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2020 Maryal and Charlie Barnett Continuing Education Grants for Dressage Instructors Recipient: Kerri Coufal

In February of 2020, I received the Maryal and Charlie Barnett Continuing Education for Instructors grant. Going through the USDF Instructor/Trainer Program would further my knowledge and skills as an instructor and trainer. I decided to put the first half of the grant towards the workshops they offered prior to the actual testing for Training/First Level certification so I had a better understanding of what the testing would entail.

The first workshop I attended was focused on the lunging of horse and rider. In the testing, you are required to lunge a horse with and without a rider. My key takeaway from this workshop was to first and foremost do a safety check. You want to check that all the equipment is safe for lunging and prior to putting a rider on the horse, the horse has a solid understanding of lunging and can lunge in a safe manner. We discussed how lunging can be a beneficial tool to develop both the horse and rider. For the rider, it can truly help develop an independent seat and I feel many riders skip this step. I would encourage more to spend some time on the lunge line, regardless of their skill level.

The second workshop was a riding workshop. You are also required to ride a familiar and unfamiliar horse for the testing. The goal is to assess the horse as quickly as possible and then decide what you feel should be the focus for the ride that day. Even familiar horses do not come out the same every day, so it is important to listen to what they need physically and mentally, that day. The Pyramid of Training is the main tool we use when assessing the horse. Since this was a Training/First Level group, I found that we mostly focused on rhythm and balance, suppleness, and basic contact and then added in exercises to encourage more impulsion and acceptance of the aids. All of this is done with a specific amount of time in mind, so it was really important to pick one thing to work on while finding a spot to end on a solid note where the horse feels positive. My personal business is keeping horses tuned up for their adult amateur riders, so I find the horse really needs to be easily off my aids (seat, legs, contact) and then everything after that tends to be easier for the rider.

The final workshop I attended was focused on teaching. We were each assigned a rider to teach and again, using the Pyramid of Training, the workshop attendees would assess the rider and then chose something to work on that day. It is also important to keep the horse's mental and physical health in mind and to encourage your rider to give their horses breaks. Since this was a Training/First Level group, most of the riders were novice. It was important to be informative while being positive and to tell the rider what you want them TO DO, versus what not to do. It is also important to work on the rider’s position and aids before expecting them to perform higher-level movements.

I was scheduled for my testing in the middle of March 2020 and felt quite prepared after the workshops, but Covid had other plans. Unfortunately, I have not been able to complete my testing yet but hope it is rescheduled soon. I plan to continue my certification up the levels. I have found that the workshops helped me gain some more perspective in my daily teaching, riding, and lunging. I was able to find some weaknesses in myself after attending the workshops so have really tried to focus on improving those since.

I am extremely grateful to TDF and Maryal Barnett for giving opportunities to myself and other professionals to further their education while helping with the financial burden that can come with higher education.