The Woman Behind The American Academy of Equestrian Sciences
By Carol Morris Dukes
They’re lined up, dressed alike, facing forward, shoulder to shoulder.
Tallest first, the line angles downward according to height. The last one is an alert, tiny girl. Her eyes are fixed on the imposing figure at the head of the
line; lunge whip in hand. The light is dim, the walls dark. They’re standing in an arena, moments before performing. The black and white photo captures a pivotal time for little Marina Genn, taken in her early years of riding instruction with German trainer and mentor, Adi Jachmich. A tiny spitfire, Marina was 13 years old when that photo was taken.
I admit to knowing little or nothing about riding–or about horses for that matter. My curiosity has everything to do with Marina. She’s not an ordinary woman, and from the moment she pauses from the unrelenting demands of her work and zeros in on you, you sense an energy that belies her petite form. She has that sort of aura; a charisma. A rare thing to have—it begs the question: Who are you? And finding out was not particularly easy. Marina is not exactly forthcoming about herself. Despite her bright smile and happy demeanor, she’s actually a bit shy.
Born Marina Ridder in Gelsenkirchen, Germany in the 1950’s, Ms. Genn can’t claim horsemanship as a birthright. Marina would discover her passion for horses later—-after she back-flipped her way onto, then off of, the German Women’s Olympic Gymnastics Team.
A natural-born athlete, born to natural-born athletes, Marina was exposed to rigorous physical activity and enjoyed a competitive camaraderie with her older brother and her father, who pushed themselves to their athletic physical limits. Marina remembers her first 100 mile bike ride with her dad–in one day, in pouring rain–when she was nine years old. No small feat when you consider the rolling terrain of the German countryside. Swimming, skiing, biking, running, jumping—she was taught to approach every sport and school competition with the expectation of winning. Her parents told her: “When faced with a challenge, set a goal. If you’re not up to the challenge–fake it! By telling yourself you WILL do it–and picturing yourself mastering it, you’ll accomplish that goal.” With that belief, she always strived to be number one–the fastest, smartest, strongest, jump-ingest amongst her peers.
A petite child, Marina’s skill and limitless energy was funneled like a power nozzle into Germany’s well-honed gymnastic arena. She rose to the top of her sport and at 11 she was short-listed for the Women’s Olympic Gymnastic Team. Years of rigorous training came to an abrupt end when her parents pulled the plug: the Olympic Team trained in another city and Marina would have to move there under the tutelage of her coaches. “Verboten!” her parents declared. They wouldn’t turn their daughter out at such a young age. “My world came crashing down,” described Marina; “All those years of training–for nothing.” An emotional letdown— but not the end of the world.
Feeling bored, and searching for a new challenge, Marina stumbled upon a riding stable near her home and discovered Vaulting—a sort of circus gymnastics on horseback. Marina was a shoe-in. She had never ridden before, but she loved animals and knew something about tumbling. Never mind that this tumbling was on a moving target. Enter Adi Jachmich, the riding and Vaulting instructor who would become her mentor. “He was the most incredible person I have ever known,” she reflected: “It was his selfless care and influence, in combination with the extremely structured upbringing by my parents that gave me my inner drive and made me the person I am today.”
Herr Jachmich instructed with an eye toward precision. Students stood at attention and arrived for class spit and polished. He demanded excellence in everything. Marina was his tiniest student, but quickly became his best. One day Adi had a contest in which he asked his students to vault from the ground, up onto a cantering horse and back down again—-up and down, up and down, as many times as they could. One by one each student was drilled and would typically tire out after 10 or 15 rounds. The oldest and tallest boy in the class “wowed” everyone by vaulting 50 times. When it was little Marina’s turn, she nervously and silently vowed to beat the record, and proceeded to vault up and down, over and over, until everyone was watching and pointing, and until Adi finally told her to stop. By then she’d gone over 175 rounds! That drive to keep on going is exactly what makes Marina, well, Marina.
Armed with mentors like Adi Jachmich and her parents, Marina rode, read and researched (the three R’s!) in earnest, developing a keen interest in the anatomy and physiology of horses (a top student, she was being groomed for Medical School). Her interest in Vaulting eventually took a back seat to the highly respected, German-dominated sport of Dressage Jumping and Eventing. A natural, Marina could read horses like a book. They understood one another. Over the following years, Marina became exceptional, and competed in the Show Jumping Ring and Three Day Eventing course. And began winning. A lot.
A rising star, Marina became sought after as a trainer. She married a fellow equestrian, took the surname, Genn, and in the late 1970′s, her barn became the top center in Germany for the training and breeding of fine competition horses. Marina competed against, and trained with, the elite in World Class Dressage. In 1982, her family moved to Ontario, Canada and she was soon operating the largest equestrian importing business in North America, producing top-quality horses—including 37 international-caliber athletes– while advancing her notoriety in the show ring.
In 1987, Marina Genn was long-listed for the Canadian Olympic Equestrian
Team, riding Woodstock… her second Olympic-level achievement. Soon, Marina was spending much of her time criss crossing the US in private planes provided by well-heeled equestrians eager to learn from her. She was in demand–and riding high. And then, in 2005, Marina arrived on the local Loudoun County equestrian scene. Just south of Leesburg on Route 15, Marina Genn’s American Academy of Equestrian Sciences is hard to miss. The finely appointed AAES advertises itself as a “full service, indoor equestrian facility…From beginner through the Olympic levels in Dressage, Stadium Jumping, and Three Day Eventing, our equestrian programs are second to none.” A clue to her move here appears on her website: “The formation of the Academy as a training base…marks a new era of horsemanship education in the United States.”
“Training base?” “New era?” For all of her past accomplishments, Marina’s goal, it appears, has not yet been realized: Her keen training skills and affection for horses may help to re-write the book on American Dressage. Trying to find ways to help reduce injury and the reliance on heavy equine medical care, Marina hopes to help usher in compliance with standardized training methods in the US Dressage industry. And when Marina decides to do something, well, she does it.
“Our long term plans include University accreditation for both our Rider and Instructor Certification Programs, as well as establishing a relationship with the US Dressage Federation and the American Horse Show Association to aid in enforcing uniform licensing and certification programs by providing an educational backdrop for riders and instructors alike,” Marina explained. In places like Germany, Dressage trainers follow a standard curriculum proven to reduce injury to horses, while still turning out World Class Champions. Once this program is established here, she plans to expand and open satellite facilities in strategic locations across North America.
Change takes time, but Marina is a patient woman and she has a plan, starting with her well-advertised Camp Koda, which offers after-school and summer riding camps to kids, and her AAES Riding Academy which offers riding instruction to kids and adults of all skill levels. Students can take traditional riding lessons, or the structured Rider Certificate Courses involving classroom training with an emphasis on Theory.
No longer wanting to travel internationally to work with trainers, Marina supports her vision through other, non-horse related businesses she owns and manages, both in the US and abroad. She’s an entrepreneur extraordinaire with a work ethic that harkens to her early days of limitless energy. She just goes and goes and goes. Ever the spitfire, Marina is unflinching in her expectation for success. Her parents and Adi taught her well. As if to emphasize this point—Marina shows me a photograph taken a few months ago. She passes me the picture, her eyes twinkling as she grins broadly. Holding the glossy in my hand, I am astounded to see Marina poised upside down, toes pointed, doing a perfectly executed shoulder stand on the back of a horse. Challenged by a student, she just couldn’t help herself. Typical Marina Genn.
She has had a lot of successes, but she beams with pride when she discusses her handful of young equestrians that are beginning to show promise as the first wave of Dressage upstarts that began when she first opened AAES in 2005. They are now beginning to fill the ranks of young trainers, themselves, and Marina feels satisfied that her vision for creating a standard for Dressage education in the US has a foothold. Forget her gymnastic and riding fame. She’s on to something big.