Ridland New U.S. Chef

By February 27, 2012

Big news for Zone 10 Jumpers! The United States Equestrian Federation has named California’s Robert Ridland as U.S. Show Jumping Chef d’Equipe/Technical Advisor, the position occupied for the past six years by the legendary George Morris, who announced he will be retiring in 2013.

Ridland, a partner in the San Juan Capistrano-based Blenheim EquiSports, will work side-by-side with Morris at the 2012 Summer Olympics in Great Britain as he segues into his new role.

He steps in at what many see as a pivotal time in the U.S. team’s development.

Portrait of Robert Ridland in sunshine wearing a sky blue shirt.

Robert Ridland of Blenheim EquiSports (Photo by Michael J. Marten)

While the show jumping team has arguably been the most successful in terms of U.S. equestrian competition internationally ― winning Olympic gold under chef Frank Chapot in Los Angeles in 1984, and also under Morris in Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008 ― it hasn’t all be smooth sailing.

A weak Super League over the summer saw the U.S. drop out of the top eight, falling from the Super League to the “minors,” the Promotional League. At the 2010 World Equestrian Games the country also failed in its first attempt to qualify a show jumping team for the 2012 Olympics, though it made the most of its second chance, qualifying at the 2011 Pan American Games.

Ridland said he’s excited about the challenges ahead and is confident that the U.S. has the talent to take it to the top, while having nothing but praise to heap upon Morris, who will be 75 when he retires.

In making the announcement on Feb. 21, the USEF cited Ridland’s broad scope of experience. A high performance rider who represented the U.S. at two Olympic games ― 1972 in Munich and 1976 in Montreal ― Ridland went on to become a course designer and competition manager. He has served on the FEI Jumping Committee and the USEF Board of Directors and is a member of the Zone 10 Jumper Committee.

The Blenheim EquiSports horse show management company in which Ridland is partnered with R.J. Brandeis manages 40 horse shows a year and has managed more U.S. FEI championship events than any other firm. Blenheim EquiSports ran five Rolex/FEI World Cup Finals in Las Vegas, in 2000, 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009.

In addition, the company was responsible for bringing the U.S. Olympic Trials to the West Coast for the first time in history in 2000, and again in 2004. “I like to think globally, looking at what’s best for the sport worldwide first, then the United States,” Ridland told the United States Hunter Jumper Association’s Zone News earlier this year.

With his wife Hillary he runs the EquiSports training operation, also based in San Juan Capistrano. He has been part of numerous significant team wins, including the 1986 Nation’s Cup at Spruce Meadows, when the Californians won against some heavy-hitting European contenders.“That was the year Hap (Hansen) was our anchor rider and rode three clean rounds and an incredibly fast jump off and won whole thing for us. It was fun to be a part of that. I love team sports anyway, and riding is such an individual thing that there are few opportunities to compete as a team,” Ridland recalled for the USHJA.

His individual victories include the Grand Prix of New York, the American Invitational and the Grand Prix of Switzerland. “In all the things I’ve done, I go back to what I consider the essence of it all. I’m a rider at heart, even though I don’t compete internationally anymore. I look at everything from the rider’s perspective.”

His first course designing assignment was for New York’s Hampton Classic in 1976. Though he’d never designed before, he was intrigued at the prospect. “I sat down and started scribbling it out; we didn’t have computer design programs then. We also didn’t have so many regulations as we do now.” He went on to become an FEI course designer, creating courses for USEF and FEI competition, as well as the U.S. Olympic Trials. He was twice named Course Designer of the Year and wound up serving as the FEI Technical Delegate for five World Cup Finals.

Ridland has also participated on the governance side, serving multiple terms as a board member of the USEF and the United States Equestrian Team. He has served as the North American delegate on the FEI Jumping Committee, and as a member of the USEF and USHJA Zone 10 Jumper Committees.

His wealth of experience made him a logical choice as a broadcast color analyst, and he appeared on –air for ESPN, for CBS at the 1986 World Championships and for NBC at the Barcelona and Athens Olympic Games. At the Pacific Equestrians’ 2011 Celebrate Jumpers! dinner Ridland was honored with the  Visionary Award in recognition of his numerous contributions to the sport.

The move can only be a positive one in terms of helping the West Coast show jumping community achieve parity with the East. For his part, Ridland thinks that has already been resolved. “I feel the East Coast-West Coast divide has gone away,” Ridland said. “Zone 10 does some wonderful things; the North American Junior and Young Rider Trials has been a good thing, which the results have shown. I hear across the country how people put Zone 10 up on a pedestal for the way we do things and our team spirit, so we’re setting a good example.”


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