With a commitment to personalizing the dressage experience for each horse and rider, Vermont-based Ruth Hogan-Poulsen is making her mark on the US dressage scene.
In the early 90s, Ruth earned many of her earliest opportunities in the FEI ring by applying her individualized approach to “difficult” horses. Understanding the need to address the different learning processes of “problem” horses, Ruth also began to apply more dynamic training for riders as well.
“Each rider learns differently. To teach a new skill, I have to be ready to explain the unfamiliar movement in a way that this person can understand and apply my instructions.”
Customized Training Plans
Whether a horse or rider is on a daily or once-weekly training program, Ruth is committed to personalizing the dressage experience for each of her horse or human students. Ruth’s customized training plans focus on maintaining normalcy, integrity and individuality for horses and riders even during peak competition season. The results of her training philosophy are success in the show arena and the loyalty of her long-time clients.
“Each horse and rider deserves - and receives - personal attention. I am committed to the improvement of each horse and rider team.” says Hogan-Poulsen. She emphasizes that Poulsen Dressage is her business, but it's not a factory to turn out ribbons or awards.
"Of course, we are all pursuing perfection in the show arena. In my barn, we also recognize the importance of both emotional and physical health for our horses and riders. This philosophy of personal responsibility will lead to long-term success for the rider, trainer and the horse."
An early example of one of her reclaimer projects, Soule Believer, also known as “Charmont,” came to Ruth with little hope of returning to the show arena. With attention from Ruth as his rider and Dr. Stephen Soule as his veterinarian, this talented Trakehner gelding regained his mental and physical strength, competing with Hogan-Poulsen at Grand Prix during the Florida 2001 season. With the consistent handling and attention that is the hallmark of Ruth's barn management, this horse went from unmanageable and unsafe to a successful return to the Grand Prix show ring and, finally, to his well-deserved status as a happy-go-lucky retiree.
The relationship between this challenging horse and Ruth was featured in a PBS documentary titled
“Horse and Rider,” which aired on the Nature Channel in the fall of 2002. Working Dog Productions focused the program on the relationship between horse, rider and trainer, including a segment with Jane Savoie working with Ruth on both Soule Believer and Ruth's Danish Warmblood gelding Mastermind.
Life Beyond Dressage
In 1990, Ruth met Danish rider and trainer Bo Poulsen, and they were married in 1994. Bo Poulsen, a farrier, bases his business out of Vermont , serving clients throughout New England and the Mid-Atlantic during the summer. Named for his home in Denmark , “Vibaek Horseshoeing” relocates to Wellington , Florida , for the winter. Ruth and Bo also use his family farm as their homebase during their annual fall buying trip to Denmark and Germany.
Even when she steps away from dressage, it seems as if she doesn't get too far from the horse world. Over the past two seasons, she's picked up a new hobby - polo! For the past two years, some of her Monday "weekends" have been filled with practices for Sidelines/Outback-sponsored Equestrian Triathalon. In 2003, Ruth and her fellow POLO GEAR team members Grand Prix jumper Jimmy Torano and 10-goal polo player Mike Azzaro, brought home the Gold. Ruth again trained and competed in the 3-phase event (dressage, jumping and polo) in 2004.
Each professional provides a mount for their teammates in their respective specialty. For the dressage phase, Ruth brings in Hektor “The Protector,” her 28-year-old former Grand Prix schoolmaster. In 2003, Hektor earned the Dressage MVP award for his performance! During the same year, Hektor’s impressive resume earned him a spot as a regional finalist for the Purina Senior Horse-of-the-Year.
At the end of each Florida season, she makes sure to take some time away from the barn. Most years, she and Bo relax with a week of fishing in the Florida Keys to wind down after the season.
Growing up actively involved with 4H and Pony Club, Ruth Hogan developed a solid background in horsemanship, from galloping bareback through the woods to competing in Regionals for both 4-H and Pony Club. Before her college years, Ruth evented to the Preliminary level and competed in equitation, participating in the 1984 AHSA Medal Finals in Harrisburg .
In 1988, Ruth earned her undergraduate degree in Animal Science and Nutrition from the University of Vermont , completing an M.S. in Comparative Nutrition the following year. At UVM, she rode for the Intercollegiate team, and as Team Captain led UVM to victory at the 1988 Intercollegiate National Show Jumping Championships. Ruth and two teammates then represented the US in Intercollegiate competitions in Europe , finishing second in Holland and first in Germany .
Migrating toward dressage after college, Ruth decided to pursue a professional career as a rider and instructor. Determined to ride on the Florida winter circuit, Ruth brought her own horse, Valentino, a KWPN gelding (Willocratic x Otea), then competing at 4th Level, Ruth headed south in the fall of 1990.
Beginning that winter, Ruth managed Robert Dover's entire barn of about 20 horses. When Ruth’s friend, mentor and coach Jane Savoie was short-listed to represent the US in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona , Ruth joined the pair as Jane's personal groom.
Riding at Herbert Rehbein's facility in Germany gave Ruth the opportunity to experience the European dressage scene, a further inspiration to rise to Olympic levels. Returning to Florida for the '93 winter season, Ruth was now showing Intermediaire I on Valentino, training with and still working for Robert Dover.
By the late 1990s, Ruth had begun training independently, with her first major FEI success earned with Elizabeth Ritz’s Aristocrat in 1998. A win in Devon ’s Intermediare I Freestyle capped a successful season, which earned Ruth a place on the USET Developing Rider List. During this period, Ruth developed her own horse, a Danish warmblood gelding named Mastermind, through the Grand Prix level, selling him in 2003.
Promoting Dressage in her Community
Ruth has a commitment to the sport beyond just the improvement of her own horse and rider teams.
"I feel a personal responsibility to the development of the sport and our young riders."
To act on her belief, she performs freestyle demonstrations several times a year for non-dressage crowds. In the summer of 2004, she gave a speech and rode freestyle demonstrations for the closing session of the National Guard Annual Conference in Shelburne , Vermont . The military crowd gave an enormous reception in appreciation to her performance.
"Few, if any, of the military crowd knew of dressage's link to the military past. They were amazed when I told them that the first US Equestrian Olympic medal was won by their very own Gen. George S Patton in 1912!"
Making this sort of connections between other groups and dressage is so important to the marketing of dressage in this country. Ruth feels that the use of Freestyle performances is the perfect way to introduce dressage to the general public.
"The development of the dressage freestyle as an entertainment vehicle is a huge step forward. Freestyles make dressage more accessible for non-riders. The more people that can enjoy our performances, and appreciate the beauty and training of our horses, then the more financial support that eventually becomes available for our teams and professionals. Recognition and funding build up over time to increased quality and participation in our sport."
She has a long history of encouraging and supporting Young Rider competitors, playing her own direct role in increasing the quality of the young riders in her community.