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Piper and Traci Brooks speak with U.S. Show Jumping Chef d’Equipe and Technical Advisor Robert Ridland about his career and how he continues to shape the show jumping sport in this country. Brought to you by Taylor, Harris Insurance Services. Listen in!
GUESTS AND LINKS:
- Host: Piper Klemm of The Plaid Horse Magazine and Traci Brooks
- Guest: Robert Ridland is the U.S. Show Jumping Chef d’Equipe/Technical Advisor since 2013 after being a two-time member of the Olympic team himself in 1972 and 1976. Robert’s vast experience as an international course designer helped shape his analytical approach to the sport. He won the Course Designer of the Year Award twice while building the courses for the U.S. Olympic Trials and numerous international competitions. As an international official, he is the only American to have served as the FEI Technical Delegate for four FEI World Cup Finals. As a television commentator, he worked for many years as the color analyst for ESPN and CBS, as well as two stints for NBC at the Barcelona and Athens Olympic Games. Robert has been extensively involved in the governance of the sport, including several terms as a board member of US Equestrian and the United States Equestrian Team Foundation. Robert is also the President of Blenheim EquiSports, an equestrian event management company based in San Juan Capistrano, California.
- Photo Credit: McCool Photography
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This transcript was generated automatically. Its accuracy may vary.
Piper Klemm [00:00:31] That this the plaidcast. I’m Piper Klemm, publisher of the Plaid Horse Magazine. And coming up on today’s show, episode 334. I’m joined by Traci Brooks of Balmoral Farm. On today’s show, we talk with U.S. show jumping chef d’equipe and technical advisor Robert Ridland about his career and how he continues to shape the showjumping sport in this country. This episode is brought to you by Taylor Harris Insurance Services.
Piper Klemm [00:02:52] Robert Ridland is US Show jumping chef d’equipe and technical advisor since 2013, after being a two time member of the Olympic team himself in 1972 and 1976. Robert’s vast experience as an international course designer helped shape his analytical approach to the sport. He won the Course Designer of the Year award twice while building the courses for the U.S. Olympic trials and numerous international competitions as an international official. He is the only American to have served as the FEI technical delegate for four FEI World Cup finals. As a television commentator, he worked for many years as a color analyst for ESPN and CBS, as well as two stints for NBC at the Barcelona and Athens Olympic Games. Robert has been extensively involved in the governance of the sport, including several terms as a board member of U.S. Equestrian and the United States Equestrian Team Foundation. Robert is also president of Blenheim Equisports, an equestrian event management company based in San Juan Capistrano, California. Welcome to the plaidcast, Robert.
Robert Ridland [00:03:52] Thank you. Thank you. I’ve been looking forward to this for some time, actually.
Piper Klemm [00:03:57] Can you walk us a little bit through your career and how you’ve gone from being a rider to different aspects of U.S. Showjumping and and then tell us a little bit about what the Chef d’Equipe is and does.
Robert Ridland [00:04:14] Well, that question probably would take about an hour and a half to answer. And it’s abbreviated for. But I’ll give it a shot. One of the I think the very special things that all of us that have been involved in our sport can agree on is that there are so many different avenues beyond just the active athlete athlete aspect of it. And most well in so many sports, you know, swimming, gymnastics or whatever. As an athlete, you’re old when you’re in your early twenties. In our sport, the 20 year olds can do it at the highest level. We’ve seen that on many international teams. You know, within the last few years, in fact, I’ve I’ve had the privilege of having young riders that are really quite young. But we also have, you know, we’re in the sport where I would say on average, the the peak for the highest professional athletes is somewhere in their thirties and forties. So I obviously started on the athlete side of things. I was one of the youngest riders to ride on on the U.S. team. I was 19 when I first made the team and that was a long time ago and I was able to be on many Nations Cup teams to Olympic Games. During the approximate ten years that I rode internationally. I rode some internationally after that, but after after that I was able to and not by design, but get into courses designing and actually quite early on, right up to the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. I was asked to course design at Southampton, which the standards for course designing and the rigorous applications to become a course designer weren’t in effect back then, or they wouldn’t have asked me because my my answer was, well, I’ve never course designed before they said, Oh, no problem. You’ll you’ll be able to catch on pretty quickly. Southampton was in its infancy that year, and I thought it would. I learned a lot just that that very first time, because I thought I’m going to sort of come up with a Grand Prix course similar to what we just jumped in the Olympic Games. And of course I wasn’t so familiar with how to fit a course within a certain area and so forth and so on, but long story is it did fit. So I figured it out pretty quickly and made the adjustments. But it started a fairly long career, of course designing for me. Ending up with the Olympic trials to two sets of Olympic trials, I think was 1992 and 1996. At the same time, I was asked to or in the same general timeframe I was asked to broadcast for for ESPN, another avenue that I’d never tried before. But I figured I could probably do that because all you have to do is talk and I don’t mind talking about the sport. So I ended up doing quite a bit of the CBS’s The World Championships, two Olympics for NBC, Barcelona and Athens. And then by accident I got into horse show management and it was up basically. I was at that time a professional in Del Mar and through default there was an event there that we had pressed as a Rider’s group very hard to become a World Cup qualifier. And and the current management was threatening to not hold the event because they soon realized the expenses. So I managed to default to get that event. And that started the company that we still have, which is Blenheim Equisports. So it’s one of the beauties of the of the sport that there are so many different avenues. Not only can you last a little bit longer as an athlete compared to other sports, but it leads into so many things. And of course, the other aspect that I did a lot of was training and training young rider. So that was a fairly long answer to your question. But because, you know, I think all of us that have been in this position feel very privileged to be in a sport that we consider the best sport in the world, combining horses and people and outdoors, nature, everything else.
Piper Klemm [00:08:56] I think it’s so interesting that you you know, you did so many things that you kind of figured out as you went. And a lot of those opportunities are less available to people, I would say now, but also, you know, more available like we’re in a really interesting nexus where, again, if you’re if you’re creative and willing to jump in and alter things and not worry too much that that it’s new to you, you can figure out a lot of stuff. But I think, you know, just like back then, like pathways are not always kind of clear coming up in the sport. Can you talk a little bit about kind of how people navigating opportunities maybe is it’s more similar than we think now to back then? Because I can imagine people sitting at home listening to this being like, well, it just doesn’t work that way nowadays that those opportunities aren’t available to me. And I actually think they are, but they just look a little different.
Robert Ridland [00:09:51] Well, I would agree with the answer that you answer to your own question. I think they are available. Of course, the sport is is different. All sports are different. Our sport has evolved. And I’m not saying it’s better or worse. I think some aspects are better and I think some aspects are not. But that’s, I think, true and in any endeavor in any sport. And I think it’s true in life. You know, I think the key. Yes. I mean, I, I certainly got into some great situations, primarily through, you know, how I got into it through the the sports side of things. But I think it’s almost an answer that’s applicable in life that when you’re asked that question, that you’re not really sure what the answer is. Try saying yes and then figure out how to do it afterwards, because it’s it’s really simple in life to say, Oh, no, I don’t think I can do that. So no, no is the answer. Like I said earlier, the yes answers that I had and then I figured out how to do it afterwards. And you call on resources and friends and relationships that you have that can help you out in those situations. As soon as I said yes to course designing I I sort of got in touch with a lot of good course designers to figure out how we could do that. And you you go from there and sort of an indirect answer to the same question you’re asking. We hear the narrative all the time that, oh, the pathway is so impossible because it’s so expensive and these horses just cost so much money, so we can’t do it. And yes, the horses cost more money now than they did back in the day. But don’t fool yourself. The horses were really expensive back then. The dollar wasn’t worth quite as much, but that money was hard to come by. I didn’t have a grand prix horse, you had to work for it. And it’s no different than most of the top professional riders in the world, not just our country or whatever, but you start out, you work for it, you impress with your hard work, you impress the right people, potential sponsors, potential owners, and whatever you start out doing whatever it takes, mucking stalls, getting riding lessons from professionals because you’re passionate about it. That’s what happened back then. Nobody just walked into the sport 20, 30, 40 years ago anymore than they do now. And our top professional riders now had basically the same type of introduction to the sport. There are ways to do it. You just have to be creative and you have to say yes to that difficult question and then figure out how to do it. That answer is there.
Traci Brooks [00:13:01] I love what you say about just saying yes, because so many people want to plan everything and I want to be this. And if I’m not this, it’s the wrong answer. But sometimes that path is not linear. And just by showing up and working hard and saying yes and figuring it out. Doors start to open and those opportunities become stepping stones and all of a sudden you are at your end goal. And it doesn’t look how you thought it might, but there it is. So I think that the planning and having a preconceived picture of what things look like is is making it harder a lot of the time for people now, currently. Can you talk to us, Robert, a little bit about how how this sort of not very linear path led you to becoming the chef and what actually your job entails as the chef d’equipe.
Robert Ridland [00:14:00] Well, yes, it’s a very similar answer to that question, just like I didn’t when I was riding the Olympics, envision announcing or commentating for NBC, nor did I think I would become an international course designer. I certainly didn’t think I was going to be an event organizer. I certainly at that time didn’t think we would be the management company for the World Cup final in Las Vegas. Those things happened again because my mindset always was. Yes. And when you’re saying yes, you have to acknowledge that there’s a real good chance that failure could result from that. So we’ve all heard it before. You can’t ever be afraid of failure. And as long as you’re not afraid of failure and you’re open to adventures. And I always say that when our son Peyton, then they are about to embark on something, some camping trip. This is back when he was younger, and I would never be quite sure how it’s going to work out. So just just remember, it’s an adventure. Well, the same thing on the the chef d’equipe situation. I had a lot on my plate 12 years ago when the opportunity arose, when when George Morris announced his retirement a year before, a year early the requests, the applications went out there and there were quite a few people that asked if I would do that and put my name in the hat. And my my. Surprisingly, my answer was no, because I didn’t think I had the time to do it. Blenheim Equisports at the time It was a very time consuming job. Plus, Hillary and I had, you know, a horse training business and all that, and I just didn’t think I had the time. In fact, I thought if I even slightly had the time, maybe I could share that with somebody. You know, some of the countries, Canada at that time actually had had a situation where Georgie Miller and Mark Laskin were sharing the Chef d’equipe duties. But that that didn’t work out as a possibility. So I was either going to be all in or not. And the deadline actually came up, it was the last day of November of that year. And so for an entire year it has been out there of the applications I had not submitted. And finally, I talked to quite a few people that I they trusted. One actually was the coach of the U.S. Olympic soccer team, men’s soccer team, who was based here in California. And I asked him if, you know how it worked being on the road. And he sort of gave me an idea of how the pathway could work. So literally that night had to be in before midnight. I basically. Wrote a paragraph down and pressed send and I was in the in the running. And then then the application process went through the various stages and I ended up doing it. So fortunately for me, once I was appointed chef d’equipe and and coach, I got to basically shadow George Morris as he was leading up to the Games in London 2012 games. So I got quite a bit of experience seeing the other side of doing that. And then the rest is history. In the last ten years it’s been an incredibly rewarding opportunity for me. I got to say that I probably get as much satisfaction and enjoyment, if not more, from being Chef D’equipe at the Olympic Games. I’ve had the privilege of doing than even riding in them, and it’s part of an incredible team. We couldn’t be luckier in our sport in the world. The resources that the United States Equestrian Federation has thrown behind us and the support staff from Lizzie Chesson on down, and of course the teams, the riders themselves and all the teams that they have put together. We couldn’t be doing this without the incredible support of the owners. And like I say, that the teams of all the professional riders that we have at our disposal and of all the aspects of of the job, I consider the camaraderie and the teamwork both individual and as the national team and the pride of when we show up at a Nations Cup and certainly when we show up at a championship, The other chef d’equipes and the other teams see us coming in and the strength of our team, even in situations where, you know, we might not have the strongest team of horses and in some cases riders. But with the backup strength behind us, the resources that we have make available, it’s it’s something that there’s an awful lot of pride involved. And the other teams notice it. And I hear this constantly from the chef d’equipes. I know most of them very well personally. Many of them were like me. We were competitors and many of the other chef d’equipes we competed against each other and there’s that camaraderie as colleagues and and the chef d’equipes on the top teams around the world all basically have the same mindset. It’s obviously we’re we’re very competitive, but the highest standard of horse welfare and fair sport permeates among all of us. But the one thing that I do hear quite a quite a bit confidentially, they say that the resources that you have available are second to none. And boy, do we wish we had that behind us. So I would say that’s the that’s what I get the most out of. I just got off a Zoom call with with the Olympic Riders and potential Olympic riders. And we were discussing the pathway to Paris. And as many people know on this broadcast, that we are not qualified for Paris yet. We have a strong plan to to get there and to end up on the podium. That’s always our goal. But the riders are 100% behind us in this, and that’s something that we’re all very proud of.
Piper Klemm [00:21:05] I we had Peter Wylde on the podcast a couple of weeks ago, and one of the questions I asked him was like, What? What did the Olympics do and not do for your career? Like, you know, it’s almost the Olympics are such an outlier thing and you can do the sport incredible your whole life, obviously, and never go. And it’s something that everyone dreams about. And when I talk to kids all the time, like, what are your goals? You know, most of the time you hear Olympics no like, I want to be a great horse trainer every single day, day in and day out for the rest of my life. And so can you talk a little bit about kind of that, that kind of spark which makes it exciting, but also what people who make it to that level have in common? The the the daily activities and practice and and kind of just general spirit that that the people that are riding at this level have the traits that make make it possible.
Robert Ridland [00:22:09] So, yes, when you’re when you ask a typical young rider, I would I would agree that probably nine out of ten, if they hold a lofty goal, they’re going to say the Olympics. And that’s because at almost every level of every sport, that’s involved in the Olympics, which is the majority of sports, the Olympics is is the highest level. That doesn’t mean it’s harder in the Olympics than, let’s say, the world championships, whether you’re talking about ice skating or whether you’re talking about our sport. But what’s different is there is such a worldwide audience for any sport when it’s in the Olympics as opposed to the to the world championships. And when you come back from the Olympics in any shape or form, your neighbors on the street that don’t know your sport, people in the in the grocery store, they they recognize what just happened at the Olympics. When we got back from from Tokyo on the plane, I was met by all sorts of reporters because we had just won the silver medal, as everybody knows, in jumping well, that would never have happened if we’d come back with the silver medal from the World championships. The news you know, NBC News wasn’t going to be an L.A.X. waiting for that within our own sport. Of course, the accolades are there. But that’s one of the amazing aspects of the the Olympics. And it’s also a very good reason for to make sure that we as equestrian sports remain in the Olympics because it does so much to pull the rest of the sport along. And I can’t imagine any other sport or very few other sports could say the same thing. There are a few exceptions, probably in golf. The PGA and the Masters, U.S. Open, whatever have more prominence than an Olympic medal, in soccer. The same thing because in the Olympics and soccer is I think it’s 25 and under something like that. But those probably are the only two sports every every other sport in the Olympics. The highest goal for those athletes within the sport or is an Olympic gold medal.
Piper Klemm [00:24:34] And yet you win one and you still have to wake up tomorrow and clean your stalls and ride your young horses and you still fall off and, you know, it’s it’s not some sort of cure all for the rest of your life, you know, and I think that especially with the sports that people do as as younger people, it almost seems like ‘I’m gonna get this done and then I’m going to move on’, which I think is kind of this like shifting viewpoint on equitation as it become as equitation becomes more of a lifelong thing. But like I remember when I was growing up, it was as if I’m going to get these, you know, medal finals done so that I can never have to do this again and move on. And it’s we’re really shifting a perspective, I think, to be more reflective of a lifetime with horses.
Robert Ridland [00:25:20] Yes, I would certainly agree with that. And of course, when you at the professional level, obviously prize money is a big factor as it is and in any sport. And the Olympics, of course, are the one exception. You go to the Olympics with the aspirations of ending up on the podium and they don’t give you a prize money with. But you you get so much more than that. But you’re right. The the real world wakes wakes you up again the next morning and you go from there.
Traci Brooks [00:28:14] Let’s shift into your most recent project. You just threw a great party at when you hosted the FEI Nations Cup and you really transformed the facility and it was gorgeous and beautiful and the field was amazing and the hospitality was amazing. Great show jumping. How did that come to be and how did you find the time to put on such an event?
Robert Ridland [00:28:43] Well, thank you for that assessment. That was I’ve got to say, for all of us, just a dream week from start to finish. And it truly was a dream. But I got to answer the question accurately. That wasn’t me. I may have been the one that got everybody involved when when the applications went out. It was really with my other hat on as a coach and chef d’equipe part of my responsibility is obviously fielding the strongest team that we can for the Nations Cup of the United States. And as we all know, the Nations Cup used to be years ago in Madison Square Garden recently has been in Florida. But the last year of the of the contract this was two years ago was vacant. So they were soliciting applications. And I really wanted to make sure that whatever event ended up with the Nations Cup of the United States was one that we as a country would be proud of and one that would fit in to our schedule of competitive excellence for our riders. In other words, it wouldn’t do us a whole lot of good if the date and the location was something that would interfere with our European plans or any of the other plans. And also it it shouldn’t, because this is a qualifier, as we all know, for the for Barcelona, we had to hold that same standard with regards to Mexico and Canada are two neighbors that we wouldn’t want to host the Nations Cup. That was great for our riders that fit into our riders plans, but didn’t work at all for our neighbors to the south and to the north. And so I just felt that I probably would be more aware of that than than anybody else. We do own a show management company and that put on six World Cup finals in Vegas. So I was confident that our company was capable of doing a very important international event at the highest level. So therefore that is why we put it on the schedule. The better part of that answer is that that that was my responsibility. That was what I did, but I wasn’t the one that did the event. And I’m going to take very, very little credit for that. This was a team that that we assembled. We’ve always had the show with management company and we’re capable on that side. But of course it took way more than that from a sponsor side. And we were able and I’m going to give credit where credit is due. This is primarily the work of Hillary my wife, who put this all together. She constantly reminded me month after month, whose idea was this to do a nations cup? And I had to stick my hand up every once in a while and say it was me. Sorry, but we were so fortunate with the team that was assembled and their passion and I just can’t tell you how many meetings that lasted until 10:00 at night, just organizational meetings. And it just and how many times that these people were on the showgrounds at 430 in the afternoon to figure out the other side of what a nation’s cup is, from the VIP to the grandstands to the vendor village and all these different things. But it was an incredible team effort and yes, it appeared like we pulled it off. And I got to say the team got together the very night before and and this was with many of our volunteers. We had so many volunteers from around San Juan Capistrano. We had groups like the Plain Art Group of artists that were there painting pictures and everything all put together. And at that point, they the really the ones that were spearheading this whole thing, they grabbed me and they most importantly grabbed Hillary and they said, okay, now you enjoy this week. And we did.
Piper Klemm [00:33:13] From a team perspective. Tell us a little bit about how Nations Cups help you build the team, give younger members of experience kind of evaluate horses for for more senior team members. Like how does that. I have a role in the function of keeping, developing, maintaining the U.S. team?
Robert Ridland [00:33:38] Well, the nation’s cups are part and parcel and a very important part of that of that whole plan. We have nation’s cups that we are really under the gun to send our fullon A team. And the perfect example is that of that was what just transpired last week in California and two weeks earlier in Mexico, because we did not qualify as many countries didn’t for the Olympics in Paris last year at the World championships. We have to qualify this year. And there are two avenues of doing that. The first is the Nations Cup final in Barcelona in October, and then the last shot is at the Pan American Games in Santiago, Chile, in November. We are in the process and we laid out these plans with all all the riders at the beginning of the year that we’re in a full court press to qualify for Barcelona because the winner in Barcelona. After all, the pre-qualified teams, which are primarily from Europe, are out of the running, that the winner of that goes to to Paris. So. All the North American, South American teams and a few of the European teams are in that same boat. So we’re going to try to send the strongest team we possibly can to Barcelona, but we have to qualify for Barcelona, which meant that we had to send our best team to Mexico and our best team last week to California, where we ended up winning. We’re on both of them. We’re on a roll. But we also have to be realistic. And in Mexico, we sent a strong team against a very strong home squad in Mexico and they took us to a jump off. Here in California. We were in the lead after the first round, but it was very clear that the Irish, who did not send their strongest team, they had a lot of younger horses on that team, but they were coming on strong as they did in the second round. So it was actually quite a battle down to the finish for there. We go to Langley up in Canada in a couple of weeks and that’s the last of the qualifiers for Barcelona. We luckily go in with the lead in points. But anything can happen, as we found out last year, so we’re not taking that lightly. On the other hand, from the very beginning, from ten or 11 years ago when I first started this, I always thought when we were in a situation which would be the majority of the times where we’re in a very important nations cup, but our lives are not. Everything is not on the line if we don’t end up winning it, which would be most Nations Cup. I mean, you go to Aachen the sun still comes up the next morning if you don’t win at Aachen, it’s not a qualifier for the Olympics, it just happens to be the most important single Nations cup in the world. And it’s the number one stage in the world, if you will, for nations cups. I would say Aachen and Spruce Meadows would be those two venues where in their own rights are very important Nations cup. But I came up with a formula where we didn’t rely only on our veteran horse rider combinations and I called it the three two system where you’d have three veterans and add to of the emerging stars so that they could get experience side by side with our our most prominent riders. We have three Nations cups coming up this this summer. Aachen, Falsterbo and Hickstead and that’s exactly the the plan going there there will be veteran riders and a sprinkling of of our up and coming stars to get experience on the big stage. Of course it’s very critical when they get selected for a team like that that you’re putting those horse rider combinations in a position of potential success or the probability of success is higher than they are. You never want to discourage a younger rider or a younger horse, certainly, or a combination of both too early. And it’s important to go through the steps, which is why the last ten years we’ve had the USEF has had such a strong pathway program, starting with the teams that Diane Langer has assembled on up to the ones that Anne Kursinski has taken to Europe, where she is actually right now. All of that goes together and each nations cup when we when we decide and we’re determining who is going to be on it, we have to make sure that it fits the purpose for which it’s there. For a perfect example is over the years, the Nations Cup in Wellington has been very important in many ways. Obviously, it is also a home Nations cup. It’s a four star Nations cup, but it’s one that doesn’t count for Longines points. So it’s a perfect opportunity to incorporate some of the younger riders in a very stressful situation and basically the home environment. And we’ve used that successfully over the years because again, in almost anything that we do and certainly in our sport, it’s essential that whenever possible we don’t skip steps that we don’t encourage a horse rider combination to skip a step just because that opportunity is there. It’s such a big difference for a young rider or any rider for that matter, in their First Nations Cup to feel it right away when that flag is on the saddle pad and you’re wearing the red coat. All of a sudden there is a whole new group of people, supporters of the team. Your teammates who depend on what you’re about to do going into the ring. You know, it’s an individual sport, as we all know. So we’ve we’ve been used and grown up in situations where when all is on the line in a Grand Prix, of course, the pressure’s on. There’s a lot of pressure. But if you have a bad day, you have yourself. You’re accountable to yourself. You’re accountable to your team, including your owners. But the rest of the world isn’t going to lose any sleep if you have a bad day. But it’s a different deal if all of a sudden the flags on the saddle pad. That being the case, you don’t want your First Nations cup to be the Nations cup of Aachen on Thursday night in front of 40,000 people. And that’s what Three Star Nations Cups are all about. And that’s why Anne Kursinski has done such a great job in how vital it is those nations cups that she takes riders to so that they are accustomed to that. And then when you move them up to the next level, well, they’ve done it before.
Traci Brooks [00:41:09] It’s amazing all that goes into it. And also amazing what a deep team we have from the riders and the coaches and everyone behind the scenes. And that’s why you’re on the phone all the time, Robert. That’s why your wife is always posting those pictures of you on the phone, right?
Robert Ridland [00:41:26] Yeah, I think you’re right.
Traci Brooks [00:41:31] Can we just can we jump ahead now to 2028? The Olympics come to Los Angeles. What does that look like for horse sport? What are your thoughts on that?
Robert Ridland [00:41:43] Well, the 2028 Olympics in L.A. are going to be obviously very exciting for us. We all remember previous years when the Olympics have been held in the US. I certainly remember in 84 when they were last held in L.A. and we were all in Atlanta and the Olympics there. It’s as we just mentioned, when it comes to nations cups, those same denominators are there when you have a home Olympics. Fortunately, with we’ve done well in our own home Olympics and it would be nice if we can duplicate that in 2028. But the amount of momentum that any country gets out of the lead up to the Olympics in their home country is tremendous. And and that’s across the country, obviously, on the West Coast. The lead up, we’re five years out from L.A. The buildup is is going to do produce very positive benefits to the sport on the on the West Coast in particular, just as the nations cup we just had last week, it was was a huge boost to the West Coast. And I have always said and I will continue to say that with my other hat on, it’s very important that we balance out the resources that we have in our country. One of the reasons we’re a very strong country in our sport is because of the resources. We’re a large country. We have the demographics to support it. We have the facilities around the country. But an awful lot of the sport has traditionally and historically been based on the East Coast. Seasonally, the East Coast moves down to Florida and then back up to the northeast. But the balance needs to be worked on. There’s no question that there are resources on the West Coast that have been underutilized in our sport. And I think that the tide is turning and I think it’s turning very dramatically, actually. And the lead up to the Olympics in L.A., 2028 will only further that goal. And when it’s when it’s over, we should be in a much stronger position as a country within our sport, primarily because of that rebalancing.
Piper Klemm [00:44:20] Is part of that positioning going to be to you know, I know this is way outside of your scope, but but I do look at the European countries and how much more attention there is paid to riding schools and and kind of that grass roots portion. And I think, you know, obviously California has a lot of very real, very difficult land usage working against that to having riding schools and having that pipeline. And, you know, I think about like Sweden has like 450 open riding academies for a population of 9 million. And, you know, California is what, 40 million people? You know, it’s a. Are we always going to struggle to compete if we if we can’t get people started riding?
Robert Ridland [00:45:14] Well, it’s a good example that you use on Sweden. It’s one of the one of the reasons why they’ve been our nemesis recently. They took us, as we all know, to a jump off in the world championships in Tryon and then again and a jump off in Tokyo where they got even with us. And then, of course, they they bested the world last year in the world championships. And as you point out, their country of of 9 million, I don’t know. We probably have more in L.A. than than they do in their entire country. But they’ve used their resources so well. I mean, they’ve been a strong country within our sport ever since the World Cup finals. First were were held there in Gothenburg back in I think it was 1979. But they have an incredible program. They have an incredible coach at the highest level. He’s a very good friend of mine and I respect how they look to the sport and how they maximize what they have. But a big part of it is, is that base and set that whole base. And it’s something that we’re trying very hard to promote. As as I said at our different levels of the pathway, the base of the pyramid is what is essential to get to the top of the pyramid. And as you as you note, 400 riding schools is a big number, and it certainly is something that we should work as hard as we can to to duplicate.
Piper Klemm [00:46:54] I think it’s also kind of based around this, and I’ve talked and written a lot about this, but like, what do you say to people that like. About being fans of the sport. I think we haven’t always cultivated a fan base and I’m a huge fan of this sport. I actually think the World Cup finals and Omaha from like a horse and a training perspective was one of the most inspirational finals that I’ve ever watched. I thought so many of those horses had had come back from something very dramatic, and there were just incredible partnerships that that shined into the stands. But it’s still we still struggle with that fan mentality and everyone wants to participate. And I totally get that. I want to participate. I love to ride, too. But how do we kind of move forward to having that that fan excitement and is having the Olympics in this country going to help, I’ll say, kind of alleviate that a little bit? How do we how do we get this fan momentum going and having people wanting to support other people instead of always investing in themselves? You know, there’s almost this just we’re it’s such extreme individualism right now in this country beyond the horse sport about everything. We were just all isolated from each other. How do we build that community back and and build excitement over being a fan? Because I love being a fan more than anything. But I also sometimes do feel isolated as a fan of the sport.
Robert Ridland [00:48:27] So the involvement of of the fans of our sport I think is absolutely crucial to the building of the sport. And I’ll answer that in a way that it was one of the priorities that we had putting on this Nation’s Cup last weekend in California that we felt it was very important, not only, of course, to have the competitive and the sport aspect at the highest level, the footing, the jumps, the course designing and all that. Obviously, it’s very important to have a strong VIP situation, but equally as important of all that, and this is actually one of the aspects that Hillary was. What is one of her biggest priorities, and that was the involvement of the local community, of the kids, of the fans of the sport. And so we had a nations cup where, yes, it was top of the line over the top VIP aspects. Big sponsors came in on that side. But equally as important, we made sure that there was grandstand seats available for fans. $10 apiece, literally. And when those ran out, we got we ordered more grandstand. And when those were and we did that again, we increased the size of the grandstands three different times. And then on top of that, we had a very extensive vendor area. It was called the vendor village, where it didn’t cost anything to be there. There was a livestream broadcast going on. So anybody that couldn’t actually get a seat could watch it live there. And that’s where we had on the Friday before, the right after the Grand Prix, before the the draw for the Nations Cup on Sunday. The riders were all there for all the teams signing autographs. And that interaction with the the kids of the sport, the youngest elements of that of the sport was so important and they loved that. And there was that connection. Unfortunately, many of the big events that we go to around the world and I’m not talking about Aachen or Dublin or Spruce Meadows, where the the fan base is tremendous. But many of these five star Grand Prix, we go to cater only to the VIPs. And you look around and you said, where where’s the grandstand? Oh, there’s no grandstand. This is televised. It’s on live streamed. [00:51:01]But that should not be the only access point to our next generation of riders, because they’ll never get the feel, the spirit, feel the drive of what the sport is all about. [13.3s] And you bring up Omaha. One of the the best aspects of Omaha was the fact that where the riders warmed up before they went into the main arena was was an area accessible to everybody. That’s where a lot of the vendors were and the kids were able to just lean on the fence and watch the most famous riders in the world warming up to go into the World Cup final. And then on top of that, there was a big live stream there so they could watch what was going on. So that’s essential. [00:51:52]And I think this is this is an aspect that we have to make sure the organizers who put on the sport at the highest level take it as a big priority because that will that will incentivize our next generation of kids. [18.2s] And just to finish on that. I mentioned earlier on when we came back from Tokyo and I was met at the airport by the NBC cameras and all that, but one of the one of the aspects of it was that that the night of the the team event in Tokyo, we had just won the silver medal. It was a little bit of an upset. We just had just a tremendous team there that everything’s pulled together in the right way. So we were sitting around and everybody had their silver medals on and I was trying to figure out, All right, whose can I borrow? And I didn’t. Didn’t look like Mclain was giving up on his one. Anyway, I. I thought Laura would be the one. So, sure enough, I was able to borrow her silver medal, and I took that home, and that’s when I came off the plane. It was there. But the most fun I had with that silver medal, which I. I had on loan from her for a little over a month was we had a Grand Prix in California. And before it started, about an hour and a half before it started, there was an interaction and a sign, an autograph signing, whatever. With me on that silver medal, I, mind you, I wasn’t the one that rode. I wasn’t I wasn’t the superstar like the four that were on our team, you know, Jesse Springsteen and Kent Farrington, McLain Ward and Laura. I’m there to watch them. And I got this silver medal. And when the kids were able to hold this medal and see what it looked like, and they’re actually they’re quite heavy, the ones that they made in in Tokyo were amazingly beautiful. And they were they were heavy. It was just the real deal. And to hold that and that was their their potential Olympic Games and what I thought would be about 20 or 30 that the line didn’t stop for an hour and a half. And just to see that just showed us all how important it is to have that interaction with our next generation of potential riders.
Piper Klemm [00:54:26] So for the young ridesr who are listening, who who think they have what it takes to to ride on the team one day, you know what? What would you tell them? What advice would you give them? What do you want them to hear now while they’re while they’re still forming themselves?
Robert Ridland [00:54:42] Well. To make it at the top of our sport. One of the beauties of our sport is that aside from the obvious, a connection between a rider and a horse, which is so unique and I think for most of it, for most of us is probably the most vital part of our sport. But second behind that is that we have. One, if not the only sport in the world where men and women can compete on an equal basis. I guess when I bring this up, somebody says, Oh, well, in curling, all right, I’ll give it to them. I think curling has a similar situation. But barring that, most sports favor one physical type, one gender or whatever over the other. But because we have a sport where we’re basically riding, you know, 11, 1200 pound horses and a sport that has this unique balance, your ideal middle ground isn’t really male or female, and the qualities that it takes for our sport are so many of the intangibles. It’s it’s, you know, your fight, fitness is a huge thing. I can’t tell you how important fitness as a rider is. We all know how fit we need our horses. No question about that. But I can promise you that the hours that those four riders I just mentioned that were on our Tokyo Olympic team spent in the gym every day while they were in Tokyo, so that they are bringing to the solution between horse and rider the ultimate in fitness. What else? Bravery, unlike curling. You know, it’s certainly this is not a sport for the faint of heart. It’s a very safe sport. Safety protocols have been in place and it keeps increasing as time goes on. But it’s still, like I said, not a sport for the faint of heart. Reflexes. There’s so many aspects of of what it takes to be a great rider. But mostly, I think, over all of that, it just takes hard work. And I don’t think that’s too unusual in any sports. You have to you have to put in the hours. You have to be willing to do it from all levels. You have to. Like I said, all of us started at some point mucking stalls and shipping horses and doing all the things that it takes to do to fulfill that the necessities of the sport. You don’t just buy a tennis racket and head for a tennis court. So it takes that kind of hard work, stamina and dedication. If you do that, you can overcome obstacles. And that goes back to what we said in the very, very beginning. Say Yes and figure out how to do it now. Figuring out how to do it is not the easiest, but there is a way, as long as there is a will and a desire. Young riders can do it.
Piper Klemm [00:58:14] Amazing. Well, Robert Ridland, thank you for joining us on the plaidcast.
Robert Ridland [00:58:18] Well, I enjoyed it. Thank you very much. Let’s do it again.
Piper Klemm [01:00:03] To learn more about anything we’ve discussed on today’s show, visit theplaidhorse.com. You can find show notes at theplaidhorse.com/Listen. Follow The Plaid Horse on all the social medias. You can subscribe to the print edition of the Plaid Horse magazine at theplaidhorse.com/subscribe. Please write or review the plaidcast anywhere you listen to it. And if you enjoy this episode please share it with your friends. I will see you at the ring!