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July 15, 2013

Borrowing Exceptional Children

Kristin is one of the wonderful young people Lauren has in her life, shown here with Bellinger and Lendon Gray after winning the Overall High Score Award at Lendon's Youth Dressage Festival. Photo by Jeff Counterman.

I don't want kids.

This is the part where all the women of the world say, "Ah! But you're 28 years old! You will; your biological clock will start ticking, and there you'll be, cooing over every infant in a 2 mile radius!" OK, sure. I'm sure this is true for lots of women, a complete 180 degrees at some unforseen time in their lives. And I'm not ruling it out. But I've never had any interest in having kids of my own, and babies make me squeamish, so we'll just leave it at that.

As I AM 28 years old, I'm at that stage in my life where pretty much all my peers are preggers. My Facebook News Feed is chock full of baby-bump pictures; of sonograms; of my friends, new moms, bragging about their little cherubs' triumphant achievements like eating bananas, wearing a onesie, or going to the park for the first time. (As the "parent" of a newly-mostly-broke 3-year-old warmblood filly, who is, obviously, the smartest and most beautiful creature on the WHOLE PLANET for successfully learning how to wear a saddle and not maim a rider, I kinda get it.) This is darling, and I'm so happy for them. And I still have no interest in participating in that process.

But I like young people. I think they get interesting around 12, when they start being a) organized enough in their bodies to be physically useful, and b) organized enough in their minds to have a real conversation with you. I think they're funny and charming, and they see the world in a way that I no longer can—sometimes their honesty, however brutal, is really refreshing.

Of course, given what I do for a living, my favorable opinion of tween- and teenagers is, no doubt, polluted by the fact that horsey girls are often the creme-de-la-creme of kids. And I'm particularly spoiled in that most of the kids I meet have grown up in Northern Virginia's Pony Club system.

One look at the map on the U.S. Pony Club website tells you that we in the Mid-Atlantic are pretty lucky—there are oodles of Pony Clubs in our neck of the woods. But it's more than that. Because this part of the world is Eventing Mecca, and while Pony Club now has branched out into upper-level ratings in other disciplines, eventing has been its historical focus, the PCs here are established, high-quality and intense. The H-As I meet from NoVA clubs are practically vets. The As in whatever discipline are diligent, accomplished and cool under fire.

In short, they're incredible kids.

And the Misty Brae kids are the pick of the litter.

My assistant trainer Allison works with them more than I do—a dressage A and traditional B herself, Allison teaches at Misty Brae twice a week for long, long hours, and had, I believe, charge of 16 riders at the recent dressage rally. But I see a few of the kids on a fairly regular basis, and several of them were off to Lendon's Youth Dressage Festival over the weekend.

Meghan is a jumper at heart, and she's a teeny little flea of a thing, but even from our first meeting when she was 10, I knew she'd been raised well. She's brave as all get-out, and she's a terrific student; she may not always seem like she's super-focused in her lessons, but when I see her a few weeks after a lesson, lo and behold, she's done her homework and clocked off the things we've worked on. She rides a selection of ponies and small horses, none of whom are straight-forward, and her approach to each is incredibly mature and professional—calm and cool and organized.

At Lendon's show, she won her dressage test and her equitation division, but what I'm most proud of is her third place in the written test. Meghan's not always a book girl. She ended up taking the silver medal in her division, bested by a nose.

I also see Sydney quite a bit. Sydney is one of her parents' three STUNNING children (her little sister, Bailey, rode at YDF as well—so cute you just want to eat her), and when you meet her mom, Holly, an exceptionally-talented chiropractor who runs her own string of physical therapy and wellness offices, you see where all three kids get it from. The whole family manages to balance being really smart, really gifted and REALLY kind. Even the best kids get competitive and want to win, sometimes even at the expense of their friends. Not Sydney. When I coached her at the Region 1 Youth Team Championships last year, she was fervently cheering everyone else on and truly wanted her teammates and friends to have the best rides they could, even if it meant beating her. 

I don't yet know how she fared at Lendon's show, but she was so cool and level-headed with a tricky Thoroughbred mare she rode at a show down here a few weeks ago, I can't imagine she was anything other than stellar.

Last but not least, a kid I can take more credit for, though certainly not all of it—Kristin came to me an awfully good rider, carefully nurtured by Misty Brae's head trainer, my student Tori. While Pony Club requires that all participants get a foundation in multiple disciplines, something I love, Kristin's been passionate about dressage from Day 1, unusual in such a young person. I've seen that drive for just one discipline make kids a little narrow-focused and sometimes drive the fun out of them. Not Kristin. Her drive is awe-inspiring, but it doesn't blind her to bareback gallops around the farm, swimming her pony, or having fun with her friends.

And her relationship with Billy is incredible. Lest anyone think that one can simply waltz onto a Grand Prix horse and make light work of second level, let me remind you a bit about Billy. He's a loon. At 21 he's a more subdued loon, but he can be a royal nutter for no particular reason. He is STRONG. Grand Prix horses are rarely light and fluffy, and I got my butt dragged around quite a bit during our time together—and I'd be willing to bet I've got about 80 pounds and a good 6 inches on Kristin, if not more. Her legs make it past the saddle pad, but not by much.And she gets very little in-saddle help; she does almost all of her riding of Billy in lessons, but my staff and I sit on him very rarely.

But I, truly, wasn't remotely surprised when Kristin's mom texted me that she'd tied for first in her equitation division on a whopper 92. Nor was I surprised at her 92 on the written test. And I honestly wasn't surprised at her 75.9 percent in her second level test, winning High Score of the Show, the gold medal in her division, High Score Pony Clubber of the show, and helping the Misty Brae team (full of other wonderful young women who I haven't had the pleasure of meeting, but deserve many kudos) to a third placed-finish out of more than 60 teams.

These are amazing, amazing young women. Maybe I'm biased, only seeing the best version of them; maybe they're little hellions when I'm not around. But I doubt it. And as amazing as they are, I still don't want kids of my own. But for as long as their parents will let me, I'm happy as anything to borrow these kids. They're spectacular. 

LaurenSprieser.com
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