I've just returned from another AWESOME monthly-or-so clinic at the stunning Sally Run in Wytheville, Va. We were sitting around the dinner table chatting, and a few of the riders expressed their frustration at the world of showing. There are lots of things that aren't ideal about horse shows, but the one that frustrated these riders the most was that so often they came home from the shows empty-handed.
When you listen to the chatter at the tack shops or in the barn aisles of the American dressage world, you're bound to hear the same story. Showing is expensive. It's time consuming. Amateur riders work preposterously hard to fit in their rides around their families and their jobs and their lives, all to get ready for the show, only to place out of the ribbons in a blended division of a bajillion people, half of them professionals.
I grew up in the Chicagoland area, and Jr/YRs, amateurs and open riders almost always competed in their own divisions of each class, at even the most local of shows, but this is not true of the entire country. I've never understood this. How hard would it be to divvy up each class by the riders' statuses? They could even all ride in the same class, in the same window of time, but simply give out ribbons for each division at the end.
But even that doesn't tell the whole story. Within the amateur division are both beginner riders on beginner horses and lifelong riders, experienced at FEI, on their young up-and-coming fancypants partner. Within the Jr/YR divisions are 9-year-olds on aging ponies and 20-year-old NAJYRC phenoms or professional working students. And within the professional divisions are USET members and riders who make their living starting 3-year-olds and selling them and have managed to hang onto just one to try and move up the levels for the first time. Even these three categories do not fit all.
So I have another suggestion.
Let's divide the riders into four categories: Gold, Silver, Bronze and Unrated. Your category is determined by what U.S. Dressage Federation Medal you hold. (Now, even that's not perfect, you say: Should Steffen Peters compete in the same division as someone with only 2 60 percents at Grand Prix to their name? Yes, I say. We have to draw a line somewhere, and it has to be practical.) These divisions have nothing to do with age or profession - young and old, pro and amateur; your division corresponds to the highest level at which you've demonstrated proficiency.
At every show in the country, Level 2 to Level 5, each class has two divisions. Training level, test 1, through third level, test 3, have Unrated and Bronze/Silver/Gold; if you have your bronze medal or above, you compete with the big kids, and if you don't, you compete in the Unrated division.
Fourth Level, test 1, through PSG has Unrated/Bronze and Silver/Gold. Bronze medalists and below compete together, as do Silver and Gold medalists.
Lastly, the I1 through Grand Prix have two divisions: Unrated/Bronze/Silver and Gold.
There need to be ribbons for each division of each test. And if that means that there's only one person in the lower division of the I1, and that person gets their own blue ribbon when, in the upper division, they would have placed 20th, then buy them a blue ribbon. If that means that GMOs and show management spend half as much again on ribbons at their horse shows, then so be it. I'll guarantee you'll have more people who want to play.