The brainchild of Mount Holyoke College student Michele Hoffman, interscholastic dressage was introduced in fall 1995. It is modeled after the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA), which features hunt-seat and stock-seat equitation divisions in which thousands of college undergraduates from the United States and Canada compete, riding unfamiliar horses in all levels of competition, from beginner walk-trot to advanced open classes. Because of the popularity of the IHSA program, schools in the New England area formed the Intercollegiate Interscholastic Dressage Association.
Schools that host interscholastic dressage shows provide the facility, equipment and horses-one at U.S. Dressage Federation (USDF) Introductory Level, two at American Horse Shows Association (AHSA) Training Level, and one at AHSA First Level. Each group of four horses is assigned to a four-rider team. The number of teams invited depends on the number of horses available from the host school. A lottery determines the group of horses each team rides; a second lottery dictates the order of go. Interscholastic dressage riders are given 10 minutes to warm up with their coaches. They must ride their test from memory.
According to C.J. Law, equestrian program director at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, organizers are investigating incentives to keep higher-level riders interested. However, this doesn't seem to be a concern of Mount Holyoke College sophomore Dori Schafer, who, prior to attending college, had ridden at Fourth Level. "It's a challenge to do a First Level test on a school horse that you only get to ride for 10 minutes," she says. Fellow Mount Holyoke student Hilary Moore, who has ridden at Fourth Level and Prix St. Georges, concurs.
Interscholastic dressage judges must have at least a USDF "L" or AHSA "r" rating. Tests are judged the same way as AHSA tests, except the collective marks are weighted differently to accommodate the varied caliber of the horses: gaits carry a coefficient of one; impulsion and submission, two; and rider's position and seat/correctness and effect of aids, three.
The first-ever East Coast Interscholastic Dressage Finals were held at Virginia Intermont College's Equestrian Center in Bristol, Virginia, April 20-21, 2001. The top collegiate dressage riders and teams from the Northeast and the Southeast Interscholastic Dressage divisions also competed. "The program is growing very rapidly and we are all very excited about it," says Rebecca Schurink, dressage coach at Mount Holyoke.
Presently there are 26 colleges and universities that offer interscholastic dressage programs. For more information, contact USDF at 859-971-7722.