California leads the way in U.S. dressage

6 Jan




Glenda McElroy can easily be considered the face of American dressage. Like so many others in the US, she did not start out loving dressage. It was part of the ‘job description’ when she was invited  to use her combined management/business talents  at Los Angeles Equestrian Center, overseeing the shows that horse business impresario Larry Langer did not want to deal with, keeping for himself the plum hunter and jumper shows.

But in  1984, the Olympics came to Southern California (Los Angeles), and being involved in the equestrian part  brought a huge wave of new admirers for dressage as well as the always popular jumpers. Even McElroy was impressed by the cream of the world’s dressage riders out on the track and infield of Santa Anita, showing off their horses’ obedience and brilliant power.

So she created Cornerstone Event Management, and basically invented top sport dressage shows in this part of the U.S.

In 2005, she helped win the rights to the first double World Cup Final (showjumping and dressage) for the West Coast. The event, held in Las Vegas, was an enormous success, exceeding almost everyone’s expectations.  Las Vegas won the rights for 2007 and 2009, Glenda and her team overseeing the dressage portion each time. In 2004 and 2008, the U.S Olympic Dressage Selection Trials were held on the West Coast and Glenda’s tream again provided superb organization.

World Cup Finals, again a double, returns to Las Vegas in 2015 and once again, Glenda’s  Cornerstone team will organize the dressage.

In addition, her website calendar now shows several new CDI’s, courtesy of a partnership with W Farms, a highly successful  show/sales/training barn in Southern California.


So when Glenda says no, she is not ‘cautiously optimistic’ about dressage—she is really optimistic—it is time to sit up and cheer.

“The very nicest horses are here in California,” she says emphatically. “I go everywhere, including Europe, and the horseflesh here is amazing. The quality of training is also much better- the only problem is when trainers project their own ambitions on to their clients—they need to be sympathetic and understand why their riders are riding.”

Glenda’s background in hunter/jumper makes her dream of a dressage amateur division. “The amateur division developed because hunter/jumper trainers wanted to take their clients to shows and needed a separate division” (so there would be level playing field). Glenda believes amateurs need to speak up and tell USEF, USDF —and their own trainers—what they want. “I wish there was a set of  amateur-friendly tests, tests for amateur equitation. I know dressage trainers have not really thought about it in this way, but maybe it is time.”

She points out the introduction of Opportunity Classes, which allow ANY rider to enter a recognized show at lower levels and show in this division without the expense of membership fees. “ This is financially so much better, “ says Glenda. “ It is a way for trainers to get more of their riders to shows, with all the atmosphere of recognized competition but without the extra stress and overhead.”

(Shout Out to riders and trainers: if you have been looking for a way to enter dressage competition, look for Opportunity Classes in the show premiums.)

California, thanks to the generous sponsorship of Markel Insurance, has its own Young Horse Talent Search, a program for 4-5-6 year old horses. Using USEF tests but rewarding brilliance and excusing small mistakes, judges and competitors alike have been very enthusiastic. “This is a way to attract attention for breeding programs, for  riders, for trainers and of course for the horses themselves .”

Markel (which already supports and sponsors the National Young Horse program) has put prize money into this new program and hopes to start with competition for 3 year- olds in 2015.

This, believes Glenda, is one of the strengths in Europe—that young horses are exposed to show atmosphere early on and learn to make it routine.

 Raising interest in top-sport, the next big event for Cornerstone will be a symposium in March,2014, featuring world-records holder Charlotte Dujardin together with Charlotte’s first employer-mentor, Grand Prix trainer Judy Harvey.



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