On the Rail: Anne Gribbons Hired as U.S. Dressage Team Coach

August 13, 2009 -- This international judge predicts that if everyone works together, "we can perform miracles" for U.S. dressage.
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August 13, 2009 -- This international judge predicts that if everyone works together, "we can perform miracles" for U.S. dressage.

Read award-winning journalist Nancy Jaffer's latest report on the world of equestrian sport. Brought to you by Practical Horseman magazine. Visit Nancy's archive for past columns.

Anne Gribbons, right, with fellow judge Linda Zang and World Cup Champion Steffen Peters | ? 2007 by Nancy Jaffer

Anne Gribbons, right, with fellow judge Linda Zang and World Cup Champion Steffen Peters | ? 2007 by Nancy Jaffer

August 13, 2009 -- Top international judge Anne Gribbons has gotten the nod as chef d'?quipe/technical advisor for the U.S. dressage team, earning the designation after a lengthy search process that drew 11 candidates.

Anne's selection puts her only part of the way to the job, however. She and the U.S .Equestrian Federation (USEF) still must negotiate a contract, and until that is done, she cannot officially fill the post, which would run through 2012.

The search committee winnowed the group of original applicants to three finalists. In addition to Anne, the trio included six-time American Olympian Robert Dover, who is retired from competition, and Danish Olympian Morten Thomsen, whose name likely would not ring a bell with any but the most connected in the dressage world. Morten, as low-profile as Robert is high-profile, was an unexpected entry because the criteria for the job called for U.S.-based candidates or those who would be willing to live here, and Morten lives in Denmark. He underwent questioning about what his availability would be in the United States if he were chosen.

While stories circulated on the Internet that Morten would be the dressage trainer and Anne would handle the chef d'?quipe duties, that is not true.

"If I accept the position, I'm definitely not sharing it with anyone," said Anne, whose job is the equivalent of the titles given to George Morris for show jumping and Mark Phillips for eventing.

At this point, Morten, who recently gave a clinic for high-level riders in California, has no official duties, according to Gil Merrick, USEF's assistant executive director for sports programs. Anne seconded that.

"If he came and worked with the athletes, that's fine and dandy. But he would be without any kind of title. He would be a clinician," she said, noting she does not know the Dane.

"He was a surprise to me," she commented.

"He's relatively unknown," agreed Gil, saying at the same time, "He's a very savvy guy" who appealed to the U.S. riders with whom he worked.

"We don't know what his role might be," added Gil.

According to Anne, "He's one of the trainers who may be invited for training sessions if the athletes decide it. If I do take this job, I will work closely with the athletes to see that we are all on the same page. It's really about them getting the help they need and trying to work them toward WEG [the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games]. We have to find a way to make that as successful as possible."

She would like Debbie McDonald and Robert to lend their training expertise to the program, noting it is time that U.S. riders took advantage of home-grown training talent.

"I would hope that although Robert wasn't the one chosen this time, he would work with me, because he is like a national treasure in many ways," she said.

Robert, who many considered the short-odds favorite for the chef post, was sportsmanlike about the choice of Anne. He wished her and the team the best, noting he'll just keep on doing what he's been doing.

"I'm so blessed and so happy in my life with all the things that I have and the work that I do for nonprofits and the work I do with horses and my family," he commented.

Anne says the USA's biggest problem involves the developing riders, who she called "a lost generation." "We have to have young people coming up. This is a huge void. We have [World Cup winner] Steffen [Peters], he is like a shining star, but we'd like to have another whole team of those."

Having experienced riders at the upper levels is a big help to those coming along, since they don't have to go to Europe for endless training "the way all of us had to do," she said.

The permanent chef position has been vacant since the end of last year, when the contract of German Olympian Klaus Balkenhol expired. He was replaced on an interim basis by Jessica Ransehousen, who had handled the duties previously, starting in 1990.

Jessica, a member of the High Performance Dressage Committee, said the eligible athletes' committee had wanted Morten to be the official coach, working with Anne, but she noted the high performance panel that made the final decision saw it differently.

"The committee felt you can't have two people in that position. What do you do if one of them doesn't get along with the other? You've got to have one who is the overseer . then that person can decide what clinics they want to encourage. You can have Morten Thomsen come over and give clinics, that's not a problem. What I saw as a problem was giving him some kind of a title."

Anne, a native of Sweden who is a US citizen and Florida resident, rode with US coach Bengt Ljungquist, also a Swede, during the 1970s, when "Robert was his star pupil." She was a member of the silver medal Pan American Games team in 1995 and is a trainer as well as a rider.

Ranked at the elite "O" level for a judge qualified to handle the Olympics and world championships, Anne was put forward by the US as a candidate to officiate at WEG, though if she signs the chef contract she wouldn't be able to do that.

Because the FEI (International Equestrian Federation) has not yet revealed who will be on the WEG judging panel, Anne decided to move ahead with applying for the chef job. She believes the FEI already should have named the judges so those involved could plan.

There is some concern because Anne--who judged at Aachen this year--would have been an excellent choice for the WEG and insured a fair shot for the U.S. riders without being nationalistic about it.

"We need her on the jury," said Jessica.

"She's the one we want. We were looking forward to her being at the WEG," added Jessica, who wished the chef decision could have been held off until after WEG so Anne could judge there. Jessica hopes another U.S. nominee will be accepted as a judge in Anne's stead, but noted there is no guarantee that will happen.

Anne became a candidate for the chef position, "because I was asked by many of our past team members and high performance riders to apply. I actually was very hesitant. I thought it would be the perfect job for Robert Dover."

Now that she has it, she noted, "It is a humongous task. I will try my utmost. It is the first time we have everyone on the same side of the ocean. If we can all get together and get some direction, we can perform miracles.

"This is the defining moment of American dressage, and if we aren't all working together it isn't going to work."

If the contract goes through, Anne likely won't take the reins until the fall, as she has commitments to judge at the European Championships and Dressage at Devon, according to Gil.

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