Friday, June 17, 2011

Dressage Kids Round Three

Of the many things that kept me hopping this winter, the kids were the most fun. I love teaching kids dressage. I have taught many young dressage riders in my career, and they seem to come in waves. My first group of kids are now grownups (which makes me feel really old….), and my second round are now all either in college or recent graduates. I was beginning to think my clientele had changed, but then Wendy, who owns Slingshot and Glory Springs, where I teach several times a month, asked me to teach her daughter, Paige. One thing led to another, and now we have a third round of dressage kids.

Alexa on Maggie
Since I'm dang proud of my kids, I thought they deserved a blog. Plus their parents sent me some great photos.

I think adults sell kids short when it comes to dressage. If a kid can take up the violin at 5, or ballet at 4, then they can learn dressage--real dressage, not flatwork in circles, but real, through-the-back-and-to-the-bit dressage. 

In several ways, they are easier to teach than adults.  Kids have the luxury of complete focus—they don’t have to worry about what to make for dinner, or how to get everyone to soccer practice. They haven't lived long enough to pick up the baggage and self-esteem issues that cloud most adult riders. They can just focus on their riding.    

And boy are kids focused. They want to ride better, and they want to ride better now. If I tell a kid to spend 10 minutes every ride working on walk-trot transitions, or working without stirrups, because it will make their riding better, they do it. If I tell them to do sit ups and stretches off the horse, they do it. And they get better because of it.

Now I don’t want to give the impression that I short the kids on the technical stuff. They get the same dressage theory crammed into their lessons as the adults. Paige, age 11, and Alexa, age 16, can both tell you the purpose of intro and training levels. Paige and Jessica, age 11, can tell you the first three steps of the training scale, and if I ask them to describe what they feel in their ponies in terms of the training scale, they can. Heck, Alexa can give you all 6 steps, and tell you the purpose of first level. She could even describe the aids for a correct back-to-front half-halt and for shoulder in.

Alexa, Paige and Maggie
For a moment, please indulge my slightly-off-topic soap-box. Adults’ favorite excuse for being outridden by the kids is fear. They claim kids are braver than they are. Not so. Every young person I have ever helped has been afraid. Heck, most of the kids came to me because they were afraid of jumping, and I was one of the few instructors that wouldn't pressure them to go over fences. Kids often outride adults because they are more determined. They are willing to do the hard, hard work required to master this sport. They’ll do the no-stirrup work, they will trust my eye over their feel, and they will let the process of dressage training sculpt them into dressage riders. The only fear I see more often in adults than kids is fear of failure.

Lest you think I prefer teaching kids, adult students have their benefits too. Adults are more willing to indulge my dressage-geek long-winded bio-mechanical explanations. Plus it's socially unacceptable to share an after-lesson beer with an 11-year-old.

Alexa and Hakuna Matata, her new horse
Back to the kids – Alexa, Jessica and Paige, through the dedication and carpooling of their parents, spent quite a bit of time at SFD this winter. Alexa’s new horse is a 3-year-old (I know, kids should have older horses, but this isn't a normal 3-year-old, and Alexa isn't a normal kid), so she divided her time between several of the trained horses in the barn. 

She went into the winter with a blue from Dressage Seat Equitation already under her belt, so she looked pretty on a horse. This winter we made her effective. She learned to use her half halt to make a horse more uphill and increase the thoroughness, swing, and suspension. She also learned to ride leg yield, shoulder in and counter canter. Her new boy has benefited from her time on my schoolies, rewarding her with high-score intro at his first two shows. She also shared Maggie, Paige’s pony, for Pony Club Dressage Rally, where she earned high scoring C-level rider with a 70%. 

Paige and Maggie
Paige’s pony, Maggie came down to SFD for a couple of months this winter. Last year, Paige competed Sweet Lilly, her oh-so-reliable pony, to OVCTA Intro Champion. Over the winter, we cemented Paige’s move up to the more-dramatic-moving Maggie. When they arrived, Paige wouldn’t mount Maggie unless I was in the ring, performed a rather fluid emergency dismount at the first sign of trouble, and cantered only when I begged. Before they went home, I would come to the arena for their lesson to find Paige warming Maggie up in all three gaits. This winter, she learned to trust Maggie by learning to channel that fancy, powerful hind leg. At this year's Pony Club Dressage Rally, the pair earned a 70% , for high-scoring D-level rider.

Jessica and Mohican
Jessica and her mom spent the fall looking for a large pony for her to move up to, and after looking at countless ponies, decided that they had the perfect pony in their own back yard. Cara and I spent April and May teaching Jessica and Mohican to slow and steady his tempo, rebalance from a lighter half halt, and to canter like a big boy. Since Jessica’s plans involve eventing, we even got to take Moe out for some gallops and school him over fences. That pony doesn’t say quit. Jessica went to Dressage Rally with Paige, and scored a 63.5 for a red ribbon, with their team bringing home second place overall. 

Jessica and Moe
Alexa and Paige have a summer of local dressage shows, including Dressage4Kids in July, and possibly a few Dressage Seat Equitation classes thrown in. I suspect Jessica and Moe will join them for some dressage shows this summer, but right now they are gearing up for Jump Rally and Event Rally in June.

Congratulations and more good luck ladies, go show ‘em how it’s done.

Gotta love that enthusiasm!

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