Today dressage is one of the fastest growing equestrian sports. It is also the second largest discipline monitored and governed by the American Horse Shows Association (the first being hunters and jumpers). In 1996, the USDF boasts a membership of almost 30,000 individuals. But dressage would not be where it is today if it were not for the contributions of our fair state of Maryland, as a cursory glance over the history of dressage in the United States attests. The contributions of the late Carl-Heinrich Asmis (Never Die Farm, Sykesville) and Col. Bengt Ljungquist, as well as several others, are legendary. Mr. Asmis, having emigrated to the U.S. from Germany in 1921 (where he was a colonel in the German cavalry) was one of this country’s first dressage trainers, served on all the founding dressage boards for AHSA, and helped develop the Olympic Equestrian Games’ rules and regulations. Much of his work is continued today by his daughter Helen Asmis Clifford, at Dedication Farm in Sykesville, and through the scholarship she and her mother founded in his honor – the Carl-Heinrich Asmis Dressage Scholarship Fund, which helps deserving American riders further their studies with top dressage trainers throughout the world. Winners of this scholarship include such dressage luminaries as Carol Lavell, Lendon Gray, Anne Gribbons, and Linda Zang.
Through the 1948 Olympics (the first after WWI), the United States military fielded all the equestrian teams. The 1948 dressage team earned a silver medal at the London Olympics, and soon afterwards, the United States government decided that the Cavalry had served its time, and was to be terminated, although some officers continued to compete and train as civilians. The 1950s and 1960s were difficult times in the United States for dressage; there was a huge void left by the withdrawal of the military, and the appeal of dressage had still not hit the average equestrian, there was no organizing body (like USDF), and if anyone did wish to compete, the options were limited, so many of our early competitors packed up and moved to Europe to train and compete.
The early 1960s would forever change the nature of dressage in the U.S., as Frederick “Stretch” Harting founded the Potomac Horse Center, and introduced Maryland to Col. Bengt Ljungquist, although he would eventually settle at Linda Zang’s Idlewilde Farm in Davidsonville. Riders from all over the country came to work with Ljungquist, including Hilda Gurney, a member of the 1976 bronze medal team at Montreal – the first civilian dressage team Olympic medal; Robert Dover a member of the bronze medal winning 1996 Olympic Dressage Team in Atlanta; Kay Meredith, still a frequent clinician in Maryland; and AHSA “I” judge Elizabeth Madlener, who still makes Maryland her home. 17 years after his death, Col. Ljungquist continues to influence dressage in the United States, through his writings, the teachings of his students, and the Col. Bengt Ljungquist Memorial Championships, which are a series of regional dressage competitions founded in 1983 to encourage competition at the AHSA levels.
Harting’s goal in starting the Potomac Horse Center was to “foster the Olympic spirit” and to give people a place where they could receive proper training. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Potomac Horse Center grew to be the largest riding school in the U.S., and one of the few to offer instruction through “high school,” as the highest levels of dressage were often referred to at the time. Over the years, the Potomac Horse Center has produced such renowned riders and trainers as Linda Zang, now an FEI “O” judge, and a dressage judge at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta; — USET member Kay Meredith; — USET member Elizabeth Lewis; international combined training judge Sally O’Connor; Ginna La Croix the resident trainer at Sundance Farm in Potomac; Grant Schneidman of Glyndon; in addition to Wendy Carlson, Gretchen Verbonic, and Linda Oliver.
The Potomac Horse Center gave birth to the Potomac Valley Dressage Association in 1964. Founding members included Sally O’Connor, Linda Zang, the late Col. Donald W. Thackeray (the only person in the world to be licensed as an “O” judge in all four World Championship disciplines), and renowned event riders Col. Anderson and Gen. Jonathan Burton, and Col. Clarence Edmonds.
Located in the United States Dressage Federation’s Region 1, one of the most active of all the USDF regions (although not the largest geographically) the Potomac Valley Dressage Association is the nation’s second oldest dressage association. PVDA president Deri Jeffers proudly noted that PVDA celebrated its 30th anniversary with membership exceeding 1,200. Combined with the over 250 members of the independent Maryland Dressage Association, there are perhaps more dressage riders, shows, clinics and judges per square mile in our tiny state of Maryland than in any other state. Former PVDA president Ingrid Gentry noted that “[for shows] you can be so choosy. Even for recognized shows, you don’t have to drive, if you don’t want to, farther that 2 hours, and still have plenty of recognized shows. . . and countless schooling shows! But in other states, they have to drive over 100 miles to attend a schooling show. We are so fortunate and spoiled. We can choose instructors and judges too. It’s unbelievable.”
Our Cup Runneth Over
Ingrid Gentry is correct; we are spoiled, and Maryland is still a center of dressage in the United States. For example, Region I has over 91 licensed judges. Region 7, which encompasses California and is home to the largest local dressage association, has only about 55.
The American Horse Shows Association is responsible for licensing judges in the United States: “Recorded” judges, known as little “r” judges, are licensed to judge Training through 2nd Level; “Registered” judges, or big “R” judges, are licensed through 4th Level; International judges, “I” judges, are licensed to judge through the international levels of Grand Prix. Making things a little confusing, the Federation Equestre Internationale also appoints judges for international competitions: there is the International Candidate or “C” judge; the FEI International judge, or “I” (which should not be confused with the AHSA “I” judge); and the FEI “O” judge, which does not mean Olympic, but “Official”, and is the highest level of judge (one of the requirements is that the judge must be fluent in one of the two official languages of the FEI – English, and French). FEI judges are qualified to judge various levels of international competition, including World Championships and the Olympics. There are only 20 FEI licenced “O” dressage judges in the world, and only two in the United States, one of whom is the Davidsonville resident, Linda Zang.
Maryland is also home to one of the 10 qualified examiners for the USDF’s Instructors Certification Program, Felicitas von Neumann Cosel of First Choice Farm in Woodbine, who received the most prestigious German certification of Reitlehrer with the highest score ever awarded. Felicitas is one of the 10 examiners who licensed Becky Langwost. Becky is from the first “graduating class” of qualified instructors, and she is the only one to hold such certification in Maryland. Becky is not resting on her laurels, however, and with the support of her training facility, the Potomac Horse Center, she has set her sights on the Olympic Games in 2000 in Sydney, Australia. Although the Potomac Horse Center is no longer under the auspices of the Harting family, the goals and vision that guided founder Stretch Harting as he tried to “foster the Olympic spirit” continue today under the aegis of Paul Novograd, as a new generation of athletes prepares to take center stage. Partnered with a 17H, bay Dutch Warmblood gelding named Feolite or “Billy”, Becky promises to be a competitor to watch over the next four years.
Maryland’s reputation is world-wide, attracting such internationally renowned clinicians as Reiner Klimke and Charles de Kunffy, Gunnar Ostergaard, Jean-Luc Cornille, and Bent Jensen. In addition, in the fall of 1994 we hosted the Washington International Dressage Classic, the qualifying competition for the 1995 Pan American Games for both the United States Equestrian Team and the Canadian Equestrian Federation. The U.S. League finals for the Volvo World Cup will be held in October at the Washington International Horse Show. Maryland is also home to Dressage Today magazine, published by Fleet Street, in Gaithersburg, the publishers of the award winning Equus.
HOW THE ORGANIZATIONS ARE ORGANIZED
The Federation Equestre Internationale is the international governing body of equestrian sports, regulating such international competition as World Cups, Pan Am Games, and the Olympic Games.
Every country has a “National Federation” which oversees competition within the country and assists in coordinating world equestrian events and which is a liaison with the FEI . The American Horse Shows Association is America’s “FN”. It is the AHSA which approves and licenses all American horse show officials, including judges.
The United States Dressage Federation, Inc. is a non-profit educational organization that organizes competition, award programs, seminars, workshops, forums and clinics. The USDF has recently started certifying instructors through a very rigorous program.
Although AHSA licenses dressage judges, USDF provides a preliminary program, called the Learner Education Program, which all candidates are required to complete before they can begin their actual certification with AHSA. USDF uses the local affiliates to organize their Learner Education Programs.
Local dressage associations, such as the Potomac Valley Dressage Association and the Maryland Dressage Association, also offer local award programs, organize recognized and unrecognized (schooling) shows, and clinics. These local associations belong to the national USDF.
For more information, please contact:
American Horse Shows Association 859-258-2472
United States Dressage Federation 402-434-8550
Maryland Dressage Association 410-592-9781
Potomac Valley Dressage Association 301-627-2279