The Gold Coast Dressage Association turned 35 this year and kicked off its Coral Anniversary by cooking up an asado hosted at the Palm Beach Equine facility in Wellington.
The event also marked a milestone for longtime GCDA President and Show Manager Noreen O’Sullivan, who has not only seen the amazing transformation of the sport of dressage in the community, but has personally been a catalyst for the advancement of dressage in South Florida.
O’Sullivan has served as the GCDA president for more than a decade after pitching in at almost every position. Early on, she served as a volunteer, a runner (who literally runs the score sheets from the judges’ box to the scorer), a scribe (the person who puts the judges’ comments and scores on the test sheet), the scorer (who tallies the scores on the tests) and a competitor.
When O’Sullivan was sidelined from competing for a year after a car accident, she wanted to stay involved in dressage even though she couldn’t ride. “The club probably benefited from me being sidelined because I still wanted to be involved with the sport, and that spearheaded my movement into management,” she explained.
O’Sullivan served in many additional roles, including the newsletter editor, overseeing sponsorships and publications, show manager, then vice president and eventually president.
Her commitment to the sport has had a profound ripple effect in making Wellington known around the globe for world-class dressage. In fact, while spearheading the GCDA, and holding down her full-time job as a financial planner, O’Sullivan and her husband, John Flanagan, started Wellington Classic Dressage, a show management company that would work side-by-side with the GCDA to further the sport of dressage and attract more riders from around the world.
In her capacity as show manager for both GCDA and WCD, O’Sullivan hosted dressage shows at a number of Palm Beach facilities, including the Winter Equestrian Festival show grounds, Sunshine Meadows in Delray Beach, the Jim Brandon Equestrian Center, the White Fences Equestrian Center and the Horse Park at Equestrian Estates in Loxahatchee.
“Hosting shows in so many different venues was a big learning curve,” she explained. “When Stadium Jumping was sold to Equestrian Sport Productions, we moved to Jim Brandon. Back then, we hosted three to four shows a year.”
But the community craved dressage, and the demand for education and dressage competitions was increasing rapidly. Today, GCDA and WCD host as many as 16 shows and educational events a year, and Equestrian Sport Productions hosts an additional 11 dressage shows in the high season at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival, which O’Sullivan also had an influence on.
Back in 2013, Equestrian Sport Productions approached Wellington Classic Dressage with their vision for the Global Dressage Festival and negotiated to purchase several of WCD’s high season show dates to facilitate the startup of the Global Dressage Festival. “Equestrian Sport Productions saw the high level of interest in dressage, and I saw it as an opportunity to again further our sport,” O’Sullivan explained.
The result is that Wellington became a world-renowned mecca for dressage at the highest level, something that thrills O’Sullivan. “Wellington is known all over the world for dressage, and I take great pride in that. I have friends in the dressage community worldwide, and we all share a common thread — the love of our sport,” she explained.
But O’Sullivan is quick to note that the GCDA is much more than just dressage competitions. “We are about a sense of community and advancing the sport through education as well,” she said.
The GCDA’s track record in the education arena is equally as stellar. O’Sullivan beams when she talks about the many social and educational events that make the GCDA such a great organization for the sport.
“We host adult camps, unmounted events, symposiums and ride-a-test events throughout the year as well,” she explained, noting the recent Stephen Clarke symposium held Feb. 11-12. “FEI 5* Judge General Stephen Clarke is one of the most sought-after horsemen in the world.”
O’Sullivan is proud of her role in the GCDA and the organization’s contribution to dressage, but also thanks many other people who played key roles. “It takes a village. We have an outstanding GCDA board, and everyone brings new ideas and energy to the club,” she said.
This year, that board has worked together to launch the Gold Coast Dressage Education Scholarship Program for amateurs and professionals. Her goal is that the GCDA, despite the increasing level of talent, “never lose the sense of community and friendly welcoming atmosphere that has been the cornerstone of the GCDA for 35 years.”
So, what would O’Sullivan like to see for the future? “Quite honestly, I hope to live to see the perfect 10 score,” she said. “A test performed to score a 100 percent.”
And with the caliber of horses and judging in Wellington today, thanks to organizations like the Gold Coast Dressage Association, it might happen here.
The GCDA is committed to education and promoting good sportsmanship, along with high ethical and moral standards in horsemanship and equestrian sport. Its mission is to organize and operate educational activities while fostering local and national amateur dressage competition.
To learn more about the Gold Coast Dressage Association, or to become a member or sponsor, visit www.gcdafl.org.