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Live from Omaha!
On the scene at the 2017 FEI World Cup Dressage Final

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Giving Back

Red-letter day: Region 8 delegates at the USDF convention. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

Saturday's theme at the 2014 Adequan/USDF Annual Convention was giving back to the sport of dressage. Throughout the day, officials, presenters, and honorees echoed the importance of returning something of oneself to the sport that has provided us with enjoyment, friendships, and opportunities.

At the conclusion of the Board of Governors assembly, Regional GMO Volunteers of the Year were recognized, as was excellence in media produced by GMO -- the organizations and their contributors, of course, nearly all volunteer-based. The award winners and photos, like all of the other awards and honors presented at convention, will be featured prominently in the 2014 yearbook issue of USDF Connection (February 2015 issue).

We recognized the USDF Executive Board, all of whose members give countless hours in an effort to improve the organization. And then we gathered together the Region 8 BOG delegates in attendance, many of whom put in extra hours this year helping to make the Cambridge, MA, convention a fun and memorable one. I think I speak for most convention-goers when I say it should not be 20 years before we return to New England!
2015-2016 Nutrena/USDF Adult Clinic Series presenters Kathy Connelly and Betsy Steiner. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

Educational presenters give back to the sport and to the USDF by sharing their expertise. Renowned trainers Kathy Connelly and Betsy Steiner packed them in (literally -- people were sitting on the floor when chairs became scarce) for their introduction to their 2015-2016 Nutrena/USDF Adult Clinic Series.

You won't want to miss this dynamic duo in action. Longtime friends as well as colleagues, Kathy and Betsy share a delightful sense of humor and, more important, an abiding love for the horse that pervades their teaching and training. As Kathy put it, "We are shepherds for the horse while we are here on earth." She likened the training process to the famous quote by Michelangelo, who said that his job as a sculptor was to reveal the figure already present in the marble: "to bring out the talent innate in the horse while preserving his spirit, heart, and personality."

The 2015-2016 Nutrena/USDF Adult Clinic Series kicks off in April 2015 in USDF Region 9. Clinics are open to auditors of all ages -- in fact, these clinics, unlike the typical dressage clinic or symposium, is geared toward the auditors, not to the individual riders. Any USDF group or participating member over the age of 22 is eligible to apply to be a demonstration rider. Amateur rider or pro -- doesn't matter! Clinic selectors are seeking horses and riders of various levels. For all the details, click here.
Slide from Dr. Hilary Clayton's presentation. Yes, the horse's spine can bend -- but not always the way we think it does. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

From training and riding, the educational focus turned to the latest findings in equine-biomechanics research, presented by the world-renowned expert Dr. Hilary Clayton. Her session, entitled "Going in Circles," explored the unique forces (and stresses) placed on the horse's body when he circles or turns. Some of the findings might surprise you. For the full story, you'll have to wait for the convention coverage in USDF Connection, but here's a teaser: Believe it or not, training a horse to carry himself "correctly" (without leaning in, motorcycle-style, as horses do naturally) in turns and circles may actually be more stressful on his limbs. Fortunately, there's something we can do to counteract the stresses, so don't miss this report.

Laura Marie Kramer of Standlee Premium Western Forage wrapped the 2014 convention educational sessions with a look at the importance of good forage to the performance horse. I may give one of her suggestions a try with my own ulcer-prone youngster: feeding him a couple of handfuls of alfalfa pellets 30 minutes before exercise. Thanks to its calcium content, alfalfa is basically Tums for horses, according to Laura; plus it's higher in protein and calories than other types of forage, which makes it a good choice for my rangy fellow. (Not all horses need alfalfa, and those with easy keepers may want to invest in a good slow-feeder, Laura said.)

The culmination of the USDF convention is the Salute Gala and Annual Awards Banquet, during which we celebrate members' accomplishments with their horses. We also celebrate those who have made outstanding contributions to USDF and to the sport of dressage.
USDF Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Janine Malone (center) with USDF Historical Recognition Committee chair Anne Moss and USDF president George Williams. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

USDF Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Maryal Barnett (center). Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

This year, four remarkable volunteers were honored: USDF Youth Volunteer of the Year Christiana Logan, USDF Volunteer of the Year Terry Ciotti Gallo, USDF Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Maryal Barnett, and USDF Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Janine Malone. These four women have given back to dressage and to the USDF in ways that truly go above and beyond the call of duty. Christiana somehow manages to be both a dedicated dressage volunteer and a top student. Terry, a longtime USDF Freestyle Committee member, has immeasurably advanced dressage freestyle and has shared her musical and choreographic expertise with scores of enthusiasts. USDF certification examiner and Instructor/Trainer Program faculty member Maryal Barnett has worked tirelessly to improve dressage education in the United States. And former USDF Region 1 director, USDF secretary, USEF dressage-rules guru, and US Dressage Finals organizer Janine Malone has gotten things done, buttoned down, and squared away for decades.

Thank a dressage volunteer today. Better yet, become a volunteer yourself! For as Maryal Barnett pointed out in her acceptance speech, there is no greater satisfaction than in giving back.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Let Them Eat Cake

Celebrating the USDF Instructor/Trainer Program's 25th anniversary. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
Unlike with Marie Antoinette, this time the invitation was a welcome one. The occasion: the USDF Instructor/Trainer Program's 25th anniversary. Adequan/USDF Annual Convention attendees, and especially members of USDF's Board of Governors, enjoyed slices of delicious cake during a break in day 1 of the BOG's annual assembly.
Cake wars: USDF members vied for the best angle to photograph the anniversary creation. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

In truth, the break was hardly needed. Once a notoriously contentious governance marathon, the BOG assembly is on track to break speed records for the second year in a row. Today's agenda -- which included reports from USDF's president and executive director, a budget report, and talks by various United States Equestrian Federation officials -- wrapped half an hour early. It left plenty of time for the eagerly anticipated drawings for those most cherished of door prizes, the traditional gift baskets donated by USDF's group-member organizations.
The 2014 USDF Board of Governors assembly. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
Beautiful baskets, many displaying state or regional pride, are a cherished BOG tradition. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

The reports and addresses were universally upbeat. According to USDF treasurer Steve Schubert, the USDF is in the black and has been pronounced squeaky-clean by its independent auditing firm. In its second year of existence, the US Dressage Finals attracted 100 more horses than the 2013 edition and are in the black, according to Janine Malone, who chaired the national championships' organizing committee. USDF member and horse-registration numbers are healthy, although some GMOs have seen attrition, a concern addressed in the morning's GMO roundtable discussions, in some committee meetings, and in USDF executive director Stephan Hienzsch's BOG report.
GMO representatives share challenges and solutions at the popular GMO roundtable discussions, Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

The USEF reports were practically fountains of delight. No one can compete with national dressage chef d'equipe and technical advisor Robert Dover when it comes to optimism. Referring to the USEF-USDF relationship, Dover said, "We are putting together a true machine that works together at every single level, from the littlest kids to the highest level." Make no mistake: This man is going to get US dressage riders on the medal podiums or die trying. My own money's on the former.

We heard from USEF president Chrystine Tauber, who praised the USDF's efforts in creating the US Dressage Finals and promised continued support for dressage. Some of that support will assuredly come in the stout, genial form of Will Connell, whom the USEF lured across the pond from the British Equestrian Federation to become its director of sport.

Connell had the BOG delegates laughing at his tales of his days as commander of the King's Troop in the Royal Army, and later as a new employee at the BEF, working to transform a "dysfunctional" British team into the world-beaters they proved to be at the 2012 London Olympics. (In Athens 2004, Connell said, he found Carl Hester in the arena the night before the Grand Prix Freestyle, frantically trying to learn teammate Richard Davison's freestyle. Hester figured his chances of qualifying were so poor he hadn't bothered to create his own freestyle, Connell said.)

Under that pleasant exterior and the hello-old-chap stuff must beat the heart of a ferocious go-getter, however. Most sources give Connell the credit for turning around Team GB's equestrian fortunes, and it's clear the USEF wanted him badly. It will be very interesting to see what Connell does with what he's calling Operation Tokyo, the reference being to the 2020 summer Olympic Games.

Thursday, December 4, 2014


"Paul Revere" poses with USDF members at the convention welcome reception. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

OK, so we didn't actually go to the touristy watering hole (with accompanying gift shop, of course) named for the long-running TV comedy set in Boston. We did pass "Cheers," though, on our way through Faneuil Hall Marketplace to our destination, Ned Devine's Irish Pub, site of the 2014 Adequan/USDF Annual Convention welcome reception.
Making merry at the welcome reception, sponsored by NEDA. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

Region 1 member Fran Severn and "Molly Pitcher" deep in conversation. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

The reception was generously sponsored by the New England Dressage Association, and NEDA president Kathy McHugh greeted attendees. A DJ spun upbeat tunes and encouraged USDF members to visit with the costumed "Molly Pitcher" and "Paul Revere," who willingly posed for photos. A coincidence that more people clamored for pix as the party progressed and the open bar saw more action? I think not.
Exterior of Quincy Market. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

The picturesque marketplace, aka Quincy Market, was dressed in its holiday best, with the trees lining the walkways adorned in twinkling white lights. Carolers entertained passersby. On the bus back to the convention host hotel, we passed a park where a large Christmas fair and tree-lighting ceremony was taking place. Surprised at the massive crowds, we looked more closely. It turned out that much of the turnout was for a demonstration against the recent Staten Island grand jury's decision not to indict the NYPD officer after the Eric Garner chokehold death.
Carolers at Fanueil Hall Marketplace. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

Bronzed basketball shoes of beloved Boston Celtics legend Larry Bird in Fanueil Hall Marketplace. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

For a moment, against such a serious backdrop, the concerns of a dressage organization seemed frivolous. Even the holiday merriment, juxtaposed against the sign-waving protesters, suddenly felt out of place. But in truth the events served as a reminder that even though peace on earth hasn't happened yet, it's still worth striving for. Maybe, given life's twists and turns, it's even more important to embrace the uplifting times. I know that's why I hold fast to my love of horses and dressage, and why people travel every year to the USDF convention to renew friendships and do their part to help our sport. When we attend convention, we're among friends. Come join us!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Volunteer Spirit Is Alive and Well

One of my favorite duties at the Adequan/USDF Annual Convention is interviewing each year's Salute Gala honorees -- the USDF Lifetime Achievement Award recipients and/or the Roemer Foundation/USDF Hall of Fame inductees. The USDF Historical Recognition Committee videotapes the interviews for the record and to share with USDF members, and for some years now I've had the pleasure of playing Barbara Walters.

Today I had back-to-back interviews with this year's honorees, Lifetime Achievement Award recipients Maryal Barnett and Janine Malone. The USDF Lifetime Achievement Award recognizes individuals who have made extraordinary volunteer contributions to the USDF. (For more about this award and to see a list of past recipients, click here.)

Maryal and Janine are two very different personalities, and their contributions to the USDF have been equally different. Maryal has been a dedicated faculty member of and examiner in the USDF Instructor/Trainer Program, and faculty member of the USDF "L" Education Program. Janine's contributions lean more toward the governance and organizational side: She has served as USDF Region 1 director, USDF secretary, and in many other committee roles; and she has helped organize several major USDF programs, including the US Dressage Finals.

Despite these differences, there were remarkable similarities in their interviews. Both Maryal and Janine said that their love of horses and dressage motivated them to get involved with the sport on a level far beyond that of casual participant. Both attended early USDF annual meetings, liked the people they met and the shared passion for dressage, and wanted to do more. Most strikingly, both said they were aware of the importance of giving back to the sport that has given them so much. And, overachievers that they are, both said that if they're going to do something, they're going to do it to the best of their abilities.

As a result, our 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award honorees have devoted countless hours to bettering the sport of dressage in the US. They are proud of what they have helped to create and achieve -- although, as Maryal put it, "I was just doing my job."

Just doing her job? Going way above and beyond the call of duty is more like it. Those of us who ride dressage in this country are better off for these women's efforts, and I look forward to watching them formally accept their awards at this weekend's Salute Gala and Annual Awards Banquet.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

We're Shipping up to Boston!

SHIPSHAPE: The USS Constitution in the Charlestown Navy Yard, Boston.
Photo courtesy of the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Every year at this time, dedicated dressage volunteers from all corners of our country make their way to the Adequan/United States Dressage Federation Annual Convention. The convention is a few jam-packed days of education, networking, shopping, awards and honors, and -- most important, if not the most glamorous -- business meetings, committee meetings, and governance proceedings.

The wheels of American dressage -- the programs, procedures, education, and more that enable our sport to function and grow -- turn all year, but nowhere is the process more evident, or more public, than at the USDF convention. Any USDF member may attend and voice an opinion at the many open meetings held during convention, which kicks off tomorrow in Cambridge, MA. You can even attend an open forum on proposed United States Equestrian Federation rule changes affecting dressage held by the USEF Dressage Committee, which makes the rules and writes the tests for USEF-licensed, national-level dressage competition.

If you can't make it to Cambridge, be sure to follow this blog for news and photos from the convention. As always, there are some special happenings planned for this edition of convention. I'm excited to be interviewing this year's USDF Lifetime Achievement Award recipients, Maryal Barnett and Janine Malone, "for the historical record" tomorrow. And I'll be sure to get photos of the 2014 USDF Volunteer of the Year, Terry Ciotti Gallo, as she accepts her award at Saturday night's Salute Gala & Annual Awards Banquet.

I always look forward to the convention educational sessions. In Cambridge I'll be learning about equine nutrition, sport-horse breeding and judging, and equine biomechanics, to name just a few.

Do you have convention-related questions? Are you traveling to Cambridge, perhaps to receive an award? Tweet using the hashtags #USDF and #USDFConv. You'll be able to follow the USDF Twitter feed on the right-hand side of this blog page, as well. So be sure to post those convention and awards photos, and I'll see you in Cambridge!