'You’ve Come a Long Way Baby'- California Dressage Society Celebrates 50 Years

Tuesday, September 19, 2017
Posted by Jennifer M. Keeler, Yellow Horse Marketing


Susan Davidge competing at an early CDS Annual Show at Etcetera Farm in Santa Ynez.

Susan Davidge competing at an early CDS Annual Show at Etcetera Farm in Santa Ynez. (Photo: CDS)

In the mid-1960’s dressage was just a fledgling sport on the West Coast, but a small yet dedicated group of enthusiasts decided to do something about it. So in August of 1967, the idea of the California Dressage Society was born among friends gathered in a living room with just 18 founding members, and one of their first initiatives was to create an annual showcase event where competitors could share knowledge and pursue their new passion.

Fifty years ago, a young Hilda Gurney was one of those riders who attended the very first CDS Championship Show held on October 12-13, 1968 at Susan Davidge's Etcetera Farm in Santa Ynez, a site which Davidge explained was chosen because “it was more or less midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco and therefore mutually inconvenient to all." Right from the start, the inaugural show was considered a “smash hit” with 67 entries paying $5 per class to ride down centerline. Most competitors rode dressage in the morning and contested hunter classes in the afternoon, including Gurney who rode Didit to win the Major deRoaldes Memorial Trophy for Excellence in Dressage with 66.8% while also claiming the Hunter Championship on the same mount.

“I was dedicated to helping dressage grow in California as well as the USA at that time, and Sue [Davidge] and I had been doing dressage exhibitions at some horse shows like the Los Angeles forum to help promote the sport,” Gurney remembered. “But having the Annual Show was a game changer. I’ll never forget the camaraderie at that first show – it was such an exciting start for everything that would come.”

From these humble beginnings, Gurney would go on to become an American dressage legend and Olympic Games medalist with her beloved Thoroughbred Keen. And the California Dressage Society (CDS) grew as well: today the organization includes more than 4,000 members in 36 chapters and the annual Championship Show has become one of the largest and most lucrative championship events in the nation, with recent editions featuring well over 1,000 rides across four days and six rings of non-stop competition.

Dressage legend Hilda Gurney will once again compete at this year’s CDS Championship Show

Dressage legend Hilda Gurney will once again compete at this year’s CDS Championship Show. (Photo: Jennifer M. Keeler)

Starting Thursday, September 21 and continuing through Sunday, September 24, this year’s 50th Anniversary California Dressage Society Championship Show in Rancho Murieta promises to be an exceptionally special occasion for exhibitors and spectators alike, all coming together to celebrate half a century of enthusiasm for dressage on the West Coast. Special presentations and performances will highlight the weekend, but the main attraction will be in the competition arena where riders and horses will get their own chance to become a part of history.

A multitude of CDS Horse of the Year championship titles and cherished perpetual trophies will once again be presented at all levels from Training to Grand Prix and for open, adult amateur, & junior/young riders, as well as more than $30,000 in prize money and awards. This year’s event will once again feature the Great American Insurance Group/United States Dressage Federation (USDF) Breeders Championships West Coast Series Final as well as the Great American Insurance Group/USDF Region 7 Championships, which not only offers competitors a chance at $20,000 in prize money but also a chance to earn a ticket to the U.S. Dressage Finals presented by Adequan® in Kentucky.

As much as things have changed over the last 50 years, some things remain the same: among the impressive roster of 330 competitors will be Gurney, who returns to the CDS Championship Show like she’s done almost every year since that inaugural edition in Susan Davidge’s farm field in 1968. Gurney will be competing with Lotta Silver and Iris, two horses she bred, raised, and trained herself as part of her renowned breeding program. “As a founder of CDS, competing in the annual show has always been very important to me, and over the years it’s only gotten better and better,” Gurney said. “This year’s show will be incredibly special for everyone, I wouldn’t miss it.”

Be a part of the excitement – for complete information about the California Dressage Society Championship Show, including news, schedules, ride times, and results, visit the CDS website and follow along with behind-the-scenes updates and photos on the CDS Facebook page.