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On the scene at the 2017 FEI World Cup Dressage Final

Saturday, December 5, 2015

According to the BOG, West Is Not Best for US Dressage Finals

The 2015 USDF Board of Governors. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

In 2011, when the USDF Board of Governors (BOG) voted to approve the creation of a new national dressage championships called the US Dressage Finals, they green-lighted a motion that "proposed" -- not mandated -- the rotation of the championships location from East to West every three years.

The 2013, 2014, and 2015 editions of the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan were held in Lexington, Kentucky, at the Kentucky Horse Park. The USDF decided to commit to Kentucky for the 2016 show, as well...but then what?

A site-selection committee headed by USDF president George Williams and US Dressage Finals organizer (and former USDF secretary) Janine Malone did research and identified the HITS Desert Horse Park facility in Thermal, California, as a likely location for the 2017 Finals. But then a funny thing happened: Some people started wondering whether the Finals shouldn't remain in Kentucky, after all.

According to Malone, it's not unheard of for a BOG to vote to overturn a decision approved by a previous BOG. Thus it came to be, on the first of two days of the 2015 BOG assembly, that group-member and participating-member delegates engaged in a good hour of impassioned debate as to whether the Finals should be given a permanent home at the Kentucky Horse Park or whether it was better to honor the wishes of the 2011 BOG and attempt to allocate the Finals locations in something of an equitably divided manner between the two halves of our enormous nation. Then it was time for the BOG to vote on the motion, which was to commit to a Western Finals in 2017.
US Dressage Finals officials Janine Malone and George Williams address the Board of Governors. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

I've sat through enough debates at enough BOG assemblies that I can usually tell which way the winds of popular opinion are blowing; when the vote comes, it's not too much of a surprise. But honestly, today I couldn't get a sense of which way the vote was going to go. As a colleague remarked to me after the discussion period had been ended and the voting had begun, all of the delegates who waited patiently at the microphones for their turn to speak made thoughtful, persuasive arguments. There wasn't as much "I want the Finals in my back yard because I don't want to travel" as you might imagine, and there were even a few surprise endorsements of Kentucky as a permanent Finals site by West Coast-area delegates. Some people pointed to the success of such institutions as the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event and the iconic show in Aachen, Germany, which are always held in the same location. California Dressage Society president Kevin Reinig made several trips to the microphone, declaring that "We will do whatever it takes to make the Finals a great show." Riders from the western half of the US lobbied for the opportunity to show at a championships a more reasonable distance from home.

I was in for another surprise when George Williams announced the results of the electronic voting. Assuming a close race, I didn't expect the motion to be defeated soundly, with 855 delegates voting no and 569 voting yes, with 12 abstaining.

But it ain't over 'til it's over, and there is much still to be decided. Janine Malone said that some facilities won't commit to less than a three-year contract. It looks as if the US Dressage Finals will remain in Kentucky through 2017, but what is to happen in 2018 and 2019? That question may be decided tomorrow morning when the BOG reconvenes. Before they adjourned today, delegates agreed to resume discussion tomorrow. Tomorrow they may determine the future of the US Dressage Finals.

One thing emerged clearly from the discussions, however: The Finals, which were so long in the making and doubted by so many, have exceeded expectations and have quickly become a prestigious flagship event for the USDF. This show has been embraced and continues to earn accolades from competitors, officials, and spectators alike. The US Dressage Finals are a point of pride, and no one wants to see them lose their luster or become diminished in any way. What a difference five years has made!


  1. As a west coast PM delegate, let me add a few points:

    This Finals received support in its creation because of the rotation element to craft some fairness into a finals in a country this size.

    Riders from the west travel a lot. We travel East for Selection trials, NAYRC, Young Horse/Developing Horse, and Festival of Champions, and now the Finals appear destined to have a home in the East as well. It's not just a matter of stress and cost to the individual, we have a community effort to create travel funds because of this historical unfair impact to our riders. It's a continual fund raising effort to get our riders funded to get there. It's also an impact to our young and amateur riders who look at the additional time away from school, family, jobs and it solidly closes the door to a possibility of competing at this "amateur friendly" event. While the finals have drawn folks from the west each year, few if any have come every year because of the expense. I was tempted to come this year, having 2 horses qualified, but frankly couldn't justify that expense for 3 rides.

    Congratulations to the great start in KY. Allow the west to create a great show as well, allow it to happen at a venue that we can ensure a super event. We need more wonderful events in the country, not more consolidation of all large events in the East. A roll call of how many West Coast riders have been our US representative over the years should remind folks we have strong dressage in the West. Hosting finals in the west will help foster the growth of dressage which is the stated purpose of this national organization.

  2. I would think it unfair to those in the West to continue at Kentucky. Influx of new enthusiasts for this competition is heightened by the locale. Maybe they need to look at the central states as an alternative? Or alternate Lexington and Las Vegas? The three year minimum could be influenced by the industry expansion this could encourage for both areas.

  3. Sara2 - Las Vegas does not have a facility to support a championship show. You need multiple rings, phenomenal footing, and significant stabling. We're just not set up. - Suzi Hill, Las Vegas Chapter Chair - California Dressage Society

    p.s. as an Arabian rider who has watched our breed organization struggle with this dilema now for 10 years for our Dressage/Jumping nationals, I am finding the USDF process fascinating, enlightening and refreshing. The Arabian org rotates YEARLY. And we have found that the east coast rotation tends to be better attended every time.

  4. Agree with Anne - this is typical of USDF, but so unfair. There are quite a few members on the West Coast - Region 7 is huge! Region 6 is big too, and there are a lot of great riders in those two regions. But most will never make the trip. USDF needs to take care of all its regions and members - wondering why membership dues are stagnant? Maybe because so many members feel ignored and disenfranchised.

    California has a few wonderful facilities - Rancho Murieta and LAEC both have multiple rings. So does Del Mar. Why were these facilities not considered? Why not run an East and West Coast Finals and just admit the country is too big to run a single event?

    And why is it OK that all the large programs and USDF run educational events stay East of the Rockies? For that matter, why did USDF buy a facility on the East coast - effectively making it an East Coast organization?

  5. So, why not Wedtworld in Scottsdale? Fantastic facility and has everything you need...

  6. I agree - Rancho Murrieta and Del Mar are both excellent venues that would support a USDF Finals.

  7. Del Mar cannot be considered because they are racing during the time of the Finals. They don't have enough competition arenas anyway. (Kentucky has run 6 competition arenas the past two years).