USEF Committees Nominating New American Dressage Chef d’Equipe/National Coach Meet, Hear Regrets Over Selection Process

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USEF Director of Dressage Gil Merrick with "O" judge Anne Gribbons who has been named as the USA chef d'equipe. © 2009 Ilse Schwarz/dressage-news.com
USEF Director of Dressage Gil Merrick with "O" judge Anne Gribbons who has been named as the USA chef d'equipe. © 2009 Ilse Schwarz/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

WELLINGTON, Florida, Aug. 18–The U.S. Equestrian Federation committees that nominated Anne Gribbons as the new American chef d’equipe met for 2 1/2 hours Tuesday with expressions of regret over what some regard as a flawed selection process. Overriding much of the confidential discussions by committee members over phone links across the United States and Europe was a preoccupation with so-called “leaks” to the media about the selection process.

The end result of the meeting, sources said, was that there would be no change in the selection of Gribbons as chef d’equipe/national coach which was made by the U.S. Equestrian Federation’s Eligible Athletes Committee, chaired by Sue Blinks of Encinitas, California, and endorsed by the U.S. Dressage High Performance Committee chaired by George Williams of Delaware, Ohio.

The next stage is for the USEF staff led by Chief Executive Officer John Long to negotiate a contract with Gribbons. The contract is not expected to take effect until Jan. 1, 2010 as Jessica Ransehousen has a contract to be chef d’equipe that runs until the end of this year.

The selection procedures were flawed, several prominent dressage figures believe, as the search committee that included equestrians world leaders including Jumping Chef d’Equipe George Morris and Eventing Chef d’Equipe Mark Phillips performed only part of their assigned duties as they were not included in the final stages of the procedures.

James Wolf, USEF Executive Director of Sport Programs, and current and former Chef d’Equipe Ransehousen, a three-time Olympian, both spoke at length.

Ransehousen made it plain in comments to dressage-news.com last weekend that she disagreed with the way Gribbons was selected and Danish Olympian Morten Thomsen was also nominated for a coaching position. She stated that the position was clearly intended to be filled by a single individual.

Robert Dover, the six-time Olympian who came out of retirement to run for the job, had prepared a statement that sources said was read to the meeting expressing his disappointment in the selection process. He would not disclose details of his statement, telling dressage-news.com that he was sticking to the only public comment he has made, congratulating Gribbons on her selection and wishing her well.

Dover confirmed to dressage-news.com, however, that he has sent an application to the Canadian Equestrian Federation seeking to become their national coach. The Canadian federation is scheduling interviews with applicants next month.

The issues discussed Tuesday included:

* An understanding that a single national coach/chef d’equipe would be selected not a chef d’equipe to then recruit and manage a coaching staff that initially designated Danish Olympian Morten Thomsen while rejecting Robert Dover who had retired from competitive riding after representing the U.S. at six Olympics but was urged to create a development program and put himself up for selection;

* The USEF written criteria in January, 2009, of the initial appointment of the search committee and reinforced by the appointment four months later of Chester Weber as chairman, specified that the Eligible Athlete committee will “put forward their recommendation to the search committee.” The search committee that sifted through the dozen applications received from North America and Europe was not reconvened as a whole to receive the recommendations.

Gribbons, who has a farm near Orlando, Flordia, has stated that two former Olympians, Debbie McDonald of Hailey, Idaho and Lendon Gray of Bedford, New York, have agreed to help implement a national dressage development program. She said she hopes to enlist Dover to the program.

Dover heeded the urging of several top Canadian riders to apply to be their coach after he lost out for the U.S. post. Aside from his depth of international experience and training abilities–he is the trainer representative on the International Equestrian Federation’s Dressage Task Force that is charged with overhauling the sport–he spent eight months preparing a program for development of U.S. dressage that the Canadian riders said was equally applicable to their nation.

For Gribbons, however, she may not have as much flexibility as she hopes in recruiting top equestrians for coaching duties.

Several members of the committees made it clear that they believe that instead of funds being allocated to several coaches, the money might better be spent in grants for elite riders with trainers of their choice. None of the elite riders likely to seek to ride for the U.S. at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Kentucky train with Gribbons or the other trainers whose names have been associated with her coaching program.

Gribbons herself has never ridden in a championship at the grand prix level. The record shows that her only championship was the 1995 Pan American Games where she was a member of the team that won the silver medal at small tour level.

Under the structure of the USEF, the committees wield enormous power. The primary role of the staff of the USEF is to implement the decisions of the committees and not to implement their own initiatives.

No new developments are expected within the next few weeks as Gribbons is leaving for Britain to judge at the European Championships at Windsor Aug. 25-30.

The status of negotiations with Denmark’s Thomsen, whose appointment as a national coach was recommended in conjunction with the selection of Gribbons as chef d’equipe led to controversy, was uncertain.

Sources said he may be offered an opportunity to host clinics of elite riders.