The Gates To Brilliance Dressage Olympian Robert Dover’s Surprisingly Candid Memoir Is This Season’s Must-Read Book

The Gates To Brilliance Dressage Olympian Robert Dover’s Surprisingly Candid Memoir Is This Season’s Must-Read Book 

By Deborah Welky

Longtime Wellington resident and internationally renowned dressage rider Robert Dover can now add published author to his long list of accomplishments. Dover’s memoir, The Gates to Brilliance: How a Gay, Jewish, Middle-Class Kid Who Loved Horses Found Success, was released by Trafalgar Square Books last month.

Gates to Brilliance is a book for anyone who has struggled to overcome personal challenges and the judgment of strangers to become the best they can be.

“We moved very often when I was a child,” Dover remembered. “From Chicago to Toronto to the Bahamas to Fort Lauderdale to Atlanta. My father worked for my grandfather’s automobile headlamp company and my mother was an actress. In the Bahamas, they both sold real estate. They divorced when I was 17, then, seven years later, got back together and spent the rest of their lives together. So, I didn’t make friends or have the kinds of roots that children who stay in one location end up having — no lifelong pals and no strong memories of my times in those schools. I didn’t speak much for one full year in high school.”

The one constant in Dover’s early life was the Pony Club — whether in the United States, Canada or the Bahamas.

There, among other young riders, he learned horsemanship — and began to come to terms with who he was. The book includes a frank discussion regarding how he was abused by a teen neighbor as a child and his long road to dealing with the repercussions.

“Because of that, I ended up having an aversion to men,” Dover said. “I would basically stay away from men and, consequently, my sexuality was suppressed. I liked being with girls and went out with girls. Then, one girl I had a relationship with — and really loved — broke up with me. A guy at the barn said we should go out and get drunk — and I ended up waking up with him. That was a big change in my life! There was a lot of crying and a lot of trying to figure out who I was and what was going on.”

But being gay in the sports world was not easy at the time.

“It was complicated back then,” Dover said. “I didn’t come out publicly in the horse world until 1988, when Greg Louganis hit his head on the diving board and was bleeding into the pool; it was the time of AIDS. But Louganis ended up changing the game for people in sports. Coming out is difficult as an Olympic athlete — you’re concerned for your career.”

In his 30s, Dover confronted the man who had abused him decades before. “I found him and called him,” he recalled. “I said, ‘I just want you to know you had a real impact on my life. I’m not looking for an apology, but I just want you to know it was not an inconsequential thing that you did.’”

As an adult, Dover has lived all over the United States and spent a great deal of time in Europe. As a young Jew in the Atlanta area, he was the only kid in the barns not to be invited to the Christmas parties, but he didn’t know why.

“Looking back on it, it’s interesting,” Dover said. “I didn’t look at it as discriminatory at the time. Later, as an adult, I had a wonderful client who went to Europe with me to look for a horse. A German trainer was driving us and, in leaving one of the barns, he asked me to drive because he had been drinking. It was raining hard, and I crashed the car into a lamp post. I was apologizing profusely when he said, ‘Don’t worry — it’s only a Jew’s car,’ meaning, ‘It’s only a cheap car.’ The lady in the backseat, my client, was about to pounce over the seat and strangle him, but I begged her not to because I was working for him as well. Yet it was one of those moments where you just see that there is still racism, and it abounds in places.”

It is a concern he sees rebounding here in the United States. “Seeing people who used to hide under rocks, come out with boldness because they felt empowered by politics to blatantly show their stripes — I have seen it and known it, and I look back at these little moments in my life, recognizing that those things were there and probably still are,” Dover said. “I’m hopeful that someday people will see each other as equals — respect and honor each other for all their diversity. It’s so different now in sports than when I was doing my first Olympics. Someone recently asked me if I ended up having people embrace me because I owned my gayness, but what I think really happened is that they started to embrace me because I started to win. In winning, you command respect whatever your sexuality is.”

And winning is something that Dover has experience in. A six-time Olympian (1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2004), Dover has earned more honors than any other U.S. dressage rider, including four Olympic medals. He also participated in seven FEI World Equestrian Games. In 1987, he also became the first American since 1960 to win the Aachen Grand Prix — something Dover considers a distinguishing moment in his career.

His many wins, however, overshadow the many difficulties along the way.

“There were so many failures that were extremely dramatic in some of the biggest arenas in the world,” Dover said. “I was on the 1984 Olympic team, then a world championship team in 1986. But I was ranked 32nd. I still was not understanding the way of a winner. I was high up in rankings in America; but winning on the international stage was not happening. So, I said to myself, ‘I am going to Europe and not coming back until I become a winner.’ I stayed until 1988, and during that time, show by show, judge by judge, and with the help of many mentors, I learned a lot. It was the difference between entering with a low degree of confidence and entering with the knowledge that I have the ability to actually win those classes.”

With victory came respect. “Once I started winning classes, it just changed everything,” he said. “I had a winning streak going with multiple horses in Europe. Suddenly, the Europeans stopped treating me like ‘that stupid American’ and more like just another touring professional. Of course, then they made it sound like they were responsible for my winning. Many of them helped me a lot, but what helped me the most was my friends. The more my friends believed in me, the more I believed in myself. When I came home in 1988, having been No. 1 in the World Cup rankings in 1987 and fourth in the World Cup finals — that changed everything.”

In more recent years, Dover has served as technical advisor and chef d’équipe for the U.S. Dressage Team. Under his leadership, the U.S. Dressage Team returned to the podium at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, where the team won a bronze medal. Additionally, Dover coached the U.S. Dressage Team to a gold medal at the Pan American Games in 2015, and a team and individual silver medal at the World Equestrian Games in Tryon in 2018.

Dover has also been a major supporter of the greater equestrian community. In the 1990s, he was a founding member of the Equestrian AIDS Foundation, which provided financial assistance to those in the horse industry stricken with AIDS. Now the Equestrian Aid Foundation, it helps all equestrians in need overcome adversity. He was a driving force behind the creation of the Global Dressage Festival series here in Wellington, and also spearheaded American Equestrians Got Talent, the largest equestrian fundraising talent show.

And what about Dover? What if he could change everything? Where would he start?

“There would be no doubt that I would try to get everybody on the same page about the things the world is grappling with right now, beginning with climate change,” he said. “Mother Nature has pretty much had it with us. She began hinting, and now she is speaking pretty loudly that we get our act together. While we’re worried about other things and fighting with each other about politics, we’re neglecting the fact that we’re not going to have anything to fight about pretty quickly.”

A fearless competitor, Dover fears just one thing now: death.

“Life is going by so fast. The story of my life is being written faster than I had hoped for,” Dover said. “When you think you’re on the way up, it appears that you have your whole life ahead of you. Then you blink, and most of it is behind you. I’m having such a fabulous life. I just don’t want it to end.”

With his new book, Dover is excited about being able to tell his story — the good and the bad — to the entire world. “I’m looking forward to seeing how it resonates with the public,” he said. “I hope readers find it helpful to their own lives — to achieving happiness and success.”

Visit to secure your copy of Robert Dover’s new book.