George Williams and Charlotte Bredahl-Baker, recently appointed coaches of the USEF Youth Dressage Program, are determined to help the next generation of top dressage riders navigate their road to success. Williams, head U.S. Dressage youth coach, and Bredahl-Baker, assistant youth coach, have extensive knowledge and skills in developing all aspects of youth competition achievement—ranging from understanding a horse’s biomechanics and day-to-day training pressures to working within team competitions to seeking sponsorships.
The recently remodeled youth program seeks to build a base of youth dressage athletes by developing, educating and inspiring young riders. The 2015 program encompasses a wide variety of initiatives, taking place both on U.S. soil and abroad. Williams and Bredahl-Baker will lead initiatives such as Outreach Clinics, a European tour, High Intensity Training Sessions and Junior/Young Rider Clinics.
Outreach Clinics will be held in areas of the country that are considered hot spots for youth dressage or in areas that are identified as needing dressage promotion. While the format of each clinic might differ, they will be held over the course of two days and will include a lecture by a featured clinician each day. The Young Rider European Tour is geared toward promoting and exposing elite-level U.S. Young Riders to international competition. The two Young Riders selected for the tour in 2015 are Catherine Chamberlain and Ayden Uhlir. High Intensity Training Sessions provide comprehensive instruction for top-level Pony Riders, Juniors and Young Riders. These sessions will be held by Williams and/or Bredahl-Baker and will include education components, such as a veterinary session, fitness session, sports-psychology session and saddlery session. Finally, the Junior/Young Rider clinic series, officially known as the Platinum Performance/ USDF Junior/Young Rider Clinics, operates in partnership with the USDF to provide a clinic in every USDF region in each calendar year. These clinics, which receive additional funding from The Dressage Foundation, aim to provide educational opportunities for young riders and will be led by Williams, Bredahl-Baker and other highly respected instructors.
An application process was used for the U.S. Dressage youth coach position, and Williams and Bredahl-Baker applied when it was posted in 2014. According to USEF Director of Dressage, Hallye Griffin, several high-quality applicants were interviewed by a selection panel consisting of other USEF dressage coaches, USEF Dressage and High Performance Committee members, USEF staff and a U.S. Oympic Committee representative. Throughout the selection process, it became obvious that the USEF Youth Dressage Program would benefit greatly if two individuals could serve in coaching roles due to the size of the country and the scope of the envisioned program. “Williams and Bredahl-Baker have already proven to be a terrific combination and we know that they will continue to lead our USEF Dressage Youth Program toward long-term success,” Griffin says.
Williams’ Own Long Road
The youngest of nine children, Williams grew up in a large family, where horses had been a part of the family long before he was born. All his siblings rode when they were young and two sisters later became local riding instructors along with their mother. “I don’t remember who put me on my first horse or pony, but it was my sister Betsy, who was 11 years older than I am, in particular, who encouraged me to ride,” Williams says.Betsy, having competed at Madison Square Garden in New York with her hunters, let the young Williams ride her fancy Welsh pony, Bonnie, and taught her brother the basics. Later, she imported two Connemara ponies from Ireland, and Williams, unaware that the two ponies were unbroken, tacked one up and rode it down the driveway. “In those days, I loved to gallop through the woods on my family’s property. At one point when I was quite young, our blacksmith said to my mother, as I careened out of the woods back to the barnyard, ‘Don’t worry, the finesse will come later.’ And he was right.”
Through his family, Williams’ interest in dressage started early on. He easily adapted to the discipline because of his participation in the U.S. Pony Club rallies, which in his region included eventing. “I loved the training process, how the dressage changes a horse for the better both mentally and physically.”
Although the North American Junior/Young Rider Championships did not exist when Williams was growing up, he attained his first Prix St. Georges horse, Fleury, when he was 19 years old. Fleury was a New Zealand Thoroughbred he acquired from Meg Douglas Hamilton, a pioneer of new technologies in the breeding industry who went on to establish Hamilton Farms, a top U.S. breeding farm. Williams rode Fleury in early observation clinics with U.S. Coach Col. Bengt Ljungquist. “Fleury was a delightful soul and rather difficult to ride. To keep supple, truly on the bit and through was sometimes beyond my skills at that time. I was often discouraged after riding a dressage test. When I look back at the old photos I think, no wonder, because the photos aren’t pretty. I wasn’t sitting quite right yet, and the horse was never truly underneath himself behind. It’s amazing I stuck with it.” Williams continues, though, with his mother, Mary, as his biggest supporter. “She would give me pep talks and encourage me to continue training. She wouldn’t let me even think of giving up,” he says. “One of the most valuable lessons she taught me was that of perseverance and to have the will to improve. It always pays off.”
He often would watch his mother teach lessons at her farm and accompany her when she had the opportunity to ride in clinics hosted by the American Dressage Institute (ADI) in Saratoga, New York, and throughout the area. As a result, he was exposed to some of the living dressage legends of the time, including Ljungquist, Gustav Niblaeus, Hans Handler and Franz Rochowansky.
Williams’ mother was one who fueled his passion for dressage. She was seen as a slight woman with white hair and twinkling blue eyes who mirrored Katherine Hepburn in spirit. An extraordinary woman, she was 76 when she rode her first piaffe.
After high school, Williams traveled to Germany to continue dressage instruction and to more formally study dressage at Reitinstitute Egon von Neindorff in Karlsruhe, Germany, where he earned his bronze medal. He recalls his training: “Riding at the school in Germany had its ups and downs. One moment you would feel good about your riding, the next you would realize how little you knew and how far you had to go. Even though over the years my instructors were always positive, I went through periods where I thought I’d only be a good teacher and other times that I’d only be able to take problem horses in training. Slowly, though, it all started to come together.”
He continues, “In the late 70s, I had the opportunity to ride and compete a wonderful horse by the name of Rahel who, instead of the usual Thoroughbred dressage horse, was a 17-hand Trakehner mare. She was owned by Margot Kagen of Long Island, New York.” Together they were the AHSA First Level National Champions in 1979 and Rahel was USDF Horse of the Year at Second Level in 1980. “There is nothing like a good horse to make you feel better about yourself,” Williams says.
He fondly remembers those who have guided his journey. “I’ve had many mentors in my life and they’ve all influenced my life in some manner. But I would have to say that along with my parents, there are three who truly stand out. One is Egon Von Neindorff, partly because I rode with him at such an impressionable stage of my life. Another is Karl Mikolka, who I rode with and alongside for more than 20 years, and the third was Klaus Balkenhol. I use the things they taught me every day in my teaching and training.” He also credits long-time friend Kathy Connelly for being invaluable. “She was my eyes on the ground—something no serious competitor should ever be without.”
An accomplished International Grand Prix competitor widely renowned in his field, Williams rode Chuck and Joanne Smith’s black, floppy-eared Westfalen mare, Rocher, who was USDF Horse of the Year in 2003 at the Grand Prix level.
They competed in numerous European CDIs including Oldenburg, Munich, Dortmund, Lingen and Wiesbaden as well as the European Championships at Hickstead and the FEI World Cup Dressage Final in Gothenburg, Sweden. Williams and Rocher helped the U.S. team earn a bronze medal at the 2005 CHIO Aachen and achieving the title of 2005 Collecting Gaits Farm/USEF Grand Prix National Champion. They won the Grand Prix at Dressage at Devon an unprecedented three times and their Grand Prix Freestyle score at Dressage at Devon still stands as the highest after 10 years. They were also 16th in the World Rankings, which, at the time, few Americans had achieved. In 2005, Williams was the co-recipient of the William Steinkraus Equestrian of the Year award.
Williams, having brought numerous horses and riders up the levels, is a much sought-after clinician who brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to his new role as the U.S. Dressage youth coach. One of his students, Laura Noyes, was a U.S. Young Rider who qualified and competed twice in the Young Rider World Cup in Frankfurt, Germany. She also was a successful under 25-year-old Grand Prix Brentina Cup rider.
Another top competitor Williams oversees is Angela Hecker Jackson, who is currently preparing the mare, Allure, owned by KC Dunn/Timbach Farm, for the Developing Grand Prix. “It is so difficult to find a trainer committed to, and who has the understanding of classical dressage,” Jackson shares. “Thank you, George, for being a trainer and teacher who is patient in the education of a horse and rider not only physically but also mentally and a trainer who follows the Training Scale and not just teaches a trick to show off. I am so happy you are taking the time to share your knowledge with us.”
FEI 3* judge Bill Warren, who has worked with Williams on and off over the course of 30 years, expressed his appreciation for his teaching style. “George Williams’ approach in his teaching is simply straightforward, honest work. There are no gimmicks. In the many years that he has helped me, what sticks in my mind as a rider is to be persistent and consistent but always fair to the horse. George’s depth of knowledge and devotion to the classical principles has been an inspiration to me in developing horses through to the Grand Prix.” Williams has brought a number of Adult Amateurs and Juniors from lower levels to the upper levels.
Bredahl-Baker’s Courageous Path
Bredahl-Baker was born and raised in Denmark, where she began riding at the age of 9. She was the only one in her family interested in horses, but that didn’t stop her from pursuing the sport wholeheartedly. “No one in my family was really into horses, but I was obsessed with horses from the time I was 8. At 9, I started taking lessons in exchange for cleaning stalls at a riding school near Copenhagen.” When she was 12, she and her family had to move to a small island of only 10,000 people because her father received a promotion as a police chief. She started knocking on farmers’ doors to see if they would let her ride their draft or driving horses. “Many of those horses were barely broken to ride, and I didn’t have a saddle. I rode mostly with bareback pads and fell off many times,” she says.
Without a lot of money to spend on horses, lessons were few and far between for Bredahl-Baker. Her parents, busy trying to support a family of four, watched their daughter’s grit and passion grow throughout the years.
She worked after school at a farm where they bred and raised trotters. During that experience, she learned to drive and even got a license to drive on the track. “This made me quite good with long lines and it was a great tool later with piaffe and passage,” she says. She broke a 2-year-old of her own when she was 15 and managed to do basic dressage and jumping. However, the horse was very talented at jumping and she sold him as a jumper since she didn’t have the nerve for the big fences.
Bredahl-Baker’s eventual move to the United States presented its own variety of challenges and learning experiences. “When I was about 19 years old, I moved to California and worked as a groom at a very nice place called Bell Canyon Equestrian Center,” she recalls.
“My English wasn’t very good, but I worked my way up to assistant trainer and then manager over the next three years. I was in charge of 110 horses and had to learn to run two-ring dressage shows on a monthly basis. I learned a tremendous amount during that time, but had very little time to ride. After about two years I quit as manager, but stayed on as trainer.”
Bredahl-Baker also formed a partnership with a Danish bereiter to import Danish horses. “The first horse he sent to me was not much of a mover but had a great temperament,” she says. “He was trained to about First Level, and one of my students bought him for his great mind. His name was Copenhagen. After my student bought him, she had four children. Copenhagen stayed in training with me. Since he was the only horse I had in long-term training, I was determined that he was going to be my first Grand Prix horse. With the help of Hilda Gurney, I trained him to Grand Prix and it was a great learning experience.”
She continues: “During this time, I also had gotten a gangly 5-year-old gelding in Denmark in a partnership. My partner paid $10,000 for the horse and I did the training. Nobody liked the horse much, and after two years, I asked my partner if I could keep him through the 1992 Olympics if I paid his expenses.”
Her partner agreed and she continued to work with the horse, named Monsieur, with the help of Gurney. During this time, Bredahl-Baker took monthly lessons, as she didn’t own a trailer and had to catch a ride.
After placing third at Gladstone in 1990, Bredahl-Baker received a grant to train and compete in Europe and spent two summers training with Herbert Rehbein. In 1992, she rode on the bronze-medal-winning Olympic team in Barcelona, with Monsieur.
In 1993, she also received a grant to compete in Europe and was based at Conrad Schumacher’s stable outside Frankfurt, Germany. “During those three years, I was able to show at all the biggest shows, including Aachen, Wiesbaden, Stuttgart and Rotterdam,” she says.
“Aside from the Olympics, my favorite show was in Copenhagen, where I won the World Cup qualifier in front of my family. It was held at the Danish castle called Christiansborg. What an unbelievable feeling to see the American flag go up while the American national anthem played and my entire Danish family watched.”
According to the agreement with her partner, Monsieur would be for sale after the Olympics, but it turned out that nobody else could ride him. “We had nine good years at Grand Prix before he was retired at age 19. During those years I received help in clinics from Robert Dover, Klaus Balkenhol and Guenter Seidel. I still have Monsieur who’s turning 35 this year. He’s my horse of a lifetime and was meant to be mine.”
During the time she competed Monsieur, Bredahl-Baker also formed a partnership with a Danish friend and her 4-year-old Danish Warmblood named Lugano. “A year later I bought my partner out for $10,000. Lugano was very talented and won every class he entered at Intermediaire I. He was also Intermediaire II USDF Horse of the Year. In 1997 we won a team silver medal at the North American Championship.”
Unfortunately though, he only lasted one season at Grand Prix before he had some soundness issues. “When both Monsieur and Lugano retired, I took time out to focus on my judging career,” she says. “I started judging in 1985, but wanted to eventually become an international judge.”
“In 2006 I found myself back in the ring with two wonderful horses, and spent the winter in Wellington, Florida. One of the horses was Komo, trained by Carol Plough, who sadly and suddenly passed away. I showed Komo in the tryouts for the World Games and we ended up sixth in the Grand Prix standings. My other partnership horse, Eskada, scored well in Intermediaire I and qualified for Gladstone for the second time.”
Bredahl-Baker is currently a 4* judge and has judged across the world at various international-level competitions. She is also currently competing the 9-year-old gelding Rivendall at Prix St. Georges. During the 2015 Las Vegas World Cup, together with Jan Ebeling, she rode a Grand Prix pas de deux on her 10-year-old mare, Chanel.
For more information about Williams, Bredahl-Baker and new opportunities for young dressage riders, visit usef.org.