Robert Dover on Leading USA to World Equestrian Games at Home in What May be Final Chapter of Equestrian Career–Part 1 of 2
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By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
WELLINGTON, Florida, May 24, 2018–Robert Dover is leading what he believes to be the best American dressage team in history toward the World Equestrian Games in three months that may be the final chapter in the equestrian career for the six-time Olympian.
With seeming inexhaustible drive he turned his role as the U.S. Equestrian Federation job officially called Technical Advisor into an all-in-one job as team coach for Olympics and championships, cheerleader in chief that has helped build spirit admired around the world and fundraiser so extraordinary it has sent more Americans than ever before to compete on more stages stages in history.
Robert, who began riding a half century ago and will be 62 years old when his tenure ends in November, is known to have turned down overtures by the U.S. federation to stay on. The federation wants to appoint a successor soon to work with him during the selection events that center on the Nations Cups in Rotterdam next month and Aachen, Germany in July before the world championships in Tryon, North Carolina in September.
As a rider on American teams at every Olympics from 1984 until 2004, earning team bronze in four straight Games—Barcelona 1992, Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 as well as the World Games in 1994–Robert is determined that his swan song will be a success.
When he was appointed five years ago, the stars were aligned for a bright future.
The Adequan Global Dressage Festival of 12 weeks of competitions, including seven international events, had been established and were already revolutionizing high performance dressage in the country; new young combinations of horses and riders were emerging to join established performers at the top of the sport, and Debbie McDonald, one of the nation’s most successful competitors on Brentina, was the personal trainer of choice for many of the newer combinations and forged a close coaching partnership with Robert.
And a strong lineup of individual and corporate sponsors, vital for a nation where there is no taxpayer or lottery funding for horse sports.
“We’re sending the strongest contingent of horses and riders, I think, ever in the history of American dressage to Europe this year.”–Robert Dover
“Probably the last time we were close to this strong was the year Debbie and I and Lisa (Wilcox) and Günter (Seidel)—between 2000 and 2005… and 2004 when we were on our way to Athens. We didn’t know what medal podium we would be on but we were really strong as group, solid and friends, rooting for each other. That same feeling we have now but double the number of high quality horses and riders.”
How does he think the U.S. will perform at the home town WEG?
Performances in the past year, in his opinion, showed that Isabell Werth and Weihegold OLD do not have the advantage over Laura Graves and Verdades on any given day.
“I think Isabell is not just fabulous, but I use her as an example that she is way beyond great riding and great training but as person has elevated herself to a place of total self-awareness,” he said, referring to the fact the American duo is the only one to beat the No. 1 combination in the world, and has done it twice–in the Grand Prix Special at Aachen last summer and in the Grand Prix at the World Cup Final in Paris last month.
“Laura is closest we have to that. All our others still evolving, which is fantastic.”
Among the others are Adrienne Lyle on both Salvino and Horizon, Kasey Perry-Glass on Dublet, Olivia LaGoy-Weltz on Lonoir, Sabine Schut-Kery on Sanceo as well as America’s most successful rider for most of this century, Steffen Peters on Suppenkasper and Rosamunde,
Between now and the Tryon championships, a strategy is being implemented to raise self-awareness and the confidence of riders and horses.
He gave as an example that when he was based in New Jersey and developing horses such as Lectron and Deveraux for the Olympics he invited top judge Edgar Hotz to his barn every Thursday where he would ride a horse fully braided in the Grand Prix. The goal was to move up the scores each week until eventually they would hit what was then a very good score of 70 per cent and knew they were ready for competition.
“In that same way, our riders are going to leave no stone unturned with their consistent evolution toward that amazing confidence in themselves, the horses and in each other that is going into every single step from the beginning of the Grand Prix to the end is excellent.
“That’s how you create that winning thing that Isabell demonstrates every single time.
“I’m always very optimistic, that’s part of who I am. I usually don’t know till Rotterdam. In 2016…. it wasn’t until Rotterdam, even though I didn’t say anything at that point, I was very confident in our medal chances.
“What happens is along the way it’s like watching puzzle pieces click into place. You can’t know they’re going to click into the spot until they do. So until the group gets to go against some of the other nations you can only see how we’re doing against those other riders and where we fit in.”
Part 2: Development of the so-called “pipeline” for future American teams, and his own future