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
Custom Saddlery rider Steffen Peters (center) took photos with his fans, including Custom Saddlery saddlefitters Sarah Boothe (left) and Hillary Boothe (right), at the USEF booth at the 2015 Reem Acra FEI World Cup Dressage and Longines FEI World Cup Jumping Finals Las Vegas, Nevada - A highlight of the World Cup for Custom Saddlery was the “Selfies with Steffen” event that Custom sponsored at the USEF booth on Thursday, April 16 - directly after Steffen Peters’s amazing third place finish in the Grand Prix aboard Legolas 92 with a 76.843 percent. Hundreds of enthusiastic show attendees lined up to snap a photo with the Olympic athlete, who is sponsored by Custom Saddlery and calls Custom saddles “simply the best dressage saddles on the market.” Peters also signed Custom Saddlery visors...
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
Defending champions, Great Britain’s Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro, lived up to expectations winning the Grand Prix on the opening day of the Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ Dressage Final (FEI/Dirk Caremans) Defending champions, Great Britain’s Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro, lived up to expectations when winning the Grand Prix on the opening day of the Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ Dressage 2014/2015 Final at the Thomas...

Eventing

Tuesday, July 28, 2015 - 09:54
Kathleen Landwehr, USEF
Kalispell, Mont. - The inaugural CCI3* at The Event at Rebecca Farm came to its conclusion on Sunday with the jumping phase at the picturesque venue. USEF Land Rover Competition Grant recipients Kurt Martin and Delux Z made quite an impression at the competition, taking home the win in spectacular fashion as the only combination in the division...
Saturday, July 25, 2015 - 09:34
Toronto, Canada— Omega Alpha Ambassadors represented the complete spectrum of the Three-Day Eventing medals podium at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto, Canada. American rider Lauren Kieffer anchored her squad to Team Gold, while Canadian Jessica Phoenix clinched the Individual Silver and shared the Team Bronze medal with Colleen Loach and...
Tuesday, July 21, 2015 - 11:18
USEF Communications Department
Caledon, Ont. - The United States Eventing Team finished a stellar week of competition at the 2015 Pan American Games held at the Caledon Equestrian Park in Ontario, Canada. Superlative efforts by Philip Dutton, Lauren Kieffer, Marilyn Little, and Boyd Martin resulted in a Team Gold medal and a berth at the 2016 Olympic Games. Adding to their...
Tuesday, July 21, 2015 - 10:48
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Monday, July 20, 2015 - 08:53
Lexington, KY. - The Adequan/FEI North American Junior...
Monday, July 20, 2015 - 01:29
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While the biggest focus was on those last three riders, it is all of the riders that deserve to be recognized starting with the first two who kicked off the course with fault free rounds. After both the dressage and the cross-country rounds the starting field of 43 horses in show jumping for the Pan American Games eventing competition was down to...
Sunday, July 19, 2015 - 22:14
Louise Parkes and Jennifer Ward
America scooped both the team and individual titles as Eventing came to a close today at the Pan-American Games 2015 in Caledon Park, Toronto, Canada. Always with their eyes on the target of that single qualifying spot on offer for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Philip Dutton, Lauren Kieffer, Marilyn Little and Boyd Martin forged a marginal lead...

Reining and Western Riding

Friday, July 17, 2015 - 15:06
It is often said that one must consider an issue from multiple perspectives prior to forming an opinion. To that end, I ask for the opportunity to express my view on the most recent developments in the field of animal welfare and humane treatment as it pertains to administering medications to our valued equine athletes. I’ll begin with a brief...
Saturday, July 11, 2015 - 12:57
Simona Diale
Closing the 2015 edition of the NRHA European Affiliate Championship held at the Petit Far West in Le Pin, France, was the $5,000-added EA Open sponsored by Cowboy’s Magazine. Writing yet another piece of history was NRHA Million Dollar Rider, Bernard Fonck of Belgium, riding Sail On Top Whizard (Whizard Jac x Miss N Sis x Miss N Cash), owned by...
Friday, July 10, 2015 - 09:42
Simona Diale
The EA Limited Non Pro Championship, sponsored by AGP Imprimerie, opened the day in Le Pin. Winning the first title of the day, and keeping the French flag high, was Jean Francois Ayoul riding his 10-year-old Quarter Horse gelding Slide On Sal (Lenas Wright On x Smart Sally x Smart Chic Olena). “My goal coming here was the podium, so actually...
Thursday, July 9, 2015 - 10:17
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Thursday, July 9, 2015 - 09:47
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Wednesday, July 8, 2015 - 17:40
American Quarter Horse Association
The American Quarter Horse Association, - In an on-going effort to enhance this year’s Built Ford Tough AQHYA, Adequan Select and AQHA world championship shows, AQHA is boosting its video services and making them free for everyone to watch online. The dates for these events are: July 31 - August 8 – Ford Youth World in Oklahoma City August 28 -...
Saturday, July 4, 2015 - 15:56
Louise Parkes
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Driving

Tuesday, July 21, 2015 - 12:05
Ocala, FL — Chester Weber returned to The Netherlands on July 16-19 for the Beekbergen CAI 3*, masterfully winning its Cones phase with the only fault-free performance of its division and finishing fifth overall among its international entries. The Ocala, Florida horseman demonstrated anew why he and his matched bay KWPN team are in the top ten...
Tuesday, July 14, 2015 - 10:28
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Wednesday, July 1, 2015 - 14:45
Mary Phelps
Here is the first photo tour of our summer dog and pony show was off, on a tour that would cover 5 states in three weeks full of fun, competition, training, exploration, visits with friends and family. We loaded up three ponies, 2 carriages, 3 dogs, and 3 humans. We set off from our home base farm in south central Kentucky, on a relatively short...
Thursday, June 25, 2015 - 13:11
Mary Phelps
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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
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Show Jumping

Tuesday, July 28, 2015 - 10:07
Blenheim EquiSports
Del Mar, CA - A gorgeous sunset framed Emma Waldfogel's win aboard her own King's Peak in the $10,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby at the Showpark Racing Festival. The pair gave a solid performance in the Classic Round, but clinched the win with a gorgeous Handy Round. It was the talented amateur rider's first derby win. The two judging...
Tuesday, July 28, 2015 - 09:47
Blenheim EquiSports
Del Mar, CA - Truly a race up until the last ride, the $40,000 Racing Festival Grand Prix, presented by Equestrian Almanac, kept everyone on the edge of their seats. In the end, the talented Ashlee Bond and Little Valley Farms' Cornancer earned the mare's first Grand Prix win against a field of talented competitors. International FEI course...
Tuesday, July 28, 2015 - 09:31
Rebecca Walton for Phelps Media Group, Inc. International
Lexington, KY - Saturday night at the Kentucky Horse Park ushered in hundreds of spectators for Hats Off Day and one of Sydney Shulman's biggest career grand prix wins. The 20-year-old and her mount Venice bested a field of 36 horse-and-rider combinations to win the $50,000 Rood and Riddle Kentucky Grand Prix at the Kentucky Summer Horse Show. "I...
Monday, July 27, 2015 - 09:53
Brenda Mueller, Chicago Equestrian
Wayne, IL- Week one of the two-week Equifest series at Lamplight Equestrian Center in Wayne, IL, concluded with the $7,500 Cavalor Show Jumping Hall of Fame High Junior/Amateur Owner Classic. Ten riders rode for the check with only four qualifying for the jump-off. Emma Sargent of Kenilworth, IL, aboard No Fear, took the blue ribbon with a time...
Monday, July 27, 2015 - 09:18
Lindsay Brock for Jump Media
East Dorset, Vermont – Madeleine Gastineau of Doylestown, PA, and Limited Edition finished the fourth week of competition at the Vermont Summer Festival with a win in the $5,000 NAL Low Junior/Amateur-Owner Jumper Classic, presented by Summit Performance, on Sunday, July 26. A high school senior at Central Bucks High School East in Doylestown,...
Sunday, July 26, 2015 - 10:20
Niels Knippertz, Aachen
Ludger Beerbaum explained the German team's aim at the home game in Aachen. After the Nations' Cup weekend in Mannheim, where they once again didn't manage to take the victory, his résumé was sobering: "We didn't manage it again, we haven't managed to win for a damn long time recently. It is not just bad luck. The team has got to give itself a...
Sunday, July 26, 2015 - 10:06
Elizabeth Stein
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Para Dressage

Tuesday, July 7, 2015 - 09:49
  Überherrn, Germany - Rebecca Hart and Schroeter's Romani earmarked a page in history over Independence Day-weekend. Representing the United States overseas, Hart and Romani broke their personal records, riding to their first European scores over 70 percent at the CPEDI3* Überherrn 2015, celebrating the holiday weekend in a unique style. "I am super excited that Romani has brisked the situation and done her job super well," Hart said. "It meant a lot to have all of our hard work show during our tests, and to break a 70 percent during European competition, that was really exciting." On the opening day of the competition, Hart kicked off the Grade II test in top form, riding Romani to the score of 73.137 percent for the second place. The Ground Jury consisted of Marco Orsini (GER), Jacque...
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
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Sunday, May 10, 2015 - 05:48
Written By: Lindsay McCall for the USPEA
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Thursday, April 23, 2015 - 10:24
Written By: Lindsay Y. McCall
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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...
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