Frequently Asked Questions

For more information on intercollegiate riding, visit the IDA website.
For more information on riding at Mount Holyoke, visit the Equestrian Center website.

Q: What is Dressage?
A: The word dressage is taken from a French term meaning “training.” It is not only a method of schooling, but also a competitive equestrian sport. Basic training is the same for every horse, regardless of what they specialize in later on. “The object of Dressage is the harmonious development of the physique and ability of the horse. As a result it makes the horse calm, supple, loose and flexible but also confident, attentive and keen, thus achieving perfect understanding with his rider” (USEQ Rule Book). Because dressage uses gymnastic exercises it also improves the seat, coordination and feel of the rider. The Intercollegiate Dressage Association (IDA) offers four divisions of riders. The Introductory Level is for riders new to dressage competition but have a solid foundation in riding and are able to ride an Introductory USDF test (walk-trot). Lower and Upper Training Level are for competitors who can ride the horse freely forward in a clear and steady rhythm, showing that the horses muscles are supple, loose and accept contact with the bit. First Level requires showing the standards of Training Level but with more pushing power, and a higher degree of balance and thoroughness must be developed.

Q: What level should I try out for?
A: IDA competitions are challenging, even for the most seasoned competitors. Riders should tryout for the lowest level they are qualified for. We are always looking for riders in each level. Usually about 30-40 people try out for 14-18 spots. Everyone interested in being on the Team must try out each semester, even those who have been on the team before. The level restrictions are subject to change from year to year and can be located on the IDA website. Once a rider is registered with the IDA, the ways to move up through the levels are to point out of a division, to have the coach decide to move the rider up a level, or to win in an individual national competition class.

Q: How successful has the Dressage Team been?
A: The Team has been extremely successful! In 1995 Michelle Hoffman, a MHC student, helped create the IDA. Since then, MHC has won 9 Team Regional Champion Titles, and 4 Team National Titles in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2008, and 2013. In addition, the team has been Reserve National Champions in 2005 and 2007. We have numerous Individual Regional and National Champion riders in all divisions. Overall MHC has the distinction of having the most titles and team and individual wins in the IDA! In 2014 the dressage team placed 3rd overall at Nationals!

Q: Who is the Dressage Team Coach?
A: Our team coach is Meg Hilly, read more about her in our about section.

Q: How do IDA competitions work?
A: At IDA shows, the schools compete with riders on a team with a representative from each of the four levels. The hosting school provides the horses and prepares them for competition (bathing, braiding, tacking etc.). The morning of the show there is a horse draw in which each team draws a group of horses. The horses are presented under saddle during the Parade of Horses and each coach decides the horse and rider combination of the group. Each rider is given ten minutes to warm up with the assistance of their coach, and then ride a USDF test from memory in full show attire. Each rider is scored and placed in each division and those placings determine the value of points for the team in those levels. The lowest score from the team is dropped and the remaining three scores are averaged together to determine the final team placings. The school with the highest team average wins the show. Tests are returned at the end of the competition with constructive feedback from the judge and an award ceremony is held for all the competitors.

Q: What horses does the Team use?
A: The Equestrian program designates certain horses as “dressage horses” depending upon their level of suitability. These horses are used in dressage lessons and Team practices. However, students often ride the equitation horses in lessons and practice to determine their suitability in the dressage program or to practice for the show. MHC is very lucky to have such wonderful horses in the program and the ability to have several school masters. The team decides as a whole which horses are best suited for each level to compete in our home show. To see some of the horses used frequently in the dressage program, visit the Horses page.

Q: Where is the Equestrian Center? Can I bring a horse?
A: The MHC Equestrian Center is located on campus and there are approximately 30 stalls for students. Contact Director Paula Pierce ( for a boarder application. Some riders on the Team have their horses at MHC, but having your horse here is not required and your horse does not have to be used in the dressage program. Boarders may ride in dressage lessons with Dee Loveless or with another MHC instructor. The Equestrian Center has two indoor arenas, a standard outdoor dressage arena, an outdoor jumping arena, trails and a cross country course. For more information and pictures of our facilities, please visit the Equestrian Center webpage.

Q: When I come visit MHC can I stay overnight or talk with a Dressage Team member?
A: Prospective students are encouraged to attend the Equestrian Center Open House or attend the Focus on Riding program in November organized through Admissions.

Q: What is required to be on the Dressage Team? How much of a time commitment is necessary?
A: Riders are highly encouraged (but not required) to be enrolled in a dressage physical education class, which count as PE credits towards graduation requirements. Group PE classes meet once or twice a week and private lessons meet once a week. Team practices are used to polish your dressage skills, but more of the foundation is given in the dressage PE lessons. Twelve Team members ride once a week in an hour-long group practice normally held Friday afternoons. Members are required to participate in workouts, practices, team meetings, educational events, and fund-raising activities. There are usually 3-6 horse shows a semester and a National competition at the end of the spring semester. All shows are held on the weekend and, depending upon the location of the show, the team may stay overnight at a hotel. The team sends one or two teams (4 riders per team), depending on how many teams the host school can support, to each show. The entire Team usually attends all shows to support our riders down center line. MHC hosts a home show each semester and members are required to help prepare and run the show. Being on the team does not guarentee that every rider will be competing. The Team definitely involves a commitment of time and energy, but the opportunity to improve one’s skills as a dressage rider and to be supported by fellow team members makes it all worthwhile! Many of our members balance their school work, with riding their own horse, and being on the team. A few of our riders are also on the Riding Team (IHSA team) and newly acquired Western Team. All students must be in good academic standing and abide by the MHC’s honor code.

Q: Can I also be on the Equitation team (IHSA Riding team) and the Western team?
A: Yes, dressage team members are also allowed to be on all three teams or any other varsity sport. Please make sure you have the time to make the propper commitment to each team.

Q: What do Team members have to pay for?
A: The Dressage Team is a club sport and the MHC Student Government Association covers a large amount of the team’s expenses. The Team is required to fund-raise in order defray the cost of show entries, travel and other expenses. Members must pay $30 to register with the IDA each year. Members are encouraged to purchase team apparel, but it is not required.

Q: Are there riding scholarships?
A: MHC does not offer athletic scholarships for tuition. When funds are available, dressage lesson scholarships are available to help defray some of the cost of lessons. Riders can apply for scholarships at the begining of each semester.

Q: Does the Equestrian Center hold clinics or shows?
A: Yes, both dressage and jumping clinics are held at MHC with previous clinicians such as Lilo Fore, Gunnar Ostergaard, Lendon Gray, and Sarah Gieke. If possible, the Team helps make the costs reasonable. Each spring MHC holds a very popular Open Dressage show and seperate Combined Training show. There are also several open equitation shows held at the Equestrian Center throughout the year. For more information, visit the Equestrian Center webpage.

Q: How can a rider prepare for tryouts?
A: When choosing a strong Team, Coach Meg Hilly looks for riding ability and athletic fitness, as well as a positive attitude, team camaraderie and willingness to learn more about the sport of dressage. All levels of riders are encouraged to tryout, but riders must be able to walk and trot safely on their own. Tryouts are held at the beginning of the fall and spring semesters and are conducted similarly an IDA show. Each rider is given 10 minutes to warm up, without assistance whith our coach observing, and then they ride the appropriate USDF test for their level from memory. Riders then switch horses, receiving another five minutes to warm up before riding their test again. This ensures that they can demonstrate their ability on multiple horses and that someone with a difficult ride is not judged unfairly. In order to prepare for tryouts, riders should ride as many different types of horses as possible and practice riding accurate tests. If you don’t make the Team the first time, keep trying and stay active with the dressage team! Dressage team workouts and many of our social and educational events are open to anyone who is interested.

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