With Michel Assouline at the helm, American para-dressage looks bright.
Michel Assouline might have had a much different life.
After attending art school, he could have followed his parents into a career in high-end fashion in Europe. Or, having studied psychology in Paris, he could have become a therapist.
Instead, Michel stayed true to the roots of his hometown of Blois, France, where horses were part of everyday life — so much so that riding was part of the curriculum in local schools.
Michel is now the USEF Head of Coach Development and Technical Advisor for Para-Equestrian Dressage, and his diverse background proves valuable to him on a daily basis.
“Psychology has always been a very useful tool for me in coaching and dealing with the different characters, human and equine,” Michel says.
Understanding how the mind works is vital as Michel develops U.S. para-equestrian coaches and athletes to be the absolute best they can be. It’s no easy task, in part because the United States faces a rather surprising and unique challenge in preparing horses and riders to compete at the highest levels: geography.
“The U.S. is a huge country compared to most others, and our riders are spread out over huge distances,” Michel says. “It makes access to shows, events and clinics more difficult.”
That’s not an issue in places like France, Germany and the United Kingdom, where Michel served as the head coach for 13 years. During his time, he led an undefeated team to gold medals at the Paralympic Games, World Equestrian Games, and European Championships.
Michel’s current focus in guiding the future of U.S. Equestrian sports is not pursuing young riding talent but rather finding and training strong coaches, in every corner of the country.
Over the past two years, Michel has developed a unique Para-Dressage Coach Certification Program. Participants are exposed to the core principles of para-dressage coaching — a discipline that requires extensive knowledge of how to work with riders with physical challenges.
The program prepares coaches to support athletes of all levels, ranging from grassroots education to international competition. They’ve already had two Fast Track certification exams “to get experienced coaches ‘through the door’ more swiftly,” explains Michel.
Through a mix of classroom lectures and simulated lessons, aspiring coaches are taught from the best of the best in the industry. For the first exam, two of the assessors were none other than dressage superstars Debbie McDonald and Charlotte Bredahl!
Getting Team USA to the podium
Working with coaches is not Michel’s only role. He also serves as Technical Advisor for the Para-Dressage Team, a position that allows him to interact with the talented horses and riders who represent Team USA on the international stage.
And so far, Team USA is doing well. At the World Equestrian Games in 2018, three athletes — Kate Shoemaker, Roxanne Trunnell and Rebecca Hart — received a total of four medals. Not to mention, Team USA para-dressage is ranked No. 3 in the world!
As Michel devotes his time to creating opportunities for more and more para-riders to succeed in the sport, it’s no question that future medals are on the horizon for Team USA … and we can’t wait to watch.
“My main goal is to grow a larger coach and athlete base in para-dressage and in dressage as well,” Michel says. “And, of course, getting Team USA in the medal zone in para-dressage at the Paralympic Games!”