UM dressage club enjoys success, seeks growth

Posted May 28, 2009, at 10:12 p.m.

It has been a successful season for the University of Maine dressage club.

What? You didn’t know UMaine had a dressage club?

Club president Kristin Brown isn’t surprised. That’s why she and 19 fellow club members are trying to build off this season via exposure, publicity and membership.

“This is the largest number of members we’ve ever had, but we still want to add new faces next semester,” said Brown, a sophomore elementary education major from Brewer.

This is Brown’s first year as club president and although competition is over and her thoughts had been squarely on final exams, she also has been thinking about ways to continue the club’s growth and find new sources of funding as belts are tightening and dollars are stretched more and more campus-wide.

“We’re fairly new compared to some of the other clubs on campus, but we’re very active and everyone involved has shown a lot of dedication and hard work this year,” she said.

The club, now finishing its eighth year of existence, competes in three competitions each semester: two on the road and one at home. Its home course is Puckerbrush Farm in Newburgh, where owner Bryn Walsh and manager Becky Clark also act as volunteer coaches for the club.

“This year we even had some freshmen who came to Maine specifically for the club and even brought their own horses with them,” said Clark, who has coached for three years.

UMaine finished third overall among the four participating schools: Maine, University of New Hampshire, Johnson & Wales University (R.I.), and Bridgewater State College (Mass.). Maine, UNH and Johnson & Wales each has two competing teams, Bridgewater had one, and the other is an unaffiliated team composed of riders from other schools that don’t have their own clubs.

The one-day International Dressage Association competitions are styled sort of like individual ice skating championships: Each rider competes at one of four levels (intro, lower training, upper training and first level) and performs a routine made up of prescribed movements and actions. They are then graded by judges and assigned scores. Each rider’s score is added to his or her team’s total and the highest team total wins.

“Intro is the lowest level and you have to do a walk and trot,” Brown explained. “You do walk, trot and canter in lower, walk-trot-canter in upper, and walk-trot-canter with an extended trot and more difficult movements added.”

Maine’s best finishes came in its home competition in March (third and fifth out of eight) and the most recent meet earlier this month (third and fifth) at Providence, R.I.

Brown, competing at the first level, finished fourth overall for the year. She was first in her class and had the high point total of the day at the most recent competition.

“I’ve been riding horses since third grade. I leased horses from different barns and wound up at Puckerbrush Farm with a friend’s horse before eventually getting my own in high school,” Brown said. “The UMaine club had a show there one day and asked if I’d help out. I really liked it and wanted to get involved.”

Brown said dressage, which involves lots of discipline and patience, is quite challenging and unique.

“It’s more based on the horse and the rider. It’s not so much the movements, it’s how you do them,” she explained. “It’s all about showing off a movement with your horse with the least amount of movement by the rider. I love the feeling of being in tune with the horse.”

The host school provides horses for all teams, making it particularly challenging for “visiting” teams.

“You get to see someone else ride your horse in warmups and you have another 10 minutes to acquaint yourself with your horse before competition,” said Brown.

Not all team members compete, but all have an active role with the team such as training and taking care of, or exercising, the horses. Each competing member must try out and then attend at least one practice a week. The club — which receives some funding from UM’s College of Natural Sciences, Forestry and Agriculture but raises most of its own funding — also holds less regular team practices.

“It’s a lot of work and dedication to become good at it,” said Brown. “There’s really nothing like it. Some people call it dancing with horses.”

Kerogen hot to trot

Two-time defending Maine Trotter of the Year Kerogen added to its already impressive harness racing resume Sunday by smashing its second track record in the last two weeks.

The latest mark to fall was at Bangor Raceway, where driver Kim Ireland enjoyed the ride for 1 minute, 57.3 seconds. The time sliced a full second off the previous record held jointly by Kerogen and Abby C.

The 6-year-old, owned by Lew Hayden and trained by Ireland’s wife Wendy, made fast work of a Scarborough Downs field eight days earlier with a track-record 1:58.1.

Kerogen’s latest record run is just a tenth of a second off the 60-year-old state mark of 1:57½. Considering it was only Kerogen’s fifth start of the season, the record held by a trot horse legend appears primed to fall.

“Now, with much better equipment, we can measure by fifths of a second. Prior to that, they went by quarters of a second,” said Fred Nichols, Bangor Raceway racing secretary. “I suspect they used stopwatches to time the races back then.”

The longstanding record was run by Greyhound in 1939 during a time trial in Old Orchard Beach at a place called the kite track.

aneff@bangordailynews.net

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