Dressage Today Podcast: A Chat with Top FEI Junior Rider Annie Klepper

Listen to Episode 9 of the Dressage Today Podcast!

What’s it like to be one of America’s top FEI Junior riders? In this episode of the Dressage Today Podcast, 14-year-old Annie Klepper gives us a peek into her life. We’re talking about her pathway to success, which includes cool opportunities for youth riders, like Lendon Gray’s Winter Intensive Training Program and the Emerging Athlete Program. We’re also learning about the lifestyle of a young, highly competitive athlete, and, of course, Annie’s giant 18-hand equine partner, Louie.

(Photo by Lindsay Paulsen)


[00:00:00] Lindsey: [00:00:00] FEI junior rider, Annie Klepper doesn’t stand out simply because she rides an 18 hand horse. She’s also been dominating the junior divisions everywhere from the North American Youth Championships in North Salem, New York to the global dressage festival in Wellington, Florida. Take a look at her FEI record and you’ll see a plethora of recent first place results.

Annie is based out of Ohio and spends winters training in Wellington. Her current Mount is a gentle but giant and very handsome Oldenburg, gelding named happy Texas Moonlight or Louie, as he’s known around the barn. In their first season together in 2019, the pair not only qualified for the North American youth championships, but also returned home from the competition with double gold medals.

They took top honors in both the individual and freestyle classes and anchored the region two team in a silver metal finish. To date she is the youngest [00:01:00] rider in the US to have earned double gold medals. You’re listening to the dressage today podcast. And I’m one of your hosts Lindsey Paulson. Today, Annie joins me for a chat about what it’s like to be one of North America’s top junior riders. We’re talking about her super special equine partner, Louis, who is also nicknamed get ready for a clever pun. The Luna-corn. Get it.

She also shares reflections on her recent major successes, as well as some insights into the lifestyle of a young FEI rider. And she tells us about some cool opportunities for youth riders like Lendon Gray’s winter intensive training program, and the emerging athlete program. Stay tuned for our conversation.

Jennifer: [00:01:43] Hey there. I’m Jennifer Malachi and I’m Lindsay Paulson. We’re the hosts of the dressage today podcast, where you can find us talking about anything and everything dressage related.

Lindsey: [00:01:54] Our conversations span the world of dressage from leading riders. To local level dressage heroes.

Jennifer: [00:02:00] [00:02:00] We’re talking training advice, horse care tips, and stories to inspire your own dressage journey.

Lindsey: [00:02:06] Tune in, then tack up.

Hey, Annie. Thanks for hanging out with me today. Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule, especially right before a CDI to tell us more about you and your horse and everything that’s going on in your life. Why don’t we start out just by talking about your riding background, how did you get started riding and how did you get into dressage specifically?

Annie: [00:02:28] Sure. So I’ve been writing my entire life dressage. I don’t really know exactly how I got interested in it, but I, before I knew it, I was hooked and I’ve been doing dressage pretty much. Since I specialized, I just, when I started, I just learned the basics and then I jumped right in.

Lindsey: [00:02:47] Tell us about your current partner, happy Texas Moonlight, Louie, and your journey with him. First of all, how did you find him?,

Annie: [00:02:54] so we went on this whirlwind trip to Germany, which was absolutely [00:03:00] crazy. We saw so many horses and they pulled out this ginormous horse and my trainer’s like do do you even want to ride him? And I was, we drove something like two hours and I was like, yeah, of course I want to ride him. And I got on and I loved him. He was my favorite horse that I had ridden that trip. And I just it clicked, you know, we knew so he’s. We estimate him at about 18 hands. Yeah, it’s crazy. We’ve been working together for a little over a year now and it’s, every ride is fun. He is great horse.

Lindsey: [00:03:32] What, like, how would you describe his personality? It both in the barn and then also in the arena? So in the barn, he’s very sweet. He loves his treats. When he came from Germany at first, he didn’t know how he felt about his American treats, but now he’s so excited about them.

Annie: [00:03:49] So he can be a little bit of a pig when it comes to that. Really loving when he’s under saddle, though, he definitely like flips a switch. Like he turns on too. [00:04:00] Like really works hard and just really loves his job. And especially in the show ring, you can see that he like turns on his competitive side. It’s really cute.

Lindsey: [00:04:10] What is maybe something that you think is most special about him? What do you love about him? The most?

Annie: [00:04:14] He tries. He definitely tries to please people, which is just amazing. Even if I don’t do something right. He’s like, okay, what can I do to compensate for this? What can I do to help you out? So that makes him a great horse to learn on because he’s my first, truly upper level horse. And so of course there’s the learning that needs to be done on my end. And he’s a great teacher. That’s awesome.

Lindsey: [00:04:38] So you haven’t had him for that long, but in the. First of all, how long have you had him for?

Annie: [00:04:43] Let’s see, he was released from quarantine on Christmas day, last year, but I think I got to Florida. Around the same time I did this year. So like maybe the 27th. So it, it has been maybe a year and a [00:05:00] month or something like that.

Lindsey: [00:05:01] So you really haven’t had them for all that long, but in the time that you’ve spent together, you managed to earn double gold at the North American youth championships. That was back in the summer. So that was really only six months into your partnership. What do you attribute that success to?

Annie: [00:05:16] Definitely. My amazing team. I have the best trainer in the world, the best parents in the world. And I like to say the best horse in the world because he’s awesome. It’s definitely a team effort and just the companies that support me, the people that support me they’re, it’s really all of them, they’re awesome people.

Lindsey: [00:05:35] Do you want to go a little bit more into detail about who your team really consists of and who the people are that back you?

Annie: [00:05:42] So definitely. My parents, my trainer, Kristin Stein our vets our farriers. The companies first and foremost, obviously Annie’s Equestrian apparel, my most amazing company in the world. I love them so much. I’m really blessed to have them supporting me, obviously. I’m so proud [00:06:00] of my mom and what she’s accomplished. Biostar for sure. Secchiari boots, Topshop, tack trunks, DSB. All of the companies that have supported me from the beginning for sure.

Lindsey: [00:06:13] Let’s. Briefly talk more about Annie’s equestrian apparel. I think the, probably the first time I ever heard your name was in the context of Annie’s equestrian apparel. And I remember You guys had some really brightly colored breaches and it was just, it was fun and refreshing and different. And you were kind of the driving force behind that. Correct. Can you tell me about how all that got started?

Annie: [00:06:34] The company, as we know it today is definitely looked a lot different from the beginning. It was we started with kids clothes and we would do very fun colors, like you said. And it was really fun to be different and, to just. Be something new in a sea of beige and whites and blacks.

But it grew to being adult clothes. Then it’s grown with me and now we’re a jacket brand, which is super [00:07:00] cool. I feel kind of special when I go in the ring and I’m like, this is my company’s jacket, I love it. But we’re still sort of, I wouldn’t say pushing the limits, but trying to.

Do new things, we’re doing new colors where we’re not conforming, definitely to the typical, where we designed for fun customers and fun riders. So

Lindsey: [00:07:20] it’s fun. Just kind of as an, as I’m an outsider looking in, it’s funny seeing how our, I shouldn’t say funny, but it’s interesting seeing how that company has evolved, because I remember the, you guys had some beautiful, like Tiffany blue breaches.

Those were really fun. Yeah. And then and then the show coats came along and they were there and you still make them, I think that, but the short coats, and then as you started progressing in your riding, then tailcoats came too. And it’s been really fun seeing those developed too. And I feel like whenever I’m at a show, I can always tell which one comes from you guys.

I think something that’s really interesting about your journey or at least what I know of it [00:08:00] is that you’ve participated in a lot of youth dressage programs and you’re a really good example of kind of the American dressage pipeline coming to life and develop developing successful riders from a young age.

Can you tell me about. Some of the cool experiences that you’ve had as a youth rider over the years. I know you’ve done well, correct me if I’m wrong, you’ve done. Lendon’s winter intensive training program. You’re now part of the emerging athletes program. Give me the rundown on some of the cool experiences you’ve had.

Annie: [00:08:27] So definitely those are the two main youth programs that have really, really impacted me. So I am new to the emerging athlete program. It’s. Been a really cool experience. So far though, I went to my first emerging athlete clinic in Gladstone New Jersey. And that was the first time that I had seen that farm is so beautiful.

It’s really great to have a support system of just really amazing riders that have been through it. And that. Really really want to see you succeed. [00:09:00] I think that’s super cool. And obviously it’s helped me a lot because. You know, you have people at shows that you can say Oh, can you know, can you watch me ride, can you give me input?

You can ask opinion opinions of their vets and everything. So that’s really cool. As for the winter intensive training program with Lendon, I did that for two seasons and that was amazing. The people that I met and the experiences I had, and I grew a lot as both a rider and a horse person. And I definitely think that that helped me make connections and put my foot in the door of Wellington, which is awesome.

So it was a great way to transition into this world

Lindsey: [00:09:41] for those of us who, who didn’t grow up in, in that kind of program. Yeah. Or at least have had firsthand experience with it. Can you tell me what a typical day is like in Lenodon’s winter intensive training program? I kind of fantasize about it, but I don’t actually know what it’s like.

Annie: [00:09:55] Definitely. So it’s kind of crazy, but super fun. So, we’d [00:10:00] get to the barn at six-thirty. We’d have. Chores, everyone takes care of their own horse, obviously. Then we would have fitness programs, which is great because I really think that it’s important to be fit as a rider. You could watch lessons throughout the day.

There were several assistant trainers that you could pick from as well as riding with Lendon, gray. Then there were lectures, which was. An important part of, learning more about not just the riding, but also stuff like saddle fit shoeing sports psychology. And then on top of the lectures, we had some really cool opportunities to visit like very. Famous rider’s barns, watch them ride, listen to them talk. So that was really cool. Cool.

Lindsey: [00:10:44] Oh, that’s super cool. It sounds like such a I guess well-rounded learning experience. I remember a couple of years ago through my work with dressage today, we got to step in and watch. I think it was like a long lining sess session with, was it Richard mal mal groan.

Anyway just a little peek into [00:11:00] that was so neat and I am so excited that they’re such great, but. Opportunities out there like that for youth riders. I wish there was something like that for adults. Hint, hint, USDF, USEF, going back to the emerging athlete program. Can you talk about more specifically what it’s like to be involved with that program? For example, if you’re in that program, like you are. W, what does that look like for you?

Annie: [00:11:27] So being a part of the emerging athlete program, you have access to various tools like there’s this great system where you can see your stats for all of your tests, your individual movements, your averages, it’s super cool and very helpful, and you can really see your progress by comparing your stats from like beginning the season to end. There is also physio sessions with physiotherapists, which is very cool to learn about biomechanics of. Your own [00:12:00] body, as well as your horse. And you have access to their training sessions. They’re high high intensity training sessions, which are very interesting, where it’s kind of like a mini WIT program, sort of, you get to have lectures and lessons and everything like that. It’s really helpful to have the eyes of George Williams on your riding. And he can give you advice as to, what you could do better. You send in videos every couple months so that they can analyze that. Overall, it’s just nice to have a team of people behind you to look after your riding and to give you advice and suggestions.

Lindsey: [00:12:41] And I’m sure it’s nice to be involved. Not only with the team of people, but also in a more formalized structure. Out of all of those experiences. Is there one that has been your favorite, for example, could you just tell me about a special memory that you have that really sticks out in your mind that maybe you hold [00:13:00] near and dear to your heart.

I would say NAYC, as my competition highlight the first time I rode Louie was definitely, really cool the whole Germany experience, that was my first time horse shopping in Europe. So that was just wild and really fun. Yeah, I think that those were just really happy memories. And I think that we’re continuing to make more. Maybe my first CDI in Florida with Louie was very cool to ride in that ring. I was really proud of my horse. So

let’s go back to the North American youth championships experience. Can you, I can’t even fathom what it’s like to. Earn a single metal let alone two of them or three, I guess, technically at NAYC. Walk me through that experience just from start to finish, because I want to live vicariously through you.

It was

Annie: [00:13:48] unbelievable. Completely unexpected. Especially with my, lack of experience in that front, since this is my first year in juniors, but it was just crazy. I, that was probably [00:14:00] the most excited that I’ve ever been.

I was so, so proud of my horse because. We knew that we both worked really hard for that moment. And it was so cool to stand on a podium and actually have the medal and go to the press conference. It was just, everything was just buzzing with excitement. I remember we FaceTime my dad cause my dad couldn’t make it. And he was so excited and then Kristen, my trainer was FaceTiming with our friends in Germany who helped me find Louie. And they were excited and like seeing all the texts come through and all the calls, it was so nice. And it was just such an awesome experience.

Lindsey: [00:14:41] You are 14 years old. You’re. Relatively quite young. And you’re a very competitive athlete. What is that lifestyle like? And. Do you feel like it’s different from maybe what the average 14 year old girl might be doing?

Annie: [00:14:55] It’s definitely interesting. And it’s interesting to have watched [00:15:00] it unfold through the years. So I do online school now. I’ve been doing that for a little over a year, and that is definitely a different lifestyle. I don’t know. I feel like I have to be really conscious about my fitness and my health. I definitely have to manage my time wisely. Yeah, it’s been working with, louie I’ve definitely had to amp up my own dedication because I’m like, okay, I really, really want to do this. And I really want to do this well.

Lindsey: [00:15:31] With all the time that you’ve dedicated towards his training and your progress together and your fitness and development, all those things. Do you have time to be like a normal kid? Do go do kid things?

Annie: [00:15:40] Yeah, I definitely try to. And it’s funny because even with the unorthodox way that I lived down here that has kind of. Birthed new opportunities to still be a kid like the people I’ve met. The other kids that I’ve met that are like minded and that do the sport. I’ve made [00:16:00] really good friends with them. And through that, I can sort of still, even though it looks a little different, still have kind of the typical experience of growing up.

Lindsey: [00:16:10] Okay, switching gears a little bit. Let’s talk about some role models in this sport. Who’s who’s a rider that you really admire or would like to emulate and be like,

Annie: [00:16:18] it’s going to sound corny, but definitely my trainer, she is definitely one of the most talented riders I’ve ever seen. And she’s very fair with the horses and very correct in her riding. She trained in Germany and so they’re definitely very very. Rooted in the classical principles of dressage. I love Laura Graves. I think she’s just everyone. I, every thing I want to be,

Lindsey: [00:16:42] I’m sure that you are not alone in in. Admiring Laura Graves, because I think our whole country probably has her eyes on her.

Let’s talk about the future because it sounds like you probably have some pretty exciting stuff ahead of you. What are your goals? What do you have your eyes on?

Annie: [00:16:55] Down here I would love to qualify for NAYC. And then if those [00:17:00] scores come, I would love to work towards my silver. Those are the main goals I loved. NAYC. Had some great memories there. It’s a really fun show. And so i’d be really excited. If I got to go back,

Lindsey: [00:17:11] assuming that you qualify again and get to return NAYC do you think the pressure is going to be on for you to pull some more medals out of the hat?

Annie: [00:17:19] I’m definitely a little nervous about that. Just my main goal is to be better than I was last year. Even if competitors come that sort of edge that out. I’m just trying to compete against myself and make sure that I’m a better rider than i was last year.

Lindsey: [00:17:35] No pressure, but I think that’s going to be kinda hard to do. Just kidding, but I wish you the best of luck with that. It sounds like you’re well on your way. Thanks so much for taking your time out to talk with me and give me a little insight into your life and give our listeners some insight into that too. So, good luck with everything, Annie.

Thanks for listening to the dressage today podcast, you can learn more from dressage today and read in-depth training articles at [00:18:00] or you can visit our new training video site dressage today on demand to learn more, visit on ondemand dot . and for daily dressage training tips and advice. Give us a follow on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Happy Riding.






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