The Prancing Professor: Glynda Hull and Her Dressage Horse, Celeste

Glynda Hull grew up in rural Mississippi and started riding with her father when she was 7. It was then that she began her Annie Oakley phase—which she never quite grew out of. She put riding on hold during graduate school, but started up again in the early 1990s, and soon began riding competitively.

Despite her Western-leaning roots, Hull has ridden in the classical disciplines of jumping and dressage. The term dressage is French for “training,” and in competition highly trained horse and rider teams perform incredibly complex maneuvers with the least signaling possible.

Hull came in second in the state in beginning dressage, competed for several years at the high-level Prix St. Georges, then eventually ranked seventh in the nation among amateurs. This was all performed with her horse Lily, a Hanoverian she brought over many years ago from Germany (a mecca for dressage horses, according to Hull).

Hull particularly loves musical freestyle performances—the horse performs the required movements for a particular dressage level to music that suits the horse’s temperament and gaits. In a regional championship, Hull and Lily rode to music from All That Jazz, and garnered first place.

Lily was 4 when Hull got her, but at 23, is now retired—so Hull’s current focus is to prepare another horse to compete, which has proven more difficult than she imagined.

“Interestingly, after a whole lifetime of riding, I thought I knew a lot about horses and dressage—until, that is, I got my new horse, Celeste,” Hull says. The new challenges her presents include medical problems, such as ulcers and pneumonia, and also a nervous personality. Hull says she has to give Celeste confidence and watch out for the horse’s leaps when startled.

“Riding is inherently dangerous. There’s an old cowboy saying that ‘there’s not a horse that can’t be rode or a rider that can’t be throwed.’ This is true! I had many spills when I competed at jumping,” Hull says. “Celeste is a little mercurial, though I’ve never come off her, touch wood.”

Despite the challenges, she’s gotten to know Celeste better than any other horse she’s ridden, “and with that knowledge and intimacy comes a connection that is hard to describe,” Hull says. “Sometimes when I’m riding her I have only to think what I’d like her to do, and through the most imperceptible of physical cues, she responds.”

Hull, a professor at Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education, says that teaching and dressage make her feel alive in a similar way—in both activities, she’s performing and interacting with the minds of others. Dressage doesn’t just engage the physical aspects of a person, Hull says, but also the intellectual, aesthetic, and emotional.

This fall, Hull is excited to ride with Charles DeKunffy, an internationally revered dressage instructor, and aims to enter more local shows next spring.

— Krissy Eliot
Filed under: Human Behavior
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