October 8, 2012–U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation President and CEO Jane Clark is resigning from her position after bringing 29-year-old British Olympic team show jumping gold medalist Ben Maher on board to ride some of her horses.
One of the biggest contributors to the foundation, which supplied $2.7 million in high performance funding to the U.S. Equestrian Federation this year, Jane felt she should not be helping to helm the organization with a foreign competitor on her mounts.
“I saw how uncomfortable everybody was with David O’Connor being head of the USEF and coaching the Canadian (eventing) team,” she explained.
Jane acknowledged there is a possibility that one of her horses could appear in the Olympics with the Union Jack instead of the Stars and Stripes on its saddlepad.
“We have to go a long way before that happens. Ben’s got to build a relationship with these horses and see where it takes us,” she said, adding, “If he is selected by the British team with one of my horses, then my horse will be on the British team.”
While citing the similarities between her situation and David’s, she commented, “his loyalty to the U.S. didn’t change; my loyalties to the U.S. haven’t changed,” but maintained, “I don’t ever want to put the foundation in an awkward situation.”
At the same time, she emphasized she will? keep her financial commitments to the foundation and also is buying jumpers for U.S. two-time Olympic medalist Leslie Burr Howard, 56, who had worked for her years ago. Jane continues to sponsor U.S. four-in-hand driver Chester Weber and U.S. dressage rider Katherine Bateson-Chandler, for whom she has bought a promising horse.
Ben, ninth individually in the London Olympics on Tripple X, has ridden in the U.S. a great deal, both at the National Horse Show when it was in Syracuse, N.Y., where Jane was involved with it, and at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Florida, where she has a farm.
In a statement, he said, “I am delighted to be riding Jane Clark’s string of horses. I have admired her horses for a long time, so it will be a great honour to ride for her. The new horses will strengthen my current team and enable me to be more competitive at the top league shows. I will continue to work closely with my existing owners and am really looking forward to working with Jane whose knowledge of the jumping world is respected around the circuit.”
Jane and Mario Deslauriers, who was riding her top show jumpers for several years, went their separate ways after the Olympic trials this year. The horses had a vacation at her farm in Florida as she looked for someone to take over such well-known mounts as Urico and Cella, who gave Jane her first victory in the $200,000 Gene Mische American Invitational in Tampa during April.
Foundation Chairman Armand Leone was sorry about the fact that Jane couldn’t find an American to take over her horses, as well as Jane’s departure, which is effective as of the foundation’s annual meeting in January.
“I’m disappointed. It’s hard for me to understand the decision, but we’ll move forward,” he said.
As to who will fill Jane’s spot with the foundation, he said, “whether I pick up some of the president’s or CEO’s role or we bring in the right person, there’s no reason to rush.”
Jane said she had tried to find an American to take over her horses.
She noted, “I looked at a number of riders and I really think that Ben was the best possible rider for these horses at this time. He’s a brilliant rider and we’re very happy with him. It had nothing to do with flags. It had to do with having the right person for my horses and doing the right thing by them.”
It has been a turbulent year for Jane’s stable.
Urico tested positive for a trace of cocaine at one of the Olympic selection trials, and after a USEF hearing, her barn manager, who had been listed as the horse’s trainer on its entry blank, was suspended from attending shows for two years.