Although the number of times he's been on a horse are less than a dozen, Sam Barish is a well-known name in the dressage world. For the past ten years, he's been president of the U.S. Dressage Federation. It's a position he has greatly enjoyed having, but one that he is now leaving in order to devote time to his other interests – tennis, travel, basketball and managing part of the Fusion Energy Sciences program at the Department of Energy. The 2009 USDF Annual Convention/Symposium featuring Jan Brink will be Barish's last convention as president. He shares his thoughts and reflects on the growth and accomplishments of the USDF with DressageDaily's Lynndee Kemmet.
Barish, 65, of Rockville, Maryland, became involved in the world of dressage because of his ex-wife, Ruth Barish, and when he jumped into the dressage world, he did it with both feet. Barish was immediately impressed not only with the beauty of the sport, but with the dedication of riders involved. His involvement in an official capacity started in 1977 when he became the second president of the Western Pennsylvania Dressage Association. By 1980, he was announcing at dressage shows – a job he loves and plans to continue doing even after his retirement from USDF. In 1983, he became a dressage technical delegate and from 1984-1988 was either the president or chairman of the board of the Potomac Valley Dressage Association. From 1988-1995, he was the USDF Region 1 director and from 1997-1999 the USDF vice president. He took over as president in 2000. Barish also founded the very successful Colonel Bengt Ljungquist Memorial Championships in 1983.
Since 2000, Barish has also served with AHSA, USA Equestrian, or the United States Equestrian Federation in a number of capacities, including as a member of the Board of Directors, Dressage Committee, High Performance Dressage Committee, Budget and Finance Committee, Hearing Committee, Federation Representatives Committee, FEI Affiliates Working Group, and Executive Committee. He also served for three years as the first vice president for FEI Affiliates of the United States Equestrian Federation and has served for the USET on the Board of Directors and the Dressage Committee.
Although known as a "dressage" person, Barish actually has very non-dressage interests. His "real" work career has involved managing several physics research programs at the U.S. Department of Energy. And when it comes to sports, his two other passions are basketball and tennis. Basketball he follows as a die-hard fan. Tennis he plays, and quite well. He's a ranked player in his age group with the Mid-Atlantic Tennis Association.
In this interview with dressagedaily.com, Barish talks about his challenges and success during his tenure as USDF president and about his future plans in his post-USDF years.
Q: You haven't done much riding in your life, but what do you most like about riding and horses?
A: I have been on a horse less than ten times in my life. I do not know how to ride. I think that well-performed dressage is beautiful, even a Training Level test. I have great respect for how difficult it is to ride dressage well.
Q: What were the biggest challenges you faced as USDF president?
A: There were several. First, making the move of the USDF headquarters from Lincoln, Nebraska to the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington and completing the building on schedule and at substantially less cost than budgeted.
Second, raising more than $4.2 million in the capital campaign for the USDF National Education Center so that our mortgage will be paid off by 2011 and we will incur no costs for rent (as we had in Lincoln, Nebraska). And third, working effectively within the USDF's complex governance structure to achieve results, implement our strategic plan and move the organization forward.
Q: What did you most enjoy about being USDF president?
A: One was being able to make a difference, with a sense of accomplishment, to improve the USDF's effectiveness and prominence in the equestrian community and to advance dressage in the U.S. Another was working with the leaders of the U.S. Equestrian Federation and its affiliate organizations to try to solve the problems of equestrian sports in the U.S. An important part of this has been the cooperation between the USDF and the USEF (our next-door neighbors at the Kentucky Horse Park), which has led to improvements in the ease of processing of memberships, many aspects of licensed competitions for show managers and competitors and electronic processing of competition results.
Q: Do you have one piece of advice you'd give to the next president?
A: Yes – address the difficult issues and make the tough decisions based on what is in the USDF's best interest, as opposed to what might be politically advantageous or expedient.
Q: Dressage doesn't have the following in the U.S. as a sport that it does in Europe. What ideas would you have for making dressage a more popular sport in the U.S.?
A:Promoting dressage to the public has proven to be very difficult. I think that we have made strides by emphasizing the attractiveness of the freestyle to general audiences. I think the WEG should help a great deal with all of the TV coverage from the event being held in the U.S. I think a key is explanation from commentators, in simple terms during rides, the various movements being performed – why they are important and why they are so difficult to perform. Emphasizing the beauty and difficulty of the sport is key. Another thing that might help is making the dress code less formal so that it is more varied and interesting. I believe that the formality of the dress code turns many people off and gives the perception that dressage is an elite sport.
Q: If you hadn't devoted so much of your time to the horse world, what would you be doing with your life?
A: I would be spending more time with my family, playing more tennis, following basketball more closely, traveling more, and seeing more plays and movies.
Q: What would you still like to achieve in your life? For example, is there a trip you'd like to take, something you'd like to do, etc.?
A: There is still much that I would like to accomplish in management of the stellarator and innovative confinement concepts research programs within the Fusion Energy Sciences program at the U.S. Department of Energy. I would like to become a better tennis player so that I could be more successful in U.S. Tennis Association-sanctioned tournaments. I would like to spend more time following basketball at the pro, college and high school level. And, I would like to visit the Far East and some of the European countries that I have not been to.
Q: How many children do you have? Any grandchildren?
A: I have one adult son who is an attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice. He is working on the Guantanamo Bay litigation, which is the top priority of the Justice Department. I don't have any grandchildren (yet).