Miscellaneous

How to Become a Carded Equestrian Athlete

Being a carded equestrian athlete can provide riders with medal potential the means to train and compete. Learn how the system works, and who is eligible.

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By: Nicole Kitchener |

For most of us, getting “carded” means a nightclub bouncer or liquor store employee checks our ID to see if we’re old enough to drink alcohol. But for elite athletes, carding also means something entirely different.

To help upper-level athletes, including equestrians, pursue their high-performance goals, the Canadian government provides funding assistance through its Athlete Assistance Program (AAP). Individuals receiving the support are considered “carded.”

The AAP is administered by Sport Canada (SC), a branch of the Department of Canadian Heritage. Sport Canada’s mission is to “enhance opportunities for all Canadians to participate and excel in sport.” It does so through programs and policies based on the Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD) model, an in-depth framework for training, competition and recovery at each level of an athlete’s development.

Since 1977, the AAP has offered direct financial assistance to athletes training for and competing at top international events. The purpose is to identify and support Canadian athletes who are performing at, or have the most potential to achieve top eight results, at the Olympic/Paralympic Games and world championships.

Distributing the Funds to Canadian Riders

Currently, about $33 million is allocated to nearly 2,000 athletes “to pursue world-class results while achieving their academic and career goals.” Of that, about $600,000 goes to Canadian equestrians in the Olympic/Paralympic disciplines of jumping, eventing, dressage and para-dressage to relieve some of the financial pressures they face while preparing for and

participating in high-performance competition. The grants are intended to “help athletes compete full-time, but it’s not a salary,” explains Anna Johnson, Equestrian Canada’s high-performance manager. “It’s supposed to be a support to help them with travel to and from training, living costs, and coaching costs.” She also notes that cards are allocated to the human athlete, not horse/rider combinations.

Equestrian Canada (EC) is one of about 60 National Sport Organizations (NSOs) whose high-performance programs are funded through the Sport Funding and Accountability Framework. This is a tool used by Canadian Heritage to set out Sport Canada’s programs and policies and to determine which organizations are eligible to receive contributions through its Sport Support Program, which funds organizations for programs supporting the development of athletes and coaches.

“Each NSO has to create criteria, very much based on performance metrics. Every year, we nominate athletes according to those metrics to Sport Canada to be considered for carding,” says Johnston. Sport Canada reviews the nominations and is responsible for final approval.

The discipline-specific criteria are established by EC’s high-performance department and can be found on EC’s website under the respective discipline pages. Johnson says this information must be made available to athletes about eight months before the end of the carding cycle, which runs from January 1st to December 31st. The criteria are reviewed annually and must be approved by SC before being published and distributed.

“We work with the athletes in terms of their nominations,” says Johnson. “Because it is very clear, it’s very objective; most athletes know if they’ve met the criteria or not in order to achieve carding. It’s quite an open, collaborative discussion, because ultimately, you need to keep achieving [high] performance to be able to continue with your carding,” says Johnson. Riders can appeal the nomination decision; this involves an application to the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada.

There are three basic carding levels:

International senior – According to AAP policies and procedures, international criteria recognize and reward Canadian athletes for outstanding performance (top eight results or finish in top half of the field) at world championships (World Equestrian Games) or the Olympic/Paralympic Games. These athletes are eligible to be nominated by their NSO for two consecutive years as long as they maintain an NSO-approved training and competition program. The value for both years’ cards (referred to as SR1 and SR2) is $1,765 per month.

Senior – For athletes who have the potential to achieve international criteria. These cards are usually awarded for a year. Criteria are based on results at national championships and international competitions, or a combination of the two. The value of a senior card is also $1,765 per month, except in the case of first-time senior carded athletes, who are awarded C1 cards and are funded at the development-card level of $1,060 per month. However, if they were previously carded at the SR1 or SR2 level, named to the national senior team, competed at WEG or world championship team qualifiers before meeting senior card national criteria for the first time, then they will receive the SR amount.

Development – Intended to support younger athletes who demonstrate high-performance potential (although realistically, in equestrian sport up-and-comers aren’t necessarily ‘younger’). Criteria are based on international and/or domestic results and “sport specific” measures of skills, technical ability and physical and/or physiological factors. As already mentioned, these cards are valued at $1,060 per month.

The four disciplines are allocated a funding amount for a carding cycle. The number of cards distributed within that amount is based on each discipline’s unique performance criteria. So, essentially, cards (and partial cards of a lesser value) are given out to priority athletes until the pot runs dry. Jumping, for example, has been allocated $127,080 for 2019. Within that, EC decided to issue up to four each of senior and development cards based on National Team Program Squad lists. Eventing was allocated $105,900, dressage $63,540, and para-dressage $84,720, and monies were meted out accordingly.

The funding allocations generally remain fairly consistent, says Johnson, but SC can change them at any time. She says the amount will likely remain the same until after the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, as the agency completes a review of each sport after every winter and summer Olympic cycle.

Time Limits on Funding

The AAP also offers supplementary financial assistance to both current and former carded athletes, including tuition payment (including coaching certification), child-care, an allowance for high-support needs Paralympic athletes and “bonus” funding for individuals who receive podium placing at a recent Olympic/Paralympics or world championship.

“Pathway funding is very much aligned to your national team program and it’s supposed to help get your athletes from that next-gen development stage and progress to that senior international stage,” says Johnson. But equestrian sports are a bit different than say, swimming, because riders don’t “age out” and retire. “In equestrian, we can compete for 50-odd years,” notes Johnston.

Therefore, there are limits to how long an athlete can receive funding. This differs for each discipline and carding level. For example, jumping, dressage and eventing athletes can receive a maximum of 10 years at the senior-card level, while for para-dressage athletes it’s six years. Extensions are available, but involve detailed performance reviews and stipulations as outlined in the nomination criteria.

Johnson says the nominations were completed for 2019 just before the Christmas break and an official list of card recipients is not quite ready for release, as most athletes are still finalizing paperwork. Before they can receive their cards from SC, they must sign EC’s Elite Athlete Agreement – another SC requirement which outlines the obligations of the NSO and the athlete as well as various policies and procedures. They must also complete anti-doping online training courses.

This provides a very basic overview of carding. To find more information on Sport Canada and the AAP, go to the Canadian Heritage website and click on the sport link. EC’s nomination criteria for the 2019 carding cycle is available under each of the discipline pages on its website at equestrian.ca.

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