This Young Riders’ Program Teaches Values and Equestrian Skills

by Lynne Sherman, Communications Chair, Santa Barbara County Chapter California Dressage Society

Our equestrian sport and our industry stays vital because a steady stream of new riders come into the flow of shows each year. As the spring feeds the stream that becomes the river, the sport and discipline of dressage is freshened by young riders entering the stream of dressage competition. Here is a visit to one of the headwaters of the river that keeps dressage strong and growing.

Eyes up, hands down.

Kate Sulzbach welcomes us to her In The Irons Farm located in the foothills of Santa Barbara, California. Kate, a USDF Bronze/Silver/Gold medalist, and CDS Ruby/Sapphire/Diamond award recipient and “A” graduate from the United States Pony Club currently competes horses at top levels and trains dressage riders of all ages. Kate runs a successful young riders’ program. The program supports the riders. The riders support each other, and all together they support the horse shows of the Santa Barbara County chapter of the California Dressage Society.

Kate entered her first horse show at the age of 6 and joined the United States Pony Club at the age of 9. She is a strong advocate for the principles of USPC, incorporating much of the philosophy into her program. She recalls that as a Pony Club member she felt part of a club and part of a community. She has carried that ideal energy through her own program.

Young rider helps set up the court.

Kate, with the help of Kelly Thoits, her assistant trainer, has designed a program to built on a progression of riding skills and horse management education designed for beginners to advanced riders. Youngsters new to horses enter Kelly’s Developing Rider Program. Currently the ages range from 6 up to age 14. Kelly uses age-appropriate games and lots of encouragement to keep the kids focused, interested, and having fun while they work hard to learn the physical and mental skills needed for basic riding. In The Irons Farm owns a small number of lesson horses, as spoiled and beloved as any upper-level show horse in the barn. Demand is high and available lesson hours are restricted by the need to have healthy, rested, enthusiastic lesson horses. There is a wait list for this program. Kids generally take two lessons per week which, in her experience, best supports the rider’s progress. There are no group lessons, only individual lessons.

Kate Sulzbach with her Young Riders.

The Developing Rider Program encourages riders to try out horse shows through the Virtual Show opportunities offered by CDS. Riders generally transition from Kelly’s program to lessons with Kate when they progress to horse shows and competition at the training level and above.

Both Kate and Kelly teach lessons each weekday and Saturdays. Both Juniors and Adults enjoy “hack and yack’ rides along the farm trails. This is a time for sharing, mutual support, and team building. Kids become more competitive with themselves, rather than with their friends. They bring this same attitude of caring and helping to their shows. When they are not preparing and riding tests, they, and their parents volunteer throughout the weekend show. Kate teaches them, “when you get your own stuff done, go help someone else.”

Happily, there are dressage trainers training young riders at all levels throughout California. Together with older riders entering the sport after jumping careers, they truly keep dressage a sport for all ages.