Australian Olympian Clayton Fredericks took up the role as technical advisor for Canada’s Eventing High Performance Program nearly a year ago. In this exclusive interview with Horse Sport, Fredericks shares his first impressions of Canada’s top eventing athletes and discusses the challenges ahead for the country’s high performance program.

You must be pleased with the recent successes of Rebecca Howard and Jessica Phoenix at Burghley, Blenheim and Haras du Pin, particularly in terms of looking ahead to next year’s World Equestrian Games.

CF: Yes, we’re certainly in the team building phase, and it’s good to get those results at this time. The riders have been told that each of them needs to have as many horses qualified and ready to go for team selection as possible.

Does the chronic lack of depth when it comes to the number of three- and four-star horses in Canada remain the biggest challenge for Canadian Eventing?

CF: The biggest problem I see is there really isn’t an owner culture. In Europe, it’s a given thing that people want to be involved in the sport. This is something we really need to focus on. Canada’s got great riders, but experience comes only from getting the runs. The trouble is, a lot of the riders don’t get that opportunity; they don’t have the funds to run more than one horse, which leaves them limited as to how much experience they can gain.

The shortage of top horses and the shortage of dollars go hand in hand, don’t they?

CF: It all comes back to money, and Canada needs more owners in the sport. People have got to stand up and get more horses under their riders. If you want superstars you have to support them with horses. Owners and people on the sidelines in Canada are all talking about how to get it done. They need to stop talking and put their hands in their pockets. These young guns cannot ride broomsticks. We need some Canadian pride out there.

I think there is a need to be a bit inventive in attracting more owners. Syndication is a huge opportunity. It takes pressure off the rider, because it’s not just one person putting up all the money. It also gives more people the thrill of being involved. It doesn’t need to be about going out and buying experienced horses. The riders in Canada have the ability to develop horses themselves, but they have to be on the right horses to start with. There’s always the odd freak in the sport that will prove you wrong, but you need the foundation: good movement, a good temperament, and the ability to gallop and jump.

Taking this job must have forced you to consider your own competitive career. Are you finished with elite sport as a rider, or do you think you will go back at some point in the future?

CF: I don’t really know the answer to that question; I haven’t even been through a year yet with the Canadian Team. I’m enjoying competing through others, and I’m enjoying looking at the sport from a different perspective. Whether I use that change in view toward a coaching career or an individual competitive career, I can’t say right now. At the moment I am enjoying what I’m doing with the Canadians.

What has the schedule been like for you this year working with Canada’s riders, as far flung as they are?

CF: The job has taken me overseas a lot. The benefit is that I’ve been able to see my daughter every month [in England], but on the other hand I’ve also spent so much time over here in North America. The Canadians have people everywhere! I used to think the Australians were bad. When I was a kid I always dreamed of having a job that would take me flying all over the world. Be careful what you wish for!

Looking ahead to Normandy next year, are you confident about Canada’s team prospects?

CF: I think we’ve got a great team of riders and a great group of contestants for the team. The focus from my perspective is that the riders have to work hard on the areas of their performance that are not cutting it. I believe we have to qualify for Rio at the WEG, and not rely on the Pan Ams if we want to be a force in the next Olympic Games.

What is the impact on future generations when a country has a real superstar, someone like Mark Todd?

CF: When an athlete has a good result, it pushes his countrymen on, and it sets a new bar. We are starting to see that with Rebecca Howard. Even though she hasn’t yet reached her full potential, she’s really cutting the mustard at the top level. But if you compare Canada to the Kiwis, they have a team of at least six riders who are riding multiple horses. I think Rebecca’s proven herself with her performances, and yet she has just one other horse, at the novice level.

The Canadian Eventing Team has been criticized in the past for lacking the confidence it takes to be an international force. If that’s true, what’s the solution?

CF: One of the riders I worked with recently was keen to get better and asked me, ‘what can I practice?’ I said, ‘just practice winning.’ It’s important to have practice at winning. When it comes time to produce the goods on the day, the pressure’s on you.

Where are you concentrating most of your time and energy right now?

CF: I still think it’s important to see the up-and-coming riders and horses, but the reality is there’s only time in this job to work at the top end. My priority is ramping up to the WEG and right now we really are just focusing on the combinations important to that competition. If we can get more good results that inspire the younger riders to get up and do it, then I will think we’ve done a good job.