Planning for travel abroad is always challenging. Now imagine you’re taking along more than 15 high-performance horses, several weeks worth of hay and an entourage that includes veterinarians and farriers and you get an idea of the task faced by the United States Equestrian Federation in getting our riders off to the 2008 Summer Olympics in Hong Kong.
"With the swim team, they pack their bathing suits and off they go! The logistics involved in sending horses and riders around the world, especially over to Hong Kong – it’s kind of mind-boggling,” says Bonnie B. Jenkins, executive director of the USET Foundation, the not-for-profit organization charged with raising funds to support America’s elite and developing horse and rider teams.
On June 28, the USET Foundation will host a benefit and auction at the Oaks Blenheim Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park in San Juan Capistrano. Themed “One Team, One Dream – A Salute to Hong Kong,” it will run concurrent with the U.S. Olympic Dressage Team Selection Trials.
The USET Foundation’s Feb. 8 event at the International Polo Club in Wellington, FL raised $500,000, in some heated bidding for luxury excursions including a 5-Star Hong Kong Olympic Games package and a VIP trip to the Kentucky Derby. The June gala promises an equally lofty selection of items to tempt the heart and wallet, offered in a lavish environment conjured by Hollywood production designer Jeffrey Beecroft.
The funds from both events are earmarked for the estimated $1.3 million it will cost to prepare and send our teams for dressage, show jumping and eventing to the Summer Olympic Games. In all, the equestrian delegation will consist of about 43 people. There will be five riders each for show jumping and eventing, and four for dressage, with grooms, coaches, veterinarians, farriers, a stable manager, physiotherapist, and chefs d’equipe rounding out the battalion.
“I love the USET, I love these athletes and I totally respect what they do,” says Elma Garcia-Cannavino, a commercial director and cinematographer who volunteers for the USET Foundation. In addition to working on the June fundraiser, she created the promotional USET Portrait Campaign that debuted at last year’s World Cup Final. Garcia-Cannavino rides dressage and began training with Debbie McDonald three years ago, after placing a wining bid on a month-long session with the Athens Olympics bronze medalist at the Foundation’s 2004 fundraising auction.
Dressage stars Courtney King and Idocus are among the many
Olympic hopefuls that rely on the USET Foundation’s support.
Photo: Susan Stickle
Set In Dressage Trials
“The timing of our fundraiser with the dressage finals worked out great this year,” she adds. “It’s important to have fund-raising on the West Coast, so we can feel involved. Most of those activities take place on the East Coast, but we want to support these riders too.”
The U.S. Olympic Committee is another source of funding for the United States Equestrian Federation, but unlike other countries, the U.S. government itself does not provide funding. While the Olympics may be the most recognized competition it only represents one entry on the Foundation’s balance sheet. The organization will contribute $2.65 million to the Federation this year in support of year-round developing rider programs as well as elite-rider training, coaching and traveling to events that include World Championships, World Cups and the Samsung Super League.
Competition isn’t limited to the three Olympic disciplines, but spans all seven internationally recognized equestrian sports, including driving, endurance, reining and vaulting.
To address those broader goals, the USET Foundation in 2004 initiated the Campaign to Achieve Competitive Excellence, with a goal of raising $20 million. “We’ve already raised about $15 million, so while we are encouraged by our success, we still have a little way to go,” Bonnie says.
While representing your country against the best in class from around the world is the ultimate in prestige, the fact that there is no financial compensation in the form of cash prizes to the winners at the Olympics makes participation somewhat daunting, particularly for equestrian competitors who shoulder considerable expense just getting through the Olympic qualifiers.
“Our sport is funded through the generosity of individuals,” says Bonnie. “These individuals and private foundations are the very heart of the USET Foundation, for without them we would not be able to provide the funding that is critical to this country’s high performance sports programs. From developing rider tours to the Olympic Games, their generous gifts are what help put our athletes on the podium.”
Individual tickets for One Team, One Dream – A Salute to Hong Kong can be purchased for $300. Tables of 10 range in price from $5,000 to $25,000. For more information call Nancy Little at 908-234-1251 or visit www.DressageOnTheRoadToHongKong.com.