A friend recently posted this photo on Facebook of our Intercollegiate Dressage Team. It has been years since I saw that photo and had forgotten how much fun I had EVERY minute on the Mount Holyoke College Dressage team .
In Intercollegiate Dressage competition, you pull the name of a horse you have never seen before and get to watch someone warm it up in front of all of the competitors. Later in the day, you have 15 minutes to warm the horse up yourself and then go in and ride a dressage test.
(Someone correct me if I have any of this wrong, it has been a while!)
Sure, you were a slave to luck and you could end up pulling a somewhat fancier horse in your class. But, most of it was about how strong of a rider you were.
I remember, in the fall of my first Intercollegiate season, writing an article for Equisearch.com about how easy I thought it would be to ride a First Level test - when I had just come off FEI Young Riders on my own horses. Was I wrong! Getting on a strange horse and scoring in the 60s after riding it for 15 minutes is a far cry from competing your own horse, no matter what level!
Let's just say I did well, but not amazingly well. Our team captain, Amelia, had never ridden at Young Riders and was the strongest rider in our First (highest) Level division in the country. I think I ended up 3rd in the year end rankings, behind Colleen O'Connor (who is also a lovely rider and now a trainer at Majestic Gaits Farm in New England).
Intercollegiate riding takes the skills of a trainer to be able to get on a strange horse and recognize the best way to get the two of you successfully through a test. It takes the knowledge of a judge to appreciate where you can get extra points. It takes the mental focus of a professional athlete to be able to juggle schoolwork with a demanding schedule of training/competition AND remain calm in this high-stress environment.
Apart from my experiences competing/riding my own horses, I credit Intercollegiate riding (yes, I also did the Equitation Team!) with preparing me for all aspects of my dressage career. Besides Colleen, I know that my teammate, Nina, has a great equestrian blog herself. I am sure countless others have gone on to pursue careers in the equestrian world.
-I feel more comfortable getting on a new horse and connecting with them as soon as possible.
-I have a deeper understanding of how accurate and correct your test needs to be to succeed.
-I appreciate the dressage marks that can/cannot be changed by brilliant movement.
-I see the value in a support system for dressage. The more people you can have on your team, the easier it is to succeed.
I am so excited to see the Intercollegiate program growing (when I competed, we just starting hosting a National Championships), like the USDF/USEF Young Rider Graduate Program, Lendon Gray Youth Festival and USDF Youth Team Championships.
Having attended all of these programs, I think that they are the future of our sport in the United States. I believe that the emphasis on equitation and horsemanship at all of these programs will create a higher caliber rider in our younger generations.
So, if you know of anyone that is considering Intercollegiate Dressage... tell them that it is educational and fun for any level of rider. In the meantime, enjoy my Intercollegiate Dressage photo from my archives:
Mount Holyoke Dressage Team with our amazing coach, Rebecca Schurink at Dartmouth in 2003(?). First and Reserve placings for our A and B Teams!