Her love of horses made Annie Klepper a YouTube star when she was only 5 years old, when a video of her getting her first pony for Christmas went viral and shared Annie’s joy with more than 6 million viewers worldwide.
Since then, Annie’s passion for all things equestrian has made her a North American champion and an entrepreneur — all by the tender age of 15.
Though the COVID-19 pandemic has put her show plans on hold for a while, Annie is positioned to become one of the top U.S. dressage riders when competitions resume. In the meantime, her clothing brand, Annie’s Equestrienne Apparel, keeps Annie close to the sport she adores.
When she met her pony, Pepper, on that snowy Christmas morning in 2010, Annie never imagined that in just a few years, she’d become the youngest dressage rider in history to win double gold in the FEI North American Youth Championships.
Fast forward to July 2019, and Annie took first place in both the Individual test and the Freestyle test aboard Happy Texas Moonlight, a 13-year-old Oldenburg gelding known as Louis. The remarkable performance, in only the duo’s second competition together, helped the U.S. win a team silver medal. Victory had never even entered Annie’s mind.
“I wanted to do my best and make everyone around me super proud,” Annie says. “We’d been working hard for months and months leading up to those few minutes in the show ring. It was such an emotional roller coaster. We never expected to win.”
Building on their momentum together, Annie and Louis made a few appearances in Wellington, Fla., this past winter — including winning at the Florida International Youth Championships — before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Now back at home in the tiny town of McCutchenville, Ohio, Annie cares for Louis in the morning and goes to school online in the afternoon. She also works with her mom, Shannon, on their burgeoning business. “All in all the biggest change of plans was the cancellation of NAYC which was totally a bummer but it’s a small sacrifice to make for the health of everyone involved,” Annie reflected.
An Entrepreneurial Equestrienne
When Annie was 8, she and Shannon noticed an unfilled niche in equestrian clothing for kids. It was hard to find fun, playful, functional designs for young dressage riders. From there, Annie’s Equestrienne Apparel was born.
As Annie has grown up, so has the brand. It now includes adult clothes, such as snazzy schooling breeches and show jackets.
“Every time we do a new collection, we try to make something completely different from what we’ve seen in the horse world,” Annie says. “And we try to make it for a specific customer that likes something unique and elegant and a little bit fun.”
The success of her business has helped Annie offset the expense of her riding. As her dressage career has skyrocketed, so have the costs. “Dressage is a drain financially,” says Annie, “especially at the upper levels.”
The Perfect Partner
For the past few months, Annie has been working with her trainer, Kristin Stein, two days a week. On their “off days,” they rely on the power of technology and remote learning.
“My mom stands in the center of the arena, videotapes me and calls Kristin on the phone,” Annie explains. “It’s definitely a little complicated, but we make it work.”
Even though they had planned to stay longer in Florida, Annie has enjoyed being home with Louis, whom she calls “just the best horse ever.”
Their relationship began by accident. Annie and her family had traveled to Germany to look at a different horse before being introduced to Louis “for the heck of it.”
At 18hh, Louis was “super big” for Annie, who had spent the previous five years showing ponies. She was uncertain, but she gave it a try.
“I got on and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is the horse!’ I knew immediately that he was the one. It’s funny how these things work out,” she says. “We have a really, really solid relationship and I’m thankful for that.”
Annie plans to compete with Louis in the U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions in August if the event goes on. But no matter what the immediate future holds, Annie says her life will always involve horses.
“I love horses, and they’re such a big part of me,” Annie says. “I can’t imagine a life without riding.”