Two days of “college level” horsemanship make CDS’ 50th anniversary golden.
photos & article by Kim F. Miller
High winds, heavy rains and flash floods could not stop intrepid California Dressage Society members from celebrating the organization’s 50th birthday. At the annual meeting and symposium Jan. 19-22 in San Diego, representatives of the association’s approximately 3,500 members gathered Friday to discuss business matters among its 30 chapters and to swap ideas for fulfilling CDS’ main mission, education, and the fundraising that facilitates that.
Events then moved to the Del Mar Arena for riding demonstrations coached by four of California’s finest: Hilda Gurney, Steffen Peters, Christine Traurig and Charlotte Bredahl. Remarkably, all California-based riders are U.S. Olympic dressage medalists. That reality is perhaps taken for granted in our area, but the value of these horsemen’s influence was evidenced anew in two days of highest-quality instruction. “We talk about sending our horses to school,” Steffen said at one point. “We need to send them to college.”
I’m confident of speaking for all in attendance in describing the sessions as college level, indeed, but delivered by down-to-earth professors. Steffen, Hilda, Christine and Charlotte conveyed their ideas, advice and experience in relatable ways, sending everyone home with oodles to work on. Above all, it was inspiring and a bargain at many times the price of admission. No matter what kind of horse we have or abilities we possess, paths to improvement were given in everything from specific movements to overall quality in our riding and enjoyment of our partnerships.
Happily for those who didn’t brave the dicey weather, DressageClinic.com was the Symposium’s presenting sponsor and filmed every session.
As the Symposium’s title sponsor, Adequan® supplied generous giveaways and a well-attended presentation illustrating the FDA-approved product’s unique ability to diminish and reverse the destructive process of degenerative joint diseases and improve joint health.
Saturday evening’s award banquet was held in heated tents alongside the Del Mar Arena. Entertainment juxtaposed the wild Riata Ranch Cowboy Girls trick riders with two pas de deux performances. Amateur Grand Prix rider Adrienne Bessey and pro Jodie Cressman donned Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed costumes aboard the pure white Wintersnow and nearly-black Upendo for a fun routine, while the chrome-trimmed chestnut twins Bailarino and Aventis did a star turn for Steffen and Dawn White O’Connor as the evening’s finale performance. Demonstration breaks throughout the weekend were filled with shopping in the vendor area and bidding on silent auction items. These ranged from baskets assembled by CDS chapters to two sets of tickets to the World Cup Finals in Omaha next month. The most popular items were the three dressage saddles donated by Custom Saddlery, Trilogy and Schleese and given to three very happy winners of the raffle drawing on Sunday afternoon.
The riding sessions were broken up into four topics. As U.S. Assistant Youth Coach, Charlotte worked with Gabriela Glumac and her Dutch Warmblood mare Zodessa, and with Ashlyn DeGroot and another Dutch Warmblood, Dalina DG, from her family’s DG Bar Ranch.
As the USEF’s Young Horse coach, Christine worked with two accomplished young horses and their riders. Craig Stanley rode the homebred Dutch Warmblood, Habenero CWS, a 2012 KWPN by Caliente DG and the 2016 Markel/USEF FEI Young Horse Dressage National 4-Year-Old Champion. Anna Wood rode the 4-year-old Oldenburg gelding Hotshot AF, by Hotline.
Hilda Gurney, a CDS founder in 1967, offered her judge’s perspective on Saturday working with Adrienne and Wintersnow, bred by Hilda and now owned by Hilda and Adrienne, and Jodie Cressman, riding Gina Alton-Thomas’ Upendo. Wintersnow is a veteran Grand Prix horse and Upendo is new to that level.
Closing Saturday’s demonstrations, Steffen coached his longtime working student Dawn White O’Connor, now a professional, and Legolas 92, his Rio Olympic partner. With the blessing of owner Akiko Yamazaki, Dawn recently took over the ride on Legolas. Then, Steffen returned on Rosamunde, a 10 year old Rheinlander, also owned by Akiko’s Four Winds Farm. He commentated as he schooled “Rosie,” with whom he has earned nine international Grand Prix wins.
Describing close to 14 hours of demonstrations exceeds our space and deadline restrictions (and perhaps my regular rider capabilities, too!), but almost everything boiled down to clear communication of aids, educating the horse to understand what was expected of each aid and developing and insisting on sensitivity to those aids.
On Sunday, Saturday’s demonstration riders returned to ride in front of all four presenters. Elements from appropriate tests for each horse were ridden, Hilda shared how she would score them from the judge’s booth and Steffen, Christine and Charlotte offered their advice to each rider. While there was much common ground in their perspectives, each presenter usually had their own extra something to add. As I said earlier, it was indeed a college level course!
What stood out most for me were the tangible results of some of Steffen’s advice. For example, he adored the flexible rein contact, honest responses and obedience of young rider Gabriela Glumac’s 12 year old KWPN Zodessa, but he felt the mare had even more to offer. He asked Gabby to reposition her leg, moving the knee back slightly and straightening its angle, opening her hip more, lengthening the leg and dropping the heel down. The new position looked better, but more importantly, it was more effective. In collected trot, half-pass and pirouettes, the goal was more suspension and general brilliance and the new leg position better enabled Gaby to communicate the level of effort desired in each movement.
As with all riders, Steffen encouraged Gabby to experiment with a cluck or the lightest leg pressure possible. If the response was not sufficient then progress to more pressure, including the spur, if needed.
On several occasions, riders were asked to be emphatic with their go-forward leg aids. If a horse sputtered out in any collected movement, they were strongly urged forward – often galloping out of the movement, with the rider told to praise the horse immediately for responding. That makes it clear to the horse what is desired from the go-forward leg cue, and once it’s understood and reinforced with daily work, a subtle cue should work.
All of the presenters favored short, quick reminders to the horse during the education process. They encouraged short sessions with frequent breaks to give the horse’s mind and muscles time to absorb or recover from the work.
Way too much good stuff to convey here, so go to dressageclinic.com and check it all out.
There were many common themes during Friday’s meeting of various CDS chapters. The long-standing concern about not enough young people coming into dressage was revisited. The Pomona chapter shared good success, on two levels, with working with their local pony club. The chapter paid the club a modest fee to buy and provide lunch for their shows and clinics, easily taking care of that part of the event and, hopefully, hooking a few young equestrians on the discipline.
There was an interesting discussion about how “dressage can be its own worse enemy” when it comes to attracting youngsters. Like it or not, most of today’s youth sports reward participation over talent. Getting a low score and critical judge’s notes on a test can discourage kids and their bill-paying parents, making the first, second, third, etc. placings of other disciplines more appealing. There was no consensus as to whether the results of dressage competition should be changed to attract more kids.
Several chapters said that incorporating western dressage and cowboy dressage classes into their shows, and welcoming those rider as members, had helped increase their show attendance and membership. In many parts of the state, it’s getting harder to find affordable show venues for chapter shows. Some chapters have stopped hosting shows altogether, focusing all their efforts on educational events.
Dwindling volunteerism was another common challenge. Programs that trade hours for “show bucks” or clinic fees were effective remedies in some areas.
Thanks to the California Dressage Society for this terrific weekend that embodied its mission of these last 50 years: education. Here’s to 50 more!