Woe Canada: Turmoil in the Canadian Equestrian Scene

Rebecca Howard and Riddle Master, Rio Olympic Games 2016
Credit : Scoopdyga

Thursday 02 February - 16h53 | Ian Clayton

Woe Canada: Turmoil in the Canadian Equestrian Scene

Times are tough in the Canadian horse world at the moment. And a brewing crisis has now broken out into the open. 

"Grave Concerns" Over Leadership

Grave Concerns Over Leadership - Woe Canada: Turmoil in the Canadian Equestrian Scene

Credit : Equestrian Canada

After an emergency Board meeting of Equestrian Canada (EC) on January 31st, the national Federation affirmed its confidence in its current leadership in the face of harsh and mounting criticism.

But the Board's response may not be enough to quell an outcry by important stakeholders in recent days and weeks over a situation described by some as potentially ‘disastrous.’ Critics have charged that there is a lack of communication bordering on secrecy at the organization, as well as financial, governance, and volunteer handling problems. 

Recently, the Jumping Committee of Equestrian Canada, through its Chair Pamela E. Law openly expressed its “grave concerns regarding the state of [the] organization under the current leadership.” It said it had “lost confidence” in the executive, and that the “very foundation of [the] Federation is in peril.”

The Jumping Committee’s full letter published on Horse Canada can be read here.

Subsequently, on January 30th, a group of Canadian Eventers published their own letter calling for the resignation of EC’s management. The athletes challenged the views of their own discipline’s EC committee on the issue, and attacked EC’s leadership on four major points:

1)       Lack of Accountability
2)       Lack of Transparency
3)       Conflicts of Interest at the top
4)       Unprofessional Behaviour

The Eventers’ letter detailing those allegations can be read here. 

In response, on February 1st EC issued an ‘Important Statement from the Equestrian Canada Board of Directors’ in which the Board “confirmed their total confidence in the current leadership of EC, specifically of its President, CEO and Director of Finance.”

The Federation acknowledged the major difficulties experienced in recent times as it has sought to ‘restructure and professionalize’ the organization’s governance and operations.

EC’s statement also responds in-depth to the various critiques in its regard, and concludes as follows: “We can rebuild a better Equestrian Canada and we need your help to make it happen. We encourage everyone to engage with us through honest, open and respectful communication in the best interests of the organization and all members of the community. And, of course, we commit to doing the same.”

The EC statement can be found in its entirety here.

Changes and Challenges in Eventing

Changes and Challenges in Eventing - Woe Canada: Turmoil in the Canadian Equestrian Scene

Credit : Equestrian Canada

In this current tempestuous atmosphere, Canada’s Graeme Thom recently stepped down from his role with the Canadian Eventing team and took up a new position as New Zealand’s High Performance Eventing Manager, effective February 1st. Thom has been described as “an integral part of Canada’s Eventing High Performance committee from 2005 to 2014, during which time the team earned four medals at various championships.” 

Many Eventers in Canada were reportedly disappointed by his departure and its potential roots. And Rob Stevenson, the recently named Chair of Equestrian Canada Eventing High Performance Advisory Group in turn issued his own statement regarding the turmoil.

The following is an excerpt from Stevenson’s statement:

“When, I consider High Performance, I think in terms of the 4 S’s: substrate, support, strategy and $. 
Substrate: Do we have what it takes?
Support: Do we have the internal and external supports that we need?
Strategy: Do we have the plan that we need?
$: Have we got the financial resources to make this happen?
My belief is that ‘yes’ is the answer to all of these questions.
We need the reasons to believe that that we will have the components that we will need to be successful.
The challenge at this point reads: We are 18 months from the World Equestrian Games in Tryon with no coach and no qualified horse/rider combinations.
And let us consider that the game has recently changed: We will now need to finish three combinations with no drop score.
In order to achieve this, we need to operate with the best possible information. We are working to incorporate advanced eventing analytics in all aspects of our strategy, from ‘a sense of where we are,’ to guiding decisions in training and possibly in selection. The key to the successful use of this type of information will be education and transparency.”

The above issues are not the only ones to have plagued EC over the past year. In the Fall, Canadian show jumpers were among the most vocal critics of reforms to competition formats at the Olympic Games — and the vote in support of those reforms by EC — including through the voice of top world rider Eric Lamaze.

“While at the Rio Olympics, a meeting was called with the Canadian show jumping athletes present to discuss the proposed changes,” said Lamaze, an Olympic gold, silver and bronze medalist for Canada, at the time.  “It is hard to get all of the riders to agree on something but, on this point, the riders in Rio were unanimous; we were all against it.  Given the outcome of our meeting, it comes as a complete shock that Canada voted in favour of the proposed change to three-man teams.  What the Canadian federation went forward with was not the wish of the Canadian show jumping riders, as per our meeting in Rio.

“I accept the fact that our vote would not have changed the outcome, but we made a decision and believe that our voices should have been heard,” he continued.  “For the Canadian federation to change its vote without notifying or consulting the athletes is wrong, in my opinion.  This was not the riders’ choice, and this is not what was presented to us in Rio.”


Further reading...