It was early in September while tacking up for a lesson that Amy’s trainer, also the dressage coach for Michigan State University, asked if we knew of any horses that she might be able to use for their upcoming IDA show. We both enthusiastically replied, “you can use ours!”

The IDA is the Intercollegiate Dressage Association, which offers college riders the unique opportunity to compete in dressage as a team for their school. Teams are made up of four riders, one Intro, one Lower Training, one Upper Training, and one First Level rider. While that may not sound very challenging, the true difficulty lies in piloting an unfamiliar mount through a dressage test, as IDA riders are prohibited from riding their own horses in competition. At each show, host schools must provide enough horses for all riders showing, and competing teams literally pull names out of a hat for the horses they’ll ride that day. Riders are allowed only ten minutes to warm up and acclimate to the horse they’re riding, and then they must ride their test.

Finding suitable horses to use can be quite challenging, as each horse must be capable of performing a solid first level dressage test, be steady enough to take care of a beginner rider, and have the adaptability to mentally handle multiple riders. While the coach struggled to find appropriate horses and willing owners, we jumped at the opportunity to share our wonderful girls.

MSU’s dressage team was amazingly hospitable, and once we arrived on the show grounds we didn’t have to lift a finger – teammates fought over who was in charge of which pony, and those left promptly unpacked our tack and hay before we even realized the trailer was empty! Our golden ponies settled in well between all the Warmbloods and Thoroughbreds, and of course willingly followed anybody they thought might provide food (they weren’t disappointed). Charts posted on the barn wall mapped out who was assigned to each horse for braiding, wrapping and tacking, and we left for the evening feeling very comfortable that they’d probably receive better attention than at home.

The first day of the show dawned below freezing and raining, and we immediately received comments on how great our horses were acting despite weather, when all the others were extra fresh, and one even had to be pulled from the show after a few extra warm-up stunts. Positive comments from coaches and riders alike continued all weekend, and we heard everything from promises to steal our ponies at the end of the weekend, to coaches commending their excellent behavior and steady obedience.

Over the course of the two-day show, we watched each of our mares take their riders through six different Intro and Training level tests. The dozen rides ranged from nervous beginners who managed to hang on, to solid riders who really put the girls together and off their hind ends for a fabulous test. We had just as much fun watching the girls take care of timid newbies as we did watching them perform a stellar test, and hearing all the positive exclamations as riders left the ring was incredibly heartwarming. Several competitors took home pictures, guests wandered the barns specifically looking for the ponies, and more than one teammate suggested a rider just keep on trotting out of the ring and take the horse home. We thoroughly enjoyed watching others gain so much pleasure from our fabulous Haflingers, and they did us and breed very proud this weekend!