An Emerging Athlete

Photo Credit: Noel Floyd

The sport of Dressage is an artistic discipline that demands precision from horse and rider in a variety of skills. A great coach is a critical part of the equation, and in that sense I am very lucky to work with U.S. Olympian, Adrienne Lyle. Beyond her training and the work we do together, it is important for me to always be honing my craft, learning how to succeed in this sport I love so much.

A tremendous asset available to young U.S. Dressage riders is the opportunity to be invited to participate in the Discover Dressage USEF/USDF Emerging Athlete Program. The EAP is a helpful pipeline for riders under the age of 25 to learn, and improve their skill set. Proudly sponsored by Discover Dressage, whose mission is “To inspire and encourage American youth to discover dressage, inspire lifelong learning and success, to promote healthy competition and advance the accessibility of the sport of Dressage to all areas of the U.S.,” the program provides strategic guidance and educational opportunities for riders to develop their skills and advance to the quality of other competing nations.

Led by USEF Dressage Youth Coach George Williams, riders are given an extensive array of resources, which include the United States Olympic & Paralympic Council Fitness and Sports Psychology sessions, Media Training, Bio Equine mechanics, Equine nutrition, and Veterinary information. Along with positive critique, available data and competition planning, the EAP is an asset for young riders who aspire to have a successful career in Dressage.

I was invited into the program, which involves a once yearly meeting at the USEF center in Gladstone, New Jersey, and arranged Zoom meetings throughout the year. It has given me access to resources that help both my riding technique, physically and mentally, and allow me to strengthen my weaknesses. Working with sports psychologists has helped me to stay focused in the ring, and gain insight in how to better care for my horses’ well being, which is essential to me as a rider. I feel tremendously fortunate to be part of the Emerging Athlete Program.

Getting Back In the Saddle

After taking a relaxing week off, I am excited to return to Dressage and to riding my beloved horses. It’s been nice to have a break and spend time with my family, but with the U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions in Wayne, Illinois, in August, it’s time to focus and get back into training mode again.

As a Dressage rider, maintaining my routine and physicality are always a priority, even when I am not competing. I have a fixed schedule, which includes online school in the morning, training with my horses in the afternoon, and studying at night before I go to sleep. I always eat healthily and workout, and love going for a great run or doing jump rope, As I haven’t been able to get into the gym during Covid 19, I now jog the trails near the barn and when I have time, go to the beach to squeeze in some surfing, which is always good for body, mind and soul. 

My equine partners have been more relaxed during quarantine, and in preparation for the Festival, my Coach, Adrienne Lyle, will now increase their training again. With Sky Man still too young to compete, we will focus our attention on Zeaball Diawind (Furstenball) and Hemmingway (Hendrix). They both placed exceptionally well in our last competition, which was in March at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival in Wellington. My team and I took first and second place in the FEI Young Rider test, with Hemmingway and I earning a 71.575% and Zeaball, almost 69%, which was very promising for his first outing at a national qualifier.

When Coronavirus changed all of our lives in mid-March, I was uncertain if I would compete again in 2020. With the U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions in Wayne, Illinois, now on the horizon, I am excited to train with my brilliant team again. August will be here before we know it, and I personally can’t wait to be back in the saddle!

Look Good, Do Good, Feel Good

One of the privileges of competing in Dressage is the opportunity to be sponsored. Between equipment for my equine partners and riding apparel for me, there are a few specialty brands that sponsor me and one of my favorites is An Capall Equestrian.

An Capall produces high performance riding shirts that are not only stylish, but are also really comfortable. Created with antibacterial technology, which is resistant to sweat, stains and dirt, they also have UPF 50 sun protection built into the fabric. During a long day of riding, often in extreme heat, it is great to wear a shirt that is breathable and keeps me cool, so I can focus on my performance in the ring.

Beyond making great equestrian shirts, what makes An Capall special is their commitment to the environment. Each shirt is produced with fabric created from recycled plastic bottles that are removed from the ocean, and a portion of their net proceeds go toward clean up efforts. With more than 8 million tons of plastic dumped into the sea each year, it makes a difference to choose products that are environmentally responsible. Anything we can do to be more eco conscious is important, and as an avid surfer I appreciate the company’s dedication to cleaner oceans. As a Dressage rider it’s important for me to look good when competing, but in an An Capall shirt I can also feel good knowing that I’m doing my part to help our planet.


Finding My Silver Lining

Equestrian Rider Christian Simonson during Covid

When the last Global CDI was canceled in mid March, it finally hit me that the world of Dressage and life as I knew it, were going to change dramatically. I had been busy riding my equine partners, Hemmingway and Zeaball, and training for our upcoming season when I noticed more news about Covid-19 on television. My parents also started talking about it more frequently, but it didn’t strike me as real until the Wellington season got shut down. When both the Olympics and World Cup were then canceled, I realized that this pandemic was very serious.

Suddenly, there were no more social gatherings or daily trips to Starbucks with my friends, something we had all taken for granted until now. My school, Palm Beach International Academy, closed and I became a full-time, online student like many others. Face masks became mandatory around the barn, and social distancing of at least 6 feet apart or more, became our new normal.

In adjusting to these big, life changes, it’s been important for me to find positive aspects to focus on: Simple basics like being able to hack in a beautiful environment and easily maintain 6 feet distance from others; the ability to still run everyday, and Florida’s warm weather, which all guarantee much-needed Vitamin D. As I can only go to the barn or home, I am missing my friends and all of our activities. However, I realize that the additional hours offer a great opportunity of extra bonding time with my horses. Quiet moments with my newer equine team mates, Sky Man and Hemmingway, help me get to know them better, and nothing is more relaxing than hanging out with Zeaball as he grazes nearby.

Focusing on the positive helps me find my silver lining to this Covid-19 cloud each day. While we wait to see what the future holds, I am hopeful that we’ll all be back in the saddle (and competing again) soon. I hope everyone stays safe during these times.

Meet My Equine Partners

Horses are the key to being successful in the sport of Dressage. But, my equine dance partners aren’t “just” horses. They are my teachers, my friends and above all, the invaluable non-human member of the horse and rider team.

As I spend most of my days with these guys, I have learned to appreciate each of their special qualities, personalities and quirks. So much so, that when my coach, Adrienne Lyle, and I travel the world to find my next equine partner, we look at many factors and not just a fancy trot or a nice walk.

My current three horses are all Warmblood geldings and their unique, original names are Zeaball Diawind, Hemmingway and Sky Man.

Zeaball Diawind (Furstenball x Zardin Firford)

Zeaball Diawind (or ZZ as we call him) is eight years old and was the first horse we acquired after having to retire my beloved stallion FRH Rassolini.  ZZ is very motivated and intelligent, and tries really hard to do the right thing in the ring (even though it’s sometimes confusing for him due to his young age). He reminds me of a surfer dude who is really calm, but will rise to the challenge of a big wave when needed. ZZ is one of the first horses I have trained myself with where I have the ability to learn with him as we go along. The PSG movements are coming along really well and we are really close emotionally too. I have a real soft spot for this sweet boy.  His happy place is grazing at the farm, but he is also content just hanging with me. He loves oranges as a treat. 

Hemmingway (Hendrix x Maurice)

Hemmingway is incredibly sweet and always tries to do the right thing. He has been a great teacher and executes the Prix St George movements well, which has given me a ton of confidence in the show ring. He doesn’t have a bad bone in his body and is sometimes like a cowardly lion, scared of his own shadow. At ten years old he is the oldest horse on my team, but also the most social and happy-go-lucky. He is really affectionate and loves attention, always sticking his head out of his stable to get a treat or to get petted. We call him “Ernie” (as in Ernest Hemingway), and he is the most earnest horse in character, whose best friend in the barn is a cream English Golden Retriever called Avery. His favorite treats are bananas and tangerines.

Sky Man (Surprice x Samarant)

Sky Man (aka Luke Skywalker) is the baby on my team, and we’re still learning a lot about him. At only six years of age, he’s like a rambunctious teenager with a huge personality. He is very intelligent, elastic and energetic. When we’re not training, Sky Man loves trail riding and is fun to go hacking on as he learns to navigate all of the different  “ scary objects “ along the way!  At the barn, Sky Man loves to get attention by throwing his food trough around in the hopes of getting petted. His favorite treat is tangerines.

I am so incredibly thankful to have three amazing horses to learn on, to ride and to show. I cannot wait to see what the future holds!

Sky Man (Surprice x Samarant)