October 2019 - Dressage News & Views
Written by by Nan Meek
Tuesday, 01 October 2019 02:46

dressage news

Volunteer Road Trip: 16,000 steps, worn-out socks, and even more fun than expected at California Dressage Society Championships.

by Nan Meek

“Let’s volunteer at Championships!” said the text message from my friend. Why not, I thought. We weren’t showing this year, so we wouldn’t be competing. And we both know how much volunteers are needed, difficult to get, and even more difficult for a show to run without – especially a championship show.

The Great American/United States Dressage Federation Region 7 & California Dressage Society Championship Show (aka “Championships”) was held this year on Sept. 19-22 at the Murieta Equestrian Center near Sacramento, a two and a quarter hour drive away.

What could be easier than driving only ourselves, without horses, tack, feed, bedding, clothes for ourselves and our horses, and enough other show paraphernalia to fill up a large horse trailer and crew cab pickup truck? Instead of packing and transporting all that is needed to actually compete at a show, all we needed was some sunscreen, a shady hat, and sturdy footwear. As it turned out, the footwear was key, but more on that later.

A quick email to Carol Tice, the former longtime CDS Board Director who now serves as USDF Region 7 Director, and who expertly coordinated the myriad volunteers needed for this four-day show with five competition rings.

“Put us wherever you need us,” we said, knowing that last-minute volunteers such as ourselves could fill in the holes in the volunteer schedules. “Great!” she replied, and a great experience it was.

Early Morning Start

Friday, Sept. 20, rendezvous 5:30 am: dark but not foggy, a good thing when driving up coast-hugging Highway One, where visibility can be only as far as your windshield wipers on especially foggy mornings. We were a bit ahead of morning commute traffic, also a good thing when negotiating half-awake drivers on auto-pilot at the end of the work week.

Then traffic jammed up heading into Sacramento, an hour and a half into our drive.  Happily, it didn’t last too long, but it did make us a few minutes late arriving at the show. Once at the volunteer tent, we signed in and split up to get cracking on our duties.

Among other things, part of my morning was spent substituting as a ring steward for Beth Coffey-Curle, a CDS Board Director with a commanding and knowledgeable presence armed with clipboard and walkie-talkie in hand. But she was needed for awards presentations, so she gave me the 411 on how she ran the rings and left me with the clipboard and walkie-talkie to direct traffic from the warm-up ring to the competition court, and make sure that everyone arrived at the right place at the right time.

I’m happy to report that all went smoothly, and nary a rider was lost or late. Throughout the morning, I got to see some gorgeous horses, chat with old friends who I generally see only at shows or on Facebook, and sneak a peek at some of the vendors who were located near the ring I was stewarding. It’s a good thing I was busy working, because the shopping was so phenomenal that I could have shopped myself into serious trouble very quickly. Tack, apparel, jewelry … oh my! Sadly for them but happily for my budget, my horses didn’t receive a single souvenir from Championships.

Step by Step

After lunch, I just had time to watch a friend’s fourth level freestyle in the main arena, and then I was off to the farthest competition arena, ring five, to “run tests.” Although that might sound like something scientific, it’s the farthest thing from it, although it is essential.

The test runner picks up the completed paper test from the judge’s box and walks it (no running allowed: no spooking the horses) to the collection point, from which another “runner” delivers it, along with tests from the other rings, to the scoring office where the judges’ scores are tallied and double checked, classes are placed, and then scores and placings are posted to a bulletin board. That’s the volunteer role my friend was assigned.

Of all the volunteer jobs at the show, running tests was the perfect job for me. I’ve been trying to get my 10,000 steps a day, but considering that I work at a computer for much of the day, that’s often a challenge. Not so on this day, however. By the end of the day, my phone app had registered more than 16,000 steps and my feet were only slightly sore, thanks to good boots and good footing.

In addition to over-achieving in the steps department, I got to enjoy equine eye candy all afternoon. From young horses shown by top professionals, to darling ponies and senior schoolmasters ridden by young girls who clearly adored them, and from baroque breeds to warmbloods, I witnessed the wide variety of horses and riders that paint the palette of dressage in California.

That’s what I love about dressage: You can be any age and ability level, ride any kind of horse, be an amateur or professional, live in a city or out in the middle of nowhere, and you can still “do dressage.” Even better, you can choose to enjoy dressage as a perpetual student who never steps hoof into a show ring, or you can set your sights on moving up the levels and racking up awards. There’s a place for everyone in this sport.

A Hole in the Story

Back to the footwear mentioned earlier – that’s the hole in this story. As we prepared to drive home, my friend took off her shoes to relax and wiggle her toes, only to exclaim, “Look! I walked so many steps I wore a hole in my socks!” We laughed until we cried. I can’t say why – it really wasn’t all that funny – but laughter was the perfect way to end the day. And the drive home was filled with stories of who we’d seen, what their horses had done, and how we’re going to try to qualify for next year’s championships ourselves.

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.