February 2020 - Dressage News & Views
Written by by Nan Meek
Saturday, 01 February 2020 19:36

dressage news

Meetings, Musical Freestyles, and More at the CDS Annual Meeting and Symposium.

by Nan Meek

Convening just blocks from the state capitol, on the riverfront in downtown Sacramento, the CDS Annual Meeting could not have been more perfectly located to highlight the importance of governance as directors, chapter chairs, and dedicated members met on Friday, January 10, for executive board and committee meetings, and on Saturday, January 11, for the CDS Annual Meeting.


Saturday night saw the dressage community dressed to out-bling each other for the gala awards dinner and the wild – and wildly popular – “chapter jog” in which chapters danced, strutted, vogued, and generally competed to outdo each other as dance music filled the room.


The highlights? Sonoma Chapter member and trainer Erika Jansson’s fashion show catwalk skills and the Santa Cruz chapter’s surprise appearance of animal-masked dancers clad in formal shadbellies, otherwise known as trainer, judge, and physical therapist Anne Howard along with her boyfriend Erik Simpson.

CDS Annual Meeting

On Sunday, the dress code shifted 180 degrees to layers of polar fleece and down to outsmart the freezing temperature at the Murieta Equestrian Center for the Musical Freestyle Symposium. Nine hardy riders brought out horses young and older to work with FEI 5* judge and USEF “S” Dressage Judge Janet Lee Foy and founder of Klassic Kur musical freestyle designer Terry Ciotti Gallo.

Concurrent with the CDS events, United States Dressage Federation continuing education in judging freestyles was held at an all-day classroom session on Saturday, with judges and judge candidates attending the Musical Freestyle Symposium on Sunday for continuing education about the technical and artistic requirements and execution in freestyles, and practice in judging.

It was a weekend filled with forward-looking governance, in-depth education, and interesting conversations with friends, old and new. In a surprising “small world” moment, I met a chapter chair – Mary Couch of the Santa Barbara County Chapter – who grew up in my hometown. Of course, our “do you know so-and-so” conversation evoked laughter and reminiscences.

While organizations such as CDS, USDF, and USEF are all about education, competition, and the governance of equestrian sport, they would not exist without all the people who care enough to make the organizations work. It was inspiring, entertaining, and heart-warming to be surrounded by them during the CDS Annual Meeting and Symposium.

Joan Williams and Kevin Reinig at CDS.

Highlights, Challenges & Camaraderie

CDS Scholarship Committee Meeting: Over the past year I’ve had the honor and pleasure of serving on this committee, which reviews applications and makes recommendations to the board for recipients of the many CDS scholarship programs for juniors, young riders, adult amateurs, professionals, and high-performance competitors. At its Friday meeting, Chair Joan Williams passed the baton (or would that be the longe whip?) to new Chair Nancy Szakacs, for the best of reasons: Joan had just been elected President of CDS.

Apart from their volunteer work for CDS, Joan is a popular trainer and “R” dressage judge from the Santa Cruz Chapter who goes beyond teaching and coaching basic dressage to enhancing skills and fostering fun for her students with musical freestyles, quadrille, long-lining, clinics with Arthur Kottas, and more, while Nancy has for many years made it look deceptively easy to balance a demanding corporate career with schooling and showing multiple horses through the levels, under the watchful eyes of the Villa Rosa Dressage dynamic duo Heidi Gaian and “The Mother” Pam Nelson.

There’s a theme here, isn’t there? Strong, intelligent, more than capable women — CDS is full of them.

Chapter jog

Annual Meeting

It would take an entire article to cover everything that took place at this meeting, and CDS will report all the details in its monthly newsletter, Dressage Letters, and online, so I’ll just stick to some of the highlights.

Former CDS President Kevin Reining was recently elected USDF Vice President, and he, along with USDF Region 7 Director Carol Tice, provided a perspective on the issues shared by CDS and USDF, as well as some that generate conflict.

Kevin expressed a concern, shared by all equestrian disciplines, about declining membership. The number one reason given by former members who have not renewed their membership is that they are not competing, so they are not renewing. He emphasized that CDS and USDF are educational organizations first and foremost, not competition organizations – our competitions exist to test the horse’s and rider’s education, just as tests at the end of a school term show how well (or not) a student’s education succeeded.

Moreover, organizations such as CDS and USDF provide governance and organization for the sport of dressage. They need the support of the entire community of dressage riders, whether they compete or not. That’s an issue that should concern us all, and it’s an issue where we can all make a difference. So, renew your memberships, if you haven’t already done so!

Carol addressed one member’s question about an issue that has been batted back and forth for years: What ever happened to the idea of alternating the finals between the East and the West? Holding the dressage finals every year at the Kentucky Horse Park is truly a financial and logistical challenge for West Coast riders.

This is a large and complex issue, with many disparate parts. As it turns out, this is where being one of the largest GMOs (Group Member Organizations) of USDF works against us. USDF Region 7 consists of CDS and three small GMOs from Hawaii. Other regions typically have six to 10 GMOs per region. With each GMO having the same ability to send riders to the finals, many more eastern riders would need to travel west than vice versa. Another logistical issue is that, should the dressage finals leave the Kentucky Horse Park, chances of getting back on their calendar is problematic. There are many more issues than those I’ve touched on here, however, but I found that Kevin and Carol’s perspectives and experiences “back East” at the USDF convention helped me better understand the big picture of our sport.

Some awards were presented, while others were saved for the Gala Awards Banquet later that day. One of the awards that always interests me is the Best Educational Event, which this year went to the Sacramento Valley Chapter for their Adult Camp. The thought of taking my horse away for the weekend, to meet up with friends and their horses, get great instruction and have tons of fun … well, what’s not to like? Only trouble is, I’m not in that chapter! But any chapter can reproduce another chapter’s successful event.

In fact, chapter chairs met for round table discussions by region – northern, central, and southern – to share their successes and challenges, exchange information and ideas, and brainstorm solutions. In the northern region discussion at which I represented the San Francisco Peninsula Chapter, several chapter chairs talked about collaboration with neighboring chapters on events to include both chapters’ members. One topic led to another, with the result that the group decided to set up a Facebook page to facilitate chapter-to-chapter information sharing.

Sunday Symposium

Musical Freestyle Education

As a future musical freestyle rider, I looked forward to auditing the Saturday afternoon USDF continuing education in judging freestyles, and attending the Sunday all-day Musical Freestyle Symposium. I wanted to know how musical freestyles are judged so I could learn how to ride them most effectively, but I also wondered if I wasn’t putting the proverbial cart before the horse, since I’ve only just begun to work on my own freestyle.

Lucky for me, the lecture and symposium both lived up to my hopes and more. I have a lot more to learn and a long road ahead before I enter at A, but thanks to CDS I have a better foundation than if I had not attended this weekend. I discovered the details that go into scoring the technical and artistic requirement, and how the choice of music impacts the execution of the freestyle itself. I also learned – thank you Janet Foy – to never, ever bore the judge!

While I would love to share detailed notes on every horse and rider in the symposium with you, I’m sure your eyes would glaze over, as mine did when reading them afterward. The vision in the arena far surpassed my scribbled hieroglyphics on the page. Suffice to say that I learned something – or many things – from watching each and every pair. So here’s to you with immense gratitude for bringing your horses out in the frigid temperature:

Sandy Savage and Habanero, who demonstrated how matching the metronome tempo with the music could be improved upon with music that’s just a tad faster or slower than the metronome.

Katy Augsburger Katz, who rode a First Level freestyle that gave us our first taste of the discussion that various judges had about actual scores for each movement.

Anne Howard, who rode her late mother Sandy Howard’s Grand Prix horse Rondo in a Second Level freestyle because the symposium needed one at that level.

Elena Flaharty and Charlie, who demonstrated a Third Level freestyle and gave us another opportunity to eavesdrop (legally) on the judges’ scoring rationales.

Ana Gilmour, whose compact black mare I confess I wanted to take home with me, and whose question about the “fan” pirouette movement sparked a detailed discussion of its intricate scoring.

Katy Barglow and Scout, whose Fourth Level freestyle to the music of “Annie” demonstrated a cohesive theme, and was fun to watch.

Ruth Shirkey and Wyleigh Princess, whose Intermediaire 1 freestyle drew the comment “lovely music highlights the horse” – and boy, did it.

Christian Hartung and Desario, in their Intermediaire 1 freestyle, received a comment of “elastic, powerful, well ridden” from Janet Foy.

Barbi Breen-Gurley and Vindicator, with their Michael Jackson music, brought the day to an uplifting end.

Get Your Freestyle On!

This month, there’s another opportunity to ride in or audit a musical freestyle clinic. On February 22-23, at the Horse Park at Woodside, you can learn “how to make your freestyle sing” with professional musician, FEI trainer, and freestyle designer Melanie Michalak.

“There’s a difference between riding a test to music, and riding a true freestyle,” Melanie contends, and she should know – she’s designed more than a hundred winning freestyles, including US Olympic Trials, Pan Am Games, Young Riders, and National Championships.

All the details for this musical freestyle clinic, hosted by the San Francisco Peninsula CDS Chapter, are at www.sfpcds.org.


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.