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International Selection: The Real Story

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From: Tony Benedetti 

My name is Tony Benedetti and I am the National Selector's Chairman for the United States Equestrian Team. I have been reading the various posts regarding selection since the squad members were named to represent the United States at the World Endurance Championship (WEC) in Dubai this December.

I read these posts with interest because I always look for feedback regarding selection. I remained silent after reading most of the psots choosing to let "the public speak". It was the last post that I read that has prompted me to respond. In that post, opinions expressed included "selection of mountian horses", "this is the stupidest selection I can think of", "the secrect society attitude of AERC International".  It also continued the trend of using incorrect nomenclature such as WEG instead of WEC and the term "FEI Board" which had no meaning in the context in was used. I found these comments disturbing to me and insulting to my selection committee, to the selected squad members themselves, and to all the people who work countless hours working towards the selection and prepreation of the best squad possible to represent the United States.

I would like to respond to various points from posts I have read.

Mountian Horses, you say, were selected. Two of the squad members selected this year won rides during the selection period with riding times of 8:39 and 8:45 respectively in 100 mile rides, and a third squad member had a riding time of 9:00 hours in one of those rides and won best condition. These were well attended 100s. A fourth squad member won a difficult, sandy 100 mile ride in 9:30 and set a new course record. The fifth and sixth squad members are alittle slower (tongue in cheek). They only placed 1st and 5th at the 1997 Pan American Championship and 4th and 8th? at the 1996 World Championship. I guess the selection committee should have done a better job and actually choosen the fast horses. By the way there are some damn fast alternates who did not make the squad. I believe that you insulted our squad members by insinuating that they were just slow mountian horses. They worked had to earn their spot to represent the United States.

This leads me to my next point. Why are there so many of you saying that the selection process is "stupid"? I ask you: Did the selectors choose the wrong horses? Is there someone else you wanted named to the squad? Who would you take off the squad? Do you want to name different people to the squad, maybe someone from the souteast, central, southwest, wherever, and you want them on the squad because you know them and are familiar with them? Isn't that discounting the accomplishment of the horses that you are not familiar with? That thinking shows some real biasis that I would not tolerate from my selection committee nor in our selection procedures.  The selection committee tried to select the "fastest, soundest horses, with the highest probability of winning a medal". Tell me, did we do a bad job? Who would you have choosen different? And how can you be so critical considering this squad hasn't even raced yet?

Your next thought is that you would use head to head competition to select the squad. First, I can give you a multitude of reasons why head to head competition doesn't work (in my humble opinion) but let me limit it to the following. Our primary goal of selection is to send the "best" competitors with the highest probabilities of winning medals for the Unitied States. Endurance riding is not track and field or swimming and the same principals for selection do not apply. If you can't see the inherent differences, then I'ld probably waste my time explaining them. 

Let me give you a senario to illustrate the deficiencies in head to head selection. Assume that the US is holding a single selection race. First the course shoud emulate the championship course and lets just say that the site chosen is in Texas. Let's also say that the knowledgable public knows that the best three horses in the United States are Sandy Schuler's Omar, Becky Hart's RIO, and Valery Kanavy's Cash because they are all 12 years old, in their prime and have no injuries. I choose these three horses because they are all former or reigning world champions. (If you don't know this then you are arguing with limited historical knowlege which fundamentally makes your arguments questionable. Remember, history always repeats itself). Let's also say that Omar gets sick (only a little cold) two weeks before the ride and can't go, Becky's truck breaks down in Kingman, Arizona and can't get to the race, and Valerie was told to go the wrong way on the course by a confused race official who made a terrible mistake and she gets lost for three hours. The selection race is run and Tom, Max, Sue, Jean, Peggy, and Sam come in first through sixth and are named to represent the United States. Sandy, Becky, and Val don't get selected. My question: Is this the best team to represent the United States? Of course not! And running three selection rides across the Inited States has the same fundamental flaws.

Some say that the current selection process eliminates new comers. Well, this year, a person with no international experience made the squad. Her strenghts obviously outweighted her inexperience in international competition.

Lets see. I have shown why head to head selection is flawed and that everyone actually has an opportunity to be selected. But you say the subjective selection process doesn't work and that the selectors are completely inadequate to select the best horses. If you read and truly analyzed the current selection procedures (By the way, have you even read the selection procedures or are you making your comments based on hearsay and perception?) you would understand that the selection process is based on the collection of information and on the selectors personaly seeing the nominees as much as possible. The selectors fly all over the country to see nominiees that they may not have seen before so that they can make the best decisions possible. Let me give you a truism in selection. The horses nearly select themselves. After the selection period has ended, the cream usally has risen to the top. The selectors usually only need to discuss the last horse that is being put on the squad.

OK, you're going to say that the current process causes the nominees to run their horses into the ground during selection. Funny thing is that the selection process allows for the nominees to devise their own schedule. During this past selection, there were two nominees who each only did two 100 mile rides. One got selected one didn't. Most of the nominees did 2 or 3 hundreds and some threw in a few 50s, some didn't. The whole idea is to let each nominee to individually prepare the best way possible for them to get selected and to peak for the championship race.

I know that this is a subjective process. But the selectors do a great job and  take their responsibilities very serious. They are also instructed to absolutely set any biases (geographic, personalities, etc.) aside and that all information must be personally observed or observed by a representative of the selectors and all information must be written on the selection forms and shared with all the selectors. This eliminates hearsay and incorrect information from being considered. The final selection was done based on two conference calls by the selectors lasting 2 hours and 3 hours respectively. This is not a public process so I am sorry if it appears behind closed doors. However, better this way than having what the selectors being incorrectly repeated. This starts rumors that run wild. I would rather use discretion and good taste rather than be percieved as unfair based on rumors. I have felt that this process results in the selection of the best horses to represent the United States. 

I don't understand how you can write posts critical of this selection process and absolutely state that you know what's best because you've drawn some parrels from other sports that I believe don't truely don't compare. This is besides the fact that you've never been involved in international, never been involved in selection, and truely don't understand how the current process works. Isn't that slightly pompous. I would not like to see a person with this type of attitude represent me on the AERC International Committee.

Some potpourri: The FEI minimum weight requirement is 165 lbs. It's a medium between feather weights and heavy weights decided many years ago by the FEI. By the way, heavy weights have competed well in international races. Chris Knock and Saxx got out sprinted by an ex-race horse for the gold in the 1995 North American Championship. (I'm assuming you already knew that). I'm not saying whether or not I support this weight requirment but just telling you the facts. By the way, those of you who say that the selection process is slanted towards feather weights, it is requried that every nominee complete at least one 100 mile ride at the minimum FEI weight of 165 lbs. and most ride at that weight all season in preperation for the international race.

Almost Last: If you are going to speak about international and especially if your going to be highly critical of international, you should try learn the nomencalture and the relationships between the various groups including AERC International, USET, AHSA, and FEI. Each of these groups have very different responsibilies and perform different functions. For example, there has been much critism about the "stupid" (keen choice of words there) selection process. The last selection process was a joint effort by the AERC International Committee, USET Endurance Committee, USET Active Riders Committee, and the AHSA Endurance Committee. I roughly estimate that 40 people read, made comments, and approved those proceedures. Did you know that? I guess all fourty people must be pretty stupid because with all your knowledge of international you said so. And if you speak about international, please try to use the proper nomenclature and organizations. That way we know that you have made enough of an effort to make informed criticisms. 

Last: I spent alot of time along with others writing the AERC International Proceedures. In fact, 5 of us wrote the first draft. Do you want to know what the first premise was? It was that AERC International was going to be a grass roots democratic committee of AERC. That is why there are zone representatives. That is why the zone reps, your zone reps assuming you joined AERC International and voted for one, make recommendations about who sits on the USET Discipline Committee, who is the National Chef d'Equipe, National Selector's Chairman, and the National Selectors. This is hardly a "secreative" process, it is an involved process. Have you been involved or are you one of those Uniformed Blowhards who know everything.

I write this half as a reponse to the post that have been so critical and half as infornational. If anyone wants to make comments directly to me, my email address is

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