Teaching Gymnastics to Humans and Horses
Eileen Parent did not start riding at an early age on a pony: she launched her riding career at age twenty-two, after college. The college education, and her subsequent teaching career, proved to be of value later in life in the world of dressage. Combining the skills from teaching physical education with the knowledge from her college studies helped shape her vision of riding, training, and instructing.
Eileen earned her bachelor’s degree in Education at Seattle University and her Masters in Sport Medicine at Portland State. She also passed her certification for athletic training and at that time was only the second women to do so. Eileen comments, “The field of sports medicine was just starting, it wasn’t as sophisticated as it is today.” The specialized field of athletic trainers was dominated by men, and so Eileen’s career path steered to teaching physical education. She taught and coached just about everything at the middle school level in the Vancouver, Washington, school district. This included volleyball, basketball, track, and gymnastics, but mainly gymnastics.
Teaching physical education, and particularly gymnastics, has given Eileen a unique perspective for training dressage horses and riders. Both human and horse gymnastics involve working with muscle development, muscle strengthening and conditioning programs. Focusing on the physical skills of tumbling and gymnastics include the awareness of how to move your body. Developing body control translates well into training a dressage rider.
Extremely valuable and educational to Eileen’s formal dressage training was going through the USDF Instructor’s program. She is an Associate Instructor from training through second level. She continues her dressage education with clinics at Summerfield Farm with Ernst Herrmann and Heather Oleson.
When first watching a horse and rider, Eileen looks at how their riding fits into the basic dressage training pyramid. She focuses on their position and what they are doing with their bodies. In addition, she asks questions to clarify the rider’s understanding of the pyramid and how they are going about it. After identifying their riding goals, she suggests exercises for the horse and rider team to help improve their skills and achieve those goals.
Her first horse, purchased when Eileen was twenty-six, was an unbroke two-year-old Thoroughbred stud colt named Royal Legacy, or fondly called Spider. Eileen rode and trained him to become a successful eventer and dressage horse. He earned regional high-point awards in eventing and was in the very first recognized Oregon Dressage Society show, and the pair went on to compete in the Dressage Championship Show in Albany, Oregon. When she retired Spider from eventing, Eileen decided to specialize in dressage. She loved the gymnastics of the training methods, and the bonding, like dance partners, that occurs between horse and rider.
Many dressage riders dream of training a horse up to the Grand Prix level. Eileen and Milando, a Dutch warmblood she bought as a six-year-old from DG Bar Ranch in California, accomplished just that. She started showing Milando at First Level, and after earning qualifying scores for the United States Dressage Federation Gold Medal at the Grand Prix level, she retired him. He now lives a life of luxury at Eileen’s Summerfield Farm in Ridgefield, Washington.
Having a facility where she could turn her horses out all day in pasture was a priority, and so Eileen purchased property and built Summerfield Farm. There is an indoor arena and outdoor full dressage court, turnout pastures of course, and a bridle path around the property. Eileen prefers to keep only a handful of boarders at her facility and concentrates on training horses and riders, hosting monthly clinics, and bringing along her new young horse, Camiro, a Hanoverian she purchased in Germany.
Eileen has been a member of the Oregon Dressage Society since the late seventies. She is grateful for all that ODS has done for her through the years including clinics, instructor’s training, workshops, and horse shows. She is the current ODS Secretary and works on the youth outreach committee and youth education programs. She states, “It’s my time to give back.”
By Sarah Crampton