Betsy Van Dyke performs the equine ballet at Horse Shows by the Bay
By Kelsey Lauer 7/20/09
Some of the 3,000 riders who flock to Traverse City to compete in the Horse Shows by the Bay Equestrian Festival come from as far away as Texas. But local dressage rider Betsy Van Dyke didnt have quite as far to travel.
Van Dyke, who operates a training and teaching business out of the Walton Ranch in Kingsley, south of Traverse City, says that Horse Shows by the Bay is one of her favorite competitions.
I love this horse show, and I cannot say enough good things about this horse show, she says. I love the way its run, I love the people who run it and I love the quality that they are bringing to this area. Im very grateful for that, so I really want to let them know that and have that out there.
Van Dyke and her horse will perform daily dressage demonstrations also referred to as horse ballet at Horse Shows by the Bay, July 23-26. She will compete along with two of her clients from July 29-Aug. 1, with a final demonstration on Aug. 2.
She will also compete in the musical freestyle dressage competition on Aug. 1 at 5 p.m., for which riders get to choose the music and movements they will use in their performance. Anyone is welcome to come and watch and she welcomes cheering.
If you come to cheer us on, cheer loud -- cheer really loud, Van Dyke says. We tend to have a little bit of a golf crowd, usually.
For Van Dyke, dressage is all about the partnership between horse and rider.
I really think that dressage is the ultimate in riding. For me, it is because it is so focused on communication. Its focused on harmony between horse and rider, and in my opinion, all riding should be about that. Dressage is just a lot more specifically about that, she says.
Another thing that really draws me to dressage is you never get to the end, she adds. Youre always improving... I think a lot of sports, you kind of reach the ultimate, a little bit. Its kind of like, Oh, Im the national champion, or whatever. Then youre kind of done.
Van Dyke adds that the appeal of continually improving is reflected in the number of people who stick with dressage. Dressage is a lifetime sport. You very rarely meet someone who used to ride dressage and now rides a different sport, but you meet a ton of people who now ride dressage and used to ride a different sport.
Van Dykes dressage partner is Cantanaknown as Tanner around the barna 12-year-old Danish Warmblood gelding that she imported from Europe at the age of seven and trained by herself.
He was just barely broke when I bought him, and fortunately, I was able to get him at a price that I could afford because of that. I brought him up through the levels -- showed him at every level, down in Florida for some of it -- and then up here for some of it, she says.
Things havent always been perfect, however.
A lot of people will remember us for clearing the warm-up ring on several occasions, she says. He has very much his own sense of justice. If you pick a fight with him, youd better know that youre right, because otherwise hell prove to you that he was right. If you really want him to do something, its better to make him think that it was his idea.
Personality-wise, she jokes, Hes much like most men.
He is quite a character. Hes just always into everything, always busy, she says. He would much rather be with people versus horses. Hes very much a people horse in that way.
FROM AN EARLY AGE
Van Dyke has been interested in horses for as long as she can remember and has been riding for nearly as longsince the age of three, even though her first horse came later at the age of 14.
My dad kept thinking that it was going to go away, thinking that boys were going to come into the picture and Id no longer be interested, she says. Boys came into the picture and I was interested, but I was more interested in the horses.
She started out with 4-H and local shows, riding any horse that she could get her hands on, she says.
Anyone would say I could ride their horse, I would jump on it. That was not always a good thing, Van Dyke says. But it taught me a ton, so I would say I learned a lot about horses in that time frame.
When she was 12, she started the dressage emphasis that is still with her to this day.
I went down to Wellington, near the West Palm Beach area down in Florida and showed there for several seasons. I rode with a lot of top trainers down there and thats where I got the hugest part of my education and then learned a lot about the upper levels, the real meat of it.
NOT SO HORSEY FAMILY
Van Dyke says shes not sure where the horse interest came from, because except for a brother, no one in her family has any horse experience at all.
The funny part is the rest of my family is totally not into horses. My dad, as an engineer, could just not understand why we were interested in horses, she says. My brother helped for a while because he went to bat for me with my dad.
And then my mom loves animals, but has no real horse experience necessarily. She rode a little bit when she young, but that was about it. They put the entire horse gene into (my brother and me).
Her brother, in contrast to Van Dyke, focused more on the western disciplines of ridingthink cowsrather than English disciplinesthat include dressage and jumping.
My brother is an authentic custom saddle-maker out in Sheridan, Wyoming, Van Dyke says. Hes a real cowboy, and he made sure that I still have cowboy boots and I can still ride a cowhorse and stay on -- buck a little bit -- things like that.
Van Dyke, who has been in the Traverse City area since 1997, has been in business as a trainer and instructor for five years.
I was riding a lot of peoples horses and helping people before that, but not officially, not for money, you know, she says. I do mostly dressage, and most of my lessons and training revolves around it, but in my opinion, dressage is just good ridingbasic training.
She accepts riders of any discipline while dressage is her main focus, shes not afraid to mix it up a bit.
I have a ton of people who come to me with their trail horses and western pleasure horses, all kinds of different types that say, Oh, I cant get my horse to move his shoulders over, or Hes really stiff on one side or He wont slow down and collect, she says. A lot of times I have people come to me with those kind of things, and unlike your typical image of a dressage trainer, Im really willing to throw a western saddle on and ride, if they want me to do that.
Van Dyke helps out on the local horse scene, too, coaching a high school equestrian team and serving as a 4-H leader. Ive tried to give back what was given to me; thats important to me.
While Van Dyke wants to compete on the international dressage circuitwhich is something she has done a little of in the pastshe says that the Olympics are not necessarily part of that dream.
A lot of people have asked me, Are you an Olympic hopeful? Not necessarily. The Olympics are awfully political and difficult to get into, she says. I do want to compete more internationally. It really depends on what horse you have. The horse I ride now is really competitive on a national level, and Im enjoying that right now. In the future, if I can do a little bit more with him, do a little bit of international stuff, that would be great.
But overall, she says that she will remain focused on her business for the foreseeable future.
(Competing) pulls you away from your clientele a lot, and thats honestly where my heart is. I love competing, always have, but I love teaching and training more, she says. I really enjoy seeing the progress; it just makes me really come alive. I want to produce top, top horses and I want to produce really well educated, happy riders in good combinations. Thats kind of my end goal.
For more information, visit www.betsyvandyke.com