By Kate Cassidy

Even though a horse and rider are undeniably a team, it is easy to think of dressage as a very individualized sport. Building a community within the equestrian society is important and crucial to the success and longevity of dressage. Competitions such as the Olympics, the PanAm Games, and NAJYRC, bring horse and rider combinations together to form teams and support networks; however, the most effective way to promote comradery is to forge an open forum to allow curiosity and passion to fuel education.

This fall the California Dressage Society (CDS) gave this opportunity to nine Junior/Young Riders, who were chosen from a large pool of applicants, during a
clinic with the U.S. Assistant Youth Coach and Olympic Bronze Medalist Charlotte Bredahl. The riders varied in ages from ten to twenty years old and in levels from Training Level to Intermediate 1. Many parents, trainers, and other auditors came to watch the lessons as well. The three day clinic was held at the Stern Training Stables in Jurupa Valley, California from October 2nd-4th.

After settling their horses into spacious stalls, the riders were able to use both the indoor arena and the mirrored, outdoor arena to warm up. The horses were fed and tucked in for the night by 5:30 PM and the riders met in the barn to formally meet each other and Charlotte Bredahl and to discuss their goals for the weekend. With the formalities out of the way, riders, auditors, and Charlotte shared embarrassing horse stories over pizza and CapriSun.

The next morning started early; stalls had to be cleaned, horses had to be fed, and the riders who were not warming up had to be in the indoor arena to observe the lessons by 8:00 AM. Charlotte gave each rider 110% of her attention, but also kept the other riders and auditors engaged, frequently asking questions that required an analytical eye and an understanding of dressage to answer. During each walk break, Charlotte involved the spectators and riders by answering questions and explaining the many training exercises she had each pair execute. Although all of the horses and riders had different needs, goals, and habits, Charlotte was able to pinpoint and work through the obstacles. Throughout the first eight-hour day, Charlotte gave the young riders indispensable tools to keep their horses straighter, to keep a constant contact, and to promote a more forward gait. Saturday ended at a taco shop in downtown Riverside; there, the riders exchanged stories with Charlotte and talked tactics for Sunday, figuring out the best way to get the most out of the next lesson.

The riders faced an equally early morning on Sunday, packed with the same tasks. As they settled into the indoor arena, the forecasted rain began to patter on the metal roof. Fleece blankets, down jackets, and even horse coolers were used to keep the Southern Californian residents warm as wind and rain tried to dampen everyone’s high spirits. However, Charlotte and the riders pushed on for another successful day. Building off of Saturday’s lessons, Charlotte helped the riders perfect and further understand what they had learned. The auditors watched from blanketed cocoons as the young riders earned praise and the horses earned wither-scratches for remembering the key points from the day prior.

Even though the clinic only lasted three days, hugs and contact information was exchanged between the riders and spectators as they wrapped their horses and loaded their trailers. The bonds created during the weekend will last a lifetime, and the dressage education the riders received will help them develop their riding careers.

Whether the goal of the weekend was to complete a line of ones, to finally grasp the concept of the half-pass, or even to obtain proper bend and alignment on a 20-meter circle, all of the riders found some success as a result of the clinic. Opportunities like these are invaluable to the future of the sport; they allow dressage to grow and develop the riders of tomorrow.