January 2019 - Dressage
Written by by Kim F. Miller
Friday, 28 December 2018 00:07
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state of the sport

USDF Region 7 director Carol Tice on the status of sport participation & educational programs.

by Kim F. Miller

Membership size is the basic barometer of the health of USDF Region 7, which encompasses California, Hawaii and Nevada. Numbers are not near their peak of about 5,000 before the 2008 recession but they are staying stable at around 3,400. Growth would be great, of course, but stability is good, too, says Carol Tice, veteran sport leader, volunteer and current USDF Region 7 director.


“Membership is always a priority because dues fund all the programs each Group Member Organization (GMO) holds,” Carol explains. “Without that, a lot of programs just don’t happen.” The California Dressage Society is the U.S.’s biggest GMO, and its members comprise the bulk of Region 7’s members as CDS membership automatically includes Region 7 membership. Compared to the country’s second biggest GMO, Region 1, with 3300; and third biggest, Region 8 with 3,100; Region 7 has the smallest number of GMOs, at five.


Bright spots for the region include strong showings for our riders and horses at national competitions including the USEF Young Horse Championships and the US Dressage Finals. That’s the case even though it involved the usual long haul, this year to Chicago and Kentucky, respectively. The availability of travel grant money (through CDS and USDF), individual funding and horse/rider pairs peaking at the right time all contribute to the size and success of the West Coast contingent at these national shows.

Internationally, Carol notes that the majority of the silver medal winning World Equestrian Games riders hail from the West: Steffen Peters, Adrienne Lyle, Kasey Perry-Glass.

The now six CDI3* competitions that comprise the second annual Adequan West Coast Dressage Festival could help more of the region’s riders earn the experience and points needed to follow their footsteps to this year’s Pan Am Games and World Cup Finals or the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

CDIs in California aren’t new, Carol notes. To the extent they can help promote the sport, she is all for them. But there is also a downside in that they stretch competitors’ show budgets so far that smaller chapter and schooling shows may suffer. A CDS Temecula chapter competition probably benefited from its slot between festival weeks, Carol notes. But she worries that “smaller chapter shows might dissolve” with the new multi-week circuit luring some of its riders away.

Come Play

Carol reports that USDF and its GMOs are “continuing to look at ways to invite more people to come and play, and we are very willing to listen to ideas.” It can take a while to see progress with new programs, she notes. Prospective programs are scrutinized from the perspective of how they will fit the whole membership’s needs, not just those of one region. One example is a regional program “that will encourage the rider who maybe isn’t showing at the highest level, to have enjoyable ways to participate with programs that offer fun, education and competition.”

On their own and together, USDF and CDS “continue to offer an amazing number of grants and opportunities dedicated to education,” Carol notes. “It’s not about just riding dressage. It’s about how to be good horsemen.”

Carol hopes the U.S. team’s great outing at the World Equestrian Games this summer will have a trickle-down effect in the form of “people wanting to be educated by those people.”

It’s a good time to have ambitious dressage goals because it’s become so much easier to get educated, she notes. There will be a lot more “education in a box” type programs and USDF offers many educational opportunities online. Video vignettes that help riders improve a half-pass or shoulder-in are a few examples. “So you don’t have to wait for somebody to show up to help figure out how to fix a problem or improve a movement.”

That should keep Region 7 riders on their toes. “A lot of the judges I talk to over the years say the quality of horses and riders out here tends to be higher than elsewhere. These educational opportunities may see other riders catching up pretty quick!”

Nationally, improved caliber of competition has triggered an increase in the scores required to qualify for regional Freestyle championships. “Like any other sporting discipline, USDF is working to have better athletes and that’s what’s happening,” Carol observes.

Finding volunteers continues to be big challenge. “Most of our chapter shows are run by a volunteer crew and the ‘old guard’ is getting a little old and tired,” Carol reflects. “We’re hard pressed to get kids, juniors and young amateurs to understand that once we are gone, who is going to put on these shows?” When chapters honor volunteers during year-end banquets, they are most often non-competing members. “They do it for the sake of the sport and we just need a few more of them.” An option for a future with fewer volunteers is higher show fees, which will make it even harder to attract more participants.

Costs bring up another ongoing challenge: getting more young people into the dressage court. “One of the issues is that it’s so costly to have school horses now. That’s why a lot of trainers are not able to nurture and encourage more people in areas where there is the money to participate in the sport.” There’s the Catch 22 of the “20 minute rule,” she notes. In this era of crammed kids’ schedules, if a parent can’t get their child to an activity relatively quickly, there’s less chance of it being worked into the family’s life. “If you’re in the area that has the right demographic for dressage, you might not be able to afford more than one or two school horses. And, it’s always hard to compete with soccer!”

Making dressage more enticing is always an ideal. Adding Western Dressage classes has “been our savior” for Carol’s CDS Temecula Chapter shows. “We see a lot of retired dressage horses coming back, and older riders who can’t ride the big-moving horses anymore and are getting Lusitanos and Andalusian crosses.”

Prix Caprilli tests have also helped attract new customers with their mix of dressage tests and jumping cross-rails and obstacles up to 2’9” in height. “We are doing anything we can to interest more people!”