With a judging schedule racking up frequent flier miles, Anne Gribbons literally covered the world in 2009 officiating as an “O” dressage judge at every major competition for dressage at the International Level. Gribbons, at the request of several of the USEF Eligible Athletes quietly submitted her application for consideration as the Dressage Technical Advisor/Chef during the USEF job hunt, but clearly outlined her position from the start – with contractual commitments through November of 2009, if selected, she could not officially begin her job until January 1, 2010. Gribbons brought to the table her years of experience in this country not only as a USET Team rider and trainer who has successfully trained and shown thirteen of her own horses to Grand Prix, but as a judge who has literally seen every major horse and rider combination in the world.
Gribbons has also served the sport in a national and international capacity on many boards and committees, personally taking part in the process which continues to work in the best interest of the horse and the sport. After a lengthy process Gribbons was elected for the position by the USEF Eligible Athletes Committee and just last week the contract was signed. Despite the fact that her job technically begins January 1, Gribbons has given her time coordinating and attending some of the clinics throughout the country with leading trainers. She has begun observing and working with invited horse and rider combinations from the Elite and Developing listed American dressage community. Anne Gribbons visited with DressageDaily’s Mary Phelps and Lynndee Kemmet to discuss her position and plans.
Because for several months during 2009 there was no Director of Dressage, a position which was vacated by Gil Merrick in September, nor a national coach, the USEF had money in the 2009 budget for Dressage that had not been spent on salaries for those positions. Hence, Gribbons worked with the USEF Dressage Committee to make use of the funding. “The money was only there for 2009," Gribbons said. “So we put it to work.” The money went toward a series of clinics with Steffen Peters, Guenter Seidel, Debbie McDonald and Kyra Kyrklund, and High Performance riders were invited to participate throughout the country. The funds were also used to initiate a pilot program for ponies and youth conducted by Lendon Gray.
Gribbons' new position hit a bump in the road when she was not only selected by the FEI to be the president of the ground jury and judge for the Alltech/FEI World Equestrian Games, but was also selected as the USEF and North American representative for the FEI Dressage Committee. “I expected a possible judging position for the WEG (which has since been replaced with Linda Zang),” Gribbons said. “And I knew my name was on the list for the FEI Dressage Committee, but I have been on this list at least twice before, and since I was convinced it would be in conflict with my position, I never expected to be appointed. I also knew there were other capable people nominated for the FEI committee.” Since there had not been an American representative on this committee for several years it was important to the USEF that Gribbons also serve in this position. With this new development, Gribbons cannot be the chef d’Equipe because it involves a conflict of interest with the FEI, but can without conflict be Technical Advisor. A replacement for a new Director of Dressage with an international reputation is being interviewed who will serve in this capacity.
In her first interview with the media since confirming the contract, Anne Gribbons shared her thoughts with DressageDaily.
Q: First off, how did you feel about being selected as dressage technical advisor?
A: It was somewhat amazing. Afterward, I thought about the fact that the competitors that I have ridden against, who were my colleagues and who had been judged by me trusted me that much. I will try to live up to it and do my best and that's all I can do. I hope that will get everyone to come together as one team. And I think that if we do, the end result will be good. I know that the riders are strong personalities, most dressage riders are, and I include myself on that one. I know that in competition strong personalities can sometimes be hard to deal with. But I think those who can see the whole picture are going to sign on.
This job is a huge responsibility, but it is also a great challenge. I love training and showing myself. There are times when I would be sitting as a judge and be almost jealous of the rider. If you are an active rider and competitor, you aren't quite ready to give that part up are you?
Q: What will be your role be as dressage technical advisor and how will that be different from what we've had in the past in terms of having a dressage team coach?
A: My main role is going to guide and help the elite athletes, and then to oversee programs coordinating both our international and national programs so that eventually we develop a pipeline for riders from beginning to end. That is one of my roles and it is very different from what we've had in the past.
I am also in charge of the coaches in the respect that I will guide and monitor the progress. I've ridden, competed, taught and judged for over 30 years. I know what I'm looking at and I do know if it's getting better or worse. That being said, I am not there to impose my system or methods into the process, but to work with coaches to help both them and their students get the best results. I will be monitoring both horse shows and training sessions. If after doing that and if it is going well, then fine. If not, then I'll have to step in to deal with what is not working and then the rider and the coach have to decide how to address that.
It is also important that we finally have a technical advisor who lives in the United States. That makes me more approachable than if I was just someone who came in for a week or two and then was gone. It's a whole different game. So, let's see if it works. All we can do is hope that this new approach leads to a better situation in the long run.
Q: So this is a new role for the U.S. Other countries have something like team managers, but U.S. dressage has not used this before, correct?
A: Exactly, this is new. It's similar to the” Bundestrainer” in Germany or a team captain. Naturally, if someone wants to work with me who doesn't have a personal trainer, I'll be happy to help them. But I'm not going to in any way try to push that part, because I don't think it's possible for one person to do it all for everyone. I also very much respect peoples personal choices for their trainers. There are very few riders who have made it all the way to the top who do not have their personal trainer. That's a very trusting relationship and it comes from a long time of working together. Unless you have to interfere because something isn't going right, you shouldn't. Of course, I will have input. I do know what it should look like ,and my judge's eye should become an asset in evaluating the performance of our horses and riders.
Q: Will you still be judging?
A: I was asked to be the head for the ground jury for the World Equestrian Games, but I told the athletes in the interview that I would forego that if they chose me. They did, and sure enough after the vote I found out they had appointed me as head of the ground jury and it was a hard thing to walk away from. But I had promised and I like to keep my promises. I applied for the job so of course I wanted it. But you can't do everything and no, I can't judge the WEG. But I am allowed to judge a CDI where there are no Americans competing. The USEF has agreed to allow me to go to shows that are approved ahead of time by them as not being in conflict with things I need to be doing with our athletes. So, I am allowed to judge far away shows, such as in Australia – where it is certain there are no Americans showing. I could do some in Europe where there are no Americans and I'll know where the Americans are as that's part of my job. The point is that the USEF is not looking for me to lose my judging license so they are trying to be helpful to make sure I can maintain that. Also, if you don't judge for a long while, you lose your touch and I don't want to do that.
Q: Will you keep that position on the FEI Dressage Committee?
A: With the appointment of a new Director for Dressage at USEF, I will have the help I need to do both although I am somewhat worried about starting two important jobs at the same time. It was not my original intent to do both, but both the FEI and USEF encouraged me to take this on. I will do my best to fulfill that obligation because I think it's very important that we have somebody from this side of the ocean represent us on the dressage committee. There are only five people on that committee, and I am the only judge. We've already had our first call and have started the work.
Q: What are your plans for getting the ball rolling?
A: In reality, I will tell you I have already been working for months. We had a budget to work with of unspent money for Dressage in 2009 that would not have rolled over to 2010 and we put it to good use. I've played a role in setting up the clinics along with the Eligible Athletes Committee, and have attended several of them to watch the athletes and clinicians together. We've had four clinics: one developing clinic with Steffen Peters in Gladstone, New Jersey, one with Guenter Seidel on the East Coast and with Debbie MacDonald on the West Coast. In November we had a clinic in Florida with Kyra Kyrklund which was very productive. We also have started a youth and pony pilot program with Lendon Gray which will become a national program.
Hopefully, we can tie all this together from national to international so we can get system in place that starts children and ponies and there is no gap between that and junior and young riders. This is all very important to me.
At the USEF January meeting in Kentucky we have a strategic planning committee which will have its first work session to start to get things organized for the future. It will take time, but we need to get going ASAP.
Q: What do you think our chances are for the WEG?
A: The upcoming World Equestrian Games is an opportunity for the competitors to pull together and try to fulfill our mission which is to qualify our team for the Olympics in 2012. At the moment, we are not at our strongest, but I believe that if we all work together, it will not take that long to rebuild a really strong team. We have lots of good, young horses that are up-and-coming but may not be ready in time for the WEG. It's just a time warp that we must go through.
Q: Do you believe we will be in a stronger position for the 2012 Olympics?
A: Yes, I'm confident about that. WEG is what it is,and we are simply going to have to do our best and maybe something will happen that will change things. I judged the European Championships and I know what we are up against. Luckily, we do have a couple of really good combinations that have been very successful this year and perhaps we should bubble wrap them to keep them safe. Ravel and Steffen Peters were unbeatable in 2009, looking good for an individual medal, and Tip Top and Leslie Morse left Europe on a winning note, and Cathrine Haddad based in Europe continues to become more and more consistent. We need to take care of them and then add on whoever rises to the top during the qualifiers. We are not weak in quality, just in numbers, and we cannot afford to lose a single possible pair. What we must avoid in the future is a situation where we are lacking in new competitors knocking at the door.
Q: George Williams, as the new USDF president, has also said that we must review our programs and fill in the gaps from very young rider to international competitor.
A: Right. George and I worked together as co-chairs on the Dressage Technical Committee and that was a good situation. I like working with George because we think alike. We try to stay on track, tell it like it is and be up front. I think it's great that he has become the USDF president. This is an opportunity for the USDF and the USEF to work closer together to create a synergy with the national and international-level programs so that we have one pipeline. We need a clear path for riders to follow in the future.
Q: Will it be your role to get involved in such issues as "hyperflexion" or other training techniques that might either be bad for horses or give the sport a bad name?
A: I have to take issue with it because that's one of the things we're dealing with right now at the FEI. And of course for anyone who coaches, you have to deal with it. But I will say this that so far, the American dressage riders have been close to snow white. We have not had problems so far with our riders and our technical delegates are on the ball. I've not heard of many problems with people overusing hyperflexion in this country, and I'm really proud of that.