Brian Hafner (2014)

Brian Hafner - Recipient of a $25,000 Carol Lavell Advanced Dressage Prize

If I had to describe my European tour experience in one word, it would be “amazing.” I am extremely thankful to Carol Lavell and The Dressage Foundation for providing me with a training grant that made this life changing experience possible. As a self-funded young professional, I just could not have afforded to personally fund this opportunity at this point in my career.

After receiving the news that Lombardo and I had been selected as recipients of the Carol Lavell training grant, I immediately started planning and deliberating on WHEN to go. My plan was to go train with Johann Hinnemann in Voerde, Germany, but I needed to make arrangements for my clients/students to continue their training, and I needed to schedule my time in Voerde at a time when Mr. Hinnemann was actually going to be on site. I originally planned to travel to Europe in late June after the U.S. Championships; however, the U.S. Team coaches approached me and invited me to represent the U.S. on the Nations Cup Team in Rotterdam in early June. They encouraged me to take advantage of the opportunity to compete internationally even though it meant that I would be missing out on competing at the WEG selection trials in Gladstone. Not only was the Rotterdam show my first time competing internationally in Europe, but it was also my first time on an international team. What an incredible experience. Even though I’d only been working with Johann a short time, I was already feeling the difference in how my horse was going. Personally, it was a great show. Lombardo and I posted personal best scores. Competing against so many great horses and riders was also a huge learning experience.

After Rotterdam, Lombardo and I returned to Germany and started a regimented training program with Johann. My goals were to improve the connection and suppleness and develop a higher quality piaffe and passage. Most days Lombardo and I would work with Johann in the mornings. In the afternoons I would train myself at a local gym before taking Lombardo out again for a tack walk or a hack on the trail. After the first day of training with Johann, I was feeling already like the quality of our work was another “notch” higher. By the end of our time at Johann’s, our new level of quality, thoroughness, and suppleness was solidified. This higher quality had become our new norm. I was excited for our next competition.

In late July, Lombardo and I again had the opportunity to represent the U.S. on a Nations Cup Team. This time it was in Hickstead, England. I felt like Lombardo and I showcased the “new” quality that we had been working on through the summer with Johann and we were rewarded with higher overall marks. We had some unfortunate mistakes in the test, but because of the improved quality of our work, we still received a good score. I was beyond proud of my horse. Like Rotterdam, the USEF staff and coaches and the other team members were a great help.

Most weekends, riders from Johann’s barn were off at competitions- local shows, young horse qualifiers, or even CDI’s. I would take every opportunity I could to ride along and was able to see some great horses and riders. Being able to watch top riders/trainers was another kind of learning experience. I especially tried to watch and see what the good riders did to fix issues that they were having and how they improved their horses through the warm-up—paying attention to what techniques worked and what didn’t.

This trip was so much more than a training trip. I did improve both as a rider and a trainer. But I also made new friends both in the American high performance community and internationally. I saw great horses and great riders and that strengthened my determination to continue to improve. I want The Dressage Foundation to know that I will make the most of the opportunity I’ve been given.