More Than a One-Trick Pony: Training Dressage Horses

Emma riding a horse

Growing up in Blue Point, NY, Emma Davern was always active. She played volleyball for her school, surfed during the warmer months in the Long Island Sound, and rode her horse nearly every single day.

“I’ve been riding my whole life, basically since I came out of the womb,” Davern says. “I started doing well in competitions and started picking careers that would support my riding. One day I thought, why don’t I make a career of what I love?”

That thought led her to search for nearby colleges and universities that had equine programs, and she landed on Johnson & Wales' Equine Business Management program pretty quickly. “JWU had more of a real college feel,” she says. “I love Providence and there’s more interactive things going on campus here than at other schools.”

"I have so much more knowledge now after this internship."

Davern joined JWU’s Intercollegiate Dressage team and quickly added a host of awards to her trophy case. “Emma is one of those students that you always enjoy teaching,” says Crystal Taylor, associate professor and Intercollegiate Dressage Team coach. “She is very positive, has a great work ethic and is very passionate about working with horses. She is an advanced rider and is very skilled. She strives to be the best she can be and is very supportive of all her teammates on the dressage team.”

As a sophomore, Davern knew she wanted to pursue an internship to further her career, and found a great opportunity with Jersey Palms Farm in Jackson, NJ. “JWU was so cool about it,” she recalls. “I asked if I could make it work, as a sophomore, and they were all for it. A lot of schools make you wait until your senior year.”

The dressage only facility in rural New Jersey holds roughly 30 horses at varying skill levels. Davern worked Tuesdays through Sundays for 12 weeks, riding and training 8-10 horses per day. “It could get exhausting,” Davern says, “but I learned a lot. I had so much focus on riding. I learned so much about so many different horses, and it’s helped me with my riding at JWU.”

Davern credits trainer Lisa Basselini and owner Karin Worm with everything she learned, and for giving her the opportunity to train horses every day as an intern instead of assigning her to more menial barn tasks. In the beginning of her internship, Davern was handed the reins to a baby horse that knew nothing about dressage, and by the end of the 12 weeks it was riding as a top-level horse. “I have so much more knowledge now after this internship,” she says.

"The Dressage team is great...we’re one big family."

Although Davern loved her internship and wouldn’t trade the experience she had, she admits it made her reevaluate her career. “I was riding every day, and going into it I thought it was awesome,” she says. “But then I wasn’t sure I would be able to do it every day.” She was grateful to receive a job offer at the end of her internship, but knew in her heart it wasn’t for her. “You work holidays, you work until eight at night,” she says. “I might not want to pursue this as a career so I don’t get burnt out.”

Davern still plans to keep in touch with Basselini and Worm, and is grateful that she was able to explore her career path so early in her college career. “Imagine if I waited until senior year?” she muses. Luckily, she has plenty of time to pursue more internships to find her perfect fit. In the meantime, she is still competing with JWU’s IDA team. Just this month, the team took first place in competition at the University of New Hampshire, and Davern earned reserve high point rider of the day with her first place finish in First Level.

"Emma strives to be the best she can be and is very supportive of all her teammates."

Davern’s enthusiasm for her team and for JWU is evident when she speaks; her hands fly and her eyes light up as she talks about the experiences they all share together. “The dressage team is great,” Davern says. “We have team dinners, it’s so nice. Crystal and Dirk [Fogg] are always helping us get better.” She pauses for a moment and adds, “We’re one big family.”