Erik Duvander, who was named to the chef d’equipe position for the U.S. Eventing Team only ten short months ago, has a serious task ahead of him. Since the WEG is an Olympic qualifying event, the U.S. needs to place in the top six in order to qualify to compete in Tokyo in two years.
“Everyone has done absolutely everything they can do to prepare. As a goal for the team, it is important to qualify for the Olympics. A top six finish is where we need to be as a team, however I know the riders including myself are highly competitive and will try to go for a lot more than that, but at the end of the day that is what we feel we must do first.”
Will Coleman was called to duty at the very last minute after Marilyn Little withdrew RF Scandalous due to minor injury (“mild inflammation in her lower limb, according to Marilyn’s statement). While Will was disappointed for Marilyn and “Kitty” having to bow out, the call he received on Saturday morning from the U.S. team meant that he and Tight Lines, an 11-year-old French Thoroughbred gelding, would have to step up to bat.
"There were a lot of emotions that came about on Saturday morning after I found out that I was going to be joining this group here at these games. First of all just incredibly disappointed for Marilyn and her connections. That horse has done some remarkable things this year and she was very deserving of this spot," said Will.
"It's next man up, just like any team sport. When you have someone go down, the next guy's gotta come in and do the same job the first person was picked to do. That's been my attitude: come in prepared, and let 'er rip."
Boyd Martin isn’t quiiite sure of the correct pronunciation of his horse’s tongue-twister name, Tsetserleg, but he definitely knows how to ride him. “Thomas” is in ‘sizzling’ form according to Boyd.
“I think we’ve got a really strong team – one of the strongest teams I’ve been on. It was hard to make this team. It’s wonderful to be here in Tryon," said Boyd.
"There are a lot of wingers and whiners saying this place isn’t ready, but barring a bit of wet paint and the driveway still being built, it’s fantastic and I think we should all give credit to Bellissimo and the team who pulled this championship together. Even this building we’re sitting in, a couple of days ago was still under construction.”
Lauren Kieffer will ride Vermiculus, a horse that she has brought along since he was only three years old. “I broke him and jumped every jump on him, so I’m very glad to have him as my partner here. I’m feeling very good heading into this.”
Lauren Kieffer's Team USA nails.
Lynn Symansky will ride her longtime-partner Donner, the American Thoroughbred who she bought almost exactly a decade ago. She and Donner also competed at the last WEG in 2014 in Normandy. “We all know each other really well, it’s a very cohesive group and we all respect each other. It’s a very competitive group to be on a team with and I’m really excited to see what we can produce.”
Phillip Dutton will ride Z – a German warmblood who Phillip has had since he was a six-year-old. Phillip says the horse has improved so quickly, he’s just trying to keep up.
“He’s improving all the time – even more than I am. I’ve got to try to keep up with him,” said Phillip. “This is not only a great facility for this time but a great facility for the future and equestrian sports in this country. We understand the challenges of being here at the World Championships up against the best in the world, and we’re going to do our best.”
When I asked chef d'equipe Erik Duvander if he feels that Team USA has a home field advantage, he explained that he believes in the power of the home crowd cheers.
"We know what the job is ahead of us. I've said to the riders before, and they might not know it until they know it - although some rode in Kentucky (at the World Equestrian Games in 2010) - when you have your home crowd around you while you're galloping around a track, it does make a difference. That's important. I hope that as many people as possible come to the cross-country day and cheer the team on."
Feature photo: Shannon Brinkman.