Robert Dover doesn’t have a reputation for being a shrinking violet, so it was no surprise when he tackled the tricky issue of funding early and often throughout his “Roadmap To The Podiums” presentation discussing the plan to put U.S. dressage on top of the world.
Dover, the new U.S. Equestrian Federation Dressage Chef d’Equipe/Technical Advisor, delivered the presentation, which included participation from all the U.S. dressage coaches—Youth Coach Jeremy Steinberg, Young Horse Coach Scott Hassler and Developing Coach Debbie McDonald—at this year’s Adequan/FEI North American Junior and Young Rider Championships in Lexington, Ky. He will do so again at the Markel/USEF Young and Developing Horse Dressage Championships, Aug. 22-25 in Wayne, Ill., and a pre-recorded broadcast of the presentation is available on the USEF Network.
He called for “incredible funding” saying that we need the best horses, the best facilities and the best prize money.
“We need to create such a great fundraising mechanism that our riders will always have the very best of everything they need when they represent us abroad,” said the six-time Olympian. “Once a rider is chosen to represent his or her country in international competitions abroad, they should no longer have to bear the cost, or have their sponsor bear the costs, of sending them on those trips.”
When Dover outlined his ambitious high performance goals for the next three years—a list that included a medal at the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, all the medals at the 2015 Pan American Games, and team and individual medals at the 2016 Olympic Games—increasing and sustaining fundraising and sponsorship went hand-in-hand with those achievements.
And he wasn’t passing the buck when it came to bringing in dollars. Dover personally pledged to run at least two fundraising events every year.
“Who Beats Whom, Where”
One of the reasons all this funding will be required is that Dover believes the sport of dressage is based on “who beats whom, where.” Therefore, the United States needs to send riders to Europe on a regular basis so they have many chances to compete against the best in the world, not just at international championships.
He already put that plan into action by sending teams to the Nations Cups at Aachen (Germany), where they placed third, and Hickstead (England) this summer. U.S. riders have attended or will attend at least 11 international competitions with the help of grant money in 2013.
“We have to have deep squads from which to choose our international teams every single year,” Dover said. “We must ensure that we’re able to send top athletes, both two- and four-legged, to every Nations Cup, to every World Cup and to every international championships around the world every year that they take place.”
Dover also insisted on the importance of the Reem Acra FEI World Cup Final, a competition that saw no U.S. riders this year or in 2010. “It is imperative to send combinations to the Reem Acra FEI Dressage World Cup each and every year,” he said.
Even during years where the big international championships aren’t in Europe, Dover still wants to send riders to Europe in order to keep them measuring their performance against the highest bar.
From The Bottom Up
In order to build a deep bench of competitive international riders, Dover is looking to strengthen and maintain the dressage pipeline starting with grassroots up through youth and young horses all the way to the developing and high performance riders. Dover wants to win pony and youth team championships just as much as he does international ones.
“We need to seek and nurture upcoming talent,” he said, as well as “taking advantage of the underutilized fantastic professionals across the country to provide mentorship.”
Jeremy Steinberg will extend his youth coaching to include Brentina Cup riders, those showing in the under-25 Grand Prix. “We need to avoid losing riders,” said Dover. “Between the ages of 21-25, so many riders are lost in the cracks.”
The long-term plan for youth dressage includes improving scores at the North American Junior and Young Rider Championships so that all the top riders are scoring 70 percent or above and introducing European youth tours.
And don’t forget finding a major sponsor, something Dover is looking for at every level of the pyramid. The goal is to have some pipelined riders on the 2024 Olympic team and to put a pipelined rider on the individual medal podium by 2028.
In the same vein, “buy American” is the theme of the young horse dressage program. “In order for us to have the best horses in the world, it’s not good enough to think we can go over and buy them in Europe,” said Dover. “We have to be breeding them, buying them as foals or very young horses, and training them ourselves.”
The current young horse program under Scott Hassler includes five training sessions per year, two selection trials for the FEI World Breeding Championships, the World Breeding Championships themselves in Verden, Germany, and the Markel USEF Young Horse and Developing Horse Championships.
The goal is to consistently put U.S.-breds on high performance teams and on the podium at Verden by supporting the breeders, owners and trainers and growing the base of enthusiasts, participants and investors.
In the developing program, Debbie McDonald will observe eight shows in 2013. Her goal is to find promising combinations to represent the United States and help those riders make plans and set goals. She’ll chose six to 10 riders to participate in David Strickland’s Global Dressage Analytics, a program the Dutch and German riders are using to track their tests for insights. Akiko Yamazaki is sponsoring the program, and two grants were awarded this year.
And the U.S. Dressage Federation is also part of Dover’s vision. The national dressage affiliate builds the base for high performance dressage by providing educational and competition opportunities, training and certifying instructors, and providing incentives and recognition through a comprehensive awards program.
“The USDF provides grassroots encouragement,” said Dover. “It’s the first portal of recognition for the emergent athlete.”
As Dover tied together all the pieces of his roadmap to the podium, he emphasized a few things that go beyond spotting talent and training it up to the top.
“It’s my job to make sure everyone feels enfranchised,” said Dover, as he discussed communication and creating excitement for all dressage stakeholders, including athletes, owners, sponsors, breeders, officials, organizers, media and fans.
He and McDonald both named team spirit as an important factor for winning teams. Dover said his teams will live together, eat together and be together at the arena.
“The job of the coaches and the technical advisor/chef d’equipe is to nurture and support our athletes in every way possible,” he concluded.