Live from Omaha!

Live from Omaha!
On the scene at the 2017 FEI World Cup Dressage Final

Friday, December 5, 2014

Let Them Eat Cake

Celebrating the USDF Instructor/Trainer Program's 25th anniversary. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
Unlike with Marie Antoinette, this time the invitation was a welcome one. The occasion: the USDF Instructor/Trainer Program's 25th anniversary. Adequan/USDF Annual Convention attendees, and especially members of USDF's Board of Governors, enjoyed slices of delicious cake during a break in day 1 of the BOG's annual assembly.
Cake wars: USDF members vied for the best angle to photograph the anniversary creation. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

In truth, the break was hardly needed. Once a notoriously contentious governance marathon, the BOG assembly is on track to break speed records for the second year in a row. Today's agenda -- which included reports from USDF's president and executive director, a budget report, and talks by various United States Equestrian Federation officials -- wrapped half an hour early. It left plenty of time for the eagerly anticipated drawings for those most cherished of door prizes, the traditional gift baskets donated by USDF's group-member organizations.
The 2014 USDF Board of Governors assembly. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
Beautiful baskets, many displaying state or regional pride, are a cherished BOG tradition. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

The reports and addresses were universally upbeat. According to USDF treasurer Steve Schubert, the USDF is in the black and has been pronounced squeaky-clean by its independent auditing firm. In its second year of existence, the US Dressage Finals attracted 100 more horses than the 2013 edition and are in the black, according to Janine Malone, who chaired the national championships' organizing committee. USDF member and horse-registration numbers are healthy, although some GMOs have seen attrition, a concern addressed in the morning's GMO roundtable discussions, in some committee meetings, and in USDF executive director Stephan Hienzsch's BOG report.
GMO representatives share challenges and solutions at the popular GMO roundtable discussions, Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

The USEF reports were practically fountains of delight. No one can compete with national dressage chef d'equipe and technical advisor Robert Dover when it comes to optimism. Referring to the USEF-USDF relationship, Dover said, "We are putting together a true machine that works together at every single level, from the littlest kids to the highest level." Make no mistake: This man is going to get US dressage riders on the medal podiums or die trying. My own money's on the former.

We heard from USEF president Chrystine Tauber, who praised the USDF's efforts in creating the US Dressage Finals and promised continued support for dressage. Some of that support will assuredly come in the stout, genial form of Will Connell, whom the USEF lured across the pond from the British Equestrian Federation to become its director of sport.

Connell had the BOG delegates laughing at his tales of his days as commander of the King's Troop in the Royal Army, and later as a new employee at the BEF, working to transform a "dysfunctional" British team into the world-beaters they proved to be at the 2012 London Olympics. (In Athens 2004, Connell said, he found Carl Hester in the arena the night before the Grand Prix Freestyle, frantically trying to learn teammate Richard Davison's freestyle. Hester figured his chances of qualifying were so poor he hadn't bothered to create his own freestyle, Connell said.)

Under that pleasant exterior and the hello-old-chap stuff must beat the heart of a ferocious go-getter, however. Most sources give Connell the credit for turning around Team GB's equestrian fortunes, and it's clear the USEF wanted him badly. It will be very interesting to see what Connell does with what he's calling Operation Tokyo, the reference being to the 2020 summer Olympic Games.

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