Last year, four USEF/USDF Emerging Athlete Program members attended a four-day training camp at the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC) headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo. Ellanor Boehning (Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.), Tiggy Gates (Encinitas, Calif.), Erin Nichols (Yorba Linda, Calif.), and Christian Simonson (Ventura, Calif.) stayed on site with U.S. athletes from other sports and attended sessions focusing on physical training, nutrition, and support available from the USOPC for U.S. athletes in national governing body programs.
These up-and-coming athletes have garnered an impressive list of results in recent years. Boehning earned team silver and individual silver and bronze with Sir Junior at the 2022 FEI North American Youth Championship (NAYC), with the pair collecting numerous CDIY wins in 2023. Gates moved up to the Young Rider level in 2022 and tallied top CDIY placings on the West Coast in 2023. Nichols won team silver and two individual gold medals at the 2022 NAYC with Handsome Rob AR and secured CDIOU25 Grand Prix Freestyle gold and team silver at the 2023 FEI Dressage Nations Cup™ USA CDIO-U25 with Elian Royale. Simonson earned team gold at the Santiago 2023 Pan American Games with Son of a Lady, and the pair also won team silver and FEI Intermediate I Freestyle gold at the 2023 FEI Dressage Nations Cup USA and the Neue Schule/USEF Intermediaire I Dressage National Championship at the 2023 U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions.
US Equestrian asked Boehning, Gates, Nichols, and Simonson about their experience at the USOPC training camp and their takeaways as they aim to continue developing as U.S. athletes.
What was your impression of the USOPC Training Center?
Gates: “This was my second time visiting the USOPC training center. It is so inspiring to be around the top athletes and learn about what it takes to train and compete at a top level.”
Nichols: “I thought the USOPC Training Center was very inspiring and motivating. Seeing Team USA wherever you look just furthered my passion and pride to compete for my country.”
Simonson: “When I arrived at the USOPC facilities, I was really impressed. It was like no other training camp I had ever seen. The gym was one of my favorite parts, along with the swimming pool and gymnastics areas. Also, it was really incredible to see the extensive physical therapy and recovery areas.”
What training sessions and/or activities were included in the camp?
Gates: “Our days were filled with several educational activities, including workouts twice a day, sports physiology, hands-on nutrition and cooking class, and gaining insight from 5* judge Janet Foy.”
Simonson: “We had seminars and training in various subjects. Anything from how to prepare nutritious meals to balancing sport and our lives as professional athletes. The informative USOPC seminars were extremely insightful. I also really enjoyed the daily strength and conditioning training in the main USOPC gym. The trainers were thoughtful in how they put us through specific workouts to help us while in the saddle.”
What was it like interacting with athletes from other sports?
Gates: “It was inspiring to meet athletes of other sports who are training at the USOPC. It was intriguing to see how disciplined they are and how hard they have worked to become successful.”
Nichols: “I really enjoyed talking to retired athletes who found a new passion following their Olympic journey. Most of them now work for the USOPC.”
Simonson: “Interacting with other athletes from various disciplines was a great experience. It made me feel a strong sense of unity with being a U.S. athlete. Many of the trainers and athletes were quite curious about equestrian sports, specifically dressage, but they all treated us just like any other athlete.”
What was your favorite part of the experience?
Boehning: “My favorite part of visiting the Olympic & Paralympic Training Center was the group and personalized workout sessions. I gained valuable tips during these activities with personalized feedback and advice to implement in my daily workout plan. We targeted key components for equestrians. I can truly say I am beginning to see the benefits of some of these recommendations in my riding fitness. On top of this, we were able to target weaknesses that I have physically. The coaches discussed and wrote down workout plans to help me move forward with strengthening in those areas for better balance and body awareness while riding my horse.”
Gates: “My favorite part of the experience was spending time gaining valuable insight from Janet Foy.”
Simonson: “My favorite part of the whole experience was living at the USOPC campus and interacting with other athletes. Talking to the trainers and athletes from other disciples and finding similarities in our mentalities, training schedules, etc., made me feel a huge sense of unity with being a U.S. athlete.”
What was your biggest takeaway from the camp?
Boehning: “My biggest takeaway from the camp would be learning about the athlete training programs and the services that are provided by the USOPC to develop and educate our country’s top athletes. We were lucky enough to attend a lecture that went in-depth on scholarships and opportunities that the USOPC provides. Having contacts within the training center will be extremely helpful in the future and provides me with a personal connection to always have someone to reach out to for training advice as I progress. There is a feeling of security and confidence knowing these skilled professionals are readily available for any questions or concerns that I have as I continue up the levels of our sport.”
Gates: “My biggest takeaway was seeing other athletes in other sports training hard and realizing that there are no short cuts when it comes to being successful.”
Nichols: “My biggest takeaway was learning about what the USOPC has to offer USA athletes whether it be grants for travel or school, as well as mentorship.”
Simonson: “My biggest takeaway from the USOPC camp was the motivation to represent the United States. I think that often, being in an equestrian discipline, we are isolated in our ‘horsey’ world. Being at the USOPC allowed me to realize that being an equestrian means being an athlete, and the discipline of fitness, nutrition, and training should be applied to us like any other sport.”
Any final thoughts?
Boehning: “I am grateful to USEF and the USOPC for investing in myself and the other youth dressage riders. This camp was an incredible opportunity that was diverse in educational sessions. [US Equestrian’s Director of Dressage Programs] Kristen Brett did an incredible job in planning and organizing this event, and I am very thankful for the time she spent with each of us as Emerging Athletes. I feel very fortunate to have had this experience and already have implemented several of the key points that I learned during my visit. Thank you to all who were part of this camp.”
Nichols: “I would like to give a huge thank you to Kristen Brett for organizing such a wonderful camp, USOPC for welcoming us to the training facility, and USEF for providing such inspiring opportunities for young, up-and-coming riders of our sport.”
Simonson: “I would like to thank the USEF for facilitating this trip to the USOPC for me and all the other athletes! The trip provided me with a sense of unity, motivation, and confidence heading into future events representing the U.S.”