I believe that I can bring many perspectives from my career to this position. From the course designer’s side, from the rider’s side, from the events side. Over the years, I’ve developed numerous partnerships with owners on grand prix horses, and I hope to bring that experience to the table as well when talking with owners. I know that the sport has to be feasible from a financial and business side to go on, and we need to come up with plans that are affordable for owners and riders.
You’ve said before that you want to improve U.S. shows, but how do you think that can happen?
You know, we all have one voice, and now my voice is one more. But it’s not a one-man charge. My voice will be loud and clear that we’re not afraid of shaking up some established ways of doing business and running our sport. We have to figure out who we’re going to reach out to, and we have to have a strategy of reaching out to different organizations. It’s not as simple as coming in and making a rule. There’s a lot more that goes into it.
How have things changed since you were a rider?
I have spanned a lot of eras. I started my international career when I was 19. That was near the end of the original team concept that started in the ‘50s. In that era the owners in our sport donated or loaned their horses to the USET and off they went to Gladstone (N.J.). There was a system where the best riders and horses would be found, and they would get them all to Gladstone and mix and match. When I first got there that was the system.
Shortly thereafter was the beginning of the professional era, and I quickly went from the youngest rider to the most experienced in a period of three years. By the 1976 Olympic Games my teammates and I all had owners. So it had completely changed in three years. That was the new world, and we were the first in the Olympic movement to be professional show jumpers.
Now it’s a different world again. When we prepared for the ’76 Olympics, Europe was the only game in town. You had to go there to knock heads with the very best. Since then the sport has grown at home, and we do have legitimate events. Should our events improve more? Of course. We have to take all of these movements that have been brewing and add to them. I want to make sure I do my part to keep that snowball going, to create a more equitable playing field so that our pro riders don’t have to sacrifice twice as much as the top riders in other countries.
You mentioned your family earlier. Can you tell us a little more about them and your interests outside of horses?
My wife, Hillary, and I have two children: our son Peyton, who is 12, and our daughter, McKenna, who is 19. McKenna is a sophomore at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and Peyton is a passionate soccer player. Our family lives in Orange County, Calif., just south of Los Angeles. Hillary runs our training operations out of two locations, in Malibu and in San Juan Capistrano, and she makes sure that I get on the board to ride a few whenever I can!
One activity that I make time for (and something that I know our current coach has always made time for) is staying fit. I try to play tennis twice a week, and when not playing tennis I ride a bike. We have great dedicated mountain bike trails where I live, so hopefully the United States won’t be at risk of losing their coach from being run over by a semi on the side of the road! Biking is relatively new for me, but it’s done a great job of keeping me fit for riding. I’m probably in better shape than I’ve been in since the Montreal Olympic Games!
Going forward, how will your schedule play out for the next six months or so?
I will definitely be racking up more frequent flier miles than I’d planned on this year! I will be at Gladstone quite often, and I will make at least one more trip back to Wellington, Fla., for the selection trials. The Federation has an immediate objective once the whirlwind over this announcement has died down, and that is getting back to the focus of winning a gold medal in London. Even though I won’t officially begin as chef until 2013, I’m a small part of the picture starting now, and I will do everything I can to be supportive of George’s goal of getting a third gold medal for the United States.