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Young & Developing Horses (and Young & Developing Riders) Share the Spotlight at Lamplight

Imagine you’re warming up for a dressage test in the same arena as . . . Laura Graves! And your judges include . . . FEI 5* judge Gary Rockwell! And then George Williams, the USDF President strolls by! This is what it was like the last weekend in August at Lamplight Equestrian Center in Wayne, IL. This premier show facility in the Midwest hosted the 2017 Markel/USEF Young & Developing Horse Dressage National Championships, the US Dressage Festival of Champions, and the USEF Dressage Seat Medal Finals, and I got to have an “inside” seat!

Because I’m lucky to have such high-caliber dressage on display so close to me, I try to attend this event every year as either a spectator or volunteer. This year, I was asked to assist in the Young Horse Classes (which include the four-year old, five-year-old, and six-year-old divisions), as well as the Dressage Seat Medal Semi-Finals and Finals in the 13 & Under Division. Normally my role is scribe, where you write down the judge’s comments and scores on the test sheet. However, these classes are a bit different so let me explain.

In the Young Horse Classes, each pair performs a “regular” dressage test, with the 4yo test equivalent to 1st level, the 5yo test equivalent to 2nd level, and the 6yo test equivalent to 3rd level. However, instead of a box per movement requiring a comment and score, there are only five boxes or categories:

• Walk
• Trot
• Canter
• Submission
• Perspective

At Young Horse qualifying shows there are two judges at C, softly conversing with each other during the test about the positive qualities of the horse, as well as the areas that may need improvement, in each category above. There is one scribe who jots down their thoughts and one “spotter” who follows along with the test to make sure there are no errors of course so the judges can focus on the quality of the work instead of the pattern and movements. At the end of the test, the two judges reach consensus and the scribe writes a few sentences in each box, along with a score for each (6.8, 7.2, 8.4). Then the head judge calls the rider over (who has remained in the ring) and shares highlights of the test, strengths and weaknesses of the horse, and generally gives a positive outlook for its FEI high performance future.

However, at the Championships, there are two judges at C as well as two judges at E for a total of four judges. Each set of judges has one scribe and one spotter and my role at this year’s Young & Developing Horse Dressage National Championships was as spotter for the (head) judges at C. It’s a bit of a stressful role, as judge Lilo Fore told me “be 110% sure before you tell us ‘off course’ because I’m going to immediately ring the bell when you say it.” Yikes!

Obviously, the judges were more on the hot seat than me, but I was terrified to let my attention waver for even one second or I would lose my place in the test or allow a rider to continue in the wrong pattern. There’s nothing like National Championships or live streaming on the USEF Network to make you pay attention!

In addition to the Young Horse classes, I was also asked to assist with the Dressage Seat Medal classes. Being equitation classes, these too are different from “regular” dressage tests. There were 15 riders in the 13 & Under division, and they were all in the ring at the same time for the walk and trot portion of the test, which is run pretty much like any ring class that you might see at an English or western open show (walk, trot, canter, walk, reverse, repeat). In this case, the class was split to canter and also to ride a short pattern that included some transitions, figures, and leg yielding.

The semi-finals consisted of two judges, each with a scribe, who stayed together for the duration of the class, while the finals consisted of three judges (also with their own scribe) who each “staked out” a portion of the arena so that no area was safe from their eyes! Because these classes can really run long unless the judges are organized, before the class even started the semi-final judges made a point of having us scribes write down each pair’s number along with an obvious identifier so that we could quickly find them on our sheet without searching. For example, we noted a Haflinger, a girl with a purple jacket, a horse with four white socks, and so on. I was partnered with Lois Yukins for the finals, and was amazed at how quickly she separated the class into a top third, a middle third, and a bottom third, and impressed that she wasn’t just looking for the prettiest poser, but for the kid with correct position that could actually ride, with a following seat and elastic contact.

Whether it’s the beautiful landscaping or the beautiful horses, there’s no place I’d rather be the third week of August than Lamplight Equestrian Center!

Lydia F. Gray, DVM, MA SmartPak Staff Veterinarian and Medical Director Dr. Lydia Gray has earned a Bachelor of Science in agriculture, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), and a Master of Arts focusing on interpersonal and organizational communication. After “retiring” from private practice, she put her experience and education to work as the American Association of Equine Practitioner’s first-ever Director of Owner Education. Dr. Gray continues to provide health and nutrition information to horse owners through her position at SmartPak, through publication in more than a dozen general and trade publications, and through presentations around the country. She is the very proud owner of a Trakehner named Newman that she actively competes with in dressage and combined driving. In addition to memberships in the USDF and USEF, Dr. Gray is also a member of the Illinois Dressage and Combined Training Association (IDCTA). She is a USDF “L” Program Graduate and is currently working on her Bronze Medal. Find Dr. Gray on Google+

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