Archive | October, 2012

Will either/both come to the USA??

29 Oct

 

 

Just idly wondering, on this last Monday in October. And actually hoping both horses stay with both riders.

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Condolences to the family and friends of the great showjumper, Barney Ward (father of Olympic medalist McLain Ward).

Ward passed away Sunday after a battle with cancer.

 

 

 

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Setting the bar. Upping the bar.

22 Oct

FEI Regulations passed at last General Assembly, Nov 2011
http://www.fei.org/sites/default/files/media/GA11%20-%20wrap%20up.pdf
<< Furthermore, on the basis of guidance received from the IOC, it was clarified that if one member of a Dressage, Jumping, and Eventing team is disqualified for an anti-doping violation, the entire team would be disqualified. However, in Jumping the team members that did not commit the doping violation would still be able to keep their score for purposes of the individual placings.>>

Yoo Hoo, FEI people: it is now late October, 2012, a few weeks before General Assembly once again. Maybe the dressage and eventing people want to get this rule modified/rescinded/changed…?

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World Cup competition has started with authority and excitement in Europe—2013 is the year that does not have Olympics or WEG.
Odense, Denmark was the first of 8 CDI-Ws for Western European League . Later this year, in August, there will be the 3-discipline European Championships (show jumping, dressage and Para) which also will be held in Denmark (at Herning). The world-famous Danish breeding operation, Blue Hors, is title sponsor of the Dressage Championships.
The line-up at Odense included WC title holders Adelinde Cornelissen and Parzival; Edward Gal and Blue Hors Romanov; Ann Kasprzak and Donnperignon. All were most recently at the Olympics, and they were joined by a full roster of other stars, Olympians past and present.
As it happens, the three named finished 1-2-3.
But the reason to mention them is because ALL three delivered some of the best performances they have ever done.
Parzival’s score in Odense was perhaps .2 lower than London, but the ease, the harmony, the flow, the beauty of the partnership—all were visibly improved. Cornelissen took the lesson of London very seriously and went home AND DID SOMETHING ABOUT IT.
Had Parzival shown this kind of self-carriage and harmony in London, the medals might easily have gone the other way.

But horse sport is unlike any other sport, Olympic or not, precisely because the horse does not read the same book, have the same ambition, or necessarily want gold rather than silver.
Cornelissen is sitting a bit differently and her timing patterns have changed just a bit and Parzival has AGREED to go along with this. This most sensitive, most complicated, most athletic creature, already fully trained, has agreed to try out new ideas.

Edward Gal started riding Romanov about one year ago. The stallion had two previous riders, but hit a kind of wall with each of them in turn. The partnership here has been on display since the first stallion show last year, but it is only now that the promise shown has delivered in full.
Watching Edward Gal adapt his own style to maximize the horse’s focus and trust is a gift unto itself.
Anna Kasprzak is only 22, already has Olympics under her belt, part of a strong Danish team, and has also taken a horse developed by another rider and has forged a true and serious partnership, improving her own riding and the horse’s performance.

All three recogni9zed the bar set at these London Olympics –and are working on raising that bar.

Hats off to ever more exciting competition.

We need a program

15 Oct

When I was a little girl, I rode our large dogs.

Then, even though we lived in a very urban and cosmopolitan city, I found the real horses.  They lived in a converted car garage, near the city’s big park. Our arena had a few support beams in it, spaced  far enough apart that the original cars were not bothered, but it was difficult now to plan a ridden diagonal;the privately owned horses went up the ramp, to stalls that had light; the horses I rode all went down the ramp,to the underground .

I dreamed of ‘making the Team’ –and everyone everywhere pretty much knew what that meant: riding so brilliantly (far beyond one’s peers,of course on a backyard something that gave its heart and sinew beyond ordinary limits) that I  and my equine partner/soulmate were awarded  a spot on the USET’s team.

For a long time, that meant the show jumping team–until I discovered dressage.

…But teachers, students, friends–even friends of our distinctly non-horsey family-everyone understood the dream and knew what USET was. The Team held open selections, and people made their way to Gladstone, USET headquarters, for a day of watching gorgeous horseflesh and studied, cool and hopefully brilliant riding. I remember walking up to a woman mounted on a gorgeous creature the color of a new-minted penny. It was my hero, Sheila Wilcox, the  British star equestrian. “Of course”, she answered when asked if this was a British Thoroughbred she sat on.

The riders were friendly, approachable, fun.

The sport was friendly, approachable, fun.

Its heroes were everywhere, ready to answer questions, give a smile. Asked how he accomplished the most beautiful, flowing training session, the rider thought a moment and said ,”I pulled a little and I pushed a little.”

Now,  in a case of ‘be careful what you wish for’, in the modern world, equestrian has to continually prove its worth, its spectator appeal, its ability to attract sponsorship, “air time” on television. It has to ‘reach out’. Even as it has grown larger, equestrian sport in the US has become ever more unreachable ,a closed world.

Gladstone is now basically a golf course with one corner devoted to equestrian. When three true heroes of the sport were recently honored– Frank Chapot, William Steinkraus, George Morris, all of whom have basically defined ‘the American style’ over fences and in the glory days of great success– they were honored with the dedication of a tiny, postage-stamp courtyard in front of the  one remaining building that can properly be called USET Foundation.

That  need to add one word, ‘Foundation’, may indeed be where the current lack of medals have come from.

The U.S. always had two organizations: AHSA–American Horse Show Association– and USET — United States Equestrian Team.

Dealing with high performance, training and organizing the riders and horses that represent the US in international competition, was the province of USET.

Dealing with national shows, breed organizations, regional and other concerns, was the province of AHSA.

Then IOC  (International Olympic Committee)announced that the U.S. had to have one national governing body for equestrian, to comply with the regulations setup.

A bitter, long and ugly battle ensued. In the end, nobody won.

We now have USEF–United States Equestrian Federation–and have satisfied IOC but hardly anyone else. Some of the best minds and talents were sacrificed to achieve some kind of solution. The bureaucracy left  after the consolidation is neither fish nor fowl, not able to concentrate on either national or international problems or growth.

— The level of competition keeps going ever downwards,in order to keep a growing membership happy when they have no international aspirations. Ribbons must be won, prizes must be gained,and more and more equestrians must be found to pay fees for a bloated organization that does not necessarily have great horse sport as its priority.

—  The heyday of the US was when we had great trainers: de Nemethy for the jumpers; Ljungquist for dressage; le Goff for eventing. Except for George Morris, who has just retired from being coach of show jumping, we do not have their equivalents nor do the riders want such ‘father figure’ coaches,preferring instead to run their own lives,  and generally be seen as stars of their own movies.

—  There is no database,and no co-ordination between breeders,riders and  trainers. Everything happens on the singular level, with no attempt to really figure out sources of potential horseflesh within the U.S. because there is no one to train them, no circuit to show them, etc. Again–singular attempts are continually made on all fronts, but doomed in the end because there is no program to keep records, see what does and does not work.

We need a program.

on being USEF’s dressage coach

9 Oct

First, there were  the cavalry teams–

1932, Hiram Tuttle won individual bronze and the U.S. won team bronze (Tuttle, Kitts, Moore).

1948,another cavalry team won team silver (Borg,Thomson, Henry)

then…a long dry spell,until

1976, civilians –women to boot — won team bronze (Gurney, Masters, Morkis).   Col. Bengt Ljungquist was team coach. At this time, Bert de Nemethy was team coach for show jumping and Jack Le Goff coach for eventing.(I just like remembering that the U.S. had 3 great coaches,all at the same time).

1992- 2000, the US racked up a series of team bronzes.Riders mainly had personal coaches/trainers/eyes on the ground.

1992 (Lavell, Poulin, Bredahl, Dover)

Chef d’equipe: Jessica Ransehousen

1996 (Peters, Seidel, Dover,Gibson)

Chef d’equipe: Jessica Ransehousen

2000 (Dover, Seidel, Traurig, Blinks)

(Chef d’equipe: Jessica Ransehousen)

2004 (McDonald, Seidel, Dover, Wilcox)

(Coach: Klaus Balkenhol)

Klaus Balkenhol became USEF coach in 2001.Balkenhol was the dressage team trainer  for the German team that won the Team Gold  at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.He coached Nadine  Capellmann at the 2002 WEG, where she won Individual Gold .

In 2001, Balkenhol became coach for the U.S. The U.S. again won Olympic  bronze as well as team silver at WEG in Jerez, Spain ,team bronze at WEG in Aachen, and Debbie McDonald won World Cup Final.
But by 2008, everyone was unhappy and Balkenhol resigned.

He returned to Germany and has again  produced winner after winner, most notably Helen Langenhanenberg/Damon Hill and his daughter Anabel/Dablino for the  silver team medal winning Germans at London. Not to mention individual bronze medalists/team gold  Laura Bechtosheimer/Mistral Hojris.

When he announced his resignation in 2008, I wrote:

<<Klaus Balkenhol took a floundering program and gave the riders process, camaraderie, a sense of team, medals, and helped design a program that could be really successful if USET/USEF would ever spend the money on such a program– more on the up and coming riders, more on sets of eyes figuring out where the talents of horse/rider might be.

Working for USET/High Performance has to be a fairly thankless job as time goes on, because for sure there are ALWAYS going to be a lot of sponsors disappointed when their proteges do not make teams. After all– only 4 get a spot…It takes a special person to coach top sport riders, let alone top sport dressage riders.

Good international dressage team coaches are a fairly rare commodity, so it will be interesting to see if/when there is any successor.>>

So many bronze medals do not seem to add up to a ‘floundering program’–but beneath the 4 team spots, the U.S. really had no nurturing of any talent, whether already arrived or up-and-coming. Balkenhol introduced the ideas that were part of the successful German program, where children start in Pony ,then Junior, then Young Rider, then Under-25, and finally, with enough money, talent, ambition, luck and so on, Senior Team, whether A, B, or C list.

Anne Gribbons lasted 3 years.  There was a massive ‘talent search’,ending with Gribbons accepting the job and starting work in 2009.

And then everything changed.

Dressage in that time stood on its head–Totilas changed the bar, in fact changed the game. To gain a medal, it used to take at least 2 scores hovering around 70  plus one star able to score high 70’s,  but one black stallion and his Dutch rider, Edward Gal, proceeded to set all 3 records: GP, GPS, and Freestyle. His scores were in the 80’s and then 90 suddenly loomed–unheard of!

Power,expression AND harmony: Suddenly, it took  everything.

The meteoric rise of the British team–the total surprise gold at European Championships in 2011 followed by the Team Gold at London this year proved that not only did it take everything from a horse/rider, it required EVERYTHING:3 superstar horses and 3 star riders, all peaking at the same time.  This has left everyone–including the British–in consternation as to how to follow up or get to such an exalted position..

It is a thankless position, being a team coach.

In addition to Gribbons’ resignation, highly respected trainer Jean Bemelmans parted company with Spain after 15 years filled with success.

Germany found itself looking wildly for a successor to its own legendary coach, Harry Boldt. First  Holger Schmezer accepted the job, then as the demands grew,  added Jonny Hilberath and also  Juergen Koschel, trying to find the perfect formula. Schmezer died of a sudden heart attack while at the World Cup Finals in April of this year, shocking everyone in top sport.  Hilberath  recently  announced he would not continue as German coach and Monica Theodorescu has stepped in–the first woman in the history of German dressage to hold such a position.

It will be interesting to see how the U.S. handles this latest vacuum at the top.

I left out of the above list of coaches  the reality that Dutch coach Sjef Janssen has also resigned ,because Sjef is not leaving in consternation or frustration or by mutual agreement with his NF.

No–Sjef Janssen is without doubt one of the few current trainers in the sport who will go down in dressage history,along side de Guerniere, Baucher, etc, as having actually made lasting changes and influences to the sport.
Not to mention his track record in international competition.

Sjef is leaving because the position of being head coach for a National Federation is now outmoded and the newer model– Super Coach– is probably going to take more hold.
After all, dressage is basically an ego-driven,singular sport– one horse,one rider go up centerline and are scored– except for the occasional team experience at Olympics and world championships.

 

U.S. Rider Tests– a drop in the ocean

1 Oct

USEF (United States Equestrian Federation) has just released new “Rider Tests.” A few years ago, there was an attempt to make mandatory qualifying tests to permit riders to move up the levels.

This time, the tests were simply shoveled in under Extraordinary Rule Change, and –for the moment–are voluntary not mandatory.

Yes, qualifying is necessary in certain countries in Europe– there is real prize money to be won,true sponsorship, and classes (and entire shows) are often over-subscribed. The only fair way to choose riders is meritocracy.

And yes, those countries where this kind of qualification is in in place include the Big Ones in dressage: Germany, Netherlands,etc.

But.

But hardly any U.S. dressage shows are filled to capacity.In the mid-West and loads of other areas, the complaint is usually the enormous distances necessary to compete at all.

But the U.S. already has plenty of qualification systems in place:

Regional Championships? Need qualifying scores.

National? Ditto

High Performance A and B list? Ditto

The part I do not get is on what basis there is a perceived ‘need’ for rider qualifying tests.

 

Did shows suddenly get over-subscribed in the U.S.?

Did prize money suddenly become available/go up in amount at most shows?

Will this have any useful effect on getting a young,uncommitted athlete to decide–yes, dressage is for me because of the rewards..?

Will this perhaps get sponsors to see ROI as more marketable because the sport has announced it is ‘serious’ as opposed to ‘elite’ and ‘hobby’?

 

In other words–will this grow the sport of dressage?

Because if it does, then good.

 

Dr Klimke said the movements exist only to make the gaits better: that this the purpose of training/schooling; that this the basis for the concept of gymnasticizing.

And yet we are now being told that the  gaits do not matter???

Will not be judged???

For that matter, as ALL the scores/comments on these tests are in 4 boxes at the end (much like Young Horse tests where ‘potential’ is judged rather than specific movements) how subjective will the judgments be?

The reality kernel buried in the ‘rider tests’ is that much of the training offered in the US is sub-par.

Not that the riders bounce up and down but that the horses move with unsupple backs,offering no place to sit.

Not that the riders do not want to learn—but learn from whom?

Yet the very people who train teach and judge are the people who came up with the rider tests.

It is a self-fulfilling prophecy.