Richard Davison: We have suffered from poor leadership skills *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    It has been a busy first half of the season for me. In addition to my own competitions and the daily training of our dressage and jumping horses at home, there have been Windsor and Bolesworth CDIs to help organise, coaching sessions for our World Class jumping riders and pupils in Germany, plus the usual variety of meetings.

    My season with Bubblingh had a frustrating start as I made the mistake of not showing him for five months between Olympia and Windsor. By the final class at Bolesworth he finally resumed the consistency of performance he showed at the end of last year. He is very talented but hyper-sensitive, and I won’t give him such a long break between big shows again. You never stop learning when it comes to producing horses. But I believe the decision his owner Gwendolyn Sontheim and I made not to put him forward for this year’s World Equestrian Games (WEG) is right for him.

    It was great that our younger son Joe won the two-star jumping grand prix at Windsor, and Bolesworth was made even more enjoyable for us as we had the rare chance to catch up with our eldest son, Tom, whose jumping clients move from the US to campaign the European circuit in the summer.

    People skills

    At Bolesworth I chatted with Nick Fellows, the new chief executive of the British Equestrian Federation (BEF). Recently we have had too many changes of administrators at the top of horse sport. We have suffered enough from poor leadership skills, especially when it comes to transparent and timely communication, plus other qualities such as resilience and commitment.

    I was therefore even more disappointed to hear of the most recent resignation, that of Gordon Burton, the outgoing head of the equestrian World Class Programme. Although not a horseman himself, Gordon has been involved with British equestrianism for some years, via his various liaison roles within UK Sport, before he agreed to take the helm. So his departure, cited as being due to “areas that have not been possible to progress as I wished” seems surprising on the face of it. It is a shame to lose a good guy and I wish him well.

    As for his replacement, I hope we can create a shortlist of candidates who, aside from the obvious requisites, also have the horsemanship experience recent applicants have been missing — and I don’t mean just the odd bit of hobby riding.

    If we are seeking a leader of elite riders and their equine support teams, then a first-hand appreciation of how “horse people” work and perform is fundamental. Compliance, governance protocols and other admin routines can be learned, but you either have people skills or you don’t, and the job is about managing and representing horsemen and women at the highest level.

    I also hope that those whose decisions have resulted in the recent failures will review their own interviewing methods. We all make mistakes, but if we professional riders kept selecting the wrong horses we’d soon be out of the top sport. Let’s get it right this time.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 28 June 2018