Reach For The Stars
Written by Nan Meek
Wednesday, 01 October 2014 04:02

Michele Vaughn draws on diverse experiences and accomplishments to help others as a dressage life coach.

Michele Vaughn has transformed gently rolling fields into the world class Starr Vaughn Equestrian. She has acted as her daughter Genay’s primary trainer, career strategist and dedicated show mom as Genay won her way up the levels of dressage competition to Junior and Young Rider Championships and Brentina Cup.

Now she has created a new profession – dressage life coach – from her experience in the multi-faceted dressage world.

Michele knows the increasingly high standards needed to be competitive today in dressage at every level, and she recognizes the opportunity to help other riders – juniors, young riders, adult amateurs, even some professionals. She sees moms trying to balance family budgets with training and competition costs, riders wanting to move up the levels, and trainers needing to help their students achieve competition goals. Add in the challenges of everyday life – work, school and family – and it makes sense that some riders can benefit from using an experienced advisor from time to time.

“When I told a friend how I wanted to use my own experience to help other riders in dressage,” Michele recalls, “I realized I was describing what a life coach does, only just for dressage.”

Dressage Life Coach

In Michele’s dressage life coach practice, she works with the rider, and with the trainer and/ or parent when appropriate, to identify the rider’s goals and create practical strategies to achieve those goals. For riders who work on their own, without regular training or perhaps with occasional help from visiting clinicians, she provides similar advice and guidance.

Michele’s coaching is an addition to the regular instruction of her client’s trainer, not a substitute for it. “As a trainer myself, I understand the importance of the established rider/trainer relationship,” she explains. “As a dressage life coach, I add to that relationship.”

Michele’s coaching can be used in many ways. A few examples: It might be identifying the right program and goals to fit the rider’s current horse, or finding the right horse to move up the levels. It could be identifying what is holding a rider back from breaking out of First Level, or determining the right path to move from local or regional competition into the national spotlight.

Advice on human and equine diet, nutrition and exercise for improving athletic performance is one of Michele’s strengths, as is creating plans for competition goals, be they preparing for a first show season or qualifying for national championships.

With so many ways to gain an edge in dressage training and competition, there’s no limit to the ways Michele can assist riders.

“I look at being a dressage life coach in the same way I look at someone who is a personal trainer or a financial advisor,” she says. “They have a lot of experience in a very specific area, and their expertise can help their clients set and reach goals that are important to each individual. No two clients are alike, and each client gets personal attention and advice. That’s what I do for my clients – only it’s all about dressage.”

A Coach On Your Team

Professional athletes have sports coaches. Corporate leaders have executive coaches. Actors have coaches for accents, stunts and more. Life coaches are playing a new and increasingly valuable role in navigating through the conflicting demands of career, family and personal fulfillment that everyone faces from time to time.

“Making your dreams come true takes a team. There’s your trainer, vet, farrier, massage therapist, saddle fitter and other professionals, not to mention the support of your family and friends,” Michele explains.

“As a dressage life coach, I see my role as an advisor, as someone who can look at the big picture and give my clients ideas about the direction they can take, options that are available for them, that they may not even know about. I can help people using the experience I’ve learned the hard way – by doing it myself! For all that we like to say dressage is a small world, it can seem pretty intimidating sometimes. I want to help people find the best way to succeed and have fun doing it.”

Michele works with her clients in person and by phone. Initially, she likes their first meeting to be in person if at all possible. “In an ideal world, I sit down with them to discuss their goals or issues they want to solve and I watch them ride,” she explains. “If they are long-distance, we can talk on the phone and I can watch videos of them online or they can send videos to me.”

A typical dressage life coaching program begins with a minimum of three sessions, spaced about three weeks apart. That schedule has proven successful, and all that’s needed in many cases, but the frequency and/or the number of coaching sessions can be adjusted to each client’s particular is comparable to the cost of riding with a similarly experienced dressage trainer, or other professional

services such as finance, computer, or automotive.

An Experienced Advisor

“There’s a saying, ‘Experience is what you get after you need it.’ As a dressage life coach, I can give my clients the benefit of my experience when they need it – not after,” Michele smiles. “I like helping people solve problems, be successful, have fun and achieve their goals.”

Her understanding of the dressage world was built through many years of competition. In addition to guiding Genay’s successful dressage career from first pony to successful Young Rider Grand Prix competition on her stallion Donarweiss GGF, Michele has bred Hanoverians for competition and sales, trained horses and riders through Grand Prix, and coached her students from first show to national championships. At the pinnacle of her own competitive riding career, Michele earned her USDF gold medal.

Michele’s expertise in the business of dressage developed through her role as president of Starr Vaughn Equestrian, where Michele is the hands-on manager who masterminded the layout, building and ongoing operation of this multi-million dollar center for breeding, training, shows and events. Starr Vaughn’s roster of trainers includes Michele and Genay Vaughn’s dressage breeding, training, teaching and sales activities, as well as tenant trainers Kevin and Ericka Reinig of KEFA Performance Horses and hunter/jumper trainer Debbie Stone of Night Horse Farm.

Her knowledge of dressage education grew from hosting at Starr Vaughn numerous USDF FEI Junior/ Young Rider clinics featuring US dressage stars Debbie McDonald, George Williams, Jan Ebeling and Jeremy Steinberg, and the Succeed/USDF FEI Level Trainer’s Conference featuring Sweden’s Jan Brink. Michele hosts and manages the CDS Northern Junior/Young Rider Championships, where many young dressage riders get their first taste of championship competition along with a fun and supportive atmosphere to foster their future growth in the sport.

Michele’s experience in the governance of dressage sport included serving as director and vice president of the California Dressage Society, along with many terms as chapter chair and secretary for the CDS Valley Oaks Chapter. For the United States Dressage Federation, Michele served on the USDF Youth Council, USDF FEI

Junior/Young Rider Committee, and USDF Sport Horse Committee. For USDF Region 7, she was FEI Junior/Young Rider Coordinator and Northern FEI Junior Fund Raiser

Coordinator. In recognition of her contribution to USDF, Michele was named USDF Volunteer of the Year.

“Now, as a dressage life coach, I love using my experience, relationships and knowledge to help my clients set goals, strategize and take the steps they need to reach their goals,” Michele says. “I help my clients reach for the stars.”

For more information about Michele Vaughn, dressage life coach, or Starr Vaughn Equestrian, contact her at 916-869-7942 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and visit