The Road to Florida: Training with Laura Graves

Lillian Simons and Willoughby. Photo by Meg McGuire.
Lillian Simons and Willoughby. Photo by Meg McGuire.

I am a student and competitive dressage rider at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts. Willoughby, an 11-year-old, 16.2 KWPN gelding, and I will be leaving to train with Laura Graves in January. I will be competing in the FEI Young Rider division in 2015 and my hope is to become an international, high performance rider. For this reason, I felt training under the very best would be necessary. After various email exchanges, we formulated a plan allowing me to train under Laura. Because I am a full time college student, I will be traveling on the weekends to train and show. I am excited as I look down the road; riding has always been a passion of mine and I’m ready to do whatever it takes to become the best. I am very  excited for the opportunity to train with Laura Graves; she is a role model for me and someone whom I wish to emulate. As a full time student, I know it won’t be easy juggling academics and dressage, but an opportunity such as this is a dream, my dream. I am very excited for this next step in my riding career and can’t wait for the 2015 season!

Fortunately, Willoughby and I had a very successful season this past summer, accomplishing more than I had ever expected. Our partnership started about five years ago and we have been learning and growing together ever since. My family purchased Willoughby when he was seven and I was fourteen; we were both fairly new to the dressage world. He has opened more doors for me than I could have ever imagined and has provided me with unbelievable opportunities. For the first two years I owned Willoughby, I did most of the riding and training on my own. We competed in local shows and qualified for the New England Dressage Association Region 8 Championships at First and Second Level. In 2012 I started working under Wes Dunham at Woodstock Stables and that summer I showed both Third Level and the FEI Juniors. Thanks to Wes, I was able to ride a variety of different horses that he had in his program, which was a great experience. That year we qualified for regionals again and were Champions of the Jr/Yr Third Level Division. I was so proud of Willoughby. By the end of the season I had received my Bronze Medal.

In January of 2013 I was invited to participate in the Robert Dover Horsemastership Clinic in Wellington, FL where I was able to work with some of the world’s well-respected trainers and attend valuable, insightful lectures. In 2013 I continued to compete in the FEI Junior Division and in 2014 I began working with Amanda Timolat. Amanda helped me considerably and was a huge part of our success this past season. We completely revamped our training style and she helped me understand new training strategies. Together we decided to devote half of the season to competing at Fourth Level and half of the season to begin showing at  the Prix St. George level. In August I received my Silver Medal, and Willoughby and I were Prix St. George Jr/Yr Champions and Fourth Level Jr/Yr Reserve Champions at the 2014 New England Dressage Association Regional Championship. After attending NEDA, I competed at Dressage at Devon where I showed at Fourth Level; it was my first time showing at Devon and it was an amazing experience. This winter my goal is to show in the FEI Young Rider Division and qualify for the North American Young Rider Championship and Nationals.

With these goals in mind, I will be writing for throughout the winter about my training sessions with Laura Graves. This, too, is a great opportunity.

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