Our third inductee into the USDF Hall of Fame this year is Margarita Serrell, in recognition of her leadership in raising the profile of dressage in the U.S. when it was in its infancy. She was the driving force behind the creation of the American Dressage Institute (A.D.I.) and served as its first president for six years. Read more
Under her guidance, A.D.I. hosted shows, clinics, demonstrations, and seminars, and fielded the U.S. Bronze Medal Team at the 1976 Olympic Games. In the early 1960s, dressage was little known or respected in the U.S. Margarita Serrell was one of a few dedicated enthusiasts who sought to promote and develop the sport in this country. In 1967, she and others made a trial effort at hosting a dressage seminar in Saratoga Springs, NY. As Serrell tells it, "One summer, we got together a couple of guinea pigs who wanted to become acquainted with another level of riding. Things went so well during those first two and half weeks that we said, let's not let this go and let's put it together the next summer. Guess who everyone looked at," she laughed. The following year, the American Dressage Institute held its first official educational program, funded primarily by Serrell, and the A.D.I. was born, with Serrell serving as its first president for (6) years.
The organization initially attracted riders from New England and the Mid-Atlantic, but soon expanded by word of mouth, drawing participants from as far away as California, New Mexico, Texas, and Canada. Serrell described long days in the saddle followed by long discussions of dressage. "Every evening after supper, it was a free-for-all. But what we had was a school built on hope, looking forward to the day when someone in the U.S. would understand what it takes to ride dressage well." The A.D.I Dressage Seminars continued each summer. Serrell's concluding remarks in her 1969 letter to A.D.I. Members was an optimistic predictor: "Our goal of a school whose sole purpose is to teach the correct basic elements of classical dressage seems to be almost within our grasp and points the way toward putting the U.S.A in the running again on an International level. There is no reason to doubt that, with proper facilities and first rate staff, A.D.I. could produce a rider and a horse of Olympic quality for 1972, and perhaps even two for 1976." Serrell's expectations were surpassed when the U.S. won the Team bronze Medal at the 1976 Olympics, and A.D.I. footed the $20,000 bill to send the U.S. squad of Hilda Gurney on Keen, Dorothy Morkis on Monaco, and Edith Master on Dahlwitz to the games. It was the first U.S. Olympic dressage medal since 1948 and was accomplished without sending anyone to Europe. This incredible, unexpected victory was one of the most significant events in U.S. dressage history, and Margarita Serrell's leadership, faith, and unwavering dedication played a major role in making it happen. A.D.I. hired Colonel Bengt Ljungquist, who went on to coach the 1976 Olympic Team, and served as A.D.I.'s Official Head Instructor. The organization then sponsored a series of formal training sessions at the USET Headquarters in Gladtone, NJ. In addition, Ljungquist traveled all over the country to bring instruction to people who could not travel to Gladstone.
The list of A.D.I. program graduates reads like a who's who in American Dressage: FEI "O" Judge Linda Zang, 1992 Olympic Team Bronze Medallist and USDF Certification Examiner Michael Poulin, and USA Equestrian "S" judges Alexandra Howard and Tom Poulin, to name a few.
Today, the USDF Instructor Certification Program helps to carry on the A.D.I legacy of developing classically-trained teachers and trainers. Serrell was a founding member of USDF and participated in the inaugural meeting in February 1973 in Lincoln, Nebraska. She brought to the table her A.D.I experience in organizing a broad-based, member-driven national organization.
Because of Serrell's dedication and strength of purpose, her creativity in founding the American Dressage Institute, and her innovative leadership, dressage in the U.S. received the respect it deserves as an equestrian discipline. In her 1969 A.D.I. member letter, she wrote: "dressage in this country is, at present, like the weather...everybody complains about it, but nobody does anything about it." Serrell did something about it, and dressage in the U.S. is forever enriched as a result of her efforts.
We are honored to induct Margarita Serrell into the USDF Hall of Fame.
Samuel J. Barish