English Equestrian Program Expands Global Reach with New Director
When she delivered a horse for a friend in fall 2013, Nicole Thuengen didn’t know that two years later she would be heading up the riding program at the James L. Child, Jr. Equestrian Center. A resident of Germany, Thuengen liked what she saw at The University of Findlay’s English riding facility. She mentioned to Jill Paxton, director of English equestrian studies and equine business management, that she would be interested in a position if one became available.
“We don’t have a comparable facility in Germany for our young professionals,” Thuengen said. “We may have state-owned barns and/or studs with 30-40 school horses, but the sheer size of The University of Findlay’s program, with two farms, was really impressive.”
Paxton contacted Thuengen in spring 2014 about interviewing for the director of the English equestrian program position. Thuengen, in the United States for clients at that time, flew in for the interview on her way back to Germany and accepted the position when it was offered. After a long wait to obtain a visa and make moving arrangements, she arrived in Findlay during spring break 2015.
“Working globally isn’t always as easy as it seems,” she laughed. “I actually had a moving company come and pick up my possessions with a 20 feet container on the same day I received confirmation I could move to the U.S. and work for UF.”
A National Pastime
Show jumping and dressage are very popular spectator sports in Germany, much like football and baseball in America. Being one of the top countries in the world in riding, the country takes its horsemanship seriously, offering national certifications for amateurs and professionals who ride, show and train horses and riders.
The German Riding Federation FN (Deutsche Reiterliche Vereinigung, Federation Nationale) is the national organization responsible for governing all disciplines of equestrian sports in Germany. Together with the German government they supervise and control the unique full time employed, multi-year trainer program for equine professionals.
Thuengen first earned the Bereiter F.N. designation, which authorized her to teach riders up through the higher Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) levels. The FEI is the governing body of all national events for several disciplines, including jumping and dressage.
She then completed, after another three years of studies, the Pferdewirtschaftsmeister, the highest level of trainer qualification in Germany, at the German Riding School Center in Warendorf.
This authorized her to run a government-controlled training facility, train horses and their clients, ride in dressage at least at third level and show jumping competitions up to 1.40 m (approx. 4’7”) and train horses and riders at least to these levels.
Most important, with this Master Qualification, she earned the credentials to train working students for three years under a state-controlled program to give them the education to be approved Bereiter (similar to a co-assistant trainer.) Only 75 percent achieve the grades to succeed and pass the exams over two days.
This is how strong the program and the legal requirements are.
“The testing for this certification requires you to learn laws governing about 34 different categories in equestrian sports, including the veterinary and business aspects over seven years, including riding and training 8-10 horses per day in all disciplines with your master,” Thuengen added.
From Dairy Farm to Career
Smiling, Thuengen recalled that she got her passion for horses at a friend’s dairy farm while in kindergarten. When she was 13, her father impulsively bought her a horse and all of the equipment.
“He was really too much horse for me,” she remembers. “I didn’t have an idea of what to do. I had only been riding ponies in the field until that time.”
Her love of horses and riding haven’t diminished and she sees endless possibilities for the UF English equestrian program, adding that, “We must use all the potential we have.” She also will take a group of students for a two-week clinic in Germany in December. She’s arranged to travel with equestrian students and instructors from Averett University in Virginia. In addition to the clinic, she’s compiled a list of student apprenticeships in Europe.
“It’s important for their resumes to work under certain well-known people,” Thuengen said. ‘Our students will need to compete against the best European riders and trainers as well as those from the U.S.”
Believing that riding and training at the higher levels can be intense, but still fun, Thuengen stands by a philosophy of rewarding students who work hard. She feels that, regardless of riding experience and background, she treats all students equally.
“Those who demonstrate hard work and dedication will be noticed in this intense industry.”