USEF National Young Dressage Horse Coach Scott Hassler’s Vision for Young Horses

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Written by kelly-s
Scott Hassler looks on during the Markel/USEF Young Horse Selection Trials at Flintridge
Scott Hassler looks on during the Markel/USEF Young Horse Selection Trials at Flintridge

DresssageDaily reporter Kelly Sanchez presents this in depth article of the program, its challenges, and strengths.
Get Scott Hassler talking about young horses, and his passion and enthusiasm practically spills out of him. He’ll tell you how young horses are just like school kids, how trainers need a good support system and how, despite its critics, the U.S. young horse program is a success. The USEF National Young Dressage Horse coach has been on hand for the Markel/USEF Central, Western, and Eastern Selection Trials for Young Horses offering support and guidance to the combinations competing in the 5- and 6-year-old classes. “I think the Young Horse Program is in a very healthy place,” says Hassler, who joined the program as coach in 2005. “It’s far from perfect, but I think we can keep tweaking it.

In the first two Selection Trials, we qualified two horses for the FEI World Breeding Championships in Verden [Emily Wagner and Wakeup and Sabine Schut-Kery and Sanceo], which is great. But I get a lot of criticism that these classes are a joke and that we’re never going to see these horses again. My comment back is that’s a pretty harsh statement. I see it as an issue of maturity—the program’s only been around 10 years. But if we’re going to push things and be critical, then please show me the Pan American Games horses that are going Grand Prix on our teams—that’s an even closer step. We are seeing the Young Horses going to the Developing Horses—believe me, I’m looking at those numbers. Success to me is not a score achieved in a 5- and 6-year-old class. Success is that we’re seeing horses go down the pipeline and be successful on our future teams.

“I also get a lot of questions, like ‘Why aren’t we seeing more horses in the program?’” he continues. “For the last couple of years, on the national ranking list for Young Horses, about 150 of them have scored 7.2 or higher, and that doesn’t include all those who tried and didn’t get a 7.2, and I’m guessing that’s between 50 and 100 horses. The program is bigger than it appears. The goal is to bring out these horses and develop them properly. It’s a very good sign that we’re seeing that number of horses. It could always be better—we’ll continue to strive to be better.”

Launched in 2001, the program was designed in part to “encourage the properly structured development of young dressage prospects through the training scale; to identify and recognize outstanding talent and the training of international-caliber horses; and to prepare these horses for future careers at the FEI level and participation on U.S. High Performance teams.”

The program had been existence for several years when Hassler came on board, and there was a lot of buzz surrounding it. He admits that there were bigger numbers of horses competing in the selection trials in those early days, but he points out that the National Young Horse Dressage Championships are now a serious goal for many. “The World Breeding Championships [in Verden] is not the main theme on people’s minds—it’s kind of special and suited to unique combinations,” he says. “I see so many horses in my training sessions that I advise not to do these Young Horse classes—the best route for that horse is to give it more time. Our goal is that we get horses developed properly—that’s the most important thing.”

Guidance Is Key
For Hassler, the key to the program is bringing horses into the show ring. “Last year at the Markel/USEF National Young Horse Dressage Championships, which is also the Developing Horse Championships, 50 percent of the horses on the ranking list were graduates of the Young Horse program.” He envisions a thriving national network of what he calls “trainers/advisors.” As he puts it, “It’s important that we can pass these horses along from guidance to guidance—I don’t want to say trainer to trainer, because we’re really guiders as much as trainers. As an example here, it was such a pleasure to be with Sabine and Christine [Schut-Kery’s coach, Christine Traurig]. It’s about teamwork. Christine’s a fabulous trainer, and she can turn to me and say, ‘What do you think?’ It’s fun—that’s the way it should be.”

In Hassler’s mind, there are three options for owners of young horses: the Markel/USEF Young Horse program; no shows at all; and regular classes. “There’s not one of those three that’s more prestigious than the other,” he emphasizes. “It’s what’s the right choice for the horse.”

Young horses require specialized skill, patience and maturity on the part of their handlers and trainers. “Finding the right balance is critical,” Hassler says. “You see people who are too loving and too forgiving and people who take it too far, who want to control every single step they take. It’s about the middle ground, where there are boundaries but the horses don’t feel restricted, they don’t feel told what to do all the time, they are ridden forward and free, but they can still be playful and enthusiastic. This is an age where they’re going through a lot, and it can be a claustrophobic moment when they’re learning compression and connection and how to bend and use their bodies. If it’s done right early, it’s so much easier later. Horses are like kids in a classroom, and I think the most beautiful teachers are those who can recognize that Timmy over there is pretty shy and needs to be drawn out a little. And Eric over there is pretty aggressive—he cuts in the lunch line, he pushes others around, he’s the ringleader. He needs a little bit of a half halt; he needs more boundaries. That’s what we’re doing with these horses: We’re recognizing their strengths and weaknesses. Young horses need boundaries and clarity, or it can get dangerous. I love trying to read them and guessing what they’re going to do and learning from it—every day is a learning day.”

The Young Dressage Horse Trainers Symposium
For the past six years, Hassler has organized the Young Dressage Horse Trainers Symposium, which started when he and his wife, Susanne, were head trainers at Hilltop Farm in Maryland. It’s now hosted every November at the couple’s Hassler Dressage at Riveredge, in Chesapeake City, MD. “It’s something we love doing,” he says. “In Europe you know where the good young horse riders are, so we decided to find a few talented trainers around the country to whom we could recommend our breeders send their horses. We thought we’d take three or four riders, and they’d come and ride our horses and we’d work with them for four or five days. We got 340 applicants in year one—we were blown away!”

The training content is a critical piece to the Symposium, but Hassler says there’s more to it than training horses. “It’s about community and camaraderie and knowing that we’re all in this game together. A lot of these trainers are younger trainers, and when you’re in your barn day to day with your group around you, it can be a lonely, frustrating, sometimes isolating place, so it’s great to get to a group where you truly feel you’re not being judged, where you can talk about something you’re facing with a client, how to get through a situation, how to stay positive and focus when it seems like half your barn is going lame. This is an emotional business, there’s no way around it, and I believe that the more balanced the trainers are in their lives, the more it benefits the horses.”

The Challenge of the Young Horse Classes
When it comes to emotions, one of the trickier parts to the Young Horse Classes are the public comments by the judges, which are announced at the conclusion of the test for the rider and spectators to hear. “It’s probably the hardest part of the Young Horse Program,” Hassler notes. “It has upset people enough that they won’t do it again, and that’s unfortunate. The judges, of course, feel that they have a responsibility, and if it’s all sugar-coated, then it’s not meaningful. I think we have judges who are really, really gifted at commenting, and people who are not so gifted at commenting. Sometimes I think it would be easier to just announce the score; on the other hand, people want to hear the comments. It’s a Catch-22. We have to be careful about using the sensitive words, the life-threatening words, like ‘lateral walk,’ and also very, very careful not to come across like the judges are giving a riding lesson—anything related to the rider, like ‘your hands were blocking this’ or somehow suggesting that the rider caused something that was going on, is not appropriate. Some people can say the most negative thing in a positive way, and some people can’t.”

A Judge’s Perspective

Judges Natalie Lamping and Jayne Ayers look on as Silva Martin and Asthete
Judges Natalie Lamping and Jayne Ayers look on as Silva Martin and Asthete

Natalie Lamping, who judged the Young Horse Selection Trial at Flintridge as well as in Illinois and will travel to Virginia for the third and final trial in June, says she loves the opportunity to officiate at the Young Horse Classes but agrees that the public comments in the Young Horse Classes often strike a nerve with riders. “But you have to be fair to the rider and be really real in your scoring,” she says. “It seems in the sport of dressage that most people have a hard time hearing the truth. We judge what they show us at that moment in time. We all hope for the best. There’s a kind way to say something, and there’s bad luck too—the horse shies, the horse is naughty—but that’s life.”

A Competitor’s Perspective

Sherry Van’t Riet and Sir Deauville
Sherry Van’t Riet and Sir Deauville

Sherry Van’t Riet competed in the Selection Trial for 6-year-olds with her Oldenburg Sir Deauville, but fell short of the 7.2 score required to qualify for the National Championships (the World Breeding Championships require a minimum score of 8.2) in part when her horse missed their first lead change and leaped into the air. Despite her disappointment, she said she was grateful for the experience. “I’m really open to any suggestions. Any of this information I take to heart, and I appreciate it. It’s like when I go to a clinic: I go to learn. I don’t go to show off. What’s the point of that? How can you learn if you’re only showing the stuff that you do really well? When the judges were telling me about my horse, I was nodding my head. He did what he did!”

Dressage World Cup Finals 2015

Sunday, April 26, 2015 - 08:14
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Saturday, April 25, 2015 - 09:56
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Thursday, April 23, 2015 - 12:30
Written By: Mary Phelps
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Wednesday, April 22, 2015 - 22:00
Written By: Mary Phelps
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Monday, April 20, 2015 - 07:19
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Sunday, April 19, 2015 - 08:11
Written By: Louise Parkes
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Saturday, April 18, 2015 - 17:42
Written By: Astrid Appels - Eurodressage.com
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Saturday, April 18, 2015 - 09:06
Wizard in his offical retirement with rider Adrienne Lyle (Photo:(c) McCool Photography) Dressage was the main attraction at the Thomas...
Friday, April 17, 2015 - 11:17
Written By: Kelly Sanchez
Charlotte Dujardin and Valergro, Reem Acra FEI World Cup Dressage Final 2015 Photo: © Mary Phelps On a day that saw many of the world’s top horses and riders go head to head at the 2015 Reem Acra FEI World Cup Dressage Final, defending champions Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro (Negro x Gerschwin) shrugged off the pressure that comes with being the world’s number one combination and did what everyone expected them to do. They handily won the Grand Prix, with the 13-year-old Dutch gelding showing little evidence of the jet lag that had affected him after his arrival in Las Vegas. Their score of 85.414 percent was a few points shy of their world record-setting score of 87.460, but Dujardin was pleased nevertheless. “It’s just a mass of excitement for me to come here and take part,” she said....
Friday, April 17, 2015 - 08:58
Written By: Louise Parkes
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Eventing

Monday, June 29, 2015 - 17:20
Parker, CO - The Colorado Horse Park (CHP) and Colorado Equestrian Partners are pleased to host the United States Eventing Association's CCI1*/CIC2*, Training 3-Day and Horse Trials coming up August 13-16, 2015. The opening date for entries is this coming Tuesday, June 30. Classes offered include: CCI1*, CIC2*, Training and Novice 3-Day, Area IX...
Tuesday, June 23, 2015 - 16:50
Classic Communications
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Monday, June 22, 2015 - 09:53
Kate Green, FEI Communications
Ingrid Klimke (GER) rode brilliantly to produce a clear round under huge pressure to win her home CCI4* at Luhmühlen (GER), presented by DHL, for the first time and set up an unassailable lead in the FEI Classics™ 2014/2015. In a thrilling finale, her flawless round on the spring-heeled 11-year-old Hannoverian mare FRH Escada JS denied New...
Sunday, June 21, 2015 - 11:34
FEI Communications
Ingrid Klimke (GER) is on course to win her second CCI4* of the FEI Classics™ 2014/2015 after a breathtakingly bold Cross Country round on FRH Escada JS at Luhmühlen (GER), presented by DHL. “Escada was super fit and she jumps so big that she goes over the top of the hedges,” said a delighted Klimke, who remains on her Dressage score of 32.7. “...
Sunday, June 21, 2015 - 09:58
Classic Communications
The Plains, Virginia - Lauren Kieffer and Jennie Brannigan lead their respective divisions after the Show Jumping phase of the Land Rover Great Meadow International presented by Adequan®. Kieffer took the lead after riding clean on Meadowbrooks Scarlett for a two-phase score of 43.3 in the final preparation trial for the Land Rover U.S. Eventing...
Friday, June 19, 2015 - 11:06
Classic Communications
The Plains, Virginia - The Land Rover Great Meadow International presented by Adequan® is set to get underway on Friday, featuring the Land Rover U.S. Eventing team in its final preparation trial prior to this summer's Pan American Games. A $30,000 CIC3* will also be featured. The starting field in the international event that also includes...
Thursday, June 18, 2015 - 10:06
Kate Green, FEI Communications
Ingrid Klimke (GER), who is enjoying a great run of form, has an obvious chance to extend her lead in the FEI Classics™ 2014/2015 if she can produce a good result at her home CCI4* at Luhmühlen, presented by DHL, this weekend (18-21 June). Klimke, who won Pau (FRA) last year and recently finished second at Badminton (GBR) on Horseware Hale Bob,...

Reining and Western Riding

Friday, July 3, 2015 - 10:53
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Wednesday, July 1, 2015 - 15:20
USEF Communications Department
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Monday, June 29, 2015 - 09:41
Oklahoma City, Okla. - The 2015 National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) Derby held an electric Non Pro finals today, including live commentary for the audience at home of the $183,000* est. Non Pro added money (added money is subject to change based on nominations). Probably the best story from the exciting evening of competition was that the...
Sunday, June 28, 2015 - 08:16
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Sunday, June 28, 2015 - 07:45
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Sunday, June 21, 2015 - 10:03
The deadline of the 2015 AustrianRHA Futurity...
Sunday, June 21, 2015 - 09:53
Jose Vazquez, an National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) member since 1997, has been dedicated to the sport in all of its aspects from the start. Winning his first major paycheck in 1999 at the Gordyville Breeders Cup as the Limited and Non Pro Reserve Champion on the 1993 gelding Mr Boot Scootin Jac (Mr Barbie Cody Jac x Miss Stepping Pine)....

Driving

Wednesday, July 1, 2015 - 14:45
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Thursday, June 25, 2015 - 13:11
Mary Phelps
Kentucky is the place to be in October for the sport of Combined Driving as well as other related driving activities, and now there is one more event added to the roster. Two time Pony Driving World Champion, Bram Chardon (NED) will be coming to The Gayla Driving Center, October 9, 10, and 11, for a mega clinic and symposium covering all three...
Thursday, June 25, 2015 - 12:31
At the 2015 American Horse Publications Awards Banquet many outstanding equine publications were recognized for various achievements throughout the year. Driving DigestMagazine walked away from the banquet with two awards. Competing against publications such Equus, Western Horseman, and American Quarter Horse Journal, the magazine owned and...
Monday, June 22, 2015 - 14:17
Alexandra Hill Phelps Media Group, Inc. International
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Sunday, June 21, 2015 - 11:47
Alexandra Hill Phelps Media Group, Inc. International
Bromont, Quebec - The Bromont International Driving launched its 14th edition yesterday at the Bromont Olympic Equestrian Park where all teams competed in the first leg of the event, the dressage phase. In the FEI2* Four-In-Hand Division, driver James Fairclough (NJ) is in first place after the dressage phase with a total of 55.21 penalty points...
Wednesday, June 10, 2015 - 14:45
Create a Great Halt - June 18th-If you were in on the “Building a Half-Halt” and “Transitions” classes, this is a great followup class! It’s easy to overlook the importance of the humble halt, but if you understand how much this move effects the rest of your work, you’ll really appreciate this class. We’ll go into to detail about how to get your...
Thursday, May 21, 2015 - 14:11
London, England- It was a royal redux at England's Royal Windsor CAI3* as HRH Queen Elizabeth again congratulated Chester Weber, of Ocala, Florida, on his second consecutive victory in the four-in-hand division. The 11-time USEF National Champion and three-time World Equestrian Games Silver medalist returned to the 2015 Royal Windsor Horse Show...

Show Jumping

Friday, July 3, 2015 - 15:57
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Friday, July 3, 2015 - 14:56
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Friday, July 3, 2015 - 11:23
Brenda Mueller, ChicagoEquestrian
Wayne, IL – The two-week Equifest Show Series takes place at Lamplight Equestrian Center in Wayne, IL, July 22-26, 2015 and July 28- August 2, 2015. As a 2014 USHJA Member’s Choice Award Winning Horse Show, the event plans to award approximately $250,000 in special jumper events and Hunter Derby money alone. The premium show carries a jumper...
Friday, July 3, 2015 - 10:28
USEF Communications Department
Lexington, KY - The United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) is pleased to announce the following athletes have been named to Hermès U.S. Show Jumping Team competing in FEI Nations Cup events at CSIO5* Falsterbo and CSIO5* Mannheim. Robert Ridland will serve as the Chef d'Equipe at both events. The following athletes will represent the U.S. in...
Thursday, July 2, 2015 - 15:54
Parker, CO - The Colorado Horse Park (CHP) Summer in the Rockies IV began on Wednesday with a difficult $2,500 1.40-1.45m Open Jumper class, sponsored by Adequan®, in the Coors Family Grand Prix Ring. Seven riders contested the course, designed by Marina Azevedo, and only Armando Hassey, piloting his own Cassino, was able to lay down a clear...
Thursday, July 2, 2015 - 10:00
Lindsay Brock for Jump Media
East Dorset, Vermont – Competition is officially underway at the Vermont Summer Festival, running July 1 through August 9 at Harold Beebe Farm in East Dorset, VT. The six-week show jumping tournament offers more than $750,000 in prize money, making it the richest sporting event in the state of Vermont. In addition to prize money, competitors have...
Thursday, July 2, 2015 - 08:53
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Para Dressage

Wednesday, May 20, 2015 - 11:40
  Lexington, Ky. - With a little under two months before the Opening Ceremonies at the 2015 Adequan/FEI North American Junior...
Monday, May 18, 2015 - 04:43
Written By: Lindsay McCall for the USPEA
U.S. Chef d’ Equipe Kai Handt at the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games with rider Roxie Trunnell and horse Touche. The United States Equestrian Federation, Inc. (USEF) is pleased to present a 2 ½ day Para Equestrian Dressage Symposium at the Golden State Dressage CPEDI3*, Rancho Murieta, California on June 14-16, 2015, 8AM-5PM. Designed as a "Develop the Coach" format, select U.S. High Performance and developing Para Equestrian Dressage riders and coaches will benefit from lectures and ride feedback by 5* FEI Para Equestrian Dressage Judge Carlos Lopes, supported by USEF Para Equestrian Dressage Chef d'Equipe Kai Handt. Topics include Para-Dressage theory, scales of training, quality of horse, freestyles, and preparation for international competition. Demonstrations on para-dressag...
Sunday, May 10, 2015 - 05:48
Written By: Lindsay McCall for the USPEA
Sydney Collier Victoria Dugan's Willi Wesley at the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. (Photo: SusanJStickle.com) Allentown, NJ - The 13th Annual 2015 Jersey Fresh International Three-Day Event, presented by B.W. Furlong...
Thursday, April 23, 2015 - 10:24
Written By: Lindsay Y. McCall
U.S. Chef d' Equipe Kai Handt works with Paralympic Dressage Trainer Wes Dunham. (Photo: Lindsay Y. McCall) Lyman, ME - Carlisle Academy in Lyman, Maine, a Premier Accredited PATH Center and national leader in grassroots development for para-equestrian sports, is coordinating a Para-Equestrian Pipeline Training Camp May 26-30, 2015. Expert international para-equestrian clinicians, seasoned medalists, therapists, and coaches with their riders will congregate for training and education in this growing sport. The primary focus will be on para-dressage but demonstrations and information will be available for emerging para-equestrian disciplines such as para-driving and para-reining. The United States Equestrian Federation and United States Para-Equestrian Association are in support of these...
Friday, January 16, 2015 - 06:20
Written By: Lindsay Y. McCall
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Tuesday, January 13, 2015 - 05:46
Written By: Lindsay Y. McCall
USA Team (Left to right): Sydney Collier, Annie Peavy, Rebecca Hart, U.S. Chef D' Equipe Kai Handt, and Roxanne Trunnell (Photo: (C) Lindsay Y. McCall) Wellington, FL - Thirteen Para-Dressage horse and rider combinations made their way to Wellington, Florida, this January for the first CPEDI3* of the 2015 show season. Para-Equestrians from Canada and the United States in Grades Ia, Ib, II, III, and IV, competed at the spectacular Global Dressage venue in the Van Kampen Arena. FEI Ground Jury members Mr. Freddy Leyman (BEL), Mr. Kjell Myhre (NOR), and Ms. Kristi Wysocki (USA) were on hand to offer their expertise for each Para-Dressage duo. This CPEDI3* is one of the qualifiers for the 2015 USEF Para-Equestrian Dressage National Championships, 2016 USEF Para-Equestrian Dressage National C...
Monday, January 12, 2015 - 10:29
Robyn Andrews and Fancianna (Photo: SusanJStickle.com) Ottawa, ON. - On the final day of competition at CPEDI3* Global Dressage Festival I presented by Adequan, Robyn Andrews won her test for the second day in a row for Canada. The competition was held at The Stadium at Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington, Fla., Jan. 9-11, 2015. Andrews of St. Johns, N.L. secured the victory in the Grade Ia Freestyle test riding her 2014 World Equestrian Games mare 14-year-old Fancianna, a Friesian-Andalusian cross, to a score of 67.917%. "I was pleased with Fancy today," said Andrews. "I was a bit tired, but we pulled it off. Many thanks must go to the Global Dressage Festival for putting on a great show. Special thanks to my coach, Amanda Kalvoda; chef d'équipe, Elizabeth Quigg; Pa...
Friday, January 9, 2015 - 06:31
Written By: Lindsay Y. McCall
U.S. Chef D' Equipe Kai Handt jogs Rubicon 75, ridden by Mary Jordan, owned by Vinceremos Therapeutic Riding Center (Photo (c) Lindsay Y. McCall) Wellington, FL - Para-Equestrian Dressage athletes from around the North American continent have landed in Wellington, Florida, for the 2015 Adequan Global Dressage Festival CPEDI3*. This is the first CPEDI3* event for the 2015 calendar year. Thirteen horse and rider combinations presented their mounts in front of FEI Ground Jury members Mr. Freddy Leyman (BEL), Mr. Kjell Myhre (NOR), and Ms. Kristi Wysocki (USA). Para-Equestrians from Canada and the United States will compete January 9-11, in The Van Kampen covered arena at the Global Dressage Festival. Friday, January 9, is the FEI Para-Equestrian Dressage Team Test, followed by Saturday's FE...
Thursday, January 8, 2015 - 08:52
Kai Handt and Wes Dunham showcase collaborative coaching at the Northeast Symposium in 2013. Rider Sydney Collier aboard her own Wentworth works on gaits. (Photo (C) Lindsay Y. McCall) Wellington, FL - The United States Equestrian Federation, Inc. (USEF), is excited to announce a two-day Para Equestrian Dressage Symposium to be held at Global Dressage, Wellington, Florida, January 12 & 13, 2015, 8 AM-4 PM. Select U.S. High Performance and developing Para- Equestrian Dressage riders and coaches will be attending the symposium. Auditors are welcome to attend for $75. Pre-registering as an auditor is not required. Please contact Laureen Johnson at USEF at lkjohnson@usef.org if you are interested in audit...
Wednesday, December 24, 2014 - 06:00
Written By: Lindsay Y. McCall
Nora Grassmyer, Mibis, Barbara Grassmyer, and Bob Grassmyer. (Photo: (c) Lindsay Y. McCall) El Dorado Hills, CA - On December 19, 2014, the Dressage Community lost friend, volunteer, and parent Nora Grassmyer after a three year battle with bladder cancer. Nora was heavily involved with the Dressage and Para-Dressage disciplines both internationally and at the national level. She was also a longtime volunteer at the California Dressage shows managed by Connie Davenport. Nora was a driving force behind her daughter and Paralympian Barbara Grassmyer. She was there at every moment for Barbara including when Barbara served as an alternate for the U.S. Paralympic Team in 2000, competing in Sydney, Australia; in 2001 and 2002 when Barbara was the USEF Para-Equestrian Dressage National Champion;...
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