By Carol Bulmer

The membership of the United States Dressage Federation asked for affordable, educational events catering to grassroots, amateur dressage riders.  The USDF responded with its National Education Initiative (NEI). To assist with the affordable part of the directive, all USDF NEI events are eligible to apply for NEI grants. Attracted by this fantastic opportunity, Central Florida Dressage jumped into action and hosted their first NEI event the weekend of June 30-July 1, at Grand Oaks Resort in Weirsdale, Florida. The event became even more affordable through a grant from The Dressage Foundation’s Violet Hopkins Fund.

The USDF NEI Ride-A-Test Super Clinic with Sue Mandas and Sandra Hotz was paired with a lecture series, of general horse health topics, that ran concurrently throughout the weekend, in the Bridge Room of Grand Oaks Resort. Grand Oaks’ covered arena protected participants from the typical hot and stormy Florida summer weather. Ringside, fans and cold water kept everyone from melting. Florida dressage riders are a tough lot that took the heat and humidity in stride. The full slate of riders, with a wait list, kept the Mandas and Hotz busy both days, with horses ranging from Introductory to Grand Prix. The riders included two junior riders, thirteen adult amateurs, and five professional riders.

Clinican Sandra Hotz

Friday afternoon was move-in day. The barn area hummed with activity, camaraderie, and good cheer, while participants unloaded horses and set up their stalls for the weekend. Some riders were already familiar with this upscale resort that boasts wide grass bridle paths, under the canopy of huge live oak trees. The many sweeping open areas, the large arenas, and the specialty obstacles speak of Grand Oaks’ heritage as a driving and carriage facility. Ten cottages, with adjacent stalls, dot the 400-acre resort. Riders, who had just met each other in the barn, chatted together as they rode to the warm up and covered arena. After the horses were bedded down for the night, some participants enjoyed the gourmet food and libations at The Bistro, just steps away from where their horses were munching down their dinner. How fun is that?

Clinican Sue Mandas listens to Liz Cornell on Aria SE

Saturday morning it was down to the serious business of dressage training and how to improve your test. Mandas and Hotz shared the covered arena with side-by-side dressage arenas; the same setup used in the recognized dressage shows held at Grand Oaks Resort. Participants wore headsets, in order to hear instructions without the interference from the lesson next door. The VIP auditors were able to sit behind the clinicians, in order to hear the instructions. From time to time, Mandas or Hotz would ask for questions and interact with the auditors. Auditors suggested that in future clinics a PA speaker, paired with the clinician, be used, in order for the auditors to hear more easily what is said.

Here is a sampling of helpful comments from Mandas and Hotz:

“More power and less speed”

“You are sitting too stiff and that is blocking his back.”

“Allow her to come over her back first then ask for more power.”

“She loses her balance when you tip forward in the saddle.”

Chelsey Miller on Waling M

“The three loop serpentine in the test done properly shows the judge that you can bend and balance your horse.”

“The hind leg needs to be quicker off the ground.”

“The judge will be looking for a more supple topline.”

“Allow the horse to come out to the hand.”

All event participants were invited to attend the special Saturday night lecture, Sport Horse Conformation and Functionality, presented by Sue Mandas. The hour and a half time slot was shorter than her usual three-day seminar format, but Mandas gave a succinct overview into the key points. Mandas pointed out that certain conformational faults are less severe and did not limit the horse’s functioning, as much as other faults. Who knew that certain stallions with a thick throatlatch could unexpectedly collect as easily as stallions with a more refined throatlatch? Mandas recounted interesting stories that helped highlight the importance of good conformation for your sport.

Sue Mandas instructs Carli Hall on Wonder Boy

The lecture series showcased local experts in saddle fit (Sharon Cooper), nutrition (Dr. Vineyard), pasture management (Dr. Shuffit and Dr. Wallau), equine dentistry (Dr. Wolf), anhidrosis (Dr. Brooks), horse vision (Dr. Pidherney), shoeing (Ken Jimenez), and acupuncture (Dr. Pasteur). Central Florida is home to the University of Florida, the College of Central Florida, and Ocala has many respected equine clinics and private equine veterinary practices. Each one of the presenters gave their time and energy to make this an outstanding educational event.

Here are some insights into these fascinating topics.

“Your saddle may fit the horse well but if you sit badly you will still have problems.”

Gina Durfee on Dionysius

“Owners often over-estimate how hard their horse is working and over-feed the horse.”

“Mow to control weeds.”

“Techniques in tooth extraction have improved tremendously and are easier on the horse now.”

“Anhidrosis has a genetic correlation.”

“Horses can see blue and green (and variations) but do not have cones to see red.”

“Look at the angle of the pastern and coffin bones. Those angles need to match for the horse to stay sound.”

“Acupuncture and holistic therapies should be integrated with conventional veterinary treatments for improved outcomes.

Super clinic auditors

The lecture attendee numbers were modest, but the participants were very engaged and attentive. Evaluation surveys showed that attendees would like another seminar on horse health topics. Some evaluations suggested offering the lectures on another weekend, separate from the riding clinic.

Much to the pleasure of the board members of Central Florida Dressage, participant event evaluations were overwhelmingly positive and encouraged another event like the USDF NEI Ride-a-Test Super Clinic 2018. More than one board member was stopped by an attendee and thanked for putting on the event. We, as organizers of the event, felt our efforts were appreciated. Even more, when your participants and your volunteers are so enthusiastic and helpful, it makes the entire event a special weekend to remember.

The board of Central Florida Dressage (CFD) wishes to extend their gratitude towards The Dressage Foundation and the USDF National Education Initiative for their crucial financial support of CFD’s centerpiece educational event.

One of several lectures that was offered during the clinic

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