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November 11, 2010

The WEG Helped Prove We’re Just Not Hungry Enough

Our columnist believes U.S. eventing will have to combat complacency on multiple fronts to have any chance at a team medal in two years.

As I sat on a plane coming home from Lexington, Ky., I thought about how everyone that I talked to had something to say about the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. They loved it, they thought it was too expensive, they were proud of their U.S. athletes. And yes, after the Land Rover U.S. Eventing Team failed to medal, some were disappointed with us.

The only thing I know about the 2010 WEG is that no one is more disappointed than I am. There is also no one else to blame for my disappointment other than myself. I know I’m lucky, but you make your own luck. I’m so lucky to have the best horse, the best groom, the best vet and best farrier. And I know without a doubt that Carl and Cassie Segal are the best owners and friends anyone could ever dream of.

So why didn’t our team win a medal? If I’d gone clean on cross-country and in show jumping, which I know my horse Ballynoe Castle RM is totally capable of, we might have. If I’d gotten it done, there wouldn’t be so much talk. It’s impossible to not think those thoughts when you’re sitting on a plane heading home.

But the failures on the whole go past the WEG. I’m far from the first to say it, but we need to take a good look at our U.S. eventing program, piece by piece. The U.S. should win a medal at every WEG and Olympic Games! So why haven’t we in the past three editions of those championships? Why didn’t we on our home turf in Kentucky?

Are We Spoiled?

When I look at our program, one major issue that sticks out is our failure to run the “team” like a business. I’m not convinced that our money is being spent or managed correctly. We do have the “best” money can buy, but we aren’t winning. Are things too easy for us? Are we built up too much?

I’m so impressed by what the Canadian eventing team has done. David O’Connor has done a good job coaching, but the whole thing really goes because of their Chef d’Equipe Graeme Thom and stable manager Debbie Furnas. They understand horses, people and business. They’ve done more with less, and we’ve done less with a lot more.

To be a world champion takes a lot more than we understand. George Morris gets it, my father Bruce Davidson gets it, and the members of the long-dominant British team system get it. We have some good riders who turn up strong results week after week against the U.S. competition, but we just can’t say that when we’re up against the rest of the world.

The future is going to be tough. The U.S. eventing team has slipped considerably in the last six years and has a lot of ground to make up. We need to ride better, coach better, organize better, and on the whole just work harder.

The only thing we don’t need to do is get better owners. Right now I think we absolutely have the best group the U.S. team has ever had. We as riders, organizers and Federation representatives do, however, have to treat them better. Without these great people we lose our ability to compete. Everyone suffers without owners, so let’s take care of them and get ready to redeem ourselves in London at the 2012 Olympic Games.

Survival Of The Hungriest

The more I think about it, the more I wonder whether the West Coast needs to be our new model when we’re questioning how to get back to the top as a nation. As I’ve said before, I’m continually so impressed by the facilities, the people and the competition at Rebecca Farm in Montana, and until my horse Titanium sustained an injury, I planned to go west again to the inaugural CCI*** at Galway Downs (Calif.) this fall.

When I think of the western eventing scene, I think, “These guys are hungry.” The western events take care of the little things so the horses, owners and riders are taken care of. They don’t seem to have as much infrastructure and depth as the East Coast yet, but they try harder.

There’s also significant prize money at many West Coast events. It’s passionate organizers who love the sport that make this happen. On the other hand, I was absolutely appalled a few weeks ago when we were charged $25 a night at the Dansko Fair Hill CCI (Md.) to park a trailer in a field near the barns. There were no hookups, no toilets, no nothing—I’m not even talking about campers. Just trailers. The sad thing is there was plenty of room in the field, because there were so few entries at our national two- and three-star championship—which has long been the premier East Coast fall event.

Open your eyes, people. This is bad business. Owners control where horses go, and they want to enjoy themselves. It’s always clear that the ones who work the hardest are the most successful. Complacency isn’t good in anything—not in organizing and not in riding.

I’m guilty too. I thought I was completely ready for the WEG on a great horse who was going well, but it turned out to not be enough. We all tried hard, but we need to try harder. My hope is that this disappointing WEG performance on our home stage has woken everyone up and made everyone from riders to coaches to organizers to fans a little hungrier. And maybe we need to not just work harder, but work smarter.

The way I see it, everything begins and ends with horsemanship. Do we have true horsemen leading us?

Buck Davidson is an event rider based in Riegelsville, Pa., and Ocala, Fla. The son of eventing legend Bruce Davidson Sr., Buck has carried on the family name with major achievements beginning during his young rider career. More recently he was the alternate for the 2008 Olympic Games in Hong Kong, was named the Chronicle’s 2009 Eventing Horseman of  the Year. He began contributing to Between Rounds in 2010.

If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more like it, consider subscribing. "The WEG Helped Prove We’re Just Not Hungry Enough" ran in the Nov. 12, 2010 issue. Check out the table of contents to see what great stories are in the magazine this week.

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