High Performance programs are developed in the seven international equestrian disciplines of dressage, eventing, jumping, driving, endurance, para equestrian and vaulting. These programs train and support top athletes and horses to compete at the Olympics, World Championships, Pan American Games, and other top international competitions.
(Please click graphic to enlarge.)
– Adapted from US Equestrian article by Leslie Potter
For American athletes with aspirations to compete at the elite level, there is a long path from competing at the national level to representing the U.S. at international championships.
The US Equestrian (USEF) development pathways for each Fédération questre Internationale (FEI) discipline help bring promising athletes along each step of the way, ensuring the best chance at success.
What’s more, these pathway programs are key to ensuring a robust pipeline of talent and therefore our country’s competitive equestrian excellence on the greatest international stages now and in the future.
In spring of 2022, developing teams in eventing and jumping both had important outings in Europe. On the jumping side, a team of young athletes competed at CSIO3* FEI Jumping Nations Cups in Lisbon, Portugal, and Madrid, Spain. At the same time, a team represented the U.S. at the FEI Eventing Nations Cup Great Britain CCIO4*-S at Houghton Hall Horse Trials in King’s Lynn, United Kingdom, and came home with a second-place finish.
U.S. Eventing Development and Emerging Coach Leslie Law and U.S. Jumping Development Coach Anne Kursinski shared their insights into their respective sports’ pathways and how outings like these are essential to the country’s future success at equestrian sport’s biggest events.
Athletes submit an application to be considered for a team. For Houghton Hall, three of the four team members were already in Europe, Law explained. Isabelle Bosley and Caroline Martin had both gone over earlier in the spring for a developing program European tour. Cornelia Dorr is based with British athlete Kevin McNabb this year. The fourth team member, Allie Knowles, traveled over from her home base in Kentucky. Martin had previous Nations Cup experience, but the other three were first timers for this level of team competition.
“The selectors had a meeting and agreed that those four should make up a team for the U.S.,” said Law. “I think it’s very important that we put these younger athletes in this space to get team experience. There’s isn’t a huge opportunity for that over here [in North America], giving them that team experience and seeing how they perform is very important [for individual athlete experience as well as for selecting future U.S. teams].”
Kursinski’s jumping team for Lisbon and Madrid was comprised of Rebecca Conway, Daisy Farish, Charlotte Jacobs, Alex Matz, and Julie Welles. Most of the athletes had competed as part of a team at the North American Youth Championships (NAYC) earlier in their careers, but these events offered them their first experience on a senior FEI Nations Cup team.
“All of these riders really earn their way onto those teams [through a selection process],” Kursinski shared. “They’re all very competitive and they’ve all been successful at grand prix, but they’d never jumped on a three-star Nations Cup team, so to really get this team experience was wonderful for them.”
“You can talk about it all you want. You can watch all you want. But putting on that pinque coat and representing your country, it’s different,” said Kursinski. “To step into the ring and do it, to ride as a teammate—I thought it was just a wonderful experience for all of them.”
In addition to the novelty of competing as a team, the two-round format of a Nations Cup is its own unique experience for the jumping athletes.
“Lisbon is always extremely difficult because the second round of the Nations Cup is under the lights,” said Kursinski. “We all knew that going in and explained it to everybody. It was a great experience for everybody that way.”
Being part of a team goes beyond what happens on course as the coaches see how the athletes perform as team players in all aspects of the experience.
“It was great having them all together and seeing their camaraderie,” said Kursinski. “Julie Welles was the alternate the second week, and she was fabulous on the ground and helping out with the other riders at Madrid. She was so part of the team. That kind of experience is what they need before getting to a championship.”
“When you’re on a team, you do have the feeling that you’re not just riding for yourself,” explained Law. “This creates an added pressure and added responsibility, and in some athletes, that does affect performance in the beginning. But through experiencing it and becoming more confident, you learn to perform in that area.”
While any Nations Cup competition is a prestigious event in its own right, these early team events are an essential part of the preparation for competitions at the championship level.
“I’m a true believer that we’ve got to get athletes in that space,” said Law. “If we don’t do it, we’re not going to learn from it. I think we have to remember that there are going to be mistakes, especially with younger athletes. If there are going to be mistakes, that is the place for them. Let’s find out what they are and how we can improve them. Because we don’t want those mistakes when you’re trying to qualify for an Olympic Games. And we certainly don’t want them at the Olympic Games where we’re trying to win medals.”
The eventing team’s second-place finish at Houghton Hall was worth celebrating, and it positions the program and the athletes well for the long-term future of the U.S. on the world stage.
“It’s a milestone for our younger athletes coming through who will hopefully step up and compete for the U.S. at an Olympic Games or World Championship,” Law shared. “They won’t be at the World Championships this year, but if they have the horsepower, could they be at Paris [for the 2024 Olympics]? Maybe. For those athletes, we’re probably looking at the next World Championship and the Olympic Games in Los Angeles [in 2028].”
Simply getting overseas to compete against European teams is an essential component of developing competitive team athletes.
“It’s great, the depth we have,” Kursinski said of the up-and-coming jumping talent in the U.S. “But we don’t have [easy access to] international experience like the Europeans [do]. For us, getting riders to qualify [for NAYC] and getting that team experience under their belts is so important.”
For the jumping development pathway, Kursinski’s role falls in between Youth Chef d’Equipe DiAnn Langer and Senior Chef d’Equipe Robert Ridland. The three of them communicate with each other when it comes to building teams.
“Robert will look to me for getting riders for his five-star teams that have been on teams before,” said Kursinski, pointing to Brian Moggre and Jessica Springsteen as recent examples of athletes who competed at NAYC and youth Nations Cup teams before being tapped for senior championship teams.
“The pathway really does work,” said Kursinski. “On occasion, somebody might have a brilliant horse and not have done the Young Riders. But it’s really hard to say, ‘Okay, we’re going to put you on a five-star team’ if you haven’t done a three-star. It’s just a different kind of pressure.”
U.S. eventing has continued to refine its pathway in recent years, and jumping has served as a model to follow.
“I don’t think it’s an accident that U.S. jumping is as successful as it is,” said Law. “A lot of them are in Europe all summer and doing Nations Cups over there. There are a lot of components [to jumping’s success], but I think one of the big components is that they’re over there competing on teams and getting the experience before they have to do it in a senior championship. That’s why I am keen to [bring younger teams to compete at European Nations Cups] because I know they’re doing it in jumping, and they get results.”
Kursinski noted there is plenty of interest from jumping athletes who want to be considered for a three-star Nations Cup team, and the jumping discipline managers at USEF are always working to secure invitations for more of these competitions to give as many qualified athletes as possible a chance to compete for the team.
On the eventing side, there simply aren’t as many team events on the FEI calendar, but Law is a big believer in getting to those competitions whenever possible.
Director of Sport Programs
United States Equestrian Federation
The USET Foundation (USET) is dedicated to providing funding to the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) to support the preparation for and delivery of the U.S. Equestrian Teams at championships and Nations Cups. This support also includes backing and development of a robust pathway for Developing and Emerging athletes as they begin their journey to representing the United States in international competition and on the podium.
While there are challenges leading into the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, now rescheduled for 2021, what is not uncertain is the commitment and specific plans being made for the next “home” Olympic and Paralympic Games, which will be held in Los Angeles in 2028 (LA28).
Will Connell, Director of Sport for USEF, has laid out a detailed plan to medals in all four disciplines at LA28, which will put a framework and roadmap in place to deliver sustained success. This Plan will work in tandem with the Federation’s Strategic Plan, which will be reviewed in early 2021.
But how does that success happen? It will require specific targets in the major Games leading up to LA28 and building systems to bring along younger athletes and young horses in order to find, develop, and set up the best talent for the future. The robust plan is designed to be fluid in order to accommodate changes in the upcoming year, with a goal to get all of the important stakeholders engaged and planning for 2028 now.
The plan has five core pillars, as outlined by Connell originally for the 2016 Games, but have now been projected out to 2028: Talent, Vision, Commitment, Environment, and Resource. “While 2021 is a year of double vision, as it is the first year of the Paris quadrennial year planning, but also now the final year for Tokyo quadrennial year planning, the focus in 2021 should have been preparing for 2022 World Championships, which is the first opportunity for U.S. teams to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games,” said Connell. “Additionally, there should be a focus on Developing athletes and horses ahead of 2024. Now we must find a way to focus on both Tokyo and 2022; this is a very real challenge.
“The reality is that there is very rarely a legal or ethical ‘magic wand’ that can deliver a Pathway and Program that guarantees sustained success, unless it is having the resource to continually purchase the very best horses,” Connell continued. “Therefore, most leading equestrian nations are doing very similar things. We must seek to do the basics better than other nations but also grab every opportunity to find the 0.5% performance increase; those opportunities are out there to identify and implement if the resource exists.”
Connell and USEF recognized that various criteria, or “Key Performance Indicators (KPIs),” for the pathway athletes were met leading up the anticipated 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, including a Para Pathway and Centers of Excellence, giving Developing athletes team experience, setting performance standards for European tours, and enhanced Talent ID systems.
“The Pathway needs to expand to better accommodate all the necessary areas of Talent ID, Talent Confirmation, and Talent Development,” said Connell. “While ultimately, it is the partnership of athlete and horse that will deliver medals, the program must identify talented athletes regardless, within reason, of their horsepower – especially at the Emerging and lower end of development.”
Another important area of focus will be for USEF to more effectively promote talented youth athletes to owners.
“Owners will be in the sport for many reasons, but I hope we can focus on communication, recognition, and involvement,” said Connell. “I hope we will see more owners involved with younger riders in the Pathway to secure horses and give experience and support to riders that will aim for LA28. Of course, we also hope to see owners continuing to support our elite athletes who have such an excellent record of delivering medals.”
For those just entering the Performance Pathway at the Emerging level, USEF anticipates working with affiliates (United States Hunter Jumper Association, United States Dressage Federation, United States Eventing Association, United States Para Equestrian Association) to support athletes of all talent levels and ages and aiming to develop a mindset of “Regionally Delivered, Centrally Driven.” From there, the Pathway is better placed to help organize how Emerging athletes advance to the Development level.
Development of Young Horse programs and pathways will be an important focus, and the U.S. must look to expand our abilities to identify horses with Games potential and provide economically viable competition opportunities in all disciplines.
The strategy with Sports Science and Medicine (SSM), equine and human, is to develop the concept of interoperability. An overall enhancement of the delivery of Equine and Human SSM, looking at the horse/athlete as one entity will be important, bringing together and engaging the entire horse and human care provider team—the veterinarians, farriers, grooms, physiotherapists, nutritionists, gait analysis, doctor and of course the coach. When looking at performance enhancement through SSM, it is through the concept of interoperability that we can aim to help athletes and coaches seek a competitive enhancement.
Equestrian sport can use LA28 as a springboard for growth and visibility at all levels and across many sectors in the United States, and an integrated plan of communication, creativity, and resource will be key.
“Over the last five years, it has been clearly demonstrated that Equestrian can convert resource into success,” Connell concluded. “Projecting forward to LA28 gives us a long-term vision that brings meaning to all aspects and levels of the Program. It will articulate the commitment required, the opportunities that exist, and the barriers that must be negotiated in order for the Teams to deliver medals at a home Games at LA28 and truly deliver stabilized, sustained eminence.”
– by Rebecca Walton / Phelps Media Group
Director of Sport Programs
United States Equestrian Federation
For those dedicated sports fans sitting in front of their televisions next July and August during the Tokyo Olympic Games, it will be easy to see who is winning Olympic medals. So, by default, will it be easy to define who has been successful?
Maybe so, in the eyes of some, but how is success defined, even on the ultimate and most public of world stages? Is a personal best success or is success only standing on the podium? This conundrum is multiplied when trying to define success or measure progress during the four years leading up to an Olympic or Paralympic Games. But define and measure we must—both in order to track progress and also to justify investment, whether that be investment in an athlete or investment by funding bodies or individuals.
A high-performance sport program that is purely focused on the Games may have very few competitions that are truly critical pre-Games and so the use of field-of-play results are not always a true gauge of measuring progress. Whilst no doubt sacrilege to some, winning at the right time is a more effective methodology than expecting to win every time.
As with other sports, this is achieved through the use of Targets and Key Performance Indicators (KPI). Targets are clearly defined achievements, usually results that must be achieved at a defined time. KPIs are more a measurement of quantifiable factors that can be applicable to measuring the progress of an athlete, horse, or program. In doing so, the KPIs should acknowledge the value of the investment and demonstrate the effectiveness of the pipeline that helps an athlete progress along the pathway.
For example, take a young athlete who has a young horse with Olympic Games medal potential and also a more experienced horse that is being used to educate and advance the athlete. The KPIs would map out the progress of the young horse, focused on progression and experience. As the horse’s career progresses, the focus will move from gaining experience to delivering results that will bring it to the attention of the Selectors and then, of course, help deliver a medal. Meanwhile, the athlete’s progress can be worked on and measured by analyzing, with the coach, their effectiveness with the older horse.
Externally, we agree each year on KPIs and Targets with the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC). An easy example of a Target would be the 2018 World Equestrian Games (WEG) and then the 2019 Pan American Games when Olympic qualification was the primary target for the Olympic disciplines. The dressage and show jumping teams achieved this at the WEG, and the eventing team did so at the Pan Ams.
In this four-year cycle, Olympic qualification wasn’t the target for the Para-Equestrian dressage team because an analysis of likely performance suggested that finishing in the team medals, which would be required for Tokyo qualification, wasn’t achievable. The 2018/2019 Target for Para is to achieve Tokyo team qualification through the Ranking List (and yes, we are on track to hit the Target!). Targets can be taken a little further with “Stretch Targets.” These are targets that would indicate that performance has exceeded expectations; for example, a Medal Target for Tokyo could be between one and three team and individual medals, with a Stretch Target of four to five total medals.
KPIs are perhaps more of a science (some might argue an art!), as they are indicative rather than definitive in terms of monitoring performance, progress, or return on investment and they form an important part of the discussions we have with the USOPC.
KPIs can be simple in nature and refer to trending results, for example, “Increase the average score of the top three Elite dressage combinations (excluding #1) in the Grand Prix Special by 1.5%,” or “utilize more than 10 different show jumping athlete/horse combinations at the three North American League Nations Cup Qualifiers (Wellington, Florida; Langley, British Columbia; and Coapexpan, Mexico) and the Winter Equestrian Festival Nations Cup Competition.” KPIs can become more complex and more challenging to track, for example when they’re linked to injury rates and recovery times.
We also utilize KPIs and Targets within the Sport Programs, but this has been a developing process since the 2016 Rio Olympic Games and is more beneficial in some disciplines than others. Ultimately, we want to be able to set Targets and KPIs for each program, each year and over four years.
In 2019, we achieved a number of result-based Targets linked to younger athletes in reining, endurance, dressage, show jumping and vaulting, which was exciting for the future.
Another area we have sought to expand is setting Targets and KPIs for athletes within a framework of a six-month review. This is important not only to ensure we are working with the athlete to monitor performance development, but also to ensure that the financial investment made in athletes is measured against development and performance. This is not purely about holding athletes to account, but more about a partnership to ensure the funds we are lucky enough to have are effectively targeted. Discussing KPIs and Targets with the athletes also challenges coaches and program managers to really evaluate how we can help and support athletes.
The final area where we have introduced greater measurement is with performance-related grants, including the USET Foundation grants that athletes receive directly. This year was the first time we have done this. As part of the application process, we asked athletes to explain what their personal targets were and how they felt they would benefit from the grant. After the targeted competition, the discipline’s Technical Advisor and the athlete review the competition and compile a report. This is primarily to challenge the athlete and the coach to identify performance gains and areas for focus, but it also provides an explanation about how the grant funds have been used for the USET Foundation.
Working with KPIs and Targets continues to evolve within the equestrian programs, but as the process develops, we can start to measure more areas and track progress. For example, we can examine tracking the talent identification process, athlete review outcomes, evidence-based performance profiles, and coaching for continual professional development.
We must never become reliant on the process of KPIs and Targets as the sole determination of success, but being able to demonstrate and measure the progress of athletes and their horses is an increasingly important piece of a professional program.
Director of Sport Programs
United States Equestrian Federation
The U.S. equestrian teams in the eight international FEI disciplines of show jumping, dressage, eventing, driving, reining, vaulting, endurance and para-equestrian dressage are laser focused on preparing for the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games™ (WEG) at the Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC). As these teams make their final plans for their appearance on the world stage on home soil, their main goal is to be successful in front of their family, friends and fans. But how do we define success?
“I think that defining what is successful is sometimes challenging, but necessary if you’re going to define what you’re trying to achieve,” explained US Equestrian (USEF) director of sport Will Connell. “Ultimately at the top end of the program, success will be defined by medals at the Olympic / Paralympic level and the world level for the non-Olympic / Paralympic disciplines. We had a good Rio, but there is much to do after Rio because we are ultimately judged by our medals.”
Connell stepped into his role as the director of sport in 2014 and has led a number of initiatives to help the U.S. equestrian teams achieve the success they are looking for. He believes that the five pillars of talent, vision, commitment, resource and environment are what will allow the programs within each discipline to achieve their goals.
The first pillar, talent, does not just mean horses and athletes. It includes coaches, leaders, physical therapists, veterinarians and many others. Creating a truly world-class program requires the best at all levels through the pathway.
The second pillar, vision, requires knowing where you want to go. While this might be clear at the Olympic and world level, it is something that must be understood at all levels, by athletes, owners and parents. They must know what the pathway is to move up through the levels.
USEF has determined three levels on the pathway as elite, the “here and now” athlete-and-horse combinations for the current WEG or Olympics, development, which are athletes and horses who are progressing towards Elite level, and emerging, which, in most disciplines, crosses over into the discipline affiliate area of operations, with the top level touching the development level.
Communication is also important to this pillar, with athlete reviews now being (or will be) included. Every six months, discipline directors and technical advisors sit down with their athletes and ask, “What are your short-term, medium-term and long-term goals? What can we do to help? How are we going to measure that progress and if there is funding available, how will it be allocated?”
Key performance indicators (KPI) have also been, or will be, introduced to monitor each discipline. A KPI can help determine if what is occurring in each discipline is helping it move in the right direction. Examples include number of horses jumping clear rounds in Nations Cup competitions for show jumping and number of horses achieving top 10 results at CCI4* events for eventing.
Commitment, the third pillar, is key because in equestrian sports there are as many downs as there are ups. Being committed to that vision is sometimes easy and sometimes very challenging.
The fourth pillar is resource, which doesn’t just include funding, but also the value of time, human resources and equine resources.
The fifth and final pillar is environment, where the teams can operate in a way that is going to maximize their performance.
Connell noted that the environment at Tryon will prove challenging for the U.S. equestrian teams, but it is something that the federation has been preparing for. While many may perceive home soil as an advantage, there are a number of factors that must be taken into account.
Many of our teams such as show jumping, dressage and driving are preparing in Europe, so they will still need to fly across the Atlantic, and any horses from the West Coast will also have to fly across the country for WEG.
Connell said, “One of the challenges is people perceive it as being easier to compete at home than it is to compete abroad. I’m not saying it’s not, but the possible impediments are something that one has to be very aware of.”
As an integral part of the British team in the lead-up to the 2012 London Olympic Games, Connell did a lot of research on the advantages and disadvantages of competing at home. The first thing to consider is that Tryon is a competitive venue that many are already familiar with. During WEG, it is going to be a totally different atmosphere.
“They might be used to parking here, doing this, going to Roger’s Diner for breakfast and wherever for dinner, but it’s all going to be very different during WEG,” explained Connell. “They should get into the expectation that this is a world championship venue in North Carolina not the TIEC they are used to.”
The second issue is that there is far greater press interest and public interest on the home team, which requires careful management. As Connell explained, “Sitting in the media center, if, as an example, McLain [Ward], Laura [Graves], Phillip [Dutton] and Chester [Weber] are there, then there is going to be a greater call on their time than there is on many leading athletes from other nations.”
There is also a great deal of pressure on the U.S. athletes from friends and family who come to support their team and home country. Giving the athletes the space to compete and focus on competing is often more challenging at a home Games than it is at an overseas Games.
There are also many advantages to competing on home soil as well. The athletes and teams will be familiar with many of the volunteers and the stewards, so should feel in a familiar environment. There is also a swell of support behind the home team, which really does make a difference (as seen in London). The primary goal for everyone involved is having the best athlete on the best horse in the best condition, and while the small details may seem insignificant, one jump down can make the difference between winning or losing a medal.
While medals may be the goal that the public is hoping for during WEG, USEF has different objectives for defining success. In the Olympic disciplines of show jumping, dressage and eventing, the primary goal is placing high enough as a team to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
“The primary aim for the Olympic disciplines is Olympic qualification,” said Connell. “That does not mean we are not trying to win medals, but if we secure Olympic qualification in Tryon, it means we have a straight two-year run in to Tokyo 2020 and we’re not having to qualify for the Olympics through the Pan American Games.”
Funding for the U.S. equestrian teams comes from three sources: the USET Foundation, the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) and the Federation, US Equestrian. The USET Foundation supports the high performance programs in the eight WEG disciplines allowing the development and delivery of a “Pathway” aimed at sustainable success. Without the support of the Foundation the programs would not be able to operate at the level they do.
For the three Olympic disciplines a significant part of the funding comes from the USOC. The USOC targets medals at the next Olympic Games. Qualification for Tokyo 2020 during WEG is the 2018 target agreed upon with the USOC. In addition, there are a number of KPIs that track the progress of the disciplines towards 2020.
There has also been a small grant from the USOC for the development of para-equestrian. The para-equestrian dressage team will also have Tokyo 2020 as an overall goal during WEG, hoping to develop solid combinations for the Paralympic team and close the gap on the podium in comparison to Rio.
There is significant funding that goes through the Federation, which supports some national programs as well as championships, however the vast majority of funding that US Equestrian and the affiliates manage goes towards supporting the national equestrian sport through the 29 breeds and disciplines.
Each of the non-Olympic discipline will also have targets, and these will include the winning of medals! For example, for endurance, the primary target is to complete a team. “If you complete the team in endurance, then you’re probably not far off from winning a medal,” said Connell. “In reining, medals are most certainly the target.”
With the support of the home crowd behind them, each discipline will have its own specific goals, including medals and top finishes on the podium. Hoping to hear the national anthem played in front of a cheering crowd is the goal of every U.S. athlete competing at the FEI World Equestrian Games™ Tryon 2018.
With the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, now in the rearview mirror, U.S. Equestrian has turned its attention to the future with a performance plan for the eight U.S. Equestrian FEI disciplines. While constantly changing and adapting, the program seeks to provide a transparent pathway, along with services and support, for U.S. athletes and horses, which will subsequently enable them and enhance their ability to win more medals at future championships.
Across the spectrum, U.S. Equestrian hopes to identify the very best horses, athletes and ultimately athlete/horse combinations within each discipline. Having the U.S. teams on the international stage in itself is not the priority or the goal of the High Performance Programs. The goal of the U.S. Equestrian Team and the High Performance Programs is to bring home medals and be at the top of the sport in each discipline. In line with the new strategic plan, the programs will use the success from medals won internationally to benefit the entire equestrian community in the United States and continue to grow its base.
The primary targets over the next four years are the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games for the Olympic and Paralympic disciplines as well as the 2018 World Equestrian Games (WEG) in Tryon for all eight disciplines. In the long-run, medals are always the ultimate goal for the United States Equestrian Teams, but WEG also offers the first of only two opportunities to qualify teams for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The Pan American Games in Lima in 2019 are also important for Olympic qualification in addition to seeing U.S. athletes on the podium. Annual championships at all levels are also a key target, especially in driving where only one of the disciplines competes at WEG.
In order to achieve these goals, the overall program will:
The overall program, as well as each discipline-specific program, is built on five key pillars, which include talent, vision, environment, commitment and resource. The program and the governance structure that supports the program will address each of these areas, delivering support, guidance and information across the five pillars.
The aim of this plan is growing the number of cross-discipline programs, but also continue to improve everything the team does and how funding is utilized in order to generate top performance. Within the discipline-specific programs, the plan addresses specific achievements and who is involved with achieving those goals in the hopes of being far clearer in regards to who the Team is working with, why the team is working with them and what’s expected in return.
“There was some criticism about communication after Rio, but you can’t improve communication without people knowing who is communicating with who,” explained U.S. Equestrian director of sport programs, Will Connell. “That is one of the key aims with this plan — to define who is communicating with who, when, how and why.”
He continued, “What we had in the buildup to Rio — each discipline was working on their own plan and there wasn’t a clearly identified, articulated plan that covered and connected all eight disciplines, or in terms of Rio, three Olympic and one Paralympic discipline. If you ask what development was in one discipline it was very different than what it was for another discipline. Part of the aim of this plan is to better articulate what we mean by high performance — that has never been defined. We are now trying to articulate what the pathway is and how we will develop and grow the pathway in each discipline.”
Each discipline-specific program will be different, but they all address key issues and will be structured to identify elite, developmental and emerging athletes. Each discipline will have key performance indicators, which will allow the progress of each program to be measured. Each discipline will also continue to grow and expand, specifically in the para equestrian disciplines where para driving and para reining will become a focus.
In addition to the discipline-specific programs, cross-discipline programs are being developed as the resources becomes available. These include the Human Sports Science and Medicine Program, the Equine Sports Science and Medicine Program, Coaching and Coach Development, Continuing Professional Development and Athlete Development. Supporting the cross-discipline programs will not be at the expense of the discipline-specific programs as U.S. Equestrian works to focus on how they use the funding, whether it is for a program or an athlete. It is also hoped that by clearly “packaging” the programs it will be far clearer to potential sponsors and donors what we are seeking to achieve and how they can support the aims.
The core aim of the Human Sports Science Medicine Program is to deliver athletes who are fit for purpose in body and mind and able to make lifestyle decisions that will enhance their ability to maximize their potential. It is vital that there is full understanding of the athletes’ needs and the effect that physical change in the athlete can have on the horse. The program also seeks to assist athletes with their off horse decisions; the ability of an athlete to develop a string of horses, giving them strength in depth, will often run parallel with their ability to run their equine business.
The aim of the Equine Sports Science Medicine (Equine SSM) Program is multi-faceted and covers the whole spectrum from challenging the scientific community to find answers to performance enhancing questions to delivering direct support to athletes and horses. The program subdivides in a number of areas:
The Coach Development Program will ultimately seek to link with a wider federation program for trainers and coaches, which might include development, certification and recognition. The aim is to work with affiliates that are already running programs, provide opportunities for coaches/trainers to develop their skills and abilities and ultimately run a program that identifies and helps develop the elite coaches for the future.
The Athlete Development Program will seek to provide opportunities for athletes to develop the skills that will underpin the professionalization of their chosen sporting career. It will also help those who support athletes early in their careers to understand the pathway, challenges, business needs and pitfalls that might lie ahead.
Each year, the plan will undergo an annual review, which will be for all U.S. Equestrian FEI discipline sport staff, chefs d’équipe, athlete representation and staff that regularly support the teams and program. During this review, attendees will address the previous 12 months and identify performance-enhancing opportunities going forward, discuss targets and confirm program and competition plans for the next 12 months. There will also be an opportunity for continual professional development and an opportunity to exercise the mind.
As a whole, this plan represents the vision; the commitment will come from the implementation and ability to remain focused on the milestone targets through the inevitable ups and downs. The plan is resource dependent and will take months if not years to fully implement. The plan will continue to develop through honest, open and regular communication and willingness by all to work together for the betterment of the U.S. Equestrian teams.
“I think what we have is a more structured plan in terms of how we are going forward as a sport and for each individual discipline, clearly laying out what it takes to be at the top end of the sport,” noted Connell.
“Each discipline will have a variation of differences within their plan because each discipline has different levels of funding, and also has a different form of development. For example, show jumping is primarily a competition-based program at the top end, while in dressage they may not compete quite as much so everything has to be fit within that disciplines’ needs. It still needs to be structured under one plan however, so we are also going to effectively say this is what it takes to be elite and this is what it takes to win medals and we’re going to put funding in against short-term and long-term goals,” he concluded.
Through this plan and the support of the USET Foundation and its donors, the federation membership and the team sponsors, the U.S. Equestrian Team can strive to achieve greatness on the international stage for each of the eight FEI disciplines.