Jun 23, 2021

Inside the Show Office: Commonwealth Dressage & Combined Training Association

Produced through a partnership between STRIDER & USEA, these Behind-the-Scenes Horse Show Spotlights feature conversations with competition organizers to explore the origins of their horse shows, some challenges of equestrian activity management, and the communities that make it all happen.

“Schooling shows are about learning, not about being intimidated,” says Miranda Kettlewell, VP of Dressage for Commonwealth Dressage and Combined Training Association (CDCTA).

For horses and riders, schooling shows are a great way to practice without the added stress and expense of a recognized or sanctioned competition. Venues and clubs can offer schooling shows as a way to open the door to their communities, increase their revenue or membership, and partner with local businesses.

CDCTA is a USDF-affiliated Group Member Organization (GMO) based in the heart of Northern Virginia’s Horse Country whose 180 members range from trail riders who seek community activities to active competitors at all levels of eventing, dressage, and show jumping.

In addition to various recognized dressage shows and horse trials, CDCTA offers a weekday Dressage Schooling Show Series in the summer, held monthly at Great Meadow’s Fleming Arena in The Plains, VA as well as a unique Combined Test format featuring Dressage and Cross Country phases at Win Green Farm in Rhoadesville, VA. This past year they also introduced a successful Winter Schooling Show Series at Meadow Lark Farm in The Plains, VA.

“We always seem to have a show these days. As we speak, I am recovering from one yesterday!” says Kettlewell, who organizes the Thursday Evening Dressage Show Series at Great Meadow.

Janet Gallay Photo

STRIDER caught up with CDCTA Board Members and horse show organizers Miranda Kettlewell and Karen Conk to discuss their curated schooling opportunities which offer great experiences for riders working at all levels and have led to a growth in membership for their USDF-affiliated Group Member Organization (GMO).

Creator and organizer of CDCTA’s Cross-Country Combined Test Series Karen Conk has been involved with the club for 20-25 years, first as a member when she joined in middle school and now as a Board Member. As the owner and head trainer at Bright Moon Eventing, Conk has an interest in creating opportunities that foster the growth of the sport. In creating the Combined Test Series, she recognized and prioritized the importance of an inviting, encouraging atmosphere.

“Some of the schooling options in our area can be intimidating, especially when they take place at facilities that also host recognized events,” says Conk.

“With the Combined Test Series we put an emphasis on making the cross country very inviting- it’s an opportunity for people to move up a level or try it out for the first time. Water and ditches are always options, it’s a bit of a ‘choose your own adventure’-type course. To do something different was really the goal.”

“We recently had a group of hunter riders enter who wanted to try something new, so their trainer brought a big group. That exposure isn’t our only goal but it’s a big part of this series.”

“The unique format of the Combined Tests with dressage and cross country was intentional. When I first joined the [CDCTA] Board we had recognized Horse Trials twice a year and there was a lot of emphasis on dressage. There really weren’t many schooling options for eventers. So, I started to brainstorm what could set us apart and make us unique- we don’t own show jumps or have fancy footing to our name, and we don’t own a farm. At WinGreen, the facility we use for our XC combined tests, I set the competition course with the existing fences on their cross-country field.”

Conk points out that working with WinGreen’s owners is a great experience, but the logistics can make for particularly long days. “The worst part is that I live about a two-hour drive each way from the venue, but I so enjoy seeing all of the riders enjoy the combined tests. They come off of cross-country with a smile, and that’s why I do it.”

Similarly, for Dressage Schooling Show organizer Miranda Kettlewell, the rewards of offering the greater equestrian community a professionally run schooling show with a positive atmosphere far outweigh the organizational challenges.

Janet Gallay Photo

“My number one frustration is that people are late with their entries. Historically these schooling shows were a single-ring, single-judge show, but now that we host at Great Meadow’s Fleming Arena we can accommodate two rings. The catch is that I need to know well in advance how many judges to hire! For our most recent show, I had a waitlist of nearly 30 but had they signed up a week earlier we would have arranged that second judge and ring.”

“The weekday schooling shows were started in the early 2000s by another CDCTA Board Member. They used to be at the Warrenton Horse Show Grounds under the lights, they started at 4:00 pm and typically ran until about 9:00 pm or later! They really started growing when we started using STRIDER in 2017 to collect entries online, that was one of the changes [Kettlewell] instituted to make organizing easier and make the role more appealing to volunteers.”

“Running schooling shows is a lot of fun and really enjoyable. The June show was the first time since COVID that there was no spectator limit so people were really having a good time. Many of the local barns and trainers in dressage and eventing schedule it as a weekday outing, and they all come to support one another.”

CDCTA’s Thursday schooling shows offer a great experience for riders competing at their first-ever show and even attract quite a few of the local Upper-Level riders in eventing and dressage. Five-star riders Sharon White, Lauren Nicholson (Kieffer), Emily Beshear, and Ema Klugman, to name a few, have all brought horses and students to compete.

“Our schooling shows are helping us to grow our membership. We get so much positive feedback from people at the shows and after, our judges are happy and our competitors keep coming back,” Kettlewell says.

For more information on CDCTA as well as access to their public events calendar, visit https://cdcta.clubexpress.com/ . Entries and details for upcoming CDCTA shows can be accessed via www.striderpro.com .

STRIDER is the leading entry platform across disciplines for the equestrian industry. From enabling riders to discover and book the perfect opportunity to helping equestrians across the industry grow and run their businesses, STRIDER fosters connections to top-tier experiences. Please visit www.striderpro.com to learn more about the suite of software products and services available.

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