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Cheryl Tobey : Founder of Coastal Empire Dressage Association

Story by Karlee Anderson Photos by Nelson LaPorte

When Cheryl Tobey’s oldest daughter turned eight, she gave her the awesome gift of a horse. Cheryl did not know then of the exciting journey that she was starting, not only for her daughter, but for herself. She was a school counselor for nineteen years, and while she worked, she grew a passion for horses and riding through the influence of her daughters, Emma and Kate. “They dragged me into it,” she laughs. Now, Cheryl is the president of the Coastal Empire Dressage Association, an affiliate of the United States Equestrian Federation. She started this group three years ago to help support and grow the community around her hobby that she has grown to love.

     “I had always fiddled around and trail rode,” Cheryl shares. “As the girls grew and went off to college, they left the horses here…I said, ‘They’re here, so I might as well start riding.’ And I started getting more serious about it.” That start was about eight years ago, and within a couple of  years, she had begun to take her riding to the next level by competing in dressage. “I’m only about training or first level,” she says. Dressage is a progressive training plan. A beginner will start with basic walk/trot movements and add more difficulty as he or she progresses. The levels are introductory, training, first, second, third, and fourth; after fourth level, the dressage competition progresses to a more major scale. “You can work your way up to the stuff you see at the Olympics which is called FEI…the highest level,” she explains. At each level of dressage, a rider can compete and show with three different tests. When Cheryl and other dressage competitors practice, they know the test to work on and practice the parts.

     When the time comes to compete, Cheryl is given a very specific time to begin; being even one minute late can disqualify a rider from the competition. There is an arena that is sixty by two hundred meters and is surrounded by large letters. “They’re not in alphabetical order; they make no sense whatsoever,” Cheryl laughs. “When it’s your turn you go in and you go around the outside of it. The judge is sitting in the middle at the far end.” Each competitor must pass by the judge to make sure they know who they are and what number they have. “They blow a whistle or ring a bell, something so you know, and you have forty-five seconds to get yourself in the arena,” she explains. All of the tests have around twenty movements that have to be performed with precision. “Each one of those things is given a score from zero, which means you didn’t do it at all, to ten, which is absolutely perfect,” she says. “They will add those up and divide it by the total possible score so that you get a percentage. If you’re in the sixties, you’re real happy. Someone who can get a 70-74 is ecstatic!”

     Cheryl’s own joy and excitement led her to begin the Coastal Empire Dressage Association which averages twenty-two members. “It is just a community, so you can get together and do things. We put on two schooling shows a year,” she shares. “About every other month we will hold a meeting and have a speaker so members can come and learn.” Currently, the association is preparing for their fall schooling show on October 28 at Echelon in Guyton. As president of the group, Cheryl is highly instrumental in hosting this show. She works with her vice president and treasurer as well as any of the membership that wants to be a part of the planning. “We have sort of this ad hoc committee, and they’ve divided up the duties and taken care of different parts of the show,” she says. The upcoming show is something that Cheryl is really thrilled to share with the community.

     Even prior to her own ventures in dressage competition and association leadership, Cheryl became licensed as a C2 steward and a technical delegate for the United States Equestrian Federation. “I’m hired by horse shows, big horse shows to come and make sure people and the shows are following the rules that the federation has set up,” she states. “I spend two to three days or a week making sure that everyone –  the show management, the judges,  the participants – all are playing fairly and equally.” Usually, this job requires her to travel to surrounding states like Florida and South Carolina; however, this summer she has traveled as far as Texas for a show. “I’ve been a steward for probably close to ten years, and I’ve been a technical delegate, which only does dressage, I think about five years now. It’s two separate things,” she says. Those two separate things each required their own licensing. There is a clinic to attend, apprenticeship, application and an exam. Cheryl completed that licensing process for both positions with the encouragement of a friend. “At the time, the United States Equestrian Federation was looking and seeing that a lot of their stewards were getting very old and that they would have a shortage,” she explains. She decided to fill that gap and because of her enjoyment of dressage specifically she decided to be a technical delegate as well. “There aren’t many people in the country that do both things,” she shares.

     Cheryl’s family is important to her, and they support her in her passion differently. Her husband, Tony, is not as interested in watching long hours of competition. “It’s like watching grass grow to him,” she laughs. For a local show, Tony is there right on time to see Cheryl compete, like he will be for the upcoming show at Echelon.  “Because it’s my club, he’ll come and help me set up, and he runs the concession if I need him to,” she says. Her daughters were the inspiration and motivation that got her started in the hobby. The love for horses, specifically Arabians, is shared by the three ladies, and they are passing it on to a new generation. Cheryl has young grandsons that are enjoying getting to learn about horses alongside their mamas and grandma. With the support of her family, Cheryl is succeeding in her pursuits in dressage and enjoying the day-to-day fun of being a horse owner.

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