Equestrian Canada Responds to Concerns of Team Riders

Photo via Wikimedia Commons Photo via Wikimedia Commons

The Equestrian Canada Eventing Committee has released a statement in response to an open letter on Horse-Canada.com signed by more than 50 Canadian event riders, owners and supporters, expressing criticism and concern regarding the organization’s management.

A reception for the riders to discuss Canadian High Performance with Rob Stevenson, Chair of the Equestrian Canada Eventing High Performance Advisory Group, was already scheduled to take place last night at Peter Gray’s Wentworth Farm in Ocala prior to the open letter’s release. Rob also released to EN a statement based on comments he made to the riders last night.

Read on first for the Eventing Committee’s statement, followed by Rob’s statement.

Statement from Equestrian Canada — Eventing Committee:

Dear Canadian Eventers,

The Equestrian Canada — Eventing Committee has prepared the following response to the open letter that a group of Canadian High Performance riders, owners and supporters have recently sent to the media. We appreciate the effort that this group went to in order to put their thoughts and opinions on public display as well as being constantly reminded that there are 2,374 individuals that are eventing members, all with voices of importance. Your words have stirred emotion across this great country which is undoubtedly what you intended, expected and undeniably evoked.

The Eventing Committee is made up of a dedicated and passionate group of volunteers of diverse geography and expertise. These members donate their time, expertise and often their own money to the cause of developing sport in Canada – including often travelling to meetings and events and hosting events at their own personal expense in order to keep funds focussed on programming.

The committee is extremely grateful to Wentworth Farm for hosting the reception in Ocala for Canadian athletes on Jan. 31 and to HP Advisory Group Chair Rob Stevenson for travelling to Ocala at his own expense to meet with the athletes.

A volunteer-based sport, by definition, would not exist if perceived and even real conflicts-of- interest were not tolerated. If the governance of the sport that we love was awarded to people not invested in our community, then we could never dream of winning … we all need some skin in the game in order to passionately put ourselves on the line.

Peter Gray is part of an FEI Solidarity Initiative to assist developing countries with their education and was assigned to work with Colombia. It would be the hope of this committee that all of our riders, coaches and owners give back some day in order to make the sport stronger as a whole. Conflicts of interest are not uncommon in sport, and those associated with EC are not prevented from carrying on their activities because of their roles; they do however have to disclose any potential for conflict and withdraw where the conflict may impact a decision.

In November 2016, the Eventing Committee met with representatives from across the country in order to hear their voices. The collaboration and positivity was overwhelming and that important dialogue and communication continues. We share the same frostbite, sunburns, joys and frustrations as the rest of you and we get it. The feeling of putting it all on the line and being left out of the loop is our greatest challenge to overcome and we will do that by communicating positively and through the proper channels.

No matter what we call our NSO … the Canadian Equestrian Federation, Equine Canada or Equestrian Canada … we are Eventers first and we need to work together in order to advance.

The Long Term Athlete Development structure and competition alignment for our sport are under review and need a great deal of consideration in order to ensure the longevity of the sport moving forward. Not to overshadow of course the needs of our High Performance riders and our needs of them. We need to help provide them the tools to do this great sport to the best of their ability and we need them to continue to be the cheerleaders and heroes for the sport.

With Rob Stevenson stepping in as Chair of the Eventing High Performance advisory group for Canada we are looking to build a solid foundation for our athletes to stand on. Ensuring that our riders have the voice they need, this advisory group will have up to two representatives with high performance sport experience nominated by the Eventing High Performance Squad.

With governance changes in place in eventing we are now finally gaining some traction and are able to act on the outcomes of meetings that have been held with our High Performance Riders. We have the right committee of advocates for our sport and we assure you that we are listening.

We are standing in the ring beside you, we live the highs and lows as deeply as you do and we are cheering on everyone that calls themselves an eventer whether you hopped over your first ditch yesterday or you have represented our country. In working with our NSO, this committee is devoted to uphold the framework comprised of the three pillars of accountability, transparency, and communication.

Sincerely yours,

Equestrian Canada – Eventing Committee

Statement from Rob Stevenson, Chair of Equestrian Canada Eventing High Performance Advisory Group:

As the recently named leader of this group, I am grateful to speak to this group of Canadian eventers and supporters in this venue.

I am indebted to those that have served before me in the role.  We have just finished a quadrennial where we finished teams at both major championships. This is a great accomplishment for a relatively small eventing nation.  It is my responsibility to lead this group based on that success.

When, I consider High Performance, I think in terms of the 4 S’s: substrate, support, strategy and $.

Substrate: Do we have what it takes?

Support: Do we have the internal and external supports that we need?

Strategy: Do we have the plan that we need?

$: Have we got the financial resources to make this happen?

My belief is that ‘yes’ is the answer to all of these questions.

We need the reasons to believe that that we will have the components that we will need to be successful.

The challenge at this point reads: We are 18 months from the World Equestrian Games in Tryon with no coach and no qualified horse/rider combinations.

And let us consider that the game has recently changed: We will now need to finish three combinations with no drop score.

In order to achieve this, we need to operate with the best possible information. We are working to incorporate advanced eventing analytics in all aspects of our strategy, from ‘a sense of where we are,’ to guiding decisions in training and possibly in selection. The key to the successful use of this type of information will be education and transparency.

This is information that will be shared with athletes and owners such that they will truly understand how our combinations compare to all other combinations in the world. From there we can design an approach to improve the overall performance of combinations and of the team. If people have not yet read Moneyball or The Undoing Project, then I would suggest that these books make for great winter reading. (I guess you could also watch the movie on Netflix!).

We have listened to the riders and recognize from our own experience that we need to develop an improved communication strategy. I believe that this meeting is just such an example of how we build this connection. I don’t want our athletes and owners to feel that it’s an ‘us and them,’ but rather an ‘us and us.’

I have read a great deal of what has been written online. I respect that these words have been written out of genuine concern and frustration. People clearly did not know how to otherwise discuss their concerns. It has given me an opportunity to appreciate the concerns of this group. And what I hope going forward is that people will direct issues and inquiries of High Performance to me, such that I can either help to answer or otherwise direct these requests to the best possible person to help attend to the issue.

An important addition to the communication strategy has been the re-introduction of rider representatives. We had moved away from rider reps in recent years, as it had been difficult logistically for riders to attend meetings and conference calls. I think that we have come to recognize that this is something that needed to be changed.

Hence, the terms of reference of the High Performance Advisory Group (ECEHPAG) stipulate that two riders will be nominated from the High Performance rider group to serve terms ‎with the Advisory Group.   This will once again give our riders seats at the table as we confer on issues including communication, budgets, selection and strategy.

The work that I will be doing in my role with High Performance is similar in a way to the work I do as a cardiologist. In medicine, we have the government, the health authority and those on the front lines of healthcare. In eventing we have the government, the national sports organisation and ‎those on the front line of sport. I have respect for those that attend to issues of governance and administration.  My role is to focus on ‘operations,’ in essence to the delivery of High Performance be it in the medical or the eventing realm.

In this transition following an Olympic year, it has been my sense that we need to do something significant to bring our riders and horses together as Canadians. We have been discussing the concept of High Performance clinics to bridge the period between now and a time when we once again have a technical advisor in place for our squad.

In feedback from the November meetings in Toronto, it was felt that we likely did not do enough to reach out to the other Canadian disciplines for their expertise. We have a certain period of time when many of our riders are gathered in the Ocala area. It seemed unfortunate to not seize this training opportunity. The idea of a Canadian Masters’ Eventing Clinic series was conceived.

At this point I can say that there will be a two-day clinic at Wentworth Farm in Ocala on Feb. 27-28 with clinicians Christilot Boylen and George Morris. (George will assume an honourary Canadian citizenship for the weekend.) And this is just a start. We need to start somewhere, and why not with two of the leading trainers in the world?

I envision that this clinic series will include three to four such opportunities this year. We’ll be looking to meet the needs of our High Performance program and our athletes. And certainly we will have dialogue as to who, what and where these clinics will be. Please realize that we envision that these clinics will be opportunities to see our athletes, support staff, owners, committee members and Canadian eventing enthusiasts to come together to confer with one another as we observe training at the highest level.

There is much interest in how we will proceed with a technical advisor (TA) for our team. Though different riders at different stages of their competitive careers will have different needs, it is still felt that here in Canada, we need an advisor with coaching ability. Though some top nations with more experienced riders may need a leader in the capacity of a chef d’équipe, we do recognize that we cannot proceed without some coaching capacity. At this point, we are looking to determine just what resources we’ll have to proceed with hiring a TA‎.

Clearly the timeline is short. We need someone that the riders will quickly be able to work with.  We need someone who will understand some of the unique features of Canadian Eventing: a small pool of riders spread out over a vast distance usually competing in countries other than our own!).

We’ll have more to share on this very important issue soon. At this point we’re interested in feedback from our athletes and from potential technical advisors that may be interested in this role. From here, we’ll develop a job description and posting and move along with the selection process.

We have been asked just exactly how High Performance will meet the needs of our next generation riders. We currently use the terminology of Elite, National and Eventing NOBoundaries to refer to our levels of international to developing level athletes. In this next year, though we have not formally developed a separate ‘developing rider’ or ‘Under 25′ program, we do foresee that participation in the Masters’ clinic series will be open to more than just our Elite riders, depending on space and proximity.

Thanks to Danny and Keli Warrington at Landsafe Equestrian, I’m very excited to announce a unique opportunity for our  Eventing NOBoundaries (ENB) program riders. Landsafe has very recently received their rotational fall simulator.  They have invited our ENB riders for a chance to participate in their fall-safety program which will include the use of their simulator. We are very grateful to Landsafe for this remarkable opportunity.

This has been a brief overview of my assessment of the Canadian Eventing High Performance program after my first 60 days as the Chair of the EHPAG. At this point, I am reminded of one of my earliest conversations with Jack Le Goff almost 30 years ago. When I asked what I needed to do to make the team, looking more for some guidance on where and with whom should I train, his answer was clear: “You need results, man! Nothing replaces results.”

In this instance, I think we all know what results we want. It’s up to us to define the strategy and commit to its implementation. We need to track our outcomes along the way. We need to talk openly about what’s good and bad. We need to feel that this is an ‘us and us’ experience. And if we can do this, then we will be in a stronger position in two years and in four years. The work that we put in now will be the legacy for those that follow. This too should be part of our motivation.

Respectfully submitted,

Rob Stevenson