By Jan Westmark
From her fame on the pony Seldom Seen to competing in the Olympics to starting Dressage4Kids, Lendon Gray has been a driving force in the dressage world. Lendon founded Dressage4Kids 22 years ago, giving kids opportunities and encouraging them to become the best they can be. “Now my life is totally about Dressage4Kids,” Lendon said. “It has made me a better teacher and brought me in contact with some truly wonderful people — local instructors, parents and remarkable kids. I love looking back on kids who started 22 years ago and seeing their journeys.” While Lendon helped launch the careers of many young riders, she was also influential in showing riders in the United States the value of a small horse — completely by accident. “Seldom Seen was a 14.2 ½ -hand event ‘pony’ for my boss, Peggy Whitehurst, and at an event she got sick and asked me to ride him,” Lendon said. “After a year of undefeated eventing, we started in dressage. Every year I thought we had reached his limit, but with his big heart, and the help and encouragement of Michael Poulin, he became one of the most successful horses in the U.S. and brought me a great deal of attention. He also showed riders they could ride ponies in dressage.”
Besides Seldom Seen, what other horses have been influential in your life?
My two Olympic horses, Beppo and Later On. They weren’t fancy, but they had huge hearts. Crown Juel, Peggy’s Thoroughbred, was my first national champion and the first horse I tried to train to grand prix, but was unsuccessful. Jamboree was the last horse I trained to grand prix and he taught me that I knew very little and better keep learning.
What was it like being inducted into the USDF Hall of Fame?
It was a great honor, but Seldom Seen was inducted before I was — as it should be.
What were your Olympic experiences like?
My first Olympic team was in 1980 when we didn’t go to the Olympics in Moscow, but had an alternate Olympics in England — top competition but none of the glamor. My second Olympic team was in 1988 in Seoul. There I realized that the competition was just another competition in the same “sand box” we always rode in, but the experience of being with other athletes and watching them train and the pomp is unlike anything.
Do you like competing or being a trainer and instructor better?
I never liked competing very much, but as a professional, thought of it as a necessity. I was always totally fascinated by developing any horse of any type and quality to make it better. Now that I don’t ride, I have the same fascination in developing riders of all ages and abilities.
What is the Winter Intensive Training program (WIT)?
I created WIT with the help of Kim Van Kampen of Hampton Green Farm. WIT is a program within Dressage4Kids. D4K’s most far-reaching program is the TEAM (Training, Education, and Mentoring) program with 25 to 30 TEAM clinics all over the U.S. and Canada each year for kids of all ages and levels. They get two private lessons, four lectures on all kinds of subjects and educational material. The WIT program is a three-month expansion of that.
What are your goals for the future?
The continued success of Dressage4Kids and hopefully to continue with the WIT program, after losing our stabling in Wellington.
Favorite shows you have competed in?
I loved the shows I did as a kid where I rode the same little horse in Western and English classes, jumping, games and driving. We had busy days and so much fun.
Have you had a funny horse moment that still makes you laugh?
There are so many — if we can’t laugh at our horses’ shenanigans, we should take up a different activity.
What is your favorite thing about being part of the horse world?
The horses! (And the kids, too.)
If you weren’t involved with the horse world, what career do you think you would have picked?
I studied Greek and Latin at Sweet Briar College and pictured myself teaching at some private school.
If you had a week off, what would you do?
It would take more than a week, but I would visit my sister in New Zealand.
Who inspires you?
The kids with whom I work
What talents do you feel you have?
I definitely had a certain talent for schooling a horse, and now I have a talent for being totally happy in quarantine.
Do you have a personal motto or catch phrase?
“Is that the best you can do?”
What’s your favorite item of clothing to wear?
A warm coat because that means it isn’t hot outside.
What three items can usually be found in your refrigerator?
Milk, a head of cauliflower and a frozen steak I’m saving for a special occasion
What’s your favorite meal?
What would be the best gift in the world?
Right now, a cure or vaccine for COVID-19
If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
To get people to listen to each other and have empathy
What’s something everyone should try at least once?
Being still with no distractions
How would you like people to remember you?
That she really learned to care about people
Photo courtesy of Dressage4Kids