USA Launches Coaches Support Network to Expand Training, Support Across Nation–Willy Arts, Ali Brock, Ashley Holzer, Günter Seidel Sign On to Give Back

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Feb. 14, 2019


Some of America’s top riders and trainers, including three Olympians, have joined a Coaches Support Network newly created by the United States Equestrian Federation to expand training and support to overcome vast distances across the nation. The trainers described their involvement in the program unique in U.S. dressage as an “honor” to give back to the sport in which they have been successful.

The immediate goal is to work with the coaching staff of Technical Advisor and Chef d’Equipe Debbie McDonald, Development Coach Charlotte Bredahl, Youth Coach George Williams and Young Horse Coach Christine Traurig to make U.S. dressage programs more accessible, seek out new and developing talent, provide support at competitions, offer additional training opportunities to athletes and build camaraderie in the American dressage community.

Coaches in the pilot phase of the support network are:

Willy Arts, 59 years old, of DG Bar Ranch in Hanford, California, involved for many years in world class breeding and training programs, including the Royal Dutch Warmblood Association of North America and the Friesian Horse Association;

Ali Brock, 39, of Wellington, a member of the 2016 U.S. Olympic bronze medal team who has trained and competed on both sides of the Atlantic;

Ashley Holzer, 55, of Wellington, Florida, four-time Olympian and three-time World Games rider for her native Canada, who now competes for the United States, and

Günter Seidel, 58, of Cardiff, California,  who competed for the United States at three Olympics, winning three team bronze medals, and at three World Games winning team silver and team bronze.

“We are very excited to be bringing on a network of trainers and coaches that already exist in our own U.S. dressage community. Bringing in dressage coaches with similar goals to our program can only help us further reach out to and develop the pool of talent that we know exists among our athletes and horses.” –USA team coach Debbie McDonald

The program is being coordinated by Hallye Griffin, USEF managing director of dressage, and was conceived to engage with dressage riders spread over a country of about 330 milion people and twice the size of the European Union whose 28 nations include dressage powerhouses Germany, Great Britain, Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark each with their own coaching and support staffs.

Charlotte Bredahl, the development coach who is also working to return to her FEI4* judge status and has homes in both California and Florida, said the coaches added to the network will quickly work on the calendar to create clinics, focused mostly on young horses and emerging athletes though there are no hard and fast rules. She expects there will be overlapping commitments.

“The number one qualification for these coaches is to be committed,” she said, “as so many are also committed to to their own riding.

“Everybody is very enthusiastic. It’s really needed. We all know each other, we like each other, we respect each other very much. We all feel very privileged to be part of the group. We’re all incredibly passionate how we feel about the sport.

“We’re very proud of what’s been achieved and the sportsmanship among riders that has been amazing and we will do everything possible to keep it up.”

Scenes similar to this in Rotterdam of supporters are common wherever in the world Americans dressage riders compete. © 2018 Ken Braddick/

Ali Brock, who rode Rosevelt on the American team that earned bronze at the 2016 Olympics, has been working with youth programs developed by U.S. Olympian Lendon Gray including the Dressage4Kids Winter Intensive Training Program in Wellington.

“It’s a real honor to do this,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to it.

“Going forward I think we’ll be calling on elite athletes to give back. That’s how it should be–there’s nothing like someone who has gone down the road, who has been successful and achieved something, helping others through the journey.

“I see things going in a really positive, thoughtful direction for growing the sport from the ground up.

“We need to keep growing and really improving, communicating. Let’s see what we can do as they turn us loose.”

Willy Arts, widely known for decades working with young horses, said, “I’m honored to be asked to be part of the program, and will do my best to fulfill tasks I’m asked to do. I think it’s a great idea to relieve the work load of the coaches a little bit, and get more people involved to develop and support the riders and owners and their horses.

“As we are very much involved in the young horse program that will make it easy for me to follow and see the development and horses available.

“I’m excited to see what the expansion of the team will add over the years to an already well developed program.”

Günter Seidel, German-born but a dedicated Californian pursuing his other passion, surfing, as well as equestrian, was on the United States teams that won bronze at the 1996, 2000 and 2004 Olympics as well as team silver at the 2002 World Equestrian Games and bronzee in 2006 in addition to riding at the 1998 world championships.

He is already working with a couple of Under-25 riders as well as continuing to compete himself.

“We’re giving back a little,” he said, “helping a great team in place right now.”

Ashley Holzer’s four Olympics include the only one in which Canada won a medal, in Seoul in 1988, as well as three World Games.

She competes three Grand Prix mounts and a Small Tour horse as well as working with both Americans and Canadians at her Wellington training center–a schedule that typically starts before sun up and goes until well after dark. Asked how she could fit the new program into her schedule, she replied: “They were very specific about saying it would not be at a time when I was super busy. They would work around my schedule. My daughter and my son are at school so there’s a chance I could get to different parts of the country because one is in California and one is in Boston.”

She added:

“As much as I am busy they were so mindful of the fact that I do coach some Canadians that I am myself riding I just thought if there is any way I can be helpful–if I do just one clinic and find one up and coming star who would not be noticed had I not taken the time to take one trip. It’s sort of your duty in a way, what you owe the sport a little bit. Yes, it’s one more thing on my plate, but I think it’s important that as a trainer and a rider and someone who has benefited so much from the sport to give back to someone who may be like myself 30 years ago–just needed a little leg up, a little help, needed a little ‘you can do this, let’s find a plan for the horse’.

“This is not taking on a student 24/7. I think it’s the right thing to do. I enjoy training horses very much and I do like seeing up and coming talent so I’m honored. It’s not often a new country calls you up and says, ‘hey, we’d like you to be part of our sport for the U.S. and to help find U.S. talent.’ So, I said, ‘yes’.”