USDF celebrates its 45th anniversary

By Jennifer O. Bryant

Reprinted from the November 2018 issue of USDF Connection

It started the way most revolutions do: with discontent.

The year was 1972. The Vietnam War was wearing on. In February, President Richard Nixon made history with his groundbreaking visit to Communist China. Early in September, the Munich Olympic Games were forever tarnished when members of an Arab terrorist group invaded the Olympic Village and killed eleven Israeli athletes.

Later that month, on September 16, 26 dressage enthusiasts from the Midwest and the East Coast gathered in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, to complain about the American Horse Shows Association’s (AHSA, now known as US Equestrian) tepid regard for dressage.

“AHSA has not done enough for dressage to date,” the late Col. Donald W. Thackeray (a four-discipline-licensed FEI judge who at the time was a member of the AHSA Dressage Committee and the director of the United States Equestrian Team) said in his opening remarks, according to the meeting minutes. “It is the American Horse Shows Association, not just the American Horse Association. It covers a widespread number of interests. Dressage needs a different approach.”

“Perhaps the Dressage magazine [the late Ivan Bezugloff Jr.’s publication, launched in July 1971] can be the official voice of the committee,” Thackeray mused.

Then, the punch line: “Perhaps if there was a separate dressage organization, it could implement the AHSA [Dressage] Committee’s work.”

A “Mother Club”

A 1972 sketch of how a “United States Dressage Organization” would fit in to the equestrian scheme

“We need a central point for obtaining knowledge and help,” said the late Violet Hopkins, a Midwest Dressage Association (MDA) representative who would go on to found the forerunner to the USDF FEI-Level Trainers Conferences. But “local organizations should retain their autonomy,” she added.

“Need a mother club for local organizations?” asked future USDF president Kay Meredith, then of the Ohio Valley Combined Training Association.

(How many of those local dressage organizations were there at the time? The Michigan assemblage wasn’t sure. Estimates ranged from 22 to 30.) “A national organization could lay out plans for regions,” suggested the MDA’s Irving “Red” Duffy.

“We should approach all organizations and interested individuals and ask them to send designated representatives to a meeting for one or two days.” He suggested holding the meeting in a central location, such as Chicago

“Perhaps we could have a meeting in Nebraska,” said Nebraska Dressage Association and Central States Dressage and Combined Training Association representative Lowell Boomer, “as it is the center of the country.”

Other attendees agreed with Meredith that a new national dressage organization should have some sort of “umbrella” structure.

“If you have an organization with individual membership, it is just another organization,” said AHSA Dressage Committee member and Northern Ohio Dressage Association representative Emmy Temple. “We need a federation of existing organizations.”

The Michigan group decided to send its meeting minutes to its fellow dressage supporters in California, with a request that the West Coasters hold an idea-gathering session of their own and report back. The goal: hold an official organizational meeting in February 1973.

On to Lincoln

Founding members Jack Fritz and Lazelle Knocke. Knocke would go on to become USDF’s fourth president. Her predecessor, Lowell Boomer, is at the podium.

An early 1973 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse magazine contained a display advertisement billed as “A Report to You from the Temporary Committee on National Dressage Activities,” summoning “all who are interested in the advancement of Dressage” to the Radisson Cornhusker Hotel in Lincoln, Nebraska, February 17 and 18. Those planning to attend were asked to RSVP to Lowell Boomer.

“It is hoped that every Dressage organization in the country will send representatives who are authorized to act for their groups….It is most important that you have a voice in creating this organization,” the notice read.

Seventy dressage enthusiasts, from New England to California, answered the call (see “The Founding Members” on page 41). Nineteen of those were “official delegates” of their home dressage clubs.

The organizational meeting made the February 21, 1973 issue of The Lincoln Star. In the story “Lincoln Hosts Organizational Meeting for National Dressage Federation,” the Star reported that the meeting was chaired by the late John H. (“Jack”) Fritz, of South Orange, New Jersey. Attendees created a temporary executive committee—Melanie Lofholm, Margarita (“Migi”) Serrell, Lillian Zimmerman, Sally O’Connor, and Lowell Boomer—who “will be in charge of developing the structure of the new organization, assigning responsibilities, establishing the bylaws, and taking care of incorporation. The Federation’s temporary headquarters is in Lincoln.”

A Federation Takes Shape

At the 1976 USDF convention: (from left) Kay Meredith, who became president in ’77; Ivan Bezugloff Jr., USDF’s first treasurer; and outgoing president Stephen Schwartz

The USDF dates its official anniversary to November 1973, which was when its first business meeting (now the annual convention) was held. Its organizational framework, of course, had to be constructed prior to that date—and work in earnest began following the February 1973 gathering in Lincoln.

On March 8, 1973, Boomer, in his role as acting secretary-treasurer, issued USDF’s first press release, announcing the group’s intention to establish a dressage federation.

“In essence, the USDF will seal a framework in which individuals can progress with their horses and be rewarded for it; in the process, the general understanding of dressage will be improved,” he wrote.

Boomer continued: “A pro tem Board of Governors consisting of representatives from 19 local and regional groups, and chaired by Mr. Stephen H. Schwartz of California…elected a Committee of Five and charged it with the responsibility of launching the Federation.”

The press release instructed clubs with a minimum of 25 dues-paying members to apply for USDF membership by filing their bylaws or procedures. The Board of Governors also intended to create “Individual Member-at-Large” and “Contributing Member” membership categories. Each local club would be assessed an “initiation fee” of $25, to be followed by annual dues of $1 per member. Individual members-at-large (now called participating members) would pay $15 a year.

Dressage editor Bezugloff’s description of the planned USDF governance structure will sound familiar to any modern USDF member.

“It shall have a Board of Governors that will comprise one representative from each member organization, as well as one representative of the individual members, elected by them from their own midst (if there will be more than 25 such members), to represent their voice and interest,” Bezugloff wrote in the April 1973 issue. He continued: “Since the Board of Governors will, with time, become a rather large body, it was decided that an Executive Committee, comprising seven members, shall be elected by the Board from among its members.”

In general,” Bezugloff concluded, “…prospects for success of the new organization are bright. It should, however, be remembered that only a very little step has been taken thus far, and only a façade was created. It will take a combined effort on the part of the American dressage community as a whole to put something solid behind this façade, so that it will not fall down with the first gust of wind….It is important that all of us join this organization, so as to assure a bright future for America’s dressage!”

USDF Gets Official

The framework was in place, but, as Ivan Bezugloff had reported, USDF was largely “a façade” following the February 1973 meeting. Now the tasks of electing officers, writing bylaws, incorporating, and making action plans remained.

The inaugural business meeting was held November 10 and 11, 1973, again in Lincoln. As he had offered to do, Bezugloff devoted space in Dressage magazine for USDF news. The December 1973 issue carried his report on the meeting.

According to the report, 50-plus dressage enthusiasts representing 22 clubs attended what was “the founding and working meeting of the Federation.” During the busy two days, they adopted bylaws, established committees, and elected officers.

Dr. Stephen Schwartz, president of the California Dressage Society, became USDF’s first president. The late Lazelle Knocke was elected vice president; Betsy Coester, secretary; and Bezugloff, treasurer and participating-member representative. Three regional representatives—forerunners to today’s nine regional directors—also were chosen: Sally O’Connor, Eastern; Lillian Zimmerman, Central and Mountain; and Lynn Todd, Western. Lowell Boomer became USDF’s first executive secretary (now known as the executive director). USDF’s first Executive Board comprised the four officers and the three regional representatives. It was decided that officers would serve two-year terms.

Nine “standing committees” that had been established prior to the November meeting were ratified: Awards and Record-Keeping, Scheduling, Education, Officials, Standards and Rules, Publicity, Membership, Breeders, and Dressage Exhibitors.

As of the November meeting, 26 dressage clubs had joined USDF as “group members” (now known as group-member organizations, or GMOs). These organizations were given the designation of charter GMO (see “The Charter GMOs” on page 44 for a list).

Some of the USDF’s best-known awards were already created by the time of the November meeting, thanks to the Awards and Record-Keeping Committee. The committee announced the development of the following awards, with the plan of presenting the inaugural round of honors in 1974:

  • Bronze, silver, and gold rider medals, each requiring two scores of 60 percent or better at the respective levels
  • Horse of the Year awards for “Levels I, II, III, IV and International,” each requiring a minimum achievement of a 55-percent average at three shows and under three different judges
  • Trainer awards, based on Horse of the Year award scores, with the trainer of the horse with the highest average percentage being named Trainer of the Year.

The committee also established USDF recognition of American Horse Shows Association-recognized (now licensed) dressage shows, available for a $5 fee.

In March 1974, Bezugloff printed and mailed the Federation’s first member publication, the quarterly USDF Bulletin newsletter. (In a nod to history, the USDF-news section of USDF’s current member magazine is called “USDF Bulletins.”)

In his president’s message in that issue, Schwartz stated that his first priority for the fledgling organization was “establishing show scheduling procedures at the regional level….The goal is to classify and schedule dressage shows on a local, regional and national basis.”

Schwartz also wanted to partner with the American Dressage Institute in “bringing educators to and developing educators in this country.” Education, Schwartz wrote, also should include the training of dressage judges. The USDF had formed a committee “to work on this problem,” and Schwartz promised to update members on the work of the judge-training advocate Col. Clarence Edmonds.

L Is for Learner Judge

The late “Colonel Ed,” as Edmonds was affectionately known, was a retired US Air Force officer and a founding member of the Potomac Valley Dressage Association and the USDF. In the annals of USDF history, he’s best remembered as the creator of the USDF L program.

As Edmonds recalled in a 2003 interview with USDF Connection, “Since [American Dressage Institute president] Migi Serrell had ADI, offering advanced dressage instruction, she was put in charge of the upper-level judges’ training. Since I had just completed working with [the late US dressage-team coach] Bengt Ljungquist, I was put in charge of low-level judges’ training.”

The program was christened the USDF “L” Education Program for Judge Training, with the candidates known as learner judges, or “L.” Over the years the program name has been shortened and the “learner” moniker has been dropped, but the L program has become arguably one of the USDF’s greatest successes. It is now the mandatory prerequisite for all prospective licensed dressage judges in the US, and it has served as the model for judge-training programs in other countries. The L program umbrella now includes provisions for auditors as well as continuing-education sessions for L graduates and licensed judges, and today the USDF is also assuming the responsibility for educating those who wish to earn dressage judges’ licenses from US Equestrian.

Training the Trainers

The October 1978 issue of Dressage & CT (the renamed Dressage magazine) contained a notice of a soon-to-be-established national seminar for dressage instructors.

“The entire dressage community of the United States owes a debt of gratitude to Violet M. Hopkins, who has contributed to the advancement of the sport in this country in a substantial way through the establishment of a trust fund for the benefit of the USDF,” the news item read. “The Trust, with principal capital to come from the liquidation of Miss Hopkin’s [sic] estate, will provide an endowment for annual national seminars for dressage instructors, featuring distinguished instructors and authorities of international reputation, and organized through the USDF.”

The item went on to report that Hopkins, owner of Tristan Oaks Farm in White Lake, Michigan, had agreed to advance USDF some monies with which to seed the program.

“Working with Miss Hopkins on the committee to organize the first seminar are Kay Meredith, President of the USDF, and Linda Zang, Region One Representative,” the item continued. (Zang went on to become an FEI “O” [now 5*] dressage judge.) “Ten American instructors will be invited to participate in the seminar….The Violet M. Hopkins National Seminars for Dressage Instructors will become a reality in 1979!”

Certification examiners at the mock testing. Back row, from left: Bill Woods, Lendon Gray, Lilo Fore. Front row, from left: Carole Grant Oldford, Betsy Steiner, Carol Alm, then-USDF president Lazelle Knocke, Gerhard Politz.

Danish “O” judge Col. Aage Sommer led that first Hopkins seminar at Tristan Oaks, recalled dressage judge and instructor/trainer Susan Woods, of Ocala, Florida, who with husband Bill were two of the program’s early supporters. Bill Woods, who was instrumental in the seminar’s creation, served as a program instructor, is a former USDF Instructor/Trainer Council (now Committee) chair, and helped to establish the USDF Instructor/Trainer Program with its certification of dressage instructors.

The Hopkins seminars eventually grew too large for the Tristan Oaks facility. For two years, the event was held at the University of Nebraska.

Col. Sommer had brought the late Maj. Anders Lindgren of Sweden into the fold as a clinician, and in 1983 Lindgren began conducting USDF Regional Instructors Seminars, according to Susan Woods.

“By 1986,” Woods recalled in a 2001 letter, “the demand had grown to the point that Col. Sommer and Maj. Lindgren selected four veterans of multiple National and Regional Seminars—Maryal Barnett, Bill Woods, Susan Woods, and Mary Flood—to conduct USDF-sanctioned Regional Instructors Workshops.”

From there, the focus of the effort to educate dressage instructors took a detour that would become instructor certification.

As Susan Woods recalled, “By 1985, Maj. Lindgren had begun to see the need to start developing some kind of goal for Seminar and Workshop participants, either some kind of testing or certification that would recognize their skills. After two years of discussion, Bill Woods was contacted by Lowell Boomer and asked to present a certification proposal at the 1987 convention in Seattle. At that time, the concept was to certify instructors who had worked through the Regional Workshops and Seminars, with final examinations to take place at the National Seminar.”

That proposal was defeated, but a reworked initiative passed in 1988. It was created by a USDF Instructor/Trainer Council subcommittee chaired by Carol Alm, an employee of a Nebraska-based think tank who later became a USDF executive director. Alm’s subcommittee members were Bill Woods; FEI-level trainers and riders Michael Poulin, Liselotte “Lilo” Fore, and Lendon Gray, all three of whom later became certification examiners; Olympian Hilda Gurney; British Horse Society instructor Joan Harris; FEI-level trainer and competitor Gunnar Ostergaard; and judge and clinician Ulrich Schmitz.

Certification examiners Lendon Gray (left) and Michael Poulin (right) flank USDF Instructor/Trainer Council chair Bill Woods at the 1990 “mock testing” in Florida

After a year of ironing out details, a pilot “mock testing” session was held in Florida in 1990. The initial slate of certification examiners consisted of Poulin, Fore, Gray, Gerhard Politz, Belinda Baudin (now Nairn-Wertman), Robert Dover, the late Edgar Hotz, Carole Grant Oldford, and Betsy Steiner.

Proponents of certification argued that the systems of educating and licensing equestrian professionals in Germany and elsewhere help to ensure quality training of dressage horses and riders that hews to classical standards. Other than in horse racing, however, horse-trainer and riding-instructor licensing has never become mandatory in the US, and USDF’s certification program has endured criticism over the years as too expensive and too difficult, among others. But the program has survived and adapted, and it was cited as the model when the US Eventing Association instituted its own instructor-certification program. For years offering certification only through Fourth Level, the USDF program now certifies instructor/trainers through the FEI levels; and the designation of “honorary instructors” who have demonstrated mastery of dressage training, teaching, and riding has broadened the pool and added marquee value.

At the same time that certification was gaining momentum, attendance at the USDF/Hopkins Seminars began to dwindle, according to Susan Woods. Yet supporters believed that giving instructors and trainers the opportunity to learn from the world’s best—and then to pass that knowledge on to their own students—was too important to abandon altogether. In the early 1990s, Lowell Boomer, then USDF employee Beth Wood, Maj. Lindgren, Bill and Susan Woods, and then USDF Region 3 director and Instructor/Trainer Council coordinator Charlotte Trentelman developed the idea of a national symposium. The inaugural event was held in Orlando in 1991, with Maj. Lindgren and Swedish dressage judge Eric Lette presenting.

1998 TRAINERS CONFERENCE: Headliner Klaus Balkenhol of Germany (center) with then USDF staff members Regine Scheck-Seberger and Beth Wood

The USDF National Dressage Symposium, as it became known, over time evolved into more of a mainstream educational event aimed at the general USDF membership, not just dressage pros. In 2002, USDF commemorated its “Year of the Freestyle” with the first-ever (and to date never repeated) National Freestyle Symposium, led by British judge Jennie Loriston-Clarke, US Olympian Debbie McDonald, and several noted freestyle designers. In 2003, the symposium format changed from a stand-alone event to dovetailing with the USDF annual convention. Received enthusiastically at first—and featuring such luminaries over the years as Kyra Kyrklund, Jan Brink, Ingrid Klimke, and Lisa Wilcox with Ernst Hoyos—the convention/symposium format gradually waned in popularity, with detractors citing the often-wintry locales and the longer periods of time required away from home and barn as barriers to attendance. The national symposium was discontinued in 2012 and as of this writing has not been revived.

What has survived, however, is the “train the trainers” concept behind the old Hopkins seminars. In 1993, then USDF certification examiner Michael Poulin advanced the concept of an intensive educational event for trainers. Poulin’s idea paved the way for the USDF FEI-Level Trainers Conference, which debuted in 1994 with Kyra Kyrklund as the clinician.

As its name suggests, the Trainers Conference is geared toward dressage pros, although broadened attendance criteria mean that many adult amateurs and youth are eligible, as well. Conferences are held annually on the East or West Coasts—sometimes both in the same year—although Florida during the winter show season has been the most regular site. Usually with “through the levels” demonstrations by top horses and riders, conferences are conducted by one or more A-list trainers, judges, or both. Besides Kyrklund, Hubertus Schmidt, Christoph Hess, Stephen Clarke, Johann Hinnemann, Klaus Balkenhol, Lilo Fore, Steffen Peters, Scott Hassler, and Hans-Christian Matthiesen all are past presenters.

Education for All

Along with its high-profile programs for dressage trainers and would-be judges, the USDF over the years developed numerous other educational opportunities targeted at various membership segments. USDF Adult Dressage Camps started in 1989, and in 2003 were replaced by the USDF Adult Clinic Series (which itself was supplanted in 2017 by the USDF National Education Initiative).

The year 1990 saw the launch of the USDF Technical Delegate Apprentice Program. TD education continues today and remains a cornerstone of the USDF convention-weekend lineup.

Another program aimed primarily at adult amateurs and youth, USDF University, began in 1993. Participants receive “University credits” for attending accredited educational events and can earn certificates and recognition.

The USDF, which fields the US dressage teams for the FEI North American Youth Championships, also has a long-standing tradition of providing educational opportunities to juniors and young riders. The USDF Advanced Young Rider/Junior Rider Clinic Series (now Junior/Young Rider Clinic Series), conducted by well-known instructors, debuted in 1996. USDF Youth Outreach Clinics, for “grass roots” riders, launched in 2017.

The magazine you’re reading made its debut in 1999. Feeling that it had outgrown its USDF Bulletin newsletter, beginning in 1994 the USDF partnered with two consumer-magazine publishers in succession that for a time produced USDF’s official publications, Dressage Today and Dressage & CT, respectively. After corporate mergers led to the shuttering of D&CT in 1998, the USDF decided to take charge of its own member magazine and launched USDF Connection.

As the world increasingly turned to the Internet and digital media for information and entertainment, the USDF followed suit. In 2010 it added a multimedia educational database called eTRAK to the USDF website. Today USDF members can also read USDF Connection as a digital edition. A new online portal is under construction for a 2019 launch.

Championships

BEFORE THEY WERE FAMOUS: Laura Graves and Verdades won the Intermediate II open championship at the inaugural US Dressage Finals in 2013 (SusanJStickle.com)

The year 2013 saw the debut of the US Dressage Finals, a national head-to-head dressage championships for adult amateurs and open riders. Because competitors qualify for the Finals through their USDF Regional Dressage Championships, one might assume that “Regionals” were USDF’s first championships endeavor.

In fact, long before there were regional championships, there were national championships. That competition’s history—and the decades-long effort to reboot a national championships—is a tale unto itself.

On the watch of then USDF president Kay Meredith, the inaugural United States Dressage Championships, sponsored by the manufacturing company Insilco Corp. (formerly the International Silver Co.), were held October 23-25, 1981, in Oklahoma City. The March 1981 issue of Dressage & CT contained a two-page announcement of the event.

“Invited to compete at the Insilco United States Dressage Championships will be the top ten horses in USDF Horse of the Year final standings at each level, along with AHSA and USET [United States Equestrian Team] Regional Finals winners,” the item read. The July 1981 issue of D&CT added that “competitors will be lured to Oklahoma City by an estimated $40,000 in prize money, awards, and mileage compensation.”

The championships drew 51 horses from 14 states, according to the competition report in the January 1982 issue of D&CT. “A total round-trip mileage of 128,358 was reimbursed at a rate of 15¢ per mile for a total of $19,256—a not inconsiderable budget item, reflecting management’s desire to make the trip feasible for the greatest number of competitors possible.”

Winners received plaques and a total of $11,700 in cash prizes. Each participating rider and owner took home a special Insilco paperweight containing a medal commemorating the historic event.

Competitors at the national levels took part in two days of preliminary classes and a final day of ride-offs for the championship titles. Prix St. Georges, Intermediate I, Intermediate II, and Grand Prix-level competitors had to ride six-minute musical freestyles in addition to their tests.

Unfortunately, the national championships lasted for just four years, from 1981 through 1984. In 1983, the event was also designated as the AHSA and the USET championships; but by 1984 the competition had become the target of controversy, and USET withdrew its association. With USET’s departure, sponsor Insilco backed out as well, and the US Dressage Championships were unable to survive.

(In 1989, the USET launched its Festival of Champions multi-discipline competition, which offered national dressage championships at the Intermediaire I and Grand Prix levels. Now run under the auspices of US Equestrian, the Festival of Champions has evolved into a dressage-only event that in 2018 awarded 14 national-championship titles. But this elite competition focuses on FEI levels, and so for years there was nothing for the lower-level competitor.)

The ground work for the US Dressage Finals actually began being laid in 1994 with the establishment of the AHSA/USDF Regional Dressage Championships. Intended as a more accessible option for USDF’s open, adult-amateur, and junior/young rider members, championships were held in each of USDF’s nine regions and at levels from Training through Grand Prix. Then USDF president Ellin Dixon Miller was instrumental in getting the series recognized by the AHSA, which elevated the competitions’ profile.

As the regional championships grew in size and prestige, so too did the war chest for the planned-for national championships, with a portion of each competitor’s qualifying fee going into an earmarked account. But for years the idea of a national championships still seemed dormant.

Meanwhile, a different type of competition program got under way. In 1998, the USDF launched the USDF Breeders Championship Series (USDFBC) of regional competitions and finals for sport-horse breeders. The brainchild of Hanoverian breeder and then USDF secretary Janine Malone, the USDFBC series grew out of a two-competition regional breeders championships in the Northeast. There are 11 USDFBC series regions—more than the nine regular USDF regions, to lessen the distances that young horses have to travel. Champions and reserve champions in various in-hand and under-saddle divisions qualify to compete in their respective series finals for overall regional titles.

During the tenure of USDF president George Williams (and thanks in part to Williams’ dogged persistence), the long-awaited national championships finally became a reality. The premiere US Dressage Finals were held in 2013—in November, so as to follow all nine Regional Championships—at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington. An immediate success, the Finals have grown each year, attracting increasing numbers of well-known professionals in addition to remaining a showcase for dressage freestyles and becoming a “bucket list” competitive goal for many adult amateurs.

The Horse Park has been home to the Finals since their inception, a fact that has been the main point of criticism of the event. Many competitors from western regions want badly for the Finals location to rotate in their direction. So far, Finals organizers say, a suitable alternate venue hasn’t been found. The other bone of contention is the fact that although junior/young riders can compete in the open division, to date there is not a dedicated Jr/YR division.

Awards

GRAND PRIX HORSE OF THE YEAR: In 2011, the Col. Thackeray trophy went to Ravel, owned by Akiko Yamazaki (left) and ridden by Steffen Peters (third from left). Presenting were USDF president George Williams (holding trophy) and year-end awards and convention sponsor Adequan® representative Allyn Mann.

USDF initially gave three types of awards: rider medals, Horse of the Year awards, and Trainer of the Year awards. Trainer of the Year is no more, but the awards program itself has exploded in size in USDF’s 45 years. Here are a few of the best-known awards categories.

Since 1982, breed associations and registries have offered awards for achievement at various dressage levels and divisions through the USDF All-Breeds awards program. A look at the annual USDF yearbook photos of equines ranging from Hanoverians to Haflingers, PREs to Percherons, shows that indeed riders can enjoy dressage with almost any breed.

The bronze, silver, and gold rider medals—for achievement through Third Level, Prix St. Georges, and Grand Prix, respectively—remain some of USDF’s most coveted awards. Arguably the most prestigious are the USDF Horse of the Year titles, which are bestowed annually on the top-ranked horses from Training Level through Grand Prix and on the top-scoring horses in the Dressage Sport Horse Breeding and Materiale divisions.

Our New Kentucky Home

2006 USDF builds the USDF national Education Center at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington

In the 1980s and 1990s, the sport of dressage in America enjoyed unprecedented growth—spurred, some say, by the achievements of the bronze-medal-winning 1976 US Olympic dressage team. By the ’90s, it was apparent that the USDF had outgrown its office space in downtown Lincoln, Nebraska, where since its founding it had been headquartered, thanks to USDF founder Lowell Boomer and his Boomer’s Printing Company.

Prompted in part by the AHSA’s (now US Equestrian) decision to relocate from New York City to Lexington, Kentucky, USDF began looking east, toward the home of the Kentucky Horse Park and several other equestrian organizations. In May 2002, USDF packed its collective bags and headed to Lexington with newly hired executive director Stephan Hienzsch in tow. Only a few Lincoln-based staffers chose to make the move, so one of Hienzsch’s first duties was to recruit and hire nearly an entire office staff.

While the staff settled into rented office space in a Lexington shopping mall, the USDF began to dream of a home of its own. The Kentucky Horse Park was offering a lease on a prime plot of land, next door to US Equestrian’s handsome headquarters building. A capital campaign soon kicked off to raise the construction funds, and in 2006 then USDF president Sam Barish cut the ribbon and officially opened the USDF National Education Center.

The NEC is a combination office and showplace, with Horse Park visitors welcome to tour the Roemer Foundation/USDF Hall of Fame, shop in the Lendon F. Gray Bookstore, learn in the Mary Hotchkiss Williams Seminar Room, and admire the perpetual trophies and works of equine art on display.

A Volunteer-Driven Organization

None of those dressage enthusiasts in 1972 and 1973 was paid to attend meetings and to put in the work of founding the USDF. All were volunteers, and volunteers continue to be the backbone of the organization.

Executive Board members—all volunteers. Board of Governors delegates—volunteers. Committee members, convention attendees who come to make proposals or voice opinions—all volunteers. The organization is proud of its democratic tradition in which any USDF member may approach the microphone at the Board of Governors assembly at convention and be heard.

Today the USDF remains as volunteer-driven as ever. With the help of a committed office staff, dressage supporters have dreamed, planned, worked, and yes, argued for 45 years, all in the name of bettering our sport in the US.

Jennifer Bryant is the editor of USDF Connection.

What’s in a Name?

USDF founding member and former American Dressage Institute president Margarita “Migi” Serrell in 1978

Did you know that the USDF wasn’t originally called the USDF?

According to a report published in Dressage magazine by editor the late Ivan I. Bezugloff Jr., the delegates at the February 1973 founding meeting briefly considered naming the organization The Dressage Community. Then they settled on American Dressage Federation.

There was just one sticking point: the similarity to the name of an existing organization, the American Dressage Institute, which at the time was a nationally known educational organization headquartered in Saratoga Springs, New York. ADI president Margarita “Migi” Serrell pointed out the similarity and suggested the name United States Dressage Federation instead, according to the report. Serrell asked the delegates to put the motion about the name back on the floor, and the ADF became the USDF.

(At the time, of course, the delegates could not have predicted that the American Horse Shows Association would change its own name to the United States Equestrian Federation, thereby beginning an era of USDF/USEF name confusion.)

USDF Milestones Photo Gallery

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