Five Time Olympian Robert Dover has announced his retirement from running Romance Farm Inc. and his teaching and training business, "After 30 years, it is time for me to move my life to its next phase." Dover told DressageDaily. "I am writing a book and working on my non-profits, the Equestrian Aid Foundation and Well Wish International, for which I am extremely passionate. Needless to say, I intend to remain quite busy."
But Dover, who will be honored at the USDF Convention this December where he is being inducted into the Hall of Fame, does intend to continue with his popular symposiums for dressage organizations and individuals, like the one recently held at NEDA this year. Dover's Symposiums are both educational and entertaining and are geared towards the auditors as well as the participant. Dover spends two days going through the training scale in a very interactive and entertaining environment. "My commitment is that everyone will go home feeling like they have had a life changing weekend at the most and a lot of fun at the very least." Anyone interested in details can contact Robert directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Robert Dover Offers Parting Thoughts on the Current State of Dressage and Looks Forward to a New Future
By Lynndee Kemmet
Six-time Olympian Robert Dover was the featured clinician for NEDA's spring symposium, held May 17-18 at Apple Knoll Farm in Millis, Mass. NEDA had the honor of hosting Robert for one of his final clinics before he retires from the dressage world to pursue new ventures.
As usual, Robert both enlightened and entertained. His enthusiasm was infectious. And while he made the riders really work, he also made the whole event fun for both riders and auditors. Robert plans to bid farewell to his dressage career in October when he retires from the dressage world, but admits he might be drawn back to teach a clinic or two in the future. And while he might keep a horse for his own pleasure, his focus will be on his new venture – Well Wish International.
In an interview, Robert shared his views on the current state of dressage riding and the sport of dressage in the U.S. today. He also describe his plans for his post-dressage life.
Q: What do you enjoy about doing a NEDA clinic?
Dover: The New England Dressage Association is historically one of the strongest organizations for dressage and it has always done a super job supporting the sport here in New England with great clinics and great horse shows. There has always been a tremendous energy that is exhibited by the people up here in terms of really going all out to make the sport stronger and I enjoy being around NEDA members.
Q: As a teacher, when you do a clinic such as NEDA, what sort of problems do you see that riders have?
Dover:It doesn't matter where you go, you see pretty much the same thing. There really only is one true lesson. It doesn't mean you don't have refinements or work on certain movements or exercises. But basically, in a lesson we're trying to perfect the half-halts so that at all times we can bring the horse to a perfect state of balance and attention for whatever the task it is that we'll be asking of the horse.
It would be the same for a jumper rider who says, 'I'm going to try to perfect my horse's balance and connection and attention level so that we are so harmonized in what we're thinking so that if I say 'now go jump this' it doesn't matter when or where.' This means that there's a very strong sense that the horse will be able to jump clear if the rider doesn't make a big mistake. It's the same way with dressage horses. If we do the right thing from the beginning, the chances of that horse being able to understand and be pliable to the rider's aids and be confident enough to go up the training scale is much greater than if we don't have those sound basics applied every day. So that's basically what every lesson is about.
Q: What do you think of general state of riding in the U.S. today?
Dover: I think that we have a lot of talented riders across the country, whether it be in dressage or jumping or three-day eventing. And, I think that, I can't speak so much for the other sports, but I will say that dressage is strong. However, the quality of our system by which we're bringing riders and horses to the highest levels could be stronger. I think that our system right now is in need of an overhaul, with regard to the program that there is in place to produce a stronger base of top riders and horses at the highest levels from which to select our teams. We do not have a strong enough program in place to produce a larger base of top quality riders and horses.
Q: What do you think we need to change that? Money, perhaps?
Dover:Money is always an integral part of our sport. But the problem isn't really there. The problem is that we don't have a strong enough junior and young rider program. We have the classes. It's not that the classes aren't there. The classes are all there, but it's that we don't have a strong enough program to train the juniors and young riders and then develop them through the levels up to the international level.
Guenter got there because Guenter is great. Debbie got there because Debbie is great on a great horse. But that's not the question. The question is what about all the ones that are great riders that are maybe on great horses, but have fallen between the cracks because there is no program that is in place to ensure that they don't fall through the cracks.
With our developing rider and horse list, what ought to be happening is there should be a minimum of nine clinics going in a year for our developing riders and horses. That has not happened. And we have had for over two years now, a developing coach whose job should have been to do that. I'm not saying that person hasn't done it because the person didn't want to, I'm saying that it just didn't happen. So, what I believe is that the program in the United States for developing our riders and horses has to be strengthened. If they don't strengthen it, then what will happen is what could happen this year, which remains to be seen. If one of those top horses falls out for any reason, we will be out of any chance for a medal.
Q: You're a very good instructor and you seem to enjoy it, but is there a shortage of good people who could be doing these clinics. Are we not training enough teachers?
Dover:I think that in the end, when someone has had a large amount of experience and exposure to top riding over many years, then by having done that, they should see things a little clearer from a bigger perspective. And, the number of people who see things from that perspective are naturally going to be smaller than those who don't have that perspective because they haven't had the advantage of having been competing internationally or training internationally.
So, I think that we definitely have a group of riders and trainers who have that kind of experience and exposure. The question is not just whether they are there but whether our equestrian federation will avail itself of their help. What happens is that the program, from my perspective, needs to be altered. And it will only happen if the United States believes that it needs to happen and we'll see about that.
Q: With such a need for good instructors, you have still chosen to leave dressage. Is this a sign that you are frustrated with the sport?
Dover: Oh no, I'm not frustrated at all. There have been times in my life when I've been more than frustrated. But at this point in my life, I'm not frustrated. I enjoy what I do when I do it, whether that's with horses or not with horses. At this point, I have things I want to do in my life that have nothing to do with being frustrated in terms of the sport. It has only to do with what I see myself doing for the second half of my life.
Q: Can you elaborate on your future plans?
Dover: My desire is to create an organization, which we're in the process of creating, called Well Wish International. Well Wish International will be devoted to the drilling and creating of wells for water in Third World countries. My hope is to begin with South Africa and Zambia and that will be called Well Wish for Africa. And that will go from village to village where there is great need and drill wells.
Q: Do you think that water will become as scarce a resource as say oil?
Dover: Water already is a scarce resource. If you go to many of these countries, there is no drinkable water. Women have to walk for miles and you will see them on the sides of the roads either at a creek or a river or a pipe. If they are fortunate, they will go to another city where water may come once or twice a week and then they sit there for an entire day hoping it may come on that particular day. If it does, then they walk miles back home with five gallons of water on their head. That's just not okay.
Q: With all the important issues in the world that need to be addressed, why does this one capture your attention?
Dover: It's not that I realize those other issues aren't there. But there are three issues that are intertwined. One is water. And water means food and health care and education. Those three things are intertwined because if you don't have water, you don't have food. And kids will not go to school if there is no food for the family. So, if there is no food, then kids won't go to school. And if there is no school, then kids won't be educated and with a lack of education, health care also plummets.
When I went to Africa, I was completely stunned by the poverty level. I had seen such poverty in other countries. But the difference for me wasn't that I hadn't seen such incredible poverty before, the difference was with the resignation of the people that I met in Africa to the fact that life was hopeless. That's what really made me think to myself, 'If I could do something, I would have such a passion to do this and I would be thrilled to be able to do something to help.' So my idea was to create Well Wish. And Well Wish, which I think has great double meaning, would create funds for groups like Engineers Without Borders, which is a great group of mostly young people from universities who give months of their time to go over and help with drilling wells. But of course, funds are needed to make things like that happen. And I want to help with that.
Q: You seem well suited for something like this considering your experience with helping to fund and build the Equestrian Aid Foundation. Do you see a crossover with your experience here?
Dover: Absolutely. Many people think the horse world is made up of people who are very much insular and not concerned with the betterment of our world, but I completely disagree with that. I think that from everything I've seen, horse people are generally people who truly do want to help other people and truly do want to help animals as well. And, of course, where we help people, we help animals. And so, I hope that my efforts going forward with Well Wish International will be with the grace of the horse world.
Q: Are you really planning to give up dressage entirely?
Dover: I don't believe that I'm going to completely walk away. I have to have a hobby and a horse for myself after I retire. And I'll probably just go from time to time and see how the horse world is coming along. If I have the chance to go to a show here and there and see how things are going with people, I'll do it.
Q: Do you think that you will ever teach in dressage again?
Dover: I don't have plans to do so, but one never knows. I would like to do a symposium like the NEDA one, or do a clinic, a few times a year. I'm not going to say that I would never do that because I don't know how I'll feel after I move myself forward to my next place in my life.