WDAWI Goes Digital

The Wisconsin affiliate (WDAWI) had its first ever virtual show the first week of June and was proud to offer the new Exceptional Rider tests. We were fortunate enough to get some very enthusiastic entries for these new tests. It was a bit of a learning curve as we figured out how to best serve these riders and their assistants. Each riders’ needs were unique, and they needed different adaptations to complete a virtual test.
Exceptional rider coaches, Jennifer Bull, Kari Wegenke, and Samantha Essers, were excited to have these new tests as another way to let their riders shine. “It is very hard to find shows for our exceptional riders to do along with our traditional riders,” says Kari. “This is a great way for our barn family to be at the same shows to support each other. Our schedule is pretty full, so finding a show that most of the riders can participate in is crucial.” Getting ready for this show was a bit of a challenge due to current events. Riders were only allowed to return to regular lessons a couple weeks before the show, and the horses had been enjoying a bit of a vacation too. “We had so many questions about rules and how they applied to a virtual show. We kept in close contact with WDAWI and WDAA to make sure we were following the rules correctly,” Jennifer, Kari, and Samantha are happy to share their experience to help other riders and coaches.
A main concern the riders and coaches shared was the equipment and bit check. Some riders need more help to dismount than was allowed for the bit inspection (touching the horse or rider by the assistants, for example). Discussion with WDAA led to the amendment that exceptional riders do not have to dismount at the end of virtual tests if they cannot do so without assistance. They stay mounted for the walk around equipment check like other riders, and may stop their video there. For these riders, photos of the bit should be taken immediately after the rider is safely off the horse and the photos are then sent along with the rider’s video link. Each individual show committee may determine what kind of bit photos they would like. For example, WDAWI asked for a picture of the mouthpiece and the shanks (if applicable) with enough of the headstall showing so it could be matched to the bridle in the video.  Another instance of exemption from the video bit check was for a rider whose hands couldn’t work the buckles in order to undo the bridle, and in that case photos were accepted instead. However, if the rider can dismount and drop the bridle on their own, they are encouraged to do so on video.
The next frequently most asked questions were about the coaching aspect of the tests. Where should the coach stand for the coached test, and who gets to coach the rider? According to the WDAA rules, the coach needs to stay at least 10 feet away from the rider during the test. We found that a coach could walk back and forth along the B-X-E line the majority of the time and stay the minimum distance from the rider while still being close enough for the rider to hear. The indoor arena our riders used was only large enough to fit the 20×40 court. The only other place for someone to stand was behind the person taping the video. Our hearing impaired rider couldn’t hear the coach from that position. Hence, the coach walking in the arena. Readers are allowed for Exceptional tests, but we found that having a reader, as well as a coach, was confusing to some riders. With the tests on a lead, the rider should guide the horse to the best of their ability and the leader is there to maintain safe control of the horse and may not talk to the rider. The sidewalkers (if needed) may walk alongside to assist the rider for stability, and one may coach if there is no dedicated coach present. If there is a dedicated coach, they may call the test and give direction from either E or B.  However, we did find some difficulty with standing directly behind E or B in our enclosed arena where the width of the court went from wall to wall. The main thing we learned is to contact the show committee with any questions you have. These tests are new, as is the WDAA virtual showing, so it is a learning process for everyone involved.
Exceptional rider Jamie was thrilled to be able to show. When asked how it went, he said, “I got to wear my George Straight shirt, and it went good. My last show was a very long time ago and I want to do it again.” Jamie was riding lesson horse Baby for his test and says, “We did good, she is a good horse and listens to me.” For this show, Jamie entered in the Leadline walk class with a goal of showing independently (off leadline) in the future. Affiliate president, Brenda Levine, was there to watch Jaime’s test and congratulate him on a good ride. “This is such a wonderful day to see the Exceptional Rider tests happening. Jaime’s smile never broke. We have local therapy riding programs and centers that have been asking for these opportunities in western dressage. There are so many starting places in western dressage, and the Exceptional Rider tests adds one more place to begin. This really showcases our mission of providing an educational and competitive environment that is accessible and inclusive to all levels of riders and horses,” said Brenda.
Exceptional rider JoAnn was riding in her first ever dressage show. “I am really thankful for the opportunity to do this show. It is great that there is a way for riders with additional needs to show along with the rest of their friends. I’m learning a lot of new things, and I am fortunate to have such a great team here help me.” JoAnn entered in the walk only coached test with her POA Dylan. “My daughter and I bred and raised him. He has always taken great care of me, and I don’t have to worry when I ride him.”
Coach Jennifer Bull of Longshot Farm added, “I am so appreciative of WDAA for developing the Exceptional Rider division.  At LongShot Farm we believe strongly in providing equestrian learning and growth opportunities for all ages and abilities, and this program is an excellent fit.”
Overall, it was a great experience for WDAWI and the Exceptional riders who participated in the show. Special thanks to LongShot Farm’s Exceptional riders, Jamie and JoAnn, for letting us take their pictures and for talking with us.  We can’t wait to see how these classes progress in the future!
Photos: JoAnn and Dylan. Jamie on Baby with his coach Kari and WDAWI president Brenda.

P.S. Both riders won their class with scores of 70% and 73%! Great start for a new program.

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