BEDFORD, N.Y. — In 1999 a young rider was encouraged by her barn mates to attend a new show called the Northeast Junior/Young Rider Championships. That show later became Lendon’s Youth Dressage Festival and Dressage4Kids soon evolved out of that event.
The Youth Dressage Festival at HITS-on-the-Hudson Show Grounds in Saugerties, N.Y. is now an annual event usually held in July or August with classes for riders age 4 to 21.
When the show was conceived by accomplished dressage rider, Lendon Gray, she had a goal that all youths might learn how to become, not just better riders, but all-around horsemen.
The young lady enticed to go to that first show is named Laura Graves. “My first dressage show was Lendon Gray’s Dressage4Kids in 1999,” wrote Graves in 2015 for Dressage Today, “A few girls from our barn convinced me to go with my little Quarter Horse named Sunny. That was it for me; I loved it. Ever since then I have only shown dressage. At Lendon’s show, we had to prove our knowledge on the written test and prove our riding skills in the equitation part. If you had an average horse and didn’t win your dressage test, you could still do very well.” She continued riding at Dressage4Kids until Sunny retired.
Grave has since gone on to the Olympics, and most recently won silver medals at the World Equestrian Games Tryon 2018 in North Carolina.
Graves, now 31, and her horse, Verdades, a.k.a. Diddy, were named as the number one combination in the world, on the FEI Dressage World Ranking list released on Oct. 1. The ranking came shortly after an historic moment for U.S. dressage when Graves and Verdades were awarded the individual silver medal in the Grand Prix Special at the World Equestrian Games with a score of 81.717 percent. It is the first individual silver medal to be awarded to a U.S. dressage rider at a global championship, including the World Equestrian and Olympic Games. It is also the first time that a U.S. dressage combination has been ranked world number one.
Graves is just one of many who have gone on to success either as competitors, judges, instructors or other careers with horses. Another Dressage4Kids program alumnus, Nicholas Hansen, of Catawissa, Pa., competed in the Show in 2007. In 2016 he was awarded the Fiona Baan “Pursuit of Excellence” Memorial Trophy. This trophy, which is on permanent display in the Roemer Foundation/USDF Hall of Fame, is awarded to the Young Rider who earns the highest combined average score in the three dressage tests: FEI Young Rider Team, Individual, and Freestyle. Hansen was the highest scoring competitor in the team test, individual test, and the freestyle test at the 2016 USDF North American Junior & Young Rider Dressage Championships at the Adequan/FEI North American Junior & Young Rider Championships.
“I think the value of the program has been proven in a couple of ways — the competitive success and professional success of many of the riders who have graduated, many who started in very humble ways; the way so any riders return to our programs year after year throughout their youth; the acknowledgement of our program even outside the U.S.,” said Gray.
Even if a rider never goes on to be an Olympian, like Graves, Gray is happy that the program is creating better horsemen. “I am most proud that we have been able to give guidance and encouragement to so many kids, not just those who were lucky enough have wonderful horses and opportunities, but to those who are just enjoying their horses and maybe just working quietly with the horse world on a local level.”
Grateful graduates often return to help the program that helped them. For example, the Dressage4Kids Benefit Auction was started by D4K participant Alexa Derr to raise money for Dressage4Kids and its programs. The benefit auction has raised more than $12,000 since 2015.
This year’s auction is open until Oct. 7 at 10 p.m. Go to www.32auctions.com/4thD4Kauction. A Breyer model version of Verdades is one of the items along with lessons with top trainers and equestrian gifts and gear.
According to Dressage4Kids’ (D4K) website: The Youth Dressage Festival started as an effort to see today’s youth awarded for more than riding trained horses. The competition has three equal parts: a written test on riding theory and stable management; a group equitation class, and a dressage test with levels from Training through FEI Young Rider. There is also a Prix Caprilli (dressage test with jumps), a tack room decorating competition, Dressage Trail class, as well as a wide variety of exhibitions and demonstrations. Judges beg to officiate and volunteers come flocking to the unrecognized event and its unparalleled combination of fun and education.
Originally just the name of a website, D4K has blossomed into a full-fledged non-profit, operating the YDF, the Weekend Equestrian Program (a two day educational event open to all ages and levels of experience, from curious parents to experienced professionals), pony-only clinics, and the East Coast Dressage Pony Cup, while transforming the proceeds from these functions into valuable scholarships for aspiring dressage riders.
D4K offers scholarships for every sort of dressage rider. Some prizes are geared towards riders travelling to Europe, others towards the small child with a backyard pony just wanting to be able to afford lessons, and they all speak to Lendon’s dedication to “leveling the playing field” of dressage. With this same goal in mind, D4K events are highly subsidized to make them affordable for even the most limited budgets.
Dressage4Kids will celebrate its 20th anniversary on Saturday, Oct. 13, coinciding with the 2018 NEDA Fall Symposium featuring Olympic Gold Medalist and World Record holder Charlotte Dujardin.
The Dressage4Kids celebration will be held at The Boylston Rooms in Easthampton, Mass., and will commence following the conclusion of Saturday's activities. Attire is casual, guests are welcome to come directly from the Symposium.
The Dressage4Kids celebration will include food and festivities by Myer's Catering and DJ Rob Alberti.
For tickets, to make a donation, and for more info go to: https://dressage4kidsorg.presencehost.net/news-events/20th-anniversary-celebration.html
See https://www.facebook.com/events/196195617725733/ for more information.
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