Maree Tomkinson: "It's Our Sport and We Need to Take it Back"

Fri, 01/07/2022 - 01:05
Maree Tomkinson on her home bred Friday (by Furstenball and out of her 2014 WEG team horse Diamantina) at the 2021 World Young Horse Championships :: Photo © Astrid Appels

At the start of the new year, Australian Grand Prix rider and former team member Maree Tomkinson penned a heartfelt message about her concerns for the future of equestrian and dressage sport in Australia. She is a national riders representative with Equestrian Australia but feels it hard to make change, even when going through "the proper channels".

"It's Our Sport and We Need to Take it Back"

Three years ago I became the EA National riders rep and at around the same time joined a group of Australia’s best educated and most experienced riders coaches and administrators across a variety of disciples form grass roots to multi Olympic representation.. I was very honoured to be included in such an esteemed group to represent my discipline and my place in the sport and add my experience and support.

As riders rep I took the position very seriously and set about trying to add my 50 years of experience to help make the sport better for all equine and human athletes………who would have guessed that would be so contentious !

We asked event organisers only to run competitions on suitable surfaces, only use the surfaces that meet acceptable standards, most major international competitions only use one or two arenas ,we do not need to use 9 unsuitable arenas. Prepare them correctly and evenly for all competitors. I took some real heat for that one!

Follow the Rules, No Exemptions

Horses need to be qualified and entered by the closing date as per the entry requirements……for EVERYONE!! Riders need to follow the rules, ALL riders. Stop asking for exemptions for everything, just do what the rules say to do . If you don’t like the rule, and I agree some of them are outdated, petition the EADC to change them.

Set a good example to your pupils, young riders, amateur riders and follow the rules……..go through the grades before you can do FEI. It's not that hard and it is good for you and your horse to make sure there are no holes in the training and no surprises in the test riding. Coaches, encourage this!

Administrators……..Uphold the rules that you have made, stop playing god and making some people follow the rules and some don’t have to…….that’s not fair and not ethical and it is a slippery slope you go down when the rules become so rubber we end up with drugs in sport at the last TWO Olympics .

High Perforrmance………we need a much better high performance group, doping scandals at the last two Olympics is not acceptable. Something is very wrong at the top of this chain. After ‘sand paper gate’ the International cricket association gave the offending cricketers a one game suspension…..pathetic! However, cricket Australia said, "this is not who we are, not the good sport we promote, not what we stand for." They gave them 12 months. We need to be tougher on drugs in sport …'s not who we are, we are equestrians, we don’t drug our horses, we don’t accept drugs in our athletes!!

No Selection Criteria for 2022 WEG

We are 8 months out of a World Equestrian Games and we have no selectors and no selection criteria!!!! Really, that is just not ok.

We should have 5 selectors for each discipline, all hand chosen and incentivised for their outstanding international experience in their field and then supported in their choices. If there is a conflict of interest one can step down and there are still enough to select the best team. If you are choosing the very best internationally experienced selectors there is bound to be conflict of interest at some point. I would have diversity in my team of selectors: the Chef d’Equipe, the high performance manager, a five star judge, the coach, international administrator with a legal background. Just an example. 

Squads…….State squads should all be aligned: junior, development, senior, each state the same……and combinations should be selected onto a squad. This idea of having to nominate yourself for squads and performance medals, in my opinion, is not the right way. Selection onto a squad and performance medals should be a great achievement and something to aspire to. You shouldn’t have to ask for them, they should be awarded, selected and notified and announced. A real achievement!

Tests……..I think there should be a rule about doing two GP level tests in one day. This is wrong, it is an animal welfare issue ,riders should not enter horses for two GP level tests in one day and event organisers should not accept them.

Taking the Heat

I have taken a lot of heat for verbalising these suggestions, phone calls, text messages, verbal conflict, mostly from people that don’t want things to change. Progress, following rules, animal welfare, good sport…….the way things are suits their ‘position’ in the sport. I have been called a bad friend, emotional, personal, self interested and worse. Bullying is alive and well!

In the end we all have to ask: first, what is best for the horse...second, what is best for the sport ……and only then, what is best for the individual.

Good Governance, Right to Vote

EA…….. we put our unique group together to offer, collectively, our vast and diverse skills, knowledge and experience from grass roots to high performance across all disciplines to the new EA board, some of whom have little to no equine experience. It is free information with the sole purpose of trying to assist to create an Equestrian Australia with greater functionality and financial sustainability that benefits us all and we can all be proud of.

I think we all thought that after going not voluntary administration we had an opportunity for a fresh start. After the membership voted overwhelmingly for one member-one vote, we were fundamentally denied this as the states were given the power of veto over the members. This was disappointing but we had hope for a new board and new governance hopefully would bring about a new constitution and a new model of governance.

Just this week we see that even when only one model is put forward EA still have the power to throw it away and deny us the right to vote on it. On top of that we have been denied the opportunity to elect 2 directors to the board. This was meant to be the first year members got to choose through a democratic process.

So it starts at the top…..not following the rules…..and goes through the sport…..maybe its from our convict heritage that we are by nature rebellious and unlawful!

So, what does all this mean? I started as a kid with a pony and just wanted to ride…… like most of us!

Somehow I arrived at a place where i had the capacity to compete and eventually represent my country. At that point I realised that the management of the sport was imperative if we want to have success internationally. Unprofessional management and governance filters through the whole sport and undeniably effects our ability to prepare and perform at the optimum level.

How does this effect you?

If you like watching the Olympics, cheering on our international athletes, following their page, their journey, the horses, travelling to beautiful competitions venues, aspire to represent your country or for your children to represent Australia, if you love the sport and the horses in any and all ways, we need to find a way to be heard, to help the sport and the governance hear us and understand us. We do not want all the funding going to administer the administrators. We want our sport model finalised, our board elected by the members, and we want to get on with making the sport great, not paying wages of the uninterested, unengaged.

Stay informed, register to vote, email your discontent, be outrage. Vote, vote ,vote every opportunity you get.

It’s our sport and we need to take it back.

- by Maree Tomkinson, full post on her Facebook page. 

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