Anne Gribbons–No Regrets After 3 Years as USA Coach, Highs & Lows. Part 1 of 2
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By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
Anne Gribbons is still amazed at how fast the three years as coach of the United States dressage team passed by, and as the search for her successor begins she wants to continue support for the programs she helped create to build a pipeline for the future of American dressage.
The record of the Swedish-born rider as coach began with a World Equestrian Games performance that qualified the United States for the Olympics, an historic Pan American Games result of every medal at stake–team gold and individual gold, silver and bronze, and the final championship of her tenure, the Olympics, that were a disappointment.
“Never for a moment was I sorry I did it,” she told dressage-news.com in an exclusive interview. “There were some tense and difficult times. Looking back, I would do it all over again.
“There were a lot of things that took a back seat–my riding, my husband who was terribly supportive for never having me around, my students, our beautiful farm in Orlando and the business. There was no free time, no vacations ever.
“I’m pretty happy with the whole thing, though.
“Maybe, looking back it went faster than I thought it would. It was so intense. Maybe I could have done another year.
“I’m glad I decided what I did, though, when I saw the reaction of my husband. He said, ‘You do whatever you want.’ But his enthusiasm was a lot greater when I first took the job than when I was considering whether to continue.”
The 2009 selection of Anne as Technical Advisor as the coach’s job is officially called, came after four decades in the sport in the United States including as a competitor winning Pan Am team silver on Metallic. But for medical reasons, she leased the KWPN gelding (Uniform x Nepal x Juriaan) for Robert Dover to ride on the U.S. bronze medal team at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. She became one of only four American top-ranked international judges and a member of the International Equestrian Federation Dressage Committee that creates policy for the global sport.
German Olympic gold medalist Klaus Balkenhol held the post for two four-year terms through the 2008 Olympics in which he led the United States to medals at the 2002 and 2006 World Equestrian Games, the 2004 Olympics and the 2003 and 2007 Pan American Games.
The selection of Anne was controversial primarily over U.S. Equestrian Federation procedures, and by the time she was confirmed in the job at the end of 2009, the non-championship year in which she could have established her program had passed. She was faced immediately with preparations for the 2010 WEG.
“It was a wonderful end of my career,” she said, “to be able to try to influence sport at that level, to be in the position as coach.
“The three years went lightng fast. We had three Games–WEG, the Pan Ams and the Olympics. There was never really a break.
“I thought we did even better than expected. At the WEG we qualified for the Olympics with three team rookies. The Pan Ams were a triumph all around. We had good team preparation, we worked well together. The team members were self-disciplined, nice people, very proud to ride for the United States.”
Preparation for the Olympics in London last summer brought some criticisms–lack of European shows to make rider and horse combinations competition sharp and the use of Steffen Peters, the top American rider, essentially as an assistant coach were high on the list of concerns.
Anne points out that the United States lost two of its top riders ahead of the Olympics–Günter Seidel, the highly respected multi-Olympian was injured and shortly after a relationship of almost a quarter century with his prime sponsor ended removing two horses as possible prospects, and Courtney King-Dye was seriously injured in a horse accident that took her out of contention.
The U.S. named to its team Ravel, by far the top American horse ridden by Steffen Peters of San Diego, California, and the only combination that was proven at the world’s top levels; Tina Konyot of Palm City, Florida and Calecto V and Jan Ebeling of Moorpark, California and Rafalca with Adrienne Lyle of Ketchum, Idaho and Wizard as an individual entry.
Anne said that the U.S. fielded a team at the world’s premier horse show, the World Equestrian Festival in Aachen, Germany in 2011 and that Jan and Rafalca competed in the World Cup Final in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands in April in both 2011 and 2012 and although she wanted Tina and Calecto to also seek a start in the World Cup Final that did not happen.
Needing “to protect and not to risk” Ravel with the rigors of a pre-Olympic competition schedule in Europe was also a factor she cited in shaping preparations.
“I’ve always been completely honest with the riders,” she said. “Although encouraging and supporting I did tell them the truth as we approached the Olympics.
“I was aware from my judging that they had some phenomenal horses over there in Europe. Although our horses were good and well ridden and some performed to the ultimate, especially Rafalca who went beyond what anyone expected, compared with some other teams it was an uphill struggle.
“I think to not recognize it is a problem. If we stayed locked in our own bubble and did not look at the widescreen, as the Brits call it, we would be shocked when we arrived at the Games. When we were sitting in fifth after Grand Prix I was delighted, then we were passed by a few points. I would have been delighted with a fifth place finish because we were realistic about what we had and didn’t have.
“What other horses could we send? There was nothing.
“I went all over the country to every CDI to look for horses. There was nothing.”
The United States finished in sixth place behind Great Britain, Germany, Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden.
Anne defended using Steffen to help prepare the U.S. team for the Olympics, an unusual tactic.
It was not, she said, “like you elevated one player over another. He was the favorite of all of us what we had. It wasn’t like putting a rival on one of our horses.
“I know he had conflicting thoughts. It would not have continued.”
Part 2: What’s Next? A pipeline for the future of American dressage