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Dressage Drama

More than 100 beginner to advanced riders team up for the annual Dressage Show at the Lake Oswego Hunt Club

Typically, Karansa acts like any other well-loved and well-fed horse enjoying a summer afternoon.

He munches leisurely on mouthfuls of hay, dozes under the warm sun and perks up when his owner, Leah Singh, offers him a sugar cube.

While she lovingly refers to the 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding as an 'insecure introvert,' his time under saddle tells a different tale.

With Singh's at the reins, Karansa turned into a dramatic showstopper at the annual Dressage Show, held at the historic Lake Oswego Hunt Club last week.

To an instrumental version of Madonna's 'Like a Prayer,' Karansa and Singh seemed to float effortlessly across the riding arena floor as part of the duo's 'musical freestyle' routine.

Decked out in spotless white riding pants, top hat and black jacket, Singh guided her impeccably groomed horse through a series of motions that required him to extend and collect his trot, sidestep by crossing his legs and perform a 360-degree turn in place.

For a 1,600-pound animal, the performance depicted horse ballet at its most harmonious.

For the rider, however, the pressure to perfect the piece can feel overwhelming.

'I'm in the driver's seat,' said Singh, a West Linn resident who imported Karansa from Holland. 'I know what mistakes we make and I know they're my errors.'

Although the discipline has its roots in classical Greek horsemanship, dressage was first recognized as an important equestrian pursuit during the Renaissance in Western Europe.

Today, the discipline can take riders to local fun shows or as far as the Olympic games.

The practice of dressage, the French word for 'training,' requires the rider to concentrate on his or her physical communication with the horse while developing the horse athletically through a series of standardized training methods which build strength and endurance.

During a dressage show, for example, horse and rider must perform a prescribed series of movements, or 'tests,' in a memorized course. Each entrant is then ranked, based on quality of each movement.

'The value of a show like this is that you get feedback and because I train independently, it's helpful,' said Singh, who trains and breeds horses at her West Linn farm.

This year, the three-day Lake Oswego Hunt Club show drew about 100 beginner to advanced riders from around Oregon and as far away as Montana and northern California.

The indoor and outdoor rings were used for competition, while the grass polo field provided a place for riders to warm up and cool down their horses - from high-stepping Friesians to stocky ponies and elegant Warmbloods with riders decked out in their finest.

'This is a great show that a lot of people come to because it's such a pretty facility and the weather's usually nice,' said Harriet Hauser, a trainer and instructor from Ridgefield, Wash., who registered a handful of her horses in the show.

For most riders, the Lake Oswego dressage show - recognized nationally by the U.S. Dressage Federation - offers a chance to earn points toward qualifying for the regional championship, to be held in late September at DevonWood Stables in Sherwood.

'There are top notch horses and riders here,' said show manager Eva Fellner, the hunt club's dressage instructor. 'There is no bad ride. It's that competitive.'

Fellner described the dressage show as having a similar structure as a karate competition, in which entrants compete within their own skill level.

'For example, this horse is a black belt,' she said, pointing to a particularly well-trained horse listed in the program.

One participant estimated such Olympic-caliber horses could cost upwards of $200,000, depending on factors ranging from breed to age to level of training.

Lake Oswego resident Sandee Archer joined the Hunt Club a year ago after dropping by one afternoon. Since then, she's 'collected' three horses, including a pony for her 3-year-old daughter.

'My parents never had the finances to afford a horse, so I had to wait,' she said.

Now an 'event' rider who jumps indoor and outdoor courses and does dressage, Archer has quickly caught the horse bug and doesn't intend to stop soon.

She spends hours each day at the Hunt Club, once the largest privately owned riding arena on the West Coast. The facilities still retain their charm and practicality for all things horse-related.

'There's so much knowledge here that if you have an issue, you can always talk to someone about it,' she said.



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