50 Years of USDF – Five Decades of Dressage


By Ross Creech

It was a cold November, 1973… and while disco ruled the airwaves, and Gladys Knight & the Pips were on that Midnight Train to Georgia, another kind of dancing was taking center stage (or centerline, as it were) in Lincoln, Nebraska. At the inaugural meeting of what would come to be known as the United States Dressage Federation (USDF), more than 50 dressage pioneers, representing 22 dressage clubs (of the 26 charter Group Member Organizations) converged to adopt bylaws, establish committees, and elect officials. Little did any of them know at the time, but they were setting US dressage on a trajectory none of them could have imagined.

Now, here we are. It’s 2023 and we have fifty years in the books, and in the sandbox. Over the past five decades, USDF has served as the premier source of dressage education and recognition in this country, and has grown to represent upwards of 30,000 members and over 100 affiliate dressage clubs (Group Member Organizations – GMOs), recognize over 850 dressage competitions annually, and offer numerous education opportunities and events on a variety of dressage related topics, from basic horse health to training of licensed officials. Join us now, as we look back on 50 years of USDF and five decades of dressage.

Established 1973

The inaugural business meeting, at which the organization was officially established, took place November 1973. It was through the efforts of USDF founding father Lowell Boomer, and the dressage enthusiasts from our 26 charter GMOs that USDF became a reality.

GATHERED FOR A COMMON CAUSE: USDF founding members gather in Lincoln, NE. Standing, from left: Unidentified, Lowell Boomer (NE), unidentified, Gail Batten (IA), Chuck Grant (MI), Elyse Roberts (IL), Michael Mathews (MI). Seated, from left: June Adams (IL), Jinx Goodwin (MI), Lillian Zimmerman (MI), Carole Grant Oldford (MI).

Charter GMOs:

Andover (Massachusetts) Dressage Club
California Dressage Society*
Deep South Dressage Association* (now Dressage & Combined Training Association [DCTA])
Delaware Valley Combined Training Association*
Dressage and Combined Training Association* (now Central States Dressage & Eventing Association)
Eastern States Dressage Association* (now Eastern States Dressage & Combined Training Association)
Equestrians’ Institute*
Florida Dressage Society
Illinois Dressage Association* (now Illinois Dressage & Combined Training Association)
Indiana Dressage Association* (now Indiana Dressage Society)
International Equestrian Association
Kansas City Dressage Society*
Long Island Dressage & Combined Training Association* (now Long Island Dressage Association)
Midwest Dressage Association*Nebraska Dressage Association*
New England Dressage Association*
Ohio Valley Dressage & Combined Training Association
Oregon Dressage Society*
Potomac Valley Dressage Association*
Rocky Mountain Dressage Society*
St. Louis Area Dressage Society*
Texas Dressage Society* (now Alamo Dressage Association)
Virginia Dressage Association*
Westchester-Fairfield Dressage Association
Winds Reach Dressage and Combined Training Association* (now Eastern Iowa Dressage & Eventing Association)
Wisconsin Dressage Association* (now Wisconsin Dressage & Combined Training Association)
(* signifies club is still in existence as a GMO)

Elected Officials:

PRESIDENT: Dr. Stephen Schwartz
VICE PRESIDENT: Lazelle Knocke
SECRETARY: Betsy Chester
REGIONAL REPRESENTATIVES (now Regional Directors): Sally O’Connor, Lillian Zimmerman, and Lynn Todd
EXECUTIVE SECRETARY (now Executive Director): Lowell Boomer

The 1980s

While the 1970s was focused on establishing the organization, the 80s ushered in a renewed focus on USDF’s mission of education, recognition of achievement, and promotion of dressage. With Horse of the Year and Rider Awards instituted with our inception, the early 80s featured increased opportunities for recognition through the first United States Dressage Championships and the creation of the USDF All-Breeds Awards Program. The mid to late 80s saw the establishment of numerous educational opportunities through the development of the L Education Program, USDF Adult Dressage Camps, and the USDF Instructor Certification Program. These programs would prove to be the foundation of USDF’s educational offerings for years to come, and represent a coordinated effort to not only educate the dressage community, but to also develop dressage professionals in the US.

Steffen Peters at the first USDF National Symposium in 1997
Photo: Susan Sexton

The 1990s

The 1990s were a period of unprecedented growth for the organization. During this time, many new educational and recognition opportunities were established as dressage became a standard part of the lexicon amongst the US equestrian community. By 1994, USDF had already seen the establishment of the Technical Delegate Apprentice Program and the AHSA/USDF Regional Dressage Championships, held its first National Dressage Symposium and FEI-Level Trainers’ Conference, and launched the USDF University Program. Showing no signs of slowing down, the late 90s saw the establishment of and first inductions to the USDF Hall of Fame, the introduction of the USDF Breeders Championship Series, and the start of the USDF Advanced Young Rider/Junior Rider Clinic Series, and by 1999, the first issue of USDF Connection was published, a coveted member benefit still today.

The 2000s

As the clocks turned over, saying goodbye to the 20th century, and we all managed to escape the potential catastrophe of Y2K, USDF continued to look to the future, as evidenced by the many new online services that became available to members during this time. In 2002, the organization pulled up stakes from our founding land in Lincoln, to relocate to the ‘horse capital of the world,’ Lexington, Kentucky. Upon arriving in Lexington, USDF occupied business office space in a local business park, with its eyes remaining on the prize… a new home at the world-renowned Kentucky Horse Park. The turn of the century and the relocation of the home office did nothing to slow down the progress of the organization, as it continued to establish even more offerings for its members. 2002 served as USDF’s “Year of the Freestyle,” which culminated with the first National Freestyle Symposium. The next year saw the debut of the USDF Adult Clinic Series, held in each of USDF’s nine regions, and the decade concluded with the realization of the ultimate goal. April 1, 2006, the USDF National Education Center, home to the Roemer Foundation/USDF Hall of Fame and Gypsy Woods Farm Resource Center, opened the doors of its permanent home, located in a prime location at the Kentucky Horse Park, which would be the foundation of its efforts and of dressage in the US for years to come.

The 2010s

2010 World Equestrian Games

Having now called the Kentucky Horse Park home for several years, 2010 brought renewed excitement to the horse park, USDF, and the entire US equestrian community, as the Kentucky Horse Park would play host to the 2010 Alltech/FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG) – the first time ever on US soil. The excitement and buzz surrounding the event was palpable and USDF, with its new home, was right in the middle of the action. The prime location inside the park allowed USDF to host members onsite at the National Education Center, which featured a hospitality suite with giveaways, drawings, snacks, etc. Hosting an event of this size, right in its “backyard” afforded USDF the opportunity to also expose people to dressage, USDF, and everything both have to offer. With the Roemer Foundation/USDF Hall of Fame available to guide people through both the history of dressage and the organization, the “promotion” aspect of USDF’s mission remained at the forefront. 

Building off the excitement and buzz surrounding the World Equestrian Games, 2013 played host to the inaugural US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®. USDF’s premier event, at its inception, the US Dressage Finals showcased the top open and adult amateur riders from around the country, competing head-to-head on a national stage. The first opportunity of its kind for adult amateurs, the US Dressage Finals utilize the long established Great American/USDF Regional Dressage Championships as qualifiers for the event, with top riders from each category/division receiving an invitation to compete. The prestige, excitement, and success of the US Dressage Finals continued to grow each year of the 2010s and promised more of the same heading into the 2020s.

The 2020s

The Board of Governors General Assembly (BOG) at the virtual convention.

The start of the 2020s saw the world, including the equestrian world, come to a screeching halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic. USDF was fortunate to have the guidance of then-president Lisa Gorretta to help navigate the uncharted waters presented by the global pandemic, coming out on the other side mostly unscathed. While 2020 saw the unfortunate cancellation of the US Dressage Finals, 2021 saw the event come roaring back with a vengeance. In the largest Finals to date, 2021 was the first year that a junior/young rider division was offered (an immensely popular move, as juniors and young riders competed in the open division at prior Finals events) and was the first time two years’ worth of qualified riders would be eligible to compete, after a special invitation was extended to those 2020 qualifiers who missed out on the opportunity to take their turn down the centerline of champions, due to the cancellation of the previous year’s event.

The early 2020s also reiterated USDF’s education focus through the establishment of the GMO Education Initiative, to create and support new and affordable programs while delivering high caliber instruction and educational content consistent with classical principles of dressage. The newly minted program also came with grant opportunities for GMOs hosting approved programs, to assist in the effort to bring dressage education to the masses.

As of 2023, with new leadership in place, new ideas and initiatives continuing to develop, and the enthusiasm for dressage continuing to build, one can’t help but be filled with anticipation for what the future holds for dressage in this country, and what new and exciting offerings USDF has in the works. It is safe to say that while those 50 or so people present on that cold November day in Nebraska, had a dream and vision of what dressage in this country could be and achieve, they could have never imagined the growth and success the organization has seen in its 50 years. So, raise your glasses and here’s to another 50 years of USDF and dressage the US!

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