The quest for Mark Phillips’ replacement as US eventing chef d’equipe gained pace last week, when the two shortlisted candidates — British eventer Leslie Law and US Equestrian Federation (USEF) president David O’Connor — were questioned by riders in an open forum.

But the process has proved controversial after the search committee picked just two final candidates, dismissing several popular names from the initial nine applicants.

One of these, international coach Jimmy Wofford, had topped unofficial opinion polls by a wide margin.

However, USEF managing director Sara Ike said the executive committee has the final say on who gets the job and does not have to accept the search committee’s shortlist or recommendations.

The open forum, at Red Hills Horse Trials on 10 March, gave Leslie and David the platform to speak for an hour on their vision for the role, followed by questions from riders.

Rider Boyd Martin asked search committee chairman Eric Straus why the other shortlisted applicants were not given the chance to speak.

“This is a huge piece of US history,” Boyd said at the meeting. “As leading riders, it will affect us dramatically for years. The two candidates we heard today were fantastic, but I think we should be able to hear others in this open forum format.”

Rumours have been circulating that USEF president David O’Connor is a dead cert to get the job.

Insiders say it would be extraordinary to pick a British rider, who has no international coaching experience, over an American, who has already coached the Canadian team to win silver at last year’s WEG.

But USEF chief executive John Long hinted that rejected applicants may be reconsidered, saying that the two candidates are “not a final decision”.

However, this would require a majority vote from the search committee, which has already had one meeting and confirmed unanimously to stick with the original two.

Riders have until 25 March to persuade the search committee to reconsider other applicants for the job.

Mr Long hopes to announce the final candidate, who will officially start the job in January 2013, by the end of April.

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (17 March, 2011)