By Ruby Tevis
Anna Buffini with FRH Davinia La Douce in Wellington, Florida.
When Anna Buffini was 3 years old, she made it her dream to become an Olympian. It’s a big goal, but for Anna it was only natural—her mom was an Olympic volleyball player, her dad was a collegiate soccer star—athletic success runs in her veins. One of six children, Anna was a serious gymnast through age 9, and then dabbled in every sport under the sun until she found the one she loved the most—dressage.
Raised in San Diego, California, Anna was homeschooled with her siblings and enjoyed a fun and versatile childhood. “I’m so lucky to be born and raised in San Diego. The weather is almost always perfect, and the beach, mountains or desert are all within a few hours of each other,” Anna said. “My siblings and I are best friends as a result of being homeschooled, and I had the flexibility to follow my passion in sports.”
At age 11, Anna took her first dressage lesson with trainer Sandy Burns. “I don’t think you could wipe the smile off my face for a week!” Anna laughed. Shortly after she became hooked on riding, Anna started competing with her first pony, a recently gelded 11-year-old with a hot personality. “He helped me develop my seat, and I learned how to fall a lot on him, but he took me from First Level to Prix St. Georges.”
As Anna progressed in her riding, she and her coach, Sandy, knew it was time to start looking for a new competitive partner. Near the end of a horse-shopping trip in the Netherlands, she stumbled upon Sundayboy, a former horse of United States Olympian Guenter Seidel. “Sadly, we had to catch our flight home and couldn’t try him,” Anna said.
Upon returning home, Anna reached out to Guenter to discuss the prospect of buying Sundayboy, and just one week later, Anna found herself back in the Netherlands to ride him. “I still remember our first ride very clearly,” she said. “It was magical. I had never ridden a horse with so much talent, power and knowledge.”
Anna, giving Fiontini some love, took her first dressage lesson when she was 11 and said, “I don’t think you could wipe the smile off my face for a week!”
From Young Rider to U25
At 18 years old, Anna said she was “late to the game” when it comes to competing in the Young Rider division. After a year testing the waters at Prix St. Georges with Sundayboy, Anna committed to making the Region 7 North American Youth Championships (NAYC) team in 2014. Together, Anna and Sundayboy earned the championship title at the Young Rider National Championships during the Festival of Champions in Gladstone before heading to Lexington, Kentucky, for the NAYC.
“I absolutely loved being part of a team,” Anna said. “We won gold in the team test, and then Sundayboy got injured. As one of the favorite pairs to win it all, sadly we had to pull out of the show.” While the turn of events was devastating to Anna, she found a silver lining through her friend, Catherine Deck. “Catherine ended up deservedly winning the other two days, and it was almost as if we’d won ourselves. She was so sweet and supportive through the process.”
Despite her setback at the NAYC, Anna stayed positive by setting new goals. “My goal after NAYC was to compete in the U25 Grand Prix. When Sundayboy healed, we got straight to it,” Anna said. To prepare, Anna began training with Sundayboy’s former rider and her idol, Guenter Siedel. “My first Grand Prix was okay. There were lots of mistakes and it was so hard, but it felt like Sundayboy was saying, ‘You can do this!’ He was a strong horse and I was a young girl. He started me on my fitness journey to become a fitter and stronger rider.”
During Sundayboy’s recovery, Anna had also acquired a new mount, Wilton II. “He was so spooky and strong, I had no choice but to learn as quickly as I could to become a better rider,” Anna said. “He helped me become a more patient horsewoman overall and taught me how to get what I needed in creative ways.” Despite his sensitive nature, Anna was able to campaign him successfully in the U25 alongside Sundayboy.
In 2016, she found herself aboard both horses at the Festival of Championships competing for the Brentina Cup. Anna finished in the top spots, earning back-to-back champion and reserve titles with Sundayboy and Wilton respectively. “Being first and second with such different horses meant a lot to me because I think it showed that I was turning into a professional who’s able to produce results on more than one type of horse,” Anna said.
“It was the first year I started training with Guenter, which made it extra special. It took a while for us to get to know each other,” she said, “but sometimes it feels like we’re telepathic in our lessons—we know each other so well.”
Anna with Davina, left, and Fiontini, in Wellington, Florida.
A Miracle Mare
Also “late to the party” to spend winters in Wellington, Anna made arrangements with Debbie McDonald to give Florida a try after her Brentina Cup success. The timing was perfect for Anna, as she would have the chance to compete in the first-ever U25 Nations Cup. “It would be Sundayboy’s last competition before retiring,” Anna said. “We helped the team win gold and won the individual freestyle!”
With Sundayboy retired, Anna continued competing and training with Wilton and other horses while she completed her associate degree in psychology online. “I did college online to train consistently and become a professional in the sport,” Anna said. “I finished my degree for a quarter of the cost with no student debt, all while pursuing my dreams. I highly recommend it to anyone who’s on the fence about college.”
Aging out of the U25 opened a new chapter for Anna. To be competitive in the senior Grand Prix, Anna would need a talented partner—FRH Davinia La Douce. “Davinia is my miracle mare,” Anna said. “We bought her off a video, because it was the height of the pandemic and we couldn’t fly to try horses.”
After Davinia’s quarantine in the United States, she and Anna had just two weeks to prepare for their first show. “She took me through my first Grand Prix season so beautifully,” Anna said. Not only did the pair find success on home turf, they were chosen to represent the United States in Europe for three Nations Cups.
“It was a fairytale year making the Compiegne, Rotterdam and Aachen five-star teams,” Anna said. “It happened so fast, it was hard to process that my dreams of being a U.S. team rider in Europe had come true. I learned so much on those tours that I’m taking with me into this new year with Davinia again and my new mare, Fiontini.”
Anna, with Fiontini, trains with United States Olympian Guenter Seidel.
As Anna builds upon her riding resume, she’s also established herself as a professional, training and coaching a variety of clients. “It can be challenging to work with clients who are competing when I have my own season,” Annasaid. “I always tell them up front about my schedule and we work out a lot of online lessons when I’m traveling. Thankfully, they’re very understanding.”
For Anna, teaching has brought out the best in her, as it’s a reminder to hold herself to high standards as well. “If I tell them they need to keep their heels down, I’d better do it too!” she laughed. “My competitors aren’t just my age anymore. He or she can be twice my age or could’ve gone to the Olympics before I was born. Dressage is the most insane sport in that way, but so beautiful and unique.”
Anna isn’t superstitious, but she’s extra careful with her thoughts about competing in the Olympics. “It’s something I’ve wanted to achieve since I was 3 years old in gymnastics. The fact that it might actually be possible one day is something I want to be very respectful of—to never assume or talk about it too much,” Anna said.
“In horses, anything and everything can happen, so my goal is always to be the best rider I can possibly be and hopefully that will bring us far,” she said. Anna recognizes the work ahead of her, but reflects on how far she has come. With the passing of Sundayboy in 2021, Anna was reminded of this. “I owe so much to him and I can’t believe he’s gone. If I could see him again, I’d just tell him thank you,” she said.
“No matter how hard our sport is, we can’t take for granted the fact that we get to wake up and chase our dreams every single day,” Anna said. “It’s an honor and a blessing to do what I love every day. I’m so grateful to my family and coach Guenter for believing in me and working so hard to help me chase my dreams.”
Raised in San Diego, California, Anna was homeschooled with her siblings and enjoyed a fun and versatile childhood.
Follow Anna on Instagram @anna_buffini
Photos by Melissa Fuller, msfullerphotography.com