The venue is buzzing here at the Tryon International Equestrian Center as we count down to the start of the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games. Riders will get their first look at Capt. Mark Phillips’s cross country course tomorrow morning, followed by the first horse inspection in the afternoon.
U.S. Eventing Team Chef d’Equipe Erik Duvander and our five team members, Will Coleman, Phillip Dutton, Lauren Kieffer, Boyd Martin and Lynn Symansky, sat down today to chat about their strategy and goals for the week ahead.
Erik Duvander on the team’s key goal: “It is important for us to qualify for the Olympics, so a top six finish is where we need to be as the team. The riders and myself are quite competitive and we will try to go for a lot more than that, but at the end of the day we feel (qualifying for Tokyo) is what we must do first.”
Boyd Martin on the venue: “There’s a lot of wingers and whiners saying this place isn’t ready. Barring a bit of wet paint and the driveway still being built, it’s fantastic. I think we should all give credit to Mark Bellissimo and the team that put on this championships. They only had 18 months to pull it together. I think they’ve done a wonderful job working 24 hours a day.”
Lynn Symansky on the team: “We all know each other very well. It’s a really good, cohesive group of people. We all respect each other. It’s a very competitive group of people to be on a team with, and we’re going into it very excited to see what we can produce.”
Will Coleman on being called up to the team: “There were a lot of emotions that came on Saturday morning when I found out I would be joining this group at the games. Firstly, you’re incredibly disappointed for Marilyn and her connections. That horse has done a lot of incredible things this year, and she was incredibly deserving of this spot. It’s sad for any of us to see a fellow competitor have to bow out at the last minute because of an injury. … My attitude has been to come in prepared and let it rip.”
Erik Duvander on the team’s camaraderie: “It was wonderful to see how supportive everyone was of each other at training camp. When Marilyn stepped down it was powerful to see how well the other riders backed her up and wished her well for when that horse will be back. There are a lot of emotions and a lot of excitement in these sorts of environments.”
Lynn Symansky on Donner: “In America now we announce our team a little bit earlier, so we are really able to do what works for each of our individual programs leading up to WEG. All the heavy work was done before we went into our final training camp. For Donner he has a lot of fitness underneath the years that he’s been going, so it’s keeping him happy in his body. It’s a really competitive group, and we’re not just here as a team. We want everyone to bring their absolute best to it.”
Lauren Kieffer on Vermiculus: “He has a lot of blood to him, being part Arabian. We’ve really worked hard on the fitness to make sure we left nothing on the table there. Being a young horse, we’ve really challenged him since Kentucky with jumping harder questions. I hope the course suits him because he is a nippy, small type and very fit, so I’m optimistic it will be a good track for him.”
Phillip Dutton on Z: “He’s a real improver and he’s getting better all the time — maybe improving more than I am, so I need to keep up with him! We understand the challenges of being here at a world championships and being up against all the best in the world. Hopefully we can keep up the great institution of eventing in this country and have a great result for everyone.”
Boyd Martin on Tsetserleg: “He’s in sizzling form. I’ve got plenty of hills in Pennsylvania; we’ve got unbelievable gallops in Cheshire foxhunting country. We’re very lucky that the landowners allow us to gallop there. I’ve been trying to mix it up a little bit with swimming him, and I’ve also utilized the AquaTred.
“I’ve tried to get the horse as fit as I possibly can since we know there will be a long, grueling hill at the end (of the WEG cross country course), and we want to feel like we got a bit left in the tank. With the rain forecast it all could get even harder with the heavy ground, so I think it’s going to be important to know how to pace your animal and know not to use them up too early in the course and feel like you have a bit left for the last minute or two, and show jumping the next day.”
Erik Duvander on the home field advantage: “I think it is a definite advantage in that our horses haven’t traveled that far to get here. Especially with horses that traveled from Europe and into the climate we have right now where it’s hot and humid, the horses tend to react to that in the first few days. Our horses are better acclimatized I believe.
“We know what the job is ahead of us. When you have your home crowd around you when you’re galloping around the track, it does make a difference — that support. I’ve said it many times but I hope that as many people as possible will come for cross country day to cheer the team on.”