I’ve seen the spotlights shine on the elite sporthorses of Germany’s auction halls. I’ve watched Norwegian Fjord ponies grazing in the fresh green hillsides of their native country. I’ve stood on the misty moors of Yorkshire, England, and felt the ground shake underneath me as racehorses in training approached at a thunderous gallop. I’ve seen an ordinary golf course outside of Guadalajara, Mexico, transform into the cross-country course for the 2011 Pan American Games and watched it spring to life with horses, spectators and galloping lanes.
I’ve been lucky to see horses in some pretty cool places over the years and every experience has been a blessing in its own way. Each trip opens my eyes to looking at horses in a new light—whether that’s through the people I meet or the horses themselves. Usually it’s both.
I can rarely resist the opportunity to learn more about the equestrian world across the globe. So when I got a call from my good friend, Kate, asking if I had an interest in coming to Bermuda to learn more about the dressage community and share it with our followers, it took me all of about one millisecond to make up my mind and blurt out “YEAH!”
I know what you must be thinking: Why Bermuda? When we think about the top dressage destinations in the world, countries like Germany and The Netherlands first come to mind. They are the obvious hotspots and for the passionate dressage rider, they are worthy destinations. For the high-performance crowd, a journey to these places is almost like a right of passage.
There’s undoubtedly a lot that we can learn from these dressage hubs—but do we often overlook other hidden gems because Germany gets all the glory? Probably. Germany is incredible because it offers an unbeatable depth and breadth of dressage talent. But the reality is that it is completely unrelatable and untouchable for most of us average folks.
You see, I grew up in Savannah, Georgia. Whenever I tell people that they usually swoon and tell me how lucky I am. Savannah is indeed a beautiful town but it is what I would refer to as a “dressage desert”—or at least it was during the time I lived there. (Ironically the USDF Convention was just there, but I swear that is the most dressage that place has seen in many years combined.) To my knowledge, there were no true dressage trainers during my time there, so the only place we could find that even had a dressage ring was a small, kid-friendly eventing farm. I loved that place, but most days, it took us more than an hour to get there and it was a BIG DEAL if an international-caliber clinician came within a few hours’ radius. Sure, we could haul to Aiken or Atlanta, but my point is that great FEI dressage professionals were not right in my backyard.
I realize that Savannah is not the most remote dressage desert, but I do remember being hungry to learn more about dressage and not having much access to it beyond my own barn. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that is a situation a lot of our readers can relate to.
And that’s why I thought Bermuda would be an interesting case study—because it is an extreme example of dedicated equestrians with big plans who face intense geographic and environmental challenges. Forget “desert”—this is an island, separated not just by distance, but also by water!
The more I’ve learned about Bermuda, the more intrigued I have become. For example, I thought shopping for a saddle and finding a fitter IN MARYLAND was hard. Need a saddle in Bermuda? Good luck! These guys literally have to FLY a saddle-fitter in FROM ANOTHER COUNTRY. And if you want to buy a new saddle, you’re better off flying to the U.S. to pick a few up to avoid the exorbitant shipping expenses. Did I mention that there aren’t any tack shops in Bermuda, either? As a matter of fact, I have a few jars of saddle soap packed into my suitcase to deliver to Kate. Ah, the things we take for granted on the East Coast!
If your horse requires medical attention from a specialist, you just have to wait until you can fly someone in to address it. Another example: If you want to show, your competition horse needs to hack out well, too, because many people choose to hack to the show grounds, rather than trailer! If you live in Bermuda and you want to buy a horse, you better shop with soundness in mind and be prepared to fly it in from another country. More details to come on this because I think the horse-management side of things is fascinating and deserves an article all unto itself.
Despite these challenges that, frankly, just make horse ownership sound like a huge headache, there are some dedicated folks out there in Bermuda who are committed to elevating the sport of dressage. This leads me to one of the main highlights of my trip: The FEI Dressage World Challenge & Junior Championship Dressage Qualifier, which will take place Saturday, Dec. 14 at Bermuda’s National Equestrian Centre. The FEI World Dressage Challenge offers the chance for local dressage riders to compete against other participating countries without having to travel overseas, while the Junior Championship Dressage Qualifier allows younger riders to qualify for the 2020 Adequan North American Youth Championship. Aren’t you curious to know how an FEI show—or any show for that matter—runs on an island in the North Atlantic? I am!
During my visit, I’m also looking forward to chatting with some of the leaders of Bermuda’s equestrian organizations to learn more about the unique aspects of their community. One of the big questions that Kate and I have discussed within the context of Bermuda has been the age-old question of “How can we grow the sport of dressage?” Of course, I don’t pretend to have the answers to this, but I do know that it’s definitely an ongoing discussion in the U.S., as well.
For as much as I think there is to learn from the differences between equestrian life in the U.S. and Bermuda, I bet there are some big takeaways from studying what we have in common, too. I can’t wait to explore this unique equestrian community and share what I learn with you. Stay tuned for upcoming articles, podcasts and social media updates as I set off for Bermuda! And as long as there are horses around, I know I’ll feel right at home. Rum swizzles and palm trees, here I come!