The Benefits of Joining Equestrian Associations
Joining equestrian associations and riding clubs is for everyone, from the pleasure horse owner to the international competitor. Trail riding, showing, education, new friends—there’s something for all of us.
Many clubs organize horse shows, either one or a series throughout the year. These may be simple schooling shows suitable for inexperienced riders, riders wishing to compete in a low-key situation or riders (often professional) introducing green horses to showing. Other clubs run larger recognized competitions for more experienced riders and horses.
Charles River Dressage Association (CRDA) puts on four dressage schooling shows a year in Millis, Mass. Chris Dunham, CRDA President, says, “Although we run unrecognized shows, we try to follow USEF/USDF rules and put on high-quality shows with a friendly, relaxed atmosphere. Our shows are open to everyone but CRDA members pay a lower entry fee.”
Green Mountain Horse Association (GMHA) in South Woodstock, Vt., has a permanent show facility with stabling, sand rings and cross-country courses. They host a variety of competitions—hunter shows, dressage shows, events, driving events and competitive trail rides. Some competitions are schooling shows while others are nationally recognized. GMHA members can use the stabling and riding facilities whenever competitions or clinics are not in progress. Special activities are also organized for members throughout the year.
Nationally recognized competitions fall under the rules of the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) for all disciplines as well as the national affiliates for specific breeds and disciplines (such as the United States Dressage Federation, United States Eventing Association and United States Hunter/Jumper Association). Members receive rule books and both horse and rider must be members in order to compete.
Being a member of any club or association gets you on their mailing list. You will receive calendars with all the competition dates and contact information for entries. Most organizations have monthly newsletters and/or magazines to keep you informed of their activities.
If you are trying to qualify for year-end awards, be it a high score in dressage or completing a certain number of miles on the trail, you must be a member of the organization that is sponsoring the award to be eligible. And that means joining before you start riding in qualifying competitions.
In New England, there are numerous hunt seat equitation finals competitions in the fall—New England Equitation Championships, Massachusetts Horsemen’s Council Days of Champions, South East Hunter Association Medal Finals—as well as the national level equitation finals (USEF Medal, Maclay, USET). Cookie DeSimone, head instructor at Dana Hall School Riding Center and co-owner of Woodridge Farm, reminds all equitation riders to join the appropriate associations before they start showing in the spring. “On several occasions, I have had a student win an equitation class and then I find out, after the fact, that the win will not qualify the rider to compete at the finals because he/she did not join the appropriate organization before showing in the class. So please remember—if you are not a member, it won’t count.”
Education is a part of many organizations and that includes both mounted clinics and unmounted seminars. CRDA organizes numerous 1-3 day clinics with well-known dressage instructors. Chris says, “Our club subsidizes the clinics so that our members get top-quality lessons at a price that fits their budget. We keep the clinics low-key so that all levels of riders feel welcome to participate and auditors are encouraged to attend. Our goal for 2008 is one clinic per month.”
In the past, CRDA has had unmounted clinics on how to be a scribe for dressage judges and Pilates exercises for riders. Chris hopes to have a clinic on top-notch show grooming for 2008.
Even national organizations get involved with horsemanship education. The 2007 USDF Annual Convention in Florida was focused entirely on horse health issues. The USDF partnered with the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) to present fourteen seminars on topics including digestive problems, joint health and soundness, rehabilitation after injury, footing and contagious diseases. With this convention, the USDF wanted to emphasize that correct training and health management are intertwined in a symbiotic relationship that leads to a happy horse performing at its best.
Where are the best trails to ride on? How can we preserve trails and open space for future generations of riders? Some clubs focus on trail riding, such as the Bay State Trail Riders Association (BSTRA), while others like GMHA have trail riding as just one of their many activities.
Becky Kalagher is the president of BSTRA and an active trail rider. “A club like BSTRA is fun for the whole family. We have different types of activities for trail riders, ranging from pleasure rides (poker ride, scavenger hunt), to hunter paces, to camp outs. There are reduced ride rates for members. Going on a marked ride with BSTRA will show you new places to trail ride that you can return to later on your own.” I can vouch for the latter as I take my event horses on conditioning outings to several trail networks that I learned about from BSTRA rides.
Keeping trails available for us to ride on takes a lot of work, both physical and legislative. BSTRA and GMHA organize trail work days throughout the year. Club members remove fallen branches/trees, cut back brush and install water bars to prevent erosion. Some BSTRA volunteers have even installed horse-friendly gates and foot bridges. GMHA runs long-distance competitive trail rides (50-100 miles) so they are constantly working with landowners to allow riders to cross private property.
The trails must often be shared with hikers and mountain bikers, including trails on both public and private land. Becky says, “BSTRA has a member as the equine representative on the Massachusetts Recreational Trails Advisory Board. We have great working relationships with various land-owning agencies such as the Dept. of Conservation and Recreation, the Army Corps of Engineers, towns and some land trusts.
“Since we are a recognized group, agencies, towns and people come to us for advice and input regarding horse and trail issues. We keep members informed on these issues. And our members in turn give back to the trails in terms of maintenance, preservation and acquisition.”
Every equine activity requires volunteers, from the bit checker at the dressage ring, to the cross-country fence judge, to the person who ties all those pink ribbons on the trees to mark the trail route. So that all of the work doesn’t fall on a few members’ shoulders, most clubs like CRDA and BSTRA require members to perform a minimum number of volunteer hours of labor in order to be eligible for year-end awards related to their riding activities.
Chris says, “Many members like to volunteer at small shows like ours before giving their time to help at a big, high-pressure competition like the New England Dressage Association’s Fall Festival.” Becky finds a lot of enthusiasm for trail activities among BSTRA volunteers, with “the majority of the participants far exceeding the minimum number of hours required.”
Make New Friends
If you are a horse owner who has just moved into a new area, the best way to get to know your horse-owning neighbors is through local horse clubs. BSTRA fosters these friendships by having catered meals for riders and their families after most of their trail rides. While the horses munch on hay in their trailers, the people sit around picnic tables enjoying pizza, subs or barbecued chicken.
Knowing horse people in your area is a great way to “network” for new ideas. Do you need a competent horse sitter when you go away for weekends? Do you need to find a farrier who has experience shoeing foundered horses? Where is there a good place to gallop your event horse so that he’ll be fit enough next spring?
Striking up new friendships can be profitable if you are in an equine-related business. I consider myself an outgoing, friendly person and when I’m at competitions, I always strike up a conversation with the folks who are parked or stabled next to me. It helps to pass the time and the conversation often comes around to what we do for “real jobs.” I mention that I am a magazine author and equine massage therapist. You never know—once in a while I make a contact for writing a future article or end up with a new massage client.
There is a familiar expression “Membership has its privileges.” So get out your checkbook and fill out those forms because many wonderful things will come from joining.
Sue Perry is a Certified Veterinary Technician and equine massage therapist. She lives in Upton, Mass., with three event horses and runs “Muscle Magic,” an equine massage service.