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January 28, 2014

Dancing Repeatedly Might Make It All Real

Jennifer Whitelaw Shepherd is looking forward to traveling to the Spanish Riding School to further her dressage education. Photo by Jagg Photography

The Chronicle's newest blogger, Jennifer Whitelaw Shepherd is one of the adult amateur dressage riders who received an inaugural grant from the new Heldenberg Training Center Fund in Memory of E.L. Dreitzler to attend the Spanish Riding School’s Training Center in Heldenberg, Austria. Follow her as she blogs about her life leading up to the trip, and the amazing experience she has in Austria!

My black dress boots with high Spanish tops are heading to the Spanish Riding School in Vienna!

The Spanish Riding School captivated my heart as an audience member during a touring performance stop several years ago in Washington, D.C. During the performance, my eyes were focused on the riders’ elegant yet effective positions, the length and stillness of their legs, and the precision of their contacts. The eyes of the stallions were soft and enhanced by the special conversation held with their riders that we could see, maybe feel, but not hear.

I was so intrigued that my eyes were drawn not only to their performance, but the activity happening behind the scenes. I caught myself glancing several times towards the stable area located at the far end of the arena as riders prepared and gathered. I vividly recall daydreaming about what it was like for that particular horse and rider partnership. In my mind, I was stepping into those stirrups with my black dress boots with high Spanish tops.

The opportunity to make these words step right out of the page and come to life happened initially by chance. I was on Facebook when I caught a posting of The Heldenberg Training Center Fund in Memory of E.L. Dreitzler offered through The Dressage Foundation. This fund was created by the incredible kindness of Ralph and Freddie Dreitzler who visited the SRS in October of 2012 and learned that they were opening their doors for international students in 2013. The purpose of this fund is to benefit dressage riders in the U.S. with a once-in-a-lifetime educational experience.

The Heldenberg Training Center Fund will enable me to attend a three- or five-day theoretical course. I am secretly hoping for the possibility of a longe lesson on a borrowed or leased horse outside of the SRS, if all stars align and it can be arranged. I am currently working on the details of my trip itinerary, but I believe I am heading to the SRS in September 2014 with my black dress boots with high Spanish tops packed.

To be considered for The Heldenberg Training Center Fund, I submitted a comprehensive application packet that included a video montage demonstrating my riding skills and relationship with my horse. Following several weekend sessions of videotaping, brushing up on my skills and polishing the application until it shined, I was ready to submit. I knew it was a long shot, but I also knew the possibility of this opportunity would be life changing and worth every single minute of effort whether I was selected or not. Within days I received a confirmation message from the TDF office indicating that my application was received and the selection committee would begin the review process.

I am the very proud owner of an unconventional dressage horse. She teaches me something new every day and enriches my soul with her contagious spirit and joy for life. An unbeatable work ethic combined with her natural athletic ability, forward energy and sassy personality help us outcome many of the challenges faced in this sport. We are the best of friends with unwavering determination. I truly believe that I am a better human because of her.

I prefer quiet contemplation and self-study by reading textbooks written by our great masters over weekend competitions. I value a correct, purposeful seat with a gradual layering of the basics. I support my riding with cross training by participating in triathlons to improve body awareness, core strength, flexibility, balance and overall fitness.

The day Jenny Johnson from TDF called to inform me that I was selected feels like yesterday. I may have danced repeatedly throughout the house for a good portion of the day; however, I am not quite ready to say with 100 percent confidence that all of this is happening because a part of me still wants to make sure this is real. In truth, I’ve often wondered ‘why me?’

Admittedly, I cried happy fog-up-the-glasses type tears for a long time after I found out. There are so many equally deserving adult amateur riders in the U.S. Despite my own questioning, what I know with certainty is that classical riding holds a special place in my soul and awakens my senses.

I am forever grateful to everyone who is making this story unfold and come to life. I will share my experiences and adventures leading up to, during and following this remarkable journey. I hope that the joy, the history, the art and the horse and rider partnerships of SRS continue to inspire and captivate the hearts of many.

Jennifer W. Shepherd grew up in Ontario, Canada and has spent most of her adult life in Hillsborough, N.C. after graduating from North Carolina State University with a degree in Biological Sciences. She works in the field of clinical research, which supports her seemingly endless riding activities, triathlon races, family and fish. Jen is an adult amateur dressage student and passionate advocate for classical dressage. She currently rides and proudly owns an unconventional dressage horse who has taught her essentially everything there is to know about life.

 

 
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