Michelle Folden, a 10-year veteran trainer of the Dressage Seat Medal Finals, returned to the 2015 competition held at the Lamplight Equestrian Center Aug. 19-23 with promising, and hilarious, young charges in tow. The Charleston, South Carolina resident and owner of Stono River Riding Academy competed in equitation classes before the creation of the USEF Dressage Seat Medal Finals and now she brings talented students who have qualified for the event.
“Ten years ago when we went, it was in Saugerties, New York, and not affiliated with the Young Horse Championships,” she said. “My first time here was 2010 and that is the same year my husband David and I started our riding school. This is our fourth year doing medal seat here at Lamplight.”
She brought three young riders with her, Ferris Yanny, 25, Hannah, Neimy, 18, and Camille Molten, 11.
During the finals, which also coincided with the Markel/USEF Young Horse Championships, they sought out some of the biggest names in dressage who were there, including Debbie McDonald, George Williams, Charlotte Berdahl and Anne Gribbons, and had their photos snapped with them to keep a Facebook diary of the superstars they met.
“These three girls have helped all summer,” Folden said. “They helped with summer camp, chores and riding. We have 43 horses and we have been busy with very long days. They have become fun friends and I have to say this is the most entertaining trip I’ve had here so far.”
Besides the Facebook selfies, the girls pretended they are British and spouted platitudes from the No. 1 dressage rider in the world, the U.K.’s Charlotte Dujardin.
“Short reins win gold medals,” Yanny repeated in her best British accent.
"I was in the food line with these girls," recalls Mary Phelps, "and I wondered what all these young British girls were doing at a USEF event. They were hysterical, and I was honored to be a part of their Dressage celebrity selfie scavenger hunt."
Like Dujardin, whose calls her Olympic medal winning horse Valegro Blueberry (pronounced bhlu BURRY), they have renamed the horses they brought with other berry names: Raspberry, Strawberry and Blackberry, all pronounced with the same intonation as Dujardin.
The girls have also adopted Saturday Night Live-ish personalities with Long Island accents, named Marti, Darcy and Judy. They have renamed Folden Cheryl and her husband is Sherman. The girls also enjoy spending time together not at the barn, and go to the beach, the movies and the ice cream shop.
“They entertain us with all these accents,” Folden laughed. “It’s a wonderful team.”
Folden’s first young athlete she brought to the finals was Ferris Yanney, now 25. Yanney works at Stono River Riding Academy full-time, teaching and riding the horses. She qualified for the Medal Finals three times, and competed once on her own horse and once on a borrowed horse. The final time, she opted to move up to Young Riders instead. She came to support her friends and help Folden.
Camille Molten, 11, competed in the younger group of the two divisions at the Medal Finals, 13 and under. “Camille is special to us because she started at our farm with her very first riding lesson with my husband, and she has worked with all our instructors,” Folden said. “She‘s our first medal seat rider who really is a true reflection of our program and the youngest rider we have brought.”
Molten, who was accompanied by her grandmother, Helen Molten, and then later by her parents, rode Moms Little Lulu, also known as Blackberry. They came in third in the medal finals with an 85 percent and won their Training Level Test 3 class with a 70.227.
“She’s cute and sassy,” Folden said of the 8-year-old pony mare. “She’s owned by a lady in North Carolina who would like to sell her, but the pony is very particular about who rides her. Every time someone comes to see her, she acts out!”
Molten leases a Percheron/Morgan cross at the farm, a veteran of the Medal Finals, but the horse came up lame around Mother’s Day and he is just coming back into work. She qualified for the Region 3 championships on both the leased horse and Lulu and plans to compete both at the competition in Conyers, Georgia in mid-October. Stono River Riding Academy boasts 17 riders who have qualified for the regional competition.
In the 14-18-year-old division, Hannah Neimy, 18, competed on Tiramisu, a borrowed horse owned by a para-equestrian and leased by another girl in the barn. This is Neimy’s third year competing at the medal finals. She notched wins in two First Level, Test 3 classes, and earned the third place spot in the medal finals in her division with an 81 percent.
“I like riding her,” Neimy said of the 15-year-old Warmblood cross mare, also known as Raspberry. “She’s really sweet and she wants to try hard for you.”
The rider will begin her first semester in higher education this fall at the College of Charleston and plans to major in some form of biology. Neimy also works for Stano River Riding Academy.
“I have already designed my schedule so I will always have time at the barn,” she said. “I really, really want to do Young Riders.”
Folden had praise for the young woman. “She’s a hard worker and great kid. The horse she qualified with is 20 and is he’s also qualified for regionals at Third Level, but he did not make the trip. At the last minute, we decided not to use all of his energy and save it for regionals.”
Susan Niemy, Camille’s mother, said the program has been a positive experience for her daughter and Folden is an ideal mentor for the young riders.
“She’s an amazing coach and inspirational to a lot of young girls,” she said. “I’m proud my daughter‘s been a part of that program. I could not think of a better place for her to have been raised. She is surrounded by other women who are adult amateurs and who have careers and still pursue their passion. They have been great role models for my daughter.”
Helen Molten, Camille’s grandmother, who introduced her to horses when she placed her on the saddle in front of her as a 2-year-old, also praised Folden.
“MIchelle has earned every bit of the accolades she’s gotten,” Helen Molten said. “We think she’s wonderful.”
The team also brought a spare horse, Magneto, otherwise known as Strawberry, because of his red color. He was bred by Emily Miles, who won the USEF Developing Horse Grand Prix at the Markel/USEF Young Horse Championships.
“The girls are enjoying seeing the best riders, the best young horses and the best young riders,” Folden said. “It’s very inspiring to be here. We love this medal seat program, especially for our serious ones. This is something our farm really pushes − the development of the rider’s seat and the independent use of the aids. We still try to keep it fun.”
“And dressage IS fun,” Yanny exclaimed.