Mar 03, 2024

11 USEA EA21 National Camp Athletes Share How the EA21 Program is Developing the Next Generation of Riders

By Meagan DeLisle - USEA Staff
USEA/Atayla Boytner photos

The USEA Emerging Athletes U21 (EA21) program was established in 2022 with the aim of creating a pipeline for potential U.S. team riders by identifying and developing young talent and pairing them up with influential educators within the sport of eventing to improve their skills both in and out of the saddle.

Throughout the year, five regional clinics take place across the country where 12 selected riders per camp have the opportunity to experience a two-day educational session with a USEA Eventing Coaches Program (ECP) certified coach. The application process to participate in a regional clinic is quite competitive—in 2023 there were nearly 200 applications to participate. Upon the completion of the regional clinics, the EA21 selection committee convenes and hand-selects 18 riders from the regional clinic pool who will be invited to participate in the EA21 National Camp which is taught by EA21 Director of Coaching David O’Connor.

We chatted with some of this year’s EA21 National Camp Athletes to share their perspectives and top takeaways from the 2024 National Camp.

Interested in participating in one of the 2024 EA21 regional clinics and the 2025 EA21 National Camp? Applications are open for the regional clinics until March 15 and can be accessed here.

Maia Ramberg

Maia Ramberg

The 2024 USEA EA21 National Camp took place at Kingsway Farm in Temecula, California. This year’s West Coast location required 14 riders to utilize catch-ride horses. Maia Ramberg from Huga, Minnesota, (Area IV) was one of those riders. Having a catch-ride can pose a wide variety of challenges, but Ramberg, who also participated in the 2023 EA21 National Camp, found the experience to be enlightening and used what she learned as an opportunity to improve her horsemanship skills at home with her own horses.

"For me and my catch ride horse, David emphasized the importance of how our bodies affect the horses," she said. "During the camp, we spent a lot of the time learning how to ride more effectively through our bodies and less through our reins. I have applied that to my young horses at home, and I’ve noticed a big change in their gait and frame.”

The clinic also features lessons out of the saddle, and one of this year’s guest lectures covered basic farrier skills that every rider should know. Ramberg put what she absorbed this year to good work after the clinic.

“The farrier lesson came in clutch when I came home and found three of my horses with lost or loose shoes!” she said.

Annabelle Sprague

Annabelle Sprague

Area I young rider Annabelle Sprague (Brookfield, Vermont) left this year’s EA21 National Camp with a whole new mindset thanks to O’Connor’s guidance.

“My biggest take-home lesson from the camp would be to approach everything from the horse’s perspective,” she shared. “Looking at how the horse moves, what the horse sees, how the horse reacts to different questions and aids will be more effective and efficient in everyday training.”

O’Connor and the other guest speakers throughout the week shared a lot of pivotal advice for young riders who aspire to become professionals in the sport one day. Sprague appreciated the morning classroom lectures that both O’Connor and the guest speakers provided.

“My favorite memories from the National Camp are from the lectures we had before riding every morning," she said. "Every lecture I feel like I learned so much from David and the other coaches on many aspects of the profession.”

Emeline Gilbert

Emeline Gilbert

“Being selected for the EA21 National Camp was definitely one of my goals,” shared Area II rider Emeline Gilbert (Statesfield, North Carolina). “I was so grateful to have been able to take part in such an educational program for our generation. I think being selected for the camp supports my future goals because it gave me an opportunity to grow in this sport. I was able to train with David and hear insights from him and other professionals throughout the week that would help prepare us for the future. We talked about being a professional in this industry, and I think I definitely have some ideas for how I want to move forward with that in mind. I made a lot of relationships that I will be carrying forward into this sport.”

One of those key insights from the other guest speakers that really stood out to Gilbert was EA21 Coach Rebecca Brown’s discussion on ownership and syndication. Syndicating a horse is often a helpful way for professionals to put together a team of owners that will help support that horse and rider’s journey through the levels, but the topic itself isn’t one that is always taught or openly talked about.

“Rebecca Brown was generous enough to lead that discussion and explain what that means in financial terms and the best ways to usually set up a syndicate in this sport to buy a horse,” said Gilbert. “I appreciated how open and honest she was about it, including her personal experience in using syndication to buy a horse. I will remember all of that information moving forward as I will hopefully use it to get a top horse one day.”

Camryn Chung

Camryn Chung (Middle)

This was Area V rider Camryn Chung’s (Dallas, Texas) second year participating in the EA21 National Camp. She enjoyed the opportunity to ride with O’Connor again and soak up new information that will help to support her goals of riding for a senior team for the U.S.

“A key takeaway that I'll integrate into my daily riding routine is the mental framework highlighted by David throughout the camp—one: notice; two: do something about it; and three: get an answer,” shared Chung. “One of the riders was on a catch ride that was fairly cold to the leg. When prompted by David with, 'What are you going to do about it?' the rider’s initial response was, 'More leg.' However, David encouraged specificity, urging the rider to rethink her approach. Instead of a generic, 'More leg,' the rider, aiming for more reactivity from the horse, found a more specific solution through incorporating more transitions into her ride.”

Chung also noted that interacting with each of the other EA21 National Camp athletes presented other opportunities to learn as well. “What sets this program apart is the constant learning, whether it's from the coaches or fellow riders—every moment is a chance to pick up something new and make the most of the camp," she said.

For example, Chung found herself in admiration of fellow rider Kiersten Miller’s determination when working with her catch ride.

“She was catch riding one of Tamie Smith’s horses, and on the first day of dressage she had to figure out how to ride him off her body in a way that made him less strong against her hand. After she watched David ride the horse, she was able to replicate that technique, riding him light and balanced off her body. I really admire Kiersten for her ability to quickly change up her riding style with her catch ride.”

Molly Duda

Molly Duda

“Any opportunity to learn is a worthwhile opportunity,” shared Area VI rider Molly Duda (Menlo Park, California). “As someone who aims to reach the top levels of the sport, I seek any opportunity to expand my knowledge and make connections with others who have similar goals. The EA21 National Camp provided an excellent environment to do just that.”

Duda was at home at the California-based clinic but found herself soaking up every opportunity to learn from her centrally-based and East Coast counterparts. Despite their geographical distances, she was in awe of how all of the riders came together to support and encourage one another throughout the week.

“I was impressed by the sense of teamwork and community present throughout the week," she said. "Our sport is fundamentally competitive, and it's easy to get stuck in that competitive mindset, but I felt that all the riders at the National Camp this year supported each other and built each other up rather than feeling a need to compete with one another."

Audrey Ogan

Audrey Ogan

This was Audrey Ogan’s first year participating in the EA21 National Camp, and she flew all the way from her Area II home base of Middleburg, Virginia, to participate. While she learned a ton in the riding lessons and classroom sessions, she found herself picking up some of the most important tidbits just by helping out around the ring during the other riders’ lessons.

“My favorite memory of EA21 National Camp would have to be the second day of show jumping. There were so many good riders on quite a variety of different horses and being able to set fences next to David allowed me to hear a lot of his instruction and insight on the rides,” she shared.

One of the biggest lessons that Ogan will bring home is a deeper understanding of how her seat influences her horse, especially after building the foundation of that knowledge on a horse that she wasn’t familiar with.

“David really highlighted the movement of the seat in the saddle; the way your hips face for certain movements, and how the amount of movement of your seat affects their tempo and length of stride. Applying this after returning from Camp, I've realized just how sensitive the horses really are to the seat and it will really benefit my riding, both on the flat and in the jumping phases.”

Kelsey Seidel

Kelsey Seidel

From the moment Southlake, Texas-based rider Kelsey Seidel (Area V) heard about the EA21 program, she was determined to take part in it.

“When the USEA announced that they were coming out with a specific program that was geared toward under 21 young riders, it cemented that the USEA truly believed in the future of our sport as well as the horses and riders that come with it,” said Seidel. “Getting the opportunity to ride with David was everything I expected and more!”

The theme of the week for Seidel was inspiring. From the lessons put forth by the educators to watching her peers work through their own challenges and accomplish an exercise successfully, Seidel found herself being extremely inspired all week long.

"On the topic of inspiration, I can’t emphasize enough how incredible it was to simply be in a room surrounded by people who share the same passion and goals that you do," she said. "If the 2024 EA21 National Camp was any indication of the dedication and quality of the next generation of riders, our sport is in good hands!”

Julia Beauchamp Crandon

Julia Beauchamp Crandon

Julia Beauchamp Crandon (Portola Valley, California) was one of a handful of riders who were making their second appearance at the EA21 National Camp. The Area VI young rider was greatly appreciative of the opportunity.

“Having had the opportunity to participate in the EA21 National Camp twice, I thought the experiences I had over these weeks were invaluable towards taking the next step in my riding career," she said. “Not only did this education provide access to the necessary foundation in order to continue progressing up the levels, but it reinforced the drive to reach the goals I have set for myself this year.”

Being local to the area, Crandon took the lessons she learned at the clinic home and put her homework to the test each night. She especially found this beneficial in regard to the groundwork session that O’Connor taught one day during the National Camp.

“I have always been very interested in learning how to have a relationship with a horse on the ground so that they have more respect for you under saddle, yet that opportunity was never made available in the way that David provided it," she said. "He used one of the horses to demonstrate how he would teach his horses and how a horse should react to certain things on the ground. After learning that, I went straight back to the barn that night and worked a little bit with my own horse on the ground to see what I could do in that aspect. Having the chance to work through it and then go back and ask questions on how to work through problems that occurred is something that I will carry with me and continue to practice in my riding career.”

Kiersten Miller

Kiersten Miller

Hailing from Area VIII, Kiersten Miller (Rochester Hills, Michigan) might have been a long way from home in California, but that didn’t stop her from building lifelong friendships throughout the week during her second year as a National Camp athlete. Some of the most influential memories from the camp, outside of the lessons taught, were made in the barn aisle at the end of each day with her fellow EA21 National Camp athletes.

“Every rider would come together and converse about the day, while helping each other clean tack, sweep, and tidy up,” she reflected. “Memories like that show you what the sport is all about.”

This past year was Miller’s final opportunity to participate in the EA21 program, and she encourages all of her fellow eventers who aspire to represent the U.S. one day to apply.

“Regardless of your reservations about applying, there is absolutely no reason you shouldn't!" she said. "This program has been so influential for my riding, and I will miss it immensely now that I've aged out. For those who do make the National Camp, the week goes by fast, so enjoy every single moment; you will be surrounded by some pretty amazing people!”

Kayla Dumler

Kayla Dumler

Another returning EA21 National Camp athlete was Area VII’s Kayla Dumler (Enumclaw, Washington). She is grateful for the connections she has made all over the country, having now participated in the program in both her home area, Florida, and California.

“Having the opportunity to participate the last two years in Florida and California has allowed me to meet so many new people that are so supportive of the young riders. It has made me feel like anywhere that I go to compete in the US I would have a friendly face that would be willing to help and share their wisdom,” she noted.

Building upon the foundation she created in her first year at the National Camp, Dumler was excited to take home some different concepts as homework after this year’s experience. For her, it is back to the basics to achieve success.

“I have been working on applying the idea that if you focus on straightness, rhythm, balance, and speed, everything else will begin to fall into place,” Dumler shared. “It is easy to get caught up in trying to do too much that you actually end up making it worse sometimes. I have found that it has made a huge difference in my ride and I end up getting the result I was looking for quicker.”

Elsa Warble

Elsa Warble

In her first year as an EA21 National Camp athlete, Area VI rider Elsa Warble (Portola Valley, California) found herself motivated by not only the coaching but also her fellow athletes.

“It was a really motivating and fun week," she said. "The community was really inspiring and uplifting and the coaching really just made you want to get better and go home and work at it so you could further develop your skills for the future!”

O’Connor’s lessons on consistency really hit home for Warble, and she has taken his teachings to heart even more so now that she is back home.

“The biggest take-home lesson that I learned during the EA21 National camp was how diligent and consistent you need to be," she said. "Every corner, every diagonal, every 10-meter circle is the same, and it’s that accuracy and diligence that over time leads to consistency. So that when you're in a high-pressure environment or somewhere where it's a bit chaotic you have that training to fall back on and the horse knows exactly what to expect because you’ve practiced it relentlessly.”

About the USEA Emerging Athlete U21 Program (EA21)

The purpose of the USEA Emerging Athletes U21 Program (EA21) is to identify and provide consistent quality instruction to the next generation of elite event riders. The aim is to create a pipeline for potential team riders by identifying and developing young talent, improving horsemanship and riding skills, and training and improving skills and consistency.

The USEA Emerging Athletes U21 Program was launched in 2022 with a model of five summertime regional clinics taught by selected USEA Eventing Coaches Program (ECP) instructors, leading to a winter national camp consisting of selected Young Riders from the regional clinics. Athletes who are 21 years or younger, are current members of their USEA Young Rider Area program, and are established at the Training Level or higher, are eligible to apply for the EA21 program. Click here to learn more about the USEA EA21 Program.

The USEA would like to thank Kerrits, Ride iQ, Sidelines Magazine and WeRideTogether for sponsoring the USEA Emerging Athletes U21 Program.

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