Q and A with U.S. Show Jumping Coach Robert Ridland

Nancy Jaffer caught up with U.S. show jumping coach Robert Ridland after the team was announced to ask a few questions before he and the squad head toward Brazil next month.

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Robert Ridland, who rode in the 1976 Olympics, took over from George Morris as show jumping coach after the 2012 Olympics. He has a very strong roster for Rio with McLain Ward (HH Azur), Beezie Madden (Cortes C), Kent Farrington (Voyeur) and Lucy Davis (Barron), as well as alternate Laura Kraut (Zeremonie). Nancy Jaffer caught up with Robert after the team was announced to ask a few questions before he and the squad head toward Brazil next month.

Olympic show jumping coach Robert Ridland. (Photo by Nancy Jaffer)

Q: Is it fair to say that everybody (on the short list for the team) got a chance and you wanted to make sure you gave everybody their due?
A: That’s fairly close to accurate. With 10 riders (on the short list) and dealing with four Nations’ Cups, you can’t give everybody the same exact shot. We tailored it to the different situations. Not all 10 were coming (in) at the same spot, they’re not starting out of the starting box at the same time, so we (said) we will do what makes the most senses for each combination. The opportunity was there, I tried to spread out the opportunity.
What I intended was to use a lot of objective criteria to allow the individual horse/rider combinations to excel at their best–to do what was right for each combination (at the observation events). That has been very successful.

Q: We had talked previously about using metrics in the process of selecting the team. How did that work out?
A: The metrics we used…didn’t evaluate competition results, because we’re not picking an Olympic team on how fast you are in a jump-off. That’s just not a factor in the Olympic Games. The metrics did work, we used them and in fact, this team was completely objectively selected. Even though there is the discretionary aspect of it I could have used on the advice of the selectors (Anthony D’Ambrosio, Anne Kursinski, Chris Kappler), who were incredibly involved in this system, when we did the final evaluations…our determination was we would stick with the metrics the way they told us the team would be. It came right from the numbers.

McLain Ward, the U.S. Olympic show jumping team’s top-ranked rider at number 3 on the global list, and HH Azur. (Photo copyright 2016 by Nancy Jaffer)

Q: Lucy Davis was your debutante last time (at the 2014 WEG, her first senior international championship.) And now she won’t have to deal with the first time, breaking-the-ice type of thing?
A: She’s got nerves of steel. Your first championship is always going to be a tough one. You don’t kow what to expect. She knows what to expect. As I told her, “You’re not the fourth rider. You’re one of four riders.” That’s the way she’s going into it. We expect as many clean rounds out of her as we do any of the four.

Q: What is the program for the Olympic horses leading up to the competition in Rio?
A: Every horse is on a different plan. We’re not making every horse/rider combination do the same thing. We’re doing what we feel is best for each.

Q: We’re seeing other nations selecting their teams now and in the next few weeks. How important is something like Scott Brash not being able to ride for the British team? (The British announced that Scott’s horses Hello Sanctos, his 2012 Olympic team gold medal veteran, and Hello M’Lady aren’t able to compete because of injuries.)
A: We’re going to be up against some very strong teams, but I really don’t pay too much attention to that. We go in there one horse at a time, one rider at a time and it’s our course to do. What I pay attention to is how we can be our best and lay down as many clean rounds as we can. If we do that, we’ll be in a good position–it doesn’t really matter who we’re up against.


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