November/December 2021 USDF Connection

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Renew Your Membership (p. 21)

November/December 2021

Official Publication of the United States Dressage Federation

BEHIND THE MEDALS Olympics (p. 32) Paralympics (p. 42) NAYC (p. 48)

2020 US Olympic dressage team silver medalists Steffen Peters, Adrienne Lyle, and Sabine Schut-Kery

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The Official Publication of the United States Dressage Federation EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR Stephan Hienzsch (859) 271-7887 • EDITOR Jennifer O. Bryant (610) 344-0116 •

An official property of the United States Dressage Federation

CONTRIBUTING EDITOR Hilary M. Clayton, BVMS, PhD, MRCVS EDITORIAL ADVISORS Margaret Freeman (NC), Anne Gribbons (FL), Roberta Williams (FL), Terry Wilson (CA) TECHNICAL ADVISORS Janine Malone, Lisa Gorretta, Elisabeth Williams

YourDressage delivers exclusive dressage stories, editorial, and education, relevant to ALL dressage enthusiasts and is your daily source for dressage! Look for these featured articles online at

SENIOR PUBLICATIONS COORDINATOR Emily Koenig (859) 271-7883 • GRAPHIC & MULTIMEDIA COORDINATOR Katie Lewis (859) 271-7881 • ADVERTISING SALES REPRESENTATIVE Danielle Titland (720) 300-2266 •

USDF OFFICERS AND EXECUTIVE BOARD PRESIDENT LISA GORRETTA 19 Daisy Lane, Chagrin Falls, OH 44022 (216) 406-5475 • VICE PRESIDENT KEVIN REINIG, 6907 Lindero Lane, Rancho Murieta, CA 95683 (916) 616-4581 • SECRETARY MARGARET FREEMAN 200 Aurora Lane, Tryon, NC 28782 (828) 859-6723 •

EDUCATION “The Use of Independent Aids”

Looking to improve your independent seat? Colorado-based dressage trainer Sue Martin shares some excellent tips.

COMPETITION “Persevering Through the Storm”

TREASURER LORRAINE MUSSELMAN 7538 NC 39 Hwy, Zebulon, NC 27497 (919) 218-6802 •

REGIONAL DIRECTORS REGION 1 DC, DE, MD, NC, NJ, PA, VA BETTINA G. LONGAKER 8246 Open Gate Road, Gordonsville, VA 22942 (540) 832-7611 • REGION 2 IL, IN, KY, MI, OH, WV, WI DEBBY SAVAGE 7011 cobblestone Lane, Mentor, OH 44060 (908) 892-5335 • REGION 3 AL, FL, GA, SC, TN SUSAN BENDER 1024 Grand Prix Drive, Beech Island, SC 29842 (803) 295-2525 • REGION 4 IA, KS, MN, MO, NE, ND, SD ANNE SUSHKO 1942 CliFFord Street, Dubuque, IA 52002 (563) 580-0510 • REGION 5 AZ, CO, E. MT, NM, UT, W. TX, WY HEATHER PETERSEN 22750 County Road 37, Elbert, CO 80106 (303) 648-3164 •

The 2021 FEI North American Youth Championships were upended by a huge storm, but volunteers, show staff, and riders persevered.

REGION 6 AK, ID, W. MT, OR, WA PETER ROTHSCHILD 1120 Arcadia Street NW, Olympia, WA 98502 (206) 200-3522 •


REGION 8 CT, MA, ME, NH, NY, RI, VT DEBRA REINHARDT 160 Woods Way Drive, Southbury, CT 06488 (203) 264-2148 •

“My George and Me”

A lifelong Saddlebred enthusiast shares about her heart horse George and their adventures through Grand Prix Level together.

COMMUNITY “We Are Not Dead, We Are Just Old”

A horse-loving equestrian from Region 8 shares how the older generation can be a valuable resource for any barn.

It’s YourDressage, be a part of it! Visit for all these stories & much more!

REGION 7 CA, HI, NV CAROL TICE 31895 Nicolas Road, Temecula, CA 92591 (714) 514-5606 •

REGION 9 AR, LA, MS, OK, TX BESS BRUTON 5696 Piper Lane, College Station, TX 77845 (662) 702-9854 •

AT-LARGE DIRECTORS ACTIVITIES COUNCIL SUE MANDAS 9508 Bridlewood Trail, Dayton, OH 45458 (937) 272-9068 • ADMINISTRATIVE COUNCIL BARBARA CADWELL 324 Benjamin Street, Fernandina Beach, FL (715) 350 1967 • TECHNICAL COUNCIL SUE MCKEOWN 6 Whitehaven Lane, Worcester, MA 01609 (508) 459-9209 • USDF Connection is published bimonthly by the United States Dressage Federation, 4051 Iron Works Parkway, Lexington, KY 40511. Phone: 859/971-2277. Fax: 859/971-7722. E-mail:, Web site: www. USDF members receive USDF Connection as a membership benefit, paid by membership dues. Copyright © 2021 USDF. All rights reserved. USDF reserves the right to refuse any advertising or copy that is deemed unsuitable for USDF and its policies. Excluding advertisements, all photos with mounted riders must have safety head gear or USEF-approved competition hat. USDF assumes no responsibility for the claims made in advertisements. Statements of fact and opinion are those of the experts consulted and authors, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or the policy of USDF. The publishers reserve the right to reject any advertising deemed unsuitable for USDF, as well as the right to reject or edit any manuscripts received for publication. USDF assumes no responsibility for unsolicited material. All materials must be accompanied by a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Questions about your subscription or change in address? Contact USDF Membership Department, 859/971-2277, or POSTMASTER: SEND ADDRESS CHANGES TO: USDF, 4051 IRON WORKS PARKWAY, LEXINGTON, KY 40511. Canadian Agreement No. 1741527. Canada return address: Station A, P.O. Box 54, Windsor, Ontario N9A 6J5.

2 November/December 2021 | USDF CONNECTION

USDF Connection


Volume 23, Number 4



4 Inside USDF

Back to the Future

By Stephan Hienzsch

6 Ringside

The Time Warp

By Jennifer O. Bryant

Departments 14



By Joan Darnell and Kathy Rowse

18 Clinic

Worth the Wait

The Judge’s Box

Panel Discussion

At postponed Games, Team USA passages to first Olympic silver medal in 73 years

By Diana de Rosa

Conversations on Training: Lendon Gray By Beth Baumert

22 Free Rein

Catching (Extra) Rides


28 Salute

24 Sport Horse

A Record-Setting Paralympics

By Mickayla Frederick

Go behind the scenes with Team USA’s leading para-dressage rider at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games

By Roxanne Trunnell


Simonson, Kment Score Hat Tricks at NAYC

Region 7 rider sweeps YR gold medals; Region 4 competitor takes all the Junior gold

A Headshaker of a Problem By Heather Smith Thomas

Unassuming Hero

By Katherine Walcott

72 My Dressage

In the Loop

By Katherine Walcott


Dressage Rider’s Helmet Buying Guide

What’s the difference between a $60 helmet and a $600 (or more) model? We sort out the details to help you stay safe while looking and feeling great in the saddle.

By Penny Hawes


Kids Count in the FEI Children’s Division

An introduction to an exciting new dressage competition division for youth

By Sue Weakley

Basics 8 Sponsor Spotlight


9 Collection

On Our Cover

70 USDF Office Contact Directory

68 Rider’s Market

Colorul Holidays

A rainbow of gift ideas to brighten someone’s season

The 2020 US Olympic dressage team of Steffen Peters, Adrienne Lyle, and Sabine Schut-Kery won the USA’s first Olympic silver medal since 1948. Story, p. 32. Photo by Diana De Rosa.

70 USDF Connection Submission Guidelines 71 Advertising Index

USDF CONNECTION | November/December 2021


Inside USDF Back to the Future Pandemic year 2 forces another pivot to a virtual convention format


s your head spinning as much as mine? Who would have imagined we would be here again? After surviving the year that was 2020, I was sure that we would be on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic by now, but circumstances have caused the USDF to again reevaluate the plans for our annual convention. The decision to course-correct and to make the 2021 Adequan®/ USDF Annual Convention an entirely virtual event was not made lightly. As it became evident that we had to take a second look at our plans for a hybrid in-person/virtual event, we sought feedback from those most closely connected to the convention and our governance process. Their position was clear. Shifting to a virtual convention for 2021 was the necessary, correct, and preferred decision, made out of concern for the best interests of our members and the organization. As in 2020, the pivot to virtual does not come without obstacles, but USDF’s leadership and staff are confident that we can again deliver an enjoyable and productive convention experience. Unlike last year’s event, the 2021 convention will feature several contested Executive Board elections, so this year’s convention will include a “Meet the Presidential Candidates” Q&A session. At the USDF regional directors’ discretion, the candidates will also have the opportunity to address members at the regional

meetings. (Want a head start? For a look at which seats are up for election and to read the candidates’ biographies and position statements, see “Meet the Candidates,” September/October.) As we discovered last year, going virtual presents some unique opportunities and forces us to think outside the box regarding how to best structure the online sessions to make them accessible and appealing to members while also effectively conducting the business of the organization. The hugely successful USDF Activities, Administrative, and Technical Council Forums, which were introduced last year, will be held again. Each of these three online open forums brings together related committee leaders to discuss their committees’ goals, objectives, and accomplishments. All USDF members in attendance will have the opportunity to ask questions and to provide feedback. A special feature for 2021 will be a panel and recap presentation by representatives from the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. Then, at the Salute Gala,

4 November/December 2021 | USDF CONNECTION

we’ll celebrate the first US Olympic dressage team silver medal since 1948 and Team USA’s first-ever Paralympic dressage medals. Join us as we honor our amazing and history-making athletes. The Salute Gala will also include presentations of the USDF Lifetime Achievement Awards, USDF Volunteer and Youth Volunteer of the Year awards, USDF rider awards, and USDF Breeder of Distinction awards. Other highlights of the December 1-4 virtual convention will include the US Dressage Finals and USEF/USDF open forums, GMO education, three featured education sessions, and of course the Board of Governors assembly. Stay up to date on details and schedules by checking the convention website at and by following USDF on social media. I’ll close by extending my thanks to the entire USDF membership for your understanding and support of the many changes that the past two years have necessitated. USDF’s Executive Board members have had to make many difficult decisions, and the entire membership has shown its resilience and dedication to the sport of dressage by staying with us on this wild ride. Together we will navigate what I’m sure we all hope is the final chapter of this pandemic saga, and together we will move the USDF and the sport successfully into the future.


By Stephan Hienzsch, USDF Executive Director

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Challenge: Optimizing performance


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Ringside The Time Warp 2021: the year that felt like 2020 all over again

heartrending. There were stunning performances in glittering, nearly vacant venues, and triumphant moments achieved with no loved ones in the stands to share them with. Yet somehow Tokyo pulled off the Games, exceeding expectations while managing to keep the specter of COVID-19 mostly at bay. For many US equestrian enthusiasts, Tokyo will be the Games remembered for historic achievements by the dressage and para-dressage athletes: the only dressage team silver medal in what amounts to living memory (not too many people alive today can recall the 1948 London Olympic team silver), and the first-ever Paralympic dressage team medal (bronze), plus two individual golds. In this issue, equestrian photojournalist Diana De Rosa highlights the memorable moments of the Olympic dressage competition (“Worth the Wait,” page 32). Then, for the ultimate inside look at the Paralympic dressage, read the essay by none other than triple 2020 Paralympic Games medalist

6 November/December 2021 | USDF CONNECTION

Roxanne Trunnell (page 42). Roxie recounts her whirlwind journey to Tokyo—and it really is a whirlwind for the athletes, with tight travel itineraries and packed schedules that can make for a blink-andyou’ll-miss-it experience if they don’t carve out some time to savor the moment. I suppose that’s part of the reason that documenting Olympic and Paralympic performances is so important: They pass so quickly. Even medal ceremonies, with all their pomp and the playing of anthems, are over in minutes. As quickly as the podiums were rushed into the stadium, they’re whisked away as soon as the last horse exits, and the arena becomes just a big empty riding ring again. Time is indeed fleeting. The moments of a lifetime come and then they’re gone. We’ve tried to capture some of them in this issue so that we can celebrate our magnificent dressage and para-dressage horses and riders, and hold on to the glory, for a little while longer.

Jennifer O. Bryant, Editor @JenniferOBryant



had to double- and triple-check my own writing and proofreading in this issue because I kept referring to the year 2021 when I meant 2020, and vice versa. The confusion stemmed from the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games Organizing Committee’s decision to stick with the 2020 nomenclature for the Games that were postponed until this year. “Tokyo 2020” had already been emblazoned on everything from signage to souvenirs, so the change to 2021 would have cost both brand recognition and money. But the resulting juxtaposed annum references looked for all the world like typos and caused this editor’s head to explode and her fingers occasionally to auto-type one year when she meant the other. If 2020-2021 were the years that simultaneously were and weren’t, imagine how they felt to the Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls. Some athletes found that their time, sadly, had passed: Their window of opportunity to make a team was the year 2020, and that window closed before the Games could be staged. For others, the pandemic-induced delay was an astounding stroke of luck that gave them the additional year needed to reach peak elite-level performance. But even for those on whom fortune smiled, the Tokyo Games were a strange combination of beautiful and lonely, joyous and

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USDF Breeders Championship Series


Collection Bits and Pieces from USDF and the World of Dressage


US Dressage Festival of Champions ★ Century Club Welcomes 500th Member ★ Para-Dressage Documentary in Development

IN THE FRAME 2021 FEI North American Youth Championships (NAYC) triple dressage gold medalists Christian Simonson and Zeaball Diawind went on to claim the Horseware Ireland/USEF Young Rider Dressage National Championship at the 2021 US Dressage Festival of Champions (pictured). See page 48 for NAYC results and photos.

USDF CONNECTION | November/December 2021


Collection CHAMPIONSHIPS A slightly smaller competitor pool—169 horse-rider combinations, down from 175 last year—contested the 14 US Equestrian (USEF) national dressage championship titles at the 2021 US Dressage Festival of Champions, held August 25-29 at Lamplight Equestrian Center in Wayne, Illinois. Of those 169 combinations, seven featured New Jersey-based competitor Alice Tarjan. Tarjan, who owns all of her mounts (plus Glory Day, who won the Five-Year-Old national championship with rider Marcus Orlob), went home with five champion or reserve-champion titles, including one-two sweeps of the Developing Horse Grand Prix and the Grand Prix divisions. Results USEF Dressage Seat Medal Final, 13 and Under CH: Olivia Martz, Gig Harbor, Washington, on her own German Riding Pony mare, Norra (Carlson x Praefect AA) (86.000%) RS: Virginia Woodcock, Atlanta, Georgia, on The Safari Party (Branstock’s Ryujin x Rhoquest), a gelding owned by Elizabeth and Richard Woodcock and the rider (84.000%) USEF Dressage Seat Medal Final, 14-18 CH: Kasey Denny, Williston, Florida, on Hemingway KW (Don Schufro x Sandro Hit), a Dutch Warmblood gelding owned by Amy Denny (87.000%) RS: Trinity Schatzel, Eagle, Idaho, on her Hanoverian gelding, Spörky De Luxe (Spörcken x Brentano II) (86.000%) Markel/USEF Young Horse FourYear-Old Dressage National Championship CH: Katryna Evans, Bailey, Colorado, on Fontenay, a Hanoverian gelding (Fürst Jazz x Don Frederico) owned by Dr. Cesar Parra ((8.760)

RS: Alice Tarjan, Oldwick, New Jersey, on her Oldenburg mare Ierland’s Eden (Ierland x Krack C) (8.616) Markel/USEF Young Horse FiveYear-Old Dressage National Championship CH: Marcus Orlob, Annandale, New Jersey, on Alice Tarjan’s Danish Warmblood stallion Glory Day (Grand Galaxy Win x Deemster) (9.518) RS: Hope Beerling, Califon, New Jersey, on Vianne, a Hanoverian mare (Vitalis x Ramiro’s Blue) owned by Kimberly Butenhoff (8.964) Markel/USEF Young Horse Six-Year-Old Dressage National Championship CH: Madeleine Bendfeldt, Davie, Florida, on Sonata MF (Sir Donnerhall I x Don Principe), a Hanoverian mare owned by Pegasus Equestrian Davies Inc. (8.148) RS: David Blake, Cardiff by the Sea, California, on Delilah (Dr. Watson x Wolkenstein II), a Hanoverian mare owned by Leslie Allbright (8.120) Markel/USEF Developing Horse Prix St. Georges Dressage National Championship CH: Emily Miles, Paola, Kansas, on Daily Show, a Hanoverian stallion (Danciano x Stockholm) owned by Leslie Waterman (74.504%)

GRAND PRIX CHAMPION: Alice Tarjan on Candescent

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RS: Kristina Harrison, Burbank, California, on I Felix, a KWPN gelding (Fidertanz x UB40) owned by Jocelyn Towne (72.159%) Markel/USEF Developing Horse Grand Prix Dressage National Championship CH: Alice Tarjan, Oldwick, New Jersey, on her Hanoverian mare Serenade MF (Sir Donnerhall x Don Principe) (75.519%) RS: Alice Tarjan on her KWPN stallion Harvest (Connaisseur x Ulft) (71.689%) USEF Intermediaire I Dressage National Championship CH: Dawn White-O’Connor, San Diego, California, on Hudson M, a KWPN gelding (Cadans M x Tuschinski) owned by Akiko Yamazaki and Four Winds Farm (75.287%) RS: Lindsey Holleger, Middletown, New York, on MW Ave Maria, an Oldenburg mare (Voice x Fidertanz) owned by Jennifer Vanover (73.323%) USEF Grand Prix Dressage National Championship CH: Alice Tarjan, Oldwick, New Jersey, on her Hanoverian mare Candescent (Christ x Falkenstern II) (73.434%) RS: Alice Tarjan on her Oldenburg mare Donatella M (Fürstenball x Jazz Time) (71.975%) USEF Pony Rider Dressage National Championship CH: Tessa Geven, Cataula, Georgia, on her Connemara gelding, Tullymor’s Houdini (Fieldstream Riley x Connemara Persuasion) (70.135%) RS: Maren Elise Fouché-Hanson, Colbert, Georgia, on her gelding, In My Feelings (69.587%) USEF Children Dressage National Championship CH: Tessa Geven, Cataula, Georgia, on Sir Frederico, a Hanoverian gelding (Sandro Hit x Don Frederico) owned by Carden Burdette (74.787%) RS: Sienna Rowe, Urbanna, Virginia, on D’Agostino, a Hanoverian gelding


It’s the Tarjan Show at US Dressage Festival of Champions

(Destano x Samarant) owned by Christian Garweg (74.309%) Adequan®/USEF Junior Dressage National Championship CH: Kat Fuqua, Atlanta, Georgia, on her KWPN mare, Dreamgirl (Spielberg x Goodtimes) (69.793%) RS: Lexie Kment, Palmyra, Nebraska, on Montagny Von Der Heide, a Trakehner gelding (Hibiskus x Münchhausen) owned by Laureen Van Norman (69.766%) Horseware Ireland/USEF Young Rider Dressage National Championship CH: Christian Simonson, Ventura, California, on Zeaball Diawind, a Danish Warmblood gelding

(Fürstenball x Zardin Firfod) owned by Christina Morgan and the rider (74.632%) RS: Mackenzie Peer, Overland Park, Kansas, on Ansgar, a KWPN gelding (Special D x Formateur) owned by Lane Peer and the rider (69.558%) Adequan®/USEF Young Adult Brentina Cup Dressage National Championship CH: Chase Shipka, Wellington, Florida, on her KWPN gelding, Gladstone Zee T (Apache x Jazz) (70.114%) RS: McKayla Hohmann, Georgetown, Massachusetts, on Numberto, a KWPN gelding (Negro x Ahorn) owned by Elisabeth Austin (66.973%).




TDF’s Century Club Welcomes 500th Team Becoming a member of The Dressage Foundation’s (TDF) Century Club—by riding a dressage test aboard a horse aged such that the combined age of horse and rider totals 100 or more—is a

GOING STRONG: Century Club members Helene Dellechiaie and Finnian’s Chase

memorable milestone unto itself. But when that horse-rider combination is also the 500th to “join the club,” there’s even more reason to celebrate.

BRENTINA CUP CHAMPION: Chase Shipka on Gladstone Zee T

In June Helene Dellechiaie, 71, of Oak Ridge, New Jersey, and her Connemara gelding, Finnian’s Chase, 29, became Century Club team #500. Their Century Club ride was Introductory Level Test A at the Greendell Dressage Schooling Show in Greendell, New Jersey. As Dellechiaie recounted to TDF, she’s owned “Finn” since he was a coming four-year-old. They embarked on their dressage journey when Finn was 10 and have earned a USDF Master’s Challenge Award. The versatile gelding has also received honors from the American Connemara Pony Society and US Equestrian in disciplines including hunter and pleasure in addition to dressage. Horseless and horse-crazy as a child, Dellechiaie didn’t get a horse of her own until she was 35, she told TDF. Later a riding vacation in Ireland convinced her that a Connemara would be a good match. She is a member of the USDF GMO the Eastern States Dressage and Combined Training Association, which coincidentally was co-founded by TDF Century Club member #1, the late Lazelle Knocke.

US Para-Dressage Riders Are Focus of Documentary Film Project Many horse and animal lovers are familiar with the acclaimed documentary films Harry and Snowman, about the late jumper rider Harry de Leyer and IN DEVELOPMENT: his champion mount Poster for ParaGold featuring paraSnowman, rescued dressage competitor from slaughter for David Botana $80; and Life in the Doghouse, about hunter trainers Danny Robertshaw and Ron Danta, who have rehabilitated and found homes for more than 11,000 dogs through their Danny and Ron’s Rescue organization. Now director/producer Ron Davis has trained his lens on the world of para-equestrian dressage. His production company, Docutainment, is aiming to produce ParaGold, which follows the quests of para-dressage riders David Botana, Sydney Collier, Rebecca Hart, and Roxanne Trunnell as they sought to make the US team for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics. View the movie trailer and learn more at

USDF CONNECTION | November/December 2021



YOUTH Dressage Enthusiasts Among USEF Scholarship Recipients

Kjento Tops Six-Year-Old Division at World Young Horse Championships

The US Equestrian (USEF) Higher Education Equestrian Scholarships for graduating high-school seniors help to support students who are committed to continuing their involvement in equestrian sport while in college through an ENGINEERING HER equestrian-related degree, volunFUTURE: Teff teerism, or internship; riding on an intercollegiate equestrian team; or other equestrianrelated activity. Among the five 2021 recipients of $1,000 scholarships were two dressage enthusiasts. Emma Teff, of Renfrew, Pennsylvania, is attending Purdue University to pursue a degree in engineering. Gracie Lynch, of Berea, Kentucky, is pursuing degrees in equine rehabilitation and pre-veterinary medicine at Midway University. Learn more about the USEF Higher Education Equestrian Scholarships at

Earning marks of 10 for both trot and canter, the KWPN stallion Kjento (Negro x Jazz), owned by the Netherlands’ Gert-Jan Van Olst, decisively claimed the Six-Year-Old title at the 2021 FEI WBFSH Dressage World Breeding Championships for Young Horses on a score of STANDOUT: Six-Year-Old World 96.000%. The 2021 event Champion Kjento, ridden by British returned to its traditional Olympian Charlotte Fry Verden, Germany, location, August 24-29. Fresh off her team bronze medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Charlotte Fry of Great Britain, who rides for Van Olst Horses, showed her versatility by moving from her Grand Prix-level Olympic performances aboard Van Olst’s KWPN stallion Everdale (Lord Leatherdale x Negro) to her Young Horse division championship at Verden. The Five-Year-Old championship went to the Danish Warmblood stallion Hasselhoej Down Town (Hasselhoej Donkey Boy x Blue Hors Zack), ridden by Jeanna Hogberg of Sweden (97.000%). The stallion earned scores of 10 for trot and perspective, and 9.5 for walk, canter, and submission. In the Seven-Year-Old division, owner/rider Andreas Helgstrand of Denmark piloted the KWPN stallion Jovian (Apache x Tango) to the win on a score of 89.136. There were no US entries in this year’s competition.


USDF BULLETINS All 2021 rider and year-end awards will be mailed to award recipients in January 2022. Please contact USDF if you have not received your award by February 28, 2022.

US Dressage Finals Competitors, We Want to Hear from You!

Immediately following the US Dressage Finals competition, you will be emailed an electronic evaluation form. We ask that you complete this survey to provide feedback. Help us continue to make the US Dressage Finals great. We look forward to hearing from you. Best of luck to all!

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Attention, 2021 Awards Recipients

FINANCIAL AID Sport-Horse Breeder, Young Dressage Pro Awarded TDF Grants Margaret “Meg” Williams, owner of and trainer at Oakwood Farms, Lawrenceburg, Indiana, has received a $2,000 grant from The Dressage Foundation’s (TDF) US Breeder Excellence Fund. A breeder of Hanoverians for more than 30 years, Williams strives to produce quality horses for professionals and amateurs alike, from the lower levels to FEI. She planned to use the grant money toward shadowing judges at the Verden Stallion Licensing and Stallion Sale in Germany. Being able to attend the event is “an incredible opportunity for a breeder to not only see the up-andcoming young stallions, but to develop their eye, as well,” Williams said. “As I am always looking to improve my breeding program, this experience will prove invaluable.” TDF’s US Breeder Excellence Fund provides financial assistance


for sport-horse breeders to pursue related educational opportunities that will advance their careers, promote sound breeding practices, and further enhance the quality of US-bred dressage horses. Laura Ashley Killian, Loxahatchee, Florida, received the 2021 George Williams Young Professional Grant from TDF. This grant,




Lisa Del Mundo, San Antonio, Texas Lisa Del Mundo is a USDF-certified instructor/ trainer at Training and First Levels. She is also a USDF L graduate with CREDENTIALED: Del distinction and Mundo and friend a USDF bronze medalist. Her dressage business, DreamCatcher Equestrian, is currently based in San Antonio, Texas. How I got started in dressage: I got started in dressage from doing eventing and wanting better scores in the dressage phase. Jumping and cross-country always came very easily to me, but my focus

created by supporters to honor the work of past USDF president and current US national dressage youth coach George Williams, provides financial support for continuing education to dressage instructors and trainers aged 25-35. Preference is given to those who have started or finished the certification process through the USDF Instructor/Trainer Program. Killian is a USDF-certified instructor/trainer through Fourth Level and a USDF bronze, silver, and gold medalist. She planned to use the grant funding to attend clinics with Lilo Fore to help prepare for the USDF Instructor/Trainer Program’s FEI-level certification examination. She also traveled to Europe to shadow the young-horse trainer Eva Möller of Germany. Learn more about these and other grant opportunities at

changed to dressage when my quest for perfection took longer than anticipated—and I fell in love with dressage! I wanted to become certified because: I was already teaching 40-plus lessons a week in my early twenties, and I wanted to have credentials to my name as I moved in life, calling different places my home. What surprised me the most about the process: I was pleasantly surprised that it was a very educational program and process overall. I learned to keep believing in myself throughout the process. Tip: Play by the rules but think outside the box. Contact me: or (951) 236-1188. —Alexandria Belton

1 Across: The Art of Riding and Training a Horse We all know the answer, of course, although some puzzlers may have been stumped by this clue in the July 11 New York Times Sunday crossword. But scoring a mention in the nation’s premier crossword puzzle is evidence that our sport is slowly entering the zeitgeist.

USDF CONNECTION | November/December 2021


The Judge’s Box Panel Discussion Why dressage shows use judging panels, why scores on panels usually differ (and it’s really OK), and why competitors should welcome the opportunity to show in front of a panel


hen you are fortunate enough to compete in front of a panel of two judges (at C and at the side, at B or E) or even more, you get the unique opportunity to receive evaluations of your training from judges who have different visual perspectives of the performance.

It is true that the addition of a side judge, such as at Great American/USDF Regional Championships; or two additional judges, as at the US Dressage Finals, may result in the score’s being lowered because side judges are better able to perceive inaccurate figures and sloppy transitions. In this article, we will

DUAL PERSPECTIVES: Judges at C and E at the 2021 Great American/USDF Region 8 Championships in Saugerties, New York

In most cases, judges on a panel will be in general agreement on the majority of the basic qualities of the pyramid of training—for instance, whether the horse was attentive, showed a clear rhythm in all three gaits, and worked over its topline “back to front” to create a correct contact. The overall scores will usually be reflective of your horse’s training and basics.

explain the differences that judges see when judging the same movements from different locations. Dressage judges are trained to evaluate the horse’s rhythm before all else, as rhythm is the most basic quality that should always be maintained. Evaluating rhythm is fairly straightforward from all judging views. The side judge can concentrate

14 November/December 2021 | USDF CONNECTION

on whether the horse exhibits the balance and engagement required of the level (neutral balance at Training and First Levels, uphill balance at Second Level and above), while the job of the judge at C is to look for rhythm, straightness, and bending in figures and lateral work. As a result, although the C judge most likely will notice that a horse is not in the most desired balance, the side judge will mention the balance in almost every comment. Both judges can see and evaluate the contact, but the side judge will be much more bothered by a shortened neck, an open mouth, or other contact issues. The C judge can see whether there is correct bend in circles and in lateral work. The placement of some movements makes it difficult to evaluate the length of stride, but the judge at C is always able to discern whether the rhythm has been maintained. Let’s look at how a panel of two judges would evaluate a 20-meter circle at Training Level—a figure that often is ridden as more of a 24-meter egg shape. The side judge, who is best equipped to evaluate the geometry, may comment that the horse pushed against the rider’s outside aids so that the circle became too large and was shaped incorrectly. The judge at C would look to see whether the circle maintained an even bend, with the horse accepting the contact and maintaining the correct balance for the level. From any viewpoint, the judge’s job is to evaluate the quality of the training appropriate to the level. In evaluating lateral work, the side judge has a harder time see-


By Joan Darnell and Kathy Rowse

ing bend and alignment, but from that perspective it is easy to give in-depth comments regarding the horse’s frame, balance and contact. So this is a place where the scores from the C judge and the side judge could vary. From C, the lateral work should appear fluent, with the appropriate bend and angle. We will be able to see whether the horse maintains the appropriate level of balance and whether its hind legs carry weight. We will also be able to determine whether the horse resists the connection and tightens its neck, thereby blocking the throughness and suppleness. In shoulder-in, for example, the horse should maintain a consistent angle of 30 degrees with a degree of self-carriage while remaining on the bit. The transitions in and out of the movement should maintain balance and a steady connection. We look to see that the movements are prepared and balanced. The counter-canter loop at First Level and the three-loop canter serpentine at Second Level are movements that allow the rider to show off the horse’s training and balance. Both judges will be able to see straightness and deviation of the haunches, but the side judge will be better able to determine the accuracy in the three-loop counter-canter serpentine. Many horses become flat in the canter or strung out, with too much weight on the forehand, during the counter-canter segments, and these are faults that will bother both judges a great deal. The threeloop canter serpentine requires a certain degree of collection in order for it to be correctly placed. If the horse has the self-carriage needed at Second Level, it will be pretty easy to place the serpentine correctly, with three co-joined half-circles connected with one straight stride crossing the center line. The side judge will frequently comment on the geometry because it will be very clear from that perspective whether the line of travel crossing the center USDF CONNECTION | November/December 2021


The Judge’s Box


DATE le x ington, k y


Annual Convention Nov 30 – Dec 3, 2022

line is more of a diagonal line, or whether the competitor rides the serpentine as two smaller loops at the ends with a bigger loop in the middle. The comments on geometry actually are reflections of the rider’s ability to build and maintain the self-carriage needed at this level. All judges will comment on the rhythm in turns on the haunches and walk pirouettes. Because these movements are executed farther away from the side judge, that judge may not be as well equipped to assess the size of the turn—but the side perspective is easily able to tell whether the contact is braced or disturbed. These two movements are ridden right in front of the judge at C, so any loss of rhythm or bracing in the connection will be seen clearly. The C judge will also be able to determine the size of the turn (which in turn on the haunches should be approximately one meter). The judge will also look to see that the rhythm is maintained, that the sequence of the footfalls is correct, and that the horse maintains the correct bend and connection. In changes of lead through the trot, simple changes of lead, and flying changes, the side judge will be able to comment on the balance of the transitions and on the connection back to front. It is often easier for the side judge to determine whether these movements are straight, as well. Meanwhile, the C judge can see the fluidity and whether the rhythm is maintained throughout. In judging halts, the side judge will be more disturbed by unbalanced transitions and unbalanced halts. That judge will comment on the balance and squareness in the halt, while the C judge will mention the straightness and adherence to the center line. The judge at C will comment if the horse’s shoulders or haunches deviate from the line, or if the entire horse drifts to the right or the left, and should note whether the rider is able to maintain the bal-

16 November/December 2021 | USDF CONNECTION

ance appropriate to the level in and out of the halt transitions.

A More Accurate Assessment With only one judge, there are times when the limited vantage point benefits the competitor. For instance, when the horse’s head is blocked by the rider’s body in movements away from the judge at C, the judge must look at other things to try to determine whether the horse is accepting the aids. That is why the use of a side judge is important in Great American/USDF Regional Championships and US Dressage Finals: Very few areas of the arena cannot be seen clearly by at least one judge. We encourage competitors to think of showing in front of a judging panel as a great opportunity to get their tests and training evaluated from different viewpoints. It’s true that judges occasionally disagree in their assessments, and it’s also true that some judges work from a lower or higher scale than their colleagues. But judges hate to disagree with one another, and we will always talk about any differences that arise so that we can learn from them. We want to give the competitor the best feedback we possibly can, to improve the quality and correctness of training. The horse is always our primary concern!

Joan Darnell and Kathy Rowse are US Equestrian “S” dressage judges and faculty members of the USDF L Education Program. Darnell, of Olympia, Washington, co-chairs the USDF L Program Committee and is a member of the USDF Judges and Freestyle Committees. Rowse, of Suffolk, Virginia, is a member of the L Program, Youth Programs, and Adult Programs Committees.

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DJD is an equal opportunity disease Equine DJD, commonly called osteoarthritis, may cause lameness in horses of all ages and breeds. It is characterized by progressive deterioration of the articular cartilage along with changes in bone and soft tissues of the joint.1 Veterinarians diagnose DJD, in part, by looking at radiographs. Dr. Kyla Ortved, the Jacques Jenny Endowed Term Chair of Orthopedic Surgery at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center, said she sees a lot of pre-purchase X-rays from people looking to buy young horses. “I’m finding that a lot of those pretty young horses have radiographic changes,” Dr. Ortved says.

The earlier the better A proactive joint-health approach for the average performance horse should include twice-a-year lameness exams and hoof radiographs to guide the farrier, according to Dr. Kent Allen, owner of Virginia Equine Imaging and a founder of the International Society of Equine Locomotor Pathology. Because DJD gets worse over time, it’s important to manage it early in the disease process when treatment is most effective for horses. “You’re going to be able to [help] them. They’re going to be successful at their job, and they’re going to keep doing the job,” Dr. Allen said. “And that’s where I’ve focused my efforts on use of Adequan i.m. [polysulfated glycosaminoglycan], and I’ve found it very successful.”

Not all products are created equally As the only FDA-approved PSGAG (polysulfated glycosaminoglycan) for DJD in horses, Adequan i.m. actually treats the disease, not just the clinical signs.2,3 It has been proven to reduce inflammation, restore synovial joint lubrication, repair joint cartilage and reverse the disease cycle.2,3 Alternatively, joint supplements and nutraceuticals are not regulated by the FDA. That means manufacturers are not required to prove safety or effectiveness, nor are they required to verify ingredient makeup or manufacturing processes. FDA approval is important to Dr. Robin Dabareiner, who worked at Texas A&M University for 23 years before working at Waller Equine Hospital in Texas. “I try to talk to clients, telling them I feel it’s a bigger bang for your buck if you go with the intramuscular Adequan [than unproven supplements],” Dr. Dabareiner said.

McIlwraith CW, Frisbie DD, Kawcak CE, van Weeren PR. Joint Disease in the Horse. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier, 2016; 33-48. Adequan® i.m. Package Insert, Rev 1/19. 3 Burba DJ, Collier MA, DeBault LE, Hanson-Painton O, Thompson HC, Holder CL: In vivo kinetic study on uptake and distribution of intramuscular tritium-labeled polysulfated glycosaminoglycan in equine body fluid compartments and articular cartilage in an osteochondral defect model. J Equine Vet Sci 1993; 13: 696-703. 1 2

BRIEF SUMMARY: Prior to use please consult the product insert, a summary of which follows: CAUTION: Federal law restricts this drug to use by or on the order of a licensed veterinarian. INDICATIONS: Adequan® i.m. is recommended for the intramuscular treatment of non-infectious degenerative and/or traumatic joint dysfunction and associated lameness of the carpal and hock joints in horses. CONTRAINDICATIONS: There are no known contraindications to the use of intramuscular Polysulfated Glycosaminoglycan. WARNINGS: Do not use in horses intended for human consumption. Not for use in humans. Keep this and all medications out of the reach of children. PRECAUTIONS: The safe use of Adequan® i.m. in horses used for breeding purposes, during pregnancy, or in lactating mares has not been evaluated. For customer care, or to obtain product information, visit To report an adverse event please contact American Regent, Inc. at 1-888-354-4857 or email Each of the veterinarians who participated in this article is a paid consultant for American Regent Animal Health. Trademarks are the property of their respective owners. © 2021, American Regent, Inc. PP-AI-US-0680 09/2021

Clinic Conversations on Training Lendon Gray and D4K—aka Dressage for KIDS Story and Photographs by Beth Baumert


y now, almost everyone in the US dressage community knows about Lendon Gray’s Dressage4Kids (D4K) organization. Many also know about D4K’s WIT program—the immersive Winter Intensive Training experience for youth riders that takes place annually in Wellington, Florida. Some know about SIT—the Summer Intensive Training that takes place in August in Gray, Maine. And a few know about SPIT—a five-day Spring Intensive Training that takes place wherever Gray happens to be at that time.

The entire operation defies logic when you think about it—but the thing is, no one really thinks about it. They “just do it” (which, by the way, has been a favorite phrase of Gray’s for long before it became a Nike slogan). What started the D4K ball rolling is Lendon’s Youth Dressage Festival, which in non-pandemic times takes place annually in Saugerties, New York; Fruitport, Michigan; and Conyers, Georgia. Whereas children in other sports regularly gather for team activities, kids in dressage are

CONSUMMATE TEACHER: Gray instructs Liv during the 2021 Dressage4Kids Summer Intensive Training program in Maine

Then there’s WEP, D4K’s Weekend Equestrian Program, which attracts hundreds of young (and not-so-young) riders for an intensive academic-style January weekend in an especially frigid part of Connecticut, featuring dozens of speakers—some of them quite famous—who plow, undeterred, through snow banks to get there.

often socially isolated. This festival is an opportunity for kids to enjoy the company of other kids who are passionate about dressage. The YDF competition consists of a dressage test, an equitation test, and a written test. During the written exam, as hundreds of kids sit at dozens of tables hunched over their tests, Gray

18 November/December 2021 | USDF CONNECTION

might grab the microphone and say, “Years ago, Laura Graves was sitting in one of these seats taking this test. I’m wondering which one of you might be the next Laura Graves.” It’s a seriously empowering, fun weekend during which the least successful competitor might win a prize for the best-groomed tail. The most successful child might go on to earn a chance in much, much bigger arenas. But wait, there’s more! Gray created Training4Teachers because she believes that dressage instructors usually know what to teach, but they rarely receive education in how to teach. The program features a series of educators as speakers. For the inaugural session, Gray hoped that a dozen dressage instructors might sign up; she figured they could gather in her living room. In fact, nearly 100 instructors participated. Finally, the D4K TEAM (Training, Education, and Mentoring) program is a nationwide series of clinics given by Gray and a few other top trainers. The TEAM program takes place over about 26 weekends in locations around the country. For dressage riders aged 25 and under, it serves as a stepping stone from the “grass roots” level of riding to the long ladder that leads to bigger goals: representing one’s country internationally, becoming a successful professional, or simply becoming the best dressage rider one can be. The two-day regional clinics and the five-day national clinics include lessons, lectures, and demonstrations. Participants receive instruction in stable management, riding theory, fitness, and sport psychology—and they had better show up! They are expected to watch all lessons and to become thoroughly involved—to just do it.

USDF 2022 Member Perks Partners Discounts available to 2022 USDF members SHE MAKES THE MAGIC HAPPEN: Lendon Gray, champion of kids in dressage

Thousands upon thousands of young dressage enthusiasts have been influenced by D4K. At the 2021 edition of the FEI North American Youth Championships (NAYC), more than three-quarters of the US dressage competitors had participated in D4K programs. Ironically, most of these kids don’t know that Gray is an Olympian. She represented the United States at the dressage World Championships in 1978. In 1980, she rode Beppo at the alternate Olympic dressage event at Goodwood in England. In 1988, she competed Later On at the Seoul Olympic Games. Then in 1991, she competed at the FEI World Cup Finals in Paris. The kids of D4K don’t know all that. They know only that Gray is their champion. She’s a tough taskmaster, but she’s on their side.


n August 2021, I caught up with Gray in her home state of Maine, where she was spending the month with a group of young riders who had convened for D4K’s Summer Intensive Training (SIT) Program. The kids had come from as far away as Alaska and Ireland. The SIT schedule was creative but structured. Monday is a day for confirming last week’s concepts. Tuesday is for introducing new ideas. Wednesday is for confirming those new ideas. Thursday is a hack day. Friday might bring cavalletti work or a schooling show with either Gray or a guest as judge. Saturday could be lessons in the field or a field trip to watch a clinic with such notables as Kathy Connelly

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USDF CONNECTION | November/December 2021



CHANGING GEARS: SIT participant Alex learned that transitions and simple lateral work can actually help to motivate a horse that tends to go behind the leg

or Laura Graves. Sunday is a day off. Gray likes to give semi-private lessons. “I don’t want the kids to be too dependent on me,” she explains. “I want them to have time to figure things out for themselves.” On the day I’m visiting, the first semi-private lesson of the day is with Jillian and Taylor. Taylor is riding a rangy gray eight-year-old off-thetrack Thoroughbred. Ten days ago, according to Gray, the horse was “a dart looking for a dartboard.” Suppleness isn’t a desirable quality for horses that were trained to get to the finish line as soon as possible, but this horse obviously trusts Taylor, who has him looking relaxed through the topline and soft in the hand as she guides him on straight lines and 20-meter circles. Steering isn’t super-easy because darts only go in one direction, so Gray helps Taylor with her rein aids. She says: • If you make an adjustment, do it with both hands. Don’t use left and right reins separately. • Keep your hands in front of the saddle. • Use your inside leg on the circle. • The rein motion goes forward and back, not up and down. • Keep an elastic contact. No flopping reins! • The reins create a hallway or a chute. • Look down at your hands for a moment to be sure they’re working together. One benefit of having following hands, Gray points out, is that the

horse can actually feel the rein aid when the rider stops following to half-halt—meaning that the rider doesn’t have to pull. The fingers must be soft so that the rider can close them for a brief half-halt. Tight fists, Gray says, are usually accompanied by rigid arms. Riding too many circles can actually make a horse crooked, says Gray, who recommends that Taylor make serpentines and figure-eights to help her awareness of straightness. The horse’s tempo quickens on straight lines, and Gray says, “See how much you can slow him down simply by posting slower. Try to keep your seat in the saddle for a split second longer.” She’s pleased with the result and asks Taylor to halt: “While you’re in a halt, feel if he’s square.” She asks Taylor about the front legs first and then the hind legs, noting that “it takes a long time to be able to feel that, but it helps if you start being aware of it now.” Jillian is riding a Second Level horse. Gray asks: “What are we likely to do in shoulder-in that is a mistake?” Overbend the horse’s neck, replies Jillian, and Gray agrees. Again, she gives help with the aids: • Think about moving the horse’s shoulders, not her head. • Elastic reins mean “following like the skin of a balloon.” The skin of a balloon contains a little or a lot of energy, but it always feels spongy. • Use positive aids. I interrupt to ask Gray what she means by a positive aid. “A positive leg aid makes a difference,” she explains. “Something happens as a result of the aid. When I say, ‘Don’t use a negative aid,’ I mean don’t push without making a difference. We tend to hang on to a negative aid and nag. For example, instead of the leg meaning ‘Go,’ the negative leg aid ends up saying, ‘Don’t slow down.’” The third rider, Killian, is riding a borrowed horse. The mare coughs and Killian’s arms get yanked. Gray asks whether Killian has been wetting the horse’s hay, and she says she has. Gray responds: “If she coughs,

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she shouldn’t get hit in the mouth, though. That tells me your arms aren’t elastic.” She qualifies: • “Elastic” doesn’t mean that you can’t be strong. Think big, thick elastic band instead of thin, wimpy elastic. • Your horse is not going to be more supple than you are. • Your arms point the way. Later, the mare coughs again, and Killian’s arms accommodate. “Good. That tells me a lot about your arms,” Gray says. Alex is riding a very typey sevenyear-old bay gelding in a lovely frame, but she comments that the horse feels behind the leg. Gray recommends moving the horse around in the warmup, doing transitions and leg-yield to keep him interested and listening. Later, while Gray is helping another rider, she turns to Alex and says, “Alex, do you have a plan? You know how I feel about plans. Don’t go around and around, wasting your horse’s energy.” When Alex’s mount is warmed up, they do a simple gymnastic exercise: counter-canter on a 20-meter circle between E and B, coupled with a 10-meter circle in true canter each time the horse reaches the center line. Once they establish the accuracy of those figures, the horse becomes very straight and through his back. Riley is riding a long-backed, longnecked horse whose conformation makes it easy for the rider to overbend his neck. To give Riley a visual of the correct alignment, Gray says, “If I were a bird in the rafters, I’d want to see his neck on the same arc as his line of travel.” Allie is riding a pretty bay mare who is eager by nature, and Gray encourages the rider to develop “whoaability”: • Don’t hold against her. • Give to contact rather than giving to a loose rein. • Be sure you have a choice—that you could go slower if you want to. Next, Kaytlin tells Gray that her

WHOA AND GO: SIT participant Allie had to learn how to manage her mount’s forwardness without holding

horse doesn’t feel quite right. The horse is being treated by a veterinarian and is supposed to be ridden lightly. Gray suggests that she walk for another five or 10 minutes, then try trotting again. The horse still looks very slightly off, so Gray says that Kaytlin should do a lesson in walk. She asks one of the older students to teach the lesson. “I like to get the kids teaching,” she says. Liv is riding a lovely big dark-bay mare who is strong in the hand. Gray gives her several pieces of advice regarding the contact: • Use your voice. Anything you can do to avoid pulling on a horse’s mouth, do it. Do whatever you can do to make it easier for her. • Don’t pull, but don’t drop her, either. • Do it with bend. Ride a correct circle. • Use your weight, your voice, and then your hand, in that order. • Do transitions. Charlotte Dujardin says you should do hundreds of transitions during your ride. Carl Hester recommends thousands. • Don’t turn the bit into a girth, with “dead pressure.” • You want a horse that has go, but she has to accept your control. Phoebe is riding a Thoroughbred who normally works on the Second Level movements, but he is feeling claustrophobic and out of sorts today, so Gray advises the rider to go back and find the nice Training or First Level horse that is in there. She

recommends that Phoebe stay close to him, supple and elastic. They take many breaks, and gradually the anxious horse becomes more supple and compliant. Caroline has just come back from the NAYC, but she’s not riding her competition horse. Her mount for today is working at Prix St. Georges level. Meanwhile, Gianna rides a 22-year-old bay Grand Prix mare that looks lovely and fluid. The horse does not look 22, and Gianna rides her with great respect—thoughtfully and in balance. Both riders develop suppleness with shoulder-in, halfpass, and transitions. After the lessons, the riders convene in the barn for a fitness session. They will all be there. They will all “just do it,” they will all benefit, and they all end up loving it. Every rider I’ve seen today was impeccably turned out, and the horses and tack were spotless. One rider had the front wraps a tiny bit too low, and Gray gently pointed it out. The riders’ positions were beautiful, but one was slightly crooked through the torso, so a US team physiotherapist was expected to come help. What amazing resources! Gray herself would say that these D4K programs go on pretty much without her, but what she means is that their mechanics have developed lives of their own. The mechanics go on, but the Lendon Gray part of each program is what makes the magic.

Beth Baumert is a USDF-certified in-

structor through Fourth Level and a USDF L program graduate with distinction. She is the author of When Two Spines Align: Dressage Dynamics and of How Two Minds Meet: The Mental Dynamics of Dressage. She currently serves as president and CEO of The Dressage Foundation. For many years she owned and operated Cloverlea Dressage in Connecticut and served as the technical editor of Dressage Today magazine.

TIME TO RENEW FOR 2022! Your 2021 membership expires November 30! Renew by 12/31 to receive the 2021 Yearbook. SPECIAL OFFER: Renew your USDF Participating Membership online by December 31, 2021 to receive a $25 electronic gift card from SmartPak! Only members who renew by 6/1/22 are guaranteed a printed copy of the 2022 USDF Member Guide.

Important Reminder You must have a Participating Membership to be eligible and qualify for most year-end award and championship programs. (See the website for detailed program information and eligibility requirements.)

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USDF CONNECTION | November/December 2021


Free Rein Catching (Extra) Rides Riding multiple horses can be beneficial to your equestrian education


large part of the equestrian dream is owning a horse of your own. As your time together grows, so do your bond and your education. There is a certain level of comfort that comes with riding the same horse every day. You generally know what to expect during your day-to-day interactions with your horse and what you need to work on during your riding lessons.

One of the greatest assets of dressage is that it truly is a sport for horses of any breed and ability level. Because dressage is the foundation of many equestrian disciplines, it can benefit almost any horse and rider. So here are some the reasons that you might want to seek out a variety of horses to ride. Every horse moves differently. One of the first things you may

NOT JUST FOR WARMBLOODS! Dressage can improve any breed, and to become a skilled equestrian you need to learn how to ride all sorts of mounts. Samantha Budney, Wallkill, New York, and her American Paint Horse, Skipper Leo Peppy, compete at Dressage4Kids’ 2021 Lendon’s Youth Dressage Festival.

This continuity is great for many reasons, but sometimes things can begin to get a little monotonous or even frustrating. Maybe you can’t quite figure out the aids for a certain movement. Or your horse needs some time off, but you still want to ride. Perhaps you’re looking for ways to expand your saddle time. Or maybe you’re horseless at this point in your life, either by choice or by circumstance.

notice when you ride an unfamiliar horse is how different it feels, especially if it’s a breed you’re not accustomed to. Warmbloods are known for their elastic and lofty gaits. Gaited horses, like Saddlebreds and Tennessee Walkers, are known for their unique and often very smooth gaits. Within these larger categories, each individual horse moves a little differently from the next. Riding horses of different breeds

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is a fantastic way to begin developing or improving the “feel” so many riders and trainers talk about. By riding different breeds, you also get more familiar with the various types of horses that are out there. Each breed of horse was developed for a different purpose, and that purpose plays a large role in how the horse feels under saddle. Gaited horses are a great example of this, as many of them were developed for comfortable riding, which produced smooth gaits. Personality. It is no secret that some horses possess big personalities. If you have your own horse, his personality was probably a major factor when you decided to bring him into your family. After all, you want to develop a partnership with your horse, so finding a personality type that meshes well with your own is important. Working with different horses can teach you a lot about both riding and overall horsemanship. Some horses love to work and become very anticipatory and “forward thinking” under saddle. Others require a lot of confidence-building and may take longer than their peers to develop their skills. Riding a horse that is slightly more enthusiastic about work then you are used to can help strengthen your understanding of forward riding and expand your comfort zone. The “bombproof ” veteran is a great choice for those looking to build confidence or even to step into the show ring for the first time. Riding horses with differing personalities can be a great change of pace, and it also creates opportunities for you to learn how to work through issues with different approaches.


By Mickayla Frederick

Every horse is a test of your skills. Above all, when you ride different horses, you’ll learn humility. Every horse will quickly tell you where your weak points are. Maybe you tend to ride with too much bend

Meet the Columnist


ickayla Frederick, of Earlham, Iowa, is a 2021 graduate of Oregon State University, where she majored in cultural and linguistic

to the inside and not enough connection on the outside rein. Riding other horses will refine your aids and can make it easier for you to identify your own strengths, weaknesses, and imbalances. Having the opportunity to check in on your own riding and to bring out some tools you don’t usually get the chance to use can help to keep your training lively and to serve as a progress check. Above all, keep in mind that riding another horse should be a

fun and engaging experience. No one should ever ride a horse that is too much for that rider’s own skill and comfort levels. “Catch rides” should be helpful supplements to your regular training in a way that promotes growth while still maintaining a level of comfort, safety, and enjoyment.

Convenience doesn’t always equal results.



Mickayla Frederick with her Hanoverian geldings, Sir Dakota HA and Wrainier Q

anthropology with a minor in nonWestern history. She was bitten by the horse bug during a trail ride near her grandmother’s house in Alaska at the age of seven. A lifelong dressage rider, Mickayla worked her way up the ranks in the Junior/Young Rider division, competing in multiple Regional Championships all the way to the 2015 FEI North American Junior and Young Rider Championships (now NAYC). She is a former chair of the USDF Youth Programs Advisory Subcommittee. Having recently aged out of the Jr/YR division, Mickayla has begun to shift her focus to other opportunities within the Open division. Her partner through most of her career thus far has been Wrainier Q, a 2003 Hanoverian gelding that she co-owns with her grandfather Robert Susa. The newest addition to the herd is Sir Dakota HA, a 2015 Hanoverian gelding also owned by Robert Susa.


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USDF CONNECTION | November/December 2021


Sport Horse A Headshaker of a Problem Research has uncovered clues to the mystery of headshaking, but for some horse owners the condition remains frustratingly difficult to manage By Heather Smith Thomas

COOL SHADES: They may elicit a chuckle from bystanders, but goggles and other types of face masks can help some headshaking horses whose behavior is triggered by sunlight

violently shaking her head up and down, rubbing her face on stall walls and striking out with her foreleg.” Stevens’ veterinarian diagnosed Fiona’s condition as headshaking syndrome, but the problem was far

from solved. That’s because this puzzling condition is a sign of disease rather than a disease itself. Multiple factors can be causes, and treating headshaking often involves trial and error, not always with complete success. In this article, we’ll untangle the web of symptoms and triggers, and we’ll look at the latest research, treatments, and equipment that may allow the headshaking horse to continue in its dressage career.

A Nervous Disorder Headshaking syndrome is the behavioral manifestation of a disorder involving the trigeminal nerve, which runs from the top of the horse’s skull down along its face, says John Madigan, DVM, professor emeritus of medicine and epidemiology at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine. A “headshaker” “shows signs of neuropathic pain—a tingling, itching sensation, like a bug inside the nose,” says Madigan, who has studied the condition for many years. “The horse may snort and rub the nose.” The unpleasant sensation triggers repetitive, involuntary movements, with affected horses typically flicking their noses up and down rapidly and repeatedly. Horsemen once regarded the condition as a behavioral or training issue, using running martingales, elevator bits, and other devices in an attempt to eliminate the behavior, says Pamela Wilkins, DVM, PhD, DACVIM (LA-IM), DACVECC, professor of veterinary clinical medicine at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine. After Wilkins, a former hunter/jumper

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professional, became a veterinarian, she realized that headshakers are physically disturbed, not naughty. “Rubbing the head or muzzle may be constant and vigorous, like a horrible itch that has to be scratched,” she says.

Identifying Triggers Determining the triggers of a horse’s headshaking can be challenging because “episodes may be intermittent and seasonal,” says Madigan. “Some horses headshake continuously while at rest, and others mainly when exercised.” Diagnosis can also be tricky because the site of the nerve pain or disturbance usually isn’t the actual location of the source of the problem, Wilkins explains. About 30 percent of headshaking horses are light-sensitive, with the horse’s optic nerve also involved, the result being that “sunlight is the primary trigger” for those animals, Wilkins says. A comparative disorder in humans is “sun sneezing,” with exposure to light—not to a nasal irritant—triggering the achoos. The light causes sensory stimulation in the brain that makes the trigeminal nerve fire excessively. In humans, “a trigeminal-nerve problem can cause facial pain with nasal discharge, tears, sneezing, et cetera,” she says. Wilkins says that many headshaking horses start seasonally— which often proves a red herring, with owners incorrectly suspecting allergies because the behavior rears its head in the spring—but eventually exhibit headshaking year-round. The actual trigger in such cases may be spring’s increasing hours of daylight, says Madigan, who adds that



fter she retired from her job as an aerospace-industry systems engineer, dressage rider Christine Stevens looked forward to more time in the saddle. Formerly a “weekend warrior” who kept her horses in training 90 miles away, she eagerly moved her older gelding and her young Vivaldi mare, Fiona, closer to her home in California. One April evening, “I got a call from the barn telling me something was wrong with Fiona,” Stevens recalls. “When I arrived, she was


there may also be “an endocrine or hormonal component,” with geldings more likely than mares to be affected. In fact, according to the results of Madigan’s research group at UC Davis, there is no link between headshaking and environmental causes. Madigan explains that in a headshaking horse, “the nerve itself is abnormal, but there’s no damage to the nerve. It’s a functional disorder. If we could figure out the functional disturbance and resolve it, the nerve would go back to normal function. Our evolving knowledge shows that it has something to do with the channel movement of ions that changes the threshold for the nerve, and it fires when it’s not supposed to. In some horses, the trigger is sound. Clap your hands and there’s an immediate reaction, as if you hit them in the face with a hammer.” Madigan’s research team uncovered another possible factor: diet. In a two-year study of six headshakers and six controls, researchers wanted to see whether changes in horses’ dietary pH affected headshaking behavior. “When we fed the horses something to make them a little acidified, headshaking became worse. When we changed the diet to slightly more alkalized, their headshaking diminished” by 48% but was not eliminated, he says. Audrey DeClue, DVM, a Minnesota-based veterinarian in private practice, says she’s encountered headshakers in every breed and equestrian discipline, with higher prevalence in horses worked in high collection with lots of compression and poll flexion (we’re looking at you, dressage). Some of the cases she sees involve previous head and neck injuries, such as from pulling back while tied or striking the head on the roof of a trailer. Whether caused by riding and training or an accident, she says, the resulting damage to the nuchal ligament can lead to headshaking behavior. “In horses, the opening where

the trigeminal nerve comes out of the base of the skull is bigger than in any other species,” DeClue says, “with more chance for that nerve to be compressed if there is damage to the tissue layers that pull on it.” The nuchal ligament, which runs from tail to poll and attaches at the top of the skull, is one of those tissue layers, and riding in overflexion can lead to “severe displacement of the nuchal ligament at C2,” the second cervical vertebra. She adds that of nearly 100 cases of headshaking she has treated, “in 95% of those horses the nuchal ligament is displaced.” The displacement causes compression of the trigeminal nerve at the base of the affected horse’s skull, which triggers the problem, she says.

Seeking Relief Most treatments for headshaking are aimed at eliminating or reducing the behavior. Some are intended to reduce exposure to triggers or to minimize the aggravating sensations, while others actually purport to address underlying factors, calming triggers so that the irritated trigeminal nerve can regain normal function. For a horse that headshakes when exposed to bright light, spending days indoors and being turned out at night may help. There are fly-mask-type face masks with eye shields or “sunglasses” lenses to reduce glare while an affected horse is turned out or ridden outside during daylight hours. Some horses headshake only while under saddle. Face masks and ear nets help to block sunlight and wind. Other horses’ headshaking worsens on windy days or if there’s a fan blowing on them in the barn. Some people tie dangling pom-poms to the bridle noseband, to bounce around and distract the horse from the sensation in the nose. “Most of these tricks only work for a while,” says Wilkins. “Some horses respond to a nose mask. I used to make these out of pantyhose.

RELIEF THROUGH MOVEMENT: Although not legal in dressage competition, this device with dangling ropes that jiggle against the horse’s muzzle helps some headshakers

It should fit firmly around the muzzle, attached to the noseband. Its purpose is not to filter out bugs or dust; I cut openings for the nostrils. It helps because of the pressure it puts over that part of the face—like pushing against your nose when you have to sneeze.” A nose net “alters the cycle of the nerve firing and provides an overriding impact,” explains Madigan. “A study in England showed that a high percentage of headshakers respond to this method. A nose net made in Germany with heavy braided nylon jiggles on the muzzle, and some horses do well with it.” It may take experimentation to discover what works best for a particular horse. Insect control is also important, as headshakers tend to be very sensitive to anything flying around the facial area. A number of drugs have been tried. Twenty years ago, Madigan gave the first horses in his studies cyproheptadine, a first-generation antihistamine. About two-thirds of the horses responded to the drug, he reports, but inasmuch as it’s not permitted in competition, its usefulness is limited. After the more recent UC Davis study showing that an alkaline diet

USDF CONNECTION | November/December 2021


could help to reduce symptoms, Madigan and his team began trying various magnesium supplements. The horses that were given magnesium and boron showed the greatest reduction in headshaking. Platinum Performance, the manufacturer that helped the researchers formulate the supplement for the trial, now sells the product, called Platinum Steady, as a nutritional supplement to aid in the reduction of headshaking, Madigan says. In DeClue’s experience, “about 80 percent” of headshaking horses have allergies as a side effect of the irritated trigeminal nerve. She’ll recommend having an affected horse tested for allergies and put on a regimen of allergy shots if findings warrant. “Once we get the allergies under control, then I treat the horse for the headshaking.” If the horse has a displaced nuchal ligament, DeClue will do shockwave therapy from the poll to the third cervical joint (C3). “This will actually create headshaking while I am shockwaving the horse,” she says. “When I get to the spot on the ligament that’s affected, the horse starts headshaking. I put injections into the facets from C1 to C3, to calm down that nerve pathway.” DeClue says that “most horses need a couple shockwave treatments. I usually only inject them once, though in two cases I had to inject them twice. The rest is managed by shockwave therapy.”

Challenges with Dressage Horses It’s impossible to ride with a steady, soft, elastic contact if your horse is flipping his head. Nose nets help many of these horses, and they are now permitted in USEF-licensed/ USDF-recognized dressage competition if the entry is accompanied by a letter from a veterinarian affirming a diagnosis of headshaking syndrome that is improved by the use of a nose net (read the full rule at USEF DR 121.13). The letter must state the

NOSE NET: With certain brands and styles now approved for use in dressage competition, many headshaking horses can continue their show careers

brand of nose net to be used, and it must be one that is USEF-approved for dressage. (Find the USEF rule book and the list of approved nose nets at “Requests to allow use of nose nets were the number-one request in eventing and dressage for two years,” says USDF president Lisa Gorretta, an FEI chief dressage steward and USEF “R” dressage technical delegate who co-chairs the USEF Dressage Sport Committee, which makes the rules for US national-level dressage competition. “People with headshaking horses said nose nets helped, and veterinarians agreed.” After repeated competitor requests for presidential modifications to permit nose nets, the Dressage Sport Committee decided to proceed with a rule change to allow them. “It was a rule change of expediency. It did not create unfair advantage, so there was no reason to not make it part of the fabric of dressage and eventing,” Gorretta says. Several well-known riders have encountered headshaking horses. British Olympic gold medalist Charlotte Dujardin’s superstar mount

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Valegro suffered from headshaking and related allergies as a young horse, according to her memoir, The Girl on the Dancing Horse. In Valegro’s case, diligent insect control helped, as did an earlier-than-usual introduction to the double bridle, as the curb chain lies on an acupuncture point and wearing it calmed the headshaking behavior, Dujardin writes. Closer to home, North Carolinabased USEF “S” dressage judge and equestrian journalist Margaret Freeman has had two headshakers of her own. In the 1990s, during her tenure at the equestrian newsletter Horse Journal, Freeman wrote an article about her experiences. The first, a gelding, “was 15 years old and an FEI-level dressage horse when his headshaking started,” Freeman recalls. “The other was a four-year-old Hanoverian mare I imported from Germany. She’d had a lot of stress, but the veterinarians and I thought hers was related to allergies.” The mare gradually got over the headshaking. Freeman believes that her gelding’s headshaking was indeed stress-related. “I had had him all his life and was in the process of selling him, and several people tried him. At that point, he started headshaking. It got worse, and he was almost unridable. I finally took him to my trainer for a change of scenery, and the headshaking stopped.” “With both horses,” Freeman continues, “what I learned is that you should not react to the headshaking by pulling on the reins or trying to discipline the horse in any way because this makes it worse.” After she began riding her gelding again, the headshaking continued “but I just chilled and didn’t react; I kept my arms soft and ignored it. Within a week, his headshaking was gone.” If a horse starts headshaking, “stop training for a while and see if the horse still does it,” Freeman advises. “Does it get worse when


Sport Horse


THE MACGYVERED BRIDLE: Padding her mare’s crownpiece with foam has helped owner Karen Turner quiet Halle’s headshaking, but the modification isn’t show-legal

the horse goes on the bit? Does it get worse if his stress level goes up? In my experience, this problem can be helped by doing the right thing early on and trying to discover the trigger.” DeClue and her approach have helped a mare owned by dressage rider Karen Turner of Washington state. The mare, Halle, had become “quite violent in headshaking,” Turner says. She “rubbed her nose on her legs and on the sides of walls in the barn, and ticked her head when cross-tied. Nothing seemed to help, and it was getting worse.” After five agonizing months, Turner discovered DeClue and learned that “she was coming to this area, and agreed to see my horse. My mare had two sessions of shockwave therapy, which took care of the problem and made a huge difference. But 18 months later, the headshaking started again. I will probably have Dr. DeClue do these treatments again because this was the only thing that’s given my mare relief,” she says. The veterinarian and the owner believe that Halle’s trigger is “extreme sensitivity at the poll. She’s not light-sensitive or sensitive around her face or nose area. But if you put a bridle, any kind of crownpiece or halter behind her ears, or even a fly mask that touches

her poll, she goes nuts.” Turner has found that wrapping the crownpiece with foam to alleviate poll pressure “seems to give relief…but we can’t show her with an adjustment to a bridle. I could have a custom-made bridle created for her, but then I’d have to get it approved for competition. I’m trying to figure out how to build something like this and get approval to use it. We tried many different bridles and bits, and none made any difference except to remove pressure at the poll.” As for Christine Stevens, the California rider, the quest to get to the bottom of her mare’s headshaking is ongoing. “I keep a notebook to document observations about Fiona’s behavior and her environment, and together with my vet, we’re working through each possibility,” she says. Last November, Fiona had surgery to remove a sinus cyst. “When headshaking began, we did a CT scan of her head,” says Stevens, “but it didn’t show anything that could be the cause of the headshaking.” They’ve tried steroids, which reduced the behavior immediately, but the headshaking came back once Fiona was off the meds. Then, “at the next vet visit, we put Fiona on a lunge line and could see she was getting very little air flow through her left nostril.” Nearby cottonwood trees were shedding fluff, so the vet suspected allergies. “We started antihistamines and Fiona’s breathing improved, but the headshaking, while reduced, continues,” says Stevens. Allergy testing showed that the cottonwoods weren’t the culprit. The tests indicated that Fiona is allergic to alfalfa, “but she’s been fed alfalfa for four years—much longer than she’s been headshaking,” says her stymied owner. “There’s too much headshaking to ride her, so we’re still lungeing for exercise. In the meantime, we’ve added a magnesium supplement to Fiona’s buckets, and I keep updating my log that I share

with my vet, hoping to eventually find a solution.” Although for some horse owners headshaking is a transient issue, others find the process of pinpointing triggers and finding effective solutions maddeningly difficult. For more information about this stillmysterious condition, see researcher Dr. John Madigan’s website,

Idaho-based cattle rancher and freelance writer Heather Smith Thomas has been writing about horses and cattle, and raising and training horses, for 50 years.



USDF CONNECTION | November/December 2021


Salute Unassuming Hero Meet Michigan dressage pioneer Dallas Bradbury By Katherine Walcott


ichigan’s dressage and equestrian communities owe a debt of gratitude to the Big Apple. It was at the National Horse Show at its former legendary location, New York’s Madison Square Garden, that Michigander John Dallas “Dallas” Bradbury first saw sport horses in action. Taken with the athleticism and keenness of the jumpers, he decided then and there to take riding lessons.

tion, he enlisted in the Army and was stationed at the US Military Academy at West Point, New York, where he played music during the officers’ lunch. West Point isn’t far from New York City, so Bradbury and his music-loving friends would frequently head downstate to attend performances at Carnegie Hall or the Metropolitan Opera. The military men quickly discovered a way to circumvent the admission prices.

Broadway shows the same way. Of course, we had to be in uniform so they’d know.” After he got out of the Army, Bradbury moved to New York City. It was a decision that reshaped his life. “I always liked horses,” he says, “but I didn’t know anything about them.” One autumn day, “I walked past Madison Square Garden, and they had up on the marquee that it was the National Horse Show. So I went up and bought a ticket, went in, and watched it. I saw the international jumpers, and I was very impressed. I thought they were beautiful. And I thought the horses all went in that arena and did that because they wanted to, and the riders just had to learn to balance themselves. So I decided that I would do that.” At the time, the man of many interests was taking flying lessons. But “when I moved back to Michigan, I couldn’t afford to keep up my flying lessons and take riding lessons. So I decided that I’d rather do horseback riding.”

FAMILY OUTING: The Bradbury family (Dallas, Judy, Andrea, and Kevin) at Michigan’s Waterloo Hunt Club in 1983

Those lessons sparked a passion that has lasted a lifetime and led Bradbury to become one of his home state’s most beloved supporters of horse sport.

The Right Notes Bradbury’s first love was music. He studied cello at the University of Michigan. After a successful audi-

“A Rolls-Royce would pull up, and a chauffeur would get out,” Bradbury recalls. “They’d announce that Mr. and Mrs. Whoever-It-Was would not be able to attend tonight and wanted the tickets given to a serviceman. So we went to those places for free and sat in firsttier boxes, because those kinds of people always had boxes. We went to

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Bradbury began taking riding lessons at Stoney Ridge Farm in Chelsea, Michigan (the business later moved to Oxford, north of Detroit), under the tutelage of Jimmy Alder. He bought his first horse and did some hunter/jumper showing (including “some big shows that I didn’t belong in”) and discovered a second equestrian passion, foxhunting. Bradbury’s time at Stoney Ridge was fortuitous in another way, as well: It was there that he met his future wife, Judith. “Judy was riding, and she pulled a pole on one of the fences,” Bradbury


A Family Affair


SHARED PASSION: Judy and Dallas Bradbury in Las Vegas for the 2007 FEI World Cup Jumping and Dressage Finals

recalls. “I went and picked it up for her and chatted a little bit. I belonged to the [Waterloo] Hunt Club, so I got invited to the hunt ball, naturally. Judy got invited to it because they knew that I knew her.” After a trial run of sorts—an outing to the symphony in Detroit—went well, “I suggested that we should probably just go together.” Along the way, Bradbury began teaching riding to “a couple people I knew that had horses and didn’t know what to do with them. So I started helping them, and it just went from there.” He taught both dressage and jumping. As Bradbury’s equestrian involvement grew, his career focus shifted. He switched from selling office equipment to selling houses because the real-estate business afforded him scheduling flexibility: “I could come and go as I wanted. It didn’t interfere with foxhunting. It didn’t interfere with teaching.” The Bradburys introduced their children, Kevin and Andrea, to horses but did not pressure them to ride, Andrea says. “My mom was a phys ed teacher,” Andrea says. “When we were young, she exposed us to a lot of different sports. My brother did karate; I did gymnastics; we did swimming, T-ball, ice skating, and horses. Then she let us pick what we wanted to do.” Both children enjoyed riding and eventually got ponies or horses of their own. Andrea became active in 4-H and was a member of her high school’s

equestrian team. When she did well and other parents saw that her father was her main coach, they asked him to take their children on as students. Bradbury still teaches some of those kids, now adults, over 30 years later. Both Bradbury children remain active in the horse world. Andrea, who works in the life-sciences industry, still rides. Kevin Bradbury is well known to many in the US dressage community: as a former USDF Administrative Council at-large director, a show manager, and the developer of the popular show-management software system Over the years, the Bradbury family took lessons and clinics in a range of disciplines, from Gabor Nicholas Foltenyi in jumping, Roemer Foundation/USDF Hall of Fame members Dr. Max Gahwyler and Violet Hopkins in dressage, and Morag O’Hanlon in eventing. Dallas Bradbury himself never competed much in dressage, but he knows his way around the sandbox. At the Bradbury family’s 60-acre facility in Dexter, Michigan, the Waterloo Hunt Club holds several shows each year, both hunter/jumper and dressage. In the 1980s, while Andrea competed in the dressage shows and later while Kevin was managing, Dallas Bradbury began serving as the liaison between the shows and the hunt club. Over the years, he has helped to set dressage arenas, taught people how to set arenas, managed ground crews, and even climbed on the tractor to drag the footing. “He helped out wherever help was needed,” Andrea says. Now 88, her father is less physically active these days, but he continues in his liaison role. Bradbury also continues to teach, and he’s devised his own COVID-19 safety protocol. “I don’t even get out of the car. I drive to the place and park at the C end of the arena, usually. I have my cell phone lying on the seat beside me, and they have their cell phone in their pocket.” Teacher and student communicate via speakerphone during the lesson.

PASSING IT DOWN: Dressage pro and MDA president Allison McKenzie calls Bradbury, her longtime instructor, “my friend, my mentor, my teacher, and my second father”

Quiet Contributor Looking back at his long and active life and accomplishments, Bradbury says that the best part was “just riding.” “I like riding and I like taking lessons, just to get better, not to compete, necessarily. I just wanted to ride. And I wanted to improve, of course. And I liked all the people that I met who were into it. It’s been interesting.” His equestrian colleagues take a more elevated view of his contributions. The USDF group-member organization Midwest Dressage Association (MDA) awarded Bradbury a lifetime membership in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the sport of dressage in Michigan. “Dallas is a legend,” says MDA president Allison McKenzie, a dressage professional who herself has been a student of Bradbury’s for two decades. “He doesn’t have the name that the local big-name trainers around here do because he came before they did. What he carved out here in Michigan paved the way for all of us that are here now. He is part of the reason Michigan ranks as one of the most respected areas for dressage in the country.”

Katherine Walcott is a freelance writer and rider living in Alabama.

USDF CONNECTION | November/December 2021


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Worth the Wait At postponed Games, Team USA passages to first Olympic silver medal in 73 years BY DIANA DE ROSA

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NEW HEIGHTS: The 2020 US Olympic dressage team of Adrienne Lyle, Steffen Peters, and Sabine Schut-Kery won the first US Olympic dressage silver medal since 1948


he Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games survived its many challenges, and for dressage Team USA, the reality surpassed anything they’d dared imagine. The three team members (2012 Olympic veteran Adrienne Lyle, Wellington, Florida, riding the 14-yearold Hanoverian stallion Salvino, owned by Betsy Juliano LLC; five-time Olympian Steffen Peters, San Diego, California, riding the 13-year-old KWPN gelding Suppenkasper, owned by Akiko Yamazaki and Four Winds Farm; and Sabine Schut-Kery, Napa, California, making her Olympic debut aboard Alice Womble’s 15-year-old Hanoverian stallion, Sanceo) were determined to come home with a medal, but bronze is the color they thought was most likely. But despite the many challenges—the one-year postponement because of the COVID-19 pandemic, severe COVID-19 restrictions for the Games, a new dressage competition format, and an EHV-1 outbreak in Europe earlier this year—the US riders exceeded even their own expectations to secure the team silver medal behind the dominant Germans, edging out the newly powerful Brits. It was the first Olympic dressage medal better than bronze for the USA since London 1948’s team silver. Even more remarkable, the 2020 team achieved that feat without the safety net of a reserve horse and rider: The traveling reserve combination, Nick Wagman of San Diego on Beverly Gepfer’s 13-year-old KWPN gelding, Don John, had withdrawn “out of extraordinary precaution” after Don John sustained an unspecified minor injury shortly after arrival in Tokyo. Don John (Johnson TN x Goodtimes) can be a bit of a live wire, Wagman said, and in Tokyo he let out a buck that proved his undoing. “It was just one of those things,” Wagman said ruefully. “It was simply the wrong landing in the wrong place. I really felt disheartened,” he said, knowing that the team no longer had the option of subbing in a pinch-hitter.


Raving About “Mopsie” It was Steffen Peters who coined the phrase “reality is better than the dream.” He has two Olympic team bronze medals (Atlanta 1996, riding Udon; and Rio 2016, riding Legolas 92); individual and freestyle bronze medals from the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG) in Normandy (riding Ravel); and a team silver from the 2018 WEG in Tryon (Suppenkasper), USDF CONNECTION | November/December 2021


The “Rave Horse”: Dressage’s Newest Ambassador


lex, come look at this rave horse!” says the woman in the TikTok video. With that exclamation, a viral dressage star was born. The TikToker was enthusing about Steffen Peters’ 2020 Tokyo Olympic Grand Prix Freestyle aboard Suppenkasper. “Mopsie” was dancing, hoof-perfect, to a medley of electronic dance music mixed by southern California-based techno-music DJ and producer Taylor Kade. (A rave is an all-night dance party, typically featuring electronic dance music.) Before the TikTok video got taken down (presumably because of International Olympic Committee broadcast-rights rules), it drew more than 9 million views, prompting Equus magazine to comment, “The youths have discovered dressage. And they love it.” tweeted a link to a clip of the freestyle everyone’s raving about: status/1421347563232497664?s=20 .

SOCIAL-MEDIA SENSATION: Screen shot of the viral TikTok “Rave Horse” video

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but until this year an Olympic silver medal had eluded him. Thanks in large part to longtime sponsor Akiko Yamazaki, Peters has had a run of stellar mounts. The horse that put him on the Olympic silver-medal podium was perhaps an unlikely match for the whippet-thin man of modest height: an 18.2-hand colossus whose tendency toward excess weight earned him the nickname Mopsie, a derivative of the German mops, meaning roly-poly. But Mopsie had been trained and shown by German Olympian Helen Langehanenberg, and the friend of Peters’ who informed him that the horse was for sale asserted: “If you ride the horse for five minutes, I guarantee you are going to fall in love.” Peters took the advice and flew to his native Germany, where he found Suppenkasper (Spielberg x IPS Krack C) to be extremely sensitive and soft in the bridle despite his massive size: “I knew in five minutes he could be Olympic quality.” The


GIANT STEPS: 18.2-hand Suppenkasper’s extended trot helped Team USA win silver in Tokyo

CONFIDENT START: Adrienne Lyle and Salvino

NEWEST STARS: Sabine Schut-Kery and Sanceo were the highest-scoring US pair

new partnership had some misfires early on, including at the 2018 WEG, which Peters called “pretty much of a disaster… I had a hell of a horse, but I didn’t produce.” By early 2020, Peters got his groove back, notching scores as high as 84% before the coronavirus pandemic cut short the winter show season. At last he had solved “the confidence question,” as he put it, and he was overcome with emotion after his team score of 77.766% in the Grand Prix Special in Tokyo, saying, “It all came together then.”

“When you ride on an Olympic team, you are riding for so much more than just yourself,” Lyle said afterward. “Everything becomes about pulling together for the good of the team and working your hardest to be a good teammate. I was incredibly proud of Salvino for putting in a really solid, clean, and strong test for the Grand Prix Special, which helped our team achieve the silver medal. I knew we had a solid score for our other teammates to build on, and it was one of the most exciting nights of my life as we watched each horse go down center line and lay down test after test without a single mistake. This is something that we were all incredibly proud of.”


Salvino Sets the Bar In a team competition, the first pair to canter down center line sets the tone for that nation’s effort. A high score establishes a confident precedent, while a disappointing test ramps up the pressure on the remaining riders. At Baji Koen Equestrian Park in Tokyo, it was challenge accepted for 2018 WEG team silver medalists Adrienne Lyle and Salvino (Sandro Hit x Donnerhall), whose Grand Prix Special score of 76.109% put Team USA firmly in the medal hunt.

Sanceo: The Anchor Leg “Then it came down to Sabine’s round,” Peters said of newcomer Schut-Kery’s Grand Prix Special performance. Calculating Team USA’s medal chances before her test, he said, “we knew we had to be 2.5% ahead of Denmark and 1.3% to move ahead of Great Britain.”

Before Schut-Kery’s test, the Americans still thought the bronze medal was the likeliest outcome (and “to me, the bronze medal looked already as good as gold,” Peters said). But newcomers Schut-Kery and Sanceo (San Remo x Ramiro’s Son II) delivered a powerful, accurate Grand Prix Special test that highlighted “Fabio’s” brilliance and scope. Their score of 81.596%, the highest US score of the team final, put them in third place individually and vaulted Team USA onto the silver-medal podium. Schut-Kery, who has trained Fabio to Grand Prix from a three-yearold, is a native of Germany whose equestrian background ranges from earning her Bereiter license and driving four-in-hands to training horses for exhibitions. While working for a man who imported Friesians from the Netherlands and Spain, she combined dressage training with trick training, teaching the horses to rear, sit, lie down, and more for entertainment performances. [

USDF CONNECTION | November/December 2021


moment was US national dressage technical advisor and chef d’équipe Debbie McDonald. The two-time Olympian and 2004 team bronze medalist, who admits to having suffered from acute show nerves during her riding career, knows the pressure and the intensity of international competition all too well. “When I jump into the kiss-andcry, I ride every step with them,” said McDonald. “At the end of the day, I feel like I have ridden fifteen horses.”

CHEERING SECTION: Fellow athletes and other accredited personnel were the only people in the stands during competition, and they did their best to cheer on their compatriots

In 1998, Schut-Kery moved to the US to become the head trainer at Proud Meadows in Texas, where she competed in dressage and rode and showed the Proud Meadows Friesians in exhibitions around the country. In 2005 she relocated to her current home state of California. Schut-Kery expressed thankfulness that she and Fabio’s owner, Alice Womble, “have been very committed that we make decisions together….I was always allowed to take my time to develop him. We

listened to the horse to find out when he was ready.” On the day of the Grand Prix Special team final, “There was a lot of time between Steffen’s ride and mine,” Schut-Kery said. “I will not lie: I was nervous.” But “for me and for a lot of riders, once you get on your horse, you are just so zoned in. You are not just giving cues for movements, but you are really communicating. It is such a beautiful language you get lost in.” One who was not lost in the

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New Competition Format Debuts in Tokyo The formats of Olympic equestrian competitions often differ somewhat from those at other FEI championships. Tokyo 2020 saw the introduction of a new dressage format, and it drew mixed reviews. In Tokyo, the Grand Prix—held over two days to accommodate all 59 horse/rider combinations, including those competing as individuals (a number that dropped to 58 when Victoria Max-Theurer withdrew Abegglen NRW after the horse developed a tooth abscess, which sadly left Austria unable to compete for a team medal)—did not count toward any medals but served instead as a qualifying round. Results from the Grand Prix determined which pairs would advance to the Grand Prix Freestyle to compete for individual medals, as well as the top eight teams that would contest the team medals in the Grand Prix Special. Held beginning at 5:00 p.m. local time to avoid the worst of Tokyo’s summer temperatures, the Grand Prix competition was divided into heats, with three groups of up to 10 competitors riding each evening. The top two scorers from each heat (for a total of 12) qualified for the GP Freestyle, with the next six


TRIUMPH: US national dressage technical advisor and chef d’équipe Debbie McDonald (embracing Team USA supporters on the “kiss and cry” platform) helped guide the US dressage team to a historic Olympic silver medal


highest-scoring pairs also making the cut, for a total of 18 individuals qualifying to contest the individual medals. Another aspect of the new format, which was less well received, was the three-member team format. Although a nation could send a traveling reserve pair, as the US did with Wagman and Don John, only three pairs could compete, and all three scores counted toward the team totals. “This whole new format I am still not so sure about,” said McDonald. “To pay for four horses to go, then all four should be able to compete and have a drop score.” Echoing McDonald’s sentiments was German dressage chef and Olympic gold medalist Monica Theodorescu: “Reserve riders and horses were at the venue, so they could have started,” she said. But Theodorescu did like the heat system “because it offers a better mix of the absolute elite and others,” meaning that the anticipated top scorers don’t all ride at the end. One who had high praise for the entire format was Bettina De Rham, director of dressage for the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI). “We are thrilled with the success of the new Olympic dressage formats in Tokyo,” said De Rham, who added that the FEI had “already received very positive feedback, not only from within the equestrian community—from the athletes and officials—but also from international media and the broadcasters, who have highlighted the fact that these formats are far more exciting and much easier to understand, not only for them but for the viewers.” De Rham explained that “one of our key focuses for changing the formats was to remain attractive and

LEADING THE PACK: Team and individual gold medalists Jessica von Bredow-Werndl and TSF Dalera of Germany

engaging for TV audiences, broadcasters, and the fans. With the six groups of 10 athletes in the Grand Prix, the best athletes are spread across the groups, and it keeps the momentum going through.” The result, she said, was that “the TV audiences have been really receptive

and shown a renewed appetite for the sport.”

Dancing with the World’s Best Team members at an Olympic Games typically feel so much pressure to achieve team medals that the

The Reserve Rider: “Spare Tire” Pressure


teffen Peters was a member of Team USA at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, winning team bronze aboard Udon. In Athens 2004 he was the team alternate with Floriano, and he discovered that being the reserve rider creates its own unique type of stress. “That was rough, being a supporting team member,” Peters recalled during the 2020 Tokyo Games. “It is a very difficult position to be in. I take my hat off to Nick,” he said, referring to 2020 US dressage reserve rider Nick Wagman. “I think the reserve is a tricky spot,” said Wagman, “because you sacrifice a lot, and you end up being the spare tire.” Nevertheless, the experience was worthwhile, Wagman said: “I’m superhonored to be there with the team,” and “I think, going into another high-pressure environment, [a previous reserve rider] will be more prepared for what is expected and what goes on.” But for Tokyo, he admitted, “I just didn’t know what I was Nick Wagman and Don John at the walking into. It was a challenge.” 2019 Pan American Games

USDF CONNECTION | November/December 2021


composers Two Steps from Hell. Her score of 84.300% was a personal best for Schut-Kery, who finished fifth individually.

BACK ON TOP: Britain’s Charlotte Dujardin bought Gio from a US owner in 2016; in 2021, “Pumpkin” won team and individual bronze Olympic medals

individual portion of the competition is actually a bit of a relief. Team USA’s silver medal gave Peters and Schut-Kery an opportunity to take some risks on freestyle day. Unfortunately for fans of Lyle and Salvino, they withdrew after “Vinny” wasn’t quite himself after the historic team accomplishment, with Lyle opting to give her partner some R&R time before the long trek home from Japan. Lyle’s withdrawal ceded the eighteenth freestyle slot to the next highest-scoring rider from the Grand Prix, Canada’s Brittany Fraser-Beaulieu on the 16-year-old KWPN gelding All In (Tango x Damiro). (Fraser-Beaulieu, like the other Canadian riders, was coached by Canadian Olympian Ashley Holzer, a longtime US resident who now competes under the stars and stripes.) The Grand Prix Freestyle was run in the traditional reverse order

of Grand Prix scores, which of course ups the excitement as the last few riders to go battle it out for individual medals. That meant that Fraser-Beaulieu was first into the arena at Baji Koen Equestrian Park, with Peters third to go and SchutKery, eighth. Although Peters’ freestyle didn’t garner any medals—he finished tenth on a score of 80.968%—it soon became one of the most-viewed dressage performances in history, blowing up the internet after video clips of his test, set to electronic dance and “house” music, went viral (see “The ‘Rave Horse’: Dressage’s Newest Ambassador” on page 34). Thematically and in the eyes of the judges, Schut-Kery’s freestyle was epic. The aptly nicknamed Fabio has the looks and the chops to pull off the dramatic routine, a cinematic gallop that featured music from The Last Samurai and by the noted film

38 November/December 2021 | USDF CONNECTION

No one was surprised to see Germany take its fourteenth Olympic dressage team gold medal in Tokyo, but these Games heralded a changing of the guard. As live-stream commentators John Kyle and Lucinda Green observed, the yearlong postponement of the 2020 Olympics meant that some horses’ careers didn’t stretch quite long enough to make it to 2021 (including US stars Verdades and Goerklintgaards Dublet, both of whom were retired from competition last year), while others who might not have been ready in 2020 were able to step onto the world stage in 2021. The most noteworthy example of the latter was the 10-year-old KWPN gelding Gio (Apache x Tango), British Olympic gold medalist Charlotte Dujardin’s newest Grand Prix mount. In southern California in 2016 to teach a clinic, Dujardin spotted Gio as a five-year-old, being ridden by then owner Amelie Kovac. Dujardin fell in love with the horse and convinced Kovac to sell, and Gio is now co-owned by Dujardin and her longtime coach (and Tokyo 2020 teammate) Carl Hester. In just five years, Dujardin brought her newest “pocket rocket” (as Lucinda Green affectionally dubbed him) up to Grand Prix, opting to bring him to Tokyo instead of the more experienced Mount St. John Freestyle, citing her belief that “Pumpkin” would handle the heat and humidity better than her 2018 WEG medal-winning partner. Her hunch proved correct, with the little chestnut leading Team Great Britain to a bronze medal and


New Faces at the Top


then claiming individual bronze on a freestyle score of 88.543%. With five previous Olympics and numerous medals under her belt, Germany’s Isabell Werth is always a top contender. In Tokyo, riding her 2018 WEG gold-medal partner Bella Rose 2, Werth became the most decorated Olympic equestrian in history, finishing the 2020 Games with an individual silver medal on a score of 89.657%. It was a lovely capstone to the career of the mare Werth has called her heart horse; after the Tokyo Olympic dressage competition concluded, Werth announced that, after one final outing at the 2021 CHIO Aachen in September, the 17-year-old Westfalen mare (Belissimo x Cacir AA) would be retired. In Tokyo, however, it was Jessica von Bredow-Werndl’s moment to shine. Werth’s gold-medal-winning 2018 WEG teammate captured the individual gold medal with the evening’s only score over 90, earning 91.732% with the 14-year-old Trakehner mare TSF Dalera (Easy Game x Handryk). “It is just an incredible feeling, and I’m so grateful for this experience. It was a dream coming true for what I have worked for many years,“ Bredow-Werndl said. She called Dalera “an incredible mare. We have a very strong bond and love to spend time together. It’s like working with an incredibly talented child. She loves to learn, she loves to move, she loves to dance. Within the past few years, she has gained so much more that everything seems so effortless and natural for her.”

Empty Seats but a Warm Welcome Tokyo’s Baji Koen Equestrian Park and its climate-controlled barns drew glowing reviews from the

ISOLATED: With spectators banned, Tokyo Olympic dressage competitors were dwarfed by the empty expanse of Baji Koen Equestrian Park

WORLD-CLASS: In the beautifully decorated Olympic dressage venue, competitors enjoyed what most agreed was outstanding judging

Olympic competitors. “Tokyo did a fantastic job pulling this off,” said McDonald. “The venue was wonderful, and the horse accommodations were great. Great footing, wonderful volunteers… Overall, a very positive review.” “I thought Rio [2016] was phenomenal because there was so much space,” said Peters. “Here, the barns were huge. It’s very horse-friendly. The stadium was magical. There was a very nice atmosphere with all the volunteers. “So many people have called Tokyo the ‘friendly Games,’ and it really

was,” Peters added. “It is a clean city, organized, people are helpful, and it is extremely customer-oriented and friendly.” “The Japanese people were incredibly kind and welcoming and always eager to help,” said Lyle. “The venue was absolutely top-notch, from the beautiful main stadium to the many schooling arenas—all with perfect footing—to the grazing area and walking track, to the awesome airconditioned barns. You could tell that every aspect of the venue was carefully thought out and planned with the horses’ comfort in mind.” [

USDF CONNECTION | November/December 2021


Both McDonald and German chef Theodorescu thought that the judging was first-rate. As Theodorescu put it, “All chefs d’équipe agreed that judging was also at its best, technical mistakes were equally punished, and harmonious riding on well-trained horses was rewarded.”

COVID Couldn’t Crush the Olympic Spirit The 2020 Olympics will go down in history as the Games that nearly didn’t happen. The Japanese people fought to have them canceled altogether, and although the Japanese government and the IOC won out, pandemic-related protocols were extremely strict. Foreign spectators were banned; athletes’ family members weren’t permitted to attend; even the numbers of horse owners were restricted. (From Team USA, only two dressage-horse owners went to Tokyo: Akiko Yamazaki, owner of Suppenkasper; and Betsy Juliano, owner of Salvino.) COVID-19 testing and temperature monitoring were continual. Travel while in Tokyo was severely restrict-

ed. (For more on the pandemic’s effects on the Games, see “Postcard from Tokyo” on USDF’s website The bans on in-person interaction made for psychological challenges, as well. More than one athlete mentioned the feelings of isolation, boredom, and loneliness that arose from being quarantined in their hotels whenever they weren’t at the venue. For those riders who feel they perform better with the energy of an audience, the nearly empty stands at Baji Koen were devoid of the usual “electric” competition atmosphere. Some competitors even expressed disappointment that they weren’t able to conduct more press interviews in order to garner the media exposure that helps to drive their businesses back home. But the 2020 Games were still the Olympics, and the hardships couldn’t diminish the feelings of pride and accomplishment. “Owning a horse that goes down center line at the Olympics is an experience like no other,” said Salvino’s owner, Betsy Juliano, who was attending her first Games in

40 November/December 2021 | USDF CONNECTION

Diana De Rosa is a veteran equestrian photojournalist who has covered nine Olympic Games and has been on staff or covered every FEI World Equestrian Games as well as numerous Pan American Games and FEI World Cup Finals. She is the owner of Press Link PR and has worked with organizations including the Equus Film Festival and Equitana USA. She lives on New York’s Long Island.


GLIMPSES OF TOKYO: For Olympic competitors, officials, and media, COVID-19 movement restrictions meant that they only saw the host city through vehicle windows

that role. “Every competitive person daydreams about the Olympics, and to actually be there is almost surreal. But getting there takes tremendous planning, excellent training and fitness of horse and rider, and the management of more details than I can count. Therefore, I am very proud of what our team accomplished.” Salvino’s rider, Adrienne Lyle, said that “the whole experience at Tokyo turned out to be even better than I had imagined. We were all forewarned that this would not be a typical Olympic Games due to all the COVID restrictions, so we knew going in that we would have to be flexible and go with the flow.” In the lead-up to the Olympics, “there was so much uncertainty,” Lyle said, not the least of which was the one-year postponement “that really threw a wrench in everyone’s plans. I think all the athletes were just so happy when we finally made it to Tokyo.” For Team USA and all US dressage fans, the reality of the 2020 Olympics really was better than the dream.

2020 Olympic Games Dressage Results

TEAM MEDALS: USA (silver), Germany (gold), and Great Britain (bronze)

Grand Prix (team and individual medal qualifier) 1. Jessica von Bredow-Werndl/ TSF Dalera (GER) ....................................................... 84.379% 2. Isabell Werth/Bella Rose 2 (GER)...................... 82.500% 3. Cathrine Dufour/Bohemian (DEN)..................... 81.056% 7. Sabine Schut-Kery/Sanceo (USA).......................78.416% 11. Steffen Peters/Suppenkasper (USA)................. 76.196% 14. Adrienne Lyle/Salvino (USA).............................. 74.876%


Grand Prix Special (team medal final) Germany Jessica von Bredow-Werndl/TSF Dalera....2785.5 Isabell Werth/Bella Rose 2......................... 2740.5 Dorothee Schneider/Showtime FRH...... 2652.0 Team total................................................................8178.0

INDIVIDUAL MEDALISTS: Isabell Werth (silver), Jessica von Bredow-Werndl (gold), and Charlotte Dujardin (bronze)

USA Sabine Schut-Kery/Sanceo........................2684.5 Steffen Peters/Suppenkasper...................2558.5 Adrienne Lyle/Salvino................................. 2504.0 Team total................................................................7747.0

Grand Prix Freestyle (individual medal final) Jessica von Bredow-Werndl/ TSF Dalera (GER).............................................. 91.732%

Great Britain Charlotte Dujardin/Gio................................2617.0 Carl Hester/En Vogue..................................2577.5 Charlotte Fry/Everdale................................2528.5 Team total............................................................... 7723.0

Charlotte Dujardin/Gio (GBR)........................88.543%

Isabell Werth/Bella Rose 2 (GER).................89.657%

5. Sabine Schut-Kery/Sanceo (USA)..................... 84.300% 10. Steffen Peters/Suppenkasper (USA).............. 80.968%

USDF CONNECTION | November/December 2021



A Record-Setting Paralympics Go behind the scenes with Team USA’s leading para-dressage rider at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games BY ROXANNE TRUNNELL

HISTORY-MAKING MOMENT: Their 2020 Paralympic para-dressage bronze was Team USA’s first. On the podium: Roxanne Trunnell, Kate Shoemaker, and Rebecca Hart.

42 November/December 2021 | USDF CONNECTION

At the 2020 Paralympic Games, US para-equestrian dressage competitors both achieved a milestone and shattered a record. The USA won its first-ever Paralympic dressage team medal, led by world #1-ranked paradressage rider Roxanne Trunnell, who also took home two individual gold medals from the August 26-30, 2021 competition—postponed, like its Olympic counterpart, from 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. USDF Connection invited Trunnell to share her experience. Read on for her exclusive essay.



n July 2, 2021, the team that would represent the USA at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games was announced: Beatrice de Lavalette on Clarc, Rebecca Hart on El Corona Texel, Kate Shoemaker on Solitaer 40, and me, Roxanne Trunnell, on Dolton. I was thrilled that I would be able to compete at the Paralympics on Karin Flint’s Dolton. From my experience at the 2016 Paralympic Games, I knew what it would take to get on the podium, not only as an individual but also as a team. I believed we had a pretty good shot. Preparations began on August 7 when the team, reserve athletes Sydney Collier and Charlotte Merle-Smith, our horses, our individual trainers, and Team USA’s support staff left for Aachen, Germany. This would be our pre-quarantine for export to Japan and a “boot camp” under the guidance of US national para-dressage chef d’équipe Michel Assouline. Due to the COVID-19 restrictions, horse owners, nonessential staff, family, and friends were not permitted in Germany. In Tokyo, one owner per horse would be permitted, but no one else. The flight was uneventful, and after some muchneeded rest, Dolton and I began training on August 12. We trained at scheduled times, rain or shine, and settled into a daily routine. On August 19 we left Aachen, with the two alternate rider/horse combinations returning to the USA. The four team athletes and their equine partners began the long journey to Tokyo. The riders and staff members landed in Tokyo on August 20. Before stepping onto Japanese soil, we were required to complete pandemic safety measures. We encountered nine checkpoints, and at our final checkpoint we had to pass another COVID-19 test. This USDF CONNECTION | November/December 2021


The Team

• Beatrice de Lavalette, Loxahatchee, Florida, on Clarc, a 2007 KWPN gelding (by Dreamcatcher) owned by Elizabeth and Nicolas de Lavalette • Rebecca Hart, Loxahatchee, Florida, on El Corona Texel, a 2009 Dutch Warmblood gelding (Wynton x Goodtimes) owned by Rowan O’Riley. Hart was also the direct reserve with Fortune 500, a 2010 Oldenburg gelding (Fidertanz 2 x Don Romantic) owned by Rowan O’Riley. • Kate Shoemaker, Wellington, Florida, on Solitaer 40, a 2007 Hanoverian gelding (Sandro Hit x De Niro) owned by Craig and Deena Shoemaker and the rider. TEAM PHOTO: Kate Shoemaker (second from left) with Solitaer 40, • Roxanne Beatrice de Lavalette (wheelchair) with Clarc, Roxanne Trunnell (blue Trunnell, Royal scooter) with Dolton, and Rebecca Hart (right) with El Corona Texel Palm Beach, pose for a photo in the Tokyo Paralympic equestrian stadium Florida, on Dolton, a 2012 Hanoverian gelding (Danone I x Londonderry) owned by Flintwoode Farms LLC and Karin Flint. The three combinations that would represent the US in the Paralympic para-dressage team competition were determined after the completion of the Individual tests. They were Hart/El Corona Texel, Shoemaker/Solitaer 40, and Trunnell/Dolton. Team alternates: • Sydney Collier, Ann Arbor, Michigan, on All in One, a 2009 Hanoverian gelding (Abanos x Dauphin) owned by Georgina Bloomberg • Charlotte Merle-Smith, Ocala, Florida, on her 2011 Dutch Warmblood mare, Guata (Vivaldi x Haarlem).

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CHEERING SECTION: Pandemic attendance restrictions meant that there were fewer US riders and supporters than usual in the “kiss and cry” area

would be our fifth test, and we would be tested daily while in Japan. We remained in the airport until testing was completed. If the result was negative, we would be able to proceed to the athletes’ village, but if the result was positive we would be whisked away to the isolation/quarantine hotel. Luckily everyone in our group tested negative, and so we were directed to a bus to take us to the athletes’ village. Inside the village, our team’s apartment consisted of four individual bedrooms and one shared bathroom (ugh). We had a quick lunch at the cafeteria (we all were starving) because then the team had appointments with a tailor to fit us for our outfits for the Paralympic Games opening and closing ceremonies. The remainder of our team clothing and shoes had already been delivered to our rooms prior to our arrival. The horses, who also had arrived safely, were being settled in, and we were under orders not to bother them. So we unpacked and tried to relax. On August 21, we took the hour-long bus ride for our first visit to the Baji Koen Equestrian Park. The team toured the facility, which was gorgeous. There were air-conditioned stables, roomy stalls, plenty of grass for the horses to graze, three outdoor arenas plus the “field of play” stadium, an indoor arena with a section for lungeing, an athletes’ lounge (horse owners spent the majority of their time there, since they could only be in the barn for five minutes), a massage room, a changing room, and two quiet rooms. The barn was closed from 3:00 p.m.-5:00 p.m. every day to allow the horses a period of uninterrupted rest, and we could not ride until August 23, so after our tour we headed back to the athletes’ village.


BEDECKED: Dolton and groom Angela Baugh show off his Paralympic haul

The “trot out” horse inspection took place August 25. All of the US para horses were accepted with flying colors, with some wanting to actually fly (*ahem* Dolton). The race for the medals was on! Competition began late the following afternoon with Grades II, IV, and V (Bea and Kate). On August 27 Grades III and I (Becca and I) would compete. One hour before my time to begin riding, I went into my “game mode.” All of my showequipment bags were where I could reach them in the changing room, which became my private little quiet room. I got my boots on, my hair up, and my jacket and gloves on, all while listening to the recording of my individual championship test. My goal was to ride a solid test. This is the way I approach all my shows: The first day is the feel-itout day, and then you try to give the judges chills on the second and third days. I was pleased to see that I would be riding the individual championship test first. It is a more technically challenging test, and Dolton is always ready to strut his stuff on that first day. I was excited at how Dolton felt: He was forward and marching the whole test. A problem with the fact

PROUD MOMENT: Team bronze medalist Beatrice de Lavalette on Clarc with coach Shayna Simon

TEAM LEADER: The most experienced member of Team USA, Rebecca Hart, on her way to team bronze aboard El Corona Texel

that everyone was wearing masks, however, was that I couldn’t see my coach’s mouth after the final halt, so I didn’t know whether she was smiling or frowning! So while I walked to A to leave the arena, I just kept telling myself that it felt like a good test. I was floored when the score of 81.464% came up, but I was also only the fourth rider to go in a field of 18. I settled down and watched the other Grade I competitors, and then it was announced that Dolton and I had won the Grade I Individual gold medal. I was beyond proud of Dolton. We went out there and did our best, and now we are Paralympic champions! At the

2018 FEI World Equestrian Games in North Carolina, I was on the podium with Rihards Sinkus and Sara Morganti. It was pretty cool that all three of us were there again! Next came the team competition. Becca and I rode on day one, and Kate rode on the second day. I did my usual pre-ride ritual, and Dolton and I had an absolutely fabulous warmup. Then, just as the steward told me to head into the stadium, a siren sounded and I noticed the smell of smoke! The sirens were much louder on the field of play, and the smoke was more noticeable. Dolton didn’t like it one bit! He turned into a black ball of ten-

USDF CONNECTION | November/December 2021


ON THEIR GAME: Paralympic champions Roxanne Trunnell and Dolton

sion, but what could I do? We had to do the test. It was by far not the best test we’ve done together, but I couldn’t control what was going on with the fire. I was just relieved that Dolton was such a good boy that he stuck that test out with me in spite of everything. He truly does try to take care of me. I was a little disappointed at the score because it is always a personal goal of mine to increase my test score from the first day, but the beauty of the team competition is that it’s the team score that counts, so Becca and Kate could pick up the slack. They both had beautiful rides, but it was still a nail-biter to the end. The USA took the bronze! Finally, it was time for the free-

style. Team USA had captured the bronze medal, and I had won a gold medal in the individual, so by that point in the competition I was really relaxed and ready to go and have fun in the freestyle. Dolton really loves his Forrest Gump freestyle. I was so excited that we were in the exact right spot when the music changed. This had only happened one other time, so I didn’t even care about the score; I was just so dang proud of my furball! I wasn’t even really aware what my score was, as I was the very last rider, with the medal ceremony to be held right after. I wasn’t quite sure which medal we had won, and then I heard the score, 86.927%! We broke a Paralympic re-

46 November/December 2021 | USDF CONNECTION

Grade I para-equestrian athlete Roxanne Trunnell on Dolton was already #1 in the FEI Para-Dressage World Individual Rankings before she won team bronze, individual gold, and freestyle gold medals at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics. A native of Richland, Washington, Trunnell, 36, was an up-and-coming able-bodied dressage rider with Olympic dreams when in 2009 she contracted the H1N1 virus. The disease put her in a coma and caused a stroke that led to permanent physical disability. After reinventing her dressage career as a para-equestrian, she has competed at the 2014 and 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games and the 2016 and 2020 Paralympic Games. She won the Grade I Freestyle bronze medal at the 2018 WEG riding her Dutch Warmblood mare, Nice Touch, before going on to her three 2020 Paralympic medals aboard Dolton. Her gold-medal-winning Grade I Freestyle score of 86.927% in Tokyo broke the Paralympic dressage record of 84.750%, set by Great Britain’s Sophie Christiansen in London 2012. Out of the saddle, Trunnell holds a master’s degree in psychology with a focus in equine-assisted psychotherapy.


POLISHED PERFORMANCE: US team bronze medalists Kate Shoemaker and Solitaer 40

cord. We have broken world records before, but to break this kind of a record was really something special, and we won another gold medal! Our time at the Games was over, and we had to be on a plane the very next day. It was a whirlwind of goodbyes in the barn, mad packing at the village, a few hours of sleep, a bus to the airport, and goodbye Japan!

2020 Paralympic Games Dressage Results Team Great Britain Lee Pearson/Breezer...............................77.636 Natasha Baker/Keystone Dawn Chorus.... 76.618 Sophie Wells/Don Cara M......................75.651 Netherlands Sanne Voets/Demantur RS2 N.O.P.....78.200 Rixt van der Horst/Findsley N.O.P.......76.235 Frank Hosmar/Alphaville N.O.P............ 74.814 USA Roxanne Trunnell/Dolton........................80.321 Rebecca Hart/El Corona Texel.............72.206 Kate Shoemaker/Solitaer 40.................71.825 Grade I Individual Gold: Roxanne Trunnell/Dolton (USA)..............81.464 Silver: Rihards Snikus/ King of the Dance (LAT)....................................... 80.179 Bronze: Sara Morganti/Royal Delight (ITA)....76.964 Grade II Individual Gold: Lee Pearson/Breezer (GBR)...................76.265 Silver: Pepo Puch/Sailor’s Blue (AUT).............. 73.441 Bronze: Georgia Wilson/Sakura (GBR)........... 72.765 5. Beatrice de Lavalette/Clarc (USA)...............70.265


Grade III Individual Gold: Tobias Thorning Joergensen/ Jolene Hill (DEN).................................................... 78.971 Silver: Natasha Baker/ Keystone Dawn Chorus (GBR)..........................76.265 Bronze: Rixt van der Horst/ Findsley N.O.P. (NED).......................................... 75.765 11. Rebecca Hart/El Corona Texel (USA).........69.853

TEAM MEDALISTS: Silver medalists the Netherlands’ Rixt van der Horst, Sanne Voets, and Frank Hosmar; gold medalists Great Britain’s Lee Pearson, Sophie Wells, and Natasha Baker; bronze medalists the USA’s Kate Shoemaker, Roxanne Trunnell, and Rebecca Hart

Grade I Freestyle Gold: Roxanne Trunnell/Dolton (USA).............86.927 Silver: Rihards Snikus/ King of the Dance (LAT)......................................82.087 Bronze: Sara Morganti/Royal Delight (ITA)........ 81.100 Grade II Freestyle Gold: Lee Pearson/Breezer (GBR)................... 82.447 Silver: Pepo Puch/Sailor’s Blue (AUT)..............81.007 Bronze: Georgia Wilson/Sakura (GBR)............76.754 6. Beatrice de Lavalette/Clarc (USA)................ 72.194 Grade III Freestyle Gold: Tobias Thorning Joergensen/ Jolene Hill (DEN)................................................... 84.347 Silver: Natasha Baker/ Keystone Dawn Chorus (GBR)............................77.814 Bronze: Ann Cathrin Lübbe/ La Costa Majlund (NOR)..................................... 76.447

Grade IV Individual Gold: Sanne Voets/ Demantur RS2 N.O.P. (NED)..............................76.585 Silver: Rodolpho Riskalla/ Don Henrico (BRA)...............................................74.659 Bronze: Manon Claeys/San Dior 2 (BEL)........ 72.853 7. Kate Shoemaker/Solitaer 40 (USA)............. 70.854

Grade IV Freestyle Gold: Sanne Voets/ Demantur RS2 N.O.P. (NED)............................. 82.085 Silver: Louise Etzner Jakobsson/ Goldstrike B.J. (SWE)...........................................75.935 Bronze: Manon Claeys/San Dior 2 (BEL)........75.680 4. Kate Shoemaker/Solitaer 40 (USA)..............74.910

Grade V Individual Gold: Michèle George/Best of 8 (BEL)............76.524 Silver: Sophie Wells/Don Cara M (GBR)......... 74.405 Bronze: Frank Hosmar/ Alphaville N.O.P. (NED)....................................... 73.405

Grade V Freestyle Gold: Michèle George/Best of 8 (BEL)........... 80.590 Silver: Frank Hosmar/ Alphaville N.O.P. (NED).......................................80.240 Bronze: Regine Mispelkamp/ Highlander Delights (GER).................................76.820

USDF CONNECTION | November/December 2021


Simonson, Kment

Score Hat Tricks at NAYC

CLEAN SWEEP: 2021 NAYC Young Rider team, individual, and freestyle gold medalist Christian Simonson on Zeaball Diawind

48 November/December 2021 | USDF CONNECTION


Region 7 rider sweeps YR gold medals; Region 4 competitor takes all the Junior gold



he FEI North American Youth Championships (NAYC) in dressage and jumping returned from their pandemic hiatus. The 2021 edition was staged August 9-15 at the intended 2020 location, the Great Lakes Equestrian Festival grounds in Traverse City, Michigan. The NAYC is the only Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) championships held annually on the North American continent. In dressage, youth aged 14 through 21 compete in Junior and Young Rider divisions for team, individual, and freestyle medals. Qualifying to represent their country at the NAYC is for many young dressage competitors the pinnacle of their equestrian careers before they graduate to the adult ranks. (Learn more about the qualifying process under the Youth tab on the USDF website, Christian Simonson, 19, of Ventura, California, went home with all three gold medals from the Young Rider division. Riding Zeaball Diawind, a nine-year-old Danish Warmblood gelding owned by Christina Morgan, Simonson led his Region 7 YR team to gold, then took the top placing in the YR Individual and YR Freestyle tests. His freestyle earned a score of 78.935%, which broke the NAYC record and was a new personal best. After his freestyle win, Simonson, who trains with US Olympian Adrienne Lyle, said that he was “surprised and really grateful. Adrienne had to leave last night, and so today we just warmed up virtually. Coming off two back-to-back days, he was tired today, and I was hoping that he would dig deep, and he surpassed my expectations. He makes me so grateful to be able to ride him. This is our third freestyle ever together, and so to have him hold that much composure and perform that way after such a long, crazy week makes me so thankful.” In the Junior division, Region 4 proved that it’s on a roll. The Region 4 Junior team won its first-ever gold medal at the previous NAYC, in 2019. In 2021, the team comprised an entirely different set of horses and riders, but the new cast put their region back on the top medal podium: Lexie Kment, Palmyra, Nebraska, on Montagny von der Heide; Lexie’s sister Kylee Kment, Palmyra, Nebraska, on Honor; and Ella Fruchterman, West Lakeland, Minnesota, on Holts Le’Mans. Serving as Region 4 chef d’équipe was USDF Region 4 director Anne Sushko. Riding Montagny von der Heide, a 17-year-old Trakehner gelding owned by Laureen van Norman, Lexie Kment, 15, went on to a sweep of her own, going

JUNIOR TEAM CHAMPIONS: Region 4 riders Kylee Kment, Lexie Kment, and Ella Fruchterman with chef d’équipe Anne Sushko

home with Junior Individual and Freestyle gold medals. On the silver-medal Junior Individual podium was sister Kylee Kment, 17, who rode Honor, a nine-year-old gelding owned by her mother, Jami Kment. “Region 4 has always been the underdog; we’re the ‘flyover states,’” said past Region 4 chef Nancy Gorton. “But I think that what we’re seeing is the dedication to the sport that’s been passed down over generations. They are partners, not just as a team, but they treat their horses with such respect and love, and it’s amazing to see. I’m very proud of that.” The only NAYC competitor to ride in both the dressage and jumping divisions, Kat Fuqua, of Atlanta, Georgia, won three Junior bronzes. Riding her 13-yearold KWPN mare, Dreamgirl, Fuqua won bronze as a member of the Region 3 team and then took two more in the Junior Individual and Junior Freestyle championships. She competed in the NAYC FEI Children’s Jumping championship aboard Gagarin, a KWPN gelding owned by Jimmy Torano. Fuqua, 14, who already has many wins from the hunter ring under her belt, has only been riding dressage since early 2020. The USDF salutes the riders, ages 14 to 21, who represented the United States in the USDF North American Youth Dressage Championships at the 2021 NAYC: Region 1 Juniors: Genevieve Oliver and Shading, Abigail Rowe/Freewill, Franki Kesner/IL Divo, Katarina Leisinger/Desperado 8, with alternates Eliza Kirkpatrick/Wiriana [ USDF CONNECTION | November/December 2021


Region 1 Young Riders: Hannah Irons/Scola Bella, Allison Nemeth/Tiko, Megan Peterson/ Amoretto, Maja Cornwell/Breaking Dawn, with alternates Emma Teff/ Ugo JV Region 2 Juniors: Julia McDonald/Lehndorff van de Vogelzang, Alicia Berger/Trust Me, Allison Berger/ Mejicano CXV, Kayley Knollman/ JP Zeppelin, with alternates Beatrix Leffingwell/Nymphenburg’s Sylvester, Nicole Lang/Jagger DG, Allison Berger/Fine Time 13, Alicia Berger/ Aire Cavaleiros Region 2 Young Riders: Madeleine Perry/Smile, Maggie Tifft/E-Ros, Alexander Dawson/ Raven Black, Margaret Putnal/Zon Primaire Region 3 Juniors: Kat Fuqua/ Dreamgirl, Misha Cohen/Fuerstenglanz 3, Elaine Grubbs/Enebro XIV Region 3 Young Riders: Melanie Doughty/Fascinata, Savannah Mixon/Florence-Ra, Suzannah Rogers/Paladine of Elysium, Lydia McLeod/Honneur B, with alternates Sierra Inabnett/Buttercup Region 4 Juniors: Ella Fruchterman/Holts Le’Mans, Kylee Kment/Honor, Lexie Kment/Montagny von der Heide

Region 4 Young Riders: Tillie Jones/Qi Gong TF, Averi Allen/ Superman, Nicolas Beck/Campari, Emma Lavin/Bella Mia, with alternates Tillie Jones/Apachi Region 5 Juniors: Elizabeth Petersen/Simba, Katherine Nayak/ Gaspacho, Nadine Lurz/B Special Region 5 Young Rider: Claire Gunther/Easy Breezy Region 6 Juniors: Reese Wyman/Samurai, Daphne Glenn/ Romanesque Region 6 Young Riders: Jessica Beck/Elewaard, Ashley Anderson/ Dr Zeuss Region 7 Juniors: Nicole Ellsworth/Rower Be, Lily-Rose Bacon/Warm Night, Josephine Hinnemann/Breanna, Ellanor Boehning/Banderas SK, with alternates Anna Yost/Irieno-S Region 7 Young Riders: Christian Simonson/Zeaball Diawind, Katherine Mathews/Solière, Miki Yang/Donovan, Erin Nichols/ Handsome Rob AR, with alternates Christian Simonson/Hemmingway and Lucienne Bacon/Do Re Mi Region 8 Juniors: Tiggy Gates/ Shadow’s Dream, Emily Jackowski/ Pluto Bona II-64, Sarah Listzwan/ Brandtoftes Sjubell, Helen Pope/

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Results Young Rider Team Gold: Region 7 Christian Simonson/Zeaball Diawind......................................73.588 Miki Yang/Donavan................ 68.970 Katherine Mathews/Solière.... 67.677 Erin Nichols/ Handsome Rob AR................ (67.677) TEAM TOTAL........................210.235 Silver: Region 1 Hannah Irons/Scola Bella.......68.765 Allison Nemeth/Tiko................68.412 Megan Peterson/Amoretto......64.912 TEAM TOTAL.......................202.089 Bronze: Region 4 Tillie Jones/Qi Gong TF..........68.735 Nicolas Beck/Campari.............65.529 Averi Allen/Superman............. 65.471 Emma Lavin/Bella Mia.......(62.000) TEAM TOTAL........................ 199.735 Young Rider Individual Gold Christian Simonson/Zeaball Diawind (Region 7)..................75.353 Silver Miki Yang/Donovan (Region 7)................................. 69.294


SWITCH-HITTER: Winning hunter/jumper rider Kat Fuqua took up dressage in 2020. At the 2021 NAYC she won three Junior bronze medals aboard her Dreamgirl.

Galveston, with alternates Tessa Holloran/Ike Region 8 Young Riders: Rose Keller/Dievittorio O, Caroline Cadorette/Dustin Region 9 Juniors: Madison Waller/Diablo DC, Savana Garvey/ Don Larson, Isabella Fielder/Conan Star, Zainab Shah/Dr. Schiwago 9, with alternates Isabella Fielder/ Carre Magique, Daniel Patterson/ Sacred Showdown Region 9 Young Riders: Sarah Evans/Carzanola, Sydney Lipar/ Herzkonig, Olivia Patton/Lorino.

Special Awards


ix awards presented at the 2021 FEI North American Youth Championships (NAYC) recognized special excellence in the dressage division, both in and out of the saddle and by volunteers as well as competitors.

NEW AWARD: USDF FEI Junior/Young Rider Committee chair Roberta Williams presents the Amanda Johnson “Pursuit of Excellence” Memorial Trophy to Region 4 Junior Lexie Kment. The award goes to the Junior rider who earns the highest combined average score in the three dressage tests.


YR EXCELLENCE: Roberta Williams presents the Fiona Baan “Pursuit of Excellence” Memorial Trophy to Region 7’s Christian Simonson, as the Young Rider with the highest combined average score in the three dressage tests. The late Fiona Baan worked for the US Equestrian Team for nearly 30 years and was the US dressage team leader for the 1976 Olympics, the 1987 Pan Am Games, and the 1992 Olympics.

STANDOUT HORSE: The HorsePower Trophy recognizes an outstanding horse demonstrating heart, class, and the ability to inspire athletes and spectators alike. The 2021 award went to Wiriana, who with rider Eliza Kirkpatrick was the alternate for the Region 1 Junior team.

TOP CHEF: Roberta Williams presents the Albers Award perpetual trophy to Region 9 chef d’équipe Benjamin Pfabe. Named in memory of longtime Region 1 chef the late Patsy Albers, the award is presented annually to the dressage chef who best demonstrates the same level of dedication, enthusiasm, and team spirit shown by Albers over the years.

SPORTSMANSHIP: Maja Cornwell (left) accepts the Captain Andrew B. de Szinay Memorial Sportsman Trophy as the Young Rider demonstrating good sportsmanship, team spirit, and honor. Presenting were US national dressage youth coach George Williams and USDF Region 1 director Bettina Longaker, who is the late “Capt. Andy’s” stepdaughter.

CLASS AND STYLE: YR Christian Simonson is a class act, inside and out. He won the Dressage Style Award for his style, manners, and overall demeanor throughout the competition.

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Bronze Tillie Jones/Qi Gong TF (Region 4)................................. 68.588 Young Rider Freestyle Gold Christian Simonson/Zeaball Diawind (Region 7)..................78.935 Silver Allison Nemeth/Tiko (Region 1)................................. 73.330 Bronze Tillie Jones/Qi Gong TF (Region 4).................................. 73.170


Junior Freestyle Gold Lexie Kment/ Montagny von der Heide (Region 4) ................................. 74.775

JUNIOR CHAMPION: Region 4’s Lexie Kment on Montagny von der Heide

Junior Team Gold: Region 4 Kylee Kment/Honor................ 69.606 Lexie Kment/ Montagny von der Heide.........67.394 Ella Fruchterman/ Holts Le’Mans...........................65.667 TEAM TOTAL....................... 202.667

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Silver Julia McDonald/ Lehndorff van de Vogelzang (Region 2)..................................71.850 Bronze Kat Fuqua/Dreamgirl (Region 3).................................. 71.150 Congratulations to our talented youth!


Junior Individual Gold Lexie Kment/ Montagny von der Heide (Region 4)................................. 69.235

Bronze Kat Fuqua/Dreamgirl (Region 3).................................. 67.912

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Bronze: Region 3 Kat Fuqua/Dreamgirl..............67.364 Misha Cohen/Fuerstenglanz..64.000 Elaine Grubbs/Enebro XIV... 62.939 TEAM TOTAL....................... 194.303

Silver Kylee Kment/Honor (Region 4)..................................68.941

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Silver: Region 7 Lily-Rose Bacon/Warm Night....67.515 Nicole Ellsworth/Rower Be..... 66.121 Josephine Hinnemann/ Breanna.......................................64.151 Ellanor Boehning/ Banderas SK...........................(63.727) TEAM TOTAL.........................197.787

Grant Recipient Leah Majkrzak By Red Pony Photography

Here to Help Have you set your dressage goals, made a plan, but need financial help? Thanks to many generous donors, financial support may be available for your dressage education. Grants are available for: Adult Amateurs Youth Instructors Judges FEI Riders Western Dressage Riders Breeders Show Management Technical Delegates USDF GMOs Nonprofit Groups And More!

Visit to learn more about TDF's grants and programs.

Dressage Rider’s Helmet Buying Guide What’s the difference between a $60 helmet and a $600 (or more) model? We sort out the details to help you stay safe while looking and feeling great in the saddle.

TOPPING THE LOOK: With today’s helmets, dressage riders can have it all—protection, comfort, and style. At the 2021 US Dressage Festival of Champions, Anne Buchanan on her Talladega B chose a gray palette for her helmet and jacket.

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o top hats went down center line at this year’s 2020 Olympic Games. The Tokyo Games were the first Olympics in which all equestrians, including dressage, were required to wear protective headgear. It’s been quite the sea change since the days of the velvet-covered “hunt cap” that many of today’s English riders grew up wearing. Modern equestrian helmets are advanced pieces of safety engineering that must meet stringent safety standards. Numerous manufacturers offer protective headgear in a wide variety of styles, colors, and price ranges, with some lavishly decorated, customized models fetching more than $1,000. We wondered whether budget-priced helmets are as protective as their pricey counterparts, and what that extra money buys you. How do you find the right make and model for your needs? For what we learned, read on.

A Rapid Evolution Especially for a sport steeped in tradition, the shift in attitudes (and rules) regarding protective headgear has been incredibly swift. As recently as 10 years ago, many equestrians, particularly dressage riders or others riding “on the flat,” preferred baseball caps or the wind in their hair to helmets. Dressage competition warm-up arenas were filled with bareheaded riders, and the top-hatted silhouette was ubiquitous at the upper levels. In 2010, the sport received a seismic shock when 2008 US dressage Olympian Courtney King Dye suffered a catastrophic, helmetless fall from a horse. She sustained a skull fracture and a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI). Dye survived, but the TBI ended her career as a dressage rider and profoundly affected every aspect of her life going forward. Those in the sport began to realize that if even elite riders like Dye could get badly hurt, then so could others. Many dressage riders voluntarily began donning helmets, while members of equestrian organizations began pressing for rules requiring helmet use in competition. Less than a year after Dye’s accident, at its 2011 convention US Equestrian (USEF) passed a rule requiring most competitors at USEF-licensed/USDFrecognized dressage competitions to wear protective headgear at all times while mounted on show grounds, with some exceptions. The Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) followed suit in 2013 with a similar rule and exceptions.

Both organizations’ helmet rules were tightened in the ensuing decade, during which time several other highprofile riders’ head injuries kept the dangers of TBI in the news. In 2013 the USEF mandated protective headgear for all mounted competitors at national-level dressage shows. The FEI finally did the same for riders at its recognized dressage competitions (CDIs) as of January 1, 2021. Today even handlers and assistants in USEF dressage sport-horse breeding classes must wear protective headgear.

What’s Inside Your Helmet? In the late 1970s, the first safety standards for equestrian helmets were established by the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM, now ASTM International) and by the Safety Equipment Institute (SEI). The ASTM standard is the degree of protection that an equestrian helmet must meet or exceed in order to earn ASTM designation as equestrian protective headgear; the SEI certifies the equipment once it determines that the helmet meets the ASTM standard (currently ASTM F1163). Any helmet sold as equestrian protective headgear must have the ASTM/SEI designation, evidenced by a small label inside the helmet. Most ASTM/SEI-certified helmets share a common structure: an outer layer, a hard shell, protective padding, and a liner. The outer or “finish” layer is the visible part of a helmet. It’s what you see when you choose a fun hot-pink schooler or that sleek matte crystal-embellished model for the show ring. Beneath that eye-catching wrapper is the helmet’s hard outer shell, typically fiberglass, carbon fiber, or even Kevlar. The shell is what hits the ground first in the event of a fall, so structural integrity is paramount. What gives a helmet its thickness is the material that does most of the protective work: a layer of protective padding that helps to absorb the impact and disperse the energy from a blow. This dispersal of energy helps to prevent the brain from slamming full-force into the skull; it is this impact that causes a TBI (sometimes referred to as a concussion, which is a mild TBI). The innermost part of an equestrian helmet is the liner—the soft inner layer that contacts the wearer’s head. Many helmets today feature removable, washable liners. Some helmet designs allow the wearer to alter the fit somewhat via the use of different-sized liners. To be ASTM/SEI-certified as equestrian protective headgear, a helmet must also have a harness and chin strap. These must be adjusted and secured properly in USDF CONNECTION | November/December 2021


Every Time, Every Ride


f all patients who go to a hospital with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) resulting from sports activity, 45 percent are equestrians. Let that sink in for a moment. Football, hockey, and soccer—sports typically regarded as high-contact, dangerous activities—together are responsible for just over 20% of TBIs, according to data published in the journal Neurosurgical Focus. Multiple studies worldwide have produced similar statistics. A study by the University of Connecticut’s Department of Animal Science produced some disturbing findings on the prevalence of equine-related TBIs: • Horseback riding carries a higher injury rate per hour of exposure than downhill ski racing, football, hang-gliding, or motorcycle racing. • Medical-examiner reports show that 60% or more of horse-related deaths result from head injuries. Wearing approved protective headgear can reduce this possibility by 70% to 80%. • Approximately 70,000 people each year are treated in emergency rooms because of equine-related activities. Head injuries are the most common reason for equine-related hospital admissions. The American Medical Equestrian Association calculates that ASTM/SEI-approved helmet use has reduced the number of riding-related head injuries by 30% and severe head injuries by 50%.

order for the helmet to stay in place and do its job in the event of a fall.

Toward Safer Helmets Developed by a Swedish company, the Multidirectional Impact Protection System (MIPS) is safety-helmet technology that today can be found in helmets intended for a wide variety of sport and industrial uses, including equestrian. The design and testing of conventional safety helmets focuses on straight linear impacts. However, research has shown that in many falls—including the majority of equestrian falls—the head impacts the ground at an angle. MIPS features a low-friction layer that allows a multidirectional movement in angled impacts. The system, integrated into the helmet between the padding and the liner, allows the helmet to have some movement on impact in order to protect the brain from rotational damage, which is a major factor in equestrian-related TBIs.

Despite MIPS’ having been used in helmets for skiing and other sports, for a time the system was not available in equestrian protective headgear. That changed in 2018 when Trauma Void’s EQ3 helmet became the first MIPS-equipped model on the US market. Other equestrian-helmet manufacturers have since adopted the safety feature, and now many brands offer MIPS models in addition to traditional ASTM/SEI-certified designs, at a variety of price points. MIPS is the biggest trend in equestrian protective headgear and “the most requested helmet feature,” says Paul Arnold, owner of VTO Saddlery in Broadway, Virginia, whose mobile unit is a mainstay at many large dressage and eventing competitions. “It doesn’t mean customers won’t consider a helmet without it, but we’re seeing it more and more.” Arnold notes that “more manufacturers are starting to introduce helmets with MIPS technology in

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more than the basic helmet. You’re starting to see it in helmets that have a little more pizzazz and customizability.” “It doesn’t mean helmets that don’t have MIPS aren’t safe,” Arnold says. “[Conventional protective models] do provide protection, but the MIPS are particularly designed for an angular impact. It helps absorb some of the rotational energy and keeps it from being transmitted to the brain.” Research and development of new safety technologies continues. One such study is being undertaken by students at the University of Kentucky’s Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, Lexington, Kentucky. With assistance from a grant from ASTM International, the UK students have developed a “head form” and sensors to detect and interpret the effects of a crushing impact, with the goal of developing a testing standard for such impacts. Their final report will be submitted to ASTM International in the hope that the new benchmark will be incorporated into the nextgeneration ASTM/SEI standards.

For Safety, Find the Right Fit Pop quiz: If you’re shopping for the safest helmet, you should look for: 1. One with MIPS 2. One that’s certified by several international safety organizations 3. One that has enough room for you to put your long hair up under it 4. One that fits. The correct answer is 4: a helmet that fits. A properly fitted helmet that meets ASTM/SEI standards is going to offer better protection than a model that doesn’t fit you correctly, even if it has MIPS or other prestigious certifications.


That said, let’s delve into the specifics of finding a good fit. There are various ways to determine the proper helmet size for you. Measuring your head circumference and comparing to manufacturers’ size charts will help, but this won’t necessarily give you enough information to make a choice without also trying the helmet on. Even if you know that your current helmet is a size 7 ⅛, that’s still no guarantee that a different model of the same size will fit. That’s because the shape of the helmet and the shape of your head will have a major effect on fit and comfort. Human heads aren’t all shaped alike. Some people’s heads are round, while others’ are oval-shaped (longer from front to back than from side to side). Likewise, not all helmets are shaped the same. Some manufacturers offer both round and oval options. Finding the shape that best matches the shape of your head is crucial for fit, safety, and comfort. To fit and protect correctly, the helmet must sit level on your head. If it tilts such that the brim is higher than the back, protection is compromised and you could potentially even sustain a serious neck injury in the event of a fall. A correctly fitted helmet should be snug enough to cause your eyebrows to move up and down when you wiggle the brim—not headacheinducing tight, but tight enough to stay on. Try this test: With the harness unfastened, bend over and shake your head gently. A well-fitted helmet won’t slip or fall off. Don’t take that to mean that fastening the harness is optional when you ride, cautions Beth Haist, owner of the Oklahoma-based tack shop The Horse of Course. The harness is “part of the whole helmet,” she says.

“It’s an integrated system.” You’ve probably seen riders whose helmet chin straps dangle well beneath their throats—a safety no-no. Breathing and talking shouldn’t be uncomfortable, but the chin strap should be snug enough to keep the helmet from flying off or dislodging in the event of a fall. Although fitters advise wearing

which may also work well with a bun on show day. As for MIPS, “some people try [a MIPS helmet] on, and it doesn’t fit the same as their other helmet, or isn’t as comfortable, or what have you,” says Arnold. “The fit helps determine the safety of the helmet. If a helmet doesn’t fit right, it’s not going to provide the same level of protec-

HELMET HAIRDO: For proper fit, don’t put long hair up inside a helmet. A safe option—the tidy outside bun—is displayed by 2020 German Olympic eventing competitor Julia Krajewski, whose helmet features an elaborate crystal pattern and custom color piping.

your hair in your usual riding style when you try on a helmet, “We’re hearing more and more from helmet manufacturers that when it comes to fitting, riders should not be putting their hair up in the helmet,” says Arnold. “When you put your hair up in the helmet, it affects the fit. You don’t want to buy a bigger helmet just so you can put your hair up in it.” Longer-haired riders may wish to look for a “ponytail friendly” design,

tion as a properly fitting helmet. So if the MIPS option is not a good fit for the customer, we have no problem recommending an option that does not include the MIPS.”

Comfort and Style Since the development of the original ASTM/SEI standards, there have been huge improvements in the safety, design, and comfort of equestrian helmets. [

USDF CONNECTION | November/December 2021


When protective headgear began to become the norm in dressage, some riders pushed back, complaining that safety helmets were heavy, hot, and unattractive. Manufacturers listened. Most helmets today are lighter in weight, with strategically placed vents to allow for some air flow to help keep wearers cooler. Many have removable, washable liners. And thick, clunky-looking helmets have given way to sleek, low-profile styles. Dressage riders are “stepping out style-wise,” says Arnold—a trend

that’s sure to continue with the imminent change in US Equestrian dressage-attire rules permitting a wider range of colors (see “Free Rein,” September/October). “We see a lot more riders wearing burgundy or blue boots, for example, and they want a helmet that matches.” Haist agrees that fashion-forward competitors “want to match a helmet to their jacket. If they’re doing a navy shadbelly with green trim and buttons, then we’ll do green trim on their navy helmet.” Helmet bling—crystals, chrome

When to Say Goodbye


wo rules dictate when it’s time to replace a riding helmet. 1. After it hits the ground—even if you don’t think you were injured and the helmet looks OK. As VTO Saddlery’s Paul Arnold explains, the layer of protective foam padding inside the helmet gets compressed in an impact, and “it’s not like memory foam that’s just going to bounce back.” If you were to continue riding in that same helmet and sustain another blow to the same area, your head wouldn’t be protected. 2. When it’s reached its fifth birthday. Regardless of how much or little it’s been used, replace your helmet every five years. Sunlight and humidity can cause the protective padding to deteriorate, Arnold explains. Buyer beware: Arnold cautions against purchasing a used helmet, even if it was “only worn a few times” and looks fine from the outside. As he points out, there’s no way to tell what happened to the helmet during those “few times.”

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SHADED LADY: Karen Lipp on her Infinity wears a broad-brimmed helmet topped by an American-flag graphic at the 2021 US Dressage Festival of Champions

stripes, metallic piping, and so on— is “still in,” according to Arnold, “but that’s a pendulum that makes subtle swings over the course of a year or so.” At the moment, he says, “subtle bling is in. The ‘chrome grill’ kind of bling is currently not.” “The most serious riders,” as Haist terms them, “are starting to use less bling. Amateurs who go to the larger events are starting to cut it back a little bit. I think as they watch and learn, they’re looking for more strategic bling, not just ‘more is better.’” To accommodate customers’ desire for a unique look, helmet manufacturers have expanded their customization options considerably. In One K’s Custom Color System (CCS), for instance, “there are three different pieces and about 15 colors,” says Arnold. “You can take them out, swap them up, mix and match. It gives you the ability to take an off-the-shelf helmet and give it a custom look.” Besides One K’s, Haist is also a fan of KEP Italia’s customization options: 11 parts of the helmet—from the shell to the logo—are customizable. “They have a configurator online,” Haist says. “You can create your own helmet with so many colors and textures and changes. It is so cool!” (Other makers also have online configurators: At press time, a quick check of several popular manufacturers’ websites showed that you can customize your Charles Owen, Samshield, Kask, Antares, and GPA helmet, as well. And even those manufacturers that don’t do bespoke creations typically offer a wide range of style and color choices.) Another trend that may be about to take off, thanks in part to the

Concussion and TBI: Latest Research


2020 Tokyo Olympics, is widerbrimmed “lady” helmets, as seen on a fair number of the female dressage riders at those Games, including British team bronze medalist Charlotte Fry and fourth-placed Grand Prix Freestyle competitor Cathrine Dufour of Denmark. The style, Arnold predicts, is “going to be more common to see in a show environment. It does provide more protection from the sun.” The broader brims are “actually sensible when you think about it,” says Haist. “People are more conscious. We don’t want to get cancer.” She’s somewhat less certain about the trend for dressage than Arnold, commenting that “I was surprised to see some of them in the Olympic dressage competition because I don’t really sell a lot of them to the dressage people. I carry [them] in stock, but it’s more popular with the jumpers and the hunters.” So. Many. Options! How to choose? Look at helmets you see other riders wearing. Do some “window shopping” online to get an idea of the various manufacturers’ designs. Do you like a lower-profile helmet? Shiny finish or matte? Accent colors or monochromatic? Bling? Wide brim or standard? These are just some of the options. Make sure that any helmet intended for use in dressage competition meets the standard of what’s permitted according to US Equestrian rules.

How Much Should I Spend? Is there any difference between a $100 helmet and a $1,000 helmet? The answer is yes, but not necessarily in the ways you’d expect. A few manufacturers, such as Charles Owen and Kask, have gone


hen you were learning to ride, you may have been advised to get right back on when you fell off. New research on brain injuries is prompting medical experts to say: Not so fast. The effects of a concussion, which is a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI), may not be immediately evident. If a rider returns to the saddle right away, balance and memory both may be impaired, increasing the chances of another injury. Even if you don’t hit your head in a fall, you can still sustain a concussion as a result of the abrupt and violent change in your head’s direction and velocity. In a review of emerging treatments for TBI released in 2020 by the US National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), statins, nitric oxide, bone-marrow stromal cells, physical therapy, and even running are mentioned as showing promise in preclinical or clinical trials. In July 2021, the research-focused website ScienceDaily published the results of a University of California, San Francisco research project showing that computerized tomography (CT) scans for patients with concussion “provide critical information about their risk for long-term impairment and potential to make a complete recovery—findings that underscore the need for physician follow-up.” CT scans already are widely used in gauging the prognosis of more severe TBIs, but the UCSF study was the first to indicate their usefulness in concussions and other milder brain injuries.

STYLE AND SAFETY: British champion Charlotte Dujardin was an early proponent of helmets in dressage. She even straps one on for unmounted work (including with Gio at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics horse inspection).

One of the more devastating TBI-related conditions, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), was brought to light in 2005. Caused by multiple blows to the head over a period of years, CTE is a progressive neurological condition that can lead to changes in mood, behavior swings, memory loss, and dementia. Symptoms frequently develop long after the last head trauma the victim experienced. Originally linked to football players, CTE is now being discovered in the brains of veterans, a fact that is leading researchers to believe that a single concussive injury, such as from an improvised explosive device (IED), can also cause the condition. Because CTE can be identified only in a postmortem examination of brain tissue, there is currently no means of diagnosis or treatment. The VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank—a partnership among the US Department of Veterans Affairs, Boston Healthcare System, Boston University School of Medicine, and the Concussion Legacy Foundation—as of June 2021 had received its 1,000th brain donation for the study of CTE. One more reason to wear your helmet every time, every ride.  Resource: For information and resources on concussion and TBI, including warning signs and symptoms in children and adults, download the US Centers for Disease Control’s “Heads Up” booklet at about_concussion_tbi-a.pdf.

USDF CONNECTION | November/December 2021


above and beyond the ASTM/ SEI standards by submitting their helmets to other testing labs to meet standards around the world. The cost of that testing can run several hundred thousand dollars, which translates to the fact that you’re not going to see either brand on the bargain shelf at your local tack shop. Another factor that affects price is where a helmet is manufactured. For instance, Charles Owen helmets are made in Great Britain; KEP Italia and Kask helmets are made in Italy; Samshield, GPA, and Antares helmets are made in France. These companies’ offerings feature beautiful design and fine craftsmanship as well as cutting-edge safety. Some lower-price-point helmets are made in locations with lower manufacturing costs, such as Asia, according to Arnold, which is why

such helmets may be less expensive. Regardless of price, however, a helmet sold as equestrian protective headgear must meet the ASTM/SEI standard, so a lower price doesn’t mean less safe. Finally, the more customized and décor-laden the helmet, the higher the price is likely to be.

Shop Around

turer, make sure you’re going to be happy with the way the helmet fits and feels. Visit a local equestrian retailer to try on helmets in person if you can (bonus: there may be a helmet-fitting expert on staff ). If you’re purchasing online, inquire about the return policy, especially for custom orders. Be a smart shopper: Use that thing you’re striving to protect—your head!

Remember, the best helmet for you is the (appropriately certified) one you’ll wear. It must be comfortable, and it must fit correctly. “If it doesn’t fit right, I wouldn’t say everything goes out the window,” says Arnold, “but you’ve got to get the fit right.” Before you allow yourself to be seduced by a gorgeous custom model from an unfamiliar manufac-

Penny Hawes is a writer, rider, and coach from Virginia.

REGISTER YOUR HORSE WITH USDF! The $115 USDF Lifetime Horse Registration: • Fulfills horse registration requirements for ALL USDF award and championship programs.* • Never needs to be renewed. *For information about rider/owner membership requirements for award and championship programs, visit the USDF website. 60 November/December 2021 | USDF CONNECTION

USDF SPORT HORSE EDUCATION something for everyone

USDF offers specialized education, for both youth and adults, geared toward breeders, handlers, competitors, and judges, as well as education for the progression of the sport horse from breeding to competing under saddle. Visit the USDF website to see all that USDF has to offer!



Kids Count in the FEI Children’s Division An introduction to an exciting new dressage competition division for youth

CHILD STAR: Tessa Geven riding Sir Frederico won the FEI Children’s title at the 2021 US Festival of Dressage Champions

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n dressage, the Europeans have a leg up on bringing children up the levels. Denmark, Germany, Great Britain, Sweden, and the Netherlands all outshine the US by more than 2 to 1 when it comes to youth divisions. In 2019, in those nations, 39% of entries in CDIs (FEI-recognized dressage competitions) were FEI Children, Pony, Junior, and Young Rider, as compared with just 16% in the US (excluding such “adult only” competitions as Olympic Games and FEI World Cup Dressage Finals). It’s clear that these powerhouse dressage countries have invested in a strong pipeline for developing future riders. Now the US is working to match the Europeans’ commitment to developing future Olympians via the newest FEI youth dressage division, FEI Children. Want to learn more about how you or your favorite pre-teen or young teen can work toward becoming the next dressage superstar? Read on as we explain more about the scoring and rules, then introduce you to some American trailblazers in the FEI Children’s division.

A Test of Riding Skill Created and governed by the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI), the FEI Children’s division is open to riders ages 12 to 14. It was created with the goal of introducing youngsters to FEI-level competition in order to pique their interest and to increase standards of proficiency. FEI Children’s tests are on par with US Equestrian Second Level in terms of difficulty, but the way they are judged is different. Competitors in FEI Children’s classes are judged based on the rider’s skill in piloting the horse, not on the horse’s quality. The FEI implemented a new format for judging Children’s tests January 1, 2020. Most notably, it introduced a “Quality Marking” score, which is based on the rider’s skill rather than the fanciness of the horse. US national dressage youth coach George Williams says that the new scoring methodology has similarities to that of the FEI Seven-Year-Old test, “but with a major twist.” “In both cases,” he says, “the judges at C judge the technical aspects of the test, just like in any dressage test that is not a freestyle or a Young Horse test. The judges on the side judge the quality.” But while in the SevenYear-Old test the score is based on the quality of the horse, in the FEI Children’s test the score is based on the quality of the rider.

“In other words,” says Williams, “does the rider not only sit well and through correct aids influence the horse in a positive manner, but does the rider also show that they understand a movement through correct preparation as well as execution? Even if there might be a slight misstep on the part of the horse, the correct preparation should still be recognized.” The Quality Marking Score constitutes 50% of the final score. Not unlike the collective marks in US national dressage tests, the Quality Marking score comprises four general assessments of the performance: Rider’s Position and Seat, Effectiveness of Aids, Precision, and General Impression. “Each of the four areas is then broken down with a description of the criteria that should be taken into consideration when determining a score for that portion,” Williams explains. (For more on how FEI Children’s tests are judged, see “FEI Children’s Division Focuses on Quality of Riding” on page 65.) The FEI Children’s division consists of team and individual tests. Like its USEF equivalent, Second Level, “the team test asks for collected canter and simple changes,” says Williams, who adds that “I think, from the point of view of the movements required, it is slightly easier.” But “don’t be fooled: To score well, you have to show that as a rider you have a good foundation, both in your position and in your understanding of the movements.”

A Judge’s Viewpoint The FEI Children’s division is growing in popularity now that it’s being offered in the US. In 2016, the Houston (Texas) Dressage Society presented the first US CDI to include FEI Children’s tests. The following year, the division was added to the roster of the US Dressage Festival of Champions, the annual US Equestrian national championships. Over the past five years, FEI 4* dressage judge Sarah Geikie has seen a vast improvement in the quality of riders, horses, and ponies in the FEI Children’s Division at the Festival of Champions. In 2020, she judged two days of the Children’s classes. “The first day,” she says, “I was judging the quality marks at B with my colleague, Kristi Wysocki. We were impressed with the high standard of riding. The next day, I was the judge at C, judging the technical side. It was so exciting for me to see the huge improvement in all of the riders from day one to day two. The riders had clearly read our comments and suggestions from day one and had taken these to heart and made clear USDF CONNECTION | November/December 2021


improvements in their ride on day two. This, in a nutshell, is the goal of these tests: to promote correct riding and help to guide youth riders in the right direction.” Geikie points out that, because one judge assesses the technical aspects of the test and two additional judges evaluate the quality of the riding, the scores for a single test can vary. “It is very possible that the technical mark from the judge at C and the quality marks given from the side judges can be quite different,” she explains.

Pony Power An exciting rule for these younger riders is that they are able to ride a variety of mounts in the division, including ponies. “The FEI allows for children to

ride ponies in countries outside of western Europe; within western Europe, they must be mounted on horses,” Williams says. “This means that they can ride whatever is available to them, whether it is their mother’s horse or an older sibling’s hand-me-down pony. Of course, some have their own horse or pony, but this flexibility makes it possible for more [riders] to participate.”

Houston Dressage Society Trailblazers Boast Results In 2016, the USDF group-member organization (GMO) the Houston Dressage Society (HDS) became the first GMO to host FEI Children and Pony classes at its shows. Texan Emma Claire Stevens, 17, earned her USDF bronze medal as a

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10-year-old; by age 11, she had earned her USDF silver medal and was halfway to her gold. She says she was thrilled to have had the opportunity to compete in the CDIs in Houston. “What I specifically remember was being 12 years old and I really, really wanted the neck ribbon. That was a dream of mine. I got it! I can’t describe to you how happy I was!” she says. Stevens believes that the CDIs are the pathway to showing younger riders that there is more out there beyond their local shows. “I think that’s really important for them—to feel like they’re a part of something—and it makes them strive to work harder and want more of that team feeling. Eventually that leads you to something like going to Europe or going to the Olympics.”


TEXAS PRIDE: Because the Houston Dressage Society was the first to offer the Children’s division at its CDI, many early notables hail from the Lone Star State, including 2017 champion Emma Claire Stephens on De Nouvelle Vie

Stevens was on her way to Michigan for the 2021 North American Youth Championships when she had to withdraw because her horse sustained a foot injury, but that hasn’t sidelined her dreams. She hopes to take her young horse, Cappuccino, to NAYC Juniors and Young Riders; eventually she plans to become a professional dressage trainer with international-competition aspirations. Williams calls the FEI Children’s division “an excellent way to bring young people into the pipeline. The more youth we bring in, the larger the pool of potential talent we are able to develop. In other words, we improve the odds for very competitive Olympians down the road. I think it is important for other reasons, as well. Hopefully, through the program, we can help our young athletes to develop a good foundation. We can see that they are started correctly and that their equestrian education continues in the right direction.” “I am really pleased that the FEI went in this direction with the tests for Children,” Williams adds. “For one, it means that the fanciest horse doesn’t always win; good riding does. As youth coach, I want to see good riding. If you look at the best [FEI Children competitors] in the world, yes, they are frequently fancy horses, but most importantly, they are well ridden.”

Sue Weakley is a freelance journalist with a master’s degree and a bachelor’s degree in print journalism. She taught journalism and integrated marketing communications at the university level for five years before melding her love of dressage with her love of writing.

FEI Children’s Division Focuses on Quality of Riding By Sarah Geikie


eginning in 2020, a new format for judging the FEI Children’s classes was adopted in which three judges officiate in each class. The judge at C evaluates the technical aspects of the test, such as whether the horse is straight on the center line, if the leg-yield is correct, and so on. The other two judges score the quality of riding for each competitor. The side judges use four criteria in evaluating the quality of riding: • Rider’s position and seat • Effectiveness of aids • Precision • General impression. The quality of the horse should have no influence on the marks as long as the rider’s seat and aids don’t have a negative effect on the horse’s way of going. Only with the final criterion, “general impression,” where the overall picture is assessed, may the horse’s quality have a slight impact on the score. Specifics of each criterion include: • Rider’s position and seat: The overall picture of the rider’s head, shoulder, arm, leg, and heel alignment, as well as the rider’s body language, balance, and elasticity, should be assessed. The rider’s body shape should not. • Effectiveness of aids: This refers to the rider’s ability to influence the horse in a positive manner. The focus is on suppleness, contact, straightness, and balance. • Precision: Preparation for the movements, accuracy of figures, and maintenance of tempo are vital. • General impression: Harmony, correctness of paces, lightness, and ease of presentation all come into play here. Cooperation between horse and rider and a good partnership will help boost the overall general-impression score. The quality of the horse may have a positive influence on this mark if it has very good and elastic paces. Some criteria may overlap. For example, a well-defined and fluent transition at the correct letter would be a result of precise riding as well as of effective aids coming from a rider’s correct position and seat. The FEI’s document “Guidelines for Judging the ‘Quality of Riding’ Mark in Children Competitions” lists in detail scoring breakdowns and assessment criteria, minor and major faults for each criterion, and more: Sarah Geikie is an FEI 4* dressage judge from Connecticut. She was on the judging panel for the FEI Children’s division at the 2020 US Dressage Festival of Champions.

USDF CONNECTION | November/December 2021


Colorful Holidays A rainbow of gift ideas to brighten someone’s season

Glam Grooming It’s almost too pretty to take to a horse show—but go ahead; this bag can handle it. The Grooming Backpack, by the Danish equestrian company Marise Bags, is made from beautiful black or chocolate-brown leather and features a water-repellent inside lining. Pockets can hold all manner of ringside essentials, and the front pocket is just the right size for a horse passport. Straps are wide, padded, and ergonomically designed for the wearer’s comfort. Away from the barn, this backpack is handsome and stylish enough to take almost anywhere, and it can hold a 15-inch laptop. Learn more:

Colorful Training Guide Which comes first, contact or suppleness? Dressage riders know the importance of following the pyramid of training, but a visual reminder of the “training scale” can be helpful. You won’t find a more eye-catching depiction than the Dressage Training Pyramid Poster from the equestrian-design boutique Mind Body Dressage. The square poster is available in a variety of sizes, paper grades, with or without custom matting and framing, to deck the (riding) hall, tack room, or office. Learn more: body_dressage.

66 November/December 2021 | USDF CONNECTION

Show Your Love Karina Brez’s fine-jewelry designs reflect her love of horses. Long a fixture on the Florida winter show circuit, Brez’s creations are also available on her website and at her new retail store in Palm Beach. Among them: this rose-gold bracelet from her Huggable Hooves collection. Bracelets and matching rings are available in yellow and white gold, as well, and come in various sizes, all sparkling with diamond pavé. Learn more:

A High-Profile Life in Dressage Nobody would call Robert Dover a wallflower. From his six Olympic Games appearances to six years as the US national dressage technical advisor and chef d’équipe, the Roemer Foundation/USDF Hall of Fame inductee has been an unabashed supporter of the sport. The first openly gay Olympic athlete, he’s been out and proud since 1988. Dover has a strong voice, and he’s been using it for years in magazine columns, blogs, fund-raisers, and dressage clinics. Now he’s published his memoir, Robert Dover: The Gates to Brilliance (Trafalgar Square, 2021). The biggest hook, though, is in the book’s tagline: “How a Gay, Jewish, Middle-Class Kid Who Loved Horses Found Success.” We expect a dishy, fun read by one of our sport’s most magnetic personalities. Learn more:

Equestrian Style From Ariat’s new Countryside collection, snuggle into the Saratoga Cardigan. It’s made from an ethically sourced wool blend in a classic oversize plaid with back horse-bit detail, and it reverses to a rich jacquard knit. The wearer will enjoy the coziness of the extra length, the hood, and the patch pockets. Available in five sizes, from XS to XL. Learn more:

USDF CONNECTION | November/December 2021


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Support the future of Dressage

Donate Today! The USDF Circle of Friends is essential to the mission of USDF. Your tax deductible gift will have a significant impact in helping USDF provide quality dressage education and programs. Visit USDF’s secure online giving site at, or call us at 859-971-7826 to make your contribution.

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Phone: (859) 971-2277, Fax: (859) 971-7722, E-mail: Accounting...................................................................................... (859) 271-7891.........................


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L Education and Continuing Education................................... (859) 971-7039............................ Licensed Official Education........................................................ (859) Mailing Lists.................................................................................... (859) 971-7038.......................... Musical Freestyle........................................................................... (859) NAYC Criteria and Procedures.................................................. (859) 971-7360.................................... Nominations – Delegates, Regional Directors...................... (859) Participating and Business Memberships............................... (859) Prize List Questions...................................................................... (859) Regional Championships Program........................................... (859) Rider Awards.................................................................................. (859) Safe Sport........................................................................................ (859) Score Corrections......................................................................... (859) 271-7895............. Secretary/Manager Services ..................................................... (859) Show Results.................................................................................. (859) Sponsorship Opportunities......................................................... (859) Sport Horse Education and Programs..................................... (859) Store Merchandise........................................................................ (859) University Accreditation and Credit Check............................ (859) (859) USEF/USDF Dressage Seat Medal Program & Semi-Finals....(859)-971-7360....................................... Year-End Awards........................................................................... (859) Young Rider Graduate Program................................................ (859) Youth Education and Programs................................................. (859)

For specific staff contacts visit the USDF Web site.

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My Dressage In the Loop For Hilltop Farm head trainer Michael Bragdell, his greatest challenge is managing communications among the facility’s large staff

TEAM PLAYER: Bragdell with breeding stallion Sternlicht Hilltop (Soliman de Hus x Rascalino)

Communication, says Bragdell, is the most important aspect of keeping the business running smoothly. “One of the hardest things, especially in a place like this, is building a really good team around you. That can be quite challenging,” Bragdell says. In dressage, that team can be extensive—“everything from your partner, if you have a partner; your groom; the farrier; the vet; the people that do the bodywork on the horses; your horse, obviously; and owners, if you don’t own the horse. I think all of that really plays a part

in being successful, and it takes a lot of effort to make everything match.” (Luckily for Bragdell, he minored in business in college.) When possible, Bragdell prefers to communicate with his team members in person: “I feel like it’s easier not to be misunderstood.” He calls texting convenient and “a good tool to have… but I still feel that there’s something about face-to-face conversation…. Sometimes, I feel it’s easier to check in about how are all the horses doing, or, I heard So-and-So was sick. Just checking in with the barn manager or whoever’s out in the fields.” Hilltop has a staff of 20. Bragdell estimates that he interacts closely with four to five people on a daily basis and contacts others as needed. “It could be anything from talking to the maintenance crew about when I was at a horse show and the truck felt sort of funny, or we need to check the trailer out, or there are some fences in the stallion paddock that need to be fixed, or I saw a tree down when I was out on a hack.” The list goes on: “checking in with the barn manager about coordinating the farrier schedule and the event schedule. Coordinating breeders coming to see the stallions. Sometimes they want to see them under saddle. Coordinating the stallions’ collection schedules when we’re in breeding season. For example, one morning I needed to check in with the breeding manager because a lab technician was running late, so then I had to adjust my riding schedule.” The breeding stallions have separate schedules that need to be integrated. “The stallion handler comes in and checks in with me. He says, ‘Hey, I’m going to do So-and-So first. Does that work?’”

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These tasks may be common to many equestrian facilities, but at Hilltop their scale can feel overwhelming at first. A new employee, for instance, may previously have worked “at a facility where there’s only one rider, or maybe there’s half the amount of horses. For a farm that’s big, staff-wise, it takes getting used to, with that many employees and so many things going on,” Bragdell says. That’s why, during job interviews, “we try to ask all the right questions and put up a realistic scenario of what it takes to make it work. Especially when you have younger people, whether it’s a working-student position or it’s their first job after college, I think sometimes it’s a little bit of an eye-opener.” (He himself started at Hilltop as a working student.) Hiring isn’t just about finding people with the right experience. To function well at Hilltop, “it needs to be a group of people that will work well together,” says Bragdell. “Especially with your groom, who I spend a lot of time with traveling to horse shows, that’s ten- to fifteenhour drives. You need to be able to work really well with that person. Not just in terms of work, but in terms of personality.” For Bragdell, it all comes back to keeping people informed. “You have to make a conscious effort to communicate with all the team members, so everybody’s in the same loop,” he says. “Communication is just so vital.”

Katherine Walcott is a freelance writer who has her hands full managing a barn of two.



ost of us will never work at an equestrian facility the size of Hilltop Farm. At press time, there were about 85 horses—breeding stallions, broodmares, youngsters, and horses in training—on the farm’s 400-plus acres in the northeastern Maryland town of Colora. And in charge of the training portion of the operation (although his responsibilities encompass “more than just riding the horses”) is head trainer Michael Bragdell.

By Katherine Walcott


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