November 2016 - Dressage Life: Friends, Thanks and Riding
Written by Genay Vaughn
Tuesday, 01 November 2016 02:50

Ascent in the sport is supported and enhanced by friendship.

Throughout my riding career I have met many friends and acquaintances along the way. I have been lucky enough to find my best friend, Ayden Uhlir, through riding and I thought this month, the month of Thanksgiving, would be the perfect time to talk about friendships.

Unfortunately in dressage there are not many kids, so I think it is important to try and get to know your fellow competitors if you have the chance. I met Ayden back in 2012 when we were both selected to participate in the Robert Dover Horsemastership Clinic, and we became friends right away.

I think it’s important to surround yourself with like-minded individuals who have the same goals in riding and views on life. When we first started our friendship, Ayden, who is a year younger than me, was competing in the FEI Junior Division at 17 and I was doing the FEI Young Riders at 18.

I think the reason it was so easy to develop a friendship at first was because I was like a mentor to her and there was no jealousy because we were competing in different divisions. Ayden told me that I helped show her through the ropes of the FEI Levels and gave her advice for the FEI Juniors and Young Riders because I had already experienced it. Ayden’s bubbly, energetic personality helped me loosen up before my rides when I became too stressed or self-critical, and in return I helped Ayden focus more when she became a little too distracted before her rides or press conferences.  I think our friendship had a great balance and in return really helped us with our riding.

Although Ayden and I have always had a long distance friendship for the most part, with the exception of horse shows, we make a great effort to stay in contact and invest in each other’s day-to-day life. Although we started our friendship because of riding, we also do normal things like talk about school and daily life.

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:

One of the most fun times of our friendship was when I made the USA U25 Grand Prix team and Ayden made the USA Young Rider team and we both got to spend the summer together in Germany.  I think this shows where surrounding yourself with people who have the same goals can really benefit you. That whole qualifying season before Europe, Ayden and I constantly checked in on each other about how we were doing, pushed each other to do our best, and also believed in each other that we were both going to make the teams for the European tour.

This year Ayden jumped up to the U25 division, so we spent the season competing against each other. Although we are some of the most competitive people you’d ever meet, if we were going to lose we’d rather lose to each other. We would always joke around that hopefully one of us came in first and second. I think it would have been easy for people to put on a facade during this time but Ayden and I became such close friends that we supported each other and honestly wanted each other to do our best.

Now Ayden is mostly in Germany, riding with Johann Hinnemann, and I am currently finishing up my last quarter at University of California, Davis. She plans to come visit me when I go to Florida in January, and I plan to visit her in Germany.

In the meantime, we still communicate weekly and make sure we each stay on track for completing our future equestrian and non-equestrian goals. Our biggest dream would be to make the Olympic team together or one day even run a combined business.

The possibilities are endless; we will see what the future holds. Friendship,  for sure.

Editor’s Note: Don’t miss Ayden’s report on attending the Longines FEI World Breeding Dressage Championships for Young Horses in the Netherlands, page 52.