Cookin' Up Success

The chef d’equipe plays a vital role for the U.S. reining team at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

When September rolls around, lots of people will be relying on the chef.

We’re not talking “Hell’s Kitchen” Chef Gordon Ramsey here. Not the “Iron Chef.” Not even the Naked Chef. As talented as they are, those TV culinary celebs wouldn’t have what it takes for this performance.

We’re talking about the chef d’equipe (pronounced “chef d’keep”) of the United States reining team, which is headed for the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, September 25 - October 10 in Lexington, Kentucky. It’s the world championship for eight equestrian disciplines, and reining has been included in that international spotlight since the 2002 games.

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In the lead-up to that inaugural inclusion in the Jerez de la Frontera, Spain, World Equestrian Games, AQHA and National Reining Horse Association judge Jeff Petska of Whitesboro, Texas, was named the team’s chef d’equipe. It’s a position he has held ever since, at the 2006 games in Aachen, Germany, and now in 2010 when the games will be held for the first time on U.S. soil.

“Chef d’equipe” is French for “chief of team,” and many countries use this person as a coach. For Jeff, however, his team members have always been extremely talented riders and trainers who don’t necessarily need help with their horses, so his role focuses more on management and organization.

“It’s making sure everything is where it needs to be when it needs to be there, so (the team members) can do what they do best,” he says.

All communication between games officials and U.S. team members must go through the “chef” – whether it’s about schooling schedules, veterinary issues or the competition itself. Jeff also helps coordinate logistics for horse owners and the competitors’ spouses and grooms.

The third time around, he expects his job to be much easier because there won’t be a language barrier in Lexington – he and his team members will be able to read all the signage – and, of course, there won’t be the hassle of transporting horses overseas.

But aside from the logistical benefits, Jeff says he’s proud to have his home country hosting the big event. Eighteen countries will be bringing teams of reining horses to the World Equestrian Games, with another four countries being represented by individuals (countries without enough riders to constitute a team).

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“It’s awesome,” Jeff says. “Reining is a sport that originated here in the U.S. It’s a sport that we’ve done very well at (earning team gold medals at the past two World Equestrian Games). That’s something we’re hoping to duplicate here on our home soil.”