The inaugural Eventing 18/Advancing Athletes training sessions wrapped up earlier this month, with 12 riders studying under Coach David O’Connor’s tutelage in Ocala. The five riders hailing from the West Coast — one from Washington State and four from California — were loaned horses for the training sessions so they didn’t have to incur the expensive of transporting their mounts across the country.
David indicated during his High Performance meetings at the USEA Convention that he hopes the program will grow enough this year to demand holding training sessions on both sides of the country. “We have to tweak how these riders are recognized and how they’re found,” David said. “We need to be better at that (in 2014) — determining how they’re identified.”
The riders participating in the inaugural training sessions were Brynn Littlehale, Saratoga, Calif.; David Pawlak, Boyce, Va.; Patience O’Neal, Spokane, Wash.; Adrian Jones, Schamong, N.J.; Madison Temkin, Sonoma, Calif.; Mia Farley, San Clemente, Calif.; Jamie Doolittle, Reddick, Fla.; Nicole Doolittle, Reddick, Fla.; Caroline Martin, Miami Beach, Fla.; Savannah Fulton, Finksburg, Md.; Reagan LaFleur, Lafayette, La.; and Maddy Mazzola, Oakland, Calif.
Founded last March, the Eventing 18/Advancing Athletes program seeks to provide a solid training foundation for the next generation of professional riders who will ideally one day represent the U.S. in team competitions. Similar to other successful programs in European countries — like the longstanding U18 program in Great Britain — the idea is to identify young riders who have both the talent and drive to succeed and give them the tools and resources they need.
As more riders are talent spotted into the Eventing 18/Advancing Athletes program, more time will be needed to see the riders receive the instruction and face time they need. While David said at the USEA Convention he would like to keep directing the Eventing 18/Advancing Athletes program for the next few years — as well as the Under 25 program — his vision is to ultimately hire an assistant coach who would be responsible for guiding these programs.
“I believe there needs to be a separate coach at some point that we could fundraise for, and we’ve already started talking about fundraising for a coach who could give a 10-year commitment to handle the Under 25 and Under 18 programs,” David said. “We’re still several steps from that point, but that’s something I think would be useful in order to make sure whoever the head coach is has more time to deal with just the High Performance riders and not be spread too thin.”
Until then, the Eventing 18/Advancing Athletes program is off to a very strong start, with the riders who participated in the inaugural training sessions praising the experience. “It’s a great program just to start to give younger people the knowledge that they need to do well. I had a wonderful experience. It was great to get to know new people since I don’t know the riders on the East Coast, especially in Young Riders,” West Coast rider Maddy Mazzola said in a USEF press release.
“One thing [O’Connor] really stressed was to be aware and pay attention to all the details, train yourself to pay attention, because if you miss small things now they will become bigger problems later on. He also pointed out that it is important to have supporters in this sport and to thank them for all they do,” Maddy said.
Nicole Doolittle agreed with Maddy’s assessment of the sessions: “It was an amazing opportunity. He stressed establishing a core foundation for riders to advance in equestrian sport, because when you have good basics things more advanced questions become easier. It was great to meet other riders and make connections that will hopefully last a really long time,” she said in the same USEF press release.
David also found the week-long training sessions very valuable, for both the riders and himself as the coach: “For me, it was very rewarding. We had 12 kids basically talented-spotted from around the country who have a lot of potential. The California riders were on borrowed horses that we were lucky enough to use,” O’Connor said in the USEF press release. “I was extremely pleased with their progress all week. They took a lot in and showed great improvement.”
Establishing a program to groom young riders to one day represent the U.S. is a critical aspect of any national program, and the successful launch of Eventing 18/Advancing Athletes puts us on par with other countries currently dominating the sport. It’s just one more sign U.S. eventing is heading in the right direction.
The application deadline for the next Eventing 18/Advancing Athletes training sessions is March 7, 2014, and the form and more information will be available by mid-January to members through their My USEF accounts. Click here to read the full USEF press release on the Eventing 18/Advancing Athletes training sessions.