Convention Video Preview

Friday, December 9, 2011

A Farewell Look at San Diego

The 2011 Adequan/US Dressage Federation National Convention and Symposium has come to a close. In the few days that have passed since we packed up and left sunny San Diego, the congratulatory notes and thank-you e-mails have begun flowing in to the USDF office. It's gratifying to know that attendees and trade-show vendors alike found the event stimulating, successful, and worthwhile.

Detailed convention and symposium reports, and many more photos, will be in the February 2012 issue of USDF Connection (the 2011 yearbook issue). To help tide you over, enjoy this smorgasbord of images from a wonderful event in a beautiful city.
CDS tribute to USDF Lifetime Achievement Award honoree
Peter Lert

CDS tribute to USDF Lifetime Achievement Award honoree
Elizabeth Searle

Board of Governors delegates queue for a roll-call vote

USDF president George Williams and 2011 Ruth Arvanette Memorial Grant recipient Viva Medina of Hawaii

Karen Winn of Kentucky (pictured with USDF executive director Stephan Hienzsch) was among several lucky winners of a Harwich dressage bridle donated by SmartPak

Chad Compton, USDF's IT director (left), chats with BOG delegate Don Faso of Georgia during a roll-call vote

Edwin Miller (OR) accepts the USDF Region 6 Volunteer of the Year award on behalf of Norma Talburt

Olympian Debbie McDonald (center) and Grand Prix-level competitor Adrienne Lyle (right) with USDF president George Williams during the Salute Gala/awards banquet cocktail reception. In the background is Robert Higgins.

Happy awards recipients and supporters at the reception

And a few more Gala-goers

USDF staffers Kim Sodt and Ben de Jesus working the AV during the Salute Gala and awards banquet

Custom Saddlery held its second annual saddle drawing during a USDF convention. Sponsored rider Steffen Peters (right) helped present to the winner, Amelia Child of California. At left are Custom Saddlery president Cary Wallace (holding saddle) and San Diego-based Custom Saddlery rep Graham Newell.

Adjacent to the Del Mar (CA) Fairgrounds, site of the 2011 symposium, is the famed Del Mar Racetrack 

The California Dressage Society did a brisk merchandise business at the symposium trade fair

California-based USDF-certified instructor Susan Hoffman Peacock kicked off the symposium by demonstrating a seat lesson

International competitor Leslie Morse and one of her young horses enjoy a cruise around the outside of the arena

2011 Pan Am Games double gold medalist Weltino's Magic is a quick study. He soon learned to look for his sugar reward as USEF technical advisor Anne Gribbons coached rider Steffen Peters on developing the piaffe. 

2010 World Equestrian Games bronze medalists Ravel and Steffen Peters thrilled the symposium crowd with a demonstration of their new freestyle

Adrienne Lyle and Wizard showed why they're contenders for the 2012 US Olympic dressage team

The USEF dressage coaches (Scott Hassler, Debbie McDonald [no, she's not tall; she's standing on the arena rail!], Anne Gribbons, and Jeremy Steinberg are all smiles at symposium's end as they accept thank-you gifts from USDF executive director Stephan Hienzsch and USDF senior education-programs coordinator Kathie Robertson

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Rising Star

All of the demonstration riders and horses at the 2011 Adequan/USDF National Symposium were fabulous, but as often happens at these events, one horse stood out from the crowd.

No, I'm not talking about Grand Prix superstar Ravel, although with rider Steffen Peters he treated the audience at the Del Mar (CA) Fairgrounds to a run-through of his captivating new freestyle. I'm talking about another of Peters's new mounts, the seven-year-old Hanoverian gelding Sundance 8 (by Shakespeare in Love), owned by Margaret Koster Koerner.

Imported from Germany, Sundance was originally called Stuart Little, according to The chestnut gelding had a few riders before arriving in Peters's barn in San Diego in March.

Owner Koerner is a respected art historian from Cambridge, MA. Her husband, Joseph Koerner, is also a well-known art historian.

Now, about Sundance. Introducing him, US Equestrian Federation national dressage technical advisor and high-performance coach Anne Gribbons called his talent "scary" and repeatedly noted how easily collection and upper-level work come to him. Coupled with the horse's remarkable temperament, it was easy to see why Gribbons and Peters actually worked to ensure that Sundance didn't try to do too much for his not-yet-fully-developed physique.

I've seen a lot of great dressage horses, but Sundance blew me away with his elasticity, grace, ability to collect, temperament, and range. This horse has more octaves in his range than I've ever seen--and I've seen Totilas, who until the other day was my benchmark. Of course, Sundance doesn't have nearly the training of a Totilas or a Ravel yet, but it sure will be exciting to see how he develops. Gribbons is already referring to him as a possible horse for the 2014 FEI World Equestrian Games in France.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video should be even better. Enjoy these clips of Peters and Gribbons showing the symposium audience what Sundance is capable of.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Yes, Virginia, Dressage Is for Every Horse

Going in to the 2011 Adequan/USDF National Symposium in Del Mar, CA, last weekend, the presenter with whom I was least familiar was Jeremy Steinberg, the US Equestrian Federation national dressage youth coach. By the event's conclusion, he'd quickly become one of my favorites.

Steinberg is down to earth, concise, articulate, and very funny. With this kind of approach to our sport, it should come as no surprise that he is also a strong advocate of all breeds in dressage--not just for the horses' sake, but also because learning to bring all types of horses up the levels helps to prepare a rider for that day when he or she may be handed the reins to a truly gifted mount.

Watch this short video clip I took of Steinberg coaching young rider Arianna Barzman-Grennan, of Mountain View, CA. She's riding an 8-year-old Quarter Horse, Red Alert, owned by Summer Hensley. This pretty much sums up Steinberg's approach and is the underpinning of the entire symposium.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The American System in Action

I had hoped that my flight home would be equipped with WiFi, so that I could upload this blog post while airborne; and laptop power ports, so that I could start going through the thousands of images USDF photographer Bruce Lawrie and I took at this weekend’s Adequan/USDF National Symposium. Alas, neither option was available, so I’m composing this post on battery power and will upload it as soon as I get home. The photos will have to wait until tomorrow.

In a word, the symposium was spectacular. USDF pulled out all the stops to ensure a memorable event, and symposium organizer Kathie Robertson did a masterful job of wrangling the 29 (!) demonstration horses, their entourages, and the riders.

“The American program” was the theme, and the fact that a symposium could be thus titled is in itself quite a statement. For decades there has been no American dressage program at all, really, save for drop-in visits by foreign coaches. The USDF has tried to facilitate the development of horses and riders through its Junior/Young Rider program and others, and the US Equestrian Federation started its Young Horse program about a decade ago; but there was no system for the discovery and nurturing of promising human and equine dressage talent.

That has all changed. Within the past few years, the USEF has hired a national dressage youth coach (Jeremy Steinberg), a developing coach (Debbie McDonald), and a technical advisor/high-performance coach (Anne Gribbons) to work alongside young-horse coach Scott Hassler. They travel around the country giving clinics and playing talent scout. A gifted young horse, for example, might begin under Scott’s program, later move on to Debbie’s realm, and (ideally) finally ascend the ranks to work with Anne in making the transition to representing the United States in international competition.

The 2011 USDF symposium brought the coaching quartet together for the first time. Together and separately, they worked with horses and riders who fall under their various domains. Beginning with a junior rider working on her seat in a lunge lesson and concluding with Grand Prix test tweaks with 2012 Olympic hopefuls Adrienne Lyle and Wizard, the event was a live demonstration of the new American dressage pipeline in action.

From Correctness, Competitiveness

Although the four coaches hail from different backgrounds, there was a remarkable similarity to their training approaches. For each coach, with each horse and rider, the work is all about correct—truly correct—basics. The horse must learn to respond properly to the forward driving aids and, through tactful riding, to accept a correct and consistent connection to the bit. The gymnastic development of the dressage horse, and particularly of a supple and swinging back, is an incremental process that cannot be rushed or forced. Riders must develop their own fitness and suppleness with as much dedication as they do their horses’. There is no point in working on higher-level movements during a training session until the basics have been established. (Gribbons had Lyle ride a tense Wizard through an extended series of Gribbons’ so-called Prozac exercise—ten-meter half-circle “teardrops” in opposite directions—until the big gelding got sufficiently bored that he relaxed in mind and body.)

The other area of similarity was the coaches’ insistence on attention to detail. “Have a purpose in your riding,” Hassler said. No meandering on the buckle during walk breaks: Horses must continue to stretch and march, even on a long rein. No corners ridden without taking full advantage of the time to prepare the horse for what comes next. Most important, no tolerance for failure to respond promptly to a leg aid. If the horse doesn’t react to a leg aid, he’s behind the leg; it’s that simple. And a horse that is behind the leg cannot be connected, engaged, or properly influenced. Fixing inattentiveness to the driving aids requires hawklike attention to every step of every ride, from the moment you get on to the moment you dismount. Most riders don’t do it. The few who do—well, those are probably the ones at or near the top.

As Gribbons pointed out, her job as the elite coach is to use her FEI 5* judge’s eye to help riders prepare for competition. And riding a test, she emphasized, is different from riding for schooling purposes. This does not mean, however, that the two are mutually exclusive.

“Without correct training,” Gribbons said, “there can be no success in competition.”

Awards and Honors

From the governance of USDF, most notably the vote by the USDF Board of Governors to institute a US national dressage championships in 2013, convention-goers turned their attention to something more glamorous: awards.

At the Salute Gala and Annual Awards Banquet, plenty of Hollywood-style glitz was on display during the cocktail reception. ("In southern California," a colleague observed, "the heels are higher, the skirts are shorter, and the necklines are lower.")
Trophies on display before the awards ceremony at the Salute Gala and Annual Awards Banquet

They had gathered to collect USDF rider medals, Adequan/USDF Horse of the Year awards, All-Breeds awards, and many others. They had also gathered to honor some dressage VIPs, most notably USDF Volunteer of the Year Miki Christophersen and Roemer Foundation/USDF Hall of Fame inductee Lendon Gray.
Proud friends and family members eagerly captured their loved ones' moment in the spotlight. Yahoo founder Jerry Yang wields the camera as wife Akiko Yamazaki receives a USDF year-end award.

In her acceptance speech, Gray thanked the people who had given her a leg up along the way.
Roemer Foundation/USDF Hall of Fame inductee Lendon Gray addresses the banquet audience
"I want to apologize," she said, "to all the horses on whom I made mistakes." She acknowledged the many great horses and ponies who trotted through her life and who enabled her to have a wonderful equestrian career. It was a heartfelt and touching moment -- a fine note on a night entirely made possible by the horses we all love and cherish.

Friday, December 2, 2011

National Championships Are a Go!

Big news from the USDF Board of Governors assembly: After rejecting several proposed amendments, the BOG delegates voted to green-light a US national dressage championships, beginning in 2013.

With invitations to be extended to qualified adult amateurs and open competitors, the inaugural championships (exact name TBD) are set to take place in the fall of 2013 at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.

The KHP was the site of the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. It also hosts the annual Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event and was the site of last year's FEI North American Junior and Young Rider Championships.

Except for the Collecting Gaits Farm/US Equestrian Federation Festival of Dressage Champions, which features national championships at FEI levels, there have been no national championships in our sport since the short-lived Insilco championships in the early 1980s.

According to USDF secretary Janine Malone, the USDF has been trying for 18 years to get a US national championships off the ground.

After all those years of effort and roadblocks, this is an exciting day indeed for American dressage.

All Quiet on the Western Front (so far)

There may be some fireworks today, with go/no-go voting slated on a US national dressage championships and election of the three new USDF at-large directors. Yesterday, however, was mostly peaceful in San Diego at the 2011 Adequan/USDF National Convention.

The only contentious moment I heard about was ire voiced by some in USDF Region 3 over the US Equestrian Federation Dressage Committee's announcement that there will be 11 CDIs (FEI dressage competitions) in Florida next year, some in quite close proximity. As the USDF DC members explained in their open forum, they decided to take a free-market approach: Competitors will vote with their entry dollars, and presumably the strong will survive.

Many convention attendees enjoyed last night's USDF University educational session, "Balance in Movement," presented by Dr. Hilary Clayton and by Balance in Movement author Susanne von Dietze. Excellent photos and videos helped illustrate how horses balance and how riders influence their mounts, for better or for worse.

As I write this, discussion on the proposed US dressage national championships is under way and looks to carry on for a good while. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, here are some more photos from this year's convention activities.
CDS birthday cake
Southwest-themed welcome reception, honoring the California Dressage Society's 45th anniversary

Yours truly: USDF Connection editor Jennifer Bryant blogging at the BOG

Presenter Susanne von Dietze (left) explains a balance principle to a session attendee