Alexander Shcherba: “In sport we are interested in the winner and his potential rival. When the team is at ninth place, it is not interesting"
The honored trainer of the RSFSR, the five-time USSR champion in show jumping and the champion of the USSR Spartakiad of 1979 Alexander Shcherba has been living in the USA for 20 years. His most famous pupils were the gold medalist of the Moscow Olympics Vyacheslav Chukanov on Hepatite and the silver medalist of the European Championship and World Equestrian Games Nina Menkova on Dikson.
#horsetimes managed to interview an honored trainer and learn some interesting facts.
horsetimes: Alexander Alexandrovich, you have been living in the USA for 20 years. How did it happen that you moved?
A.A.Shcherba: It turned out by chance. There was an opportunity, and we went to see America. Then there were few trips abroad. When we arrived and visited the major first competitions, they immediately recognized me and offered to give master classes. I started with the so-called “clinics”. They gathered 30-40 people at a time. Then I was given a recommendation by Bertrand De Nemety, who by that time was already 80 years old. Our friends took me to him, and he was delighted. He wrote a recommendation letter for the Equestrian Federation of the United States, which helped me to get working papers.
horsetimes: Was it hard to adapt in another country?
A.A.Shcherba: It was hard to adapt, because we had a completely different conceptual apparatus. And in terms of sports, we understood everything differently. We were raised and raised with the request to win in all competitions and at all costs. Athletes did not quite understand me, when after riding I explained their mistakes, instead of praising them.
horsetimes: Can you tell us the most interesting and memorable moments in America? What surprised you?
A.A.Shcherba: When we arrived in the USA, we almost did not have amateur sports, we were professionals. With amateur sports met only here. They saw levels incomprehensible to us - levelles. The gap between professional and amateur sports was huge.
horsetimes: The Russian dressage team received a license for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, how do you rate it?
A.A.Shcherba: It is good that the team finally received a team admission to the Olympics! I wish you success!
horsetimes: Do you think that children and youth are the future of Russian equestrian sports?
A.A.Shcherba: The future is with the young riders. Life goes in one direction. I am glad that equestrian sports is popular in Russia, that a large number of children and youths are involved in the process. But you cannot rely only on youth, not supporting age-related athletes. I mean financially and morally. They keep the bar at least in dressage. We have a lot more really good athletes than it seems, but they financially can’t afford to perform. In the 80s there was an attempt to destroy equestrian sport: at first, the weight of the riders was limited. It was stupid and funny. Many competitors then left to work in a taxi and never returned to sports. As a result, we did not have ready-made experienced horses for young riders. Because young riders need to be trained on experienced horses. For the rider to learn the routes from the horse, and not vice versa. Then there was another attempt: they decided to introduce an age limit for riders. I don’t remember exactly, but it seems the limit was 40 years. If you are not in the team or temporarily left it, then there was no turning back. At that time, too many horsemen left. For example, Nina Menkova almost fell under this rule. Dixon was only 7 years old, and he was ready for the Grand Prize. We arrived at the Winter Championship of the USSR in “Bitsa”, and it was announced that Dixon would go not in offset, but under number zero. I had to make a scandal. I said that if they don’t need medals, then the couple will not perform at all. Nina was allowed, and she won with a result of 70%, the first Grand Prix in the life of Dixon and again entered the national team.
horsetimes: What difficulties did your students faced in training with you?
A.A.Shcherba: There are problems of the language barrier, as well as a misunderstanding of what the rider has in his outlook. All come from a set of knowledge. In different countries it is completely different.
horsetimes: How do you feel about Russian riders abroad?
A.A.Shcherba: No way. It’s a sport, and in sport twe are interested in the winner and his potential rival. When the team is in ninth place, it is not interesting (the Russian Team took ninth place at the European Dressage Championships in Rotterdam in August 2019 - editorial note). When we arrived in the USA, I was recognized at a major tournament by members of the US team because I was a coach of Nina Menkova and Dixon. Dixon was also popular, it turns out, like Totilas later. Only we in the USSR did not know this. I was presented with four hours of video recording of his performances from 1989 to 1991. There were also those who flew from the USA to all competitions involving the couple. To my shame, I did not know the girls from the American team, I only remembered their
faces, because in those years they were not even in the top 20. When we won, we were respected and known by name. Eric Shabailo in the Hamburg derby, one of the most difficult trials for the rider and the horse, is recorded in the German book of records as having traveled a pure route. Still loud Soviet names that everyone knew: Filatov, Kizimov, Petushkova.
To the note of showjumpers who complain that the horses are not all the same. In the 60th year on the Hamburg derby the barriers were the same and the heights were the same. Eric Shabailo jumped cleanly. Tatyana Kulikovskaya is the fourth, the team is the second. Maybe it’s not about horses, after all?
horsetimes: Do you think that attracting world-class masters can help Russian riders reach certain heights?
A.A.Shcherba: Attracting world-class masters is good for broadening the horizons of young riders. An accomplished rider can most likely be helped only in some nuance. To grow a full-fledged athlete, you need a system. I myself have been conducting master classes for the past 25 years and I see that people who are fond of master classes do not have a mentor, basically have porridge in their heads and do not make much progress, in my experience.
horsetimes: Which of your students are you mostly proud of and why?
A.A.Shcherba: Glory to the Chukanov. His kindness, openness and desire to be the first. He always wanted to be only the first. The young man got excited and lost, later he learned calm and victories. Nina Menkova on Dixon. I repeat, the Americans gave us two years of recording a couple. The black horse was so popular that people flew it to look at another continent. In Paris in 1991, Menkova was a splash!
horsetimes: What quality or skill is central to the rider?
A.A.Shcherba: Love for a horse is more than talent. Some riders do not like a horse. In an extreme situation, they remove their frustration on a horse, first of all, which does not lead to a positive result. Of the skills, the main thing is to feel the horse, James Phyllis said this, and I completely agree with him.