Linda was interviewed by Emily Covington in 1999. Our questions, and her answers, are presented below.
Background: Equerry is proud to present an interview with Linda Zang. She is currently one of only two "O" FEI dressage judges in this country, the other being Axel Steiner. Linda Zang of Idlewilde Farm in Davidsonville, Maryland, has represented the United States as a dressage competitor at the 1978 World Championships, the 1979 Pan-American Games and the 1980 Alternate Olympics at Goodwood, England. She has been an FEI judge since 1985 and judged the dressage event at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.
Equerry: When did you begin riding?
Linda Zang: I started riding ponies when I was five years old. From that point on, I tried practically every type of riding starting with Western, then Hunters, Pony Club, Eventing, Open Jumping. I really started dressage when I was in my early twenties.
Equerry: Was your involvement in an organization such as Pony Club helpful towards your goals?
Linda Zang: I traveled and competed throughout the United States and Canada in competitions. Pony Club is one of the finest international organizations I have come in contact with. It helps promote better horse care and riding basics. My experience as part of the Pony Club has given me the opportunity to meet people with the same love of the horse, as well as the opportunity to learn, travel and excel. I started to ride dressage because of Pony Club and became more interested when I went to Europe and trained in Sweden in 1968.
Equerry: Who were your early mentors?
Linda Zang: My first concentrated work was with Mr. E. Schmidt-Jensen in Ireland who trained at the Spanish Riding School. I spent three months of intensive training with long-reining horses up to Grand Prix Level. When I went to Sweden in 1968, I lived in Stromsholm which was a Cavalry School. During this time, I was able to work with and watch some of the top military trainers of the time, including Major Wikne, Bill Hamilton, Gunnell Persson, Gustaf Nyblaus, and Henri Charmartin. After two years, I moved to the southern part of Sweden and trained solely with Yngve Viebka, the head trainer of Flyinge [the Swedish National Stud]. Viebka trained Gaspari, Piaff, Leonard and many top competition horses. I stayed with Viebka for two years and returned home and trained with Col. Bengt Ljungquist until his untimely death in 1979. Of the modern trainers I have worked with, my favorite was Herbert Rehbein at Gronwohldhof in Germany.
Equerry: Are there other activities that you enjoy outside of horses?
Linda Zang: I enjoy sailing, skiing, fishing, tennis - actually, every sports activity you can think of.
Equerry: Of your career successes, which are particular highlights for you?
Linda Zang: I really enjoyed competing in Europe before coming back to America in the 70's. Of course, the alternate Olympics in 1980 and the trials leading up to that selection were very exciting. Prior to the FEI Freestyle competitions, I very much enjoyed doing "the Adagio" in exhibition with a dancer to music in the early 80's. Judging my first World Cup Final in the early 90's was a real thrill. I have done three more since but judging the Olympics in Atlanta, representing my home country, was the greatest thrill of all!
Equerry: Is there a particular horse that remains special to you?
Linda Zang: Fellow Traveller was my most favored horse. I purchased him as a two year old in Sweden and he went through all the levels up to and including making the U.S. Pan American and Olympic Teams.
Equerry: As one of only two "O" FEI dressage judges in this country, you have seen the whole range of levels. What do you think is one of the most overlooked training concepts or principles today in this country?
Linda Zang: I don't really think there is one single overlooked training concept. Training the horse is a combination of many things.
Equerry: What encourages you most about American riders today?
Linda Zang: I think we have made great strides forward in the quality of our horses, in the training and trainers, and in the abilities of our riders.
Equerry: What are some qualities you would like to see American riders develop compared with Europeans?
Linda Zang: The best European riders, such as Isabel Werth, Louise Nathhorst and Anky van Grunsven among others, ride with extreme precision in a test. They show every transition to enhance the movement before and after, therefore getting better scores than their competitors.
Equerry: Do you prefer one breed over another for dressage?
Linda Zang: No, I don't think that any one breed has a monopoly. I believe a well-made, athletic horse of most breeds can be a suitable dressage horse. Disposition, gaits, and adaptability in any horse are more important than whether or not the horse is a specific breed.
Equerry: You were mentioned as stating in a recent magazine article that each judge may be firm on different issues, though all are judging on the same basic FEI principles. Which issues are you firm on? What would you really like to see when a horse and rider come down center line?
Linda Zang: The biggest issue for me is that the horse ought to be ridden from the leg to the hands instead of from the hands back to the rider's position. Nothing bothers me more than a test where the horse appears forced into a frame instead of a light, harmonious horse going forward from behind and listening to the rider as a partner. I am also really tired of seeing horses in a test that are scared to death and frantic!
Equerry: In that same article, you wrote that a rider usually improves when he/she learns to relax and gains confidence in the showing. Aside from getting more experience, do you have any ideas on what avenues a rider can explore to gain confidence?
Linda Zang: Practice makes perfect, and practice with a good coach makes it even more perfect.
Equerry: What advice would you give to someone aspiring to ride and now judge at the levels you have achieved?
Linda Zang: Try to learn something from everyone you come in contact with. Continue to focus strongly on where you are going and who you intend to be in both good times and bad times. Work hard and never stop the process of critical self-evaluation.
Equerry: What is the greatest reward from the work that you do?
Linda Zang: There are several things: (1) The opportunity to meet and spend time with the many wonderful people throughout the world who are associated with the various aspects of the sport of dressage, (2) The chance to work with and judge so many good horses, (3) In my current position as an FEI judge, I am able to help and encourage people from all over the world as they make their dressage horses better.
As a final comment, I worked very hard last year as an organizer of the North American Championships held in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. Our goals for the show were to provide an International experience for the North American riders, to interest new people in the sport of dressage and to bring some significant corporate sponsorship to our sport. If our sport is to grow and prosper, we must make it more accessible, understandable and entertaining to the millions of people in this country who love horses. It is only by reaching out and expanding interest in our sport that we can hope to obtain the type of financial support that our sport needs as we go into the 21st century. Perhaps some of the visitors to Equerry might wish to share their thoughts either on this or on other things we have discussed.
Equerry: Thank you very much, Linda Zang.
Linda Zang: Thank you for having me as your guest.
Emily Covington was employed at Hilltop Farm, Inc. in Colora, MD from 1992 through 1997. Starting as a working student, she later served as assistant stable manager, and rode young horses, including her own. She has produced a variety of photography and artwork for the farms publications. She now lives in Redlands, CA where she continues to ride and does various freelance work for Hilltop.
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