August 2018 - Dressage News & Views
Written by by Nan Meek
Friday, 27 July 2018 16:17
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Education and competition: The circle of life in dressage.

by Nan Meek

Education, or competition? Art, or sport? Dressage is full of such weighty questions. Are dressage riders who compete compromising principles of perfection in pursuit of shiny trophies? Are dressage riders who don’t compete afraid to put their training to the test?

A wise trainer once explained to me that the purpose of competition is to test your education to determine if it is as well established as you think it is (rarely) or if it can be improved (always).

Education prepares you for competition, and competition shows you where you need more education. I call it the circle of life in dressage: train, show (oops – that shoulder-in isn’t very good), go back to train some more. Repeat, and repeat, and repeat.

George Williams Clinic - August 18-19

George Williams. Photo: Bob Farr

When it comes to education, George Williams could write the book. He hasn’t – yet – possibly because he’s too busy training, teaching, coaching, traveling and serving on countless boards and committees.

However, on August 18-19, George will bring his knowledge and experience to The Horse Park at Woodside for a dressage clinic presented by the San Francisco Peninsula Chapter of the California Dressage Society. Riders include juniors, adult amateurs and professionals, with horses ranging from Training Level to Intermediaire II. There will be something for everyone to watch, learn and take home to improve their riding, from this triple-threat trainer-rider-coach. (For more info, visit

What can riders and auditors expect? Expertise, experience and a perspective on dressage that is second to none.

As the USEF Dressage Youth Coach and Chef d’Equipe, George travels extensively to observe, help select and coach the young riders who may very well one day represent the USA on teams for the Olympics, WEG or World Cup. As USDF President, his influence on the dressage community reaches from the grassroots all the way to the top of the podium.

A serious dressage student since 1973, the then 18-year-old George studied at the Reitinstitute von Neindorff where he earned his German Bronze Rider Medal. Back home in the US, he became a resident trainer and rider alongside Karl Mikolka at Tempel Farms in Wadsworth, Illinois. Twenty years later, he trained in Germany with the former US Dressage Team Coach and Olympic gold medalist, Klaus Balkenhol.

George applied his classical dressage education to the competition arena with great success on many horses, perhaps most famously with Chuck and Joann Smith’s mare Roche, winning an unprecedented three-time Dressage at Devon Grand Prix and Grand Prix Freestyle, 2005 United States Equestrian Federation/Collecting Gaits National Grand Prix Champion, team bronze Nations Cup at CHIO Aachen, fifth at the 2003 World Cup in Sweden, United States Dressage Federation Grand Prix and Grand Prix Freestyle Horse of the Year.

Young horse titles grace George’s resume as well. For Betsy Juliano and her Havensafe Farm, he showed the Oldenburg gelding Don Bailey to Reserve Champion at the 2009 USEF Developing Horse Championships, and the Oldenburg mare Horizon to Reserve Champion in the Four-Year-Old division at the 2011 USEF Young Horse Championships.

2017 Grand Champion at Grand Prix, Terri Rocovichand Uiver. Photo: Terri Miller Photography

CDS Annual Championship Show - Sept. 27-30

For 50 years, CDS – the California Dressage Society – has led the way for dressage education and competition, not just in California, but by influencing the development of dressage across America.
Bringing big names in dressage to the US for clinics? Not a new phenomenon: Kyra Downton brought Col. Alois Podhajsky, Director of the Spanish Riding School, to her Atherton estate in the 1960s and invited other dressage enthusiasts to join in the educational experience.

When it comes to competitions, CDS is the envy of other dressage organizations. Last year’s 50th Annual CDS Championship Show ran to 330 horses and 1,600 rides in five rings over four days. Held in conjunction with the USDF Region 7 Finals, this education-meets-competition celebration of dressage will be held this year in Burbank at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center on Sept 27-30.

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.

One long-time component of the Championship Show, the CDS Futurity, this year takes on an even greater attraction for adult amateurs, who make up the greatest segment of CDS membership. The new Adult Amateur Futurity Challenge awards prize money to the top three adult amateurs in each age division of the Futurity: 4-, 5-, and 6-year olds, and awards ribbons through eighth.

Given the abilities of some CDS amateurs, there’s the real possibility that an adult amateur could take home a portion of the purses awarded to the top placings in the Open Futurity and the Cal-Bred division, along with prize money from the Adult Amateur Futurity Challenge.

Grand Champion is the ultimate title, and deservedly so, because it’s awarded to the horse and rider with the highest combined score from their Horse of the Year and Freestyle tests. By rewarding those who excel in both their standard dressage test as well as the freestyle, CDS is offering another incentive for participants to engage in the most popular element of dressage shows – the freestyle.

Some say the future of dressage depends on the freestyle, and if so, then CDS is again leading the way. Four Grand Champions and Reserve Champions are awarded – at First/Second, Third/Fourth, Intermediaire, and Grand Prix. In addition to major bragging rights, winners take home some serious swag thanks to sponsor SmartPak and CDS.

Education, Competition, or Both?

What will you do this month? Clinic, show, or just spend sweet summer days with your favorite equine? Any day with a horse is a day well spent. Enjoy!