2018 Shannon Fund Recipient: Katie Rocco

First I would like to express my sincere gratitude to The Dressage Foundation and their Shannon Foundation Fund for their generous support of those of us looking to excel in the sport of dressage.

I recently completed the first session of the USEF “r” Judges Program, hosted by NEDA (New England Dressage Association) at Center Line at HITS in Saugerties, NY. The program was run by Sally Davenport, who graciously took care of us, making sure we had everything we needed and understood the process of the program over our three days together. She was an indispensable asset to our experience!

My travel experience to HITS was much easier than most of the candidates, several of whom traveled from as far as California and Arizona.  I live about an hour and a half from the show grounds where the program was held, and my husband brought over our motorhome, so I was able to stay at the RV park directly at the show facility. Thank you, Doug!

Thursday August 16th. Arrival and meet and greet. 

Upon arrival Thursday evening, we met with our instructor, Sarah Geikie and Sally Davenport. Several candidates had been delayed due to severe weather disrupting air travel and one cancelled at the last minute, so we ended up with nine candidates.  We did a brief introduction and discussed why we all decided to pursue this advancement of our judging careers. We also covered some of the differences in judging schooling shows vs. sanctioned shows and the adjustments in judging techniques.

Friday August 17th. Day one of the “r” program.

Our first day consisted of classroom study. We covered material in the provided workbook, which covered a broad number of judging issues (i.e. how to negotiate the USEF rule book, judging Materiale and Pas de Deux, correct basics, vocabulary, etc.).

Sarah encouraged us to take a holistic view of the dressage test. She stressed the importance of clear vocabulary to articulate exactly what we see in the test for the rider. Next, we observed online dressage tests. There was lively discussion and great insights on what we observed from our group of seasoned horsewomen.

That evening we gathered for dinner and were able to connect on a more personal level. Unfortunately, we were not all at the same table, and there was quite a bit of noise, but we all enjoyed the opportunity to connect.

Saturday August 18th. Day 2. Judging Training and Second Levels.

On Saturday, we arrived at the show grounds and met with our scribes and other members of NEDA who provided their scoring and calculating skills; which allowed us to compare our scoring to Sarah’s. It was a blessing to have all these fabulous volunteers!

We first observed Training Level rides. Sarah judged the first few out loud and we had some discussion. We then judged a warm-up test ride before we started judging the tests we handed in. We were challenged to complete our collective and final remarks meaningfully and quickly, as the show judge was quick to ring the bell for the next ride.

After lunch we moved on to Second Level. This is when things got interesting! Again, Sarah judged the first ride, then we did our warm-up test ride then started our first ride that counted. As all of this took place, black clouds formed over the Catskill Mountains, moving slowly and steadily in our direction. As our second ride started, so did the wind and rain, but it was not your normal rainstorm, it was a deluge!! It all happened so fast and it rained so hard that we could not properly cover our tests. By the time we found cover most of our tests sheets had almost disintegrated completely. The rest of the show was cancelled for the day, rivers formed everywhere, and horses and their riders raced for safe haven.  

We had to piece together our tattered tests and transcribe them onto fresh ones. Thanks again to Sally Davenport and her team of amazing volunteers. We traveled back to the hotel and judged the remainder of our Second Level rides from videos Karry Brothers found on the internet. It was an amazing save!

That night several us went out to dinner and chatted about our experience so far, encouraging each other and discussing what were our strengths and weaknesses. A truly great group of women in this group, I’m delighted to be part of it!

Sunday August 18th. First Level judging and wrap up.

Thanks to the marvel of modern footing, the grounds keepers of HITS and the managers of Center Line, we were back up and running. Nothing short of a miracle considering the effect of the massive storm that hit us!

We went through the same outline and finished up our First Level rides. Our scribes were dismissed when we finished. We went over the grids and had discussions on what we observed, and everyone offered feedback.

Sarah then met with us one-on-one, giving us the opportunity to ask any questions that might have come up during the session and assessed ourselves. She offered suggestions to help us strengthen our skills in the upcoming year before our final testing.

From here we all need to attend four apprenticeships over the next year. Bill Warren is going to be the instructor for one on September 20th at HITS Saugerties at the NEDA Fall Festival. I look forward to working with him, gaining a sharper eye, and hearing his viewpoints and feedback.

I have loved the challenge of this program this far and how it not only gives me the chance to sharpen my judging skills, but how it is making me look at my horses and students in a fresher more enthusiastic way. We all need a reboot now and then to keep us from stagnating or becoming redundant.