Skip to main content

2018 Young Rider International Dream Program Journals 

Hannah Irons

Callie O'Connell

Amanda Perkowski

Emma Smith


Day 1:


We made it to Aachen!  Within the first twelve hours of our arrival, we spoke with Debbie McDonald, Laura Graves, Kasey Perry-Glass, Adrienne Lyle, Betsy Juliano, Andy Thomas, Kerrigan Gluch, and Robert Dover. If there was one theme which was emphasized by everyone we spoke with, it was the importance of team spirit and support. It was inspiring to learn that even top US team riders have bad days and deal with negativity from the public. Having people to turn to, who truly want the best for you and understand what you are feeling, makes any setback surmountable.


Our United States Dressage Team demonstrated a great example of camaraderie today and it was refreshing to see. Between the riders, horses, coaches, vets, therapists, nutritionists, sponsors, and directors, it takes a village to make a medal-winning team. They help each other, cheer for each other, face challenges with each other, and most importantly, are great friends even though they are competing for one of the four spots on the American team for the World Equestrian Games in September. While interviewing some of our country’s Olympic riders, Laura Graves and Kasey Perry-Glass, even they mentioned this challenge. They shared, “You have to have someone to talk to who understands your struggles and this sport as a job. You have to be a teammate, no matter if it is a good day or bad.”


Day 2:


Today was the first official day of dressage competition here in Aachen, and wow, was it amazing. We started the day watching the U25 competition. The riding quality is unlike anything I have seen before and all the horses show so much talent and incredible quality for the future. It is a goal of mine to compete in the U25 division one day, and seeing the best of them go head-to-head is beyond inspiring. Every movement is ridden with precise accuracy and determination.


Today we had the opportunity to talk to Kyra Kyrklund and she stressed the importance of a theoretical understanding of dressage. She said the theoretical knowledge isn’t enough on its own, but without the theoretical knowledge you won’t be able to do the physical exercises. We also asked several questions about what she looks for in young horses and future FEI stars. She said she looks for a horse with strong stifles and one that does not stand with their hind legs out behind them. She also does not want a horse with long hind legs. She looks at the conformation of the neck to give her a feeling of what the connection could be and looks for 3 good gaits. She is especially interested in the horse’s walk. She said a walk with a large over track often can’t be used to teach piaffe.


Day 3:


History was made for the United States team at Aachen today. For the first time ever, the U.S. is in the lead after day one. To top it off, Laura Graves and “Diddy” won with an 80%! Being there in person to see her spectacular ride and stand for our country’s national anthem as it played over the famous Aachen show grounds was very special.

We had the amazing opportunity to watch and discuss some of the rides with Christoph Hess. He had a positive way of analyzing each ride and explaining the details to us. I learned so much! Many, many important details go into our sport, from the care of our horses to every step of our tests. It’s the little details that make a good ride great.


A few of the main ideas I got from talking to Christoph Hess include:

-- When you are new to a level, the goal should be to go fluidly through the test without any big mistakes. After you can do that and feel comfortable, then you can push for more.

-- You have to be able to push forward towards collection. At the end of the diagonal with the extended canter, some riders would pull back to collect the horse. Christoph loved how Kasey Perry-Glass rode that movement because she kept the forward tendency and softly pushed Dublet to her hands to create collection.

-- Details are important!


Day 4:


Today we watched the 4**** Grand Prix Special. The incredible Isabell Werth rode a near flawless test. With one piaffe averaging a score of 9.2, we knew who the winner was going to be. She and Bella Rose won with an 80%, making the crowd go wild. Her partnership with Bella Rose is so special and the way they look together live gives me goosebumps. A huge smile came across Isabell’s face after her last extended trot and it was absolutely priceless. I feel so lucky to have seen a ride like that in person and feel the electricity in the stadium.


Today we spoke with Henk van Bergen while watching the warm up. Henk is a member of the FEI Dressage Judges Supervisory Panel. The goal of the panel is to improve the honest result of the judging in World Championships, Olympics, and major CDIs. It was very interesting to learn about the panel and the conversation about judging which it generates. Henk explained that the judges often times look forward to meeting with the panel at the conclusion of a day to discuss and analyze their marks. It really created an awareness for me that the judges are trying to be as accurate as possible, and it was interesting to see dressage from the perspective of how accountable they are held.

Day 5:


We began our morning with an inspiring conversation with Dutch U25 GP rider Jeanine Nieuwenhuis, asking about her career path and future goals. She came up through the pipeline of the Pony, Junior, and Young Rider Divisions before graduating to the U25 Grand Prix. It was easy to connect her story to what we heard in a public interview with German team coach Monica Theodorescu, who talked about how she is confident that the future of German dressage will be strong, because those coming through the youth divisions could have been competing in an international arena at a respectable level since the ages of eleven or twelve in the ponies.


Then we got to meet Anne Gribbons, who was judging dressage at Aachen! She had great advice for young riders who are striving to become professional riders. She made it very clear that we should commit to finishing our college education. She also talked a lot about how important it is to get good help with training. Everyone needs help, including riders that have made it to the Olympics. She made a good point to always work harder than anyone else and realize you may not be the star of your barn right away, but work really hard to be the best you can be. She also said that if you make it far one day to always remember and thank all the people who helped get you there. Anne was inspiring and made it clear how important it is to have a good education in horses and outside of horses, and to be a good horseman.


Final Thoughts:

This week we have all gained new perspectives and have a completely new standard of excellence. Reading and watching videos of the top riders is one thing, but being able to see it in person makes it feel so much more real and applicable. It was something special to be here to support to U.S. team during their great achievements this week. The Young Rider International Dream Program was the perfect first European experience and it greatly exceeded my expectations. I hope to return to Germany in the near future, and I am making it a goal to compete at Aachen one day. I am very grateful to The Dressage Foundation for this opportunity, it was truly a life changing experience.


I have never felt more inspired to head home and ride! Watching such top quality horse and rider pairs has completely changed the standard I will now expect from myself. I am more motivated than ever to keep going and keep chasing big dreams, no matter what obstacles are in my path. We were so lucky to be guided on this trip by chaperones Charlotte Bredahl and Meaghan Bryne. Both have shared with us a wealth of knowledge and experience and helped us to analyze and compare our own riding with what we see. I am endlessly thankful to The Dressage Foundation and all who made this trip a possibility for us. I learned far beyond what I expected and will carry these lessons with me throughout my future as a rider and trainer.