Anne Gribbons: USA’s Road to Kentucky – Latest in Occasional Reports

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A happy Anne Gribbons hugging Steffen Peters at Aachen. © 2010 Ilse Schwarz/dressage-news.com
A happy Anne Gribbons hugging Steffen Peters at Aachen. © 2010 Ilse Schwarz/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

A year ago when Anne Gribbons became the Technical Advisor for American dressage–a leadership role similar to what Sjef Janssen fills in the Netherands or Holger Schmezer in Germany–U.S. prospects for the first World Equestrian Games held outside Europe, in America no less, looked dismal.

The U.S. had been rudderless since the end of Klaus Balkenhol’s eight-year stint as coach. His term really ended after the 2008 Olympics as his contract was not being renewed. A widely publicized search for a successor conducted in Europe and North America led to Anne being selected and signing a contract after the European Championships in Windsor, England, last August, a competition where she was a judge and agrees that it was the best dressage competition in history. The only top combination missing was that America’s Steffen Peters on Ravel who had won the World Cup title and swept the CDIO at the World Equestrian Festival in Aachen, Germany, that would have made it a global championship. That is not an issue in Kentucky next month when Steffen and Ravel and the rest of the U.S. team of Tina Konyot and Calecto V, Todd Flettrich and Otto and Katherine-Bateson-Chandler and Nartan mix it up with those stars from the Europeans as well as some new ones.

Anne, a native of Sweden who has been active in U.S. dressage since 1972 and counts a Pan American Games silver medal among her accomplishments, was scheduled to judge at WEG in Kentucky. Instead, she will be leading America’s team.

America is a nation with a proud heritage in dressage, medal winners at most Olympics in the past 20 years and capturing silver at the WEG in Spain in 2002 and bronze in 2006. Anne talked to dressage-news.com about her journey to Kentucky.

dressage-news.com: What was your feeling about US prospects when you took over as Technical Advisor?

Anne Gribbons: Before I applied for the position, I was aware of our lack of viable combinations available for the WEG. I also was very conscious of the strength of our competition, having judged every major event in Europe in 2009, including the European Championships. I was quite realistic about our prospects, but I also know one thing about us Americans: When challenged, we tend to rise to the occasion.

January through April was tough going, since some of the horses and riders we did have available struggled somewhat with the qualifiers or had trouble with their soundness. In addition we had Tip Top go through colic surgery, and two terrible accidents happened to our very best riders , Guenter (Seidel) and Courtney (King-Dye).

But some time in May the tables started to turn, and the horses at home looked better in the shows and in their training. Tina Konyot and Todd Fletterich were able to go to Europe and show. Tina started off nicely in Frtizens, Austria, and finished strong at Aachen by placing eighth in the freestyle behind the very best in the world. Todd, unfortunately, could start in one show only due to a cough which plagued Otto after the flight, but he did a very creditable job at Aachen and we received a lot of positive feedback about both our entries there. In the meantime, Catherine Haddad started campaigning her young horse instead of Cadillac and surprised herself by actually qualifying for the Trials. Ravel looked great when I checked in on him in June, and as the trials grew closer, I was greatly encouraged about the way things were developing . The addition of Nartan as a mount for Katherine Bateson-Chandler was a wonderful bonus, and we are deeply grateful to Jane Clark for adding this super horse to our resources.

Tina Konyot on Calecto V, Katherine Bateson-Chandler on Nartan and Todd Flettrich on Otto in the final victory gallop at the Festival of Champions. © 2010 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Tina Konyot on Calecto V, Katherine Bateson-Chandler on Nartan and Todd Flettrich on Otto in the final victory gallop at the U.S. selection trials for WEG. © 2010 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

dressage-news.com: Did you have an approach to developing prospects for the team? Late last year, Guenter and UII, Leslie and Tip Top (coming off a successful European tour), Sue Blinks and Robin Hood were all experienced team members.

Anne Gribbons: New prospects have to be identified, encouraged and sometimes kicked in the behind to get on track. Or you have to slow them down if the rider has more ambition than the horse can absorb at the moment. Guidance is one of my duties, both when it comes to the riders and the trainers, and I try to keep an eye on our entire “inventory” of talent and to be available for advice and help with everything from understanding the selection procedures to how to improve your halfpass. My approach has been to try to install a “bottom” in our programs by encouraging the naming of a National Youth Coach who will deal with the Junior and Pony riders, and it looks like that will happen fairly soon. I also have to take an interest in the Young Horse programs and the Developing Program, headed up by Developing Coach Debbie McDonald. Without a pipeline to feed us new talent, we will always panic before team selections.

dressage-news.com: Who knows whether Guenter with his past successes and experience would have made the team with the still very young U II, but when his accident occurred following the colic of Tip Top, and Susie Dutta and Currency opting not to compete at trials following that horse’s injury what was your feeling about the way things were going?

Anne Gribbons: I don’t know if Guenter could have made the team this time around with his very young prospect, but I am just so grateful he will heal 100% and for sure, he will be back on another team! The six horses who finished at the top of the selection trials are all the real thing. I am particularly thrilled that they were able to come in “cold” to the Grand Prix and make that their best test last weekend. What could be better for a team?

dressage-news.com: At that stage, did you have to rewrite a training manual as it was possible then that aside from Steffen and Ravel, it was becoming likely that the riders and the combinations could all be rookies?

Anne Gribbons: Yes, we will have a team on which three of the riders are “rookies” as far as actually being on a team. However, none of them are new to International competition and they have all had several other horses in the big time competitions before their present mounts. I think they are ready to roll! And as it lines up now, we may have two alternates , none of which I would be worried to send in the ring if we had to. That’s a good feeling, for sure

In the short time between January and the WEG there was not much that could or should be changed in the routine of the few team potentials we had. I followed their progress and gave input to the the trainers in our clinics, at the shows and in their private lessons. The only combination I brought to the ring was Tina Konyot and Calecto, but I have a clear view of the status of all the players and am available to all of the high performance riders.

My job description is to identify , promote and monitor team talents, not teach every rider myself. From the start , I have encouraged all serious riders to have their own trainers. I understand and respect the bond between rider, horse and trainer and will only intercept if their work does not, over time, yield the desired results. My experience of over 30 of training, competing and judging at International levels is what I have to offer them.

dressage-news.com: What do you think of U.S. prospects at Kentucky?

Anne Gribbons: It is as good as it can possibly be. Compared with the beginning of the year, this is glorious. Now we can go in and really fight for a good result. We will spend the weeks before we leave for Kentucky polishing some things. The process may have been a bit of a marathon, but we designed it that way on purpose: so we can be sure the horses are fit enough to compete at the high level of competition there will be at Kentucky and that our riders have the mental toughness. We achieved that. Now we are off to Kentucky to face the challenge from the very best of the rest of the world.