This article appears in the July/August 2020 issue of Eventing USA magazine.
Going into 2020, we in High Performance had a clear plan on how to be best prepared for the Tokyo Olympic Games. When the selection trials in Kentucky, Badminton, and Jersey Fresh were all canceled, we had to swiftly develop a plan for our final selection event. The team at Equestrian Events Inc. (EEI), the organizers of the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event, stepped up and offered to run a national short format at the Kentucky Horse Park as a replacement. It was very impressive to see the flexibility and the effort from all areas – the selectors, US Equestrian (USEF) staff and committees, event organizers, and our riders – for us all to have a new plan within one week to be presented to the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC) for sign off.
Then the inevitable happened with the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics. Having the Olympics moved to one year later is, I believe, not a bad outcome for the U.S. team. None of our horses will be aged out by next year, and we will have the opportunity to develop more up-and-coming quality combinations that were not quite ready for this year’s campaign but will be ready in 2021. This will lead to a more competitive selection process, which always leads to improved performance.
During the lockdown, I have studied more of our riders’ videos than ever and have learned this is a system that can be used more and to good effect. Leslie Law put out video assignments to the riders in the Eventing 25 and Development squads, and this was very well received from the riders as a developing tool and a good way to stay connected in this vast country.
With the country opening up, Leslie and I have been traveling around to see our riders work. It is nice to be back on the road even with all the protocols of keeping ourselves and others safe. We are fortunate to have our workplace outdoors where it is easy to keep a safe distance from each other. Our riders and horses are in very good shape and have utilized this break to work hard to continue to further improve their technical skills. Normally during the season, the technical training gets interrupted with having to fit in gallops, travel to events, and time away competing younger horses. Having had this time with a heightened focus on training has really brought on visible improvements in all horses.
Looking forward, there is a lot of uncertainty around how the season will pan out, and it is nearly impossible to make a definite plan for each horse. It was a big blow that the Maryland Five-Star at Fair Hill was canceled, as everyone was excited to have another CCI5*-L here in the U.S. and an event where the riders could show their skills at the highest level. There is still a possibility for our riders to make the trip to Pau CCI5*-L in the south of France at the end of October. For the riders who prefer staying in the U.S., they will run at the remaining CCI4*-L competitions still left on the calendar – Morven Park and Galway Downs in October.
The Performance Advisory Team typically updates the High Performance Training Lists twice per year. Due to the loss of the spring season, we will not release a summer update and instead will continue to work with the same 13 riders currently on the Elite/Pre-Elite squad. The next updates to the Training Lists will be released in November following the fall competitions, and then we will be fully focused on preparing for Tokyo with that group of riders. There is still a high level of optimism amongst the riders as we look ahead to the Olympic Games next year.
We have now been able to go to a few competitions again, and I must say the organizers and riders are doing a super job wearing face masks and following COVID-19 protocols. We are grateful for every event that can run and are well aware that events are suffering financially and that organizers are facing many difficulties in these times. I am constantly amazed with the resilience of people in our sport worldwide. They always find solutions and battle on to keep the sport running somehow, and I would like the organizers to know how much we appreciate this.
I am also very grateful to all our High Performance owners who keep paying the bills even though their horses aren’t competing much right now. A few weeks ago, we held a Zoom meeting with our owners and I was very pleased how many people tuned in. This is a new way we will stay connected with our horse owners in the future to keep them informed of what is going on. It also creates an opportunity for dialogue between us all. A similar Zoom meeting was also held with the USET Foundation for our key donors who make our High Performance program possible. Perhaps we are learning new, productive ways to operate and stay connected from this time with COVID-19!
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