Robert Dover’s Autobiography “The Gates to Brilliance”–How a Gay, Jewish, Middle Class Kid Who Loved Horses Found Success
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Oct. 29, 2021
By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
Robert Dover’s autobiography “The Gates to Brilliance” is an intimate look at his life, aptly described on the cover as How a Gay, Jewish, Middle Class Kid Who Loved Horses Found Success. Success he had, six Olympics for four medals and a host of other awards over a career with horses of almost six decades.
It seems Robert wanted to tell the story of his life beyond the highs and heartbreaks centered on the 20-meter by 60-meter dressage arena that shaped him for what, in retrospect, became his greatest contribution to American dressage.
After retiring from competition following four straight Olympics in which he was on the team that captured bronze medals, the U.S. effort faltered. After the 2008 Games he sought the job of team coach. Preparation of a detailed pathway to renewing and rebuilding the dressage program, and a drive, energy and obsession with detail for which he was legendary were not enough to overcome opposition that ignored officially declared procedures without a peep from the federation and passed him by. Canada instead appointed him its coach,
When the U.S. in 2012 again did not produce a medal, he was appointed to fulfill the role he spent his life preparing. As such, I found the total lack of detail about becoming coach–officially called Technical Advisor–of the United States dressage team surprising.
He presents his opinions on his life, both political and personal, with clarity and conviction. His tales of his active gay life outside the dressage arena leaving little to the imagination. It is at times confronting but we understand what led him, at the height of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, to create the Equestrian AIDS Foundation to provide much-needed financial assistance and hope to victims and why he felt he needed reconstructive surgery to fix what he thought was a nose too large, a chin too small.
Given the life he has led, it is no shock there is much name-dropping of the rich and famous, some of whom bought the horses that took him to the six Olympics for the United States. Robert is also not shy about detailing many other wealthy celebrities with whom he consorted as well as a tempestuous financial career that enabled him to buy several homes including in the summer getaway communities in the Hamptons. The loss of millions of dollars in a Ponzi scheme operated by Joe Zada, is covered in detail.
Although he is sensitive to being gay in the 1980s, he makes it clear that his family, his parents, particularly his mother, were supportive throughout. When he married fellow equestrian Robert Ross in the New York area, family and friends on the West Coast wanted to celebrate, too, and they did so with another ceremony in California.
Robert rebuilt the training and development programs and personally launched hugely successful fund-raising efforts to send more Americans to Europe. He instilled such strong team spirit that riders from other nations at European competitions often told this correspondent they were envious. This reader would have enjoyed to read more detailing of this chapter of his life. He also had the great fortune to develop an incredibly successful professional relationship with Debbie McDonald who, as the personal coach of Laura Graves, Adrienne Lyle and Kasey Perry-Glass, along with Steffen Peters and Allison Brock first put America back on the Olympic medals podium in 2016. Silver came for the U.S. team at the 2018 World Equestrian Games. To read about this symbiotic relationship that led to such U.S. team success was a highlight.
In short, the reader gains an insight into how Robert came to understand the inner-workings of the sport of dressage, beyond simply competing and leaves us with absolutely no doubt about the importance to him of embracing a lifestyle that is unapologetically gay. Some parts were tough to read, but we have no doubt that this is Robert Dover’s autobiography.
Robert Dover “The Gates to Brilliance”–296 pages. $24.95 www.horseandriderbooks.com 800.423.4525.