Let me start the post off by extending my well-wishes to Henny and his family. I was heartbroken to hear the news from Samantha earlier today, but it sounds like Henny will make a good recovery. Saturday afternoon was action packed and today I will bring everyone the details in this post and another post to follow later this evening.
It woudln't be a USEA convention without a few speeches. On Saturday afternoon, the USEA Membership Meeting was comprised of a quick discussion on the financial status of the USEA which I covered on Thursday, a vote to approve the new board members which unanimously carried, and then two very interesting speeches from new FEI President Brian Sabo and Oliver Townend.
President Sabo: Our new president gave an excellent speech which touched on his past experience as a horseman and his goals as the new leader of the USEA. If President Sabo's speech is any indicator of his personality, we are in for a great three years. He was very entertaining and intelligent, but also gracious and tremendously humble. He poked fun at himself several times and, overall, I was extremely impressed.
President Sabo stressed that he wanted to unite the "factions" in our sport by governing evenly with a broad brush. He spoke about how he personally relates to each element of our sport, including upper-level riders, lower-level riders, riding parents, organizers, course builders, volunteers, course designers, breeders, owners, and affiliate organizations. He joked by saying "the one group I don't get are the officials," which I think we all sometimes can relate to.
President Sabo finished his speech by saying that, like President Baumgardner before for him, he would have an open-door policy to all USEA members, and he announced his email to the entire crowd. Give President Sabo a big welcome and a word of support at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Oliver Townend: Oliver's keynote convention speech told the story of his life from humble beginnings, through his meteoric rise through the British Eventing ranks, and to his current status as one of the world's best riders. The speech was funny, even hilarious at times, and Oliver was refreshingly open about addressing some tough issues in his career. Some people would call the speech a little rough around the edges, which it was, but I didn't mind. Oliver addressed the fact that he had upset other British competitors by going to their owners and taking their horses, and he said that he had become a person that he didn't want to be in order to accomplish his goals and now he has a tough job to get back to the person he wants to be. Oliver talked about how he drank so much that British Eventing used UK lottery funding to get him counseling, and he said that in hindsight it was a huge mistake to take Carousel Quest to Pau in 2009. Major props to Oliver for his honesty. Like I said, it was very refreshing. But, there are two sides to every coin.
The problem with being honest is that Oliver basically explained to the crowd that he had been a bad horseman at times but he had become wildly successful nonetheless, or, even worse, that he had been successful in part because of bad horsemanship. The children who left that room were left with an impression of their hero as someone with a manageable drinking problem, poor language, a propensity to take horses from other riders by talking to their owners, and a complete focus on the money aspect of eventing. Oliver is hungrier and willing to push everything further than any of his competitors and he is incredibly successful as a result--I'm not sure that is a model that we want to support for eventing. I genuinely believe that Oliver wants to be a good person and a great horseman, but he has not yet found a way to win a four-star accomplishing that. The crowd cheered loudly for Oliver at the end of the speech and we'll post the video when it is online--it will be fascinating to watch for everyone who couldn't be there in person.
To give a quick overview of the speech, Oliver started by describing his humble birth into the family of a milkman. As Oliver said, "school didn't happen much." When Oliver was just a teenager, he started riding for Christopher Bartle. Oliver worked his ways through the working student ranks and he went on his own to rent a farm at the young age of 21. Oliver said that at this point in his life he was just trying to pay the bills enough to compete each weekend and keep his head above the water. As we would see, that hunger has never left Oliver. After a few years of focusing on riding tough horses to improve them for resale, Oliver made another big decision to buy his own farm for 1.2 million pounds at just 26 years old. To fund such a large operation Oliver said that he had sold around 30 horses a year for the past few years.
Then Oliver moved on to discussing his incredible 2009 season. Oliver won his first four-star at Badminton on Flint Curtis. Oliver said that after that event he started drinking a bit too much. British Eventing sent him a councilor to help make sure that their prodigy did not go astray. After a summer of ups and downs, Oliver was ready to target Badminton on his beautiful new horse Carousel Quest.
To take a step back in the timeline, Oliver explained that before his owner purchased Carousel Quest, the horse was known as being lame and had missed most of the previous three years of top competition. Carousel Quest had failed several vettings but Oliver loved him and his team was able to purchase the horse at a considerable discount. Under the care of Olvier's vet, Carousel Quest's soundness improved considerably and they had a great trip around Burghley for Oliver's second four-star win.
Then Oliver addressed Pau by saying that, even though Pau was very close to Burghley, he knew that he might need a good performance to stay on top of William in the lucrative HSBC FEI World Cup rankings, and that his vet said that Carousel Quest had never looked better. Oliver straight up acknowledged that with such a large mortgage on his new farm, money was a factor, and I respect him for owning that. We all know how Pau worked out.
As the Spring of 2010 approached, Oliver knew that the Rolex Grand Slam was on the line and put everything he had into preparing for Rolex. Again, the rest is history. As Yogi said after the crash to Oliver, "I don't think you had the best stride."
Oliver then moved on to talking about how he is now working to grow his sponsorship and merchandising business, thus making it not as critical financially for him to keep riding and selling horses. Oliver's speech told his story, but he finished up with a lesson for all of us by summing up his life: you don't have to be from a privileged background to be successful in the sport. You just have to want it more than anything or anyone.
More in a few, including Karen's guarantee for a team podium finish in 2012.