Lack of Applicants for USA Coach/Chef d’Equipe–Pressure to Change Job Description

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Who will replace Anne Gribbons and Eva Salomon as Technical Advisor and Chef d'Equipe for the United States Dressage Team. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Who will replace Anne Gribbons and Eva Salomon as Technical Advisor and Chef d’Equipe for the United States Dressage Team. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

A lack of applicants for USA Technical Advisor/Chef d’Equipe to lead the United States dressage team at the 2014 World Equestrian Games and the 2016 Olympic Games, has led to pressure to change the job description just days before the closing of applications, according to sources within the U.S. Equestrian Federation.

The position that has traditionally been one of the highest paid in dressage anywhere in the world, has been vacant since Anne Gribbons resigned as coach after the Olympics in London last summer following three years heading the high performance program. Eva Salomon resigned shortly after as chef d’equipe and USEF managing director of dressage.

The new post is designed to incorporate into one job, that of Technical Advisor/coach and Chef d’Equipe combined into what is an advisory and management function.

Closing date for applications is Mar. 15.

Sources within the USEF who did not want to be identified because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said that no applications had been received that could be seriously considered.

As a result, the sources said, some influential members of the High Performance Dressage Committee are seeking to change the requirements.

The changes being sought to the published job description are to bring it more into line with the same conditions that led to the selection of Anne Gribbons and for eight years before her, Klaus Balkenhol, the German Olympic gold medalist. He led the program for eight years in which the United States won team silver at the 2002 World Equestrian Games, team bronze at the 2004 Athens Olympics and 2006 WEG as well as team gold at the 2003 and 2007 Pan American American Games.

The procedures–as distinct from the job description–for choosing the person to fill the post this year were basically the same applied with success in selecting new Technical Advisors/coaches for Eventing and Jumping.

Eric Straus led the search committees for eventing and jumping after the 2009 dressage selection was clouded in controversy. He was appointed chairman of the dressage search committee, an assignment seen as assurance that the process for dressage would be as transparent as the other two Olympic disciplines.

Other members of the search committee are Janet Foy, chairperson of the High Performance Dressage Committee; Catherine Haddad-Staller and Susan Dutta, members of the committeee; Anne Kursinski a veteran Olympic jumper rider and David O’Connor, former president of the USEF and Olympic gold medalist in eventing.

In addition to a transparent application process, Eric Straus arranged open forums at major competitions where applicants for the eventing and jumping positions presented their positions and were subjected to questions.

The job requirements for the dressage coach were drawn up by the High Performance Deessage Committee and the possibility of open forums was not addressed.

The U.S. High Performance Committee in seeking a replacement for Anne required the coach to be based in the United States, though that does not exclude foreign trainers who could base themselves in America.

The committee also placed emphasis on management of prospective American team combinations being trained by their own coaches and supported by their own infrastructure. The Technical Advisor would be an advisor and manager of schedules.

This stemmed from some riders who were members of or sought a place on the U.S. team for the Olympics in London last summer complaining at a summit in Houston, Texas last fall that they objected to the structure imposed in preparation for last year’s Olypmics that they said restricted the input of personal coaches.

Among the issues were several weeks of closed training sessions in the United States followed by weeks in England ahead of the Games. There was no U.S. team or individual appearances in Europe in 2012 to make the team competition sharp as well as insuring judges were familiar with U.S. Olympic combinations.

The chef d’equipe position was separate from coach and was filled by Eva Salomon, the former International Equestrian Federation (FEI) Dressage Director. Eva was also the USEF Dressage Managing Director, ultimately responsible for both national and high performance elements of the sport.

“Accountability with no responsibility,” was the way one prospective candidate put it. “If I was appointed I have no control over training, coaching or even the competition schedule. Each rider with their own coach would make those decisions; I have no control over it except to stand on the sidelines and offer advice.

“Who’s going to get the blame if it we don’t win a medal? The team coach, not the individual coaches.”

The Technical Advsior–a title that allows the U.S. Olympic Committee to fund the position–is the leader of high performance dressage in the United States. Anne Gribbons used the position to build a structure of coaches in youth riders, young horses, under-25 division and developing Grand Prix as a pipleline to future high performance teams.

Meantime, however, dressage riders considering applying to compete on two tours of European shows this summer lament the act that they have no high performance coach or chef d’equipe to consult.