Rethinking the USDF Medals

He makes some interesting points.


Hmm. I agree with a lot of his points but the proposed solution seems both inadequate (in ways he points out and probably some others) and over the top:

Does producing a horse from 1st or 2nd Level to GP really make someone a less capable FEI-level trainer than producing the horse from scratch? What about producing an imported 5-year-old to GP?

What incentives might this create for someone to keep struggling along with a horse who would be a better match for another rider, just because they don’t want to lose their investment and the new rider couldn’t benefit from it (at least with respect to these new medals)? How would it impact riders on a lower budget to have to re-earn their Bronze scores with each new horse?

I also don’t think earning these proposed new medals really proves someone is a competent FEI trainer. I’ll use myself as an example. I am an amateur with my Bronze, Silver, and Gold. My parents bought the horse I earned my medals on for me when he was 4. It took us until he was 17 to get up to GP due to many soundness issues and it being the first time for both of us (I had done a little 3rd Level with my previous horse), but we got there together! Just the way Jeremy Steinberg wants, right?

Well yes, except I was in no way qualified to produce a horse to those levels, and am still not (though I’m closer now than I was then). During the times the horse was sound, I took weekly lessons with an excellent, experienced FEI trainer. While I was out of state for my freshman year of college, she kept him in training and started flying changes. The majority of my riding time and almost all of my showing was independent, but the successful outcome still reflected her expertise at least as much as my blood, sweat, tears, and relatively middling skill.

Just because someone else showed the horse once doesn’t mean the main rider didn’t do most of the hard work, and just because no one else ever showed the horse doesn’t mean the main rider didn’t have a ton of help along the way. The bottom line is that no medal system will fit all scenarios, and the value of the current medal system is limited to exactly what it purports to award: you rode certain tests at certain levels with certain scores a certain number of times, on a horse. Perhaps the answer is more emphasis on the trainer certification program and less on medals as a resume item, but that depends on both trainers and clients buying into that system.


I don’t love the only rider requirement he proposes. Sure 60% is a low bar but saying you can be the only ride is a bit harsh of a course correction.

What that translates to is that I - an AA with zero professional aspirations and a low-paying nonprofit job - am penalized because I half leased my mare out for a season and let a teenager show her. That half lease made even owning a horse possible because it subsidized board (see aforementioned nonprofit job). That half lease also meant a kid was able to break into the sport, something I never had a chance to do as a teen. I’m on track to get my bronze next year with scores from two horses - my trainer’s gelding who I was the first to show recognized but she took over the ride later, and my mare who I was also the first show recognized but I shared with a teen. According to his proposed changes, I would need to show a third horse, that I got the ride on young enough to never have shown before (something I can’t afford with my actual horse).


I used to think 60% was a low bar until I hit 4th level. Good lord, it’s hard. I’ll take 60% and own it if I can make it out of the test alive.

What Mr. Steinberg proposes is unattainable for many, many people, for many reasons. Horses go lame. People have babies and take a break. Horses have to be sold. It’s very aspirational. I, too, want to train my 5 y/o to Grand Prix. It would suck to get to PSG, and have those scores nullified because I had to sell him or he went lame, or died, or whatever.

If they want to implement a special series of medals for people who attain that goal of training a horse from the ground up, that’s great. Or even for those people who get a 64% or higher (I have questions about that, too.) Just don’t take away the medals as they are now. It’s hard enough to get those scores to begin with.


This seems like it also lowers the value of a nice horse that is stepping down and could be a good learning horse for a newer rider.
Sure, I suppose there are people who are not trying to get their medals that will still enjoy a school master to ride and show. But why limit the possibilities of a nice horse just because these people did not buy it when it was 3 and ride it all the way there?


I understood from the article that the new system will not replace the old one. It will be a new system geared toward professionals, while the old one will continue along side.


One other point he mentioned was the horse would need to be registered with USEF/USDF at the age of 4. What about those horses who through no fault of their own who may be walk/trot/canter but never shown until they are bought at a later age (over 4) by a dressage rider who then takes the horse through the levels. Would those scores not count towards the awards scores just because the horse wasn’t registered at age 4?

Case in point, my own horse on whom I got 5 of my 6 scores for my bronze was W/T/C when I bought her at age 6. Got 2 of my scores for silver on her before she was injured. My first bronze score was on another horse that I bought as a 4 year old. So technically I have done what Jeremy is proposing (trained up my own horses with MUCH help from trainers who have trained and ridden GP) and COULD have gotten that 6th score on the second horse but why? And now why on my current horse (who I did buy and registered at age 4) should I put her through the rigors of 1st, 2nd, 3rd level tests when the goal is to get my final 2 scores for my silver? And hopefully my gold?

Dressage shows cost a lot of money and in my case, training comes before showing. Showing IS the goal, but training is more important (at least to me)

One reason I don’t do breed awards is because they want 8 (or is it 10) scores each year. I’m not going to breed my mare, the breeder isn’t paying for my shows, training is more important and where I’d rather put my money.

Maybe they should make the division between professionals (higher scores like for qualifying for regionals) and Adult Amateurs (who almost always need help getting the horse trained up the levels)


From the article;

“Under this structure, the USDF medals would have a distinction between a medal you received from training a horse through the levels or a medal received for piloting a horse trained by someone else. This would offer two new awards for training: an amateur medal and a professional one.”

There is no plan, according to the article, to do away with the current medal system, only to add a new one in which medals will be more difficult to attain.


I think he differs greatly in what medals mean to him vs most riders (the vast majority of whom are amateurs). Clearly for him, medals are a means of proving that you are a trainer, whereas, I think most riders view them (maybe unconsciously) as proving you are a rider.

Of course (and as he points out) the line does get blurry when clients decide to leave trainers for other trainers who have higher medals and whatnot, but I’m not convinced that’s a problem with the medal system, but rather the 1) very understandable desire for a metric by which to judge trainers 2) many amateurs equate being a good rider with being a good trainer which is obviously not always true and 3) they have probably attempted to get their own medals and know how tough it can be, so they just assume the trainer IS that much better than them and neglect to remember that maybe they had access to top horses who “carried” their scores.

SO with that being said, I think it’s great to have medals as they currently are, as an achievement for amateur riders. It’s a measurable goal and, IMO, sort of a fun way to encourage people to really work for a higher score. And yes, there will be people who have access to more resources who can get their medals faster than those of us who aren’t so fortunate - but so it goes with every single horse discipline. There will always ALWAYS be someone who can afford the better horse, the better trainer, go to more shows, etc but at the end of the day, you still have to learn how to ride. All that to say, let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.

As far as a metric to judge trainers (something which I’m actually not opposed to), as you’ve all mentioned, his suggestion is a bit… frustrating. The irony behind his suggestion too, is that there’s still no regulation on who trained the horse. Even under his stricter rules, I could still conceivably buy a horse, have my trainer ride it every day and bring it along but only I would show it, and eventually I could receive my medals for the work that I, frankly, did not do.

Even with this flaw though, if it is intended as a means to prove that someone can train a horse, then I think a more gracious system would be to say the horse can’t have had someone else compete at a level higher than its current medal status. So for example, I think it would be fair if you could bring along a young horse and get your bronze but never show at 4th, and then pass that horse off to another trainer to show through 4th and PSG to get their silver, and then so long as the horse never competed Intermediate another trainer could train them to GP and get their gold. I’m tempted to go so far as to require trainers to achieve them in that order, although I’d certainly want to allow trainers to be grandfathered in in some way (for ex. maybe you’ve got a horse that you’re bringing up to GP and close to earning a gold, but then you’d have to start back with a green horse before you could actually earn your gold and that just seems sub-optimal).


In Canada we have a similar medals system under EC. We also have a coach certification system under EC. My impression is that relatively few ammies and almost no coaches bother with medals, while many, maybe most, coaches find it worthwhile to get EC certification.

I get what he’s saying but honestly trying to prove that person A has been the actual trainer over the lifespan of a 15 year old horse is almost impossible. Also having to register a horse at the age of 4 basically eliminates all the OTTB and various project horses that fuel lower level ammies.

Basically it seems onerous to require so much beyond the requirements to compete.

Is there a desire for a trainer stream to illustrate lifetime achievement on a given horse? Out of the trainers who need the boost of getting a USDF medal how many get to keep a horse it’s entire performance life?

Most low level coaches start and sell horses. Most high level coaches don’t need a USDF or EC medal to prove anything. And posting pictures of winning at GP even if you acquired a made horse to do so carries more weight than getting a gold medal with scores of 60. Obviously that’s a huge accomplishment especially for an ammie. But ribbons rule for advertising a training program.

I always thought the medals was meant to be an achievable way for ammies to track their riding progress and to boost attebdance at recognized shows.


Do you think that his idea about one horse, trained by one one rider all the way up the levels will actually make it into the program rules? I’d think that USDF would see that as problematic as there would be few participants, which is not the result I think USDF is aiming for.

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Interesting idea. I’m not opposed generally to recognizing those who are able to show the same horse at every level from training to GP - but I think it’s more a special award for the gala than a medal program that is of general interest.

Off the top of my head, I can only think of one upper level pro who generally shows her own horses at all the levels (including training and second), but under these rules she may not even qualify because she has allowed students to show some of her horses.


I think Jeremy’s article may have done exactly as he had hoped - it got people thinking about the strengths and weaknesses of the current USDF medal program. I think it’s a stale program. Maybe there’s a place for a horse version of the rider medals? Recognizing the horse’s life time achievements including how many riders were able to earn their rider medals due to the horse’s effort.
I do worry when score requirements start to climb because it starts to put emphasis on gaits.


Perhaps a better idea than Professional vs Amateur would be to make it a Training vs Riding medal. There are a whole lot of reasons this wouldn’t work for a lot of people–starting with that 4YO registration thing. First thing that comes to my mind is an ammy on a budget with an OTTB who might not even come off the track til 5 or 6, but would be more than capable of getting a Bronze–but would be ineligible soley because it wasn’t registered with the USDF at 4?


The proposition that included the 4yr old registration thing isn’t mentioned by the USDF. It’s Jeremy Steinberg’s idea of what he would like to see. I can’t see that happening really.

Don’t many dressage trainers make money on sales horses? I would think that is a big part of the business for some professionals. The time it (showing one horse) would take away from showing sales horses might be untenable for many trainers.

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I would love to see it. I do think four years old is too young, however. I’ve got a coming four year old at the moment (owned and raised by me since a foal) who is not mature enough mentally to show, and he’s only had about a total of 90 days under saddle. I would not want to have to do horse breaking myself to meet these requirements (don’t want that risk). It often takes a year or two of work to get to the point of dressage specific training. I think I would prefer that it state that the horse should ONLY have been shown by one person, regardless of the age of the horse. I don’t want any more rules that encourage people to start horses at 2-1/2 in order to be able to show them first level by age 4…


I’d guess it would be fun for amateurs that have one, or two horses to train to aim for that goal. However, professionals are often dependent on producing sales horses for their living, aren’t they? So they wouldn’t necessarily have the luxury of time that some A.A’s. do, right?. That was the point of the program as I understood it. To be able to choose a trainer, by seeing that they can actually train.

I’m sure some amateurs would find it fun to work towards though.

It’ll be interesting to see what USDF comes up with when all’s said and done.

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As one who usually waits until the horse is ready to show before registering it with USDF and USE (so as to not commit needed resources too early which could be better used elsewhere until the appropriate time), there is one situation that really isn’t rare that would/could remove the urge to start horses or even show horses in tests too soon if the proposal were to come to fruition. That is lifetime registration with USDF/USEF by the breeder sometime before youngstock is sold - whether weanling, yearling, etc by the age of 4. As a former breeder I have done this as have other breeders I networked with (taking on their youngstock to back/train/sell) in order to get them sold and into desired hands/channels. Many of us have done this as both incentive and for recognition of our breeding programs (studs et al).

I am an amateur who has and continues to back/start my own youngstock (whether I breed them or buy them) and train them up the levels. I’ve earned bronze and silver with horses I started from scratch and rode up through the levels (as their sole rider) until they either had to step down (passed on to my kids) or I was forced to sell (demands from a former spouse/lifestyle changes). The one I earned my silver on has gone on to earn medals (not gold) for multiple other riders and he’s still going strong and sound at age 24 (owned by a friend now). He’s not the only one I started who has gone on to earn medals for others. I was lucky enough to train a couple more from backing through PSG before retiring them or selling. When I found myself in the midst of divorce, caring for a dying parent and an ailing one, forced to disband and sell my entire breeding herd, I managed to keep one homebred who was a weanling at the time. I am now competing him at third level with the ‘dream and hope’ of getting him to GP and earning my gold. Because I’ve always been one paranoid enough and smart enough to know the slim odds of being successful at this, I acquired an unbacked 3-year-old a couple of year ago (now 5) who I will be showing at training level next month and this will be his first recognized show. He’s kind of my back up plan. I guess the point of this is that I am one who feels this proposal would be a wonderful ‘medal’ to earn; but, the caveat is (1) I ride unconventional breeds so raising the score would probably knock me out of the running even though I have certainly earned scores above the proposed through 4th; and (2) I, working a full-time not riding related job, and approaching my retirement years (I turn 59 in August) would find the requirements daunting if forced upon me and likely would/could start eyeing more financially manageable options like western dressage or even other disciplines. Of course, if the original medal program is to be kept in place I would likely still forge ahead as planned. So how many others are there like me that are delusional, addicted and still willing to slay dragons? Over the years there have been many on here more than willing to tell me that I walk if not alone with very few shoulder to shoulder.

So as an amateur I don’t see this proposal as really necessary. Do I need Jeremy Steinberg et al’s approval or acknowledgment that I trained my horses to the levels and prizes we attain with coaching from the sidelines as my main resource? Nah…Would I seek out trainers for opinions, coaching, etc if they were successful in displaying medals earned meeting the proposed requirements? maybe…but I also wouldn’t dismiss potential help from those who appear to be capable and yet for whatever reason don’t sit in the saddle until said horses are working at least first/second level either. As I get older, I am far more selective in what I’m willing to be the test dummy for/on and see knowledge as value that isn’t always going to come in the same exact wrapper. Besides I think most of us well entrenched in the game know who can produce results, know or can find out who can walk the talk when it comes to those who hang their shingle out. That gets back to amateurs…what value is there to be gained other than our own individual pride to be formally recognized as ones who can train our own or require help from those who make this discipline and sport their way of living? I get his idea/desire but would it really advance the sport or discipline especially with the way our economy and over all culture is changing?


I think more recognition of the horse’s performance would be nice but no idea how it could be structured - the all breed awards kind of do that but at the same time it varies so much on what breed association you’re in. In APHA there are maybe a dozen horses who qualify in a year so I’m not sure how much of a real recognition it is when my mare is the only one who qualified at a level/division that year, it feels silly to list her accomplishments as “APHA All Breed Winner X Year, Y Division” when there was no one else (APHA has their own internal alternative awards that have a dressage division but it’s basically a volume competition as opposed to average score).

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My business model is for my clients to buy young horses and train them up the levels with the owner doing most of the showing. Now do I show the client horses occasionally, of course, as needed or necessary.

Case in point we have one GP horse who his entire career is super insecure and nervous his first couple shows each spring. His owner also has show nerves so I show him the first show or two and then they are off and running! Does that make me not the trainer and quite frankly does that negate all the scores his owner gets through the year…? With this proposed rule change neither me nor his owner who have had him his entire career since he was 4 to now 14 show that we have earned the right to say we can train a horse?

The other problem I see with this is that horse trainers like myself and financially strapped and these last years the finances are very slim. I’ve had to sell a couple of my horses to stay afloat. So now I only have the one horse left which is all eggs in one basket. If she makes it she makes it but I can’t justify owning more horses to “prove” I can train everything in my barn… oh wait I’ve got multiple 4yr olds to FEI but I guess that doesn’t count because their owners mostly showed them.

Or should I only look for clients who want to buy me a horse (complete sarcasm here) so I can “prove” I can train…

I’m lucky enough to have a lovely young horse to show this year that we have had since he was 4, his owner is traveling most the summer and wants me to put show miles on since he hasn’t shown much because he needed time (years) to finish growing into himself.

He schools all the PSG but only strong enough right now for 3rd. Should my training and showing of this horse this year not count all the years of training I’ve put on him for his AA owner? If I get him to GP and better yet get his owner there does that not reflect my training…? Or should I push on my client that he’s tricky to show so I can keep the ride…?

I call bullshit.