Dressage Ponies Take Center Stage in New York Showcase
By Suzanne Moss Mullen
In 1969 Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon, and his words, "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," ushered in an era of previously unimaginable space exploration. Ten years later a grey TB/Connemara cross named "Seldom Seen" cantered down center line and made his own mark in history, becoming the first pony ever to compete and win at Grand Prix against some of the world's best dressage horses. On the grand scale of world events a pony's accomplishments in the dressage ring are hardly comparable to the impact of a moon landing. But what began as a small step for Neil Armstrong in space, and Lendon Gray and her iconoclastic pony in the dressage ring, has meant a world of change for those who followed in their footsteps.
From standing alone to leading a movement, Lendon’s efforts to promote ponies as an inexpensive, fun “sports car” alternative to the ever-larger warmblood trend, can now claim a showcase competition of its own this year. An All-Pony Dressage Show will be held in Saugerties, New York on August 19th-20th. Dressage4Kids, Inc and Centerline Events have joined forces to create the East Coast Dressage Pony Cup, which will offer championships for Adults and Juniors, at all levels from Training through Grand Prix.
Lendon Gray, a two-time Olympian and dedicated advocate of dressage ponies, and Debra Reinhardt of Centerline Events have a history of collaborating on successful shows in the Northeast, including the increasingly popular Youth Dressage Festival, now in its seventh year. Competitors will be able to watch the top international horses in the CDI, enter into the open USEF classes and qualifying classes, and/or compete only with other ponies in classes from Training Level to Grand Prix. Youth riders already competing in the Youth Dressage Festival at the HITS on the Hudson show grounds on August 11-13th, can simply extend their stay in order to compete in both of these important competitions.
As Lendon Gray, chairman of the Pony Sub-Committee of the USEF Dressage Committee puts it,"This is an exciting new competition in the United States on many fronts. It gives our breeders a venue to showcase their performance ponies. Adult amateurs who have found the joys of riding smaller mounts will have their chance to compete only with similarly mounted adults, as will children starting their competitive lives on ponies. We will have professionals who are training ponies who may eventually be marketed as schoolmasters. While many ponies compete successfully against the bigger warmbloods in open shows, it will be fun to be able to have ponies have their own championships."
While in Europe dressage ponies are almost exclusively ridden by children, Lendon is passionate in her belief that well-trained (up to at least 3rd level) ponies are not only essential to the education of young American dressage riders, but are an excellent often-overlooked choice for small adult dressage riders as well.
"A competition like the East Coast Dressage Pony Cup that showcases dressage ponies for both kids and adults gives them an opportunity to get together and compare ponies. I hope this type of show will be a boost to breeders who are working hard in the US to breed dressage type ponies, and trainers who are working to develop schoolmaster ponies."
And while this show is not yet the equivalent of the venerable European Pony Championships, Lendon hopes it is a first step not only towards a Pony Dressage North American Championship, but a giant leap towards the dream of fielding a competitive team of FEI ponies and riders to compete against the best in Europe as well as here at home.
"My hope for the future is that when I go to a show as I did last weekend, an 11 yr old winning First Level classes with consistent 70 percents on her pony, and a 60+ yr old competing with scores over 60% in Fourth-3 and PSG on her pony will not be something to be amazed about, but a normal everyday thing."
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