When I first started on this dressage journey, an early trainer told me that most riders never make it past Training Level. At the time, I felt a little discouraged. Did that mean that dressage was so hard that riders felt forced to quit at the very earliest stages?
I wondered if I should even bother. But then I rationalized that there was no way it could be any harder than the sport of endurance. When I first started endurance riding I thought that there was no possible way I could ever get a horse fit enough to complete 100 miles in one day. Not only did I ultimately start and finish five 100 milers, I did three of them in one year on the same horse.
I share all of this not to leave you with the impression that I was some kind of super star in the sport - not even close. I was just a run of the mill rider with a pretty nice horse (I only paid $1,000 for her). We trained consistently, had a lot of good luck, and made good choices in vets and farriers. I also dug deep that year and persevered; endurance racing has a huge mental component.
I lost Montoya to an unusual colic in January of 2010 just a week after competing at the Fire Mountain 50 miler. She was 20 years old. Speedy had been doing some endurance races, but he wasn't nearly as gung ho about it as Montoya. I did a few more races on him during the spring, but then I decided to take a break from endurance training and racing. We entered the Just Coe Crazy 55 miler in early June (which we didn't complete) and did our first dressage show three weeks later!
Either way, having earned my First Level Rider Performance Award feels like a big deal to me. I don't have the patch yet, but USDF finally posted it to USDFScores.com which means it is now official.
The same hard work and attention to detail can get an average rider like myself through the dressage levels. I think most dressage riders can appreciate the journey that a horse and rider team must make in order to earn their scores for any of the Rider Performance Awards. You don't have to be an elite horse and rider team to do it, but with consistent work, a little luck, and good horse keeping choices, most riders can get it done.
I am really proud of this award because I know how much work it took for us to earn it. It will be displayed with pride.