Dressage Takes to the Desert

Dressage took over the Desert International Horse Park during the Desert Circuit's off week.

By Irene Elise Powlick

The off week during the Desert International Horse Park winter circuit is usually a quiet affair. Those that stay for the whole circuit often layover, and the rings are filled with quiet schooling between showing weeks. But not this year. This off week was filled with showing—but not just the normal hunter/jumper horses that we are used to. Instead, dressage arenas filled Hunter Rings 1 and 2, and the diagonals featured extended trots instead of single oxers.

It’s not the first time that dressage has come to DIHP. In the fall, the horse park hosted a two-week dressage series that included CDIW, CDI3*, CDI1*, Under 25, Young Rider and national level classes. The dressage horses and riders were back, this time just for one week of USEF/USDF Level 3 competition that provided qualifying opportunities for championships, including FEI North American Youth Championships, Markel/USEF Young and Developing Horse Dressage Championships, and the Grand Prix Dressage National Championships, among others. 

The judge and her scribe watch a dressage exhibitor in the main hunter ring

“The grounds are very nice, it is large and well kept, and the footing is very good. They maintain everything very well and the stabling is awesome,” said David Wilson, a dressage trainer from Chino Hills, California.

“The venue, we love it! The space to allow our horses to walk around, all the arenas, and the whole atmosphere of it,” exclaimed Christine Unruh, an FEI trainer and rider.  

A dressage arena was added to the hunter schooling ring

Unusual to a dressage show was the USEF ‘B’ Rated hunter/jumper show going on at the facility, too. “It’s not normal to have other disciplines going on, but I like it,” said Wilson. “In our off time we can go watch the jumping, we have a lot of crossover of friends and trainers.”

Halt and salute at X

The beautiful weather and proximity to West Coast dressage barns made the show desirable, and dressage riders want more of it! Unruh and Hardestey explained, “We need more shows here! We would love to collaborate more with the jumpers and show here throughout the winter. We would love 3-5 weeks of CDI competition in the winter, so we don’t have to go [all the way] to Florida.” The pair are trained by Nick Wagman, who was away in the sunshine state pursuing an Olympic bid, and he is training them via online video calls.

By all accounts, Desert Dressage was a hit. “The weather is always a bonus here, the footing is fantastic. The stabling area is great for our horses, the stalls are big compared to other venues. You can really make this a destination!” 

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