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Chance to shine

CDS program put adult amateur dressage competitors in spotlight

By Jennifer Keeler - September 15th, 2016 - Show & Event News

During the week, they’re hard-working accountants, managers, students, and medical professionals, juggling careers, family, and a love of horses.
But on the weekends, legions of adult amateurs can be found at the barn or in the arena, pursuing their goals both in the saddle and in the show ring. And, thanks to the Equine Insurance/CDS Regional Adult Amateur Competition program (RAAC), California Dressage Society members have the unique chance to earn special accolades among their peers.

The Equine Insurance/CDS RAAC series was created to provide adult amateur riders from all walks of life with an opportunity to qualify and compete against others of similar skills and experience. The regional nature of these shows provides CDS members with a developmental path for gaining competitive experience, promote excellence and increase awareness of and support for CDS’ Chapter organizations. Riders can qualify to participate in one of three RAAC shows held in easily-accessible venues in the Northern (Santa Rosa), Central (Paso Robles), and Southern (Del mar) regions of California, each offering a chance to compete for fabulous prizes at all dressage levels from Basic to Intermediaire I in Elite as well as Novice divisions that provide an inviting introduction for exhibitors to become familiar with the experience and atmosphere of a licensed dressage competition.

This year, reflecting ongoing program growth since its inception in 2008, all three RAAC shows last month had significant increases in participation.
Jae Chaney of Rancho Santa Margarita (Los Angeles Chapter) is exactly the type of rider the RAAC program was designed for.

“This was my first time competing in RAAC, but I had always heard such great things from my dressage friends,” said Chaney, a show-jumper for 20 years who now pursues winning rounds in the dressage arena when not working as a senior finance director. Her mount, Bugatti, is also a recent convert to dressage. Originally trained as an eventer, the 8-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding came into Chaney’s life in 2015 and has blossomed in his newly-adopted sport, progressing from First to fourth level in under a year. At the Southern Region RAAC on Aug. 13-14 in Del Mar, the pair claimed the Third Level Novice title.

“I enjoyed the RAAC very much, especially since it was held at one of my favorite venues at Showpark,” said Chaney. “I think it’s a wonderful program, primarily because there really is a different vibe with just amateurs showing. Even though it’s competitive, there really is a camaraderie among the amateurs for everyone to have a successful show.”

At the Northern Region on Aug. 21 in Santa Rosa, former junior/young rider phenom Jennifer Dainer of San Ramon (East Bay Chapter) continued to fuel her passion for dressage as an adult amateur.

“After FEI Juniors and Young Riders, I decided not to pursue a career in dressage as a professional, but riding is still a big part of who I am,” said Dainer, who works as an assistant store manager while attending nursing school. “RAAC is a great experience because I’m competing with other riders similar to me. We’re all hard-working adults who are competing because of our love for dressage, and I’m proud to be one of them.”

Dainer topped the Fourth Level Elite Division with her 12-year-old Thoroughbred cross gelding Little Big Man or “Reggie”, who’s been part of Dainer’s family since he was just a four-month-old foal.

“Reggie has a big heart, and every time we enter the show arena he gives 100 percent,” she said. “He’s very kind-natured and easy-going, which makes showing him a lot of fun for me. We had a great experience at the RAAC show, and I’m especially happy with how we were able to improve from our warmup test to the competition on Sunday. This was only our fourth show together, so I was very happy with his performance.”

Also thrilled with her results was Gretchen Walters of Sonora (Delta Sierra Chapter), who competed at the final installment of this year’s RAAC program in the Central Region on Aug. 27-28. With her young Dutch Warmblood gelding,G-Force — whom she’s had since he was just two –Walters went home from the Paso Robles Horse Park with an armload of awards, including both the Training Level and First Level Novice titles, the High Percentage Novice honors, and a special Roses Award for her division that celebrates the achievements of adult amateurs age 50 and over.

“I work full time as a registered nurse and began riding dressage 25-plus years ago,” said Walters. “The majority of those years I was a ‘do it yourself’ amateur, riding and showing non-warmbloods/crosses with a few ‘real’ lessons interspersed. But now I ride semi-regularly with Chelsey Sibley, and she introduced me to G-Force, who she bred. He has a great mind and attitude and learns quickly, and I have exposed him to a lot, including gunfire, as when we’re not doing dressage I also compete with him in Cowboy Mounted Shooting.”

Walters previously competed in the RAAC program in 2012, and after a positive experience she began showing G-Force in June and made returning to the RAAC a goal for this year. The event lived up to her expectations, as she was impressed not only with the program but also with the venue.

“The Paso Robles Horse Park just opened last year, and it’s fabulous with large stalls and perfect arena footing — kudos to the organizers and volunteers!,” she said. “The show was well run and everyone was so friendly and helpful. I especially enjoyed the Saturday evening pizza and wine mixer and spending time meeting new friends,” Walters explained. “I wanted to be involved in RAAC because it is a special competition devoted to us as amateurs. I wanted to support – and thank CDS – for investing in this program because it makes us feel special and appreciated. I also was so grateful for the support and camaraderie of my fellow competitors and to hear the variety of stories we shared with one another. I felt the competition was of a high caliber, and of course I was nervous but my horse was such a superstar in the actual tests, so obedient and wonderful for where he is at in his training. I couldn’t have been prouder.”

Because of an automatic qualification process for division winners, many of this year’s RAAC series competitors including Chaney, Dainer, and Walters are now looking forward to the grand finale of this year’s show season: the 49th Annual California Dressage Society (CDS) Championship Show and Great American/USDF Region 7 Championships, which will be held at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center in Burbank on Sept. 29-Oct. 2.

“Going to the CDS Championship Show has been a personal goal for me for a long time,” said Walters. “I am working on finally making it happen this year, and I am so excited to attend!”

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