Double 2010 WEG medallist USA Dressage rider Steffen Peters calls USEF Dressage Technical Adxisor/National Coach Anne Gribbons "Boss" and for all the right reasons!
DressageDaily feature writer Kelly Sanchez caught up with Anne Gribbons in California for this insightful interview with "The Boss" as she and USEF Managing Director and Dressage Chef d’Equipe Eva Salomon travelled to the west coast completed a scouting tour, clinics and shows before leaving for the World Cup Finals this week, in Liepsig, Germany.
To watch Anne Gribbons at a dressage show, you quickly understand why Steffen Peters refers to her simply as “Boss.” Coaching the high-performance riders at a CDI in Los Angeles in April, she was seemingly in 10 places at once — monitoring the action in the show rings, closely observing horses and riders in the warm-ups, offering suggestions, fielding phone calls, greeting old friends.
As USEF Technical Advisor/National Coach, Gribbons draws on her considerable expertise as not only a 5* international dressage judge, but a competitor, instructor, barn owner and show manager, and it’s a role that she relishes. Even before she was named to her post, Gribbons had a vision for American dressage, and now, nearly a year and a half into her tenure, which runs through 2012, she has already achieved some lofty goals. The U.S. dressage team’s somewhat unexpected success at last fall’s Alltech/FEI World Equestrian Games (where Steffen Peters won two individual bronze medals, and the U.S. dressage team qualified for the 2012 Olympics in London) was only the start.
Three Americans are competing at the World Cup Dressage Finals in Leipzig. Germany, and in July she intends to send a Nations Cup team for the first time since 2005 to the World Equestrian Festival CHIO in Aachen. After the Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, in October, preparations will heat up for next summer’s Olympic Games in London. “We have plans for everything,” she says with a smile.
An American Brand of Dressage
David and Anne Gribbons at the 2000 Collecting Gaits Farm/USEF Dressage National Championships.
The Swedish-born Gribbons, who lives in Florida with her husband, David, acknowledges the challenges of putting together a dressage program in a country as vast as the U.S., but she’s quick to praise the wealth of coaching talent from coast to coast. “We have the people who went to Europe and did it all — their knowledge should now be poured into our young people. It’ll take a whole bunch of teachers from here to start our young riders correctly at the bottom and go up the pipeline. We still need to go to Europe to show, I’m sorry to say, but I’d like for us to be able to do the pre-work here and not necessarily have to send people to Europe to train and work in the barns. I think we could have a brand of dressage that’s ours.”
She argues that Americans should also be training their own horses and not relying on importing top prospects from abroad. “The Europeans are never going to sell us a trained horse that’s going to beat them — not at the highest levels. We need to breed our own horses as well, but that’s an even longer process. I probably won’t live to see it, but I look forward to the day when Americans can field a winning team of horses trained and bred here. It’s 20 years from now, but we’ve got to have a plan. We can’t always leave it up to some other nation to fix us.”
Gribbons made sure her team came together just not in competition but during the "down time" when training at USET headquarters in Gladstone NJ, they did dinner and a cruise to the statue of Liberty in New York. Steffen Peters, Catherine Bateason Chandler, Todd Flettrich and alternate rider Pierre St Jacques
Gribbons knows that it takes “true grit and discipline” to make it in the high-performance arena, particularly in the U.S. “What I hope,” she says, “is that when I leave this job there’s a system in place that the riders trust, because this is what we’ve been lacking. It’s an enormous task, because the country is so huge. Our biggest enemy is our distances. In Germany or Holland, they can hop in the car and meet in two hours. We have that fight and always will. But if we work together, we can make it better.”
Her job, she contends, is not to teach every American. “As we see horses and riders at the shows and in the clinics, we can tell which direction they’re going,” she says. “If there’s a problem, I go in and say something. After 30 years of judging, I know how it’s supposed to look. I’m not trying to tell them how to do it, I’m trying to tell them how to make it better. I have no other agenda. I don’t try to sell them horses. I don’t try to tell them how to run their lives. But I do expect them to respect my opinion and the fact that I really care.”
Tina Konyot and Calecto V
Tina Konyot, a member of the U.S. dressage team at WEG, has known Gribbons since she was a girl and appreciates that Gribbons respects her as the “passionate, outspoken person” that she is. “Being a trainer herself and someone who’s developed her own horses, Anne very much believes in people working hard,” says Konyot. “She’s a very dedicated woman, and she’s been aware of my struggle to stay above water as a horse trainer. She knows I train alone; I’ve made all my horses on my own. Having Anne on the ground, helping me, advising me — it works beautifully. I’m always grateful when someone with knowledge respects you and doesn’t come in like they know everything. In the most genuine way, Anne is trying to put together a program for all of us. It’s about the American program, not just individual riders. She’s been involved in every aspect of the sport, and she has a very clear and fair outlook on all of it. As an international judge, her eyes are different. We have access to a person who knows what’s going to get us those extra two points. It’s so special that she’s right there for us.”
Preparing for Success at WEG
Carl Chandler, Eva Salomon, Jane Clark, Anne Gribbons, Dr. Rick Mitchell, Tina Konyot, and Todd Flettrich at the Alltech/FEI World Equestrian Games cheering Catherine Bateson Chandlers
Many believe that the U.S. dressage team’s intensive preparation for the World Equestrian Games was key to its success in Kentucky, and Gribbons’ approach left no doubt as to the discipline and dedication that she expected from her riders. At USET headquarters in Gladstone, New Jersey, she posted a daily schedule for WEG team members Peters, Konyot, Todd Flettrich and Katherine Bateson-Chandler that even included socializing in addition to sessions with a sport psychologist. “We had two weeks after the trials,” Gribbons recalls, “and every day they had their own training time. When I first put up the schedule, they were a little taken aback. But they all came to every session.
“We had lunch together every day and went to parties and dinners together,” Gribbons continues. “All this socializing really cemented them. I actually had comments from the other coaches and chefs at WEG that the Americans looked like they had such a good time together. It was a really good image. When the horses went into the ring, everybody was there helping.”
Anne Gribbons works with Steffen Peters and Ravel
Peters has long been a fan of Gribbons and her no-nonsense approach. “There’s no doubt — and I mean this in a positive way — that Anne is tougher than Klaus [former U.S. Chef d’Equipe Klaus Balkenhol], but also very, very fair to the horse and rider,” he says. “Anne had a tough act to follow, because, let’s face it, Klaus did a very successful job. But I always thought that we were missing a little bit of structure, not just for the training but afterwards — the program, getting the team together in one facility, being insistent on the sport psychology, the physical fitness. And that’s what Anne has introduced.
Steffen Peters and Anne Gribbons collaborate at the World Equestrian Games
I always call her ‘Boss.’ I personally like that extra authority. [In Germany] I spent two years in the army, and that structure and organization really helped me. Anne doesn’t take it quite as far,” he adds with a laugh, “but I’ve had tests with Ravel where he came out at a 78 or even an 80 percent, and the first thing she said was, ‘We’ve got to work on this, this and this.’ And that works great for me, because it’s always a learning curve. She really helped me with Ravel’s left pirouette and the passage and brought them consistently a point higher. A big part of those two bronze medals belongs to her.”
Selecting a Team
US Dressage Team at the Alltech/FEI World Equestrian Games 2011; Todd Flettrich, Catherine Bateson Chandler, Tina Konyot, Steffen Peters
As for the pressures and politics—real or imagined—that come with such a high-profile position, Gribbons shrugs them off. “When you’re judging internationally, you are used to pressure from trainers and sponsors, much heavier than we are used to in this country. There is plenty of pressure in Europe, with those trainers and sponsors breathing down your neck, and you’d better be able to stand your ground. In the U.S., we are thrilled to have wonderful sponsors for the horse, but we are not going to care if one sponsor’s horse makes the team over another. It’s not about the sponsorship. In the end, the best horse and rider wins, the cream rises to the top. It is the judges at the Trials who select the team. Those judges are our very best, and they’re motivated to put out a good team.
“Of course, we’ve been criticized for picking our teams democratically,” she notes with a smile. “The Europeans laugh at us and say, ‘Why don’t you just have somebody pick them?’ I have now been involved in the procedures for making a team 20 times or more in one capacity or another—coaching, riding or judging. Our system may look cumbersome to others, because we’re so terribly fair and democratic, but in general we have ended up with the right horses on the team.”
The March to the Pan Am Games
Gribbons with the silver medal team at the Pan American Games: Anne Gribbons, Guenter Seidel, Elizabeth Ball, and Leslie Webb
She’s especially pleased with the talent available for this fall’s Pan Am Games, which are held at the small tour. “I am so certain that we will have the most exciting trials,” she says. “We have phenomenal horses at the top and phenomenal riders, and for the first time ever, I can say that we also have depth. We’ve always had a stronger contingent in the small tour, but not with this kind of quality. It’s really amazing.”
Steffen Peters agrees. “Dressage in the United States is still growing, and we’re at a point right now where we can say that we have some fantastic horses. That’s a huge responsibility for our coach, and I know that Anne can handle it.”