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Dances With Horses

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Morven Park International Equestrian Center, Leesburg will host a Pas De Deux challenge the evening of Sunday, Aug. 19. Equestrian competition will feature pairs of riders performing to music in choreographed patterns and a fund-raiser gala with a live band for spectators and guests. Cost: $20 per person, $5 for children under 12, $150 for cocktails and a buffet dinner with patron seating. Call 240-731-2248 or contact www.morvenpark.org. Heather Fay is on of the competitors and answered questions.

What is pas de deux?

A pas de deux is a dressage ride consisting of two horses and two riders performed to music. The movements are compulsory depending on which level the riders choose, however, they may be performed in any order at any time. It is very similar to an ice skating freestyle performance. Pas de deux performances are choreographed by the riders, with the music also chosen by the riders or a professional musical freestyle choreographer may be hired to mix the music and choreograph the movements.

How did you get involved in competing in pas de deux?

My involvement in competing in the pas de deux was secondary. I was coaching my student, Lindsay Jensen, on her horse, Strollin' Cash, at a show at Morven Park two years ago, when we were approached by Trish DeRosa riding her horse, Wolfie. As the two horses looked so similar — it's rare to have two Appaloosa's look so much alike, much less both at a dressage show — Trish asked Lindsay if she would be interested in trying to perform a pas de deux. So Lindsay and Trish practiced and showed together for the next year. Lindsay had a baby last year and has been unable to continue her rigorous training schedule, so she graciously asked me, as her horse's trainer, to continue showing Cash on her behalf. Last year, Trish and I won the pas de deux at Morven Park and went to the championship finals in Lexington, Va., where we were awarded Reserve Champions. Not bad for a couple of Appys.

What is your favorite part about competing?

The most rewarding part of competing in the pas de deux is the partnership not only with the horse, but with another horse-and-rider combination. Dressage is mostly an individual sport in the show ring, so to be able to have a partner in which to share the joy is a truly rewarding experience. Plus, we just have lots of fun.

How do the two riders work together?

There is a constant communication between the two riders during the pas de deux. We have to watch each other very closely and trade off who leads and who follows depending on which movement is being performed. We begin to get a feel for the nonverbal cues through eye contact and slight nods of the head. Occasionally, we'll even chat during a movement when we are next to each other, encouraging each other and our horses.

Is there any special equipment used for competing?

The pas de deux gives the riders a bit more freedom in our appearances. For example, horses are allowed to have wraps on their legs (polo wraps), whereas in any other dressage competition, this is forbidden. The United States Dressage Federation (USDF) has pages and pages of what is and is not permitted for competitions. Anything from the length of your whip and spurs, to how your horse's mane is braided.

How long does it take to train horses to compete and how do you do it?

Would you like a dissertation here??!! There are so many variables involved in the training of horses, in addition to the different disciplines available to horses and their riders. Here's an abbreviated answer: Dressage horses start their training under saddle at about age 3, then are ready for competitions in about a year or two. The training never stops. Most responsible horse owners and competitors understand the necessity for consistent training for the horse and rider throughout their lifetime. This is done through continuously gaining knowledge and lots of patience and practice. The best trainers are the ones who know there is so much more to learn.

Does it require any special equipment?

For the pas de deux, no special equipment is required, aside from the usual dressage training equipment, such as a whip or spurs. And a battery-operated boom box. For training dressage horses in general, there are many devices available relating to building up the horse's muscles to strengthen their back and hindquarters and also relating to their head position.

How is it judged?

The pas de deux is judged on performance as a pair, the required compulsory movements, impulsion (activity), submission (willingness), choreography, harmony between horses and riders and musicality. Scores between 0-10, 10 being perfect, are given for each of these criteria, then a percentage score is given to the pair. The one with the highest percentage wins.

Where can you find the best competitions?

Luckily, we are in an area where there are many excellent competitions. Morven Park in Leesburg, Lexington Horse Center in Lexington, Va., and the New Jersey Horse Park to name a few.

How important is the relationship between horse and rider? Why is it this important?

The relationship between horse and rider is integral in a dressage competition. It is like a dance with a partner, where you are in constant communication with each other through nonverbal cues. As living, breathing creatures, horses have minds of their own, along with moods and ideas. A rider may have a particular idea as to what they would like their horse to do, whereupon the horse may have another idea as to what they may like to do. There has to be a way to communicate to the horse what we would like them to do, but we have to learn each other's language first. No two horses respond the exact same way to our aids or our way of communicating.

What is your best memory when it comes to riding?

Despite my fondness for dressage training and the precision of each individual movement in a confined space, my fondest memory is as a child, galloping my first horse bareback across a huge open field — going so fast I couldn't see because the wind was stinging my eyes.

What will you perform at the upcoming competition?

Trish DeRosa and I will be performing the pas de deux at First Level.

What is the most challenging part of competing?

The most challenging part of competing is the preparation. In addition to the hundreds of hours of training, there is the bathing, braiding, trimming, packing, cleaning, etc.

What is special about a pas de deux competition?

The pas de deux is special and unique in that we have another horse and rider as partners and not only must coordinate with them, but with the music and the choreographed movements.

Where do you compete?

I have competed all over Virginia and Maryland at schooling shows and recognized shows.

How can people get more involved?

The more, the merrier. People can become involved by talking to people at competitions, finding out where they ride, who they train with. If you see something you like, tell them. Stop by the local tack shop and have a chat with them, jump online and see what's out there, pick up a copy of a local horse magazine, schedule a time to watch an instructor teach some lessons. Most horse people are more than happy to talk about horses. If people want to be involved in a nonriding aspect, volunteer at local horse shows, donate their time at a horse rescue or contact some stables and see what jobs they may have available. There is a huge need for educated horse people and most horse trainers are happy to help teach anyone who is interested in learning.