USA Recovering from Sharp Decline in Dressage Participation, Study Finds

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Participation in dressage in the United States appears to be recovering following a sharp decline with the start of the economic recession in 2007, according to a study conducted by Centerlinescores.com that analyzed 10 years of horse shows recognized by the U.S. Dressage and Equestrian Federations.

The study found that participation declined an average of more than 20 per cent in eight of the nine USDF regions, the biggest drops occurring in a group of seven Midwestern states (Region 4) and the area that includes California, Nevada and Hawaii (Region 7).

The only group to show an increase in the sport was the southeast (Region 3) that includes the intensive Florida winter circuit of 11 CDIs and 19 national shows from December, 2012, through April, 2013.

Centerlinescores.com has compiled records of participation in U.S. horse shows for several years.

From 2003 to 2007, it said, dressage participation in the U.S. grew at a rate of about 3.3 per cent per year. During the same period, the number of dressage shows declined except in 2007 and 2008 when events reached an all-time high. The increase in participation coupled with the decrease in the number of shows produced higher show attendance.

As the U.S. economy slid into the recession in 2007, the analysis showed that participation in dressage as measured by the number of overall rides or classes ridden fell sharply. On average, the drop was more than 19 per cent overall.

However, the analysis showed an end to the downward slide in 2011.

The 2012 season, however, saw an overall increase in participation, although Centerlinescores.com put the increase at just 361 more rides over the 10-year low-point of 2011.

The report said, “it is interesting to note that Region 3 (southeast) which has shown growth in participation for 8 of the last 10 years and posted a record jump in the total number of rides from 2010 to 2011, experienced a decline as well from 2011 to 2012. Meanwhile, both Region 7 (California, Nevada and Hawaii) and 9 (souhwest) showed growth.

“The activity for the 2013 show season is promising–although show activity from October to January is typically skewed toward the die-hard winter warriors–though it is still too early to tell if we are at the beginning of a second resurgence of what was once called the fastest growing equestrian sport. But, for now, it looks like we may be turning the corner.”

The overall decrease in dressage participation since 2007 does not appear to be just a simple matter of fewer riders, Centerlinescores.com reported.

The decrease in the number of shows and total number of rides was also accompanied by a decrease in the average number of rides (or show classes) that a rider participated in at the shows, it said.

“While the decrease is relatively slight,” it said, “it does represent a consistent change in the showing behavior of dressage riders, moving from an average of close to 3 (2.8) toward an average that is closer to 2 (2.4). It is interesting to note the drop in the average number of riders in the 2008 show season, but we think this is most likely due to the sharp uptick in the number of recognized shows available during that Olympic year.

The record-keeper also reported a significant and distinct increase in the number of breed-restricted classes and breed shows with USEF/USDF recognized classes beginning in 2009. From 2009 to 2012 there were roughly four times the number of breed-specific tests and twice as many shows offering breed-specific classes compared with a similar period prior to 2009.

“In addition, approximately 65 per cent of this volume could be attributed to Arabian (Arabian, Half-Arabian, Arab-Cross) breed classes,” it said. “In second place carrying about five per cent of the breed specific volume were Morgan classes. The remainder were distributed throughout a number of different breeds including traditional warmbloods such as Oldenburg and KWPN classes…”

(USDF Regions:
1. Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, North Carolina, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, eastern West Virginia.
2. Illiois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, western West Virginia, Wisconsin.
3. Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee.
4. Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota.
5. Arizona, Colorado, eastern Montana, New Mexico, western Texas, Utah, Wyoming.
6. Alaska, Idaho, western Montana, Oregon, Washington.
7. California, Nevada, Hawaii.
8. Conneciticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont.
9. Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, eastern Texas.)