The GMO giant—with its 35 chapters, a busy central office, and thousands of members throughout California and spilling into Las Vegas and other surrounds—was the brainchild of just seven energetic people who sought to further the sport of dressage in the Golden State by facilitating “more competition and more instruction available to interested riders,” as founding member and first CDS president Susan Davidge wrote in the inaugural issue of the CDS newsletter, Dressage Letters.
The fledgling club held its founding meeting at the home of the late Elizabeth Searle (later a USDF Lifetime Achievement Award recipient) and Hermann Friedlaender. Also in attendance at the founding meeting was early California dressage star Hilda Gurney, now a member (as is her 1976 Olympic partner, Keen) of the Roemer Foundation/USDF Hall of Fame.
Founded in 1967, CDS really got under way in 1968, its first official activity being a dinner to honor Kyra Downton, the first Grand Prix-level rider in the state and now also a USDF Hall of Famer.
According to CDS central-office manager Paula Langan, American Dressage Institute founder Migi Serrell contacted CDS “about lending support to the USDF founding” and that five CDS board members attended the 1973 USDF founding meeting. One of those members, Stephen Schwartz, was elected USDF’s first president and served as CDS president that same year.
CDS has been a leader in US dressage education and competition throughout its history. It was the first to offer judges’ forums, and the GMO brought in such notables as the late Col. Alois Podhajsky from the Spanish Riding School and the late Maj. Anders Lindgren to give clinics and to further instructor education. The GMO pioneered championship-show divisions for amateur riders, a futurity competition for young dressage horses, championships for junior riders, an instructor-training program, and regional competitions for adult amateurs, among others. Educational offerings include grants, a unique series of clinics for adult-amateur members, and symposia. Chapters organize their own activities and offer their own year-end awards, as well.