Wellington, Fla. – April 23, 2020 – Jennifer Schrader-Williams may appear to lead a typical life of an up-and-coming high-performance dressage rider. No stranger to the country’s top competitions including the US Festival of Champions, the Markel/USEF National Young Horse Championships and the Adequan Global Dressage Festival, she has continued to pick up steam in the show ring. However, in addition to her expanding career as a high-performance athlete, she manages an impressive balancing act as a wife, mother of two children and business owner.
Williams knew from an early age that her love of horses was not a fleeting phase in her childhood, but a passion she wanted to pursue as a career. Williams started her journey in 1997 working for a warmblood breeder, Charlene Summers, at Summervale Farm, located in the Pacific Northwest, with the hopes of learning more about horses and riding. Little did she know her first ever job in the equestrian world would evolve into a rich career encompassing the trifecta every equestrian dreams of achieving: being an owner, rider and trainer in the industry.
“Charlene was instrumental in building the foundation for my career in training, showing, sales, barn management, and breeding. She gave me my start and was like family to me. I trained her horses through the levels and we sold them. I took as many lessons as I could from local FEI trainer, Gwen Blake, and clinicians who traveled to the area. Meanwhile, Charlene provided many of my first talented horses that I was able to take to the Grand Prix level. In 2012, Charlene retired and my business partner, Paula Helm and I, purchased the farm,” explained Williams about her co-ownership of the facility that is now known as Summervale Premier Dressage.
Building her sales and training business while also starting a family with her husband and two young children, kept her close to home. While her business and family were thriving, achievement of her high-performance riding goals would take extraordinary measures to achieve given the great distance to CDIs and trainers. Washington state doesn’t have CDIs and the closest competition is California, which is a minimum 24 hour drive. The cost and time commitment is significant for anyone competing at those levels, even more so with the geographical challenges presented by living far away from California or Florida. Williams had to figure out how to keep her family life, keep her business going, and fund her high-performance goals. So she developed a multi-pronged strategy, including sales, syndicates, grants, and sponsorship.
The first strategy that Williams implemented early was to seek funding from grants. The first grant was the The Dressage Foundation’s $25,000 Anne Barlow Ramsay Grant in 2010, which enabled her to train in Germany and enhance her skill in dressage. Additional funding came from her successful sales program, sponsors, and fundraising which enabled her to compete in CDIs most years. In addition to funding, Williams’ began consistent training with Christophe Theallet, a talented coach, who has been instrumental in improving her dressage performance at the FEI levels. In 2018, Williams was selected to ride in a USEF Developing Rider session conducted by Debbie McDonald and Lilo Fore resulting in her and her mount, Millione, being named to the USA Dressage Developing Rider list. McDonald set performance goals for Williams and those goals included hitting minimum scores at CDIs with an invitation to train in Wellington. Thanks to a grant from The Dressage Foundation’s Debbie McDonald Fund for Pacific Northwest FEI Riders and with support from her husband and Millione’s Syndicate owners, Tina and Bob Desroche, she was ready to take her riding to the next level in Wellington.
Initially, Williams was going to spend 6-8 weeks training in Florida, but after visiting the town in November 2019, she and her husband decided to “go all in” and purchase a home in order for Williams to train and compete in the winter season yearly. This would allow her to advance her dressage knowledge, improve her competition skills, and expand her West Coast-based business. However, Williams did not make the move alone. With the support of her husband and two children, she was able to make the life altering decision with confidence.
“This season was my first time in Wellington. I have ridden at Del Mar and brought the kids for weeks at a time but this was on a much larger scale. My family has made a huge life change already: we bought a house, the kids are going to public school, and we’re going to make this something that we do every year. It has been a big mental shift,” Williams explained regarding the tough decision to move her family across the country. “It’s a little bit scary to say that I’m going to start basing myself out of Wellington in the winter, but that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”
The move was a full-family affair with her husband working remotely and transferring her children, who are four and eight, to a public school. Williams’ current plan is to live in South Florida November through March before making the long trek back to their 70-acre facility in Washington for the summer.
“My husband has been very supportive. He was hoping to take a bit more advantage of the outdoor activities available in Wellington but finds he is busier now with working from home and being available to help with the kids. We are balancing the ability to be productive and spending more time with the kids,” Williams laughed. “Alex is a financial advisor with Edward Jones, so he’s very fortunate to be able to work remotely.”
With sales as one of her funding strategies, Williams’ needed to figure out how to scale her successful sales business across two “home” bases – Washington and Wellington.
“I’ve always had a philosophy of being very honest and upfront disclosing all the details in advance, and I think that’s really built my brand,” she said. “People from across the country send us their horses to market and to assess the best situation and home for them. We offer a full-service experience including videos, photos, x-rays, and pre-purchase exam vettings to make it as easy as possible on the decision-makers. Buyers who travel a long distance to try your horses are especially appreciative to have these services available.”
Given her clients are located around the country, Wellington, with its extensive winter season, offers an excellent opportunity for her to showcase talented sales horses to a broader range of clients.
“We typically purchase two to three young horses ourselves to train for future sales, but I’m usually buying for the long-term and they tend to be more affordable the younger they are,” she explained. “We always try to get the best quality that we can but the proper development is crucial. Currently, we have two sale horses that we have owned for two years. It’s one of those things where yes, it would be lovely to sell them to more easily fund my personal competition mounts, but they are clearly talented for the grand prix as well and worth taking the time to develop.
“It is important to weigh out the timing on each mount,” she continued. “One of those horses did come along for the season and was sold prior to us heading home. He came as a 4-year-old and left as a 7-year-old. It is very gratifying when you can help them develop their potential and find their way. This is where also the syndication strategy comes into play when looking towards a longer term path.”
In addition to Millione, her Grand Prix horse with whom she was named on the U.S. Dressage Pre-Elite list, she has a second rising star coming up the levels, Joppe K. Also owned as a syndicate with the Desroche’s and Elizabeth Norling, the 6-year-old KWPN gelding wowed the judges in the FEI 6-Year-Old Tests, earning an 8.3 in the national ring before winning the CDI division with an 8.56. Williams is aiming for the Markel/USEF 6-Year-Old Young Horse Championships this summer.
This 2020 season acted as a “scouting” time for Williams to get a foothold in the Wellington community and establish which facility she may want to call her winter home in the coming years. Having a home base will allow her to bring on more training horses, sales horses, and more clients who may accompany her to Florida from Washington, helping her to expand her business in the new region. Her season in Wellington allowed her to focus more time on developing her horses and considering her career goals with the help of some of the industry’s best including Theallet, McDonald, Oded Shimoni, and Charlotte Bredahl.
So was the move worth it? In 2019, Williams and the then 16-year-old Danish Warmblood gelding finished third in the country in the USEF Grand Prix Dressage National Championship. During their training bootcamp this winter with McDonald and Shimoni their performance grew leaps and bounds. From earning a new personal best of 73.9% to placing second in the CDI3* and third in the CDI4*, the sacrifices her entire family made seemed well worth it.
“This season, I just took in all the learning opportunities I could,” she said. “I’m very excited about my new winter home and I’m grateful my family is so supportive. It means the world to me and I’m still on cloud nine with how my horses performed. My clients see that I am dedicated and making such commitments to continuously improve as a rider, training, and a competitor. I’m looking forward to next year and hopefully many of my clients will make the trek with me and continue to support this journey, and I’ll support them in any way that I can as well.”