I judged a dressage show in Florida recently – and doesn’t that just sound like a fabulous idea: a Florida dressage show in the middle of the summer. The show came about because an ideal facility was available, the Van Kampen covered arena at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center which, at 360' by 210', was large enough to hold two standard dressage arenas with plenty of space left over for warmup.
For those who don’t live far south of the Mason-Dixon Line or in the Southwest, a covered arena is a very different animal from the indoor arenas they may be used to. A covered arena usually has a kick-rail and a roof but no sides. In the case of the PBIEC arena, there’s just a roof. Not only does this provide shade, but it also channels a soft breeze through continually.
Much to my surprise, I’ve been more comfortable riding in the summer months in North Carolina than I was when I lived in the Northeast, where the options are usually an outdoor arena with footing that reflects heat or a stifling indoor that’s good protection from rain or winter cold/snow but is much less pleasant otherwise. That’s because our covered arena keeps the sun off, the footing cool, and a breeze flowing through.
Well, even though the covered arena at PBIEC made a summer show in Florida doable, there is only so much comfort it can provide when the thermometer goes above 90 with humidity to match. All I can say is that those Florida dressage riders are tough! We had very few scratches and almost everyone wore a jacket when competing. (I did have one rider who got so dazed during his test that he had to withdraw and then oozed off his horse and had to be helped for a bit.)
There's one of those “old judge tales” we hear about all the time, that the dressage judge will somehow think less of the rider if they don’t wear a jacket. Just not true! And, no judge wants to be digging a rider out of the dirt who has just fainted off her horse from heat stroke. When jackets are excused at a show where I’m riding, I’m the first one to leave it in the truck. The bulges and bumps revealed sans jacket matter a lot less than the fact that I ride better when I’m comfortable.
It must be that those Florida riders are accustomed to the heat and prepare for it, conditioning themselves and their horses. I also noticed that many riders only entered one test a day, even with lower-level horses, a good plan under the circumstances. But, I was impressed with the level of energy, not to mention the high level of riding, I saw that weekend. Tough riders and tough horses!