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2019 Continuing Education for Instructors Fund Grant Recipient: Kelsey Dunlap

The United States has some great talent but in order to compete with Europe’s depth and experience (and to improve our horses’ experience with dressage), we need to create a higher normal standard of correct training. Following the Training Pyramid and establishing correct basics is a tried and true method to making happy athletes, and I love that the USDF has the great Instructor/Trainer Program that provides participants a rubric to follow based on these methods, and certifications to give to trainers who meet the standard. I think the standardization that this instructor program creates will only strengthen dressage in the U.S. and I was excited to take part in it.

I can’t thank The Dressage Foundation, Maryal and Charlie Barnett, and donors enough for enabling me to jump into something I feel passionately about. Calendar conflicts made it tough to attend any workshops but I have two mentors who are certified through FEI that agreed to prep me, so I decided to self-study and test for the 1st and 2nd Level certifications in one weekend.

In lieu of workshops, I poured over the USDF Lunging, Teaching, and Training manuals, went through all of the online courses/study guides that are available on the USDF website, and set up a couple of mock sessions with my mentors to get feedback from them and learn the testing format. While I was nervous about going in cold (and maybe lost a few nights sleep over it), I ended up being well prepared! Here are a few things I took away from the experience and tips for preparing for the certifications:

●       Know the Training Pyramid up, down, backwards, and sideways and be able to use it to structure your lessons, rides, and lunging sessions. If you get lost, go back to the Pyramid.

●       Clean up your vocabulary! Memorize the terms and definitions of the USDF Glossary of Judging Terms and use them. Everyone has an individual style, but I ended up clearing out a lot of superfluous language and it made my lessons and summaries more clear.

●       Speaking of clarity - have a clear structure to your sessions. It should include a warm up phase, working phase, and cool down phase. The working phase should be concise and have clear intentions (i.e. improving one or two specific things).

●       When answering questions from examiners (and be prepared to respond to a LOT of questions), don’t feel the need to answer instantly - they would rather see some thought put into your answers. Examiners aren’t intentionally trying to trick and fail you but if you end up going down the wrong path (which is surprisingly easy), they certainly won’t stop you from digging a hole. Breathe and take a moment or two to compose your response - don’t get yourself into unnecessary trouble!!

Preparing for the testing has made me assess my own training and become more organized and effective. Passing the certifications gave me more confidence that I’m on the right path and that there is sound reasoning behind the training. I met a lot of truly fantastic people at my testing and really loved that we all helped each out through the weekend. I’m so excited to test for the 3rd/4th Levels in 2020 and I strongly encourage anyone looking for a way to progress their knowledge and skill set to participate in this program!