Well friends, how did you enjoy the first and what will probably be the last World Equestrian Games on US soil for many years? The most frustrating thing is how close we were to a great weekend for the US. Great Britain had such a strong performance that I don’t know if the US ever could have beaten them, but we had medals in our grasp and we let them slip away on Sunday. Please join Eventing Nation while we US fans go through one of the five stages of grieving each day this week.
As we try to figure out what went wrong for the US, it is important to remember how hard all of our riders worked to get to the WEGs. The riders have given their lives to horses and all of the discussion following the Games should be held with an underlying respect for their dedication and effort. Any time we find ourselves pointing one finger at one person, we are probably being too narrow minded.
When I think about this weekend, I am also reminded how much eventing is a sport of inches. Imagine what we would be talking about right now if just two moments in the entire weekend–one during Buck’s ride on Saturday and one during Karen’s on Sunday–had gone just a little differently. Headline: SCRAPPY YANKS MOVE UP FROM 7TH TO WIN SILVER! At least that would be the crappy cliche headline. EN’s headline would be something like “Silver is excited for WEG thoughts.” My point is that it is dangerous to make big decisions based on a few bad moments because those moments might not accurately represent the true situation–i.e. the US team might be fine but just unlucky.
That said, we are starting to see waaaayyy too many of these moments to dismiss them as unlucky. The US team entered 6 horses at the WEGs–four finished, and two of those had a stop. Looking back to the ’08 Olympics, the US team has had just 3 completions without a stop out of our last 12 entires over two international championships. I know there are asterisks and caveats and excuses to all of the problems we have had, but guess how many completions Great Britain had without a stop over the same period.
Wait for it….
The riders, horses, coaches, selectors, and vets all have reasons why these results are not their fault, but at some point it starts to sound like the kid whose dog always eats his homework. Who is going to step up and take responsibility and who with the power to make changes to our system will make those changes?
The six riders that we picked for the US team this year are 6 of the highest quality riders in the world. But, we need to find a way to develop more riders and get those riders more horses. The British team riders all either rode in Burghley or Blenheim or both with multiple horses. Practice makes perfect and British eventing gives their riders more practice than anyone.
I do admit that Canada’s strong performance and Buck’s stop both weaken the “we need our riders to ride 100 horses a day” argument. Some people ask me if eventing is more about horses or riders, and I always say it’s 50% riders and 50% horses. After watching Canada clean up this weekend I might change my answer to 55% horses 45% riders because Canada’s horses were sounder and more honest and that made all the difference.
As complimentary as we have been of Oded and Katie and even though most of the riders have really liked working with them, it should be pointed out that the dressage and show jumping did not go as well as it could have. I felt that the team made an excellent decision to bring in specialized help, but maybe the way we organize and apply their help should be looked at.
Reggie’s refusal proves that giving some riders an exemption from XC at the AEC’s was a bad idea. Reggie had a stop in the show jumping at Richland, sat out the AEC XC, and then looked completely overwhelmed at the WEGs. The early part of Reggie’s round on Saturday was so sketchy that I wondered for a moment if Buck might pull up and retire. I certainly expected Buck and Reggie to look much better on XC because they did jump around Burghley last year, and the selectors were justified in thinking that as well. But, if Reggie had run at the AECs there would have been a good chance to discover the problems that showed up this Saturday and either correct them or send Bobby.
The US needs to return to a very simple, very fundamental question about eventing: what horses and riders give us the best chance to finish the competition without a stop? Every single country that accomplished that one goal with three team riders won a World Equestrian Games medal this weekend. Everyone who didn’t accomplish this goal went home empty handed–it’s that simple. Is it really good enough for us to just explain away four rides and start getting ready for 2012 with business as usual?