January 2017 - Dressage Life
Written by Genay Vaughn
Friday, 30 December 2016 01:00

Creating a Career Path: Californian Michael DeLuna goes to equestrian “graduate school” in Germany.

by Genay Vaughn

As a recent college graduate, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about careers in the horse world. Many riders take the traditional career paths toward becoming a professional rider, trainer or breeder. Others take a different path, from a different perspective.

Five-year-old Oldenburg Stallion Furstenglory, at home in Duisburg.

From left: Jürgen and Jennifer Hoffman, Isabelle Botterman, Michael DeLuna and Bianca Kapellar enjoying Aachen.

I recently talked with Michael DeLuna, who envisions his path leading to a high performance equestrian sports management career that contributes to helping America reach the top of international podiums.

Michael grew up around horses, gaining enviable experience from an early age. Not many can say that stellar dressage rider, trainer and breeder Leslie Morse made their first birthday cake, let alone is your mom’s best friend. Fast-forward to Michael’s 10th birthday where he received a backstage pass to watch Leslie compete for Team USA at Aachen, a birthday gift any horse-crazy kid would love.

Michael tells me Aachen is where his passion for horses amplified. Being able to see the ins and outs of what it takes to manage and compete horses that perform on the world stage is an experience that drew Michael in and he has not looked back since. Being able to travel with Leslie’s horses, Kingston and Tip Top, gave him exposure to international competition which left an indelible impression.

Michael dabbled in riding himself, riding Pam Nelson and Heidi Gaian’s Haflinger pony, Astro, and later the school horses of Spring Down Equestrian Center. In his sophomore year of high school, Michael stopped riding to focus on football but still kept his love for horses alive by grooming for his mom, Michele DeLuna, both at home and at competitions throughout California.

After high school, Michael attended The University of Alabama, and upon graduation he began his search for a normal, non-horsey, job. It did not take him long to find a job right out of school but he immediately realized he had chosen the wrong field. He quickly began searching for jobs in Europe, and within a week he was on a flight to Dusseldorf, Germany.

Michael, Jennifer, and Westphalian Stallion Florentinus V of Gestut Letterberg, after winning both PSG and I1 at CDI*** Lamprechtshausen, Austria.

Jennifer, Michael and Westphalian Stallion Rubinio NRW at CDI*** Deauville, France.

Grooming in Germany

For a year-and-a-half Michael was based in Duisburg, Germany, where he served as Jennifer Hoffmann’s head groom. Jennifer and her husband Jürgen run German Dressage International; a training, and sales barn based in the heart of Westphalia. He says that before he began working for the Hoffmanns he considered himself to be a good groom, but he soon learned that it would take much more than that to be a groom at the international level. He credits the Hoffmanns for taking his raw talent and transforming it into true professionalism. At any given time there were usually between 18 and 25 horses in the barn, which Michael managed, along with the sole care of Jennifer’s top competition horses, which included seven to nine stallions.

Before going to Germany, Michael had never dealt with a horse younger than 4 years old and suddenly he was dealing with young 2-year-olds with very little manners. That experience spurred a very quick learning curve, but he says he really enjoyed dealing with the young ones, putting their saddles on for the first time and turning them into young gentleman. Michael also learned that each horse is a unique individual, and knowing the characteristics of each horse was essential.

Michael was adamant about being the traveling show groom, giving him front row tickets to watch the best in the world, week in and week out. As he traveled to shows throughout Europe, including the prestigious Bundeschampionat, Fritzens, Schloss Achleiten, Roosendaal and Odense, just to name a few, Michael grew to know his horses’ needs, but even more importantly, the needs of his rider. He learned to figure out what Jennifer needed before she was able to say it. He says he prides himself in the relationship he and Jennifer were able to have, not only on a professional level, but also as friends, creating a winning formula.

Michael and Westphalian Stallion Rubinio NRW before the jog at CDI**** Odense, Denmark, Nations Cup, Team USA.

Established Routine

There is an established routine in every well-run barn, and Michael was able to find his niche within the Hoffmanns. Each day Jennifer would ride seven to 10 horses, while the others would either be ridden by Jürgen or bereiter Bianca Kapellar. Each horse was out of its “box” twice a day, whether it was to work, play, walk or graze, which is so good for their physical and mental well-being. That was their routine six days a week and Monday was their day of rest.

Michael learned that each horse required specific maintenance. He was in charge of every aspect from food to tack room order. Along with Bianca, he made sure that all Jennifer had to worry about was her riding.

The hardest obstacle Michael had to face was the language barrier. Being in charge of getting hay and straw at the shows, he relied on hand gestures and the slight chance the show staff spoke English. Each show presented new obstacles, along with new countries, weather and languages, but Michael always made sure his horses were happy and ready to compete.

Europe made him really miss his native California weather. During the winter months, hours were spent cooling horses out, while keeping them warm and making sure waters weren’t frozen. He had never been to a horse show where it had been snowing outside before.

Michael says that the most valuable lesson he learned was to always pay attention to details. Other lessons: In order to be a successful horseman or groom at that level you have to make your job your life, and the minute you lose focus you start to miss minor details that can lead to bigger problems. Always listen to your horse, pay attention to their needs and wants, and always have a give-and-take relationship with them.

Now that Michael has returned home, he has his eye set on continuing his career in horses. He is actively pursuing jobs with hopes to one day help dressage within America progress. Michael is hoping to take his new found experiences and knowledge and apply them to any aspect of high performance equestrian sports.

A typical day for Michael in Germany:

  • 8 a.m. - Arrive at the barn, check all horses, begin unwrapping
  • 8:30 a.m. - Jennifer and Jürgen arrive; Jennifer gets on her first horse


  • 12 p.m. - Horses get lunch
  • 1 p.m. - Horses go on the walker
  • 2 p.m. - Horses come off the walker
  • 2-5:30 p.m. - Continue grooming, cleaning, blanketing, wrapping, laundry, etc.
  • 5:45 p.m. - Horses get dinner and the next day’s breakfast is prepared
  • 6-6:30 p.m. - Finishing touches, clean up the barn, and go home


Genay Vaughn is a full-time college student and active dressage competitor who also trains young horses and teaches students at her family’s Starr Vaughn Equestrian in Elk Grove. Last year she took the first step toward her lifelong goal of representing the United States in international competition when she was selected for the first-ever United States Under-25 Grand Prix team to compete in Europe. Her current equine partner is the Hanoverian stallion Donarweiss GGF (De Niro – Hohenstein – Archipel), owned by Starr Vaughn Equestrian Inc., bred by Greengate Farm, and approved AHS, ISR/OldNA, CWHBA, AWS,and RPSI. Find Genay on Facebook at: