A New Tool for the Toolbox


By Clara Etzel

Can you pinpoint the most transformational dressage experience you’ve had? Take a moment to think about what that experience would be for you. Maybe it was a clinic or symposium, a lesson or series of lessons with an instructor, or perhaps a competition where everything “clicked” for you and your horse? Th at experience for me, as a rider and competitor, was participating in Part 1 of the USDF L Education Program. I can honestly say that it made me more equipped to assess horse and rider pairs, from Training through Second Level.

As a USDF Silver and Bronze medalist, British Horse Society Assistant Instructor (BHSAI), and trainer for the past six years, I am confident in my dressage knowledge and skills. I know I can accurately execute a leg yield as the rider. However, Part 1 has given me a toolbox of word descriptors to verbalize how a movement should be executed, as well as provide an appropriate score for a movement. This has also given me a new perspective, through which to judge horse and rider pairs.

Even though I’m from Michigan, I chose to participate in the program on the other side of the country through Central Arizona Riding Academy (CARA), for a few reasons. It was accepting applicants when I was looking to join, it offered both Part 1 and 2 (I wanted to complete both parts back-to-back) it was held in an area where I knew no participants or demo horse/rider pairs, and, best of all, the sessions were held in January, February, and April, which were ideal times for me to get out of the cold Michigan winter! It was a win-win.

The faculty for the L Program are all active USEF ‘S’ Judges, so I learned from experts who have years of experience. CARA’s organizer, Dorie Vlatten-Schmitz, happens to be a USEF ‘S’ Judge herself, so often times our group had not only our L Faculty, but also Dorie to provide additional commentary. Our L Faculty included Lois Yukins (Session A,
judging), Joan Darnell (Session B, evaluating gaits and paces) and Axel Steiner (Session C, assessing the collective marks). Also, USEF ‘S’ Judge Beverly Rogers (AZ) was present to help keep the slides moving for the classroom presentations, and to offer additional comments during the demo rides. We split our time between the classroom, listening to lectures, and the arena, watching demo horse and riders complete part and full tests up to Second Level. Our time in the classroom was spent having deep conversations about glossary terms and scoring. Videos were frequently used as well, to give us a visual representation of movements. After watching the riding demos, we were asked to give scores out loud for movements and collective marks.

I highly recommend this program to anyone. If you are a competitor, breeder, owner, or partner or spouse of someone who is dressage crazy, Part 1 of the USDF L Education Program is for you! And even if you aren’t sure you want to be a participant, that’s okay, you can be a silent auditor for all three sessions. Thanks to Part 1, I have a more sophisticated eye and a better understanding of how to judge movements – a new tool for the toolbox. I also met a great new group of dressage people, a mix of adult amateurs and pros from across the country. It was a great experience, and I cannot wait to continue on in the program!

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