I was very lucky to be able to attend Bramham this year while Leslie was there coaching two of his American Emerging Athletes who had received the Karen Stives grant. The grant allows them to travel to the UK for a period of time, attend the Nations Cup at Houghton Hall and then carry on to Bramham for the three-star, which showcases a very prestigious U25 division. I must say I was totally blown away by the level of riding and the quality of horses in this division and the standard of the programs that are helping to create these horse and rider teams. Every day of the event something like a Sprinter would arrive to the show and much like a clown car of old, out would spill French youth upon youth and they were a force to be reckoned with, with three in the top nine. We all know the French High Performance Eventing Team has been doing some serious winning as of late and it appears that they have some serious young people channeled to come up in the future. I heard snippets about the program they have created for their emerging athletes and it would blow you away.
The Brits finished up first through third. When I last looked online at their eventing programs it was amazing to read about their initiatives which started way down identifying kids at training level and having programs for them with regular training sessions in all eight regions!
On the American eventing side, their program is still pretty much in its infancy but starting to mold and shape into something more concrete and better every year. I am amazed to see that although there are still revisions that need to be made so that the base level of program participants become a smaller more definite group, the cream is rising to the top. Results include: three in the top at Fairhill last year, one finishing very well at Rolex this year, one participating in a successful Nations Cup abroad this year, and another just having finished second and third at Young Riders.
Now, do I think that all of those results are contributed directly to Leslie or the program? No, of course not; it is their coaches at home, their parents, or whomever financially aids them, the horses they are sat on, the rider’s themselves AND the program that creates the success. That success in turn will create a future for their country’s sport and breed legitimacy into those programs, which will in turn create more funding, more support and the cycle will go on and on and get stronger, better and create results.
When I got on the plane home, having watched a great weekend of sport with not just the under 25s, but also many of the world’s best high performance riders competing there, I was at once simultaneously filled with inspiration to return home and work harder and smarter on my three very nice young horses, and also depression. Sadly, as a Canadian, our country has pretty much zero in the way of programs for either youth or high performance and no clear vision for the future, let alone a pathway to get there.
The budget for the entirety of Canadian Eventing right now is tiny. I would assume smaller than most of the aforementioned countries under 25 budgets if you take into account coaching, travel, grants, support staff, etc. for their under 25 riders. We have taken a small portion of that budget and allotted it to David O’Connor to try his best to get us through the WEGs next year, and the rest of it is getting taken up by what I will refer to as “essential stuff” and Equiratings. I think in light of the tiny purse we were dealt, the hiring of David to get us through WEG was probably the smartest thing that could be done as I am certainly a believer in David’s talents and aside from that, he is familiar with most of our riders that will hopefully be there next year. BUT, here we are again, reaching for the pail of “Stay Afloat,” to patch a hole which is our need for manager/coach for the WEGs, but then what?
The WEGs, in my opinion, are pretty much a done deal. The horses we will use for them are already under our riders. They need help to get through the WEGs, but for the most part, their ability to succeed or not, and how successful they will be, is already a “recipe complete,” aside from the fine tuning that David can do in the two or three times he sees them before then and, of course, ruling out the factor of luck. Yes, of course, I have faith in our riders and that they will do their upmost to improve on where they are today, but what I mean is that a horse currently averaging 60 in dressage, or 8 in show jumping, is not going to be turning into a 37 dressage or clear show jumping before the WEGs.
So, I asked a few of the people that I would consider “higher ups” in Canadian Eventing what their plan was for the Pan Ams and I was met with either blank stares if I was speaking to them face to face, or radio silence if I was on the phone. Pan Ams? Well, we haven’t thought about that yet.
This is the point at which pure despair sets in. But you see, before you all go raising up your pitchforks, it is no one’s fault in Eventing (Canada) that the above is true. If anything, I am most at fault for asking such a ridiculous question as how can anyone worry about the Pan Ams when we don’t have the programs or the money to have anything more than a tar patch for the WEGs. It’s like asking someone on welfare who is restricted to food stamps how they could be so fiscally irresponsible and didn’t they know that they should really move their family out of their one bedroom government assisted project housing in the slum and into a nice three bedroom, two bath in the country where their children had a much better chance of a future?
But yet, we need to do something?! But what? You see the Pan Ams may be the most important thing for us if we hope to have a chance of going to the next Olympics and I assume that yes we still want an Olympic team, don’t we? Or have we gone so far as to not care about that anymore as a country? I give us a 50/50 chance at gaining an Olympic berth at the WEGs. That is me probably being optimistic. Without that, we may need to win gold at the Pan Ams in order to get an invitation to Olympics. Now that, too, is probably out of reach but maybe, just maybe, not. But what I do know is that to attain that we need to start working now because it is one hell of an undertaking and “hell of undertakings” take a LONG time to work on and build to.
Horse/rider combinations should be getting identified now, there are probably if I guessed 15 at max that exist that you could squint your eyes at and hope could get the results that will be required to attain gold status at the Pan Ams. Then those 15 need to be scrutinized all to hell and probably four or five you will find are not really candidates and then the other need to be cultivated, monitored, assisted, criticized, held up to very high standards but at the same time groomed and encouraged to be the ones for the Pan Ams. But, alas, we don’t think past our next meal, past our next welfare check.
I have no one to complain about; not on person. People like to complain. People love to get on Facebook pages and rant about things. But which volunteer do you think I should call up and blame for the lack of money in our eventing budget? Sadly, money creates programs, it buys coaches, it buys opportunities. Opportunities and programs and coaches that then lend legitimacy and prestige to those riders whom are good enough to get chosen to participate. That prestige will, in turn, bring them more owners and more opportunities which will make them more successful and as the saying goes; success breeds success.
But we have none of that. So, we grab the tar paper and patch and patch again. We feel good for a moment about our patch job. We’ve stopped the leak for now! We have David as a manager! Thanks be to God! And we all smile and pat ourselves on the back. But what we forget is that after WEGs, good or bad, another day will come and we will be right back to square one with another hole being the Pan Am’. And that hole will be very big as we will spend the next year putting our heads in the sand and pretending that the Pan Ams ain’t coming and so opportunities to identify and support will have been lost. I have no doubt once again we will reach out for the “Stay Afloat” and come up with some other “solution,” But what we forget is that when we sit back and smile at the amazing patch job we have done, and pat ourselves on the back for hiring a very good coach for a very finite job and a very short time, we forget that with every patch we seal, the integrity of the entire structure is getting weaker and weaker.
A solution? That’s easy. Money. Our Eventing budget should be somewhere in the $200,000 realm with an added $50,000 in private grants should we every get combinations valid enough to send aboard. $200,000 if we want to have a good coach/manager, proper programs and opportunities for our riders both High Performance and Developing. How we do this? Not so easy, I guess, otherwise I’d hope those currently involved would have done a better job. I gather no one at EC is charge of raising funds for the disciplines. If they are, they are doing a terrible job of it, so I am assuming it is the role of the disciplines to raise the money for their own budgets. So right, now what? Can we find someone out there who has a passion for what we do and the skill set to fundraise and find corporate sponsors? As EC continues to restructure our committees and groups, I do hope they are trying to find at least one person to join on that is minded in this fiscal way.
I think this is what we as Canadian eventers, both riders and those that love eventing, need to be talking about and thinking about right now as there are only so many more holes our boat can take.