We’re back with another installment of “Member Mondays” but with a twist! This week we are sharing a behind-the-scenes look of Area 1 Young Rider, Cassie Sanger’s experience as a selected athlete for the USEF’s European Development Tour. During the winter months and into early spring, Cassie trains with USEF Development Coach, Leslie Law and during the remainder of the year with Caitlin Silliman in Pennsylvania. Ever wondered what it would be like to travel overseas to compete? Check it out below!
It’s hard to believe August is right around the corner but before July closes its doors, we’re back with our second “Member Monday” for the month! This week we’ve decided to do things a little different and give a behind the scenes look at the U.S. Eventing European Development Tour that took place back in late June. Area 1 Young Rider, Cassie Sanger along with her 15-year old Dutch Warmblood, Fernhill Zoro were among the four who were selected to represent the United States at Strzegom Horse Trials in Wałbrzych, Poland.
The 2023 Eventing European Development Tour was designed to give a younger group team experience at the international level. The applications to be considered for selection were due back in March. It hadn’t crossed Cassie’s mind to apply seeing as when it was first presented to her at the beginning of the year. “I had been told about the European Tour but since I hadn’t moved up to Advanced/4*yet, I didn’t really consider applying.” It wouldn’t have been until a month later in February at Rocking Horse Winter II HT, that she and Zoro saw the blue cross country flags for the first time. “I did two Advanceds and they went really well.” For their debut, the pair came in 3rd and again in the top 3 at Chattahoochee Hills the following month. “I needed to do a 4* so I went to TerraNova right before the selections were made and put in a competitive result.” Making sure to secure her spot in the application process, Cassie put in her written application before the deadline on March 24 before going down the centerline of her first 4* on March 30th. With a score of a 31.4, and picking up just a few time penalties on cross country, the unstoppable pair came in 5th out of 53 starters.
With the on-paper requirements met, Cassie and Zoro had to build their training program leading up to the event as it was announced the pair had been selected a few weeks later in mid-April. “When I found out I was going to the European Tour, I was starting my last semester of high school which was in Massachusetts.” She described the training process as just like any other show. “We did fitness work, a jump school once a week, which wasn’t always big, lots of flatwork, poles and cavalettis, and a cross country school right before we left.” Despite being busy with school work, Cassie was able to travel to get to Florida and Pennsylvania to ride. However when she wasn’t able to be at the barn herself, Leslie and Caitlin were able to keep Zoro in full time work.
The thought of traveling overseas requires an abundance of preparation work and adding everything to your packing list for your equine partner is far from a walk in the park. “On the plane your horse basically gets a ‘carry on bag’,” Cassie explained, “I learned what my horse 100% needed in that bag versus what could be packed away in a trunk. We did a lot of traveling once we were in Europe since we were there for a while so it was pretty eye opening to the amount of organization it takes to get it all done, which on this trip wouldn’t have been possible without the Max, Christina, Gemma, and all of our grooms.
As they saying goes, “it takes a village” and a part of Cassie’s is her groom and friend, Ayden Schain who traveled as her groom. When asked what she believed to be what makes a successful partnership between rider and groom she responded with, ‘communication.’ “Ayden and I know each other as friends so she knew when I would get really nervous and needed to be alone and not talk to people. We also could find the moments to have a lot of fun too.”
With the support team ready to go, three other young athletes created the United States team. Jenny Caras with Trendy Fernhill, Caroline Pamukcu and HSH Blake from Area III and Andrew McConnon and Ferri’s Cello from Area II whom she got to know very well. “Being on a tram is very different from competing just as an individual at a horse trial,” Cassie explained, “When we are competing, the team has to come first and you really feel like you’re not just doing it for yourself and your horse. I felt like the emotions and stress were a lot higher because you can’t really relax until everyone is finished competing.” The US team spent a lot of time together which consisted of traveling to the airport to get from the Netherlands to Poland at 4:00 in the morning, watching each other’s lessons or simply going out to dinner. “I loved getting this team experience and I really want to do more in the future.”
Before wrapping up we had to ask the typical final question of what piece of advice would there be to someone who has dreams of the FEI Nations Cup or to represent their country. “As cliché as it sounds, a piece of advice I would give is to never give up. At the beginning of this year if you would have asked me if I was going to compete in my First Nations Cup overseas, I would have laughed. You never know what can happen and I believe that above anything else. If you keep showing up and working hard, one day it will all come together.”
We want to send a massive congratulations to Cassie, Jenny, Caroline, Andrew and the rest of the US Team members on securing Silver at this year’s FEI Nation Cup. We are so excited to see what the rest of the year and the future have in store for Cassie and her team.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of Behind the Scenes of Strzegom with groom, Ayden Schain!