Is dressage fun? Just watch Pam Fowler Grace ride and you’ll not only see the intuitive talent she has with horses, but also her award-winning smile.
A life-long horse lover, Pam knew from the age of 4 that she was called to be a horse trainer. She remembers making chalk lines on the sidewalk to define imaginary stalls and every day she would pretend to ride an imaginary string of training horses.
Pam’s first riding experience was at a pony barn where kids would ride ponies 3 times around a small track. The ponies walked on an inner track, trotted on the middle track, and cantered on the outer track. Pam had coaxed her mother to read her a book on riding and she figured out that “you kick horses to make them go”. The ponies were conditioned to travel around the track 3 times and then stop. Eager to try this new technique, when her 3rd lap was complete, she began to kick the pony and convinced him to continue at a canter for a 4th lap.
“I remember being so thrilled that I was able to get him to respond to my request…even though everyone else was scolding me for doing so,” said Pam.
Pam has ridden in most every discipline – from barrel racing to reining, and polo to race horses, but dancing with horses is where she excels. She has won 87 USDF All Breed Championships, Pam and her horse, 24-Carrot won the 1994 2nd level Horse of the Year (USDF) honor, and her Leopard Appaloosa gelding, Pay N Go was the first inductee into the Appaloosa Sport Horse Hall of Fame, along with being immortalized as a Breyer Horse. Pay N Go and Gucci (owned by Melanie Pai) were both awarded the American Warmblood 5 Star award for outstanding scores. There have been several ABIC and Southwest Dressage Champions, but Pam doesn’t remember the xact count of the numerous awards she’s won over the years – there have been so many.
She won ABIC at Grand Prix twice on Gucci and was extremely pleased to have had so much acceptance and success competing in Germany and Luxemburg during the summer of 2002. Placing in every Grand Prix that Pam and Gucci showed in was a major accomplishment in her book, considering how tough the competition is, the large classes, and how difficult it is for an American to break into their politics.
“The highest compliment I received in Germany was from a judge who told my coach I was “a breath of fresh air,” said Pam, “and that she had never seen anyone who seemed to enjoy her horse and the art as much as I did.”
Her most recent, and special, Grand Prix dance partner was Floriano (owned by Melanie Pai), who came back from Germany with her, and Pam showed him here during the 2003 season quite successfully with scores into the 70 percentile.
The highlight of Pam’s riding career was in 1998 when she had the honor of riding her Grand Prix Appaloosa gelding, Pay N Go at Linda McCartney’s memorial service in Manhattan. Pam and Pay N Go entered the church at the Spanish Walk, performed a Pirouette, formally saluted the audience, and then exited at the Spanish Walk while the celebrity crowd gave them a standing ovation.
Pay N Go was given to Pam when he was a half-wild 2-year-old. “The very first time I rode him, we danced,” said Pam. “It was a match made in heaven.” Pay N Go was her most challenging horse. He was very “war-like” in many ways, but once he began to trust her, he would walk through fire for Pam. Pay N Go isn’t actually retired at 20-years old, Pam still rides him almost every day and still schools all the Grand Prix moves on him. “He’d be very indignant if I didn’t,” said Pam.
Pam also owns 3 other “dance partners” besides Pay N Go; Heart and Soul is a Prix St. George Thoroughbred, Coeur de Dieu a 4-year-old Oldenburg, and she’ll eventually dance with Royal Lufttanzer, a yearling Oldenburg.
Pam’s success is largely due to her knowledge that horses want to be treated with kindness and respect; you have to earn their trust. Any time Pam runs across a rebellious attitude, she first makes sure the horse is not in pain. “Probably 95% of all rebellion originates from some sort of physical pain,” said Pam, “or from a rider banging on his back or mouth. It’s usually some sort of a defense.”
Pam also believes that a person can create what she calls “a positive snowball” effect with a horse. She doesn’t focus on their failures or on everything they don’t do. She focuses on their successes and always avoids confrontations with them because they learn what they repeat. She treats horses kind of like kindergarten children, asking for something she knows she can get, and then praises them for completing the task.
“This builds their self-esteem and makes them want to work harder and do more in order to receive the praise,” said Pam. “Pretty soon, they begin to believe they are wonderful and beautiful, and they then begin to act like a star.” With this method of training, the arguing falls by the wayside, and then what you have left is a fabulous dance partner.
“The only way a horse can be brilliant is if he works because he wants to,” said Pam, “not because he is forced. Grand Prix is way too difficult for them to do it for any other reason.”
Pam is intuitive when it comes to the horses, knowing what each horse requires to accomplish the task, while keeping them interested and eager to please. One of Pam’s greatest challenges when instructing riders and their horses is to try to instill in them a sensitive delicate feel and empathy for the horse.
Pam has a similar philosophy for riders, believing people do what they believe they can do. She thinks it is very important to give people constructive criticism, by correcting without making him or her feel worthless and inadequate. “If you tell someone not to do something you should replace that technique with a better one,” said Pam. She is also extremely quick to point out what people are doing correctly, using positive reinforcement, which offers a balance to criticism.
“Most people are doing the best they can,” said Pam. “None of us were born knowing all of these things, and we all learned what we know from someone else (and of course, our horses), so I see no reason to be condescending to anyone. It’s all about sharing knowledge.” That’s how Pam maintains a positive, fresh attitude and is able to enthusiastically instruct all levels of riders, and they eagerly await their next lesson.
Pam emphasizes that dressage should be fun for both the horse and the rider. If you watch Pam ride, you can see that she’s having a good time…you can’t miss that 14-carrot smile.
Pam is a USDF Bronze, Silver, and Gold medallist and a USDF level “L” judge. You can call her at 281-785-6498 or you can e-mail Pam at: email@example.com, or visit her web site at: www.pamgrace.com.
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