Although qualified for the Dressage World Cup Final as the highest ranked horse and rider combination in Dressage for the United States, Tina Konyot has made the calculated decision not to make the trip to 2011 Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ Dressage Final in Leipzig, Germany, April 27 - May 1. This provided Shawna Harding and Come On III who was recently awarded a US Dressage Foundation Grant the opportunity to take her place to represent the USA along with Jan Ebeling and Rafalca, and the European based US rider, Catherine Haddad and Winyamaro. That Konyot, the 2101 USEF National Grand Prix Champion, and USEF Dressage Team member for the fourth placed team at the 2010 Alltech/FEI World Equestrian Games, second ranked USA rider, and 21st ranked Dressage rider world wide chose to pass on the opportunity was not a mystery, but a well thought out decision. The funding was just not there for two trips to Europe. Konyot decided to pass on the World Cup in preference for working towards the long range plans for a European tour later this summer which will culminate in the presence of the USA’a top team at Aachen for the Nation’s Cup Team. But even that at this point is not a sure thing.
I am excited for Shawna (Harding),” Konyot told DressageDaily, “that she now has the opportunity to represent the United States in Leipzig, and know for myself and Calecto V it is a decision which is best for the both of us at this time.” For Konyot who owns her own horse, and funds much of the expense through her work as a trainer and clinician, getting back on her feet financially after devoting much of 2010 to the USEF WEG Team schedule was where she needed to concentrate her efforts. Konyot also got back on her feet in another sense after her performance at the World Dressage Masters Palm Beach, by having knee surgery she had been putting off until the end of their successful winter tour where they won several Grand Prix outings and placed third in the Masters. “The surgery went very well, and now both my horse and I have had a nice break and are on schedule with our program. Calecto is my best friend, and what is most important is that we do what is in the best interest of our work and for how we can best represent our team and goals for 2012. I am excited about the opportunity to be a part of the Nation’s Cup Team at Aachen, but the reality is at the present time I do not have the funds to make any plans for Europe."
The USEF has yet to determine the grants which will be awarded to the selected riders, and even with that amount, it does not cover the total cost for an individual rider and horse to make the trip, which also means being away from her income producing work as a trainer and clinician.
“In a perfect world every outstanding athlete should have the opportunity to develop, train and compete without any financial worries.” Anne Gribbons USEF Dressage Technical Director told DressageDaily. Some countries provide supplement funding through government programs, but no such assistance is available to us in the USA. Some of our riders do struggle and have to make hard choices between competition and work schedules to be able to support themselves and their horse. Our weak economy has also prevented the USEF from being able to assist the riders with travel and training grants to the extent we have in the past. In fact dressage, considered by some as a luxury sport, is at the moment quite vulnerable at the top and in great need for both private and corporate sponsorship going forward to Pan American and Olympic Games.”
Calecto V’s sire, the Danish Stallion Come Back II will still be represented as he is the sire of Harding’s Come On III. Harding, who also owns her own mount will be aided in part through the recent grant she received from the US Dressage Foundation’s Carol Lavell Advanced Dressage Prize was established at The Dressage Foundation, to provide financial assistance for coaching and training to a talented, committed, qualified rider whose plan is to reach and excel at the elite, international standards of high performance dressage. That there is a need for further funding and sponsorship for the growing sector in America of talented horses and riders is undeniable. Even for riders like Steffen Peters, Todd Flettrich and Catherine Bateson who all ride for owners who finance the horses they own, leaving their other clients, clinics, and students which support the additional needs of their income is a factor in their careers.
The High Cost of High Performance
For competitors like Shawna Harding, Tina Konyot, and Heather Blitz who are all professionals owning their own horses, the cost of funding an up to $50,000 trip to Europe is often cost prohibitive when certain opportunities which are not fully funded through the USEF present themselves.
The Americans involved in the Markel/USEF National Young Horse program also face similar challenges when qualifying for the FEI Young Horse Championships held each year in Europe, whose trip is not funded by the National Federation. Qualified horse and rider combinations must fund their own trip, which also means as professionals they need to leave their other horses, students and primary source of income as trainers on hold while representing their country. David Blake made such a sacrifice in 2007 investing in the World Breeding Championships in Verden, Germany with his own Lord Albert, and was not even able to justify the expense in 2010 to travel from California to Illinois for the National Championships. Caroline Roffman who has excelled with several young dressage horses this year is focusing on the National Championships as a goal, and passing on Verden this year with her talented and well qualified 6-year-old Bon Chance. Like Konyot, Roffman is focusing on her opportunity to represent the United States at Aachen as an invited American for the Young Rider Grand Prix division.
Many of the companies which currently “sponsor” some riders who wear saddle pad signage and who are represented on their websites often just donate product for that privilege. A year’s supply of supplements does not pay the shipping and quarantine expenses, let alone the huge cost of horse transport throughout Europe to move horses and gear from training locations to shows.
Yet for riders like Konyot, Harding, and Blitz, all attractive, well spoken and with the undeniable world class talent our country can be proud of there is not the sort of corporate funding and support needed to supplement the expense of having the best in our country representing the sport of Dressage in the international stage.
With the continued growth of high profile opportunities on the internet through increased websites, live streaming, and video archives, as well as riders themselves managing their own websites and marketing there is the hope that the companies who are benefitting from the added exposure and growth will see the value in supporting the efforts which are currently being managed as best as possible by the riders and horses who continue to do our country proud. The need for corporate support as well as 501c3 programs offered through the Dressage Foundation is bigger than ever, and with the Pan American Games in 2010 and the 2012 London Olympics, there are genuine benefits for those who can add their support, including a world class team within a short step to the medal podium.