An Exciting Summer for the Future of Dressage

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Ribbons from the Festival of Champions. Photo by Ruby Tevis

By George Williams, USDF President

This story is sponsored by Sidelines Magazine.  It originally appeared here.

There’s something about getting older that makes time go by faster. This past summer may have gone by quickly, perhaps partly because it was jam-packed with dressage for our youth. For me, it started with being in Europe with some of our Young Riders—four, to be precise. Christian Simonson, Erin Nichols, and Mackenzie Peer represented the U.S. in June at the Hagen CDIOY that’s part of the Future Champions competition hosted by the Kasselmann family in Germany. This amazing competition is as close as we come to a world championships for youth. It offers individual and team events in four divisions from FEI Children through FEI Young Rider in both dressage and jumping.

Then at the end of June, for the very first time, CHIO Aachen held a CDIY. Last year’s top the North American Youth Championships (NAYC) placers, Christian Simonson and Miki Yang, had the honor and good fortune to ride down the center line in the famous Deutsche Bank Stadium as our U.S. representatives. What an incredible experience this proved to be! Two weeks later, Miki went on to win the Young Rider Freestyle in the CDIY at the Schafhofs Jurgendfestival near Frankfurt.

In August, for the fourth time, a USEF European Young Rider Tour member won the individual gold and the Fiona Baan “Pursuit of Excellence” award at NAYC. The experience and confidence gained from competing in Europe by our young athletes is tremendous and hard to beat. I’ve written before about the importance of the NAYC, and I cannot stress the value of it enough. The Junior Rider division was ultimately won by Ella Fruchterman, who also won the Amanda Johnson Trophy and who then went on to win the Junior National Championships at the Festival of Champions.

Fortunately, there are a number of individuals who share my belief in the value of the NAYC. This not only includes the organizers who take on this huge commitment each year but the unbelievably dedicated volunteers who serve as chef d’equipes for their region’s teams as well. This year, one of the most fervent of those volunteers, Debbie DelGiorno, was honored with the Patsy Albers Chef d’Equipe Award for going above and beyond in helping to recruit additional security gate keepers and scribes to keep the competition running without a hitch.

Truly one of the highlights of this summer was the Festival of Champions (FOC) held August 22–28 at Lamplight Equestrian Center in Wayne, Illinois. The FOC is the USEF Dressage National Championships for 16 different divisions including the Dressage Seat Medal Finals. That’s not counting the Para Dressage National Championships, which were added this year for the first time. I find the week fascinating, as it gives us a sneak peek into the future. The number of quality horses, some of which were American-bred, in the Young Horse divisions increases each year. This was an impressive year.

What struck me was the position and poise of our youth riders. It was very noticeable how well our youth riders are sitting in the saddle, well balanced with correct lines, good hand and arm position, and an ability to be one with the horse. In large part, this can be credited to the success of the Dressage Seat Medal (DSM) program. The program seems to be quietly doing its job, and perhaps doesn’t always get the fanfare it deserves.

The new format for the FEI Children test is a perfect complement to the DSM program as it, too, stresses the fundamental importance of building a good foundation with a correct seat, which allows for correct and effective aids. We are definitely seeing positive results from these classes, making it exciting to think about the future and in particular Los Angeles 2028! Some of the youth riders may still be too young, but others may be gearing up for it, adding their names to the ever-growing list of talented riders already setting their sights on the Olympics. Experiences like the NAYC, the FOC, and the European Young Rider Tour can only help them find their way. We need to continue to build on these critical programs in order to continue to increase the depth of talent in this country.

The same is also true for the equine talent. With careful training and development, we will hopefully see a few (or, dare I hope, many) of the current young horses trying out for L.A. No matter how you look at it, we need to stay very focused, for if we do, the next five years will be very exciting for our sport!

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