Robert Dover at WEG, His Last USA Coaching Championship, His Hopes & Future

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Robert Dover at a coaching session with American World Games tream riders and horses with Debbie McDonald, who succeeds him in the role. © 2018 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Sept. 1, 2018

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

When Robert Dover heads to Tryon in the next few days for the World Equestrian Games, it will be his last coaching assignment for an American championship team that he hopes will be high on the medals podium as the crowning achievement of a career that has spanned a half century with medals from four Olympics.

As one of the most recognizeable personalities in dressage around the world, his life after the end of his commitment as coach at the end of November may not include horses as it has since he was 13 years old, but become more involved in issues he feels deeply about. He’s already decided to help campaign for election in November of one of the major party candidates for governor of Florida, a state where he has been a long-time resident living in Wellington.

Robert’s passion and seeming unlimited energy have helped propel American high performance dressage once again to the top tier of international dressage as the coach for the past six years and developing fund raising efforts that have raised about $1 million to send large numbers of American horses and riders to Europe for summer competitions.

That same drive led him to become actively involved over the years in issues important to him: for years joining other prominent sports figures in LGBT rights and a founder of the Equestrian Aids Foundation to raise money to assist those suffering from aids that has now evolved into providing financial aid to horse peeople in need.

He made time for those causes and a television series searching for the next dressage star while competing at top sport, was on an International Equestrian Federation (FEI) task force that crafted new dressage governance and performance standards after the 2008 Olympics and successfully lobbied the organizers of Wellington’s Winter Equestrian Festival to create the Global Dressage Festival of 12 straight weeks of shows including seven CDIs over winter with dedicated facilities that has transformed dressage in the Americas.

Ground breaking in 2011 for the Global Dressage Festival at Florida’s Palm Beach International Equestrian Center. Village of Wellington Councilwoman Anne Gerwig, now mayor; then-mayor Darell Bowen; Mark Bellissimo, chief executive of Equestrian Sport Productions and Wellington Equestrian Partners, and Robert Dover, six-time Olympian. © 2011 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

With his partner Robert Ross, he went to the March for our Lives in March this year to campaign for changes in gun laws following a mass shooting at a high school less than an hour from Wellington.

The march, he said, “was one of the best days of my life. Somehow that means something to me. I’ve been involved with horses all my life and gratelful for everything that has happened to me. I’ve been so lucky in my career to have the people, horses and everything that’s happened but I also recognize the fact I have been helping people that reslly don’t ‘need’ (his emphasis on quote marks) anything.

“Along the way, Robert and I tried to do good things for the greater world; taking care of kids such as helping Robert build a school for girls in Pakistan.

“I would like to know somehow that when I finish my life I have done something to impact a larger world than the horse world.”

He wants to take a break and immerse himself in Spanish language–he’s pretty fluent in German and French.

Robert’s first of six Olympics was at Los Angeles in 1984 and then every Games until 2004 on teams that won four bronze medals.His last was also one of his most memorable as both his parents were there to watch. He competed at the 1986 world championships and on the bronze medal team at the 1194 WEG. His last championship was at his seventh World Cup Final in Las Vegas.

Robert Dover on Kennedy at the World Cup Final in Las Vegas, his last championship. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Another of his career highlights was in 1987 when Robert defeated Reiner Klimke, a six-time Olympic gold medalist for Germany, at the Aachen Grand Prix freestyle competition, the first American to win that event in 27 years. In 1994 he was named the U.S. Olympic Male Equestrian Athlete of the Year.

Robert believes the WEG contingent of Laura Graves on Verdades, Adrienne Lyle on Salvino, Kasey Perry-Glass on Dublet and Se=teffen Peters on Rosamunde is the strongest ever in the history of American dressage.

For this WEG team, there is the same feeling as the 2004 Olympic squad of Debbie McDonald, Lisa Wilcox, Günter Seidel and Robert but what he says are “double the number of high quality horses and riders.”

The American Olympic teams for two decades were what he described as a “machine,” that didn’t know how to be out of the medals.

“But we weren’t a machine that came from a constant flow upward from the bottom,” he said, “we were more a sort of conglomeration of, fortunately, top riders and horses that came together at the right time–it was a sense of the stars lining up.”

From the time Anne Gribbons became his predecessor as team coach, “we all knew at that point it was impportant to create a strong pipeline—we started using the word ‘pipeline’—the pyramid we knew we needed to strengthen the way things were flowing up from the kids on up to the elite.

“When I took over the job my goal was to strengthen that ten-fold.

“If I’m thinking of a machine again, we’re the srongest machine that we’ve ever been.

“But we still have a ways to go with the bottom half of the pyramid being as world class as the top end.

“That has to take place through some natural evolution.”

Robert sees Discover Dressage, the program launched by Kimberly van Kampen of Hampton Green Farms of Wellington and Fruitport, Michigan with a $1 million four-year commitment to youth programs and other sponsors providing the funding needed to boost the bottom end of the pyramid.

Kimberly van Kampen of Hampton Green Farm with her Grandioso dressed in horse blanket with the logos of the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, 2014 World Games and 2013 and 2015 European Championships in which the P.R.E. stallion competed, held by Kerrigan Gluch, an Under-25 rider for Hampton Green and rider Jose Daniel Martin Dockx of Spain. Kim is a major sponsor of USA dressage youth programs as well as several horses with Dani Dockx in Spain. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

“It just started this year. so they went from having a small budget, programs that weren’t well funded, to being the best funded dvisions now in the entire pyramid,” he said.

“I think that both the training and competitive programs for the bottom half of the pyramid need to be continually strenghtened such that that families of the kids and kids themselves and their personal trainers acquire the same sophistication that the upper end of the pyramid now has.

“So, for instance, young horse and Under-25 downward that we need now is for all those programs to create the same degree of quality and also quantity that we see, for example, in our hunter/jumper kids and young horse divisions.

“I think that makes the most sense to take that as the example. The same thing that you would say that’s what you see in Europe, is that lower end in both quantity of numbers…. The fact now what we have done is create tours for our kids—young riders and Under-25 riders that has already given them goals. The families and the kids have achievable goals.”

“What has to happen is we have to get to where our kids from littlest ones on up are trained to be as competitive against Europans on any given day as any other European country woud be. So whatever that means in regard to our programs and our coaching and our competitive programs that ’s what we need to do.”