August 2019 - Dressage News & Views
Written by by Nan Meek
Friday, 02 August 2019 01:43

dressage news

On with the show!

by Nan Meek

There’s a dressage show almost every weekend within reasonable driving distance of the little patch of paradise I call home, most of them organized by either a professional show manager or a commercial equestrian center.

These days, most of those dressage shows are “three-star,” meaning they are recognized by CDS, USDF, and USEF (officially, California Dressage Society, United States Dressage Federation, and United States Equestrian Federation). A few of them are “one-star” shows, recognized only by CDS.

Back in the mists of time, when the art and sport of dressage was just putting down roots in California 50-plus years ago, dressage shows were organized, funded, staffed, and managed by individuals united by the goal of advancing dressage in California, and later, after the founding of CDS, by individual CDS chapters and their members with the same goal in mind.

Today, almost every CDS chapter has an annual show, as does CDS itself. The CDS Championship Show, which is held concurrently with the USDF Region 7 Dressage Championships, is celebrating its 52nd year on September 19-22 at the Murieta Equestrian Center.

Chapter Traditions

When it comes to annual CDS chapter shows, the San Francisco Peninsula Chapter’s is among the oldest and best. I’ll admit to a little bit of bias about the special nature of this show, as I’ve been a SFP Chapter member and volunteer since the late 1970s, except for the decade I lived in the North Bay and belonged to the Sonoma Chapter.

Here’s what I think sets the SFP Annual Show apart:

For members, by members: As I write this, the SFP chapter board and volunteers are in final preparation mode for the three-star SFP 49th Annual Show on July 19 and 20 at The Horse Park at Woodside. Unlike many large chapter shows, ours is organized, funded, staffed, and managed completely by volunteers. While our chapter experimented with professional management a couple of times, there’s a core group of members who take pride in producing a great show for our members, by our members.

Trophy treasure: The SFP Annual Show has a long history of celebrated participants whose names are inscribed on a remarkable collection of distinctive perpetual trophies donated by, and in honor of, a who’s who of California dressage. For many years, those trophies went home with the happy winners to take pride of place in their homes.

Through the years, however, trophy winners increasingly reported that the responsibility for caring for and returning these valuable trophies had become more of a burden than a joy, so this year trophy winners are being gifted with a framed photo of their trophy presentation.

These are just a few of the many remarkable perpetual trophies in the SFP collection. The biggest prize is that funds raised from the SFP Annual Show support educational activities for the chapter.

It’s a homecoming: Because so many dressage riders and trainers had their roots in the San Francisco peninsula and eventually moved elsewhere, many return year after year to the SFP Annual Show. Meeting up with old friends, meeting the friends of friends, and creating new friendships by bonding over shared show experiences creates memorable bonds that are nurtured over time. In 49 years, you can create a lot of treasured friendships, and that makes coming back to the SFP Annual Show like coming home.

Tough Enough for Dressage

Are you tough enough to run a dressage show? In your spare time, between work, family, your own horses, and the unexpected life challenges everyone encounters from time to time? It’s a tough gig.

Even the best shows are not immune to the ups and downs, soap operas, and cautionary tales that are part and parcel of horse showing. Some of the challenges the SFP show has had to overcome cast a spotlight on issues that are relevant to horse shows everywhere:

Show dates and venues: The 100-mile rule, designed to protect existing shows from competition by another show within 100 miles, proved a stumbling block when combined with the limited availability of good venues. After having the same show dates for decades, then losing them due to what amounted to a clerical error, our chapter struggled to match currently available show dates with available and appropriate venues. After putting the show on hiatus for a couple of years, a winning match-up of show dates and venue were finally worked out, and the SFP Annual Show returned this year.

Riders and volunteers: Despite competing with other shows for riders and volunteers, the SFP 49th Annual Show filled two rings for two long show days, and volunteers stepped up to fill the many jobs required to run a successful show. Some of those volunteers are longtime equestrians like my neighbors and me, who have “equus” in our DNA, but there are many others who have come to horses and dressage more recently: young riders from city and suburban backgrounds who nonetheless fell in love with horses, returning riders who left horses for college and career but are now returning as they have more time and financial resources, and beginning adult riders who dreamed of horses as children and only now are able to make their dreams come true.

Costs and sponsors: Like everything else in life, it seems, dressage shows keep growing more costly to produce and attend. Organization fees and requirements increase, as do venue and other expenses, and together they make up the equation that determines the cost of showing for riders and trainers. Volunteer show management and staffing helps reduce some costs, and sponsors help support shows through financial and in-kind donations, which makes a big difference to a show’s bottom line. What the SFP Annual Show saves through volunteer labor and show management gets passed along to members in chapter financial support for educational activities.

By the time you read this, the SFP 49th Annual Show will be over and our volunteer board and members will have set our sights on the big 50th Annual Show in 2020. On with the show!

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.