Jouelle Kimura’s mother forbade her to ride. Later she saw a dearth of dressage opportunities for youth. She persisted, and in 2021, she became the USDF Youth Volunteer of the Year.
By Ruby Tevis
Jouelle Kimura isn’t your typical college student. The nineteen-year-old sophomore at River College in Elk Grove, California, balances her music studies with film acting, earning her USDF Bronze Medal, and giving back to her community. Last year, in recognition of her volunteering achievements, Kimura was named the 2021 USDF Youth Volunteer of the Year.
Born and raised in Folsom, California, Kimura’s journey into the saddle took some begging and pleading. A family friend had been killed in a jumping accident, so Kimura’s mother was understandably hesitant to permit her horse-crazy daughter to ride.
In sixth grade, Kimura discovered dressage through an exhibition at school.
“Dressage was supposed to be safe—and you go slower—so I asked my mom if I could take a lesson,” Kimura says. “Of course, she said no!” Undeterred, she approached her stepfather, who agreed to schedule a lesson. Then, “My mom came out to my lesson and, turns out, she loved coming to the barn as much as I did.”
As her interest in dressage deepened, Kimura became more involved in the sport, attending shows and joining the Foothills Chapter of the California Dressage Society (CDS).
“My mom and I started to realize that there was a lot of work to be done to promote the sport,” Kimura says. “That started us on our volunteer journey of becoming [USDF Board of Governors] delegates and starting our junior/young rider programs.”
Alongside her work to introduce the Foothills Chapter Youth Committee, Kimura set out to raise money for youth scholarships. She, her CDS chapter, and dressage Olympian Kasey Perry-Glass collaborated to create the Equinesta Celebration, a fund-raising event hosted at Perry-Glass’s family’s farm in Orangeville, California.
“We raised $12,000 for scholarships. I am so grateful to the Perry-Glass family and the sponsors of that event,” Kimura says.
Brainstorming for additional ideas with fellow members of the Foothills Chapter Youth Committee, Kimura and her peers decided that there was a need for holistic horsemanship education.
“As young people and the future of the sport, we have a good perspective on what we want to learn, so we wanted to make sure that youth voices were heard,” Kimura says. “We decided what we wanted to see happen, and we put together the Equine Wellness Clinic.” The clinic, with sessions on massage therapy, saddle fitting, and natural horsemanship, was a hit with kids and adults alike.
As Kimura approaches her final years as a junior/young rider, she’s juggling academics with riding and volunteering in dressage. After graduation, she plans to combine her loves of music and dressage to become a freestyle designer. She is currently enrolled in the USDF L Education Program to further her dressage education, and she also plans to volunteer for a local therapeutic-riding organization, Project Ride.
“I’ll always look for opportunities to help and pitch in,” Kimura says, “but it really is about the village. I hope people always know there’s hope for the future of dressage. We are committed to building a legacy and grateful to those who created the opportunities we have now. I wish there was an award for my mom because of her passion for promoting youth. She was always a major driving factor behind my volunteer endeavors. The Foothills Chapter, the parents, the other juniors—none of it would be possible without them. I couldn’t be more thankful for them and this award.”