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On the Rail with Nancy Jaffer: USAE

Award-winning journalist Nancy Jaffer begins a twice-monthly series of reports from the world of equestrian sport.

WHAT'S IN A NAME? - Plenty, if we're talking about the feuding American Horse Shows Association and the U.S. Equestrian Team. They face a September U.S. Olympic hearing over which will be equestrian sports' national governing body (NGB), or federation.

In case you've been immune to all the press releases, e-mails and gossip, the AHSA is the governing body now; the USET has challenged that status and wants the title. That's the very, very short version of the saga.

The AHSA directors are meeting next month to vote on changing their organization's name to the U.S. Equestrian Federation. A name change actually has been bandied about for a couple of decades, since the AHSA stopped being an association of horse shows, and became an association of members. "The reason we didn't change it was we did not want to be provocative to the USET," said AHSA President Alan Balch, but obviously the battle between the groups has changed that.

Balch noted the USET has distributed material indicating "the AHSA, as the name implies, is only an organization of horse shows and horse show organizers," and the AHSA wants to set things straight.

"The challenge is not the cause for the name change, it's the occasion for the name change," said Balch, noting the current name "is not a good description" of his organization.

The move understandably has raised eyebrows on the USET side of things.

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"I think it's a bit transparent," said USET President and CEO Armand Leone Jr. "It's a question of form over function. Just because you call something a jet doesn't mean you can fly. They're trying to make themselves into something they haven't been, and a cosmetic name change is part of that plan."

One smart aleck on the USET side joked he'll suggestion that organization change its name to the U.S. Equestrian NGB.

INTERNATIONAL SCENE - The last week or so has been buzzing on the international front, with competition particularly intense as the Europeans focus on their upcoming continental championships.

Belgium's surprise victory in the Nations' Cup at Aachen, that show of shows, means there's yet another country to be reckoned with in addition to the usual powers that include Germany, Holland, Switzerland and France. Italy also has been getting much stronger, so the U.S. will really need to pump up to win its first-ever World Equestrian Games show jumping medal next year in Spain. American teams in Europe last week both were fifth, not the best of finishes. It was the developing riders on an official USET tour in Helsinki, and a group that put together their own squad for Aachen.

Speaking of Aachen, Olympic individual gold medalist Jeroen Dubbeldam of Holland impressed again by winning the grand prix there with his wonderful gray partner, de Sjiem. His Games performance was no fluke, folks. Remember how Germany's Ludger Beerbaum dissed him before he rode in Sydney?

American Beezie Patton Madden stood to earn an $800,000 bonus if she won at Aachen on Innocence after taking the top prize at Valkenswaard, Holland, last year. But she had to settle for third. And this after flying her horse over from Spruce Meadows just for the grand prix.

In driving, the best American finisher was Chester Weber, seventh individually, but he and the only other U.S. competitor, David Saunders, finished last in Aachen's team standings. Saunders got hung up in one hazard on the marathon and lost a lot of time there. It would have doubtless been a different story with a third team member, particularly if it were Tucker Johnson, who's taking it easy this season in preparation for intense work in 2002, when the four-in-hands have their world championship.

There were no U.S. competitors in dressage, where the top horse in the Grand Prix and freestyle, as expected, was Rusty with World Cup Champion Ulla Salzgeber aboard. How about this freestyle score--83.59 percent? American dressage is getting much better, but it will still be awhile before we get the better of the Germans.

A SECRET WEAPON - Think of the folks who coach top-level dressage riders and it's generally the same names--Klaus Balkenhol, Jo Hinnemann, Harry Boldt, etc. But the odds are few have heard of the man who helps two-time U.S. Olympic team bronze medalist Guenter Seidel. He's Dietrich von Hopffgarten, who keeps such a low profile that he hadn't even been to a horse show since 1998 until he showed up at the Bayer/USET Festival of Champions. Von Hopffgarten, a native of Germany who is now a Canadian citizen, has worked with Seidel since he came to California from Germany.

"He has an unbelievable eye," says Seidel. "He has so much knowledge and so much to give. He makes things very simple."

Von Hopffgarten also coaches up-and-coming rider Jeremy Steinberg, another Californian.

OH BABY - So many people spend a lifetime trying to make it to the Grand Prix arena in dressage. But Susan and Tim Dutta's son has been doing it even before he is born. The boy, due to arrive in September, went along for the ride when his mother competed on two horses in the USET Grand Prix Championship. He's already learned to kick, according to the mom-to-be, who made her final bow for the season at the Festival.

DON'T QUIT YOUR DAY JOB - When he stopped competing last year, five-time Olympian Robert Dover vowed to do other things to make his life complete. So he's sending out photos and resumes for acting jobs, hoping to answer casting calls soon. He said he did some acting as a child, noting it's in his blood because his mother is an actress.

And lest anyone think his fingers are no longer on the pulse of the horse world, forget it. He's still very busy training riders and horses, including Ranier, his 2000 Olympic mount. Betsy Steiner, a veteran of the 1990 World Equestrian Games, is the new rider--but she's working with Dover and the horse is still stabled at the Long Island farm where he's based.

NATIONAL NEWS - Look for more of an international presence in the show jumping at the National Horse show this November than we've seen in several years--unless West Nile virus quarantine restrictions get in the way again. New National Chairman Gene Mische says he's offering places in Madison Square Garden to two riders each from the foreign teams that will be at the Washington and Toronto shows on the fall indoor circuit.

That would be the Argentines, the Mexicans and hopefully, the Irish, who reportedly are planning a North American tour but have yet to confirm. For the National, Gene also wants to invite Jeroen Dubbeldam and World Cup Champion Markus Fuchs of Switzerland. Such a strategy could put some pizzazz into a show that has been missing the foreign flair that was once its main attraction.

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