2018 was notably calmer in Canadian equestrian sport politics thanks to the election of a new board in 2017 and the celebrated departure of former CEO Eva Havaris. The new board has been credited with working very long hours to correct some of the issues created by the previous group. Equestrian Canada (EC) also welcomed its new CEO, Richard Mongeau, who worked at the Quebec Federation (Cheval Québec) for over 30 years. In a recent interview with Horse Sport magazine, Mongeau answered questions about how EC is functioning and what new initiatives are being planned.
One of the biggest obstacles that greeted the new board on their arrival was the disastrous state of EC’s finances. For a crash course, you can read this, this, this and this article, but in a nutshell, regular financial reports have not been provided to the board, disciplines, or committees for over a year. The major stumbling block was the decision to transition from an outdated accounting system to a very advanced one. In addition to being expensive and complicated, it was also hard to find staff that were trained in the program, all of which led the new board to cancel the initiative. The decision cost EC $128,523 in cancelled contracts and an unclear (although likely much higher) amount in previous expenditures, but the long-term savings are thought to be worth the expense. Instead, the board opted to transition to QuickBooks, which is a commonly-used accounting software that could be implemented relatively quickly so EC’s management could get a clear understanding of its financial position.
Financial reports are now being generated, although Mongeau admits they aren’t coming regularly enough and still aren’t totally accurate.
“I’m not satisfied with what we are currently doing,” he explained. “I’m extremely confident that the general reports are accurate, but the reporting and tools that the disciplines and board need are not up to expectations at this time.” Staff turnover is partially to blame, but the new Director of Finance, John Wightman, is working to resolve the issues and Mongeau expects that most everything will be resolved by the end of February.
For many years, several provinces have been dissatisfied with the programs that they receive from EC and consequently refused to sign an agreement with the national federation. After negotiating new terms, however, last year all provinces agreed to sign a two-year Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).
Previously, the provinces paid EC a lump sum of money to deliver a number of services, but the provinces were not satisfied with the services being delivered, if they were at all. To rectify this, the new agreement outlines specific programs that EC and the Provincial and Territorial Sports Organizations (PTSOs) will work on collectively to revise or redevelop with the money that is going to EC from the PTSO’s.
Of particular concern for the provinces was the lack of an up-to-date, comprehensive national rider level program. While EC gets sport funding to deliver national sport initiatives at the Young Rider and High Performance level, it is the provinces that are tasked with developing the sports up to that point. In fact, the provinces get much of their funding from provincial government sport organizations to whom they are accountable for delivering those services. However, since EC has failed to provide a national strategy for developing riders, the provinces have been unable to deliver the necessary services.
As part of their new MOU, EC accepted a proposal, called Canadian Equestrian Development (CED), that was created, presented, and led by the provinces to update both the coaching and developing rider pathway.
The coaching aspect of CED involves updating the database files and streamlining the system that keeps track of coaching records. Currently, the same information is being manually entered in multiple databases, but when the update is complete in mid-2019, the provincial databases will be linked with EC’s and also the Coaching Association of Canada.
The provinces are also leading the charge to update the Learn to Ride program which is closely linked with the Coaching program. A consultant has been hired to work on the re-development of both programs at the same time. Interviews and meetings are underway and by April 2020, the consultant will outline what an updated coaching and Learn to Ride program would look like. The details of how those plans would be implemented, however, would come in a second phase of the project.
National athletes have long bemoaned the lack of a strategic plan for High Performance riders. Such plans should include annual, bi-annual, and quadrennial targets so that athletes can set their training regimens and competition schedules. They are the only way sport federations are able to identify, nurture, and support athletes to achieve success on the international stage. International performance is especially important, as those results dictate how much funding national sport federations receive from Canada’s Own The Podium program, which supports Canada’s national athletes. EC enjoyed $4.3 million in funding for the London quadrennial, but that has dropped to $300,000 for Tokyo, and after a dismal performance at WEG without a single medal it may well sink further.
To develop such plans, EC created the role of Director of Sport in 2016 and hired Jon Garner. Garner worked with a consultant for several months to conduct a High Performance Review which was presented at the 2017 EC conference. One year later, however, none of the nine key recommendations have been implemented.
“There is no quad plan yet,” said Mongeau. “The high performance plan presented in 2017 has yet to be translated into a proper operational plan.” As none of Canada’s teams qualified for the next Olympics at WEG Tryon, Mongeau points out that the immediate focus is on developing a plan for the Pan Ams next year in Lima, Peru, which is the last chance Canada has to earn a team spot for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
Mongeau acknowledges that EC should have done more to develop an operational plan by now, but that it will be a priority come January. He anticipates that a quad program will be in place for all Olympic disciplines mid-2019, but admits that the rest of the disciplines have been underserviced by EC to date.
“Before we get into planning for those groups (i.e. the non-Olympic disciplines) there are some more basic services, such as finances, that we need to deliver before we think about a high performance plan.”
EC has been plagued with governance issues since the introduction of the new by-laws in 2015. Under the new structure, EC members lost their ability vote and instead just 27 people divided into three “Categories” representing sport, provinces, and breeds and industry were tasked with representing all 90,000 participants. The new format has been an epic disaster on all levels since its introduction and has caused mass confusion over duties, responsibilities, and communication. Although there has been some improvement over time, the structure remains deficient.
With eyes open to these challenges, the chair of EC’s governance committee, Charles Cue, promised at the spring 2018 EC convention to deliver a new vision for EC’s structure in six months. While nothing has been finalized yet, Mongeau noted that a proposal for a revised governance manual was recently submitted to the board for review.
Although he was unable to comment on the contents, Mongeau did say: “I can’t foresee the status quo as an option. The board wants to review how we work (the Terms of Reference) to better engage members to make sure we have more effective communication and dialogue.”
As evidence of this commitment to transparency, the board has been regularly posting complete and detailed board meeting minutes on the EC website since they were installed in 2017. The previous management and board had been criticized for not providing much detail. Mongeau also noted that posting the minutes from Category meetings and Operational Committees is even being considered, “There is no holding back at the board level of having minutes available to the community. They feel strongly that they are out promptly.”
In addition to the major CED plan that will shape the future of equestrian sport in Canada, Mongeau pointed out a few other important initiatives in the works:
1. EC’s board took it upon themselves to create a revised the Strategic Initiative Plan for the organization that looks at governance and human resources. The board presented the plan to the discipline committees and invited a representative from Own the Podium to attend who was very complimentary. Mongeau wasn’t able to share any more but promised an exciting reveal early in 2019.
2. A new membership platform is being developed that will include a portal for participants, horses, and coaches. In addition, the system will eventually be able to capture horse show results which will make it possible for EC to finally be able to track national standings in different divisions. Mongeau expects the new platform to launch mid-2019 and will include the members, horse recordings, and coaching portions. The results section will be added in 2020 starting with a few gold competitions and expanding over time.
3. A review of competition is also underway, led by the Competitions Structural Alignment Committee (CSAC). The number of competitors in certain types of sports has been declining in Canada and other countries around the world, including the US. The group is going to analyze this trend and try to determine what the future of the sport is going to look like and how best to shape EC to serve that future reality. It’s an ambitious task and the first phase of fact gathering is set to start in the new year.
While progress is slow, EC appears to be on the right path.The board has identified several key areas of concern, set some ambitious goals, and are demonstrating the tremendous dedication that will be required to see it all through. Happily, they are on the verge of possibly doing great things for the sport, but as they still fail to meet the needs of the athletes they are meant to serve their overall score is just “satisfactory.”