Founded in 2000 by Olympian Michael Poulin, the Young Rider International Dream Program, hosted by The Dressage Foundation, takes four top American dressage riders under the age of 22 to Europe to introduce them to the pinnacle of dressage sport: CHIO Aachen, in Germany.
However, these up-and-coming riders got more than just awesome seats for the horse show: They received insider information from top professionals in all facets of the equestrian industry, including riders, trainers, judges, photographers, tack makers and more.
MSEDA member Reese Koffler-Stanfield (USDF FEI Certified Instructor) was asked to chaperone the 2019 trip, which took place July 15 through 22. Recipients of the scholarship for the week-long excursion included Sophia Chavonelle of Maine, Raissa Chunko of Colorado, Emma Sevriens of Georgia and Bridgid Browne, also of Georgia. The second chaperone was Bill McMullin of Wellington, FL, an “R” judge and international rider and trainer.
A Trip Abroad
No stranger to international competition, Reese was delighted to have the opportunity to return to Germany to show the riders what encompasses the “best horse show in the world!” And there truly is no other equestrian competition or venue quite like the CHIO Aachen World Equestrian Festival. Competition takes place in five disciplines: show jumping, dressage, eventing, driving and vaulting.
The main stadium seats 40,000—and Reese notes that the stadium routinely sells out. “The entire town comes out,” says Reese. “There are loads of school kids and the whole town celebrates the horse show. It’s a true showcase of German horse sport.” There are literally tens of thousands of visitors every day; in total, 368,500 people attended the event in 2019—that’s certainly a dichotomy from State-side competition when venues, even those hosting elite riders, are routinely less than half full.
And what else is notable about the showground? The shopping! “Oh, the trade fair!” Reese says as she scrolls through pictures that include literally walls of blinged-out browbands, saddlepads, bits and every equine accoutrement a horse lover can possibly dream of. There’s nothing that really compares to the shopping at Aachen, Reese says.
Meeting the Makers
In addition to the amazing competition, Reese and Bill set up meet-and-greets for the young riders with 27 professionals from various facets of the equine industry. These included judges, photographers, a bit designer for Herm Sprenger and industry powerhouses like Carl Hester, Janet Foy, Axel Steiner, Steffen Peters, Katherine Bateson, and Adrienne Lyle (Steffen, Katherine, and Adrienne are members of the US Dressage Team).
Though incredibly busy, each professional offered 100 percent of their attention to the four aspiring professionals, speaking candidly about the trials and tribulations of making it to the top in a very competitive sport. The riders in particular spoke openly about the financial need to locate and secure sponsors and owners for international competition.
While the interactions with professionals were designed with the young riders in mind, Reese notes that everything they said was applicable to the adult chaperones, as well. “One of the goals of the trip is to foster professional relationships,” said Reese, and to encourage the young riders to ask questions and for advice—all of which is helpful no matter your age.
Best Seat in the House
The competition was nothing short of remarkable; the young riders got to not only watch some of the best horse-and-rider teams in the world compete, but they also got to see them warm-up, which, as any devoted rider knows, is where you may learn even more than you do when watching the competition arena.
The riders and their chaperones got to really analyze the tests they were watching; Germans are so deeply passionate about horse sport that many audience members had an app where they could live score along with the judges and see the judging results in real time.
The competition was amazing, but the real learning for the young riders took place outside the arenas, where they met with professionals from all equestrian genres who took them seriously and spoke to them candidly and as adults. There’s no doubt that this week-long trip will leave a lasting impression as these young riders begin their journeys as professional riders and trainers.
Read more about the Aachen CIO here. https://www.chioaachen.de/en/
Interested in learning more about the Young Rider International Dream Program and all the grants available through the Dressage Foundation? Click here. https://www.dressagefoundation.org/grants-and-programs/apply/young/dream.html