aspiring dressage athlete

Aachen, we are coming for you!

I was absolutely ecstatic to hear that I had been accepted as one of the lucky FOUR young riders to attend the 2019 CHIO Aachen as a courtesy of the Dressage Foundation’s Young Rider International Dream Program!

This program is not for every Young Rider. Those selected must be at a highly advanced level of experience and commitment with their riding. For those who are, this introductory excursion into European dressage means everything, and the riders come home more seriously committed than ever, knowing what they now need to work on to advance and excel in the sport.

Throughout our week in Germany, I will be keeping a journal and writing updates on this page. Check back here and on Facebook and Instagram every day from July 15-23 for updates!


Check out my Instagram page for even more updates on my “Aachen” story!

Journal Entries


Day One

We hit the ground running on our first day in Aachen! As the dressage competition had not yet begun, Bill, Reese, Raissa, Emma, Bridgid and I spend the afternoon exploring the area’s rich, historic culture. 


After leaving our things in the charming Hotel Lousberg and snagging our tickets from the CHIO Aachen booth, we began with a quick bus ride into the heart of the city. As we glimpsed into the windows of various street shops, we saw many things from colorful clothes and bags, to children’s toys, to pastries decorated for the CHIO! The city of Aachen truly embraces it’s equestrian culture no other city I’ve heard of. 

As we turned a corner around the block, we were stunned to find the magnificent Cathedral and Dom of Aachen, and the Rathaus. We were able to tour the inside of the Dom and it was absolutely breathtaking! This has been an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime trip already!

I am so glad that we were able to explore the old town of Aachen before the competition tomorrow. We ended the night with a lovely dinner and Gelato! Thank you, Dressage Foundation!

Day Two

What a day!
We began with a delicious breakfast at the Hotel Lousberg before heading to the show grounds to meet Debbie McDonald.

Debbie talked about the importance of mindset for the riders in a major competition such as this. There is an enormous amount of pressure for the riders to represent their country and their sport well, especially with the growth of social media. It is important for riders to ride how they always ride, to put in their best effort to produce the results needed. Riders who ride on eggshells rarely perform at their best. 

After watching the 5* riders jog we caught Betsy Juliano and Christie Baxter to talk about one’s reputation, important qualities in horses and riders, and many other topics. We had to hurry to the driven dressage arena to meet with Mary Phelps. She was unfortunately called to other duties at that time, but watching the driven dressage tests helped me come up with dozens of new questions to ask Mary once we meet her! 

As we walked back to the dressage venue we caught up with FEI judge (and judge at C for today’s 5*) Janet Foy. Janet was quick to admit to us, judges get nervous, too! She shared with us a few of her favorite judging moments and explained to us why she loves judging–getting to travel the world and watch some of the best riders in the world.

On to the Prix St George, where we sat all afternoon and discussed each test. We loved being able to watch each movement’s score as the ride went on; it was fascinating to see what the judges rewarded and what they punished. 

After the Prix St Georges we ran down to watch the 4* Grand Prix riders warm up. I absolutely love watching the warm up, getting to watch top riders work through problems and seeing how their warm up affects their performance in the ring. I cannot wait to compare the 4* combinations to the 5*s tomorrow! My journal is quickly filling with notes!

Thank you TDF!

Day Three

We started our day taking a selfie with the legendary George Morris!

Then headed to the showgrounds to meet with Bo Jenå, Swedish Chef d’equipe, and talk about the Swedish system. In Sweden, the dressage Federation keeps an eye on the scores that riders around the county are achieving at each level, and keep an eye on those who do well and who are consistent in their scores. Each level has a tier (A, B, and C) that is decided by a range of scores that a combination is achieving. He mentioned that, in Sweden, they are working to improve the conversation between industry professionals, particularly between trainers, riders, and breeders. When asked what he looks for in a potential young horse, Bo listed three things: gaits and conformation, rideability, willingness to work. One of the most important qualities of a horse is its eagerness to work every day; a rider cannot make their horse work. 

After talking with Bo we met with US Team rider Katherine Bateson-Chandler, who brought along her brilliant coach and British team Carl Hester! 

A tip that Katherine brought up right away was to instill confidence in your horse. Always ride your horses as if they are geniuses, tell them that they are the smartest horses in the world. If you really believe that they are, she said, they can come to believe it, too.

Carl elaborated on riding the horse you have. When he was a young rider, he only had £1500, so he bought a horse for £1500. When what horse was more advanced a few years later, he sold it for £40,000 and bought his next horse, and so on. It’s not the price tag on a horse that is important, it’s the basic gaits. 

Katherine and Carl also talked about working hard to earn opportunities. Both started their careers working as grooms, and have climbed their way up the industry. Don’t assume that people at the top have had it easy, that they paid large sums for their horses. Everyone in the equine industry has faced their own set of struggles.

To help our industry grow, Katherine said she would like to see more of a story told for each horse and rider. You get to know all about athletes in other disciplines, sharing the unique stories that riders have could help bring equestrian sports more into the public eye in the U.S.

Later, we met with Christoph Hess to talk about our trip so far. Like everyone else we have spoken to, Christoph was quick to admit how much he admires the Aachen show (and it isn’t just because he is German, he says!) The atmosphere, the professionalism, the knowledgeable spectators, the top quality of horses, and the history of horses in Aachen are just a few of the many factors that make this event so special. 

Our time at Aachen has been truly incredible. We have met dozens of the top riders, trainers, and industry professionals in our sport. We have watched hours upon hours of top quality riding, sitting between a knowledgeable trainer and judge, in a crowd of thousands of true dressage fans, from every age and all walks of life. It has been a week that none of us will ever forget, and we will be forever grateful to the Dressage Foundation and it’s donors for sending us on this journey. Thank you!

Day Five

Saturday was, sadly, our last full day at Aachen. We woke up early with our usual breakfast in the Hotel Lousberg (our host greeted us, asking “three cappuccinos and one tea, ja?”) Then we were off to the show to meet Mary Phelps, equine industry extraordinaire. 

Mary wears many hats, as an FEI combined driving competitor, equine insurance agent, and photographer and journalist for her websites horses-daily.com and dressage-daily.com. Mary told us about working hard and finding opportunities, and taking them! Mary also introduced us to Astrid Appels, founder and CEO of EuroDressage. I loved hearing Astrid talk about how she made her businesses and how she makes money while still doing what she loves. (Thank you, Astrid, for taking this photo!)

After Mary we ran to the vendors to meet Heiko Koch, the bit designer for Herm Springer. I could have talked to Heiko for hours; his knowledge of bits from the material to angles, widths, and lengths seemed endless. For example, I learned that all single-jointed bits have one side longer than the other. Heiko recommended putting the longer side of the bit on the horse’s stronger side, as well as rotating the bit every 2-4 weeks. We also learned that every Herm Springer bit is hand-made by artisans in Germany.

We had to practice our “extended walks” to get back to the Deutsche Bank Stadium to watch some 5* Specials before meeting with Steffan Peters. 

The night before, Dressage-News.com published an article about Steffen titled “Steffen Peters Discloses Struggle to Overcome Depression So Severe He Feared Giving Up Competition.” It was an interesting and inspirational read about the struggles Steffen faced during 2018, and how he has found hypnotherapy and meditation to be his way to overcoming his anxiety and depression. 

From the article: 

I personally think this can be one of the most frustrating sports in the world where everything works perfectly fine for two or three days when one and one is two but on the fourth day one and is not two because you’re dealing with another creature. What I understand now is I look at the subconscious mind as 90% of your brain. Your conscious mind is about 5%. For your subconscious mind if you built a computer it would be the size of a city block and need a nuclear reactor to run it. Your conscious mind at 5% probably has the capability of an old Motorola flip phone. You try to influence this giant computer of the subconscious with 5% of your mind. It explains when that gets out of hand how extremely difficult it is to come back from that.

http://dressage-news.com/2019/07/19/sreffen-peters-discloses-struggle-with-depression-so-severe-he-feared-he-would-be-forced-to-give-up-competition/

Talking with Steffen, it was extremely uplifting to hear that even the best of our country can struggle with the ups and downs of this sport. It can be so easy to get into a negative rut, and that negativity can be a very slippery slope. Steffen really stressed the importance of developing a positive mindset at the beginning of each day, and aiming to keep that mindset throughout the day. Climbing out of the rut takes a whole lot of dedication and persistence. 

Right after talking Steffen we turned around and met Maria Colliander, a CDI judge who was on the panel this week. Maria was so much fun to talk to; we mainly discussed attributes we admire in top riders. The most important quality is harmony! A horse and rider pair who fit each other and seem to move as one will always be the pair who stands out to the crowd. 

Immediately after talking with Maria we met another fabulous judge, Axel Steiner, and his wife, an incredibly talented photographer, Terri. 

First, Axel asked us what is the most important quality a rider possesses: her seat! You will see no riders at Aachen bouncing out of the saddle; a strong and supple seat is the key to successful riding. Young riders (about ages 16-24) are at the prime time to perfect their seats; this should be their focus in training. Axel also stressed the importance of using every meter of the arena to your advantage. Use the corners for halt halts, the short sides to show off your gaits and position, the centerline to show your straightness. Getting a poor score on your first centerline will not only give a bad first impression, but it will make it much harder for you to climb to the top of your class; as he said, “it’s simple math.” 

After watching the remainder of the 5* Special, we caught up with Anna Stovall and Karo Müller, two up-and-coming riders who are working towards their bereiter recognition. It was very interesting and practical to talk to two people who had recently been in the same position as we; young riders looking for their “in” to the professional equine world. I look forward to watching their journeys and meeting them again one day! 

After finishing our meetings we ran out for a quick dinner, coming back in time to watch the Intermediate 1 and 4* Grand Prix Freestyles. We stocked up on coffee and candy for the classes, ending at 11pm. Now, it is 2am and we are sitting together in our apartment’s living room, eating chocolate and discussing our day, writing endless notes and pouring over the pictures we have taken. What a better way to spend a Saturday night! 

We want to endlessly thank The Dressage Foundation, its sponsors, and Reese and Bill for making this Dream Program come true!

“International Dream” Article
By Bridgid Browne, Sophia Chavonelle, Raissa Chunko, and Emma Sevriens


             Betsy JulIano & Christie Baxter
                               JuaN Matute Guimón Jr.
       JaneT Foy
         DebbiE McDonald
            AdRienne Lyle
                            MagNus Ringmark & Elke Ebert
               MichAel Klimke
         Steffen PeTers
               HeIko Koch
    ChristOph Hess
                 Bo JeNa
            CArl Hester
Katherine Bateson-ChandLer

           Maria CollianDer
                           KaRo Müller & Anna Stovall & Emily Miles
AxEl Steiner
                            Amber Heizenberger
                                        Mary Phelps & Astrid Appels

(Introduction)
Every year, the Dressage Foundation hosts the Young Rider International Dream Program, a tour designed to support four Young Riders on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Aachen, Germany for the World Equestrian Festival. This year, the TDF grant was awarded to Bridgid Browne (22, from Annandale, NJ), Sophia Chavonelle (19, from Windham, ME), Raissa Chunko (19, from Fort Collins, CO), and Emma Sevriens (21, from Atlanta, GA), chaperoned by Reese Koffler-Stanfield and Bill McMullin. 

Created in 2000 by Michael Poulin, the Dream Program was designed to expose Young Riders to the European training system, enhancing their understanding of dressage theory by meeting with top professionals from the sport. 

As outlined on the TDF website, “this program is not for every Young Rider. Those selected must be at a highly advanced level of experience and commitment to their riding. For those who are, this introductory excursion into European dressage means everything, and the riders come home more seriously committed than ever, knowing what they now need to work on to advance and excel in the sport.” Those who are interested in applying should visit dressagefoundation.org for more information and the application. Bridgid, Sophia, Raissa, and Emma are happy to talk to any Young Riders interested in applying, as well! 

(End introduction)

The Dressage Foundation, notably Jenny Johnson, Eliza Romm, and Beth Baumert, as well as our fabulous chaperones Reese Koffler-Stanfield and Bill McMullin, made our travels safe and stress-free. Throughout the week, we were able to meet with an astounding twenty-three industry professionals from competitors to judges, young trainers to seasoned professionals, and media personnel to well-established merchants. We are so thankful to have had the opportunity to make many new friends! Part of having this unparalleled educational opportunity is the ability to share our experiences and gained knowledge with other riders. We had one valuable lesson after another granted to us throughout each day, and we are excited to share some of the bits and pieces we gathered along our trip. We have outlined some key points from all twenty-three people we met. These role models made this year’s International Dream Program the invaluable experience that it was.

Betsy Juliano and Christie Baxter work closely with the United States Dressage team. We met Betsy and Christie in a meeting after the jog on Tuesday afternoon. Betsy Juliano is an owner of some of our top dressage horses, including Salvino and Verdades, as well as a sponsor of many U.S. riders. Betsy emphasized the importance of maintaining a positive reputation and always being aware of your surroundings. How you conduct yourself in times of disappointment is just as pertinent as your reaction to success. You never know who is watching–maybe your next sponsor is just around the corner? Christie Baxter does and continues to do a bit of everything when it comes to her involvement with the U.S. dressage team, from grooming to coordinating logistics. Those involved behind the scenes are just as important, if not more, as those performing on the center stage. It is important to know truly, where does one flourish?

Juan Matute Guimón Jr. is a Spanish rider competing on a horse whom he also took to Aachen for the U25 class in 2016! Juan urged us to stay ambitious and work hard to make our goals realities! It is important for a top competitor to have a pipeline of horses working up the levels. He also described what it’s like to compete at Aachen, with such a knowledgeable audience watching.

Janet Foy is a 5* FEI judge from the United States. It was an especially exciting week for her as this was her first time judging at Aachen! Janet discussed the show nerves that judges experience and how the educated and reactive crowd at Aachen is heard by the judges as well. As a judge, you are sharing not only your opinion but also your knowledge and many years of education with the world–it can be stressful! It can also be a challenge to discern the differences between an 8, 9, or 10 on movements that are all so breathtaking; judging 5s, 6s, and 7s are easy in comparison!

Debbie McDonald is the Chef d’Equipe and coach for the United States’ dressage team. She gave us an interesting perspective regarding all of the organizing that goes into competing internationally. For instance, the U.S. riders need to try to find a show or two before CHIO Aachen to warm up, but the horses can only be in Europe for 60 days before having to go through quarantine. Debbie told us that traveling can be more stressful and exhausting for the horse than competing. 

Adrienne Lyle advised us to be aware of conduct on social media, at the barn and at shows. Connections with people can influence the opportunities presented to you for the rest of your riding career. She also spent time explaining how a syndicate can be a useful tool to help riders afford elite horses. There is a lot of work that goes into acquiring and maintaining a syndicate. The purpose for people to be involved in a syndicate is primarily to enjoy and promote the sport. It is most important to continue this theme in the involvement with the experience of being a syndicate owner. We asked Adrienne how she prepares and maintains her own mental and physical health during tough competitions and traveling. She emphasized the importance of taking care of your body, including going to the gym (even when traveling,) maintaining balanced and healthy eating habits, and getting adequate rest to keep your body performing at its best.

Magnus Ringmark & Elke Ebert seemed to agree with why judges get into judging; not for the money, but for the knowledge and experience that comes with traveling around the world and watching some of the best horses and riders compete. Magnus calls Elke the “10-star judge” as she is the only judge with a 5* ranking for both dressage and para dressage. Elke added the joy she finds in judging all combinations; while these spectacular 80%+ rides at Aachen are exciting to watch, beautifully harmonious rides at all levels can be just as thrilling.

Michael Klimke quickly met with us before the end of lunch on Thursday. He was very kind to ask us all about our horses and talk a little bit about running a business in Germany.

“Steffen Peters Discloses Struggle to Overcome Depression So Severe He Feared Giving Up Competition” was an article published (by Dressage-News.com) the night before we met Steffen. It was an interesting and inspirational read about the struggles Steffen faced during 2018, and how he has found hypnotherapy and meditation to be his way to overcoming his anxiety and depression. It was especially uplifting to hear that even the best of our country can struggle with the ups and downs of this sport. It can be so easy to get into a negative rut, and that negativity can be a very slippery slope. Steffen stressed the importance of developing a positive mindset at the beginning of each day and aiming to keep that mindset throughout the day. Climbing out of the rut takes a whole lot of dedication and persistence. Steffen was incredibly open to talking about his ways of overcoming anxiety and depression, being dedicated to finding a positive mindset at the start of each day, and holding that mindset throughout every day. When navigating the highs and lows of this sport, mental fitness is just as vital as your (or your horse’s) physical fitness.

Heiko Koch is the head designer for Herm Sprenger bits. He discussed the importance of attention to detail in your equipment and making sure everything fits your horse properly. Quality of metal is essential for the comfort of the horse. Handcrafted from a combination of food-grade metals specifically created for bits, they contain high amounts of copper to encourage oxidation and provide a sweet taste for horses. 

Christoph Hess is an FEI “I” judge and shared the importance of the young horse classes. You don’t want a horse with more than an 8 walk, with a huge overstep and swing. 9, 9.5, and 10 walks become very difficult for the horse to collect, so as a rider, it is ideal to find a horse with a very special canter or trot first, with an active and through walk.

Bo Jena is the Swedish Chef d’Equipe and mostly talked about the system of progression riders go through to become part of the Swedish team. The progression requires riders to have consistent, high scores at the competition level before being allowed to progress up to the next group.

Carl Hester taught us that even once you get to the top, there are still plenty of ups and downs. He and many others have started their careers working as grooms and have climbed their way up the industry. Don’t assume that people at the top have had it easy, or that they paid large sums for their horses. Everyone in the equine industry has faced their own set of struggles. There is always going to be someone with a better horse, so do the best with what you have. It is our job as riders to make our horses into the best versions of themselves.

Katherine Bateson-Chandler knows it is vital to instill confidence in your horse. “Tell your horse he’s a genius! If you really believe that they are, they can come to believe it, too.” Bringing a positive attitude to the arena every day can greatly affect the success of your horse. To help our industry grow, Katherine said she would like to see more of a story told for each horse and rider. You get to know all about athletes in other disciplines, sharing the unique stories that riders have could help bring equestrian sports more into the public eye in the U.S.

Maria Colliander is a 5* FEI judge from Finland. We asked Maria about some of her favorite horse and rider pairs that she has judged. A common theme amongst her favorites was the noticeable harmony between horse and rider. She said the pairs which were her favorites and most memorable, “performed as one being.”

Karo Müller, Anna Stovall, and Emily Miles are all young, up and coming professional dressage riders. Although they are all at very different stages in their careers, the three of them offered strong words of encouragement. They urged us not to be afraid to go out and try new things and not to hesitate to broaden our education because of any fear we might have. You have to put yourself outside of your comfort zone to find the area of dressage which you most enjoy: sales, young horses, or the FEI ring? 

Axel Steiner is a USEF ‘S’ and retired 5* judge. He emphasized the importance of a well-developed and correct seat for young riders. He taught us that it is important to use the whole arena to your advantage; for instance, the corners are for preparing, and the short sides are for showing off the horses’ gaits. 

Amber Heizenberger, an established American journalist, urged us to be willing and open to talk in press releases and interviews. She explained that nothing is more frustrating than yes or no answers when trying to put together an interesting story. Always make time to speak to the press. People want to hear about you being a real person (one example she gave us was of Boyd Martin and his love for cats!) This provides the readers something they can relate to and connect with on a personal level.  

Mary Phelps encouraged us to pursue our own paths in the equine industry. There are many different ways to be involved in the top level of equine sports and to represent the United States. Maybe involvement means being behind the scenes, such as grooming, working for the USEF, or being a journalist? Mary also sells equine insurance to help support her competitive driving and has made many great connections through her photography and journalism. She also introduced us to Astrid Appels, founder and CEO of EuroDressage. We loved hearing Astrid talk about how she started her businesses and now makes money doing what she loves. 

Our time at Aachen was sincerely amazing. We met dozens of the top riders, trainers, and industry professionals in our sport who were all incredibly generous with their time. The atmosphere, the professionalism, the knowledgeable spectators, the top quality of horses, and the history of horses in Aachen are just a few of the many factors that make this event so special. We watched hours upon hours of top quality riding, sitting between a knowledgeable trainer and judge, in a crowd of thousands of true dressage fans, from every age and all walks of life. Watching our home riders compete in the prestigious World Equestrian Festival left us with a great feeling of pride as well as a desire to attain the same experience. The feeling of a full stadium clapping in unison as riders took their victory gallop was indescribable, one that we hope to experience again as riders in the future. It was a week that none of us will ever forget and we will be forever grateful to the Dressage Foundation and its donors for sending us on this journey. Thank you! 
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