Our columnist explains the thoughts behind his decision to step down as the USEF Youth Coach and what’s next on his agenda.
By now, most everyone has probably seen the news that I have stepped down as the U.S. Equestrian Federation Youth Coach. It has been an absolute pleasure working with the kids in the country and the USEF Dressage Committee.
The decision was a very difficult one to make, and I had a lot of critics in my personal life saying that I should stick with it, that it’s “good for my career” to be doing it. The thing is, I believe in doing things to the nth degree. I cannot do something halfway and be happy with it. Whether that’s the right attitude or not, I’ve always had an “all-or-nothing” approach.
With that said, along with many of the youth riders and many of our senior division riders, I would also like to represent the United States on an international team one day. I slowed down for a few years for personal as well as health reasons, but I’m now feeling healthy and extremely motivated, so I would like to get back to working on some of my own life goals and ambitions.
I’ve been very concerned that I wouldn’t be able to bring my riding back up to the level I would like and still be able to give the young riders the attention they deserve. In Wellington, Fla., during the USEF/USET Foundation Dressage Pipeline clinic, U.S. Technical Advisor and Chef d’Equipe Robert Dover told me that he was sad to see that I’ve given up on those dreams, as I was an amazing rider in my day. It hurt to hear that from him, as I haven’t given up, but I also took it as a motivational push to make some changes—because he was right.
I looked back and reflected on my life over the last few years and how I’ve been slowly giving up on making my dreams a reality. I haven’t told Robert that his comment was a factor in my decision to step down, but it did play a role in looking at what I wanted in my own life.
Priorities, Compromises And Hard Work
When I first started with the USEF there was no program or guideline as to what was expected. There was a lot of information being passed my way and ideas being thrown around, most of them about getting a pony program up and running, some about covering the gap of our aging out young riders, some about bettering the juniors as a whole, and all were valid and good.
Over the last few years, I’ve come to my own conclusions as to where the emphasis needs to be placed, and I’ve worked to implement as much change as possible along those lines. Most everyone on the Dressage Committee has agreed with my priorities, and when people haven’t, it’s always been a productive conversation and redirect on efforts when needed. There has never been a huge difference of opinion about what the youth need, more of a question of how we cover all the bases and where we start.
The youth group is so large that it makes picking a starting point the hardest decision of all. I think when it comes to the High Performance, Developing and Young Horse divisions, it’s more obvious where to start when funding is renewed or increased. You have a single division of people or horses that you keep fine-tuning and growing. The youth is a harder group in that there are ponies, a division that is in its infancy; you have juniors, a division that is just starting to come into its own adult form; you have the young rider division, a group that continues to become more competitive and better, and then you have the Under 25 Grand Prix, which is also still in its infancy. With funding and resources or lack thereof, where do you start? What do you feed, and who do you nurture? This question plagues the Dressage Committee and for good reason. It’s a huge division, and one that needs a lot of attention. We all agree that the youth are the future, so there is a lot of emphasis being put on these divisions right now and debate as to how to make them better.
Differences of opinion among committee members lead to change, and without differences, there would be no need for a committee. If everyone on the Dressage Committee were of like mind, the USEF would run like a dictatorship. Luckily, the USEF is not such an organization, and there are many people, from many different backgrounds, both socioeconomic and otherwise.
Every person involved with the USEF comes at problems with a different set of beliefs based on different life experiences—it’s the beauty of committee work and the curse of it as well. The beauty is that when problems arise, there are people who believe the same as you do and people who challenge your way of thinking.
If you’re open to it, you learn as you go. You compromise when you need, you push when you can, and change happens. The change may happen slowly, but it happens. The members of the Dressage Committee, and this includes the national coaches, work so hard. It’s a thankless job but one the members take seriously. There are more conference calls than you can imagine, in-person meetings, and emergency decisions that take up a lot of time for which these people do not get paid. They are dedicated to the cause and the sport but get little recognition for the work and hours they put in behind the scenes.
I hear rumblings from the general public now and then about decisions that get made, the way things work, or how an issue got resolved, but I have to tell you, having seen it from the inside, it is not an easy job. No decision is taken lightly. The people on the Dressage Committee have my full respect and gratitude for helping to improve the sport and for allowing me to play a small role in that work over the last few years.
A Focus On Training
When it came to my vision for the youth, it’s more about an education path, a change in the basic riding culture and approach to learning or teaching.
I wanted to put emphasis on teaching the next generation of kids to train horses to Grand Prix. My own education base is in developing young horses into Grand Prix horses regardless of their talent level, although there does need to be a basic aptitude for the work. I don’t mean to say you can take any horse and train it to Grand Prix; I mean to say you can take an average horse and still train it to Grand Prix and learn about how to do it, what it feels like, and what is correct or not. Yes, having a big moving, well suited, easily trained horse will make the work easier and better in the end, but it doesn’t mean that’s the only horse that can accomplish the task correctly and give a good feel.
My upbringing has been in that school of thought, which has helped me produce numerous horses to the Grand Prix level, although all very average types. I’m passionate about not giving up on these able horses that are not superstar quality but are still producible to the level of Grand Prix. My teacher taught that it was possible and also brought many, many horses up to the Grand Prix level himself with that belief.
My passion is not in creating a better pipeline through which youth riders get channeled; my passion is in adding youth riders and horses to this pipeline. My passion is in creating a greater depth of horsemen and women in the industry, as well as helping produce, if not produce myself, more horses and riders who can then step into this mainstream and become part of the machine itself.
The USEF’s job is not education; its job is competition-based support. Education falls on the individual, and, luckily for the dressage community, the U.S. Dressage Federation has also taken up a huge role in that regard. USDF helps and advises USEF, but in the end, USEF’s interest is in sport, which is correct as the national federation. Its job is to help produce internationally competitive teams in all disciplines of the sport, as well as help structure the rules and bylaws all the way down to the grassroots level so there is cohesion between the two and at any point in between. Overall, the USEF does an amazing job with the huge task at hand.
On To The Podium
The position of the national coach is not an educational position; it’s a position of support both to the rider and to the federation and then as a liaison between the two. The coach reports back to the federation as to what he sees trending throughout the country and what is needed to help the rule-making process and team (horse and rider) making process.
He also helps direct and develop funding to produce the winning combinations and better programs or possibilities for them. The coaches do work with the riders as educators at a certain point, but usually at that point it’s a team effort working together between their already successful personal coaches or trainers and that of the USEF coach.
As USEF coaches—and I think I speak for Robert Dover, USEF Dressage Young Horse Coach Scott Hassler and USEF Developing Coach Debbie McDonald on this—we’re all educators, and we all want to give as much information and help to the riders as possible, but we also know this is not always possible. We all want to be involved at every turn and every decision, and if we could, I know we’d all want to be there every day to see the progress. Unfortunately that’s not possible. A lot of the work we do is more remote, as support staff working behind the scenes to make the trainers’ and riders’ jobs easier in any way we can.
I started into the job with a vision on what the youth needed, knowing where I wanted the program to head. After being in the position for a few years now, that has not changed; my belief in what is lacking for our youth has only been strengthened.
I leave the USEF with strong ties to what it’s doing and an understanding of where things are headed. I hope to continue to work closely with Robert, Debbie and Scott as well as the USEF in whatever capacity I can. Over the next few years I will continue to help bridge the kids of today onto teams of tomorrow. I support the driving forces and the coaching staff 100 percent and want to go back to work training horses and riders to help feed that pipeline and in turn strengthen the base of American dressage. My job is moving back toward growth of our base on a broad-spectrum level, and I’m excited. I hope to both one day represent the United States on a medal podium myself and also produce riders who can do the same.
It has been my absolute pleasure to work not only with the youth, their parents and trainers, but also with the USEF, Dressage Committee and the USEF office staff. To the trainers and parents, keep up the great work and stay in touch. To be given such a huge responsibility in the development of your kids and students has been an honor. I hope I have guided them well and I appreciate your belief in me more than words can express.
The youth are hugely important to the future of dressage, and your trust in my leadership is very humbling. I will forever be grateful to the USEF and the youth for letting me be a part of their lives and development. As I told the youth in a letter sent out from USEF on the day my press release came out, I may be stepping down, but I will continue to support, advise or help you in any of your current or future goals. I don’t want to abandon any of you and am absolutely thrilled to have been with you through this adventure the last few years.
Jeremy Steinberg was the U.S. Equestrian Federation Youth Coach from 2010-2014. He’s a well-known rider, trainer and competitor based out of Del Mar, Calif. He’s also a selector for the Developing Horse Program and one of five clinicians who works with the U.S. Dressage Federation in its Platinum Performance/USDF junior and young rider clinic series. He worked with long-time friend and mentor Dietrich von Hopffgarten extensively until his passing in 2004. Jeremy has trained and shown many horses up through the Grand Prix level. He now runs a small “boutique”-type training business and travels the country giving clinics. More information can be found at steinbergdressage.com.