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The Next Generation: Natalie Dean – “For now, I am focusing on taking one step at the time”

Thursday, 24 September 2020
The Next Generation

Photo © Kaitlyn Karssen
"Don has played the biggest role in my career; I did everything with him, from young rider classes to my first 1.60m class. I think that the partnership we have is what makes him so special to me," Natalie Dean says about her horse Don's Diamant. Photo © Kaitlyn Karssen.

 

Text © World of Showjumping

 


 

USA’s Natalie Dean has performed consistently from U25 classes all the way up to four-star level with her horses Don’s Diamant (Diamant de Semilly x Phin Phin), Jewel De Kwakenbeek (Cicero Z x Quidam de Revel) and Chance Ste Hermelle (Calvaro F.C. x Hemmingway). World of Showjumping had a chat with the 21-year-old rising star.

Though Dean’s parents are now very supportive of her promising showjumping career, that was not the case right from the start. “I wanted to take lessons and begged my parents to let me go. For years, I asked for lessons as a Christmas gift,” Dean laughs. “Finally, they surprised me when I was 11 and I was allowed to take lessons once a week. It all just kind of went from there,” she recalls. “Now, I couldn’t ask for more supportive parents. My mom came with me to all the shows when I was younger and she still comes whenever she can.”

After training with Butch Thomas in California, Dean decided to relocate to Florida where she has been riding with Ilan Ferder since the beginning of 2019. “Butch is the one who organised that I could start riding with Ilan,” Dean tells about her former trainer, who has had a huge influence on her career. “Riding with Ilan is amazing. He finds the best horses and I think we have a really good partnership. I spend pretty much every day with him, he is like family to me, and he has helped my riding a lot. I would not be the rider I am today without him.”

“Erynn Ballard – Ilan’s rider – has also been a big influence for me,” Dean continues. “It is nice to be able to talk to her, ask for advice and to learn from her. She has her own business in Canada, so she does not spend time with us at home, but she comes to all the shows. If I have a bad round, she always helps me think about the positives. She has helped me to be less emotional with my riding and focus on the good aspects.”

“Beezie Madden is someone I really look up to,” Dean continues when speaking about her equestrian idols. “She is an amazing rider and horsewoman – you can tell when she rides that she really loves the horses and I think this is a big part of the sport.” 

Photo © Erin Gilmore Photography
"I think that in order to be a successful rider, your mental game is something you have to keep working on constantly. You have to learn from the bad rounds and move on," Natalie Dean says – here with Jewel De Kwakenbeek. Photo © Erin Gilmore Photography.

It is the bond between a horse and rider that Dean finds most rewarding with the sport. “Showjumping is a sport and I love competing, but I think that at the end of the day, we all do it because we love the horses,” she explains. “The horses are the best thing about it. There is no other sport where your teammate is another animal and I think the relationship we have with them is what makes it so special.”

“The sport demands a lot from you mentally,” Dean continues. “I definitely struggle with that part. It is hard to not let yourself feel down when you have a bad round. I think that in order to be a successful rider, your mental game is something you have to keep working on constantly. You have to learn from the bad rounds and move on. I tend to get overwhelmed if I have a bad round. When that happens, spending time with the horses really helps me. Also, just trying to focus on having fun, and doing the best I can has helped me to put it all into perspective. Every round is not going to be the best round. There are a lot of ups and downs in this sport, and there are more bad days than good. Being able to talk to Ilan and Butch helps me get past the bad days. I just try to focus on what I can do better and learn from my mistakes.”

When it comes to horsepower, Dean considers herself very lucky with her current string. “I am really fortunate to have the string of horses that I do. The horse I am the most consistent with is Don’s Diamant, I have also had him the longest,” she says. “I have a really strong partnership with him. I trust him to go into any class with me. Don has played the biggest role in my career; I did everything with him, from young rider classes to my first 1.60m class. I think that the partnership we have is what makes him so special to me. When you have that kind of relationship with a horse, it is unbeatable; it makes you feel really confident going into the ring.”

Right now, Dean is combining her showjumping career with studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “I am a senior in college, getting my BBA in Marketing,” she tells. “I actually started college in Santa Barbara, but at the beginning of my second year I got a bad concussion and had to take some time off from school. That spring, I decided to take all my classes online through UMass Amherst and I really liked it. This way, I can focus a lot more of my time on riding while still doing school.”

Photo © Kaitlyn Karssen
"I think the jumping community is sort of its own world and it is very close-knit, so everyone is supportive of each other. I believe this sense of community is something that not a lot of other sports have," Natalie Dean says. Photo © Kaitlyn Karssen.

“When we are at home, I get to the barn early and ride three to six horses,” Dean tells about her daily routines. “I usually spend most of my day doing homework and studying. I always try to work out at least once a day, either running or doing Pilates. I think fitness is an important part of this sport; I treat my horses like five-star athletes, so I think they deserve the same effort from me.”

“After my studies, I want to be a professional rider – I cannot imagine my life without horses,” Dean tells about her future goals. “It is the only thing I want to do. It is an important part of my life; it does not feel like work – it is my passion. If I can make a career out of it, I would be very happy. My goals for the next year include doing some five-star shows and being more consistent in the bigger classes. Long term, like any rider, I would love to represent the US at the highest level – at the Olympics, at the World Equestrian Games... Hopefully in five-years-time I will have represented the US on a number of occasions, in Nations Cups and maybe at some championships,” she says. “But for now, I am focusing on taking one step at the time.”

The effective system that US Equestrian has in place for the next generation has helped Dean move fast forward with her career. “The US has such a strong group of riders, and the pathways for U25 and young riders really helps us develop and gives us good goals to aim for,” Dean says. “Anne Kursinski and Diane Langer have done a great job in helping develop the next generation,” she continues. “They have created more opportunities for us to compete in a team format. I think that giving younger riders – starting from the children all the way up to young riders – that team experience is really important in building them to be ready to take on roles in senior Nations Cup teams. For me, being on a youth team and learning the format of it and how it all works, as well as working with a chef d’equipe like Anne Kursinski, has been really exciting. Being on a team is different than competing individually,” Dean points out.

“The individual aspect of the sport does not mean you’re all alone though,” Dean says. “While everyone is competitive and wants to win, most of us are friends outside the ring and we are all happy for each other when we do well. I think the jumping community is sort of its own world and it is very close-knit, so everyone is supportive of each other. I believe this sense of community is something that not a lot of other sports have.”  

 

No reproduction without written permission, copyright © World of Showjumping

 



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