When the opportunity came up for the U.S. Equestrian Federation to hire Michel Assouline, the head coach of Britain’s highly successful para-equestrian dressage program, the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation stepped up.
“It seemed like an incredible opportunity to have somebody of his stature,” said USET Foundation Executive Director Bonnie Jenkins. “It really could be a game-changer for our para-dressage program” which has yet to win a medal in the modern era of the discipline.
“We were able to secure the funding rather quickly, so we didn’t lose the opportunity,” she said, citing the contributions of Betsy Bramsen, the Barnfield Foundation, Becky Reno and Ed Peavy that made it possible to hire Michel.
Will Connell, the USEF’s director of sport who had previously been Britain’s World Class Performance Director, knew Michel and suggested bringing him to the U.S., but there was nothing in the budget for that.
“We’re very fortunate to have Will Connell,” said Jim Wolf, the foundation’s deputy executive director. “He’s been able to use his relationship with Michel to bring him over and help him build the program. I think Will has a good plan in place, but we needed the funding to do it. This is exactly how the foundation and federation should work together Will had a need, he came to us and we found the funding through the generosity of some very important donors.”
Michel, who worked for the British for 12 years, will be head of para-equestrian coach development and high performance consultant. He will work with chef d’equipe Kai Handt and Laureen Johnson, director of para-dressage, to prepare U.S. athletes for the World Equestrian Games next year in Tryon, N.C.
Michel also will be leading a trainer/coach development program, while working closely with the Para Centers of Excellence around the country, and delivering and running additional seminars and coaching sessions.
Will noted that Michel was a key figure in the able-bodied dressage world as French national champion. “He’s been based in America and trained here, so he understands the culture. He’s obviouly been a very successful para coach He’s also completed a very detailed master coach program in Britain, which gives him a lot of skills in coach development as well . It’s not just about bringing him here to coach athletes, it’s bringing him here to coach coaches.”
Commenting that he has been “privileged to work with an incredibly successful team of athletes” in Britain, Michel noted, “during my time as head coach, we earned team gold in every single international championship and numerous individual medals, including two triple gold medalists at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. I now feel the time is right for a career which seeks out new challenges. My new role will also allow me to pursue other interests both within para- and able-bodied dressage.”