Ok, I know this blog is supposed to be a clinic report on my two rides with Debby McDonald (I will tease you with WOW, I am such a lucky trainer to get to ride a horse as willing and talented as Secret, and to have the support I have from Linda, Hasslers, and the home front to have the opportunity to get such quality instruction--yea, life is good), but a couple of recent blogs have caught my attention, so I’m feeling the need to stand on my red-headed soap box for a moment.
The first of these events is a speech entitled “Roadmap to the Podium," given by our dressage team’ Technical Advisor/Chef d’Equippe Robert Dover. Here’s a link to Chronicle’s blogabout it. In short, he describes a pipeline starting with the Emerging Athletes Program (the up-and-coming young riders), the young horse program, the developing rider program (for horse-rider pairs that are gearing towards the big time), and the internationally-competitive riders. He discusses how each of these areas needs funding, especially getting the elite athletes funding to compete internationally. He makes a commitment to hold fund raising events to provide cash for his master plan. And people are willing to help –proof is Lendon Grey’s Winter Intensive Program, which ties right into the Emerging Athletes Program, received tons of help from both sponsors and professionals.
The major emphasis of his speech was FEI level dressage riders, but he does give lip-service to the USDF, as “The USDF provides grassroots encouragement,” said Dover. “It’s the first portal of recognition for the emergent athlete.”
I understand that his interest is primarily in putting together a gold-medal winning team, but he has forgotten a huge and regularly overlooked part to the dressage community. I am not talking about the adult amateur community, which I see gets a lot more support than they are often able to fully appreciate. For example, USDF Connections, a terrific magazine, is packed with AA-friendly info each month. Several Dressage Institute grants are geared towards GMO educational events that are specific for adult amateurs. The USDF Adult Dressage clinics were created with the sole purpose of educating amateurs. Heck, adult amateurs even have their own competition category—believe me, when I see Michael Barsione on my class list, I know I’m not getting blue. As a professional working in the middle-class dressage market, there is a significant economic gap between Michael’s trip around the sandbox and mine, but yet that is the standard I am held to.
From where I sit, as an instructor, what limits most adult amateurs is not their riding education opportunities, it is balancing family, job, and riding, which is no mean feat. Being able to make the time for regular riding and lessons is often a challenge, regardless of who guides their educations. Anyone who can hold down a family, a career, and compete in this sport gets my respect. I couldn’t do that, hence I made riding my career. But that is another topic.
The overlooked category is, in my mind, is the local instructor.
If Dover wants to raise funds for his programs that money needs to come from two main sources: big contributions from big cooperate sponsors and from smaller contributions from the dressage community at large. Obama ran his first presidential campaign using the consistent small-contribution model, so it works. But in order for Dover’s audience to stay excited enough about dressage to become consistent contributors, they have to be consistently excited about their sport. They need local instructors that inspire them.
Which brings me to the second bit of prose that has me fired up—Catherine Haddad’s most recent Chronicle Blog post. In it, she talks about the clinics she has been teaching recently and the quality of students that the trainers have been putting in front of her. In summary, she feels like dressage instructors need to get more and better training, in order to teach better dressage to their students.
I agree with her. As an instructor, nothing gets me more fired up than working on my own education. Having Scott, Catherine, Lendon, Gunner, Maryal, Gerhard, or any of the other clinicians I have worked with over the years push me to be my best inspires me to go home and do the same for my students. I regularly plagiarize my instructors. I can only teach as well as I have been taught.
My students are the fruits of this concept. They know this, and are therefore super-supportive of my education by verbally supporting me, being flexible with their lesson times when I go for a lesson, and with the annual "Ange's education Christmas gift." As Linda has said repeatedly, “When you go get a lesson, we all learn.”
So it’s not surprising that I think that when a highly trained clinician comes to the area, the organizer should first offer slots to the local professionals. When that highly-educated instructor teaches an amateur, she teaches one person. When she teaches a professional, the trickle down goes to all of that professional’s students.
What really surprises me is how hard it is to get professionals to fill the lesson slots. In my area, we have the luxury of an abundance of really well trained CDI-level dressage instructors. Most of my friends, who work in the middle-class market like I do, use one of these instructors regularly. But the opportunity to get a fresh set of eyes, especially with ability to take what you learn back to your regular instructor for discussion, is really an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed.
But it is. Last spring DVCTA brought in Gary Rockwell, a CDI judge who has sat on Olympic panels, as a clinician. DVCTA had a terrible time filling the ride slots. DVCTA had to subsidize the price and call people directly to fill the lessons. Even if Gary Rockwell isn’t someone’s first choice for their education, the opportunity to get a highly-decorated judge’s perspective in a non-competition format is something I made it a point not to miss.
Of course, professionals face the same limitations as other riders, sometimes even more so—time and money. I would love nothing more than to keep an FEI-tract horse with either Scott or Catherine and have their eyes on me daily for an extended period of time. But the reality is the middle-class dressage market, where most of us are working and who really need the education, doesn't allow for that big of a continuing education budget (yes, I do have one – it really is a line-item in the SFD budget sheet). But that kind of money usually shows up with adult amateurs with careers (or husbands with careers) who have already paid off their children’s educations and their mortgages.
Which brings me to my challenge. If the top crust of the dressage world is really interested in improving the overall quality of dressage in our country, help out the middle-class dressage instructors. And not just the ones who are lucky enough to have a super-talented horse or two—help out the ones who are working hard and improving every horse they touch. Invest a bit of yourself as a mentor. Be willing to help make better riders, instructors, and professionals. That would create a difference that would really impact our dressage community and create a strong home base to support the elite athletes on their road to the podium.
I also think, we, as dressage instructors need to find creative ways to invest in ourselves. I have a bit to say about that, as well as a zygote of an idea that a few of my fellow instructors and I have been working on since spring, but this blog is long enough already, so you’ll just have to wait for that. Next time.