Sunday, November 14, 2010

USDF "L" Program

Just over a year has passed since the A Session last October in Park City, UT, and now I have completed the entire course. I took the final exam last weekend in Scottsdale, AZ. It has been an amazing and transforming journey. I will never be the same. Obviously I hope I pass, maybe even with distinction, but irrespective of how my final standings shake out, I have learned so much, and am a different rider, horse trainer, and coach because of this program. If I could get one message across, it would be: JUST DO IT. If a program is put on by your GMO, or a neighboring GMO, you must sign up. Honestly, had I known how time consuming and expensive it was going to be, I probably would not have done it. My annual "Stacy's Hobby" budget was blown to bits this year, in part because of this, so know going in: it is a big committment. But there is nothing you can do for yourself as a coach or ambitious rider in this country that is better for your base of knowledge than this program. It is very widely respected throughout the world, for good reason. Every minute and every dime is worth it. You will leave with so much information, and so much deeper an understanding of many aspects of the sport of dressage. When I first signed up for this program, I did so with the thought that this would prepare me for USDF Instructor Certification, which I had set as a goal a couple of years ago, after realizing(and being rather taken aback by that realization) that people really can just hang out a sign and call themselves a dressage instructor and trainer. I was a little surprised that instructor certification required that you already have four years of experience, and when my GMO, the Utah Dressage Society, mentioned the possibility of an L Program, I immediately said I would sign up. I knew that I needed real information and real training by a respected organization. Of course there are apprenticeship opportunities out there, I had done two such apprenticeships. What I came away with was this: where was the standardization?? My degree is in education. I wanted an education, not opinions...and not just any education either. I wanted a relevant and respected education, for the discipline I chose: Dressage, in the "classical" format, with competitive applications. I believe competitive and classical dressage should not be different, and this program proves it. I have had some very good instructors through the years. But this program, the USDF "L" program, provides a depth of scientific knowledge and real world experience that draws from many backgrounds. An entire panel puts together the instruction manual, and it is updated yearly. It is very thorough. There are no superstitions or's all very specific, and you will never ride, coach, or train the same again if you go through this program. I would even support requiring this program of anyone who receives remuneration for the instruction of Dressage, I believe it is that good.
If you sign up for the "L" Program, expect to be challenged, to step out of your comfort zone, to realize you've been wrong about some things you thought you knew, to meet some amazingly dedicated leaders in our sport, and to connect with a class from all walks of life and make lasting friendships. There is no way the instructors can possibly be paid enough for this job. If you think the job of a judge is grueling, what these instructors take on, for the love of the horse and the discipline(there can't be any other reason!), is mind-boggling. The USDF "L" Program brings together great minds, big hearts, and an outstanding curriculum. Yes it is the first step on the path to being a Dressage judge. But you do not need to have a desire to be a judge to do this. In fact, this program is probably even more valuable to coaches than it is to prospective judges. The trickle-down effect of getting this information out there could transform our sport. You-any of you...riders, trainers, coaches...should absolutely take advantage of this amazing opportunity. Yes it might take time from your students, but ask mine: every minute I spent working on this program was worth a thousand minutes of greatly increased effectiveness in my ability to communicate on a much more sophisticated level with them. They definitely got their money's worth from my time spent away. And the horses I ride are thanking me too.