The Future Champions Competition

Kayla Kadlubeck on Perfect Step, owned by Dressage4Kids, at Compiégne. Photo courtesy of George Williams

By George Williams, USDF President

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

Every June, young equestrians from approximately 22 countries around the world gather at Hof Kasselmann in Hagen, Germany, for the Future Champions competition. Over the course of five days, athletes ranging in age from 12 to 21 compete in dressage and jumping. There are team competitions: Nations Cups for FEI Children, FEI Pony Rider, FEI Junior Rider and FEI Young Rider. Additionally, combinations not already entered in the team competition have the option of competing as individuals in their respective divisions. That’s my description of it in plain English. Technically, it is a long list of CDI and CSI competitions all rolled into one which, if you don’t understand FEI speak, can sound like a lot of gibberish!

There is nothing quite like this competition anywhere on earth. I confess, it always brings a smile to my face. Where else do you see so many young people doing extended trots and half passes or jumping water and oxers on ponies and horses, all while hearing so many different languages? It’s wonderful to see and hear the common bond being forged between the youth as a result of their universal love of horses and equestrian sports. 

The Future Champions competition is the closest thing we have to a World Championships for dressage and jumping for youth. I can say with certainty, after being with our senior team at the 2022 FEI World Championships, Future Champions is just as stressful. I’m no less nervous watching our Young Riders in Hagen than I was in Herning!

For many in our dressage youth program, it has become an important aspirational competition. This year is the seventh time in the last nine years the United States has sent a Young Rider dressage team. As I write this column, it is less than a week away. We once again have a promising, talented team and they are ready to take on their peers from some of the leading dressage countries in the world. Our US team consisted of Christian Simonson on Son Of A Lady, Erin Nichols on Elian Royale, and Kat Fuqua on Dreamgirl. We won team bronze in the CDIOY with Christian and Son Of A Lady earning 2nd, Erin and Elian Royale placing 6th and Kat and Dreamgirl placing 11th. I can guarantee from experience that each one of them will return to the States a more confident rider and a stronger competitor. This has proven to be true in the past and is a primary reason why I am a strong believer in the program.

We refer to it as the US Equestrian European Dressage Young Rider Tour. Usually, we include a warmup competition, doing our best to make it a CDIY. In the past, we have used Compiégne, France. This year the FEI calendar has been more challenging in that finding CDIYs on optimum dates has not been an easy task. We have one athlete competing in the Netherlands at Geesternen and another did a national show in Germany. You might think a rectangle is a rectangle anywhere in the world. But competing in countries with strong histories of top-quality horse sports can take some out of their comfort zones. While in my opinion we are all more alike than not, we do encounter some cultural differences. Finally, when you ride down your first center line on a different continent, the fact that you are representing your country can suddenly have a startling new meaning. I find competing at these competitions as an individual is great preparation for riding with others as a team in a major event such as Future Champions.

One reason Future Champions works so well in attracting so many countries is a team is made up of three combinations. There is a drop score, meaning that only the top two scores count. This allows a country to send a team of two, making it easier for some countries that cannot field a team of three riders. In fact, that’s what we did in 2015, the first year we sent a team. The team medal standings for the CDIOY are based on the results of the FEI Young Rider (YR) Team Test. There are individual medals for the YR Individual Test, and it determines which combinations move forward to the Freestyle Competition. In the spirit of inclusiveness, in the past Future Champions had the “Kleine Freestyle” for those combinations that did not move forward to the final freestyle. In so many ways, this was a genius idea, if simply for the fact that when you travel 3,000-plus miles to be there, even if you have a bad day, you have a chance to have another go. This in itself can be a huge confidence builder.

After the Future Champions, two of our athletes will move on to the Aachen CDIY, which is held as part of the one and only CHIO Aachen. Both competitions are part of a more global effort to promote youth in dressage. While these competitions are the pinnacle, they can never replace the importance of all youth competitions. In the U.S. we’re fortunate to have excellent competitions such as the USEF/USDF Dressage Seat Medal Program, Pony Club Rallies and Championship, Dressage4KidsYouth Dressage Festival, USEF National Championships for FEI Children, Ponies Juniors, YRs and U25, and the North American Youth Championships. We are lucky to be able to provide so many opportunities for our youth! But, as always we still have more work to do!

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