Meet the L Graduate – Michele Dodge

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I’ve been riding on and off since I was a kid, but I didn’t discover dressage until my adult life. I hadn’t had much formal training, but quickly decided I liked the logical progression of dressage and the way it benefited ALL horses. As an adult amateur rider on a budget, I’ve not been in a regular “program” for much of my riding career, but I’ve worked with some wonderful, knowledgeable area trainers and clinicians, and am grateful to all of them for helping me on this journey. I got my USDF Bronze Medal several years ago on a pinto Friesian/Warmblood cross stallion I owned, and hope to get my USDF Silver Medal on my pony if my body is up to it – I had a pretty significant (non-riding) accident last year, and am dealing with some other major health issues, but I feel hopeful and motivated!  I’m also very committed to education, both in my career and in the dressage world.

How long have you been involved in the sport?

I’ve been involved, either volunteering or riding, since the 1980s!  I guess that makes me old.

How long have you been a USDF member?

I’ve been a member of USDF since the 1980s, as either a Participating Member (PM) or GMO member, depending on the amount of showing I’m doing.

What made you decide to participate in the USDF L Education Program?

I wanted to understand the judging process – how scores are arrived at and what they actually mean.  I am a very analytical person, and I have a strong drive to understand things, so what better way than the L Education Program? It helped that a friend was organizing one locally, so I didn’t have to invest a lot of travel time and cost into the program.

How long did it take to complete the program, start to finish?

A couple of years – Part 1 was pretty quick, done in a single show season, but I had work conflicts for Part 2, so I wasn’t able to do that for another year.

Do you plan to further your dressage education and to continue to apply what you learned in the program to become a licensed official?

As much as I would like to, I don’t have the money to continue on.  It is a major financial investment, from having a horse that is fancy enough to get the scores, to having the time and money to travel all over to complete the programs. So, I’m content to let others do that.

Do you serve as a judge for schooling shows in your capacity as an L Graduate? If so, on average, how many per year?

I do, and used to do at least 4 to 6 shows each year, but I organized and ran an L Program a few years ago, and there are a whole crop of new L Grads in the region, so now I tend to refer schooling shows to them. I am proud to say several from the programs I ran have already completed the USEF/USDF “r” Dressage Judge Training Program with plans to continue up the ranks!

What impact did the program have on your dressage knowledge?

I think this is the best educational program USDF offers! I wish everyone who competed could at least audit the program. It helped me hone my eye, and it helped me understand how judges score each movement. So often, I hear people complaining about how judges aren’t scoring down for horses being “behind the vertical” or other training flaws- having been through the program, I can respond that they probably ARE scoring down for that, but are scoring UP for other positive parts of the ride.   It really gave me a big picture on how the sport is officiated. 

Name three things you took away from the program that you think every rider should know.

Judging is much more than watching a horse’s head and neck- that is the easiest thing to see! A lot of people throw away points without even realizing it. Most judges WANT riders to do well, and are taught to look for the good, not just the bad.

Have you participated in or completed other USDF programs? Describe.

I’ve audited the Instructor Certification program and the Sport Horse Development program.  I’ve also attended a few Upgrade Your Judging Eye/View From C programs, and organized and ran an L Education Program and a few Upgrade Your Judging Eye educational events. I’m a big fan of education!

Have you served in any other official capacity with USDF (council/committee member, council/committee chair, PM/GM delegate, board member/Regional Director, etc.)? Please describe.

No, although I’m a long time Chapter Chair for a chapter of my GMO, California Dressage Society.

Tell us about your horse(s).

I ride a Welsh Cob cross named Amador – barn nickname is Pony, and when he’s extra cute, Pony Pony. He is a sensitive character; he really wants to please once he trusts his person. I was NOT looking for a horse/pony, but he kind of fell in my lap, and we just clicked the first time I rode him. He is a bit of a late bloomer who went through a few careers and owners before I got him. He’s schooling Third Level now – plus he wins all the cutest pony awards!

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