On the heels of the country’s World Cup dressage victory, our columnist hopes that the sport’s leaders will embrace the future.
We’re at an exciting time in the history of U.S. dressage, with Steffen Peters and Ravel having just claimed the Rolex FEI World Cup title in Las Vegas (p. 10) and the next big international event, the 2010 Alltech World Equestrian Games, to be held on our home turf next year at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.
Right now dressage can truly be embraced by the American public with our own stars leading the way.
Amidst this excitement and our country’s current success, we must also step back and ask ourselves important questions, such as “Where is the depth of talent and prospects in our country? Where are the new combinations and are they strong enough to represent the United States into the future?”
Unfortunately, some reliable combinations have left the sport recently through retirement. So it’s natural to look around and say, “who will replace them?”
I believe we should always be concerned with not just the now but also focus on building toward the future. Our junior/young riders are the source we must develop! We are fortunate to have many opportunities currently in place for our junior and young riders to grow and develop in the sport.
Through the U.S. Equestrian Federation, the equitation divisions focus on the foundation of riding, while highly competitive events such as the North American Junior And Young Riders Championships, the Brentina Cup, and the FEI World Cup Dressage For Young Riders build important performance experience.
Through the U.S. Dressage Federation, The Dressage Foundation, and Lendon Gray’s Youth Dressage Festival, the young riders in our country are further inspired through educational opportunities and encouraging competitive formats.
As a country, we’ve made valuable strides in helping interested youth find their way into sport, become known and develop into better riders. Many top people have committed much time, effort and resources to ensure our youth are on their way, so what’s next?
I had the great opportunity as a young man to study under the late, great Herbert Rehbein in Germany. At 21 years of age, I moved to Germany and lived at Grönwohldhof for two years. The experience matured my eye and developed my abilities as a trainer in a way I’d never imagined.
Riders from all over the world came to study under Mr. Rehbein and while there, I had the opportunity to watch their daily training and witness the development of their horses over a period of time.
I could observe the choices they made each day working through challenges and bettering their horses under Mr. Rehbein’s watchful eye.
The experience of training my own horses under Mr. Rehbein was invaluable, but the opportunity to observe and participate in the training of so many other horses was transformational.
There’s a difference between a rider and a trainer. The very ability to maturely help a horse through a physical or learning challenge makes the difference. A rider can perform in competition on a given horse, but a trainer can better any horse he or she sits on. This skill set is what we must develop in our youth.
Many top trainers in this country have produced new riders and trainers for the sport, and this must continue. Those of us who are in the position to provide inspiration and education to our youth must take the time to do so.
As we open our new facility at Riveredge, one of our primary visions is to serve as a source of inspiration and education for developing youth. We are excited to re-create, on some level, what I was exposed to at Mr. Rehbein’s facility. Developing our young riders and nurturing their talents is the most lasting and valuable contribution you can make to the sport.
Training, horsemanship, and an investment of time are all essential.
We must put the time into training and, most importantly, help these young riders understand the training, through discussion and open dialogue. For talented youth to have the opportunity to observe, discuss, experience and create the difference in a horse through the levels, they will transform into trainers and provide the resources for our country’s future.
I hope that all of us who are in position to do so will open our arms to the youth of this country, take them in, educate and develop their talent. They are the future of our country and will create the depth we so greatly need.
Scott Hassler, the National Young Horse Dressage Coach, resides in Chesapeake City, Md., and has trained many horses to Grand Prix. The U.S. Dressage Federation Sport Horse Committee chairman since 2001, he helped establish the sport/breeding record-keeping system now active in the USDF and U.S. Equestrian Federation. He began writing Between Rounds columns in 2005.