Even in a crowded competition calendar, Region 1’s Col. Bengt Ljungquist Memorial Championships are still going strong
Reprinted from the November/December 2022 USDF Connection magazine
By Penny Hawes
Every fall in USDF’s Region 1, the tradition of a unique dressage championships continues.
Predating the USDF Regional Championships program, it’s the Colonel Bengt Ljungquist Memorial Championships (CBLMs). Open only to members of participating USDF group-member organizations (GMOs), the CBLMs celebrated their 40th anniversary this year.
To mark this milestone and to find out why the CBLMs continue to flourish even alongside the Great American/USDF Regional Championships and other major competitions, we spoke with the event’s founder and with more recent stewards of the competition, who are determined to take the CBLMs to the half-century mark and beyond.
The history of the CLBM championships begins with the late Col. Ljungquist.
A Swedish cavalry officer, Ljungquist (1912-1979) competed in five Olympic Games for his native country. You might be surprised to learn that at only one (Tokyo 1964) did he compete in dressage; at the other four, the versatile sportsman competed in fencing, the sport for which he was actually more famous. Ljungquist was also the Swedish dressage reserve rider for the 1960 Rome Olympics and a six-time Swedish national dressage champion.
A lifelong rider, Ljungquist was born into a military family and joined the Swedish army after secondary school. His military service included posts as commander of the Royal Horse Guards in Stockholm beginning in 1995, with duties including organizing the equestrian events of the 1956 Stockholm Olympics.
After the Swedish cavalry became mechanized, Ljungquist retired from the army and began a second career as a highly respected dressage trainer and instructor. During a trip to the US, he was offered a position teaching dressage at the Foxcroft School in Virginia. He and his wife moved to the US in 1970, and in 1974 Ljungquist became the US dressage-team coach, a position he held until 1978. Under his leadership, the US dressage team won the gold medal at the 1975 Pan American Games, team bronze at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, and a fourth-place finish at the 1978 World Championships.
International competitor and future FEI “O” (now 5*) dressage judge Linda Zang invited Ljungquist to train out of her Idlewilde Farm in Davidsonville, Maryland, and in the late 1970s Idlewilde was a major training hub for many of the top US dressage riders of the day.
A strong advocate for the education of US dressage judges, Ljungquist helped to develop a training program for the Potomac Valley Dressage Association (PVDA). The PVDA program became the model for most judges’ training programs in the US, culminating in the creation of the renowned USDF L Education Program. Another of Ljungquist’s enduring legacies is the modern classic Practical Dressage Manual, published in 1976.
For his contributions to American dressage, Ljungquist was inducted into the Roemer Foundation/USDF Hall of Fame in 1998.
Creating a New Legacy
A non-horseman was the driving force behind the establishment of the championships that honor one of the world’s most prominent horsemen.
After moving from western Pennsylvania to Maryland in 1980, Dr. Sam Barish—whose wife at the time was a dressage enthusiast—became involved with the PVDA. He joined the PVDA board within the year (and later went on to become USDF president).
Barish learned that the only championships available to dressage riders at the time were run by the American Horse Shows Association (AHSA, now US Equestrian), and he thought the barriers to entry were steep, besides which, the lowest-level riders couldn’t participate.
“AHSA did not have Training Level in the championships,” Barish says, “and they were expensive. You had to be a member, your horse had to be registered, the owner had to be a member, and you needed to attain multiple qualifying scores. You had no real input.
“I thought, ‘We have all these dressage associations. Why don’t we put a championship together where the dressage associations can set the rules and make all the decisions, and have Training Level and make it simple?’”
Barish worked with Gail Larson, then president of the Virginia Dressage Association (VADA). Representatives of six Mid-Atlantic dressage associations met, created rules, and organized the inaugural championships, which offered divisions from Training through Fourth Level at Prince George’s Equestrian Center in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, in 1982. Given Ljungquist’s status as “probably the most highly respected dressage trainer and coach in the US at the time” and the fact that he’d passed away just three years earlier, “we named the championships to honor him,” Barish says.
As Barish had intended, the qualifying procedure was simple: “You just had to be a member of one of the participating dressage associations, compete in one of the qualifying competitions, and send the qualification forms to the championship secretary. The top three places—with a certain minimum qualifying score—were eligible, and we had the first championship.”
Most of those participating GMOs are in Region 1. To qualify for the CBLMs’ 2022 edition, competitors had to be members of one of the following: Commonwealth Dressage and Combined Training Association (DCTA), Delaware Valley Combined Training Association, East Coast Regional Dressage Association, Eastern States DCTA, French Creek Equestrian Association, International Equestrian Organization, Lehigh Valley Dressage Association, Maryland Dressage Association, North Carolina DCTA, Orange County Dressage Association, Oley Valley Combined Training Association, Potomac Valley Dressage Association, South Carolina DCTA, Virginia Dressage Association, or Western Pennsylvania Dressage Association.
Barish, of Rockville, Maryland, himself managed the CBLMs from 1983 through 1995. His successor was Margaret Freeman, who’s currently the USDF secretary and a USEF “S” judge living in Tryon, North Carolina. According to Freeman, the CBLMs’ founding “was all Sam. He felt we needed a truly regional championship.”
Surviving and Thriving
Freeman notes that “once the USDF Regionals came along, they didn’t kill the CBLMs at all. Both are very healthy, and I think it speaks to how Sam and the USDF regional directors made an effort to space them apart.” She says that “a significant part of the discussion at the annual fall USDF Region 1 meeting was trying to schedule the Great American Insurance Group/USDF Region 1 Championships, the CBLMs, and Dressage at Devon with two weeks in between each. It’s a very different situation from every other region.”
After managing the CBLMs for “a year or two,” Freeman handed the reins to Bettina Longaker, of Gordonsville, Virginia. The current CBLM president and USDF Region 1 director, Longaker has managed the show ever since and has done “a fabulous job,” Freeman says.
A Different Kind of Championships
“The CBLMs are so different because they are a peer-to-peer competition,” says Longaker.
Around 1990, she explains, the CBLM Training Level division had something like 44 horses. One of the judges, the late Col. Donald Thackeray, “had a blast, but he also said it was getting kind of unwieldy, and maybe we would want to look at a way to split it.”
As Longaker recalls, it was her late mother, Isabel “Dee Dee” de Szinay, “who made the suggestion that the levels should be split by the riders’ experience.” The rationale: “We had some adult amateurs who were Grand Prix riders; so if we went the adult-amateur route [dividing levels into adult-amateur and open divisions, as is done in the Great American/USDF Regional Championships], that wouldn’t keep our ‘normal’ adult amateurs from having to compete against upper-level riders. But if we went by their experience level, it meant that upper-level riders would only compete against other upper-level riders. That was the thinking behind it, and we’ve kept it through the decades.”
The innovative classification system debuted in 1990. Training Level CBLM competitors rode in either Section A, for those who had never competed above Second Level; or Section B, for those who had. First Level followed suit in 1992. Second, Third, and Fourth Levels were similarly split in 2003, with different qualifications for Sections A and B. Prix St. Georges, the most recent division to split, did so in 2007.
Another change to preserve the peer-to-peer aspect of the championships, initiated around 2014, addressed a similar issue for younger riders. As Longaker explains, “It wasn’t fair for young professionals to be going against twelve- and thirteen-year-olds.” Juniors now have their own CBLM classes at Training through Second Levels, and Young Riders at those levels must compete in the senior divisions.
The CBLMs further distinguish themselves from the Great American/USDF Regional Championships by using a different test of the level. Instead of using Test 3, CBLM competitors qualify and compete at Test 2 of their desired level.
Another distinctive aspect of the CBLMs: Its pas de deux division, instituted in 2004, is the only one of its kind offered at a regional dressage championships. (A quadrille division, also introduced in 2004, lasted only two years before it was dropped from the CBLM roster.) Another CBLM-only offering is a Training Level Freestyle championship, introduced in 2013.
The sources of the CBLMs’ prize money are unique, as well. GMOs pay an annual membership fee in order for its members to be eligible to participate, and each show that offers CBLM qualifying classes pays a small daily fee, Longaker says. As a result, riders pay no qualifying fees.
What’s more, to be eligible, only the rider has to be a member of a participating GMO; no owner memberships or horse registrations are required. But “they still have to be able to make a legal entry,” says Longaker: “They’re going to have to have a USDF Horse ID (HID) number; and if the owner is different from the rider and not a member, then they need to pay a nonmember fee. But for the CBLMs, riders only need to have a group membership in one of the participating GMOs, and not a USDF participating membership.”
Springboard to Success
The list of past winners of CBLM championship titles reads like a Who’s Who among US dressage riders. Many have been judges, USDF-certified instructor/trainers, and even international competitors. Olympians Jessica Ransehousen, Lendon Gray, and Carol Lavell have all won CBLM titles.
FEI-level instructor/trainer Stacey Hastings, of Mount Ulla, North Carolina, has been competing at the CBLMs for more than 20 years. She says that “back in the day, the BLMs were just as big as Regionals, with just as many nice prizes and a lot of publicity for the winners. Currently, the BLMs are pretty close to us, so it’s not too hard on the horses. Also, we have two weeks between shows. They get rest after the BLMs, and they are ready to go to Regionals.”
Former USDF Region 1 director and VADA president Alison Head, a USEF “S” judge now living in Aiken, South Carolina, also has a long history with the CBLMs.
“My very first big CBLM win was the Prix St. Georges in Richmond” in 1989, Head recalls. The show “wasn’t yet fancy, but at the time it meant the world to me. After that, I competed in many CBLMs over the years on many horses, and as Region 1 director and president of VADA also became actively involved with running the shows.”
During her tenure as USDF regional director, Head says, “What stood out to me…was that this show was something our GMOs could give their members. We worked on it together, and almost all the GMOs participated in some way. It was a great way to have something regional that was ours. And the goal, which I think it still achieves, was for it to be a real championship show, yet remain accessible and welcoming to the GMO members.”
Presenting the CBLMs in their 40th-anniversary year was the North Carolina Dressage and Combined Training Association (NCDCTA), which hosted the 2022 edition as part of its Harvest Moon Dressage show in Raeford, North Carolina, in September.
“We’re having a big celebration!” NCDCTA president Lynn Kerin said before the show. Festivities were to include an exhibition by the NCDCTA Junior/Young Rider group during the Saturday-evening wine-and-cheese party, a dog show, coolers for CBLM champions monogrammed with the show’s 40th-anniversary logo, and more, she said.
Barish attributes the CBLMs’ continued popularity, in part, to the fact that “it’s kind of a homegrown thing. It’s not run by a national or even a regional organization; it’s just a group of regional dressage associations that are doing it.
“What thrills me,” he says, “is that 40 years later, it’s still going strong.”
For more information about the CBLM Championships, visit cblm.org.
Penny Hawes is a writer, rider, and coach from Virginia and a longtime CBLM Championships volunteer.