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Art Priesz: The Sea of Tranquility. WEC selections.

This article by Art Priesz (chair of the 2000 WEC selection
committee) will also be printed in the FEB EN. I'll put it on
the AERC (International page) website also.



The Sea of Tranquillity

By: A. Priesz, Jr., 2000 National Selection Chair

"Hereís to the vanquished, for they are us."

-Charles M. Young, Losing, Menís Journal, April 2000, at 129.

We won the 50 mile race; that much is clear. In fact, we dominated it,
finishing Valerie Kanavy first and Jan Worthington second for the individual
gold and silver medals, which would have been awarded if there had been a 50
mile championship. As well, we were the first team in the "Dream 50" as
well, finishing our top three team riders 5th (Marcia Smith DVM), and tied
for 9th (Connie Walker and Rita Swift).

The USA had made up almost 10 minutes on the team leader, France, after the
first check and gone ahead by just under 20 minutes in only a 20 mile stage
of the race. Sure, the UAE team was moving up to keep pace, but the numbers
appeared to show they were moving too soon too early, an appearance that was
borne out as true, for both of us, but much later.

Whatís more, Steph Teeter was still in the race as an individual salvage
project, and looking good, despite her horse's problems over the last 2
weeks. So, even with Darolyn Butler-Dial having been retired due to a
stinger taken by her horse in the 1st stage, the USA still had 6 horses in
the race with 5 of them poised to make a run at Top Ten finishes, and the
other in the middle of the pack. The individual medals and team gold were
within our grasp... or maybe just out of it.

Yes, we lost and for the first time another country is the home of the
individual gold medallist. The crater left at the crewing and race site by
the USA may roughly be considered the size of the Sea of Tranquillity.

Only two of our riders finished, Connie Walker (11th in 10:53) and
surprisingly, and deservedly, Steph Teeter (32nd in 12:29). They deserve our
support and cheers. Ms. Walker pulled together her performance after shaking
the disappointment of being named an alternate, as the reigning Pan American
Champion, and Ms. Teeter completed in the middle portion of the finishers on
a horse whose on-site problems made him questionable to start.

And, while the entire squad and management and support crews deserve our
thanks, support, and honor, it is doubtful they will hear much of that over
the din of complaints and criticisms that always follow Americans who fail.

We did fail. That is the simple truth, but this is no apology.

"Victory has many parents, but failure is an orphan."


By this time, readers of the Internet and other down-loaded articles have
read quotes and articles, chat-room discussions, and exchanged missives
explaining the failures and criticizing selection, team
coaching-vetting-shoeing, management, crewing, statistics and tactics,
togetherness, and team building, riding decisions, and even ride management
and international competitive rules. Wholesale change as a necessary fix is
shouted over the electronic and written media.

"I hear the train a-cominí..."

-Johnny Cash, Folsom Prison Blues

Right now, and even before the World Endurance Championship, a battle was
begun. The results or lack thereof, at the WEC for the USA have added
momentum to the voices seeking changes.

Truthfully, change is good and, sometimes, radical change is necessary. But,
right now, those voices of radical change seem few and distant, despite
their powerful podiums and strident volume.

What is the truth of our failure, then? And what must be done to correct it
the next time?

"Uneasy rests the HEAD that wears the Crown."

-William Shakespeare

Selection is always an easy target, and maybe should be. It is clearly
unfair, and can even be mean spirited, to criticize the selected and those
sent as having been the result of a flawed or tainted process. It is
appropriate to examine how they got there, though, to learn.

Only 57 riders nominated, and from those the long list was expanded to 24
riders (27 horses) in hopes of keeping a large field available by the time
of actual selection. Unfortunately only 14 horses were still healthy and
eligible by the time of selection. (Of those, only 5 remained fully healthy
by the morning of the ride, and 1 would remain so by the conclusion Ė Steph
Teeterís mount was not considered fully healthy even at the start.) This
statistic includes horses leased to others or other countries, and those
that stayed home.

The experience level of riders selected is often a point of criticism.
However, in France the 2 of these least internationally experienced USA
riders put in the best performances, and the 3rd lasted 88 miles. In fact,
some of those who criticize loudest have less rider training and competitive
time in the saddle than some of those they criticize choosing.

Could we have chosen a squad which would ultimately have performed better?
Yes, but only if they had nominated and apparently they did not. Of those
who nominated, I still stand by this long list.

Arguments can be made there were not enough East Zone horses on the squad.
After all, they won the Pan Am Team Gold by a large margin. Those critics
did not look at how these horses performed, or failed to perform, during and
after selection.

One was not eligible on the horse she rode in Canada. Another rode that
horse, but he had no real record with it. The current Pan Am Champion
suffered from both the difficult international experiences the past 2 Pan Am
Champions had set as well as the recurrence of a minor problem she had
overcome once at the Pan Am, and probable failure of the selection process
to give her the proper credit her CTR experience deserved. A fourth East
Zone nominee had lameness issues arise pre-evaluation period which
admittedly and reasonably caused her apprehension and ultimately resulted in
revision of her schedule which left her only one ride to perform at and no
other nominees to ride against.

Some of these problems can be easily solved, but not by combative
competitive ride-offs. The National Selection Committee (NSC) could select a
specific schedule of rides to be observed. However, that has been tried
before and was not well liked, but will likely be reconsidered.

Better yet, why not involve the AERC Championship Series by making them a
joint AHSA-AERC National Ch. Series. That is 20 FEI races in North America,
more than any other continent, 9 Regional Ch. 50ís and 9 Reg. Ch. 100ís plus
a 50 N.C. and 100 mile N.C.

The World Cup year-end champion under the FEI World Ranking would have to
ride in America and come to win it, or place. "They" would have to come and
ride against us here. The simple math would require it. The USET N.S.C.
could then designate the Ch. Series 100 mile rides that fell within the
selection period as evaluation rides. That would mean the entire selection
committee would get to see more riders more often. Additionally, I believe
it would improve Ch. Series attendance and interest while qualifying more
nominees with FEI experience (widening the entrance gate as friends of mine
in Texas say).

Next, seed the World Champion (soon to be an American again) and the Pan Am
Champion (expected to continue to be an American) to the list of 12 (squad
and alternates) on the horse of their choice. If they do not complete a 100,
they must still be ranked as alternates. If they do, the NS Committee can
decide how or whether to consider them for the squad.

Ride-offs to choose the squad are likely less of a guarantee of future
health and performance than the current process, especially if the changes
noted above are adopted.

With these changes made, we could expand the long list to 36 without
worrying about "how" to see them all. The schedule would place performance
pressure and place thinking/planning/campaign pressure on the nominees, a
better requirement than just "who won" in a specific ride. It also would
keep nominees from "hiding" or simply staying in their own backyard.

It also might be appropriate to allow nominees who both top 10 or top Ĺ in a
regional championship 100 and up to 3 of those who finish top 5 in the
National Championship 100 to be seeded into the 12 definite entries for the
N.S.C. to place, so long as they pass a subsequent day evaluation by the
team vets/chefs and NSC without dissent regarding the horseís ability to go
on that next day competitively.

"A Little Bit is Better Than Nada"

-Texas Tornadoes

Presently, although formal input on constructive suggestions to improve the
process have been sought and advertised for by the USET and NSC, only 2
letters have been presented although the East Zone is experimenting with
objective trials. All the Internet chatter has generated little. A
memorandum requesting any criticism and input was sent out to the USET
National Selection Committee, the USET Endurance Committee, the Joint
AHSA-USET Endurance Committee, the AERC International Committee Chair, AERC
President, Randy Eiland, and the USET Long List -close to 100 riders, in

"Kill the Umpire"

-Anonymous Brooklyn Dodgers Fan

In high level competitive team sports the only refrain uttered as often as
the above is to fire the manager.

Much criticism has flown over the net about the "management" of the team.
What does that mean: It cannot be criticism of USET for some imagined
failure, unless it is in budgeting too much money (Over $200,000 went to
this WEC for the USA Team. By the way, when did we start expecting this kind
of support?)

"We will pick the winning World Championship Team, but if they do not win,
it will be Rickí fault."

-Arthur Priesz, Jr. At the 2000 AERC Convention

Understand this, I was kidding.

Rick Stewart worked hard and made suggestions and changes to the staff and
management of this yearís team, in an effort to improve and enhance
performance. Some of those things worked well and some may be adopted for
future teams. Dr. Stewart also dealt with a lot of bad luck, not of his own
making. One rider fractured a collarbone. Anotherís horse cramped or tied up
on arrival and would not fully recover before the ride. Two horses, one an
alternate, got worse after being re shod for the ride. The World Championís
horse got kicked at the 1st Vet Check. Does that sound like poor coaching?

We all could have done better; no one is an innocent bystander. The point
is, to get to work doing things even better now. That means refining the
selection process to improve it, generating more qualified nominations so
the National Selection Committee has more than 14 to finally choose from,
promoting more international-type and FEI experience by joining AERC and
AHSA in a venture to choose a true National Champion, and asking USET to
help even more than they do by becoming directly involved at the Pan Am
level, and in supporting riders in other international competitions (like
the proposed AERC-AHSA True National Championship Series).

"Tis Always Morning Somewhere"

-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The point is, we need to learn and move on, not whine and muddle. Many, if
not all, of those who may read this are capable of helping on many different
levels. But you need to speak up, constructively, and without self-interest,
with ideas or suggestions to improve.

"The USA will be back, and intends to win. Will you be there?"

-A. Priesz, Jr.


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