Kids, Ponies and Self-Reliance

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I've long been a fan of programs where kids not only learn to ride and compete but also to take care of their own horses and by extension learn responsibility and how to take care of themselves. In my own horsey corner of the country, I'm on the committee of Lendon Gray?s Youth Dressage Festival which, in addition to riding, includes a written test on horsemanship matters and activities on stable management.

I feel that dressage competition itself can promote self-reliance because, unlike some other disciplines, no outside assistance is allowed during the five or so minutes you're riding the test, except in certain instances a test reader.? If you run into difficulty, you're on your own to deal with it.

The kids I've seen showing dressage seem to take to this concept even better than the adults who come to dressage later in life and who usually compete as adult amateurs.? The adults often find it hard to relax and appear to hold their breath until they collapse into the final halt.? The kids mostly just get on with it.

I saw an excellent example of this recently in an FEI Pony class, which was run under Federation Equestre Internationale (international) rules ?no reader and open only to riders ages 12 to 16.? The first rider in the class was stopped by the judge because she was riding the wrong test.? It turned out she was riding the RIGHT test, because the FEI had rewritten the Pony tests for 2012, and both show management and the two judges had the old tests.

The rider, who was only 11 but was eligible because her 12th birthday was later this year, calmly cooled her jets while the show scrambled to download and print out the correct tests and the judges to do a quick review.? Then the rider carried on as if nothing unusual had occurred, rode a competent test and won the class, which included a competitive group of youngsters trying to qualify for the National Pony Rider Championship held at the U.S. Equestrian Federation?s Festival of Champions.

Even though only kids are allowed to compete in the FEI Pony tests (adults can ride ponies in regular USEF classes), these are not easy tests.? they're listed as the equivalent of Second Level in the USEF Rule Book, but they really are harder than Third Level tests, just without flying changes.? The majority of adults competing in dressage usually don't make it past First Level.? I've observed that kids who successfully take on the challenges of the FEI Pony, Junior and Young Rider tests seem to sail forward in their riding careers.

Competition aside, I'm thrilled to see kids like the young lady above who?ve learned to hold their own during stressful moments, don't fall back on excuses even when they're justified, and handle themselves with aplomb and confidence.? There are a lot of adults who can learn from their example.

Margaret Freeman, Associate Editor