California Riding Magazine • October, 2009

Dressage in the Wine Country
It happened one hot August night!

by Susan L. Nelson

This year’s Dressage in the Wine Country was a remarkable round trip ticket to - WOW!! Judy McHerron, her committee, the riders, vendors and wineries worked, set-up and rehearsed through solar surface heat indexes! Only to start all over again with a smashing evening performance. This is what truly makes Sonoma County the best place for dressage. We have it all here: great trainers, outstanding facilities and a sense of family that makes events such as this not only possible but highly successful.

Darrin Taplin & D’Re Stergios.
Photo: Ruth Lake,

With the creme de la creme of Sonoma County riding and orchestrating DWC, we were treated to a tuxedo clad Friesian drill team called Cheval Noire. Art Grunig and Carol Hill convinced us that reining and dressage truly are kissing cousins. Santa Rosa’s newest addition, Dave Donnelly, rode Tracy Underwood’s Lusitano stallion, Verso, in what appeared to be a conquistadors get-up. However, upon closer inspection the costume appeared to be a bit more Captain Jack Sparrow than Don Quixote. Dave was quite excited to be able to ride twice that evening for the receptive spectators. “Tracy made me wear the costume,” he shared. “I’m really honored to be here!”

Riana Porter.
Photo: Ruth Lake,

The lovely Riana Porter (2009 USEF Junior Champion) showed us that dressage is not just for adults. The stunning 17-year-old performed a fantastic freestyle that was a treat to behold. Riana trains with Sue Curry Shaffer of Fairwind Farm. (Whatever you have up there, Sue, bottle it and sell it to the rest of us!)

A long time DWC favorite, Sharon Marshall gave a poignant farewell performance with her 20-year-old mare Aniara. Sharon will be retiring Aniara to her home so that they can enjoy the trails together. Sharon donned her 1960 prom dress and performed her kur to a medley of the songs she danced to at her prom. The fact that she still fits in the darn dress was not lost on the spectators! The platinum be-wigged Sharon insisted “this really isn’t my hair” and that she owes her success in making the Grand Prix ranks to Sue Curry Shaffer (again) of Fairwind Farm. (Really, Sue! Bottle it, sell it or at least share the recipe!)

Sharon Marshall & Aniara.
Photo: Ruth Lake,

Darrin Taplin and D’Re Stergios choreographed and performed a marvelous FEI pas de deux. Their performance was absolutely spot on and a favorite of the evening. D’Re trains with Darrin and fairly recent addition to the Sonoma County dressage scene, Jane Weatherwax. Jane teaches clinics on a regular basis at Cynthia Hall’s Woodbridge Farm in Petaluma.

I can’t begin to list everyone that participated in the performance. There were so many incredible rides that you will just have to attend the 2010 event to see for yourselves. Mark your calendars and plan to make the trip to Santa Rosa for the next show! Complimenting the show were over 50 vendors plus a large number of wineries that were pouring very generous portions. Everything from saddle makers, custom boots and a tricycle that looked like a pony were up for sale. (I really want that tricycle!)

Dave Donnelly & Verso.
Photo: Ruth Lake,

Shopping, wine sipping (yeah sipping ... right!) and the quintessential garlic fries kept us all busy and very happy prior to the show itself. How all those involved held up through the brutal heat is a testament to their dedication to our Sonoma County Dressage Society. (Or possibly slight insanity; it was really, really HOT!)

My hat is off to all of you who sweated and toiled to give us a memorable afternoon and evening of unforgettable performances. A great big Wayne’s World “We’re not worthy” to all of you! But we sure did appreciate all the effort.

Susan L. Nelson is a Northern California advertising sales representative for California Riding Magazine.