May 2016 - Mother’s Day Tribute

Life with the Ultimate Show Mom.

by Genay Vaughn

Show moms sometimes get a bad rap – like “dance moms” with horses – but I’ve lived my whole life with the ultimate show mom – the good kind. If she wasn’t so dedicated, I wouldn’t be where I am now.

I started riding at age 4, started showing at 7, decided to focus on dressage at 14, and now at 22, I’m showing Grand Prix, finishing my last year at UC Davis, and doing some training and teaching of my own. My mom – Michele Vaughn – has been an essential part of my growth as trainer, coach and mentor as well as the kind of mom who didn’t hesitate to set boundaries and provide discipline when needed.

It’s pretty rare that a mom and daughter are coach and athlete as well. Now that I’m in college, I’m either at school or at the barn. These days, if she wasn’t my coach I wouldn’t get to see her every day. It makes us a lot closer, and I’m grateful for that.

On the other hand, it’s harder to hear criticism from your mom than from another trainer; you take it more personally, but it makes you a better athlete. There’s a huge degree of trust with any coach. You have to be able to trust them; it’s not good if you’re always questioning them, whether it’s your mom or someone else.

I’m working with Kathleen Raine a lot now, and if she’s at a show she will coach me instead of my mom. I know Kathleen also has my best interest in mind and wants me to be the best that I can be.

When I was little, my mom was always tough on me about my position – or at least to a little kid it seemed that way. Later on, I realized she wasn’t being mean at all. Her focus on my position paid off when I won the 2012 Dressage Seat Equitation gold at Nationals in Chicago. That’s the moment I understood that she just wants me to do my best, and all the work it takes to get there. She taught me that my position means more than looking pretty or winning awards. It makes me a more effective rider and trainer.

Because I grew up on our breeding farm, it was natural that I started riding young horses at a pretty young age. My mom knew that to become a good rider you have to ride a lot of horses, not just one. It gave me the experience to be able to get on a strange horse and feel comfortable. In Chicago, I rode a borrowed horse for the equitation finals, and because I had ridden so many horses, it wasn’t intimidating to compete on an unfamiliar horse.

When I started riding, my mom didn’t put a lot of pressure on me, but she was strict about teaching me the responsibility I had to my ponies. From a young age, I knew that I had to ride my ponies every day and give them the care they needed. I learned that a pony is not like a soccer ball you can just keep in a closet; having horses is a serious responsibility as well as a lot of fun. I did Pony Club, hunters and jumpers and cross-country. I was fearless, but she never put me on a young horse I couldn’t handle. Riding cross-country and jumping ponies taught me a lot.

Well Rounded Upbringing

Mom supported me playing other sports as well. I played basketball in elementary school and I did advanced tumbling until my sophomore year of high school.

I guess we’re a competitive family. I grew up seeing how hard my mom and my dad worked. As a professional athlete, you have to work hard every day. You can’t be lazy, because there’s always someone else working harder to be better than you. It’s that competitive spirit.

My parents want me to achieve my dreams. They don’t settle for average, and I don’t want to, either. I want to be the best I can be.

It’s probably harder for my mom to deal with her daughter than with another client, and she’s busy with a lot of them. For example, when I was competing in Europe, she couldn’t come for the whole trip, because she had clients at home who needed her. So she flew in for my show and then back home.

For two months, I was there with just my horse and my teammates, training and competing at some of Europe’s biggest shows. It was the first time my mom had not been with me every step of the way, and it proved to both of us that I was no longer the little girl on her pony – I could travel halfway around the world and be responsible for myself and my horse. Europe was a great experience in so many ways and I hope to go again.

Sometimes now I’m my mom’s “eyes on the ground” instead of always the other way around, so it’s more of a two-way street than it was when I was younger. It’s hard when you ride on your own a lot; you develop little habits that you don’t always realize, especially when you’re riding different or difficult horses. Now I’m usually at school when she’s riding, but when I’m there I help her with what I see from the ground.

Mom and I talk about how blessed we are to work with each other. I’m looking ahead to finishing college this year. I’m teaching and training after school and looking for a young horse to bring along and a full-time working student position in the USA or Europe. Mom is working with a lot of students, training them the same way she trained me, with dedication.



I’m really grateful that I get to work with my mom – a mom who is so dedicated to the sport that we share.

Genay Vaughn is a full-time college student and active dressage competitor who also trains young horses and teaches students at her family’s Starr Vaughn Equestrian in Elk Grove. Last year she took the first step toward her lifelong goal of representing the United States in international competition when she was selected for the first-ever United States Under-25 Grand Prix team to compete in Europe. Her current equine partner is the Hanoverian stallion Donarweiss GGF (De Niro – Hohenstein – Archipel), owned by Starr Vaughn Equestrian Inc., bred by Greengate Farm, and approved AHS, ISR/OldNA, CWHBA, AWS,
and RPSI. Find Genay on Facebook at:

Dressage shares an important concept with publishing: Accuracy. In last month’s column, two words got left out: “Olympian and” in the sentence that should have read in part, “Olympian and Pan Games veteran Jan Ebeling.” Apologies to Jan!