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2020 Shannon Foundation Fund for Judges' Licensing Recipient: Rebecca Armstrong (CA)

As with any report, there is always a backstory, and the situation I find myself in while pursuing my Dressage Sport Horse Breeding (DSHB) ‘r’ licensure isn’t any different!  While my interest and skills in judging and evaluating the conformation of horses began first in 4-H and continued as an intercollegiate horse judging team member, it wasn’t until many years later after being an equine veterinarian, dressage breeder/rider/handler, and getting my USEF Dressage ‘r’ license that my mentor and former instructor, Jayne Ayers, FEI “I” (4*)/DSHB ‘R’, suggested that given my background – I should really pursue my DSHB licensure too!  So here I am!

Having gone through the ‘r’ dressage program, I knew that expenses would mount up and I looked for sources of support to help allay the cost of training and apprenticing. I had been accepted into the DSHB ‘r’ training program for a couple of years by then with no progress being made on getting my formal training started.  In early March 2020, I applied for funding from TDF’s Shannon Foundation Fund and received an award to support my attending the DSHB training program that was to be held at Horses Unlimited in New Mexico in June 2020.  Well, we all know what happened in the Spring of 2020 – the COVID-19 pandemic! The clinic and training program was canceled, and the waiting began again.

Finally, one of my colleagues from my L training cohort, Robin Birk ‘r’, also entered the DSHB training program so along with Creeky Rouston ‘S’/DSHB ‘r’, we had a small, but dedicated group to begin our formal training in August 2021 and we were off and running….err, judging! Our formal training session was hosted by Hilda Gurney ‘S’/DSHB ‘R’ and Melissa Creswick ‘S’/DSHB ‘R’ at Keenridge Farm, CA.  A well-organized, packed day of training ensued and the volunteers who brought in horses served as our scribes, and handled and/or rode the horses were great!  As trainees, we got lots of individual attention and coaching tips on how to score and comment on what we were seeing.  By the end of the day, my mind was swirling with the information I wanted to write down and organize before I forgot anything!  In my judge training, I have learned that there is a process to assimilating, categorizing, and re-categorizing what one learns over time as you interact with other judges at clinics or continuing education events, pick up on good descriptive phrases and terms so you really must be a life-long learner.  There’s no such thing as once and done!

As an aside, Keenridge Farm is located near the home base of a USDF Sponsor – Dressage Extensions – so of course this out-of-towner had to make time for a side trip by the tack store there!  Just to buy some necessities of course!

But the formal training is just the start of the DSHB judge journey – candidates still must identify shows with a DSHB division that hopefully pulls in enough entries to make it worth the expense of the travel there.  In addition, our apprenticing must be done with a DSHB ‘R’ judge that USDF has identified on their list of eligible mentors.  As a result, I found myself at a distinct disadvantage being on the west coast as several shows that normally had DSHB divisions canceled them in 2022 be it due to lingering pandemic issues and/or a lack of entries, I don’t really know!  I did one show in California and then ended up traveling to Missouri, North Carolina, and Kentucky to complete my apprenticing requirements.  I want to extend a big thank-you to all the Show Managers and Show Secretaries who accommodated my requests to apprentice at their shows and worked with me to get score sheets copied, etc. while I was there.  And thanks to my mentors for giving so generously of their time to meet with me, go over my score sheets, and share their knowledge with me.  Be it rain or shine – it was a great experience – and in appreciation, I always volunteered at the shows before and/or after I was done apprenticing to help say thanks!

Reflecting on who I apprenticed with this past summer, I realize that all of them were judging together at Devon last September!  And I wonder if that has ever happened before or if it was just one of those quirks of fate for me to work with Carter Bass, Kristi Wysocki, and Carolin Walz in my summer of apprenticing!  And I even scribed for Sue Mandas, another 2022 Devon judge, at a 2022 DSHB show too!

And, yet the journey continues into 2023 …. I plan to do at least one more apprenticing session for more practice, and the written and practical final exam for my cohort of trainees is yet to be scheduled for us before the end of the year.  I’d like to express my appreciation to the Shannon Foundation Fund for supporting individuals interested in pursuing training to be a dressage judge as it is a financial and time commitment for anyone embarking on this journey!

TDF - thank you again and I look forward to completing this DSHB judge training journey successfully and seeing you DSHB competitors at the apex of the triangle!