Anne Gribbons Weighing Future as USA Coach
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By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
Anne Gribbons is weighing whether to seek to remain as the leader of America’s dressage program in whch she put in place a development coaching structure designed to build future Olympic success after finishing in the bottom half of the team competition at the London Games.
“I have learned a lot about both people and organizations in this short time,” Anne said of her contract with the U.S. Equestrian Federation that began Jan. 1, 2010, and runs to the end of this year, “and I can see how much we need to change, rethink and take a hold of as a group.
“Whether or not I would now consider continuing is up to the results of several meetings which will happen very shortly and reveal what is feasible to change, and what is not.
“When I signed up for this assignment, I did not intend to continue for any period of time. My main purpose was to set up a national education system of coaches, and that is now in place.
“With time, and if it stays intact, I feel confident it will improve our strength in dressage at home and eventually that will lead to international improvement. I am really pleased and proud of how well we have all worked together and I hope future coaches will do the same.
“At the moment I cannot give you a straight answer,” she told dressage-news.com, “because if it looks like there could be some light at the end of the Elite tunnel, I’d sure like to try to reach for it, even for a short while. If not, I am done, and although I will miss working with the athletes, and above all their horses, it will be a pleasure to get my life back.”
Getting her life back would mean more time with her husband, David, at their farm in Chuluota, near Orlando in central Florida and as an International Equestrian Federation (FEI) 5* judge, the highest ranking and one of only four in the U.S. As she is aged 65, she can continue to judge for another five years. And she is also one of six members of the policy-creating FEI Dressage Committee.
The Swedish-born Anne took the job of U.S. national coach whose official title is Technical Advisor almost three years ago, a year after the U.S. team was disqualified at the 2008 Beijing Olympics,when a horse tested positive for an illegal drug. She succeeded Klaus Balkenhol, the German Olympic gold medal rider and trainer, who held the post for eight years that spanned the period of the 2004 Athens and 2008 Beijing Games and the 2002 Jerez and 2006 Aachen World Equestrian Games.
In her first year as coach, while preparing the American team for the World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Kentucky, Anne appointed Debbie McDonald as the Developing Horse Coach and Jeremy Steinberg as the Youth Coach to join longtime Young Horse coach Scott Hassler. The U.S. placed fourth at the 2010 WEG and thus qualified for the London Olympics and followed up a year later at the Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, winning every available medal–team gold and individual gold, silver and bronze for an historic first in dressage.
“I have stayed in close contact with the ‘team’ and although the pipeline of training is in its infancy, we now have a system to work with which can and should be expanded and developed to a network of coaching staff throughout the country,” she said. “In that respect, I have accomplished what I set out to do.”
She has come under some fire for the Olympic preparation that focused on the selection trials the first half of June and no international competiion before Olympic dressage in London at the beginning of August. The U.S. team was, however, entered in a competition specially organized for Olympians at Hickstead, England, in July but was washed out by unseasonable heavy rain.
Anne’s response is that she is proud of “having established and conducted training camps before each of the three games I was involved with. Spending several weeks in seclusion, training and socializing serves to cement the members together and in each case it has helped their performance at the games.”
“Since you have run into me at numerous event both in this country and abroad over the past three years,” she said, referring to this correspondent, “you know I have been physically with the athletes at every show that was important to them. Not just games and championships and World Cups, but any and all shows of essence where they, and sometimes their trainers, needed a work session, help with warmup, a bit of shop talk, or just encouragement.
“Supporting the athletes and their trainers has been the best part of this job and has allowed me to follow and asses their progress up close and personal.
“While the trainers were a bit hesitant in the beginning , they are now perfectly comfortable with me around and communicate freely about their students. The athletes do not hesitate to contact me when they feel a need for it, and I know they trust me to give them my best advice and stand behind them, never mind what.”
The series of clinics for elite riders on both U.S. east and west coasts she ran with Steffen Peters, resulted in “very positive feedback from the athletes who participated. I could also see things improve as the show seasons progressed.”
“Medals were not uppermost on my mind when I took this position, and yet we did remarkably well in Kentucky with three ‘rookies’ on the team,” she said referring to Katherine Bateson-Chandler on Nartan, Todd Flettrich on Otto and Tina Konyot on Calecto V who were team mates of Steffen and Ravel. The U.S. qualified at WEG for the Olympics.
“In Mexico we won every medal available. That has never happened before in history, and I guess I have a right to be proud of that. When we come in strong and properly mounted, our system works .
“In London, we tried hard in tough company, and we were respectable. For the first time in Olympics, all our horses finished over 70 per cent.
“With great timing, Jan (Ebeling) and Rafalca had their best performances ever! Ravel showed, once again what heart and class he has. He and Steffen kept the team in the running with two high placings in the Grand Prix and Grand Prix Special, once again confirming Ravel as a true international star. Tina (Konyot) and Calecto also had creditable performances, but neither he nor Rafalca have ever in their career had an average score even close to most of the horses who passed us by.
“You cannot up a horse’s percentage by 10 points in two weeks. As much as our horses put on their best effort, it was not enough to medal at these Olympics. And they were truly the best we had.
“That proves that today, meaning at this moment, we have the riders, but not the horses we need to be competitive in the international arena at the big tour.
“Developing new horses, ‘finishing’ the couple that looked promising but were not quite ready this year, and getting them all out competing internationally is what we need to work on next.
“With more horses of even better quality to choose from, the picture will completely change, and I am confident we will not only recover, but eventually surpass our past medal record in the Olympics.”