Friday, June 24, 2011

PVDA Ride For Life

When I was putting this year’s show calendar together, I saw PVDA’s Ride for Life,  a show that benefits breast cancer research. Someone along the way, my grandmother I think, equipped me with a sense of social responsibility. I get to play with the ponies all day, so I kinda feel like I cheat on it a bit. This show was perfect--it met my need to feel socially responsible while I played with the ponies. Plus, most of us have been touched by breast cancer in some way.

My touch came through Sue Steele, my first “real” dressage instructor. When I decided I wanted to learn real dressage, not just dressage-to-get-to-the-cross-country-course, I tried the instructors in my area. In the not-so-ripe dressage Mecca of central Illinois, that gave me few choices. When I tried Sue, her approach to my education was so markedly different than the others that I stuck with her. 

Sue was exactly what I needed. She was straight forward with her instruction, patient with all of my questions, and understood that, although I had ridden and competed since a young age, I was new to dressage. I needed time to develop some things, but could be pushed in others. Her direct, clear instruction brought me from learning the bending aids to competing 2nd level in two short years. When I had the opportunity, she encouraged me to take my first working student position where I could continue to grow as a rider. 

Sue wasn’t warm and fuzzy. A mutual friend described her as crusty, but as cliche as it sounds, under that crust was a heart of gold. Her Midwestern directness allowed few complements, so when she labeled me her “star student” shortly before I left Illinois, I was surprised and flattered. Her belief in me was a source of strength during the fatigue and insecurity of my working student years. 

Shortly after I moved to South Carolina, Sue was diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent the usual treatment. It went into recession for a while, and then returned. This time the cancer won.  Sue faced her disease with the same direct, straight forward approach she took to dressage and to life.  

I think of Sue whenever I fix my rebellious right leg or use one of her exercises in a lesson. She shaped me into the instructor and trainer I am today.

This weekend, at Ride for Life, I ride in memory of Sue Steele, my first dressage instructor and my friend. You are not forgotten.

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