Even Paulina Berriel Tarán, the youngest of the group at 16 and representing the sport of Endurance, showed great poise and courage to speak before the FEI and countless delegates from across the globe.
The remaining panel consisted of: Tabitha Sternberg-Allen (GBR), Reining; Edouard Schmitz (SUI), Jumping; Juan Matute Guimón (ESP), Dressage; Gemma-Rose Jen Foo (SIN), Para-Dressage; Thaïs Méhuest (FRA), Eventing; Martin Hölle (HUN), Driving; and Jamie Hocking (AUS), Vaulting.
The group complemented each other and worked together so well. Despite their already impressive accomplishments – Martin is already a senior individual champion for pairs driving (yes, really), and three others are in contention for this year’s FEI World Equestrian Games™ (and Gemma already a WEG veteran!) – no one had even a hint of an ego. If there was ever a disagreement, it was never brought about in a negative way.
The generation from which these youth riders come (and myself, as I don’t often like to admit) - “Millennial” - has a terrible reputation. We are viewed as “lazy,” “entitled,” “distracted,” and in need of “instant gratification.”
After getting to know my panelists, I was given great hope for the future. We discussed serious issues – everything from education, to financial struggles, to proposed rule changes, sport format, and media coverage (obviously my favorite) – and after the panel concluded, I was amazed at the immediate reaction. The FEI hosts a board meeting after the forum concludes, and positive rule changes will be made as a direct result of our discussions.
There were so many things that impressed me about the panelists. Some highlights: Tabitha came up with the tremendous idea of establishing a youth committee so that the FEI can receive regular input from young athletes; I am certain if one is indeed formed, she will lead it.
Edouard, who is somehow managing to pursue an engineering degree while also riding and showing horses for the legendary Fuchs family, called himself a “nerd” (thank heavens I’m not the only one!) and caused heads to turn with his ideas about U25 riders and ranking points. Martin revealed that he receives no support from his university, because driving is not an Olympic discipline; he explained that he was told to choose another sport, despite his accomplishments, which definitely impacted the audience.
Juan was not afraid to admit that even he can get bored watching too many Grand Prix dressage tests – he wants the crowd to get more involved – and Thaïs’ description of her Olympic aspirations gave me absolute chills. Jamie encouraged those who don’t like the formal attire in many equestrian disciplines to join vaulting in the most perfectly timed comment I’ve heard by someone not working in television.
On an incredible set at IMD business school, I felt like I was hosting a talk show. I had a little fun during the sport presentation and promotion session and went live on Instagram, taking a selfie with the crowd, and people watching from all corners of the world joined the conversation online.