January 2020 - Dressage News & Views
Written by by Nan Meek
Wednesday, 01 January 2020 00:21
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dressage news

More juniors & “senior support,” one-star shows, team USA pathways & education are among top focuses for 2020.

by Nan Meek

If 2020 lives up to its name, this should be a great year to see a clear vision of where the dressage world is heading and what’s needed to get there. For a unique perspective, I asked Ellen Corob, President of the California Dressage Society and a longtime dressage trainer and competitor, for her thoughts on the top five issues facing the West Coast dressage community.

Juniors Wanted

“We’re all getting older,” Ellen said with both humor and irony, “and we need to get more kids involved in dressage. We need it for the future of dressage!”

It’s always been a challenge to interest younger riders in dressage. How many pre-teens or teens do you know who like to practice precision, whether that is 20-meter circles or half pirouettes? Ask pony clubbers about their favorite part of riding and approximately 99.9% of the time you’ll hear “jumping” or “galloping cross-country.” Appreciation for an adrenaline rush is almost universal with this age group.

There are exceptions, of course. At a dinner for the riders in a Laura Graves clinic put on in 2017 by the San Francisco Peninsula CDS Chapter, I shared a table with clinic riders and good friends Miki Yang and Lucie Bacon, who were 12 and 13 at the time. They had already been riding for years and their conversation about the ups and downs of clinics, training and competing was virtually identical to similar conversations I’ve had with adult dressage riders. They were dedicated! Two years later, at the 2019 U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions, Lucie won the USEF Pony Rider Dressage National Championship and Miki took Reserve.

What draws a child to dressage instead of another equestrian discipline? Maybe it’s a good fit between personality and discipline. Maybe it’s the right opportunity, or the right horse, or the right trainer. Maybe it’s having friends who “do dressage.” Maybe it’s making dressage fun and rewarding.

Ellen gave some examples: the junior high score of the day awards at her shows, because who doesn’t like winning? CDS offers Junior/Young Rider Clinics and Junior/Young Rider Championships in both northern and southern locations, as well as Club 100 scholarships to help juniors and young riders afford training and competition.

Any barn, or trainer, or dressage organization – small or large – can offer fun and friendships, opportunities and awards, all of which make dressage more attractive to riders of any age, and especially the younger riders who will be the stars, volunteers, trainers, sponsors, and grassroots of dressage sport in the future.

CDS president Ellen Corob & newly appointed USDF vice president Kevin Reinig. Photo: Kim F. Miller

Senior Support

No, “senior support” is not a new piece of tack to keep seniors in the saddle – it’s a perspective Ellen described in discussing the need to recognize and support the senior riders: “They are helping to keep the sport going, especially the adult amateurs.”

Add up the value of the horses and equipment they buy, the lessons they take, and the training they pay for, not to mention the shows they support, both financially through entries and sponsorship, and organizationally through volunteerism, and it’s crystal clear that without adult amateurs, the sport would be in danger of collapse.

It’s true that media loves the international stars, both horses and riders, and stories about big name trainers. They are everywhere in the media: print, online, streaming, and even sometimes on television, more often on European TV than in the U.S.  It’s also true that for every Charlotte Dujardin, there are thousands of adult amateurs riding, taking lessons, going to clinics and shows, and never getting their names, much less their photos, in any media other than their own social media. Where, it must be said, they are not a community to be discounted.

One example Ellen gave is what she calls the “Triple O” awards she started giving at her shows. “The ‘Triple O’ stands for Old, Older, and Oldest; ages 50 to 59, 60 to 69, and 70+, respectively,” she explained. “We give a cool rider’s sash for each ‘O’ and the riders love them!”

I can think of a lot of riders in those age categories who would love to win such sashes. It’s not uncommon to see riders in their 50s, 60s, and 70s have as much fun, work as hard, and be as competitive as riders half or one third their age. Personally, I have to say that I enjoy my horses and dressage experiences more with every year that goes by, and I know I’m not alone.

One-Star Shows

“One-star shows are a great place for riders to get their feet wet,” Ellen said about shows which are recognized only by CDS (not by USDF and USEF) and thus are less expensive for show managers, riders, and horse owners. “CDS one-star shows are a little less formal, less intimidating, and less expensive, and they provide a bridge between local schooling shows and the three-star shows that are CDS/USDF/USEF recognized.”

One-star shows were declining in popularity as three-star shows and their extensive awards programs gained ground with dressage riders and trainers. CDS has been changing all that, with numerous new programs that complement longtime CDS award programs. Now, riders can earn awards for themselves and their horses from this truly impressive array of programs offered at CDS one-star shows as well as at the three-stars:

CDS GEM Awards recognize rider accomplishments with award pins that are similar to the USDF rider medals. Riders can earn the Ruby GEM pin for qualifying scores at Training, First, and Second Levels, the Sapphire GEM pin at Third and Fourth Levels, and the Diamond GEM pin at the FEI levels of Prix St Georges, Intermediaire, and Grand Prix.

CDS Horse Performance Awards recognize horse accomplishments through qualifying scores a horse achieves over time. Available at every level from Training through Grand Prix, scores need not be earned in a single year or with a single rider. For example, a horse could earn qualifying scores at one level with one rider and at another level with a different rider, either in one year or over multiple years. Another example: a horse could earn qualifying scores at one level with several riders, over several years. The combinations are endless, but these awards truly recognize the horse’s accomplishments.

CDS Certificates and Plates reward riders for qualifying scores earned in a single show season, and are available at every level from Introductory C Level through Grand Prix.

CDS Pony Award recognizes ponies with a special ribbon for the highest scoring pony at CDS-recognized shows. CDS also offers a year-end award for the overall highest scoring pony at Training Level and above.

CDS Sport Horse Breed Award Program rewards breeders whose horses compete in CDS-recognized sport horse shows, where they earn points and placings at individual shows. CDS year-end Championship and Reserve Champion awards are presented to the top Mare/Filly and Stallion/Gelding.

Riders can qualify at one-star shows for the CDS Championships (which alternate annually between northern and southern locations), the RAAC (Regional Adult Amateur Competition held in northern, southern, and central locations annually), and Junior Championships (held in northern and southern locations annually), just as they can at three-star shows.

Details about these programs, along with other information about shows, clinics, scholarships, and more are available at https://www.california-dressage.org/.

CDS GEM award recipients at the Annual Meeting in 2019. Photo: Kim F. Miller

Educational Events

California and the West Coast are the envy of many other regions when it comes to education, from the variety of local trainers in many locations, to the clinics and symposiums which draw participants and auditors from near and far.

“CDS chapters do some pretty good educational events,” Ellen complemented these volunteer-organized productions, “and this year, for example, at the CDS 2020 Annual Meeting, there’s the Freestyle Symposium.”

The CDS Freestyle Symposium (January 12 at Murieta Equestrian Center, Rancho Murieta) combines the expertise of renowned dressage judge Janet Foy and longtime freestyle designer Terri Ciotti Gallo, who will work with freestyle demonstration horses and riders of all levels at the Murieta Equestrian Center. Auditors will learn about what makes a good freestyle, and how to make a good freestyle great, as they observe the demonstration riders working with the experts. More info at https://www.california-dressage.org/

Local CDS chapters are getting on the bandwagon with musical freestyles, as well. The San Francisco Peninsula CDS Chapter is putting on a freestyle clinic (February 22-23 at NCEFT, Woodside) with freestyle designer, FEI trainer, and professional musician Melanie Michalak. Auditors and riders alike will learn how to make their freestyles sing as they discover the difference between riding a test to music and riding a true freestyle. More info at http://www.sfpcds.org/news/#freestyle-clinic-melanie-michalak

“Freestyles are a lot of fun,” endorsed Ellen, who has developed a Grand Prix freestyle for her warmblood mare Deynika, who she bred, raised and trained up the levels. The growing number of freestyles appearing at dressage shows are an indication that other riders agree with Ellen.

She also points to the CDS Adult Amateur and Junior/Young Rider Clinics, which bring top-level instructions to riders from local CDS chapters. The 2020 CDS Adult Amateur Clinic is being held at northern, southern, and central locations with California-based international competitor and always in demand instructor Kathleen Raine, while the Junior/Young Rider Clinics will take place in northern and southern venues with accomplished young professional Stephanie Schauer. More info at https://www.california-dressage.org/

Riders and trainers are not the only beneficiaries of educational events, Ellen emphasized. “Some of our chapters have held scribing clinics, which helps educate the volunteers we need to put on shows.” In addition, some chapters have held judge training program sessions, trailer safety clinics, and equine health clinics, among others, which elevate equestrian education overall.

Way Out West

With the national governing bodies – the United States Dressage Federation (USDF) and the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) – located in Kentucky, California and the West Coast often seem to take a back seat to the East Coast when it comes to national competition and training.

West Coast competitors have to travel to Chicago, New Jersey, or Kentucky for national finals shows, which makes it financially and logistically difficult for many deserving and highly qualified competitors  to compete at the highest national level.

International (FEI) competitors have to travel to Florida for the really big CDI (Concours Dressage Internationale) competitions, which makes the leap from national level “big tour” competition to the Florida CDIs more like a high jump for California-based dressage riders. For West Coast trainers and riders who want (need) to be in the eye of those who select U.S. teams, who spend the winter at Florida competitions, it means leaving most if not all of their clients behind for one to three months at a time, thereby reducing income while incurring the significant expense of travel and living away from home.

While California has a wealth of long-established dressage tradition, education, and competition, and it does have CDIs in both northern and southern regions, the power of governance, national finals, and team selection are firmly entrenched “back east.”

It’s not all doom and gloom, however. U.S. team selectors regularly travel west for observation clinics and attendance at a small number of shows. Given the number of talented and (despite the challenges) highly decorated U.S. team members, they would not be wise to ignore the talent pool in California, and they know that. It’s not the same as being under their eyes all the time as during the Winter Equestrian Festival in Florida, but it’s better than it used to be.

California’s representation at USDF just doubled, with the election of former CDS President Kevin Reinig as USDF Vice President, where he joins another former CDS President, Carol Tice, who was reelected as Region 7 Director. Changing one’s oversight from CDS with its local, albeit highly visible and active, focus to USDF with its national and more diverse governance responsibilities is a big step, but experience in California’s dressage world just might be the best preparation.

No stranger to controversy, California has its share of challenges – witness the rocky road some southern California CDIs have traveled. With the failure of several CDIs, in Las Vegas, Del Mar, and Temecula, to maintain momentum under professional management, two CDI dates – March 5-8 and November 12-15 – are now being organized by an all-volunteer group, Pacific Coast CDI, spearheaded by Barbara Biernat and aided by hired show management Debra Reinhardt of Centerline Events. Their goal to revitalize West Coast CDIs with a smaller, financially sustainable CDI offering will be set at the idyllic El Campeon Farms, in Hidden Valley 45 minutes north of Los Angeles.

With the support of the West Coast dressage community, there’s hope that this time, more sustainable CDIs will help the top end of the sport succeed as well as the education and competition efforts of CDS have done for local and national-level competition.

A lifelong horse owner, Nan Meek lives on the scenic San Mateo County coast where dressage courts and riding trails overlook the Pacific Ocean. She competed in dressage to the Prix St. Georges level with her late beloved Lipizzan Andy (Maestoso II Athena II-1), and now practices the discipline of dressage with her handsome Spanish warmblood Helio Jerez 2000 and dotes on the newest family member Mischa (Neapolitano Angelica II-1). Yes, dressage is embedded in her DNA.