Archive | February, 2013

4 rings available, but only one ring used…

18 Feb





Dressage show numbers are supposedly on the rebound in the U.S.  More riders showing in more classes,etc.

But looking at results over the past few months–even allowing for weather and winter and other possibilities–numbers of rides and riders are clearly down in both California and Florida, the “hotbeds’ of dressage in the U.S.

Yes–trainers are showing and FEI classes on both coasts at open and CDI shows have multiple entries. But it is too often those same trainers who are the lone entry or majority of riders at lower levels.

Where are the new riders who are starting out? Lower level classes do not have any numbers, any rider support.

Trainers at local shows are only  half-smiling when they say they now have  part-time jobs, as client numbers have truly dwindled and are not being replenished by new amateurs, new younger riders or even new horses.

Is this the norm everywhere? Hope to get some feedback.




Sending best wishes to the  2009  U.S. Horse of the Year Thoroughbred mare, Rachel Alexandra, now recovering from post-birth complications and very serious surgery.

Updates on Rachel’s condition can be found at



Be careful what you wish for…

11 Feb



(Joanie Morris)


Dressage has dreamed for a long time of the sport gaining enough vi$ibility, enough ‘globali$ation’, enough popularity, enough $ponsor$, to become really BIG: on TV, wending its way into the general population’s consciousness.

Unfortunately, this often requires $candal$ and it is no different this time.

Enough coverage already ,so no editorializing here, just two links:


All of this is as nothing compared to cycling or soccer–where the latest news is that HUNDREDS of  soccer games worldwide were fixed by gambling syndicates.

I am–truly–grateful that at least in California, the Thoroughbred racing industry is starting to realize that these fantastic,nobler athletes deserve a better end than the kill auction,and money is starting to trickle in for rehab farms AND prize money for various competitions. The elegance, the work ethic, the actually excellent brains of so many Thoroughbreds are now getting a chance to have a career beyond running their legs off-literally–in pursuit of some human’s selfish dream and ambition.

A lovely example is the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association (CTBA) sponsoring The Thoroughbred Classic Horse Shows, a series of shows offering cash prizes, open only to Thoroughbreds.

is the link to this and other efforts to promote Thoroughbreds in careers other than racing and kill pens.

The racing industry certainly is global and has equally certainly come under scrutiny for horrible abuse. The latest move in the U.S. to prohibit Lasix (again–this is the 2nd time) and bring the American racing scene more into line with Europe, Japan, Hong Kong and other huge racing industry centers is now–finally–gaining traction, as they say.

Applause. And more applause. Too many trainers have become chemists and mechanics, and here as in so many areas of the horse industry, the horsemen are disappearing.


It seems so long ago that we had Jan Ebeling, Rafalca, Stephen Colbert ,”dressage”, dancing horses, and the hope that all this positive feedback would produce great results for the sport of dressage.





Thoughts on dressage and judging

5 Feb

The Spanish Riding School, in its performances, has been held as a benchmark for that which is ‘classical’ about horsemanship. There is something about the uniforms, the chandeliers, the presence of so many white horses half passing across the silent peat-based arena that moves our souls.

As an adult, watching some of those performances on video, more knowledge and experience makes me aware of imperfections: the horses that are inelastic, unfocused, not bent correctly, out of rhythm…

But the magic of SRS is not necessarily  the specific performance; it is the living symbol of a time when horses were not hobby-sport. It dates from a time when a horse was the difference between life and death,on and off the battlefield. Whatever we have learned since those times about shoeing, nutrition,saddles–nothing even begins to compare to what those original horsemen knew about the bond between horse and human.

What makes a dressage performance–what makes any interaction with the horse– something spectacular and memorable, is the demonstration of that bond. That special communication that exists when there is trust as well as talent, and that makes athleticism cross over into art.

The older dressage shows, even up through the Olympics, featured what we now recognize as truly subpar judging. There was no emphasis on any of the modern hallmarks of elasticity, power,expression,as laid over the training scale. There was a lot of chauvinistic,highly irregular judging, culminating in the famous 1960 Olympics when the scores were not announced until several days after the actual performances, and after the judges had argued over films of the performances, trying to find some foundation of agreement.

We may or may n0t have ‘transparency’ yet, but we certainly have a good deal more accountability in judging. Audience and judges are still moved by the magic of true communication, true partnership, although  the words used are more often “harmony” and “rider’s effective use of aids”.

It’s rather like pornography–difficult to define but easy to recognize.

So many ideas have been tried out: judges sitting together; highest and lowest scores removed ; judges watching riders school and factoring in those performances as well as the public competition.

Several times, the IOC stepped in and threatened to remove dressage from Olympic  Games.

Compared to all the above, now may be at least the first golden era of dressage judging. The best judges today are better educated, more professional, less chauvinistic, and more accountable.

In the U.S., we can only marvel at the idea of 7 instead of 5 judges (considering well over 97% of U.S. shows have only one judge); a Judge Supervisory Panel to act as a further safeguard of correct scoring; and half points to make scoring ever more exact.

There is a growing demand to make judging dressage  ever more ‘scientific,’ ever more similar to other subjectively judged sports,such as figure skating and gymnastics. Hopefully,  these efforts  result in better judging.

Equally if not more important , we must make sure  these efforts do not lose sight of the basis for the sport, let alone judging the sport: the bond,the communication, between the two athletes,one human and one equine. Because it is this bond that gets audiences on their feet, not necessarily the best technical performance.