By Mandy Alexander
To say Jen Verharen is living her dream would be an understatement. The lifelong Pony Club rider has joined the Dressage Foundation’s International Dream Program as a chaperone. Jen will travel to Europe with the young riders and visit the World Equestrian Festival where they’ll see world-class riders, learn from top judges and coaches and experience the culture and training.
Jen is a Vashon Island Olympus Pony Club graduate with the highest certification attainable in Pony Club, an A certification. Not only has she achieved the highest honor, she’s also been a national examiner, in charge of certifying members at all of the upper levels, and is now a Pony Club mom. As if that wasn’t enough, Jen also gained certification as a USDF instructor and trainer and graduated from the USDF “L” judge program with distinction.
Sidelines caught up with Jen to learn more about the Dream Program and how Pony Club has helped her achieve these goals.
What are you looking forward to as a chaperone for the Dressage Foundation’s International Dream Program?
It’s an incredible learning experience and a great way to give back to the dressage community. The Dressage Foundation does so much to support riders and trainers in the United States, and I’m thrilled to be a part of that in such a hands-on way. I’m also at a place in my own dressage career where it’ll be valuable for my education to be immersed in the world of European dressage for a little while.
How do you use your Pony Club knowledge on a daily basis?
I’m a performance and business coach in addition to being a rider and trainer, so I use my Pony Club experience every day. Pony Club, very early on, taught me to step way outside my comfort zone. As an entrepreneur, I have to do that every day and my Pony Club experience helped give me the grit to start my own business and follow through on things even when they get really tough. Through the experience of participating in regional and national certifications as well as national and international Pony Club competitions, I learned how rewarding hard work could be. I gained confidence in my knowledge and abilities that I wasn’t able to get elsewhere. Pony Club requires you to constantly examine your goals, your daily practices and your ability to communicate clearly. The qualities of dedication, attention to detail and initiative that Pony Club cultivates are the qualities I strive for in my own life and look for in people I hire, as well.
What are you most looking forward to on this trip?
I’m looking forward to getting to know the impressive young riders who are participating and my fellow chaperone, Charlotte Bredahl. I’m looking forward to meeting some of the most talented and dedicated trainers in the world and watching days of world-class dressage. I’m looking forward to lots of theory discussions with passionate riders and developing my eye in an environment where dressage is the air you breathe.
What made you choose dressage as your discipline?
I was an eventer, and still consider myself to be one at heart, but dressage has always been my first passion. It’s the art in dressage that draws me. In dressage, you can ultimately only be creative through strict adherence to established principles. The individual expression of a horse and rider comes through structure. I love that. Dressage represents juxtaposition between discipline and freedom, systematic training and self-expression. It satisfies both the student and the rebel in me.
Are you still active with Pony Club?
Yes! I received my A certification when I was 16 and I remained a member of Pony Club until I was 21. I was a national examiner from the time I was 25 until just a couple of years ago. Now I’m a Pony Club mom and my son is preparing for his D-3. Pony Club has been a constant in my life since I was 6 years old and I plan to stay involved for many more years.
What do you have to say to current Pony Club members?
Stay grounded. Don’t get distracted by shiny objects. The ethics that are a part of Pony Club will make you a better, more resilient rider than any fancy horse or competitive shortcut will. Be gritty. Choose mentors who teach you more than riding. Stay in it for the long haul.
About the writer: Mandy Alexander is the marketing and instruction coordinator at the United States Pony Clubs, Inc. She’s in charge of Shop Pony Club, as well as writing for The Pony Club Pizza, a blog that teaches about all of the disciplines Pony Club offers.
A lifelong Pony Club rider, dressage has always been Jen’s passion.
Photo by Carolynn Bunch
Photo by www.jenniterp.com