During last week's U.S. Dressage Federation Annual Convention in Austin, Texas, George Williams, who has been serving as the vice president of USDF, was elected to replace Sam Barish as president of USDF. A USDF Bronze, Silver and Gold medalist, Williams has been a leading force in U.S. dressage for many years. In addition to his national and international success as a dressage competitor, he has long been active on numerous USDF and U.S. Equestrian Federation boards and committees. In this 'Q and A' Williams shares some of his thoughts about the USDF and where it needs to go in the near future.
Q: First off, how do you feel about being elected USDF president?
A: I'm very honored to be elected and I'm very excited about the future of USDF. I am certainly looking forward to working with the USDF. As president, I'd like to see what we can do to continue moving forward with the programs that we already offer so that they can be even more successful.
Q: Do you see any particular challenges the USDF faces that need to be addressed?
A: Well, one area that we would like to address is the instructor training and certification process. Last year, we started discussion about performance standards to help improve the quality of riding in this country and that should continue. There are really three major parts to this. One is to address rider education. Another part addresses education of the judges. And the third, where USDF can really play a role, is the quality of instruction available to our riders.
I think another more general issue we need to address is that of making dressage more rewarding and fun for the average rider. This might mean doing a number of things, but particularly creating some sort of system where riders compete more peer to peer. This isn't really about rating shows, but more about looking at the classes that are offered. I'm not really talking about amateur and professional. I think we need to look at the riding in terms of level of expertise or level of experience so that it's more peer to peer. I think we need to look not only at how other countries do this, but also at how other breeds and disciplines in the U.S. do this. Maybe this means offering classes that, for example, are for riders who have competed up to a certain level, such as Third Level and below.
Q: What is your view on the rollkur issue?
A: My own feeling regarding the hyperflexion issue is that we need to continue to look at it and we need to be very diligent to make sure that the rules that we have in place about abuse are enforced. And, I think that organizations, such as the USDF and USEF, should encourage officials to speak up and support them when they do.
Q: Looking forward to the World Equestrian Games, do you feel that U.S. dressage will be strong coming into the WEG?
A: I would love to see us in a stronger place coming into the WEG, but I think that we are going to have to work very hard. We do have some very good combinations out there. Obviously, Steffen Peters and Ravel come to mind immediately, but there are others. What we must do is make sure that we have our best horses and riders there and that they have the support that they need in order to do their best. Providing such support is not solely the role of the USDF, but we do need to provide what support we can.
Q: Where do you see U.S. dressage going in the coming years?
A: I think we have to be proactive to keep it a growing sport. It's a tough economy and there is an overall trend of horses becoming more and more expensive. Overall, there aren't that many new people entering equestrian sports. It can be costly and the days of riding schools, where people could learn to ride and get started in equestrian sports, are gone. So, those are some challenges we face in getting new people into the sport and helping it grow. To address these challenges, I think that for one, we have to put some fun back into the sport. And we have to keep our young rider programs going. Compared to some of the other equestrian sports, we're not getting as many young people into dressage, at least, not as many as I would like to see. I think we need to look very closely at the process that brings young riders from leadline classes forward to adult riders and even to being high performance riders. I think that we should look at this pipeline of development and see where else the USDF can insert itself and offer support.