Spotlight – Michelle von Schmidt-Pauli

VSP Dressage, LLC is a small business that brings classical dressage instruction, performance training and problem-solving sessions directly to clients across the region. VSP founder Michelle von Schmidt-Pauli has trained with American dressage pioneers and has developed and trained young to mature horses. She strives to understand the heart of every horse, and the skill and goals of each rider so each can become their best. Von Schmidt-Pauli brings 30+ years of experience and a lifelong pursuit of best-in-class performance for horse and rider.  She has developed a logical, focused, and progressive training program for her students. Von Schmidt-Pauli promotes the relationship between horse, rider, conformation, and abilities so they come together for the best possible outcomes, regardless of competition, discipline, or experience.

Von Schmidt-Pauli came to Northern Virginia to manage the upper barn at Morven Park. There, she trained with two very experienced horsemen, ex-calvary Major General Johnathon Burton and Colonel Paul Wilmert. These pioneers of American dressage showed von Schmidt-Pauli how to develop horses through dressage.  “These great horsemen taught me the importance of understanding and dedication to the scales of training because a horse needs to be mentally and physically challenged,” she explained. To this day, von Schmidt-Pauli incorporates her experiences learned from these two greats, and so many other amazing trainers, for her own training program.  She built her business on the foundation of experiences and principles instilled in her by her mentors, the discipline inherent in dressage, and love of the horse. A strong, successful performance horse starts with training and a critical component of that training is trust built over time.

Working Equitation shares this enthusiasm for the benefits of physical and mental challenges that comes from incorporating dressage with obstacles. Both horses and riders benefit as a team from the precision and challenges of “dressage within obstacles” and the trust it requires achieves harmony.  Regardless of discipline, breed, age, and skill level, Working Equitation is a sport that combines classical dressage with arena obstacles and horsemanship. The physical requirements for horse and rider as they learn and work obstacles are the same for dressage. Michelle emphasizes, “The only real difference between dressage and Working Equitation is the use of obstacles and cattle. I like to think that dressage is the training and working equitation is the application.” VSP Dressage currently utilizes Working Equitation as an integral part of our training program. She got her start in Working Equitation when a VSP dressage student asked von Schmidt-Pauli to help her learn Working Equitation a couple of years ago. After some research, and attending several clinics, von Schmidt-Pauli and her horse were hooked. She added, “My horse loved the new challenge.”

Trust, training, and instruction that centers around effective horse and rider communication has become the foundation of the VSP Dressage Four-Level schooling program. This comprehensive program combines theory and practice regardless of age, discipline, or skill level. Those starting out begin in VSP’s elementary-level course. Practice, theory, training, and instruction continue as riders progress and develop dressage and horsemanship skills. Michelle explains, “I specialize in teaching equestrian “high school.” My students receive a lot of theory as well as practical training so when they become proficient in second level and begin schooling third level work, they are more prepared for moving on to ‘college,” the next level. von Schmidt-Pauli monitors each student’s progress, for those who are ready to proceed to the “college-level”—the equivalent of third level dressage—and beyond Michelle von Schmidt-Pauli has a network of upper-level trainers to recommend, so they can continue to achieve and perform at the highest levels.

The rewards for Michelle Von Schmidt-Pauli have less to do with winning, despite her and her students’ successes in the show ring. VSP Dressage training develops the whole horse, bringing horse and rider together for the best results. von Schmidt-Pauli recalls, “My most memorable competition didn’t involve my own competition. I had bred and trained an Arabian for several years. It was so incredible after all of the blood, sweat, and tears to witness the horse and new owner take Top 10 in several classes at the Arabian Sport Horse Show.”

VSP Dressage has been an enthusiastic, committed NOVAWE Business Member and active participant across the region. Michelle von Schmidt-Pauli will manage a series of play days and shows planned at Magnolia Equestrian Center. Watch the NOVAWE Events Calendar at for dates and times. Visit for training, schedule, and more stories about Michelle Von Schmidt and her comprehensive horse and rider training programs. Ask about her new Warlander yearling, who has tons of heart and potential.

Contributed by Kristin Mango