Spotlight On Dressage4Kids: How Tech Expands Community Access to Horses

Produced through a partnership between STRIDER & Eventing Nation, these behind-the-scenes Spotlights feature conversations with equestrian organizers to explore the origins of their horse shows and clinics, some challenges of equestrian activity management, and the communities that make it all happen.

Dressage4Kids participants sit for a lecture with Kendall Cox. Photo courtesy of Christoph Feddersen.

From a cracking cross country round watched on YouTube to booking a clinic online with an Olympic rider after a quick Google Search, technology fosters connections between horses and people.

Dressage4Kids provides educational and competitive opportunities for youths and the adults who support them. Founded in 1999 by Olympian Lendon Gray and Fern Feldman, Dressage4Kids has expanded its reach and offerings to facilitate opportunities for aspiring horsemen and women across the country and internationally.

STRIDER recently caught up with Mary Livernois, Executive Director of Dressage4Kids to discuss how tech plays a major role in helping the trail-blazing 501(c)3 non-profit organization to carry out its mission successfully.

“D4K started out as a very kids-centric program, but what we all came to realize was that many adults affect kids’ learning and with that the programming really expanded. The more people can learn in general the better it is for everyone. The public-facing technology we employ has really driven growth and community involvement in the sport. It’s amazing what you can do with technology to connect people.” noted Livernois.

Behind-the-scenes, Livernois and all involved at Dressage4Kids utilize a great deal of technology to enable community engagement and maximize knowledge transfer.

“It’s a little crazy how many different technology platforms we touch on any given day. We use a lot of technology! Our website has tools for rider applications, payment processing, the ability to purchase D4K merchandise through the online store, and we use the SalesForce CRM system and STRIDER for its StriderPlus digital waiver service.”

Lendon Gray works with a small group. Photo courtesy of Dressage4Kids.

Livernois noted that Dressaeg4Kind’s ability to maximize community involvement became much easier with the introduction of digital tools. “All we have to do is send an email with links and a deadline reminder. Then people can get paperwork digitally signed and pay for an upcoming clinic on their own time. There’s so much peace of mind knowing things are taken care of.”

“In terms of outreach we have our website, Facebook page, private Facebook groups, Twitter, Instagram, a Youtube channel, an electronic newsletter, and of course we text and use Zoom.

“We’ve found it’s hugely helpful to have things like digital Waivers and online payment. Not just for us as the operators of the organization, but for our participants as well.”

When it comes to fostering professional and personal development, increased access to video and informational content produced by the industry’s top trainers, veterinarians, business owners, and groups has been instrumental to the positive growth trajectory for equestrian sport in the US and internationally. We see this in Eventing with programs like Lucinda Green’s Cross Country Academy and Ride iQ.

Taking in a lecture with Hannah Irons. Photo courtesy of Christoph Feddersen.

Livernois noted, “Technology enables people to improve their knowledge base, without exclusion. Steffan Peters’ freestyle from the Tokyo Olympics now has millions of views! Something like that can really build interest in the sport…

“Of course none of this replaces in-person learning but it’s an amazing supplement. If you want it, it’s there. You don’t need to pack up your whole trailer to gain some insights from a clinic that is happening across the country.”

LIvernois also said that Dressage4Kids’ Training4Teaching Program experienced tremendous growth when the Wellington-based in-person program shifted to virtual sessions in 2021 due to quarantine restrictions. Similarly, their Training Education and Mentoring (TEAM) clinics are now held nationwide and have been able to provide invaluable community connections for horse enthusiasts.

“People learn differently- some visually, some by reading, some by hearing- so for us to be able to leverage different forms of (communication) media more access points for knowledge about horses,” she noted.

“Kids can meet at an in-person clinic, then go back to their home states and FaceTime while they’re doing barn chores. That continuity is key.”

The third benefit of technology was how it increased quality horsemanship time across D4K’s programs.

Teamwork makes the dream work! Photo courtesy of Dressage4Kids.

She continued, “being smarter and more efficient with these tools means you get a ton of time back. Knowing things are taken care of allows you to spend that extra 15 minutes handwalking the horse or doing whatever needs to be done around the barn.”

“At the same time I think this [use of technology] has to be done in a way where we maintain and recognize the welfare of the horse must come first. There is no technology to replace running your hands up and down your horses’ legs.”

As eventing enthusiasts that’s certainly a statement we can get behind!

Ultimately, we are all in this sport for the horse, LIvernois pointed out “You can’t help but fall in love with a horse if you see one, there’s an automatic connection.”

“Making sure opportunities for access are available across every facet of the sport will always be so important,” concluded Livernois of Dressage4Kids.

Learn more about ways you can get involved, as a trainer, judge, parent, or volunteer, as Dressage4Kids continues to expand its programming. Subscribe to their newsletter or reach out here.

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