George Williams is Go-To Guy to Oversee American Dressage

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Rocher with George Williams aboard bowing out of competition in 2009. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Dec. 17, 2021

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

George Williams has become the go-to guy to oversee pretty much all of American dressage as the newly appointed US Equestrian’s High Performance & Pathway Development Advisor at the heart of Olympic and international sport just a couple of weeks after being drafted to head up the grassroots U.S. Dressage Federation for an unprecedented fourth term.

At the age of 66, George’s competition experience includes competing for the U.S. at an open European Championships almost a decade ago. As USDF president he brought to reality his dream of creating dressage Finals that brings together amateurs and professionals in annual national championships. He was selected to become one of six members of the European-dominated International Equestrian Federation (FEI) Dressage Committee. And as US youth coach in recent years has been expanded to include team competitions in Europe.

The appointment to his latest position was created by the US federation instead of naming a team coach to succeed Debbie McDonald whose contract was not renewed. Her career was one of America’s most successful–Olympic and world championship medalist as well as the first American to earn the World Cup title on Brentina. Then an official coach that included working with Robert Dover for the World Equestrian Games team silver in 2018 and as coach of the American squad that captured an historic team silver at the Tokyo Olympics in July this year.

George’s personality is low key but those who have worked with him on various committees describe him as well prepared, thoughtful and focused on seeking to advance dressage despite differences.

The highlight of his competition career was with Rocher, the Westfalen mare adored by fans for her big floppy ears. European success included Nations Cup team bronze at the World Equestrian Festival in Aachen, Germany in 2005 as well as the World Cup Final and in the open Europeans in 2003.

Kerrigan Gluch, Lauren Asher and Barbara “Bebe” Davis with US Youth Coach George Williams in Europe.

He was elected USDF  president in 2010 but gave up the position in 2018. As well as being elected to the FEI Dressage Committee in 2016 he was also a member of the U.S. Equestrian Federation board of directors.

Late this year, he was drafted for an unprecedented fourth term as USDF president.

The new role of High Performance & Pathway Development Advisor comes after more than 15 years of the program essentially directed by the so-called Technical Advisor–more popularly called team coach.

Germany’s Olympic gold medalist rider Klaus Balkenhol was first in the lineup in this period through 2008 when the U.S. Olympic team was disqualified. Anne Gribbons followed and America placed sixth at the 2012 Games. Robert Dover took over and, with Debbie McDonald as assistant as coach of several individuals ,the U.S. took bronze at the 2016 Rio Olympics and silver at the 2018 World Equestrian Games. Debbie coached the historic silver medal team at the Tokyo Olympics this summer.

George was talking more than a decade ago of what foreshadowed what has now come to pass.

Following meetings at the time, he told dressage-news.com then, “What was important was to listen to the athletes, to hear their thoughts.

“The main thrust of what we heard, first back in 2004 at Chicago and more strongly in 2012 (in Houston) was that most of the riders have personal trainers and coaches and they want to be sure those relationships are maintained.

“The message of the importance of personal trainers has come through loud and clear.”

One issue with individual trainers, he said then, was the difficulty in obtaining credentials from the International Olympic Committee for more individual coaches. Some nations met the challenge by assigning credentials to coaches rather than support staff.

A disadvantage for the United States, he said, was that a significant portion of money raised for dressage goes to transporting horses and humans across the Atlantic. Unlike many countries at the top of equestrian sport, there is no government or lottery funding in the United States.

The center of American dressage swerved to Florida with development of the winter-long Global Dressage Festival in Wellington beginning in 2011.

In addition to being team coach, the Wellington-based Robert Dover successfully led major efforts to raise funds to send high performance and youth teams to Europe.

The Florida circuit, George said then, was “a huge step in the right direction.”

However, Robert Dover is no longer involved in raising much needed money for the USEF’s ambitious programs.

At the same time, as the USEF has embarked on a new high performance format it has created an issue for itself over funding.

By refusing to approve international dressage competitions at the increasingly popular and spectacular World Equestrian Center just a 3 1/2 hour drive from Wellington over an issue unrelated to dressage, at least one major sponsor is withholding significant financial support unless CDIs are placed on the calendar for 2022.

The punitive actions by the USEF do not appear to be working even for jumpers that are the target.

Some of the top jumper riders on the U.S. circuit are competing at the WEC shows approved by the National Snaffle Bit Association and not the USEF.

The same day the new dressage structure was announced, WEC reported that some of the world’s top jumper course designers who have Olympics on their resumes will be setting the courses at the Ocala winter circuit approved by the NSBA.