Connecting While We Are Apart – Virtual Dressage Competitions

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Joan (left) and Claire with her two horses, Jimmy Choo and Harrold S

By Joan Darnell, USEF ‘S’ Dressage Judge

When the COVID-19 outbreak occurred, no one knew how devastating it would be to the dressage community.  Barns were closed, and shows and clinics were cancelled, depriving most dressage enthusiasts of competitions and educational opportunities.   My daughter, Claire Darnell of Darnell Dressage in Moorpark, CA, thought it would be a great idea to offer virtual dressage shows.  With her experience as a business marketing major with a BA from Baylor University, my husband Greg’s help as a computer expert, and my talents as a USEF ‘S’ Dressage Judge, we created a Virtual Dressage Series with generous sponsorship from Halter Ego of Calabasas, CA.

Claire riding her Dutch Warmblood gelding Harrold S

Our first virtual competition benefitted Ride-On Therapeutic Horsemanship in Chatsworth, CA.  We had 68 competitors from Intro A to Intermediate 1, including a Third Level Freestyle.  We had riders from across the US and Canada send in rides.  Arenas varied from fancy show facilities with outstanding footing to backyard arenas.  Show attire was optional as long as proper headgear and footwear was worn.  There were many outstanding turnouts running the gamut from complete show attire with braided and well groomed horses to colorful schooling attire.  Riders filmed their rides at home and uploaded the videos to YouTube.  I was the judge for the first competition and my husband was the scribe.  Once all the rides were scored, we placed the classes and sent out virtual ribbons from first-sixth place.  The high point winners for Training-Fourth Level in Open, Adult Amateur, Junior/Young Rider divisions, and the FEI division were sent prizes from our sponsor Halter Ego.  Prizes ranged from browbands to jackets.  We were able to donate over $1,700 to Ride on Therapeutic Horsemanship to help their goal of enhancing the quality of life of children and adults with disabilities through a unique combination of equine related therapy, recreation, and fun.

Virtual Show format

We had such a positive response to the first show that we offered a second competition with Debbie Riehl-Rodriguez ‘S’ from Arvada, CO as our judge.  We were very pleasantly surprised to have 83 rides at our second competition.  Again rides ranged from Intro A to Grand Prix and we also had 6 Materiale rides submitted.  This show was able to make a large donation to Mini-Therapy Horses of Calabasas, CA.  These horses help people in crisis—from the survivors of the San Bernardino tragedy to the children staying at the Ronald McDonald Houses while receiving critical medical procedures. The horses make weekly visits to the patients at The Greater Los Angeles Veterans Hospital and have fulfilled last wish requests. All of the minis are registered law enforcement therapy horses at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Civilian Volunteer Program. They are on-call 24/7 as members of the Los Angeles Mayor’s Crisis Response Team, providing comfort to those involved in traumatic incidents and can be called upon as first responders at a moment’s notice. Again the riders received virtual ribbons and high point awards sponsored by Halter Ego.

The virtual ribbon

Because of the large entry numbers at the second show, our third competition was judged by Dolly Hannon ‘S’ of Arvada, CO and Kathy Rowse ‘S’ of Suffolk, VA.  This time we had 85 rides ranging from Materiale to Intermediate 1.  I was the scribe for both the second and third shows, and we spent about four days judging the rides so we could publish scores on the show date.  This show benefitted The Dressage Foundation and they will be receiving a large donation thanks to our loyal competitors.  High point riders also received prizes from Halter Ego.

This was a fun series to be a part of.  Many, many thanks to all the competitors who participated, the judges, our sponsor Halter Ego, to Claire for handling the entries and many rider questions, and my husband, Greg, for doing the posting and e-mailing of the final score sheets and tallying the classes.  It is now the beginning of June and shows are opening back up to real competitions.  It is our hope that real life competition will return to normal and virtual shows will be something that was helpful and educational in the meantime.  From all of us at Darnell Dressage we wish you safe and happy riding!

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