A Few Minutes with Elizabeth Niemi
Sidelines Magazine May 2008
By Johnny Robb
Wholio and Florencio V flank Elizabeth Niemi
Photo by Susan Stickle
Without fanfare, Elizabeth Niemi has developed a world class dressage training program with a handful of dedicated amateur riders who are committed to the sport of dressage and the equestrian community. Don't let her prom queen teen looks fool you; Elizabeth Niemi is a seasoned professional with over 20 years experience. She is organized, focused and dedicated to managing and training her sponsors' horses, developing her amateur owners and riders, and competing at the highest level of the sport.
Sidelines: How did you get stated in dressage?
EN: Growing up with horses, I became fascinated with the technically and precision needed for dressage. As a child my eye was immediately captured by the elegance of the sport. Watching a horse and rider move together in harmony like seasoned dance partners, seemed to ignite something inside of me. Little did I know then this sport would become my passion and eventually my profession.
Sidelines: Most horse crazy girls are drawn to jumping, why do you think you were drawn to dressage instead?
EN: I had the opportunity at a very young age to observe top FEI horses and riders train; lots of young horse lovers don't have that access. I was, and still am, very organized. I liked the orderly progression involved in dressage training. It's a good fit with personality. So early on I set my sights on becoming the best dressage rider I could be. I still enjoy the process and truly love my horses.
Sidelines: What farms have you trained at and where do you train now?
EN: I established my own training facility by the age of in Western Michigan where I enjoyed many years of successful at the local level. The experience parlayed into a position with Hampton Green Farm. I was very involved with the development of the farm's programs and eventually became the head trainer. By the year 2000, Hampton Green Farm took on a change of breed interest focusing on Andalusians. My first and foremost love is warmblood sport horses, so I left Hampton Green Farm and developed my business, Niemi Dressage. My horses and clients are based in the summer at Trevor Davis' Cogi Farm in Pawling, New York. In the winter we migrate south to Steve and Carole Elliot's beautiful farm in the Equestrian Club in Wellington, Florida.
Sidelines: What is the secret to your success?
EN: I have had the please to work with some amazing horses, but to be successful it really "takes a village". It's my belief that in order to be successful in the extremely challenging sport one must not only have a top horse, but and entire team and support system behind you. My current blessings stem from years of hard work and dedication. Robert and Christina Baker have supporters and clients of mine for numerous years. When Robert and Christina offered me the ride on Florencio V, I was elated at the prospect of adding such an outstanding young horse to my show string. Vivian and Stan Picheny are the newest members team Niemi. They're the proud owners of my new Grand Prix partner Wholio, and I'm extremely excited about our future.
Sidelines: What are your proudest dressage accomplishments?
EN: Some of my proudest moments in the sport are not only my own but, rather the success of the clients I've had the pleasure of preparing and coaching. In 2007 my students and horses distinguished themselves with championship ribbons both on the regional and national levels. I beam with pride when they put in top rides.
Sidelines: What are your short term and long term goals for your riding and training?
EN: We are just finishing up the winter circuit in Wellington and now we will head north for the summer season and our Region-8 USDF Championship show. The regionals are a real favorite of my clients. I am continuing to move my training horses up the levels and gaining more ring time with Wholio in the grand prix. My plan is to aim for Dressage at Devon with him this fall. As gain momentum, my long-term goals include moving into the international rankings and eventually representing the US in international competition. The World Equestrian Games in 2010 are certainly a worthwhile objective since they will be hosted in Kentucky.
Sidelines: How to you handle the setbacks and challenges that come with the sport?
EN: In a sport as challenging as this, it is imperative you keep a positive outlook at all times. That's easy when you have an opportunity to ride with coach Balkenhol or score well in the Grand Prix. But where it really counts is when the chips are down. This spring when Steffen Peters was slated to ride Wholio at the Challenge of the Americas and he bruised his heel, I had to dig past the disappointment and find Steffen a suitable horse to ride. To be a professional you need to stay positive especially when things don't work the way you plan. In that scenario, I was able to involve my friend, Rick Silvia, who offered one of his Dream Street Stallions for Steffen to ride. It was great fun for Rick and Deborah Howe, who owned the stallion. You can always work things out with a positive attitude.