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2020 George Williams Young Professional Grant Fund Recipient: Ali Perkins

Photo by Joanna Jodko

Today marks my final day in Wellington with The Dressage Foundation’s George Williams Fund Grant! It’s been such an amazing opportunity to be under Liz Austin’s incredible eye for an entire month. In our lessons, we covered feel, position, training progression, and test riding, all with the ability to “giggle and try again” when things don’t go well (in true Liz Austin fashion). We spent the month training at IDA Farm in Wellington.

A typical training session with Liz prioritizes a supple swing in the horse’s body. We started the rides in a long and low frame. As we encouraged the horse to stretch, we would touch different “buttons” like a flexion each way, forward and back in the gait, transitions, and figures. If we found a spot where the horse felt sticky or stuck, we would focus on that button until the horse could perform it with ease.

After this warmup, we would get into the focus of the day. Sometimes, it introduced new training concepts to the horse, such as walk-canters, canter walks, shoulder-in, or leg yield. Other days, it was working on test riding or some of the more basic elements of the tests like centerlines, halts, and the walk work.

Throughout the rides, we would go back to the stretch we had at the beginning of the ride to make sure that it was still accessible. Only about a third of the ride was actually spent in a “show frame.” This was for strengthening the horse’s topline and flexibility.

Liz works in the arena four days a week and does lunging, hacking, or fitness outside of the arena the other two days. IDA Farm has an incredible track around the paddocks with a man-made hill. I enjoyed trotting and cantering the hill on off days to work on Vegas’ fitness. I also took Vegas out hacking around IDA, exposing him to all that was going on. IDA has four barns with over 100 horses stabled there for the season. It is a great atmosphere to prepare for horse shows!

During our final weekend, we took Vegas to his first-ever show at White Fences. He was a superstar, scoring up to 70% and winning First Level. Having the show at the end of the month gave us a great goal to work towards. It was great to have mentorship in introducing Vegas to everything show-related.

On this trip, I was also able to watch lessons around town, teach at Dressage4Kids Winter Intensive Training Program, try sales horses for clients back home, take extra lessons with Alex Gainer and Rebecca Waite, form new friendships, and deepen old ones!
Thank you, thank you to the incredible Dressage Foundation! This generous time will stand out in my memory for years to come!