How to Grow a Dressage Group Member Organization


Driven by sport horse breeders, dressage enthusiasts who moved into the state, and longtime South Dakota equestrians who had been working on their craft, practically in isolation, the Central Dakota Dressage & Combined Training Association started as a chapter of the South Dakota Dressage Society (SDDS) in the spring of 2000 after several founding members met at the first Statewide Dressage Planning Meeting Thanksgiving Weekend, 1999.

The clear message from the statewide planning meeting was (a) we have sport horse breeders with no sport horse breeding shows in state to market or compete their horses, (b) there was enough interest in central SD to start a dressage and eventing group and begin to hold clinics and workshops, and (c) there was a parent Group Member Organization (GMO) — SDDS – to help us get started. Lloyd Landkammer (supporter of all dressage growth!), Jeanie Arhenholz (Region 4 Director) Carol Bailey (SDDS), and I (Sarah Patrick, founding member of CDDCTA) met together at the USDF Convention and laid the groundwork for the new chapter. I was soon asked to serve as the Region 4 Adult Education Coordinator and set out with Jeanie to develop and disseminate the first regional adult education needs survey. This survey also assisted us with the development of our future GMO.

Central SD had few existing dressage riders and no official trainers at that time, though we did have sport horse breeders such as Ann Daum and Joni Packard-Larson, a former working student of Nancy Chesney’s (Nancy, by the way, was originally from SD). Teddie Adamski loved jumping and was a well known local horsewoman with over 20 years experience as a 4-H leader who thought Pierre was ready to try dressage. Third level dressage rider Patty Schultz soon moved into the area and we had enough of a critical mass to start organizing “Dressage 101” clinics for 4-H groups and general riding club members in the area. Jean Thoreson, from the eastern part of the state, judged our first schooling day and she and her daughter Tracie gave a demonstration on Jean’s 4th level mount, Cha-Chi. I’ll never forget the first “test” in which the rider, totally new to dressage, talked to her horse throughout the ride. Jean and I gave up trying to get her attention to let her know that voice commands are not allowed! We’ve come a long way, though-that rider is now at Second Level and will be a Participating Instructor in the USDF Certified Instructor Program for Training-Second Level in SD this summer.

Our first ‘Dressage 101’ workshop for 4-Hers drew 21 participants IN JANUARY! Several (kids and adults) from that clinic have become dedicated members of our group. Five 4-H riders from that day participated in their first recognized dressage shows and one was on the Junior/Young Rider team we supported last summer.

Educational outreach has taken many forms. Because we have a great statewide library system (and it is no fun to chase down books and videos you lend a friend!), we began donating dressage and eventing books, audiotapes, and videos to the library system. Each items is donated on behalf of the group and the USDF web-site is listed on the item with an invitation to ‘join our fun group’.

Early on we realized we needed professional dressage help that was sorely unavailable in SD. Although SD is home to FEI riders Craig Heckert and August Anderson, both are very busy, with their own horses/riders to train. We looked outside our area and forged a wonderful relationship with German-trained dressage rider/trainer, George Schimpf. George provided two weekend Adult Dressage Camps and continues to provide clinics frequently.

USDF Region 4 has provided financial assistance through both Adult Education dollars, as well as Junior/YR scholarships. In the past, we have applied for $100 youth scholarships to reduce clinic costs for a group of youths, rather than for specific riders. Some of these riders were very elementary in their riding knowledge and, as one person told me, “These riders would never qualify for a scholarship in my Region.”


Well, perhaps, but that is where we are starting and these riders have been solid members of our GMO. The good provided to their horses and to the good will of this sport has been well worth the $100 invested by the Region. Region 4 has always been very gracious and encouraging of our members, something that has spurred the growth and expertise of our group. I believe this is a value of which the Region should be proud! Had we come in as “Dressage Queens” to a western and proud-to-be-independent society such as South Dakota, I don’t think we would have been well received.

The South Dakota Horse Fair has provided opportunities to market dressage to a much larger audience. USDF has helped us by providing brochures, tri-fold displays, and banners. Once, a youth quadrille was going to perform as part of the dressage demo. The SDHF is held in a cavernous, noisy, busy facility and one of the horses in the quadrille decided to change the test to “Enter, Working Hand Gallop” and the fireworks began. Needless to say, the quadrille exited as soon as everyone could calm down, but rather than create bad PR for dressage, the fact that everyone stayed mounted in spite of a great display of speed and energy resulted in an overheard comment from a Rail Bird, “Geeze, I didn’t know dressage riders could RIDE!”

It was at that SDHF that a South Dakota Public Television producer saw our booth, featuring PSG-Horse of the Year for the American Trakener Society, Meisterwind. She picked up literature on our group and called me. Soon we were planning the filming of a segment on dressage for a public television show called “Dakota Life.” Filmed in the spring of 2001 and including riders, barns, and events across the state, the 9-minute segment on dressage has aired first in May 2002 and has had repeat airings. It is available to watch on-line, as well. We have asked producer Stephanie Rissler if she would be willing to film an update this summer when we have our USDF Certified Instructor Workshops with Melanie Tenney, Sarah Geikie, and Lendon Gray.

In April 2002, we had enough members (25) to start our own GMO, so we struck off on our own, thanking SDDS for helping us get started. We also set the goal of winning the national Small GMO Membership Campaign. We tracked membership growth and published updates in our newsletter. We talked to interested riders and ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS invited them to ‘join our fun group’. We made sure to keep it fun, too! We upgraded the show we had been holding at the State Fair the past two years to a USDF/USAE recognized Dressage and Sport Horse Breeder’s show and sought out new members there, too. Our active membership spanned from 9 to 63 years of age and, lo and behold, by November 1 (contest cut off) we had 61 members for a 129% membership growth (since April!) and we won the $1,000 prize.

This prize was then used as seed money so we could hold the lungeing, riding/training, and teaching workshops of the USDF Certified Instructor Training-Second Level workshops in 2003. The Dressage Foundation, noting the need for more certified instructors in the Region and the successes of our group, provided a $2,000 Vi Hopkins Grant, and then USDF Region 4 contributed $500 from the Adult Education fund to help keep expenses low, as participants have unusually high travel expenses to cover the large distances in the Dakotas. This spawned a great deal of membership growth in North Dakota, a state currently with no GMO but whose dressage groups are enthusiastic and have been in communication with our group for many months. In order to further emphasize our geographic coverage, we changed our GMO name to ‘Dakota Dressage & Eventing’ in December 2002 and changed our own bylaws to support chapters. We hope to spawn chapters in Sioux Falls and Aberdeen, SD as well as Bismarck, ND and possibly Fargo, if the ND groups choose not to become a GMO on their own.

Why is dressage growing in the Dakotas? Well, my opinion is that, like elsewhere, we love our horses and want to improve our partnerships with them. We have several enthusiastic dressage lovers who are willing to give a great deal of time and energy to the dissemination of dressage education and competition. Each member of our GMO has something to contribute and is valued for that contribution. We tell people our great story through press releases, motivational lectures, and media interviews. Lastly, we’ve had a lot of support from organizations and professionals outside the Dakotas. You know, your GMO could just as easily do these things, as well! We’d be glad to help. Just give us a call or pop us an email!

Sarah Patrick, USDF Group Member Organization Liaison for Small GMOs in Region 4, is featured in the “My Life” column of the July 2003 issue of Practical Horseman. You can e-mail her at [email protected]