generous supporters.
> View the Dressage Seat Symposium and High Tea Photo Gallery
For more information about Austin Dressage Unlimited, visit their website at www.AustinDressageUnlimited.net.