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ESNZ firm on endurance groom selection policy

November 6, 2010

by Robin Marshall

The groom selection policy that caused so much grief in the lead-up to the recent World Equestrian Games is not about to change, but the way team officials are selected in New Zealand is undergoing modification.

Jenny Champion and Freckles

Sue Reid and Makahiwi Achilles

Before the Games, two riders selected for the country's endurance team pulled out after they were not allowed to bring their own grooms to the event. Equestrian Sports New Zealand (ESNZ) said at the time that the policy on team selection was changed in 2009, which was a major break in tradition for the sport.

After the decision by ESNZ not to allow their selected grooms, Sue Reid and Jenny Champion both pulled out of the team. They had both fund-raised to make the trip, as all members of the Kiwi endurance team were self-funded.

As part of its High Performance Programme introduced in the two years leading to WEG, ESNZ implemented several innovations "to lift the competitiveness of New Zealand's elite equestrian teams". One of these was that the selectors would choose not only riders, but also all team officials including grooms - because groom performance is considered critical to the success of the riders.

The system deviates from the policies of many other countries, including the United States, where riders were able to take their choice of grooms. Vonita Bowers, the USEF's director of endurance and reining, said that while grooms were the choice of the rider, the team's chef d'équipe would advise the rider regarding their choices.

She said there was no selection process by the USEF for grooms, and other disciplines "use primarily grooms who work for the athletes, and who are recommended by the athletes".

Equine Canada's Chief Executive Officer Akaash Maharaj said, like all national federations, Canada centrally names some of the support staff for its teams, but the choice of groom is left up to the rider or driver. "For example, we centrally name our team coaches, chefs d'équipes, team leaders, and sport psychologists; we instruct our selected athletes to name their own grooms and navigators (a role in driving)."

He said all of Canada's team support staff, whether named centrally or not, "must meet minimum criteria established by our federation, such as being members in good standing of our federation and being able to represent our country and our sport creditably on the international stage."

Speaking after an ESNZ Board meeting at which a report on the complaint was considered, ESNZ President Jennifer Millar CNZM said the findings and recommendations of the sub-committee set up to consider the matter had broadly been accepted.

"There was widespread disappointment that two endurance riders selected for WEG chose not to participate and the organisation accepts its share of the responsibility for what happened," she said.

The report found that the primary cause of the riders' withdrawal was the announcement of the team grooms.

It also found that better management processes would have prevented the reactions to the selectors' decisions.

"We are convinced that the new approach remains the best way forward," Millar said, "but ESNZ accepts that it could have done more to ensure that the riders, the grooms and the wider Endurance community understood why we introduced the change and what its implications might be."

Other recommendations accepted by the Board of ESNZ include:

ESNZ Chief Executive Jim Ellis, who is currently in Taipei at the FEI's General Assembly, said work on implementing the recommendations had already begun.



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