Set to end her role as U.S Dressage Team Technical Advisor at the end of this year, Anne Gribbons caused great media attention after her honest statements regarding the depth, or lack thereof, in dressage potential in the USA. She is now looking forward to returning to "civilian life."
"My USEF contract as Technical Advisor ends in December and I will then go back to normal life," Gribbons told Eurodressage. "My husband appreciates this because he has not seen much of me lately and I am very much looking forward to being able to resume riding and judging on a larger basis, both things that I have really missed."
With the end of her USEF role fast approaching Anne confirmed she has enjoyed the job very much, but said it was both "intense and time consuming". Attracting much attention over a column that appeared in the American equestrian publication The Chronicle of the Horse, Gribbons believes there was actually nothing controversial about her remarks and that in reality the debate was circulated by an athlete who held a personal dislike to her.
"Nothing about the article was negative, except the title, which was the creation of the editor," Gribbons explained. "I just stated the truth, which is tough to swallow when you do not win. I blamed nobody, not the people nor the horses, and made no excuses."
Stating that the "lack of depth in the big tour loomed large and short of manufacturing new combinations out of thin air, the prospects weren’t looking good”, Anne predicted that if "things did not improve as time went by, that had there been an option to sit the London Games out, she would have suggested it."
To overcome these weaknesses, Anne says the US needs to select better quality young horses for purchase in Europe or, even better find them in the US, as well as focus US training on long term goals and add hard work!
"We not only need to buy or breed better young horses, but we must train them ourselves, using our new system of education and coaches as a guide, while the riders also continue to work with their own coaches. We have a number of very capable and experienced riders, but many of them are too involved in making a living to be able to create their own Grand Prix horses. If you want to be a successful team member, there has to be a long term plan and you need to stick to it. We cannot find, or afford, ready trained horses which will be competitive when we get to the games. Dressage means training and that is what we need to take the time to do. There really is no free lunch."
While the breeding and training are certainly the key areas for improvement Anne thinks that the "enormous distances, which prevent the US riders from easily training, communicating, learning and competing together, are the nation's biggest stumbling block”. However she added that there are many other areas that could use some attention.
"Lack of a foundation of Pony Dressage, which is where it all begins. I get green with envy when I see the pony divisions in the European shows. We have thousands of wonderful ponies here, but they all show in equitation and pony hunters. Furthermore, the local public riding schools that exist in every village in Europe do not exist here. That is how almost every kid in Europe starts their riding life. But then, in most of Europe riding is a major sport that draws audiences who pay to watch. In America, all equestrian sport is considered a leisure class entertainment and we have no prime time coverage by any media to popularize our sport and no community stables to introduce our children to riding and dressage."
Gribbons has very clear ideas of how dressage in the U.S.A. can improve. "We need a mandatory licensing program for instructor certification as well, and I expect that will happen within the foreseeable future. For the international riders, the fact that they cannot compete against the Europeans on a regular basis is a great drawback. As we go on, as I pointed out in my two last columns, we need to get our riders over to Europe to compete as much as possible, preferably as teams.”
With no doubt that the US will make a come back and go further than ever before, Anne is actually very optimistic about the future of dressage in the US. She stressed that her comments were merely an honest take on reality.
“The article was taken out of context as this is a method often used when a person wants to make someone look bad. It is employed in politics all the time and quite effective," she stated. "Of course I never blamed our horses for who they were, I just noted what everyone knew to be a fact, that their overall quality and past record, with the exception of Ravel, was not up to par with some of our competition. Our horses did their utmost, as did our riders. As a matter of fact, with wonderful timing, Rafalca had her best go ever. I know, because I have followed her every test in person or on videos, for the last couple of years. I was actually just trying to express the fact that we need to wake up, face the reality of where we are at this moment in time and regroup with a common purpose of getting back in the race . If we have a realistic view of where we are today, we can go right ahead and work on improving the picture. Playing Pollyanna and pretending everything is just fine is not going to get us motivated to improve.”
With the right planning that works for the athletes and with the right support, Anne believes the US can get up into the top three nations.
"We must provide the money to help the riders who own their own horses and are struggling to keep up with the bills, as well as the expertise to advise them which horses to buy and concentrate on and which horses may not be the best to spend time on," she explained. "Belief in your horse is an important thing, but sometimes as riders we get so involved with the horse we are riding that we cannot see the big picture. As I have said at every riders' meeting for three years: our riders each need to have a personal coach who believes in them and stands by them through thick and thin."
While her three year chapter comes to an end Gribbons is still "on the job" and will not give up on her determination to help the US succeed.
"I will work on committees, among them one USEF committee aimed to help us regroup in all the US Olympic disciplines. I will continue to support our newly established national dressage educational system which I hope will build an even better and stronger US dressage at all levels. With a strong national program, international success will follow in due time. My life long passion for US dressage remains intact and I am eager to see more horses develop and bloom in the near future."
by Sarah Warne
Photos © Astrid Appels
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