Monday, March 21, 2011

International Vision | 3/21/11

Sharing the Passion for Spanish Horses 

By Pam Gleason, Photography By Gary Knoll 

A little over two years ago, Miguel Coves and Dorothea Darden of Coves-Darden Farm imported over 60 horses from Spain to establish their base of operations in the United States. Coves-Darden Farm, on Route 4 some 20 minutes east of Aiken, is a breeding and training facility for Andalusian horses, known as P.R.E. (Pura Raza Española) horses in Spanish speaking countries. Today it is home to more than 80 horses coming from some of the top bloodlines in Spain. It is also on its way to becoming an important center for the Spanish breed in this country, creating new connections between breeders in the U.S. and those in Spain, and helping to establish a show circuit and national championships in the United States that are fully approved by the Asociación Nacional de Criadores de Caballos Españolos (ANCCE), the official Spanish registry for the purebred horse.

 One new project that Miguel and Dorothea have been working on is a series of shows in the United States for P.R.E. horses. In collaboration with the ANCCE, they are organizing four shows in 2011. These shows form a recognized series called the Interstates P.R.E. of the United States, or I.S. P.R.E. USA. The I.S. P.RE. USA consists of three regional shows culminating in the national championships in November. The first of these shows will be held at Coves Darden Farm from March 4 through 6. It will include a full roster of conformation classes for fillies, colts, stallions and mares. There will also be a class for geldings and two "cobra" classes in which groups of three or five mares are presented together. The show also has "functionality tests" which are essentially dressage classes. Entries close on February 24.

 Judges and officials will be flying in from Spain to ensure that the horses are assessed according to authentic Spanish criteria. There will also be several prominent representatives from Spain on hand, including Javier Conde who is the current president of the ANCCE. Miguel Coves and Dorothea Darden are also planning to make the show a sort of mini festival of the Spanish horse, with the goal of introducing new people to the breed, and giving Americans a taste of Spanish equestrian culture. Future shows in the series will be held in Texas in June and in California in September. The finals will be in Texas in November.
The I.S.P.R.E. USA represents a major step forward in the recognition of the Spanish horse in America. The program was unveiled last November in Seville at the SICAB (Salon Internacional de Caballo), which is the annual international show and trade show for P.R.E. horses and is the largest gathering of Spanish horses in the world.

 "I hope that all the people in this country who have Spanish horses will be able to compete in the shows," says Miguel. "To breed and to raise horses is hard work. When you have a good horse, and you take him to a conformation show and win awards, then the value of that horse and of his sons and daughters goes up. It is important for the fame of the horse, as well as for the breeder. Every breeder should be proud of what he has in the barn."

 Although the creation of the ISPRE USA is a major accomplishment, Miguel and Dorothea have even bigger plans for the future of the Spanish horse in this country. They are working on establishing a tribunal reproductores calificados (TRC) in America. At a TRC, registered Spanish horses are evaluated on the basis of their conformation, movement, temperament and breeding soundness. The best horses may be approved as "calificado" or "elite." Currently, the only place for a horse to be examined and awarded these designations is in Spain. If fully sanctioned TRCs come to the United States, it will help American breeders uphold the highest standards of the P.R.E., improving the breed in America and helping to popularize the Spanish horse around the country.

 The Coves-Darden initiatives could not come at a better time for Spanish horses. Although there are still fewer than 5,000 P.R.E. horses in this country, interest in the breed is growing. This growth was greatly accelerated recently at the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky, where Juan Muñoz Diaz and the P.R.E. horse Fuego XII were the runaway crowd favorites in the dressage competitions. Fuego XII, a 13-year-old grey stallion, brought many in the audience to tears with his expressive and joyful performance. Many people who watched him were convinced that their next horse should be a P.R.E. Now that the ANCCE is establishing stronger ties in the United States, Spanish horses of the highest quality may soon be more readily available in this country. For Dorothea Darden and Miguel Coves, that is a very good thing. It will mean that their mission to promote and popularize the Spanish horse in America is a success.

This article is copyrighted and first appeared in The Aiken Horse. It is reprinted here by permission.

Monday, March 14, 2011

New Chef d'Equipe For Eventing | 3/14/11

Top Applicants Vie for Job 

By Pam Gleason, Photography By Gary Knoll 

Just over a year ago, Captain Mark Phillips announced that he would be retiring from his position as chef d'équipe of the United States eventing team at the end of 2012. Captain Phillips has held that title since 1993. Under his tenure, U.S. riders have won 23 team and individual medals in international competition. These medals include one Olympic team silver (1996, Atlanta) two team bronzes (2000, Sydney and 2004, Athens) as well as one individual gold (David O'Connor on Custom Made, Sydney), two individual silvers (Kim Severson on Winsome Adante, Athens; Gina Miles on McKinley, 2008, Hong Kong) and one individual bronze (Kerri Millikin on Out and About, Atlanta.) The U.S. team also won the gold at the Pan American games three times (1999, 2003 and 2007) and at the World Equestrian Games once (2002, Jerez, Spain.)
Before turning to coaching, Captain Phillips's riding career included team gold and silver medals while competing for his native Britain (Munich, 1972 and Seoul 1988 respectively) as well as four wins at Badminton and one at Burghley. He has also made his mark on course design, creating the course at Burghley for 13 years, as well as courses for the Luhmuhlen CCI **** in Germany, the Fork in North Carolina, and Red Hills in Tallahassee, Florida, among others.

The United States Equestrian Federation appointed a search committee to find a successor to Mr. Phillips and posted a job description and application on their website this past August. The job description includes its goals (primarily winning international competitions) as well as desirable qualities in the applicant (successful international experience and stature, "the will to win", etc.) The job title on the application is "Eventing Chef d'Equipe/Technical Advisor." Applications opened on August 15 and closed on January 31.

Although the application process is private, it has become known that at least six highly qualified professionals have submitted applications, four as individuals and one as a two-person team. There may be others. Perhaps the most distinguished of the applicants that has gone public is Jimmy Wofford, who is a past president of the American Horse Shows Association, a two-time Olympic silver medalist, a two-time winner of the Rolex Kentucky CCI**** and a member of the United States Eventing Association hall of fame. Jimmy, who retired from competition in 1986, is from an illustrious equestrian family. His father, Colonel John Wofford, rode for the United States Olympic show jumping team in 1932 and went on to become the founder and first president of the USET. Jimmy, who is 66, has coached the Canadian eventing team and been named the United States Olympic Committee Developmental Coach of the Year twice. He is considered a godfather of sorts to American eventing and is revered for his horsemanship and coaching ability. He is also the author of several influential books about the sport.

One of Jimmy Wofford’s most successful protégés, David O’Connor, 49, is another applicant for the job. David, who is the current president of the USEF, has won three Olympic medals, including the individual gold and the team silver and bronze. He has also won the Rolex Kentucky CCI three times (twice when it was a three star and once when it was a four star), the Fair Hill International CCI*** five times and the Badminton CCI****. In 2000, he was number one in the world in the Fédération Equestre Internationale rankings. Since retiring from international competition in 2005, David has made a name for himself as a course designer and a coach. His is currently serving as the coach of the Canadian eventing team, which won the silver medal at the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Kentucky. If he were to get the job with the U.S. team, he would retire from coaching the Canadians after the 2012 Olympics. David's wife, Karen O'Connor, is still competing internationally and making regular and successful appearances on America's teams. There is no official word on what direction her career might take should her husband become chef d'équipe of the U.S. team.

Leslie Law, who won the individual gold and team silver competing for the British in the 2004 Olympics, also submitted an application. In addition to his two medals in Athens, he won team silver in Sydney and team bronze at the 2002 World Equestrian Games. Leslie is married, somewhat confusingly for the reader, to the Canadian eventer Lesley Grant Law, who has competed up to the four star level and has occasionally been shortlisted for the Canadian team. Since 2006, the couple have had homes in Bluemont, Virginia and Ocala, Fla. Leslie, who will turn 41 in March, is the youngest of the acknowledged applicants for the position.

The international eventer Andrew Hoy has also submitted an application. This application was initially rumored to be a joint application with his wife, Bettina Hoy, but Andrew later confirmed that he applied alone, although, if chosen, he would make use of his wife’s expertise. Andrew, 51, is an Australian who was a fixture on the Australian eventing team from 1984 to 2004. He is a winner of three consecutive Olympic team gold medals (1992, Barcelona; 1996, Atlanta; and 2000, Sydney) and an individual silver (Sydney.) He has also won Badminton, Burghley and Luhmuhlen. Bettina, 48, is a German national who was a member of the bronze-medal-winning German team at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984. She was also awarded both team and individual gold medals at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, but had those medals withdrawn amid much controversy after technical issues having to do with the timing of her stadium round. Bettina is known as an exceptional dressage rider: in 2009, she received a score of 28.2 in the dressage phase of the Rolex, Kentucky CCI****, the best score ever recorded at that event. Bettina, who was in Aiken this January to give a clinic at Full Gallop Farm, is much sought after as a dressage coach among American upper level riders.

Bettina and Andrew Hoy are based in Great Britain at the Farley Estate, an equestrian community in Berkshire and are the only applicants who currently reside overseas. The chef d'équipe job description states that "domicile in the US" is "preferred but not mandatory." If they were to be selected, perhaps they would move their operations to the US. (Aiken would be a great location.)

Aiken already has a representative in the applicant pool in Phillip Dutton, 47, who maintains his winter training base at Bridle Creek Equestrian on Colbert Bridge Road. Phillip was born in Australia and won two team Olympic gold medals competing for his native country (2000 and 2004.) In 2006, he become an American citizen and changed his competitive nationality. His list of accomplishments riding for the U.S. include team gold and individual silver at the 2007 Pan Am Games in Rio de Janeiro, wins at the Rolex Kentucky CCI****, and numerous three star competitions. He has also been the USEA rider of the year for 12 of the last 13 years. In 2005, he was first in the FEI world rankings.

Phillip Dutton is applying for the job in partnership with Robert Costello, 45, who was a member of the gold-medal-winning American team at the 2003 Pan American Games. The plan is for Phillip to act as the technical advisor and for Bobby to be the chef d'équipe. The pair have prepared a proposal that they have submitted to the search committee, detailing how their partnership can help the U.S. be more competitive internationally. Phillip has also issued a statement that, if he gets the job, he will retire from competition after the 2012 Olympics in London.

The USEF eventing search committee will be evaluating the applications and interviewing the candidates this winter. They will come up with a short list that they will give to the eventing eligible athletes committee. This committee will interview the candidates and make its recommendations to the eventing high performance committee, the high performance working group and the executive committee. The decision on who will get the job is expected to be announced sometime in the spring, although there is no exact date set. After the candidate is selected, he, she or they will "shadow" Captain Mark Phillips through the 2011 Pan American Games in Mexico and the 2012 Olympic Games in London, perhaps acting as a Developing Rider coach. Captain Mark Phillips will officially retire on December 31, 2012, so the new chef will start the job on January 1, 2013.

Ever since word got out that Captain Phillips would not be renewing his four-year contract with the USEF, speculation on who will succeed him has been rampant in the eventing community. Each of the applicants that has become public brings something different to the table, and each has good reasons to be chosen. Although there are also reasons to appoint a younger person with more recent international experience, the popular choice so far seems to be Jimmy Wofford, who, as he says on his blog, has trained a disproportionate number of riders who have competed for the USET over the last 35 years. In fact, every American Olympic, WEG and Pan American team since 1978 has featured at least one of his students. Jimmy Wofford is an elder statesman of the eventing world, the only one of the publicly acknowledged candidates for the job that every other candidate would have to agree is an excellent choice.

For Aikenites, it might be a good thing if Phillip Dutton were the new coach, because it would give this area some added prominence in the eventing universe. Of course, it would also mean that Phillip would no longer be riding for the U.S. team, a decided drawback since he is one of our top riders. David O’Connor, is, after Jimmy Wofford, the best known of the candidates, due mostly to his role as president of the USEF. He brings international riding, training and extensive administrative experience to the job. Leslie Law has an excellent reputation as a coach. Bettina and Andrew Hoy would bring undeniable international skill to the table, along with a European perspective that may help America on its medal hunt, especially given the importance of the dressage score in eventing success.

Coaching, of course, is only one part of the chef ’s job. The application asks for an "eventing program proposal," and it is likely that this document will play a major part in the selection process. Although the US team has won international medals during Captain Mark Phillips's tenure, he has always been somewhat of a controversial figure, and there are many in the eventing community who feel they would like to see changes, and even that the program has gone astray and needs to be put on a different path. These sentiments have tended to be particularly strong after the team has a poor international showing: the failure of the eventing team to win any medals at last year’s WEG, the first time that the competition had been held on American soil, is seen by some people as a sign that the team needs a new direction. The successful candidate for the job needs to be more than a coach and a rider. He, she, or they will need a clear vision of where the program needs to go, a plan to get it there, and the determination and dedication make it all happen.

This article is copyrighted and first appeared in The Aiken Horse. It is reprinted here by permission.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Top Hat Ready | Ask The Judge | 3/7/11

Questions about Dressage

With Amy McElroy 

Amy McElroy is a USEF R judge, qualified to officiate at any USEF recognized show at all national dressage levels. She rides, trains and teaches at Fairlane Farm in Aiken and judges about a dozen dressage shows and events each year. In her popular Ask the Judge column, she answers readers' questions about dressage.


Dear Amy,
I am getting ready to start this year's show season at the Fourth Level. I just got a gorgeous top hat for Christmas. My trainer has always told me that when I can come down the centerline in the canter, it would be time for me to wear my top hat. When my husband learned that I would be showing Fourth level, he surprised me with this gift. So, now that I am ready and I have the hat, I have heard that I can no longer wear it in Fourth level. Is this true? Are there any other attire changes I should know about?

                                                                                                      Top-Hat Ready, Nowhere to Go
Dear Top-Hat Ready, Nowhere to Go,
Congratulations on making it to Fourth level. This is very exciting: it's the first time you can come own the centerline at a canter, and it means that you have made it to the highest of the national levels. However, what you have heard is true. Effective March 1, 2011, top hats will only be legal for Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) classes and will not be legal at the national levels (Fourth Level and below.) So I would hold on to your beautiful top hat and keep training forward. In time, you will advance to the Prix St. Georges level (the lowest of the FEI levels). Then you will be able to wear your top hat. You will also be able to wear a shadbelly show coat. (You might mention this to your thoughtful husband.)

According to the new rule, "while on horses competing in national level tests (Fourth Level and below), riders must wear protective headgear . . . at all times while mounted on the competition grounds . . . Protective headgear is a riding helmet which meets or exceeds ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials)/SEI (Safety Equipment Institute) standard for equestrian use and carries the SEI tag. The harness must be secured and properly fitted. Any rider violating this rule at any time must immediately be prohibited from further riding until such headgear is properly in place."

This new rule is one that was long in the making and it is a major change. It affects amateurs and professionals alike. The only riders it won't affect are those riding only at FEI levels. This means that from March forward, riders who prefer protective headgear will no longer have to worry that they are making a statement about the rideability of their horse when they wear a helmet, since everyone will now be wearing one. Those dressage riders who have not worn a helmet in a long time might be surprised at how much helmets have evolved in recent years. They come in many styles, are comfortable, cool and lightweight. Some even come with "bling."

There are also a few other recent changes in the rules for proper attire. The rules state that in Fourth level and below "A short riding coat of conservative color . . . is mandatory." Proper conservative colors are: black, grey, navy or brown. A newer rule says that coats may have contrast coloring, and/or piping. For example a black coat with light pink collars would be acceptable, or a grey coat with black collars. A cutaway coat is also permitted – this is like a modified tailcoat.

You must wear a tie, choker or stock tie, and it may match the coat, or it may contrast. The same is true for gloves, which are recommended, but not mandatory. Tall black boots made of leather or leather-like material are required – for the last two years, patent leather has become very popular among riders. The rules also allow jodhpur boots worn with jodhpurs. Half chaps, gaiters and leggings are not allowed, except in the lowest levels (through First level.)

White or light colored breeches or jodhpurs, as well as a light, solid colored, or nearly solid colored shirt are also required. In extreme heat, if management allows competitors to show without jackets, riders need to have a long or short-sleeved shirt with a collar. The collar is important here, because when jackets are waived, neckwear is also waived. T-shirts are definitely forbidden. Solid colored cooling vests (vests with cold packs in them) are also legal, and they may be worn under a jacket, or simply over a shirt if jackets are waived. These vests have become very popular in warmer climates. When jackets are waived, you may also wear any other solid colored vest. In my opinion, white or black are good color choices for vests.

According to rule DR124, Elimination, "Dress code violations are at the discretion of the ground jury." If you are in improper dress (the wrong color jacket, no neckwear when you are wearing a jacket, etc.) you might be eliminated, though you also might not. However, if you are not wearing a helmet you must be eliminated automatically. This is because not wearing a helmet violates a direct rule. (DR124.1p calls for elimination in "Any situation where a direct rule violation can be cited.")

Use your best judgment when you dress for a show. Conservative, neat and well-fitted is always a successful presentation. Any competitor at any time can look at the USEF website under "Rules for Dressage" to answer further questions about the dress code.

I hope this helps you gear up for the 2011 show season. Wear your helmet for now and save your top hat for when you graduate to the PSG level. Of course, you may elect to wear your helmet at any FEI level up through Grand Prix. More and more upper level riders are. Good luck!

This article is copyrighted and first appeared in The Aiken Horse. It is reprinted here by permission.