The season of finals is upon us (for those of you also in school), and I admit I am ready for a break. It has been a great semester full of practicing and riding, and there are even a few more fun events coming up before I move home for winter break. Since the dressage team just competed at the last Intercollegiate Dressage Association (IDA) show of the semester last weekend, I thought this would be a good time to give you all a little run-down of how these shows work.
In the U.S., there are currently 53 member schools in the IDA, divided up into nine regions. Schools within these regions compete with each other throughout both fall and spring semesters, and each one is required to host one show per year as long as they have the horses available. In the spring, one school also hosts IDA Nationals.
As the number of schools in each region vary, so does the number of shows that we attend every semester. This semester, three shows out of the originally planned four were held in our region. Our first show fell on Halloween, and the remaining shows were held the two weekends following. Since the other schools in our region are all at least a few hours away, we make them overnight trips. These are particularly fun and make for some great team bonding time. Everyone loves it when I suggest we do lots of stretching and foam rolling the night before. Or at least they love it after the fact.
The morning of the show starts early like almost every other horse show, beginning with a coaches and captains meeting. It is during this time that the names of our horses are drawn out of a hat. The hosting school provides three to four horses per riding level including alternatives, and the levels include First level, Upper Training, Lower Training, and Introductory. The horse you ride in each show is truly “the luck of the draw.”
Once all of the teams have drawn horses for their riders, there is a “Parade of Horses”. The horses are brought out by group and shown performing all the movements their respective tests will require. For example, First level horses are typically shown walking, trotting, cantering, leg-yielding, and extending the gaits. The competition starts with the First level tests, followed by Upper Training, Lower Training, then Intro.
Now for the fun part. When it comes time for your ride, you have just ten minutes from the time you get on to warm up before the test. TEN MINUTES on a horse you have never ridden, possibly never seen before. You need to figure out your horse’s “buttons” very quickly, and do everything in your power to ride an accurate, consistent, and harmonious test. You are judged the same as anyone else in a “normal” dressage show would be, but on a very unfamiliar horse. Certainly no easy task, folks.
This is where some nerves can kick in if you let them, but remaining a calm, confident, and effective rider will pay off big time. It will also make the experience much more enjoyable and build your strengths as a rider.
Personally, I love how these IDA competitions are run and the challenges they present. Here at school, I ride multiple horses each week and sometimes a horse I have never been on for dressage practice. We make our practices like this intentionally to help prepare us for the show environment.
There is something thrilling about going into a show knowing that the other riders on your level have the same chance as you to draw the consistent, “school master” horse, or even the horse that is about as supple as a board. While drawing a nice horse can give you an advantage, it is ultimately up to you how your ride goes.
I was fortunate to draw very good rides at all three of the shows, especially the last one of the season. You may recall seeing a picture of me showing on a tall, bay horse at an IDA show in my very first blog post for EquiSearch. At the same venue this semester, I happened to draw the same horse for my test. It was highly unlikely to happen, mainly because I had been moved up a level to Upper Training since my freshman year. It turned out this horse had been moved up as well.
After riding him my freshman year, I joked around about how much I wanted to take him home with me. I wasn’t joking about it anymore after our ride this semester, especially after learning that he had previously been owned by Beezie Madden. Talk about a dream horse.
Regardless of which horse you draw on show day, IDA shows are a ton of fun. The IDA fosters a sense of community among schools and encourages riders of all levels to enjoy dressage.
If you are looking to go to college in the near future and are interested in the IDA, check out their website to see if the schools you are interested in are members here
To my fellow college students during rapidly approaching finals: keep your coffee strong, mind sharp, and lets finish the semester strong! Be sure to get in some quality horse time to relieve stress too.
Until next time,