On Feb. 21, Robert Ridland was named as George Morris’ successor as the next U.S. show jumping chef d’ equipe, a position that will begin in 2013 when Morris retires.
Leading the U.S. show jumping program is a wide-ranging task that doesn’t begin or end with the riders. But Ridland is well prepared to meet the challenge. The family man from Southern California has multiple areas of expertise; his breadth of experience includes two Olympic Games (Montreal 1976, and as reserve at Munich, Germany, in 1972), service on the FEI Jumping Committee and USEF Board of Directors, course designing, and over 30 years in the business of horse sales and training. His company, Blenheim EquiSports runs some of Southern California’s highest rated competitions, and with his wife Hillary, the Ridlands have operated a successful training program, Equi Sports International, for many years.
When he begins his new job, Ridland plans to be a good listener, look at every level of the sport and shake things up if necessary.
What led you to apply for the position of U.S. show jumping chef d’equipe?
I believe that at every level we need to get a better identity here in the United States for our own sport and to not feel that we’re continually subservient to a Euro-centered sport. Admittedly, it’s a sport that originated in Europe, but that was a long time ago. We have to do everything we possibly can to strengthen the sport in North America. There’s so much more to this now in the world that we’re currently in. We have to look at every level.
When did you decide to apply for the position of chef d’equipe?
I put a lot of thought into it, and I took a lot of time to consider applying. I never had any doubts that I was qualified or interested in it, and I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t feel I had a pretty good shot. It was more a question of whether I could fit it into my life. My first priority is my family.
I literally sent in the application the day before it was due. I knew that being U.S. coach is a challenge that would be right up there with the things I’ve always really wanted to do.
How has the United States benefitted from George Morris’ tenure as chef d’equipe, and how will you continue what he started?
There’s no question that George Morris is the greatest teacher our sport has ever seen, anywhere in the world. George told me in great detail how he will be supporting what we’re doing, and he will now be able to devote 100 percent of his time to what he does best and is most passionate about: coaching and bringing along our next generation of future stars. We are in a place in the sport where the balance will be shifted to some degree. We need to have a better idea of where the sport is going in our country, and this is the perfect time to form those tactical maneuvers.
Why is this the perfect time?
Well, the relegation from the Super League. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s certainly a wake-up call. We need to figure out how we’ll get back to what we’ve done in the very recent past. The Federation and every level of the sport know we’re in a good place. At the riders meeting last Thursday in Thermal, Calif., I ran into more people who were excited with the direction we’re going to be heading in and the opportunities that we have. That’s why we’ve been having forums all over the country. The feedback has been quite consistent.
What will be your priorities as chef d’equipe?
My future objective is not only to win as many medals as we can in Rio [de Janeiro at the 2016 Olympic Games], but to also make sure the sport is still healthy in 25 years. If we continue on the path we’re on now, we won’t have a very healthy sport. So the future of our sport is the long-term priority, and the most important by far.
The second priority is clearly the present of our sport. How can we give it our best shot four years from now in Rio and all the major competitions prior to that? How can we give the current professionals a better shake? How can we get owners back on board like we had in the past?
And how do you plan to make progress in achieving the long- and short-term goals?
I hope to be a very good listener. I believe this will be a team effort between everybody—the High Performance Committee, the North American Riders Group, the FEI North American World Cup Working Group and all the other vested interests in our sport. I do want to say to every entity: Let’s stop for a second and ask why we’re doing everything we’re doing. If it’s not exactly clear, we have to question that, and reassess how we’re going to apply our future objectives.
I will have as many meetings as people can stand! It’s only going to work if we all listen to everybody and know the goal we’re all heading towards. The timing couldn’t be more perfect. When I showed up at Thermal and did the FEI course walk last week I kept hearing that. We can make this happen.
What are some of the different skills that you bring to the table?