Olympics

Virginians Head To The Olympics With A Village of Support

GOING FOR GOLD:

Virginians Head To The Olympics

With A Village of Support

Written by Kaitlin Hill

“To see your flag and hear your national anthem, there is nothing else like that,” Bonnie Jenkins, Executive Director of the United States Equestrian Teams Foundation (USET), says. “And I think any athlete would agree. To bring medals home for your country, it’s pretty special.”

Jenkins and the USET Foundation’s Chairman, President, and CEO, Jim McNerney, believe reaching that golden opportunity of success in elite equestrian competition requires early development, complete dedication, effective financial support, and a heavy dose of patriotism. With all eyes on the Tokyo Olympics, Jenkins, McNerney, and familiar equestrian figures Laura Kraut, Robert Ridland, and Joe Fargis, share how the USET Foundation plays a fundamental role in Team USA’s perpetual preparation for this year’s summer games and beyond.

2017 Winning Team USA Laura Kraut, Lillie Keenan, Chef d’Equipe Robert Ridland, Lauren Hough, and Elizabeth Madden Photo Tony Parkes

Best described as the philanthropic partner of US Equestrian Teams, the USET Foundation was established in 2003 with a fixed focus on fundraising. “At the time USET, which had always done the fundraising, transitioned into a formal foundation to continue the fundraising work for high performance,” Jenkins says.

“The first reason to split the two, the management of the teams, athletes, and the horses from the fundraising, is you get a more professional job from each,” McNerney says. “You get two boards and more people involved. The second reason for the split … is it became a better governance standard.”

The repositioning of US Equestrian and USET Foundation created clear objectives for each side while retaining a close working relationship with positive results. “The proof is in the pudding,” McNerney says. “The fundraising has more than doubled on a yearly grant basis and is continuing to grow. It has the virtue of being both good governance and more effective.”

“It’s a great relationship and it serves the sport very well,” Jenkins says.

USET Foundation is the largest financial backer for US Equestrian, helping underwrite the long journey from youth development to elite status in the eight international disciplines: dressage, eventing, jumping, driving, endurance, reining, para-equestrian, and vaulting.

That road begins with providing the financial support to develop young riders, a part of the Foundation’s work that McNerney describes as “critical. Maybe the most important thing we do.”

As an athlete in the 1976 Olympic Games and current US Show Jumping Chef d’Equi- pe, Robert Ridland has seen his share of rider development and explains how the USET Foundation-funded Pathway Program, for example, is an essential element.

“These riders and these horses are part of a long process,” Ridland says. “The major function of the program is the pathway to get there for younger riders of various levels … We aren’t only supporting top riders, we are preparing the riders for the next championship and the next competition. If we are not invigorating that pathway of athletes that are going to be competing in the Olympics seven years from now, we aren’t doing our job.”

“The USET Foundation’s support of the Pathway Program develops the athletes and develops the sport to make us more competitive,” McNerney says. Becoming more competitive is “all-consuming,” Joe Fargis explains, a 1984 Olympic Show Jumping Gold Medalist and Middle- burg resident. “It’s constant and as repetitive as practice can be,” he says. “You have to immerse yourself in it if you want to get better. It takes all day long, seven days a week, 365 days a year.”

With nearly four decades in equestrian competition under her belt, a recent second place in the Rome Grand Prix, with Tokyo on her horizon, Laura Kraut has certainly put in the time and experienced firsthand the support provided by USET Foundation funding over a long career.

“When you’re at the level of competing internationally and jumping for the United States, [the Foundation] is there in every way,” she shares. “Support staff with logistics, veterinarians, team physios, they are there from start to finish making it as pain-free as possible so the athlete can concentrate on what they need to do.”

A major part of the Olympics or any competition is taking care of horses in transit, a task that requires a huge logistical effort and serious funding. “A lot of our funding is to make sure those horses fly comfortably and safely with their veterinarians,” Jenkins says. “These horses are top athletes too. And then with eight disciplines, it’s not just a show jumping team. You could have eight teams going abroad to represent us.”

Kraut shares that USET Foundation’s financial aid sets the US apart in a big way. “I think we are the envy of the international jumping world … We are very fortunate that the people helping us are fantastic, and in the end, it really makes a difference.”

“It takes an awful lot of preparation in your life and in your team’s life,” Ridland says. “And of course, it is a parallel path for the horse as well. That is where the USET Foundation comes in … Many countries have their Olympics subsidized by government subsidies and we don’t. We couldn’t exist without the USET Foundation.”

Much more than dollars and cents, the fundraising efforts of the USET Foundation speak to a uniquely American patriotism and a camaraderie in the equestrian community.

“Our support is sort of grassroots by its virtue, and by the efforts of Bonnie and the board, it engenders a team effort,” McNerney says. This fashion of fundraising not only builds a team dynamic, it also creates a unique life cycle for the athletes and highlights a personal bond shared by many of the donors.

“When you have to go out and find the money, you not only appreciate it, like in the case of Laura, [you take] advantage of it,” McNerney says. “And there’s this life cycle that when she gets to the top, she wants to reach back because she knows there are others embarking on the same journey she was on, and that it wasn’t easy. I don’t want to say that team dynamic doesn’t exist in other countries, but it exists for sure in Americans, both horizontally at any event and vertically [between] generations.”

Passion for the sport combined with patriotism breeds a special connection for the donors as well. “Most of our major donors have either participated themselves in the sport at some stage in their lives, have family involvement, or own the horses themselves. There is almost always a connection,” McNerney says.

“I would put patriotism near the top of the list for donor motivation,” Jenkins says.“Not just in the major gifts program, but also our annual support program. They are truly part of the team too.”

Patriotism is perhaps most apparent during an Olympic year, but Ridland, Kraut, Jenkins, and McNerney agree focusing on the future is equally important for a sport that never stops moving. “It’s a never-ending cycle in a very exciting way … It is fascinating to see where the sport was, where it is and where it will go,” Ridland says. “And we take our roles seriously as stewards of the sport, to put it in a better place 20 or 30 years from now.”

As the sport progresses, so too must the financial support, never losing sight of that patriotism. “Because the future is constant, the requirement is constant,” McNerney says. “There’s an arms race on all those things that add up to competitiveness.”

To cushion that constant change, the USET Foundation is building up its endowment in addition to the cyclical nature of giving that supports annual competitions and training. “Bonnie is really focused on creating and strengthening our endowment, which is stretched out over multiple years,” McNerney says. “That enables us to get through rough spots.”

According to Jenkins, McNerney’s role is key as well. “As our leader, Jim has been on the frontlines of building that endowment, which has made a huge difference to the organization. It’s now at 20 million. When Jim started, it was closer to six million. That was a huge achievement.”

Wherever the contribution is directed, whether it be annual giving for a particular discipline or toward the endowment benefiting the whole team for years to come, every penny counts. “I don’t think Bonnie or I want to create the impression that the smaller or medium-sized gifts aren’t critically important,” McNerney says. “They are. We equally celebrate and appreciate all levels of donors because they bring the same patriotism and love of the sport. It all adds up, making the country better in the sport.”

And many of those donations, big and small, come from the Middleburg area. A few loyal friends of note include Jacque- line B. Mars of The Plains, and Honorary Life Trustee of USET, Sheila Johnson, whose daughter, Paige, won USET’s Maxine Beard Award. Finally, Barbara and David Roux of St. Bride’s Farm who are not only supporters of the Foundation but also own Laura Kraut’s horses, Baloutine and Confu. Laura Kraut will be riding Baloutine at the Tokyo Olympic Games.

Laura Kraut /Image, Stefano Secchi, 88° CSIO Roma Piazza di Siena 2021

“The Middleburg connection to our sport is a big deal,” McNerney says. “There’s a deep cultural connection to the sport, and a number of wonderful supporters live in Middleburg.”

For Tokyo and beyond, it is obvious that the support of the USET Foundation is the secret of the team’s success. From creating opportunities for youth riders, funding domestic and international competition preparation, and building an endowment to secure the sport’s future, Kraut and Ridland describe the Foundation’s purpose best.

“USET Foundation helps us have that camaraderie, and they make us feel like we are doing something important,” Kraut says. “This is a very individual sport … but they make us realize that there is more to the sport than just being an individual. And there is a lot to be said for being part of a team and winning on the international stage.”

“I can’t emphasize enough how crucial the Foundation is to us being able to compete at the highest level of our sport,” Ridland says. “And we as Americans are privileged to have the Foundation leading the way.” ML

The USET Foundation was established in 2003 as a not-for-profit Section 501(c)(3). It is a separate organization from US Equestrian, the National Governing Body, and serves as its philanthropic partner. The Foundation’s mission is to raise tax-deductible contributions to support the nation’s High-Performance athletes and horses through grants made to US Equestrians. Donations may be made through uset.org.

US Equestrian develops, selects, equips, promotes, and manages US equestrian teams, as well as provides funding through corporate sponsorship, membership dues and fees, and USOPC support.

Great Meadow International —Something for Everyone: Equestrians, Spectators, even the Family Dog

By Heidi Baumstark
Photography by Sienna Turecamo

Great Meadow International, a four-day equestrian event, will bring the hills fully alive August 22-25 at Great Meadow in The Plains. Now in its fifth season, this annual event offers three levels of international competition featuring Olympic-level riders and horses in what can be described as an equestrian triathlon (dressage, show jumping, and cross-country).

But this year, Great Meadow International (GMI) has broadened its vision from its first event in 2015. Five Rings Eventing (FRE), founded by Darrin Mollett of Beverly Equestrian and Olympian David O’Connor, is a high-performance event organizer and management company that has led the competition side of GMI since its inception; but this year, Five Rings is managing all aspects of the event. Mollett added, “Our vision for 2019 is to produce a festival atmosphere to enhance the spectator experience and the community flavor of our event. We’ll be a family-friendly, country festival with a special focus on everyone’s best friend—dogs.”

In honor of Mars Great Meadow International in August, the Middleburg Life July cover features Olympic-level athletes, the organizer of Mars GMI and Middleburg Humane Foundation’s K-9s in support of this year’s enhanced spectator and community experience at GMI.

Another change this year is increasing the GMI from a three-day to a four-day event, which will include a fall festival featuring Meadow Market, a charming vendor village with a beer garden, a tent where people can cool off, local food trucks, live music, and entertainment. Organizers are planning for dogs, too, including demonstrations, dog agility activities, and canine treats. There will be a large tent open to everyone overlooking the main arena. Guests can take their food there and get out of the sun. Nearby will be the Mars VIP Hospitality Pavilion for guests who prefer all-inclusive dining and a full-service bar in a private setting; tables and half-tables are on sale for this pavilion venue. For those who want to be close to the action, a variety of tailgates and ringside boxes are available with a cash bar and access to local food trucks.

Athletes on the cover include Karen O’Connor and Lynn Symansky, Mars GMI organizer Darrin Mollett, and adoptive pets from MHF.

Mars Equestrian™, a division of Mars, Incorporated, is this year’s title sponsor, which falls in line with the organization’s canine focus including dog food and treats. A statement from Dr. Bridgett McIntosh, Director of Mars Equestrian™, confirms their support, “Offering multiple levels of [equestrian] competition in a community-focused event, with pet-friendly activities for fans, creates the ideal intersection for Mars, Incorporated’s diverse portfolio of brands. Ultimately, the partnership with GMI is central to our purpose to improve the lives of horses, pets, and the people who love them.”

The equestrian competition portion of GMI has also expanded in scope. With an expected attendance of 200 horse/rider combinations across the three levels of international competition (dressage, show jumping, and cross-country), this number is up from 35-45 in previous years.

Mollett said the event includes the term “International” because it’s an international level of competition for all three levels, which includes dressage on Thursday and Friday, show jumping on Saturday, and cross-country on Sunday. “We moved the event from July to August so competitors could prepare for their fall championships; it’s meant to benefit the rider. And the racecourse has amazing footing and a new irrigation system. Plus, we’ll have so much more for the community,” Mollett explained. The rule of thumb is that competitors bring three to four connections. In past years, thousands have come. With over 200 horses/riders expected, scores of spectators will be attracted, plus owners, riders, trainers, and horse enthusiasts from across the country.

Clothing styled by Tully Rector.
https://www.facebook.com/TullyRector/

FRE’s organizing committee is an all-volunteer group. One volunteer, Max Corcoran, has been on the committee since the beginning. She said, “In previous years, there was just the highest level of the competition; but this year, we’ll have the next level—the intermediate/preliminary level—which opens it up to more riders. There will be different countries represented; we’ll see Canadians, riders from Mexico, Ecuador, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, England, and Ireland. They’ve come to compete, to ride for their country. It’s such a beautiful facility and a great excuse to come out and enjoy time in the country—not just for riders but for everyone.”

Pet collars & leashes: Loyal Companion
https://loyalcompanion.com/

Plans are on track for a portion of GMI’s proceeds to benefit non-profit partners, including the Pedigree Foundation (the non-profit leg of Mars) and the local Middleburg Humane Foundation, which operates a farm shelter in Marshall, Virginia for abused or neglected animals.

For over 30 years, literally millions have come to events at Great Meadow drawn by its natural splendor, a 380-acre field events center and steeplechase course among the backdrop of the rolling Bull Run Mountain range. It began with the Virginia Gold Cup held every May and grew from there. Today, it is home to a laundry list of greats including the International Gold Cup Races in October, Saturday night Twilight Polo from May through September, the Twilight Jumper series on select Friday summer nights, and home to the popular Fourth of July Celebration. It is also the site of public astronomy events hosted by the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club, Team America Rocketry Challenge, and is a favorite pick for seasonal trail rides, weddings, and other community events.

Dog food: Mars Petcare 
https://www.mars.com/made-by-mars/petcare

But back in 1982, the property known as Fleming Farm was a failing dairy farm. The late Arthur W. “Nick” Arundel (1928-2011), news executive and philanthropist, spotted the property, which was slated for sale, ready to be turned into a large housing development. But Arundel purchased the property, envisioning a preservation of open space for the permanent home for the annual Virginia Gold Cup steeplechase, and to showcase one of Virginia’s most beautiful natural resources. He donated the farm that would become Great Meadow, stewarded by the Great Meadow Foundation, which was first established in 1984 as the Meadows Outdoor Foundation and renamed Great Meadow Foundation in 1996.

Hair and Makeup by Salon Emage Day Spa
https://salonemage.com/
Location: Beverly Equestrian
http://www.beverlyequestrian.com/

Thanks to the initial vision of Arundel—and since then many more—friends still meet at Great Meadow to celebrate the preservation of this sweeping space and the entertainment it brings. Mollett ended, “And GMI is live-streamed on multiple platforms.” So now even more people can catch the vision of this international event and the wonder of Great Meadow as its prized venue.

GMI tickets include general parking and admission to the venue and Meadow Market. For more information and to purchase tickets, tables, etc., visit www.greatmeadowinternational.com. Great Meadow in The Plains is located at 5089 Old Tavern Road; the phone number is 540-253-9845 and the website is www.greatmeadow.org.

Photoshoot credits:

Pet collars & leashes: Loyal Companion @loyalcompanionpets https://loyalcompanion.com/; Clothing: Tully Rector @tullyrector https://www.facebook.com/TullyRector/; Dog food: Mars Petcare https://www.mars.com/made-by-mars/petcare @mars_petcare; Hair and Makeup: Salon Emage Day Spa @salonemagedayspa https://salonemage.com/;
Photography: Sienna Turecamo @siennaturecamophotography; Location: Beverly Equestrian @beverlyequestrian http://www.beverlyequestrian.com; Cover pets: @middleburghumanefoundation http://www.middleburghumane.org

This article first appeared in the July 2019 issue of Middleburg Life.

Marian Cunningham

Marian Cunningham, Dressage Judge

In a change of lead, Marian Cunningham went from the hectic life of international dressage competition, including representing her home country Peru in the 1984 Olympics, to traveling the globe as a 4-star FEI (International Equestrian Federation) Judge.

Marian Cunningham

Marian Cunningham

These days instead of performing passage and piaffe aboard her beloved El Dorado, Marian sits comfortably in the judges’ box evaluating the performances of the world’s top dressage riders. Just this year Marion has judged in Australia, Peru, France, Guatemala, Canada, Colombia, Mexico, Costa Rica and up and down the East and West coasts of the United States. She figures she spends half her time traveling and working in this year-round sport. And loves it. “I’ve made good friends with my colleagues, competitors, owners and organizers,” she says.

Upon returning to Middleburg, the renown equestrian enjoys relaxing, riding her horse Rio, giving dressage lessons and walking her Jack Russels, Maude and Marnye around the neighborhood.
Rio is Marian’s third-generation homebred Warmblood that she boards on a nearby farm she recently relocated to. Some days she rides dressage in the ring and other days she goes out on a hack or rides on the farm’s track.

With her days of competition in the past, Rio is her pleasure horse, living a horse’s life. “He’s turned out all night and liking his new place,” says the former Olympian. “He’s not wrapped up in cotton wool.”
Born in Peru to an American father and a Canadian mother, young Marian first wanted to jump horses, but her pragmatic mother told her she must first learn dressage so she can best control a horse. In between attending boarding school in Massachusetts, attending Commercial School in Switzerland, and graduating from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, Marian perfected her sport.
Upon completing her studies, Marian decided to get serious about competition and bought El Dorado. “He was supposed to be trained already, but it took me four years to know what buttons to push to get to L.A. (1984 Olympics).”

Marian is a dual citizen of Peru and the United States and is devoted to both her first and current homes. In competing in the ’84 Olympics, the local rider became the first person to represent Peru in Equestrian Sports. In her international travel she finds occasions to speak the four languages she is fluent in: Spanish, English, French and Italian. “And Barn German,” she adds. “I can swear at my horse in German.”

This Olympian has hopes of becoming a 5-star judge, the highest status in the FEI, which would allow her to return as a judge in the 2020 Olympics. She’s also hoping to judge in the Pan American Games which will be held next year in Peru. “By both competing in and judging in the Pan Ams and the Olympics, I will have come full circle,” declares Marian.

 

Story and photo by Kerry Phelps Dale.

This article first appeared in the October 2018 issue. 

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