Monday, February 1, 2010

Dressage Clinics for "Newbies"

I teach all levels of dressage (riding), from first time on a horse through Grand Prix, but my students are generally at least in solid training level (or above), when they first seek lessons with me. There is still a disconnect in the general public's mind about what 'dressage' is. Our riding culture has developed the attitude that dressage is either "boring", or too difficult, and we 'dressage-types' haven't done enough to dispel this misunderstanding (myself included).

One of things I like best about teaching riding and dressage is bringing new people into the sport. I believe it is our responsibility as instructors to do this.

On January 16, I judged the dressage division of the Starwood Sporthorses Dressage and Hunter Schooling Show here in Indian River County, FL (where my dressage facility is also located, and where I am based most of the year).

The show manager, Liz Daniel, has combined the dressage and hunters in a smart move to initiate interest among the "hunter-types" to make the foundation of their training follow the principles of dressage. Most of the Indian River County riders have heard of me (truth or false, good or bad LOL), but there is a lot of misinformation about me as well (like, I charge $125.00 for a lesson-false, or that I only take upper-level riders-false, and I am a tough and exacting teacher--kind of true, but sounds a lot scarier than it really is, etc.).

Liz asked me to judge the schooling show, and I jumped at the chance, since it would give an opportunity for a large group of riders in the 'hunter world' to get to know the real Mary McGuire Smith, at least a little. The show actually generated a lot of interest among people who ride and show, but don't necessarily "do dressage". All of a sudden, I wasn't so "scary". LOL A long-time student of mine, Amy Chisholm, whose son also rides with me, was at the show, and talked with a lot of enthusiastic riders about doing a clinic with me at some point.

One of the first-time dressage riders was a young girl whose mother, Joy, is the manager/trainer at Abbey Road Stables, so Amy and Joy got together and organized a "fun dressage clinic". Abbey Road Stables hosted the clinic, and the facility owner (Barbara Lewis), their trainer (Joy Nottage) and the trainer's daughter rode in the clinic, as
well as a number of their boarders, and we had a few riders trailer in as well. We also had a number of auditors, despite the clinic happening so soon after the show, and without the chance to advertise! It was a well-hosted, well-organized and well-attended clinic, and many thanks to all who participated!
It was a very nice mix of riders and horses. The first to go were a couple of my current students, who gave an opportunity to the new riders to understand some of the terminology that we use, and see the figures ridden, and how the horses go (forward-not fast, and what "round" is, what 'connection' means, etc.).
Then the riders that were new to dressage had their lessons throughout the day. The weather was windy, which made it a challenge for the riders to hear sometimes, even though I was yelling as loud as I could (I am definitely investing in a mic system now--I have been on the fence about it). The forecasted rain held off and we got some great pictures of the clinic and the riders, some of which I have posted here, and some of which are in a collage on my website. Amy, the organizer (and multi-tasker extraordinaire), also took some great shots on three different cameras and posted some on Facebook.
I think one of the greatest things we can do for our sport is to encourage participation among young people (half the riders were under 16--yay!!), and riders from other disciplines. The horses were all nice examples of their breed-types with a lot of potential towards dressage. Somehow, people get the idea that just because they don't own a "warmblood", their horse is not suitable for dressage.
That is the farthest thing from the truth! We "dressage-types" have been lamenting this phenomenon from the beginning of time, blaming it on the "other disciplines" for not wanting to be open-minded and learn the true benefit of dressage training for horse and rider, and yet, the idea is still pervasive--could it be that WE are doing something (or are NOT doing something) to perpetuate this; that WE are the ones who are close-minded??
Although I was tired at the end of the day (as I think every instructor should be!), I had a lot of fun, and judging from the smiles all around, so did everyone else.
It is my mission to offer these clinics on an ongoing basis here in Indian River County, Florida, and to encourage younger people to incorporate the principles of dressage as their principles of lay the foundation for any specialized discipline(s) they ultimately choose for themselves and their horses. I believe every higher level dressage instructor who gives clinics should set aside a percentage of their time for "beginner" clinics at a reduced price, to encourage real knowledge about our sport and way of riding, and set it as the foundation of training. At present, I hear people saying "dressage is the basis for all riding", but the understanding of just what that means to them in their own everyday riding and training is still a mystery.


  1. I am curious about your show record in the FEI ring. I was trying to find out more about you and couldn't find any show results.

  2. email me privately and I will tell you everything you want to know. :-) You may also visit my website for further information. Thanks for posting.