Welcoming Dressage Fans

Bill Moroney, CEO of the USEF (note the “E”), presented a report to the Board of Governor’s meeting at the USDF (note the “D”) Convention last week. A lot is going on with the USEF right now in the way of restructuring, and much of it will affect the USDF since we’ll be taking over some new responsibilities, including more in the area of judge education.

While I was paying close attention to anything involving a change in the relationship between the USEF and USDF, the part that really made me sit up and take notice was when Moroney said he’d recently become aware of how many members of European equestrian organizations were “non-competing” and thus were more closely identified as fans of the sport. In other words, those groups had a significant portion of members deeply interested in equestrian sports who joined because they wanted to, not because they had to.

Dressage – indeed many horse sports – has always seemed to me to be the ultimate participant’s sport, finding its base of support in the people who do it much more than in the people who watch it. Grand Prix level dressage, especially freestyles, can certainly interest spectators, but just think about how many non-riding fans dressage has vs., for example, major league baseball.

As hard as this is for many of us to imagine, some find just sitting and watching dressage, especially lower-level dressage, to be rather dull unless they personally know the rider in the ring. I should say that I once covered a national-level archery competition for a major newspaper, and that has forever been my definition of deadly dull. I only jolted to attention when yelling broke out as someone scored a rare “William Tell,” which I subsequently learned is when one archer splits the arrow of the previous archer. Could that be the dressage equivalent of . . . ? Well, I can’t think of a dressage equivalent.

So, Moroney’s reference about a wider fan-base for equestrian sports organizations to plum for members really got the wheels turning. Certainly, this might be an area where some imaginative thinkers who belong to a local USDF Group Member Organization might be able to entice some new members, people who think that dressage is interesting even though they themselves don’t ride or maybe even own a horse. Most club activities on the local level are usually centered some way around riding – competing, clinics and awards – not on just enjoying horses.

I really don’t know how, or even if, it would work, but the essence of a club is when like-minded people join together for a common purpose. If people simply enjoy watching dressage or learning about dressage or cheering on their dressage stars, there should be some way to include them in an organization of people who ride dressage.

While we’re at it, my ears also pricked when I heard that the USEF is going to start referring to itself more as U.S. Equestrian, which is a close throwback to the name (USA Equestrian) it had between AHSA and USEF a decade back, while still retaining the formal name of U.S. Equestrian Federation. I am thrilled to hear it. Ever since the name change to USEF, it has been hard for many people to distinguish between its functions and those of the USDF because the names sounded so similar. 






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