A dres­sage mom re­counts the bless­ings of her daugh­ter’s eques­trian ed­u­ca­tion.

Dressage Today - - Content - By An­nette Costello

From One Horse Par­ent to An­other

Dres­sage. I had never even heard the word be­fore my daugh­ter, Jil­lian, was born. When she was lit­tle, we put her on a pony, one of those round-walker-type pony rides at the flea mar­ket. That was it. A horse lover was born. She was 2 at the time. Years later, she took her horse to col­lege with her and even with a full sched­ule, she con­tin­ued to train, show and win. At ev­ery level of rid­ing she was fo­cused, in­tent and bril­liant.

As a par­ent through­out all this, you en­ter this eques­trian life­style with other moms and dads. After a while, you get to be a vet­eran and some par­ents ask you about life after their child’s com­pet­i­tive dres­sage ca­reer. Will their child ever love or work this hard for any­thing else in her life like she has for dres­sage? I had the same con­cerns, but I was cer­tain there was plenty to come.

My an­swer to th­ese wor­ried par­ents has al­ways been the same: Yes, there is life after dres­sage. All you par­ents of horse-crazy kids, rest as­sured they are build­ing char­ac­ter with ev­ery stride. They are cre­at­ing hard work ethics with ev­ery 20-meter cir­cle—and there are thou­sands of 20-meter cir­cles. Pa­tience comes with learn­ing the dif­fer­ence be­tween four dif­fer­ent types of walk. They learn how to deal with frus­tra­tion when their horse breaks in the ex­tended trot but that turns to ex­u­ber­ance when bal­ance and strength are dis­cov­ered and those breaks stop hap­pen­ing. They learn how to deal with dis­ap­point­ment when the judges’ scores don’t re­flect their hard work and they get back on and get right back at it. Ded­i­ca­tion arises out of work­ing with a part­ner who has a heart­beat. It’s not like a soc­cer player or foot­ball player, who has a ball to ma­neu­ver. This kind of part­ner is a liv­ing an­i­mal.

My daugh­ter even­tu­ally com­peted through the North Amer­i­can Ju­nior Young Rider Cham­pi­onship (NAJYRC) in the dres­sage dis­ci­pline. She grad­u­ated from the Univer­sity of Florida, en­tered Auburn Univer­sity Col­lege of Ve­teri­nary Medicine and gradu- ated suma cum laude with her doc­tor­ate in ve­teri­nary medicine, all the while she con­tin­ued to ride.

I thank dres­sage for this. She learned those build­ing blocks of suc­cess thanks to it. Dres­sage re­quires ded­i­ca­tion, fo­cus, pa­tience, courage and lots of hard work. On the up side, there was lit­tle time left after study­ing and rid­ing to get into trouble. Her fa­ther and I didn’t spend any money on bail­ing her out of trouble—in­stead, we spent it on breeches, show coats, field boots, show boots and a myr­iad of brushes, bits, bri­dles, creams and salves.

To my fel­low par­ents: Those days will pass much too soon. At least they did for us. As it turns out, your support of your dres­sage en­thu­si­ast leads to great things. I am just a mom of a great kid and I was lucky enough to be able to pro­vide my daugh­ter with the gift of horse­man­ship. But I did not go willingly. I never knew the horse world be­fore her ob­ses­sion, for lack of a bet­ter word.

Jil­lian now works for Vir­ginia Equine Imag­ing, pur­su­ing a ca­reer in lame­ness and sports medicine. She is do­ing what she loves—fol­low­ing her dream. She is fo­cused and ded­i­cated. She no longer has time to show, but dres­sage is in her blood and I think it has helped to make her what she is to­day. She was for­tu­nate to have great train­ers: Heidi Welch, Christie Lehn­ert-Slay­ton and Melissa Tay­lor.

For me, I am not sorry for any of the horse craziness. I have an­other daugh­ter, Syd­nie, who loves dres­sage. She has rid­den and shown and loves her equine part­ners. She as­pires to be a den­tist. She learned the same dis­ci­pline in her life from rid­ing.

There is life—a good, full life—after dres­sage, mom and dad. Em­brace it while you can. It will be over far too soon and it will leave a beau­ti­ful, well-dis­ci­plined, suc­cess­ful per­son in its wake.

Dr. Jil­lian Costello-Chavers is pur­su­ing a ca­reer in equine lame­ness and sports medicine.

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