Two Giants of the Dressage World – Michael Poulin and Ravel

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DRESSAGE LEGEND: Olympian, trainer, and coach Michael Poulin at his Hall of Fame induction ceremony (Jennifer Bryant photo)

Honoring Michael Poulin and Ravel (Part One of Two Parts. To read Part 2 about Ravel, click here)

By Kim Sodt

Reprinted from the December 2012/January 2013 USDF Connection magazine

Michael Poulin and Ravel need little introduction to the dressage community. Poulin’s multifaceted roles—rider, trainer, Olympian, instructor, and judge—have made him one of the most influential figures in the sport. With rider Steffen Peters, the KWPN gelding Ravel piaffed his way into our hearts and broke new ground for the US in the international arena.

These two American dressage greats will be inducted into the Roemer Foundation/USDF Hall of Fame at December’s Salute Gala and Annual Awards Banquet at the 2012 Adequan/USDF Annual Convention in New Orleans. Let’s meet them here.

Michael Poulin: A Trainer’s Trainer

Michael Poulin tried everything from trick riding to driving before eventually focusing on dressage, drawn by our sport’s intellectual complexity and by the feeling of satisfaction he got from seeing horse and rider develop.

Like many dressage enthusiasts, Poulin admits that he is never satisfied. He sets a goal, meets it, and then looks for the next goal to tackle. It is this drive that may best explain his many diverse accomplishments in dressage as well as in other areas of his life.
One of eleven children, Poulin was born in Newport, RI, in 1945, where his father worked as a machinist in a shipyard. Shortly after the family moved to roomier quarters on Hillside Farm in Fairfield, ME, Michael Poulin’s father died of a heart attack. Michael was just four years old.

The Poulin family remained at the farm, and the children grew up around animals, including horses. When Michael was around the age of ten, his sister Lucy approached Skipper Bartlett, the riding instructor at a nearby private girls’ school, for lessons. Bartlett encouraged the Poulin children to be disciplined in their riding, and soon Michael was hooked.
As his equestrian education progressed, Poulin trained with many dressage greats: Captain Andros Solarzano, a dressage expert from Equador; Franz Rochowansky of the Spanish Riding School of Vienna; Herbert Rehbein; Wolfgang Niggli; Col. Bengt Ljungquist; Waldemar Seunig; and Gabriella Grillo. From Robert Thibodeau, a ballet master who devised a system called Body Control and Discipline, Michael learned isometric dancing and ballet. Thibodeau also helped Poulin to develop his seat as a rider. Along the way Poulin developed a keen “feel” for a horse and an uncanny ability to read a horse and zero in on its training challenges and how to fix them.

His equestrian skill brought Poulin a reputation as a “trainer’s trainer.” Poulin established his own riding school and training facility at his family’s Hillside Farm, where he would live with his wife, fellow dressage rider/trainer Sharon Poulin, and their four children for more than 35 years. During that time many future dressage stars came to Poulin’s School of Dressage to study, including Lendon Gray, Carol Lavell, Kathy Connelly, Michael Barisone, and Pam Goodrich. Poulin’s daughters Gwen and Kate (now Kate Poulin-Neff) followed in their parents’ footsteps and also became accomplished professional dressage trainers and riders.

Michael Poulin and Graf George

Michael Poulin’s legacy is also that of a trainer of numerous Grand Prix-level dressage horses. Perhaps the best known of Poulin’s own mounts is Graf George, who won Olympic team bronze under Poulin at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and a second team bronze under Guenter Seidel in Atlanta 1996. A teammate of Poulin’s in Barcelona was Carol Lavell, whom Poulin helped to train her legendary mount, Gifted. Both horses are members of the Roemer Foundation/USDF Hall of Fame.

From 1989 through 1991, Poulin held the title of US national Intermediate I champion with three horses: Watch Me, Lighten up Jack, and Zambo. In 1991, he was a member of the gold-medal-winning US Olympic Festival team alongside student Lendon Gray.

Poulin, who now calls DeLeon Springs, FL, home, holds USEF “S” and FEI 4* judge’s licenses and serves on numerous US Equestrian Federation and USDF committees. He is a co-founder of the USDF Instructor/Trainer Program, which was established in 1992. Poulin remains a certification examiner in the flagship USDF educational program. And through The Dressage Foundation, Poulin launched the Advanced Young Rider Olympic Dream Program, which provides young riders with an opportunity to travel to Europe to meet and learn from top riders and trainers.

Michael Poulin’s endless energy and drive to tackle new goals have made a tremendous impact for the betterment of dressage, and we are reaping the benefits today.

Read part 2 about Ravel here.

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