Ponies and Kids

Lendon Gray has been standing (riding’) a soapbox over several decades as an advocate of ponies in dressage, not just ponies for kids but also for smaller adults.? While progress in dressage comes more slowly than in just about any aspect of our lives, any move toward greater interest in dressage ponies for kids in this country has been downright glacial.? Yes — mostly because of Lendon — there are more kids riding ponies at upper levels now, not just at First Level and below, but there aren?t many of them. Lendon was at the NAJYRC this week coaching several kids and also writing a commentary in dressage-news.com.? She made an observation there that really caught my eye, about how the few kids who?ve shown in the FEI Pony division in recent years are now highly successful riding full-sized horses, possibly because the Pony tests are so challenging.? Her strongest case in point is Isabelle Leibler who was showing in the Pony Division just last year and won both the individual gold and the freestyle competition in the Young Rider Division in Kentucky last week at the youngest possible age of eligibility.? Basically Isabelle just skipped right over Juniors. Granted, Isabelle has been a very motivated rider since an early age and who was the overall high score champion at the Youth Dressage Festival in 2004 ? if you can count on your fingers, she was all of 9 years old then! Isabelle?s mother Renee showed hunters, but Isabelle was intrigued by dressage and made the turn in that direction herself. Lendon raised the question about why so many of the adult dressage riders she coaches have kids who show ponies in hunters but not in dressage.? My own answer to that, at least in regard to the FEI Pony Division, is that those FEI Pony tests are amazingly difficult, if not downright mean.? They are the equivalent of a hard Third Level test ? think Third Level Test 4 without flying changes.? For starters, there is a six-loop serpentine.? Good thing they’re riding ponies with that sucker. Just thinking about a six-loop canter serpentine on a 17hh warmblood makes my head ache. At the Youth Dressage Festival, there is a schooling show on Friday before the real competition starts, and we get to talk to the riders after the tests.? During the Friday schooling show last month, I noticed that riders doing Third Level tests all were struggling with the half passes.? Since we can talk to them afterward, I made the usual observation about a half pass, that it should be ridden like a travers (aka haunches-in) on a diagonal, which makes it much easier for both horse and rider, with a lot less contortion of the rider?s body.? The next day, I also noticed that few of the 20 riders competing in Second Level Test 2 understood how to ride a travers, a required movement there. ?You can’t be successful at Third Level, or in the Pony Tests, without a thorough understanding of Second Level, and that darned travers at Second 2 is a real moment of truth. Really, there aren?t many adult riders working their way up the levels who make it to Third Level in the limited time a pony rider would have until he/she ages out of the division or simply gets too tall.? I’ve seen more than one rider in the Pony Division who looks like roller skates would be a better attachment to their boots than spurs. In Europe, there are trainers producing lovely advanced dressage ponies and then matching them up with talented riders, but that just isn?t happening yet here. On the really positive side, any child who finds success riding these challenging Pony Division tests will have a fabulous foundation for their future in dressage

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