The Slow Death of Dressage: The Horse Show Entry

A longtime dressage competitor explains why she believes the multitude of required memberships and complicated show entries are a detriment to the sport.
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wendy riddelll horse show entry dressage

Wendy Riddell (pictured on right) 

I have been completing my own horse show entries since I was a teenager. My parents were always kind enough to write the checks, so the least I could do was fill out the forms … multiple forms. So, you would think with three decades of experience (I’ll admit it), I would be an expert by now. A professional. Heck, I have competed in CDIs on the east coast, the west coast, Canada, Holland and Germany. It’s hard to imagine anyone more experienced at horse show paperwork, yet I constantly seem to receive the dreaded “bring your checkbook to the show office when you check-in” email. Why?

At first I chalked it up to my poor math skills; after all I went to law school to avoid all math requirements. But with the dawn of equestrian-entry-software programs, even that can’t be the problem. Over time it has become increasingly clear to me that the issue is we make it too damn complicated, and it is going to be the death of amateurs and juniors in the sport, and the death of our beloved and already cryptic sport. Let me break it down for you.

To compete at a local recognized show where you want to be eligible for recognition, hence the entry to a recognized show, you need numerous memberships. I calculated that I need at least FIVE memberships. Both my horse and I are registered with the United States Equestrian Federation, not to be confused with the fact that both my horse and I also need to be registered with the United States Dressage Federation. Lastly, I needed membership in my local organization, and for some people, there may be several local organizations to join, not to mention breed organizations, so I was being exceptionally generous by limiting it to just FIVE. Don’t let the fact that some of these memberships expire on an annual basis and others do not perplex you, and please do not mix up the various kinds of memberships that exist within each organization.

Now I am fortunate enough to have two daughters who love dressage as much as I do, but I am now responsible for 15 separate memberships. SERIOUSLY. My eldest daughter is trying for the North American Youth Championships so I get the joy of two more memberships for both her and her horse to the FEI, and we are up to 17. Oh, and don’t get me started on the FEI passport. Can someone please explain to the FEI that in this digital age a photograph of the already microchipped horse is bound to be much more accurate than my artistic rendering in red pen!

To add to the absurdity, we must submit voluminous amounts of paper with every entry, or face paying a punitive fee for submitting them electronically. Don’t you just the love the “separate show” weekend where you must provide separate coggins, shot records, membership cards and enough reams of paper to clear an entire forest for your “separate shows” all processed by the exact same show secretary in the exact same show office. Let me also let you in on a dirty little secret that every show secretary knows—the vast majority of signatures on an entry are forged. That’s right, I am openly confessing to fraud. I am simply not going to chase down clients for their signature, nor do I feel it important to have my 12-year old daughter sign the entry. As a lawyer, I do feel qualified to tell there is no legal reason that there needs to be separate releases for each and every show—none whatsoever. This should be done at the time we obtain our multitude of memberships!

Let me briefly contrast this for you with showing locally in Holland, which by the way routinely beats us in the medal count. We recently had the fortune of horse shopping in Holland and our hosts were planning to take a few of their horses to a show. They decided to enter the Saturday show on Tuesday, which is commonplace. The classes were 15 euros each, so let’s just round up and call it $20 dollars, which is also commonplace. They drove 15 minutes down the road, rode their two classes back-to-back (also commonplace) and made it home in time for dinner, all for less than the cost of taking my family of five out for pizza. I assure you that it is not lost on me that all of Holland could practically fit in the state of Rhode Island, but surely we could learn a lesson or two from the Dutch!

If our already esoteric sport is to survive, we must make it simpler and less expensive. Now I can appreciate that the FEI is not unlike the Catholic Church, where changes in doctrine occur over centuries, so little can be done about the cost of CDIs and those ridiculous FEI passports, but the average amateur should not have to consider taking out a second mortgage to have a competitive season. Please USEF and USDF, I hope you are listening! After all, I still have three children to put through college and I am not holding my breath for a dressage scholarship!

Wendy Riddell is a USDF bronze, silver and gold medalist. She competed in her first Grand Prix at the age of 18, and has since competed Grand Prix successfully on four different horses, one of whom she trained to Grand Prix from the age of three. As a young rider, Wendy competed five times at the North American Young Rider Championships, placing first in the Team Test and earning her team a bronze medal, with a 7th place individual finish. She is also a past recipient of the Asmis Grant from the United States Equestrian Federation to train and compete abroad, and spent a year as a working student with Johann Hinnemann. She has won numerous state and Regional Championships. She currently has her own private barn in Scottsdale, Arizona, where she enjoys riding with her two daughters, Kenzie  and Kali, and on occasion, her son Tate. When she is not riding, she is practicing law and is the Managing Member of the firm Berry Riddell, LLC.

Do you have strong feelings about certain aspects of dressage sport or culture? We welcome thoughtful opinion pieces on relevant topics and issues. Email your submission to dressagetoday@aimmedia.com. 

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