On Sunday at Two Swans Farm, DressageDaily’s Stacy Gormley was lucky enough to spend a few moments in a mini forum with US Olympic Coach, Klaus Balkenhol, top dressage competitor, George Williams, clinic organizer and young rider advocate, Dr. Cetty Weiss and several enthusiastic young riders participating in the clinic. Klaus, George and Cetty were very gracious to share their thoughts concerning the future of dressage in the US, the young riders.
Stacy Gormley: What is the United States doing to improve the quality of our young riders (who will go on to be tomorrow’s Olympians and professionals)?
Mr. Williams: We are starting a new program called the Passage Cup or the Brentina Cup, which will be the stepping-stone from the Young Riders program to the Grand Prix level. These riders will compete at the Intermediare 2 level and will be available to riders 21 to 25 years of age. The top 8 juniors and the top 8 Young Riders in the country will also compete at this competition, and Mr. Balkenhol along with other top riders and coaches in the sport will be on hand to observe and coach these riders. Mr. Balkenhol is also going to the bigger competitions to observe the young riders along with the top Grand Prix riders that are showing that weekend. The goal is to take the top talent in the country and develop it from a young age to be competitive internationally. We are also offering the USDF Young Rider clinics each year across the nation for young riders to work with clinicians (Debbie McDonald, Sue Blinks and George Williams) to develop and educate our country’s juniors and young riders.
Mr. Balkenhol: Clinics like this one are wonderful opportunities for the young riders to get the best education possible from some of the best riders in the world. Young riders have access to these riders for question-answer time as well as two rides and auditing opportunities during the weekend Most of what I have learned, I learned from watching others ride and reading books. I also have never limited myself to just one trainer, instead, I have gone to many top riders and observed them along the way, looking to them for help and asking their opinions on training theories. This clinic allows young riders to go to these trainers and ask for their opinions and help.
Stacy Gormley: What are your thoughts about the importance of young riders bringing their horses to go be a working student for a top dressage rider/trainer?
Mr. Balkenhol: I think it is very wise and important. We must educate our young riders and take the time to develop them. Young riders should go to the barn of a top rider if they can do that and work in their program and learn from them. Riders could go over to Europe and go to one of many stables over there or go to a trainer in the United States for education. I think it is very important for top riders to offer this to talented young riders and will be very positive for the future of dressage in this country.
Dr. Weiss: I think that we as a country need to work together and take care of our country’s riders in order to continue developing this sport. Clinics like this one along with many other opportunities give these young riders the knowledge and training they need to progress. We also should look into some fundraising ideas for our young riders to go and work with a top trainer. I would like to be involved and would love to help raise interest and funding for such a good cause.
Stacy Gormley: What are your observations about the quality of the young riders in the US right now?
Mr. Balkenhol: The quality of young riders in the US is quite good. They need more experiences and need to understand the horse’s language better. Young riders need experience in European dressage as well as experience in the United States and need to go to more shows and get used to competing. Going to as many shows as possible is also very important to teach the riders how to ride under pressure and in front of judges.
It sounds like young riders in the US are getting the attention they deserve and are receiving the notice of some of the best equestrian athletes in the world. It was very clear that the education and development of juniors and young riders in the US is a huge priority and many steps are being taken to ensure their success in the future.