By Martha A. Woodham

According to organizer Penny Morse, the inaugural Southeastern Schooling Show Championship at Georgia’s Bouckaert Farm in Chattahoochee Hills, started with a thought that became an idea that grew into an event.

“It was one of those fleeting moment ideas, that usually leaves just as fast, and five minutes later you cannot remember what it was you were thinking,” says Morse, Harmony Grove Farm, Villa Rica, Ga. “This time it evolved into the ‘I have a dream’ mode. It just kept nagging at me — The Southeast Schooling Show Championships.”

Morse is a long-time horsewoman who started riding when she was 5, but her riding days ended in 1994 after a car wreck. Today she owns and publishes Atlanta Horse Connections and co-edits the Georgia Dressage and Combined Training Magazine. She lives vicariously through her daughters, eventers Joanne and Jacqueline, who teach lessons at the family farm.

So why a schooling show championship for eventing and dressage?

“There had to be something more for schooling show competitors than a $3 ribbon,” she says. “There were no goals at schooling shows. Trainers used them as a warmup for a recognized show. The SESSC gives schooling shows the same recognition as Area 3 Championships or the AEC (American Eventing Championships).”

Jennier Kozel on Main Attraction, Photo Courtesy Erik Jacobs

Morse also saw the SESSC as a way to address several issues that eventing and dressage face today:

  • Volunteerism: Show organizers often have a difficult time finding enough volunteers to help out at events, especially facilities that frequently stage recognized and schooling shows.
  • Expense: Riders often cannot afford the prices of recognized shows but still would like to participate in a less expensive version of the American Eventing Championships that recognizes their horses and their hard work.
  • Local support: While most riders are members of the US Eventing Association or the U.S. Dressage Federation, not all of them join their local organizations, such as the Georgia Dressage and Combined Training Association. In fact, Georgia is one of the few southeastern states with a strong organization that keeps track of rider participation in schooling shows.

“I ran the SESSC idea past June Brewer of the GDCTA and Hugh Lochore, General Manager of Chattahoochee Hills Eventing,” says Morse. “Both of them got it straight away and were hugely supportive.”

Betty Smith on Sundance Kid, Photo Courtesy Erik Jacobs

“When Penny came to us with the idea for the SESSC, it worked for all the right reasons,” says Lochore. “Riders who participate in schooling shows are at the heart of eventing. Our entries for schooling shows have been growing over the past three years, and we were glad to be able to give these riders an end-of-the-season championship as a goal. As show organizers, we also are looking for ways to get more people involved as volunteers,” he added. “Asking riders to volunteer as an SESSC qualification is an opportunity for them to understand our sport more fully.”

Charlotte Cloudsdale on Antares, Photo Courtesy Kimberly Loring

A date was set, Oct. 7, 2017, but putting on a championship is not a project for the faint of heart, Morse says. “I turned to women I have known for years who are doers, and they brought along some friends who all played a part.”

The SESSC Committee consisted of Brewer, Betty Smith, Margaret Lindsay, Megan Gosch, Vickie Dice, Ellen Taylor, Joanne Morse and Sally Raczkowski.

From the beginning, Morse insisted that riders had to meet certain qualifications: Riders had to place first through fifth at two schooling shows; they had to log eight volunteer hours; and they had to be members of their state organization.

“I set volunteering and membership in state organizations as requirements because children and adults need to appreciate just how much work is involved so that they can compete,” Morse says. “Once they have volunteered, their attitude seems to change, and they have an appreciation on how much goes into putting on a horse show.”

More than 20 local equestrian businesses and supporters signed up as class sponsors. Their logos were also posted on the Chattahoochee Hills Eventing website.

“Everyone who sponsored a class knows that the schooling show competitors are the ones keeping the equestrian stores in business,” Morse adds. “Not everyone wants to go to Rolex or the Olympics. Women riders who are happy going tadpole or beginner novice, with no desire to ever go recognized, have the disposable income to buy what they want, when they want, and their investment in clothing and equipment allows the four-star riders to get sponsored.”

India Wilkinson presented 1st Place for Training Level Adult by Holly Lewis sponsored by Pagan

Despite almost being rained out by Hurricane Irma, the SESSC was a success, attracting 80 riders from Georgia, Florida, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

“We offered 26 divisions, had competitors in 22, and no complaints from anyone!” said Morse. “The hurricane and some other competitions affected the turnout, which was disappointing. We will not be clashing with other events again, as long as we can help it … the weather I have to leave to nature.”

Morse is already looking ahead to 2018 with plans for a collegiate division and splitting the junior division to under 14 and 14 to 21. Western dressage may be a possibility as well, and she said she has had some interest from other parts of the country in having their own schooling show championships.

SESSC Champion, Peri Lambros

Several moments stand out in Morse’s memories of the first SESSC. Opening ceremonies, where the national anthem was sung a cappella as a young rider on horseback held the flag. And the extraordinary generosity of Olympian Clayton Fredericks. Fredericks, after having taught a very successful clinic at Chattahoochee Hills on the Wednesday and Thursday before the SESSC, offered to stay and do a course walk on Friday afternoon.

“As I went down to the start box, I saw Clayton chatting with around 20 young riders, all awestruck that they were about to walk their course with an Olympian and a Rolex winner,” Morse said. “Then something caught my eye, and as I glanced up, an image of the old Coca-Cola commercial, ‘I’d like to teach the world to sing,’ flashed into my mind. Over the hill, strutting across the grass came a herd of trainers and riders of all ages, with dogs in tow, all ready to walk the course, eager to learn. What a great start for the SESSC!”

Feature Photo: Wendy Lowe on Pybyru, Photo Courtesty Erik Jacobs.

Martha A. Woodham is writer and a rider who lives and events in Georgia. One of her favorite things to do is volunteer at horse trials and schooling shows.