On Horse and Rider Development with Phyllis Dawson

Photo courtesy of Phyllis Dawson Photo courtesy of Phyllis Dawson

A wise student of Phyllis Dawson’s once said, “There’s a carved rock at the base of the Windchase driveway. If you choose upon arrival to leave your brain on top of that rock, Phyllis will have no patience for you. But if you’re focused and trying, she will do all she can to help you.”

Phyllis’s dedication to horse and rider advancement includes key roles in various programs such as the USEF Eventing Selection Committee, the USEA Instructor Certification Program and the USEA Future Event Horse program.

As a veteran of the U.S. Eventing Team, her list of accomplishments includes top placings at four-star events all over the globe, as well as the highest-placed U.S. rider at the Seoul Olympic Games in 1988, where she finished 10th. Today she runs an extensive training and boarding operation at Windchase, her farm in Purcellville, Virginia.

For Phyllis, riders who stand out are those who truly want to build and enhance their skills. She says, “I like most teaching those students who are really enthusiastic about learning, whatever their level.”

Not all training techniques work for all horses. Having developed hundreds of horses and riders, Phyllis knows every trick in the book. She notes, “I love the process of figuring out what approach is best for each individual horse in order to help the horse and rider form a great partnership.”

To accommodate busy schedules, horse and rider levels are often mixed at Windchase clinics. But don’t be intimidated by your groups! The goal at Phyllis’ clinics is always fun and education. She explains, “It’s important to watch the other horses and riders as well, because you can learn a lot that way.”

As a Beginner Novice rider, you might pick up techniques watching an upper level rider on a green horse tackle the same questions. “I adjust my teaching style somewhat depending on the student,” she says. “With the serious students who want to go to the upper levels I am more demanding, and for the less experienced or nervous rider I gear the lesson toward confidence building. My goal is to have the rider go away from the lesson realizing they could do more than they thought they could!”

Want to learn more? Sign-ups for clinics at Windchase are available exclusively on Event Clinics. Phyllis’s winter clinic series focuses on developing skills through an evolving set of jump exercises. Lessons evolve from grids and cavalettis to coursework through the winter. Heading into spring, clinics turn to cross-country questions in the indoor in preparation for competition season. If the weather cooperates, the final clinics are held on the Windchase cross-country course.