Robert Dover: Canada’s Road to Kentucky – Latest in Occasional Reports

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Robert Dover. © 2010 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Robert Dover. © 2010 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

Robert Dover has competed in six Olympics for the United States, more than any other American equestrian. Robert applied to be Technical Advisor for American dressage, but when that position went to Anne Gribbons he took on the same role with Canada.

Canada had not enjoyed team success in world championships for 22 years, and elite riders embraced the opportunity presented by Robert leading an effort to create a top-to-bottom nationwide program for dressage in a vast nation with resources more limited than their southern neighbor.

Over the winter, he conducted what amounted to a “boot” camp for Canadian high performance dressage at Stillpoint Farm in the heart of Wellington’s equestrian preserve. Based on results, a team of the top ranked Canadian combinations was selected for a tour led by Robert to compete at Europe’s premier competitions: Wiesbaden, Lingen and Aachen in Germany and Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

At the conclusion of the tour, the Canadian team for WEG was announced as Ashley Holzer and Pop Art, Belinda Trussell and Anton, Bonny Bonello and Pikardi and Victoria Winter and Proton.

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

Robert Dover: When I took the job as Canadian Coach/Technical Advisor, I was cognizant of the fact that they had not had any team success since 1988 (22 years!). My proposal was very similar to the one which I gave to the U.S.  It was to first analyse the strengths and weaknesses of the programs and the combinations already identified across the country by the Federation. I also wanted to meet with as many of the people in the sport as possible, which was my reason for going across the country doing clinics and talking to people. From this, I not only saw 146 combinations at all levels but also learned from many exactly what they felt about the organizations leading them as well as the programs which were in place on their behalf. With that done, I felt I had two jobs:
1) To focus on trying to create the strongest possible team for Kentucky and the WEG, and
2) To create long-term sustainable programs at all levels from Juniors through the International Elite.

dressage-news.com: After you conducted a nationwide review of Canadian prospects from young horses to high performance, did you have time to implement a long-term program? Or did you have to focus on the more immediate issue: the WEG?

Robert Dover: The biggest impediment to progress has been the lack of funding for the sport, so we created the “Take The Podium” fundraising committee which is producing the Send-Off To Kentucky benefit on September 12 in Toronto and is hoping to morph into The Canadian Equestrian Team Foundation with the same mission as the USET Foundation–to be the fundraising arm for high performance of all FEI sports.

Ashley Holzer and Pop Art at Aachen. © 2010 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Ashley Holzer and Pop Art at Aachen. © 2010 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

dressage-news.com: How did you feel your program to develop a Canadian team worked when you and the riders were in Wellington over the winter?

Robert Dover: I was very pleased overall with the program in Florida which yielded three combinations achieving scores over 70% in CDI’s by the spring. But I knew that success must be built in Europe so we created the tour of four shows.

dressage-news.com: What were your hopes when you began the European tour? Could you identify highs/lows of the European tour, and how those highs/lows impacted what you were aiming to achieve? The same for those who did not make the tour, such as Victoria?

Robert Dover: I was pleased with many of the results, from Ashley winning in Lingen and the team placing 3rd in the CHIO Rotterdam, to having Belinda also going over 70% in several classes. It was also a great time of learning for Wendy who was on her first tour ever and a re-introduction of Bonny to the big international arenas where she truly belongs among the best. Shannon and her wonderful mare, Ayscha, had a brilliant first couple of shows but realized that the mare’s youth and inexperience required that she remain in Europe to work through and I applaud her decision. They will be a huge asset to Canada in the very near future for many teams to come. Also, Cheryl Meisner decided to remain in Europe with John Risley’s stallion Paganini to compete further. I agreed with this decision as well. Victoria Winter has been very consistent and improving throughout the season so I am thrilled to have her on the team.

I knew Aachen would be as hard if not harder than the WEG itself but felt it was a proving ground that Canada could hold its own, even against those countries which had one “star” among them. The fact that we ended a credible 5th in the teams proved this as we placed ahead of Spain, Denmark, Sweden and others.

Belinda Trussell and Anton at Aachen. © 2010 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Belinda Trussell and Anton at Aachen. © 2010 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

dressage-news.com: You have said that your goal is to be on the podium in Kentucky. Do you think this team will fulfill that goal?

Robert Dover: I believe we have the chance to place in the top six teams of the world and naturally, I always try to do my very best to produce medal winning teams. That is what I spent my entire life on the U.S. Team doing as well. We leave for Lexington with our top six combinations for training camp on September 15th and will be at Kathy Priest’s farm which is close to the show grounds up until the 25th. I am very much looking forward to the WEG and am very proud of the progress the Canadian squad has made so far. I know this very seasoned group of competitors will do their very best in Kentucky!

dressage-news.com: Will you stay on as Technical Adviser after WEG?

Robert Dover: That is one I honestly can’t answer at this point. Sorry.