As is customary whenever I find I’ve got under people’s skin, today’s blog is dedicated to rebutting the rebuttals left on last week’s post. First of all, I have to once again say that knowing such important people as the EC Prez read my blog tickles me beyond pink. I feel it is only appropriate that I give Mike Gallagher my fullest attention in responding to his response, since clearly he put a good deal of thought into what he wrote.  And since he addressed me directly in his comment, I shall do the same.

Hi Mike. I’m not sure why you stand so steadfastly behind your argument that the FEI’s proposed Olympic qualifications are ‘far more significant’ for dressage than for eventing. The changes for both disciplines propose the dropping of one of the two spots given out to the top finishers at the Pan Am Games. Both propose that the team spot taken away from the Pan Ams be given instead to an additional WEG qualification, so that the top six in Eventing (up from five) and the top four in dressage (up from three) get a ticket to Rio.  And I’m really puzzled about your use of the false premise that ‘based on current world rankings’ our dressage team wouldn’t make the cut but the eventers would. First of all, I’m not aware of any team world rankings, just the FEI’s individual world dressage and eventing rankings. I’m going to assume that is the ranking you are referring to in the absence of knowledge of any other world ranking system. But the eventing ranking is not really any kind of indicator of how good countries are, since it is based on riders with ALL their horses, which in some cases (especially Brits and Kiwis) is quite a few. Let’s take the current leader, Andrew Nicholson, as an example. According to his detailed results on the ranking list, in the past three months he has accumulated ranking points on THIRTEEN horses, seven of which are four star mounts. The ranking list is, by design, an instrument that rewards riders who go to more FEI sanctioned events, which by necessity means they have more horses than those who have, say, one – such as 94th ranked Rebecca Howard. But let’s set aside the apropos-ness of using the ranking list as a gauge of team potency. Let’s pretend it’s a valid way to measure our future WEG team against the world. If you take the top three riders of each nationality and add their scores together, Canada sits tenth. That’s some distance south of the top six, wouldn’t you agree?

Now, the dressage rankings are bit more ‘real’, since they are per combination, and not per rider – though you do get a strange hypothetical team for Austria since three of the top four Austrians on the list are Victoria Max-Theurer on three horses. Canada’s dressage ‘team’, taking the top three in the rankings, is in ninth place (and no, I did not count Austria as being ahead of Canada), one spot better than the eventers. That doesn’t even include Ashley Holzer and Breaking Dawn, who have been to only one CDI since London, and are ranked 103rd.

Contrary to your claim that the world rankings show our eventers to be a shoo-in to qualify at WEG and the dressagers to be a shoo-out, the facts indicate otherwise – based on the actual facts that fail to support your argument. Do I think our eventers could easily finish in the top six in Normandy? Absolutely. Do I think our dressage team will be in the top four? Absolutely not. The biggest peril for our dressage team is, ironically, the current weakness of the Americans. If the US was likely to get a top four spot at WEG (which it isn’t) Canada could breath a sigh of relief and realistically expect to scoop the only Rio qualification to be handed out in Toronto.

The problem for the eventers is they are so thinly horsed. One four star horse per rider and only a handful of them gives no wiggle room in the most elimination- and injury-prone of the disciplines. Just look at the ‘last man standing’ selection and subsequent results of the London team one year ago. But you know what, Mike? There is one valid argument you didn’t mention, even though it’s probably the one that most supports your claim that the eventers are in better shape than the dressagers. The American eventers do stand a good chance – a really quite good chance – of finishing in the top six in Normandy. And if that happens, Canada’s eventing team is almost certainly good to go to Rio, with either a top six WEG qualification of its own – or the only Pan Am one.

Perhaps the weakest part of your entire statement was the last sentence, in which you told me that I ‘avoid’ positive news. That claim is as untrue as my final Bromont post from the previous week. I wonder – do you ever peek inside Horse Sport magazine, in which I more than occasionally write something positive? In fact, just last week I sent in my At Issue column for the August issue which details how EC is stepping up to do its part in managing our germy world with EHV-1 in it. The article includes some in depth quotes from the CEO your ERRR Committee recently hired, as well as a considerable contribution from the co-chair of EC’s Health and Welfare Committee, Dr. Mary Bell. I can’t say that the article is 100% positive, since it’s about a disease that scares the be-jesus out of me as a horse owner. But I can say that 100% of the content regarding EC is of the two-thumbs-up variety. Why don’t you tell me a bit about Canada’s ‘leadership role’ in fighting the FEI changes? I’d love to write about it, but I haven’t seen anything official since the ‘grave concern’ press release of March 28th.

And now, for a much shorter reply to Karin, who thinks I was making mountains out of molehills, IHO. I heartily disagree, Karin. The failings of EC’s M&C dept. are something I’ve been chronicling, not just last week or last month, but for YEARS. It’s not getting better; in fact, just the opposite is the case, and that’s why I cut them not one bit of slack for their ineptitude. The funny thing about the last sentence in your comment  is that it completely contradicts your earlier statement about being on EC’s side, and beautifully encapsulates the very point I was making: ‘They should leave the news gathering, interviews and publishing to the pros, save some valuable member dollars and stick to managing the sport and the athletes.’ Yes, exactly.  And you know what else? Over the years I have, on a contractual basis, written press releases for EC, articles for all three print or electronic EC discipline newsletters, and even written articles for EC’s official publication. Clearly EC has done some heavy flirting with the idea of hiring out the wordsmithing, but it somehow just didn’t stick.

Finally, one last comment on a comment left on my previous blog, in which Katelyn expressed eager anticipation at hearing my thoughts on the Canadian Dressage Team WEG criteria, which were finally-ized and published last week. Sorry to disappoint, Katelyn, but I don’t have that much to say. I know the criteria went through five drafts and that it was not an easy child to put to bed. I also know that when draft four of the criteria was shared with athletes, there was considerable unhappiness about that draft’s subjective elements, even though some of those athletes specifically asked for a subjective element that would eliminate the need to over-show and ‘chase scores’ at a meeting at the Royal last November. In the end, the criteria committee honoured the riders’ newest requests and removed the European selection trials, as well as the subjectivity, from the criteria. That is, except for the fairly meaningful fact that unless four riders make the 70% score threshold there will be a discretionary decision about sending a team at all….oh and another little clause that gives the selectors the right to choose someone who didn’t meet the criteria for a vague list of reasons (injury, new horse etc), all as long as they had two scores that average 70%.

I do find it curious that the press release announcing the criteria, and another release about DC appointing Desi Dillingham a ‘special advisor’, both contain quotes from Jean-Christophe Gandubert, the new EC CEO, and not a peep from any DC committee members (and am I the only fuddy-duddy who thinks it’s just a little bit crass to refer to ‘Dillingham’s wealth’, even if it was expressed by a dangling modifier?).

But back to the criteria, about which I guess I did have a bit to say after all.  I don’t envy anyone who has to create criteria for the Canadian Dressage Team. History paints a darkly hued picture of a minefield riddled with athlete disputes and intervention from Canada’s national sport dispute resolution agency. It’s always going to be a tale of not being able to please all of the people all of the time. Is 70% a high bench mark for this moment in Canadian dressage’s history? Yes, of course it is. But is it unreasonable, in the current climate of never-before-seen scores, with riders from all over the world leaping over the 70% mark as if it were a crack in the sidewalk? Not at all. I think the people who had a hand in this final draft did their darndest to balance giving the riders – and team – a chance, while also making a realistic assessment of how strong Canada has to be in order to justify the cost (to the federation, to owners and to the athletes themselves) of going to Normandy. The resulting document is a bit complicated and has quite a few ‘ifs’, but I believe it’s a significant improvement on the previous draft. I also believe Canada can send a team to Normandy with these criteria, partly because there is room to send a team that almost, but doesn’t quite, reach the threshold of 70% across the board.

Happy Canada Day everyone, and for you American readers, Happy Fourth of July.