From Endurance to Dressage
Spoiler alert - yes, we went to championships but not to show. Whew! Got that out of the way. Over the weekend, the California Dressage Society held its annual Championship Show in conjunction with the USDF Region 7 Championships. Back in 2014, Speedy and I showed and it was a fantastic experience. Going purely to spectate and support was just as much fun.
The annual show rotates between Southern and Northern California which means next year's show will be too far north for me to even think about going, even if Izzy and I somehow managed to qualify. However, I do have my eye on 2024. Maybe by then we'll be ready for Training Level Test 3. If wishes were horses ... I talked my longtime friend Kathy into making the drive with me. We left my house at 6:00 a.m. and rolled into Los Angeles Equestrian Center (LAEC) right at 8:00.
After a quick restroom break, we parked in the first lot we could find which happened to be directly in front of Sean Cunningham's stall. Sean, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, was showing Sunita, a client's mare, at 9:15. Before I get too far into this thing, I should warn you that I failed epically at taking photos. Every once in a while I'd get a wild hair and start snapping pictures of what was around me, and then my phone would stay buried in my pocket during the good stuff. So you're going to get a bunch of random photos that don't necessarily show the good stuff.
While Sean finished braiding, Kathy and I lugged packages of water bottles to each of Sean's Oh, Shoot! Stations (no new photos, but check out this post to see some of what he puts in them). For Championships, he set up three of his stations to cover the needs of the riders at the four different rings. Kathy and I restocked each station and tidied up. We emptied the trash, cleaned out the dust and leaves, hauled off the used rags, and checked to see if any supplies needed restocking. Sean has slowly added to the stations, so they were stocked full of all sorts of new stuff.
By the time we got back, Sean was getting up in the tack, so we headed over to the ring with him. Since I shot video for him, I wasn't able to take any photos, but the pair did well, finishing in the top ten in a very large class with a 68.188%. Sean was happy with Sunita's effort as was his virtual trainer, David Hunt, of Great Britain. David wasn't able to come out to California of course, but Sean sent him the video and they debriefed after the ride.
Once Sean's ride was done, we spent the rest of the day watching different classes, shopping, and of course eating. More on the shopping tomorrow. One of the more interesting classes we watched was the USDF Dressage Medal Semi Final for 13 Years and Under. The 14 - 18 class had only one rider, so they ran the two classes together. Mia, the lone rider in her class, was a crackerjack rider scoring a well earned 85%.
In the 13 and Under Class, there were five riders, all on wonderful horses and ponies. We had great fun watching these kids walk, trot, and canter. One rider in particular caught our eye as a very talented young lady. It turns out that we had a good eye as she did place first with a score of 82.000%. Once the class was over, we went back outside and were pleased to see that we had arrived just in time for the USDF JR/YR Second Level Regional Class. To our surprise, in rode the medal winner from the 13 and Under class.
She was doing a lovely job until she got to the three loop serpentine with the counter canter. The horse made the turn onto the counter canter and then bucked. The rider got pitched forward a bit, and the horse took advantage bucking a few more times. That young lady gave a valiant effort and almost managed to ride it out, but alas, it was not to be. Despite a great effort, she came off over the horse's shoulder landing on her hip, spoiling her very pretty white breeches. The horse gaily cantered off with its reins flapping in the breeze. Someone managed to grab him at the gate, and the young lady dusted herself off calling out that she was all right.
Every one of us watching felt her disappointment. It is so frustrating to work so hard to be so unceremoniously dumped so publicly. But that's horses; one minute you're winning with an 82% and the very next you're dusting off your breeches as you get disqualified. Highs and lows pretty much define what horse ownership is like. That was really my take-away from the entire show. I was reminded that for every win, there's a loss. I saw a score of 59% from a world renowned rider. And the day before's score was even lower.
We stay for the evening's freestyles where I was reminded yet again that dressage is just walk, trot, canter. It's not magic. Even grand prix horses hollow their backs, lose their balance, and score sixes and sevens. When I looked at the scores for the Grand prix Freestyle Open class, I was reminded that scores in the 70s just mean that rider scored a lot of sevens. My scores in the 60s mean I score a lot of sixes. 70s are better of course, but it's not impossible to turn my sixes into sevens.
It's really important that we not allow ourselves to become intimidated by numbers that seem so far out of reach because they're not. Will Izzy and I ever score an 80%? I very much doubt it, but it is not impossible to earn a 76%. We just need lot of sevens and an eight or two. Watching talented riders on stunning horses earn low scores just confirmed that it's a struggle for all of us no matter your last name or the thickness of your wallet. It was also very motivating to see "average" horses being well ridden and scoring well as a result.
Horses often times bring us to tears, but sometimes, they're tears of joy.
I live in USDF Region 7 whose states include California, Nevada, and Hawaii. Nevada doesn't have a Group Member Organization, Hawaii has three, and California has two - the California Dressage Society (CDS) and the Dressage Association of Southern California (DASC). To give you some idea of how big CDS is, I added up the membership from the three Hawaiian chapters and DASC. Together they total 156 members. In contrast, CDS has 3,196 recorded members.
The USDF Region 7 Championship is always held in conjunction with the CDS Championship. Every other year the location of the championship changes; one year it's held in Northern California and in the alternating year it's held in Los Angeles at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center in Burbank. Speedy and I competed in the CDS Horse of the Year (HOY) Championship classes in 2014.
For adult amateurs to qualify for CDS HOY at Second Level, the horse and rider team needs 5 scores of 61% or better (any test) from 4 different judges. Each year, whether I intend to go or not, I make it my goal to qualify.
As of July 31, only 20 riders have qualified for the CDS Championship show at Second Level. I am really proud to have made that list in our first year at Second Level. Additionally, our win at RAAC gives us a "bye" - an automatic qualification for the Championship show.
Besides being thrilled to have qualified, I was equally excited to see that most of the Bakersfield dressage riders also qualified! We're a pretty small group of ladies, so to see Bakersfield so well represented is something worth cheering for. In total, six Bakersfield riders, including one junior, qualified for the CDS Championships.
The championship show is pretty expensive, and I already spent a lot going to RAAC, so I don't think the championship show is in the cards for us this year. I am happy enough just to have qualified - twice!
With more than 2,300 on its roster, CDS's membership makes up a hunk of USDF's membership. When the California Dressage Society makes big changes, they get noticed. A few weeks ago, I wrote about some changes that the CDS Board had made to the annual championship show. Those changes riled up enough of the membership that the CDS Executive Board held a meeting on February 7 and amended several of the changes.
Talk about democracy in action. The people spoke, their elected leaders listened. Here's a link to the survey results. While I wasn't upset by any of the changes, a lot of other people were. In the end, a few things remained the same:
1) CDS will not apply to host the USDF Breeders Championships West Coast Final. Not enough people seemed to care about that.
2) The CDS 4, 5, and 6 year old futurity classes will still be combined with Open and Adult Amateurs competing together with a concurrent Adult Amateur Futurity Challenge division. Again, this one didn't cause much of a fuss.
3) Horse of the Year (HOY) Classes will once again consist of a warm up ride and two HOY classes with two judges for Adult Amateurs and Juniors. Open riders will also get a warm up ride but they will only get one HOY class with two judges. Apparently the Open riders were split on whether to have two HOY classes or not. The Adult Amateurs were firm on the three ride format.
4) The increase in prize money was deleted. Prize money wasn't as important as the board thought.
5) Qualifying scores for freestyles will still be bumped up from 62% to 64%. I guess the people were okay with that.
6) The added $25 nominating fee for CDS and JR/YR Championships will now only apply to horse and rider teams participating in the CDS Championship show, and those fees will be used to fund the show. I always thought that sounded fair. I guess everyone else saw the logic as well.
So there you have it. Modifications will be made to the Championship Show, but it sounds as though they are being applied in a way that will keep a lot more riders happy, particularly the adult amateurs. And really, I think that's a good thing as we write more checks than anyone else.
Or, GMOs for short. I've written about this topic before, but the more people I get to know around the country, the more interested I am in learning about their GMOs.
If you want to know more about the various GMOs, USDF has a handy little feature that lets you look at the list of GMOs grouped by region. First, you need to know your region:
When you know which region you want to look up, click the link here. It's an easy page to navigate. Find your region listed, and select. All of the GMOs in that region will be listed along with the GMO's USDF number - this isn't the number of members. Here is Region 7's list of GMO's.
If you then select a particular Club Name, like the California Dressage Society, you'll be taken to a page that lists the contact information, the group's website, and the full roster. Here's the page for CDS:
The California Dressage Society's USDF number is 700 with a roster of 1297 recorded members. Central Office's mailing address is shown along with the website. Contact information is also listed. I believe that Pauls's position is a paid one, so I can always reach her when I have a question. She is also very quick to return emails.
The California Dressage Society operates like a mini-USDF. Because of the huge area it covers and its sheer number of members, CDS is divided into thirty-three chapters, similar to GMOs. Each of the chapters operates independently of one another, based on what its members want and are willing to do.
My own chapter puts on four, CDS-rated shows each summer. They offer cash prizes for Open, AA, and Jr./YR class winners and over-all hight point winners, again divided by division. The chapter also hosts an annual awards banquet where additional year-end ribbons and cash prizes are awarded. Other, larger chapters host clinics, schooling shows, lectures, demonstrations, and so on.
Like USDF, CDS offers rider incentives for earning certain scores and recognizes various levels of achievement. The new Gem Rider Award is one of those, along with Rosettes and other awards. CDS's Championship Show is held in conjunction with the USDF Region 7 Championship Show. Each year, CDS also holds an annual 3-day meeting and symposium for its members.
I have a feeling that for many of California's dressage riders, the member benefits that CDS and its chapters offer are more accessible and user-friendly than what USDF offers. I am sure that CDS is always working to grow its membership, but compared to most GMOs, it's already a colossal organization.
I would love to know more about your own GMO.
Thankfully, my final test of the show came bright and early on Sunday morning. The day dawned cloudy and cooler, which was a relief as it had been extremely hot all week. In fact, as I was saddling, there was a down pour of rain - typical for all you on the east coast, but for us, it was a rare (and mostly) welcome sight.
My warm-up for the final test went really well. Chemaine coached me through my ride, encouraging me to get Speedy deeper and moving out with a better stride. He was a bit stiff and really wanted to be heavy in my hands, so Chemaine had me do a lot of bending and suppling of his neck.
Surprisingly, I felt really relaxed and wasn't worried about Speedy's stiffness. He was either going to let go and relax, or he wasn't. I was looking forward to the ride and was anxious to get out there and give it another try.
The test rode in nearly slow motion. I felt every stride and was very present. At one point, Speedy got really stiff and was bracing against my hand as we approached C, tracking right. All of a sudden I knew what was meant by having soft hands. I relaxed my shoulders and wrists, and Speedy immediately let go through his neck and poll. It was the first time that I've felt how tension in my body makes him tense.
As I gave my final salute, my eyes filled with tears. I was really proud of our effort. I knew we weren't going to place as high as I had wanted (middle of the pack), but I had worked really hard and ridden to the absolute best of my ability. To most people, especially those in full training with more expensive horses, that might not have been enough. For me, for those few moments anyway, I felt a huge sense of accomplishment.
Our averaged score for this second test was a 62.000%. I think it's interesting that all five of my score sheets (one from the warm-up ride, two from the "A" ride, and two from this test) were all in the 62% range. That says something about our consistency and about the consistency within the field of judges.
Overall, we finished the Horse of the Year Training Level Championship class for Adult Amateurs in 16th place out of a field of 18 riders. We were "only" nine percentage points below the winner and a mere four percent from the middle of the pack. I am sure that's what the losers always say, but for me, knowing that I was somewhat close to the rest of the field encouraged me. We don't have that much farther to go.
To help me put the whole thing in perspective, a friend, who also competed, said this to me ...
I call it the "Rarefied Air"....many of the horse and rider teams we compete against at these championships are people who ride every day, have very expensive horses that they keep in professional training, and may or may not even need to work for a living. The judging also gets stricter. Just to be there at all is a major accomplishment, so major congratuations to you and your lovely horse! You guys did a great job!
No sour grapes here, just the reality of competing in a bigger fish pond. It's easy to be the big fish at schooling shows and smaller rated-shows. It's only when you venture out into the big leagues that you get to see how you and your horse truly stack up.
There will always be someone better. I think the trick is to recognize your own success and value what you've managed to achieve while still pushing yourself to do more.
Some bloopers and Oh My!(s) tomorrow ...
About the Writer and Rider
I am a lifelong rider.
I began endurance riding in 1996 where I ultimately completed five, one-day 100 mile races, the 200-mile Death Valley Encounter, and numerous other 50, 65, and 75 mile races. I began showing dressage in 2010.
Welcome to my dressage journey.
About Speedy G
Speedy went from endurance horse to dressage horse. After helping me earn a USDF Bronze medal in the summer of 2020, he is now semi-retired. Speedy is a 2004, 15'1 hand, purebred Arabian gelding. His Arabian Horse Registry name is G Ima Starr FA.
Izzy was started as a four-year old and then spent the next 18 months in pasture growing up. I bought him as a six-year old, and together, we are showing at the lower levels. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
National Rider Awards
State Rider Awards
State Horse Awards
CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
2022 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
2022 Show Schedule
2022 Completed …
(*) Tehachapi 5/22/22
(*) Tehachapi 7/24/22
(***) Tehachapi 8/28/22
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 62.115%