We caught up with Canadian Chef d’equipe Graeme Thom and the got in on the team’s schedule between now and the Games. Team Canada is really going for it, and I, for one, am rooting for them. They’ve got quality horses, intuitive riders, and as you’ll see, a dedicated support group. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us Graeme, and thanks for reading!
1) We’ve been talking about Canadian Eventing a lot of Eventing Nation. What would you say contributes to the country’s increased competitiveness the last few years?
“Number 1 there has been a much greater commitment by our riders over the last few years and it’s showing up in results. In addition, David’s involvement has been fantastic. Not that he has access to all of the riders full time, but his coaching and training program philosophies have been very instrumental to results. We wouldn’t be where we are without him.
“As well, we’ve really built a team compliment around everything. Dr. Christiana Ober, our vet and the team farrier, Randy Pawlak, are great. There is much more structure too. David and I got together around the time of the last WEG and started working together with the team. Since then the competitive bar has been raised; riders have made commitments, sacrifices, they’ve really raised the game.”
2) How has it been working with David O’Connor?
“The riders get along with David’s coaching style. There’s a lot of respect for David, his competition record stands on its own. But his coaching style is very descriptive; he really breaks everything down. He doesn’t ever ask for results without defining how to get them. Every lesson is productive and provides something for everyone.
“David is also very respective of the riders and their capabilities; he adapts well to different personalities. From my point of view it has been a good relationship. David and I see eye to eye on many things and when we don’t we easily sort things out. I usually beat him on the golf course which is devastating for him.”
3) What is the schedule between now and the Games?
“From the AEC we go to Florida to Ms. Jacqui Mars’ farm where David and Karen are based in the winter. Ms. Mars is gracious enough to let us use the facility for training. We’ll be there from the 13th-24th. We’ve actually been based there for the Pan Ams in 2007 and the last Olympics, 2008, and just found it to be a wonderful facility.
“It’s a well known area for all the riders. And the footing is fantastic. The amount of moisture and rain in the area for the time of year guarantees great footing, which is important for final gallops and the last few days before the event. The team will be announced in and around the 15th of September. Countries are allowed six riders: four team, and two individual.”
4) The Canadians had an incredibly successful weekend at Richland. What are your expectations for the team at the AEC’s and WEGs?
“Our expectations for the AEC’s are to maintain momentum and confidence. It is a final prep outing and we are using it for that. Carl Bouckaert has been a great sponsor of the sport and I am looking forward to the competition. The great success at Richland on the weekend is very encouraging, but you can’t hang your hat on one event. It showed that the horses and riders are in good form, are on the right path, and are showing a competitive nature.
“Our goal at the WEG is we hope to be in the top five. With the quality of riders and horses that we have, we believe that we can make it work. I hope I’m not going to jinx it by talking about it.”
5) How is Canada strengthening team camaraderie?
“Of the eight, five have been on teams before. I’m comfortable based on how the program has evolved. It’s interesting because people compete against each other all year and then suddenly you throw them into a team atmosphere. But they are spectacular individuals and they are all rooting for each other. Of course, barbecues and group hugs will reinforce everything.”
6) Tell us about yourself and your own career with horses.
“I started riding late, like really late. I don’t think I owned my first horse outright until my 30s. I trained in Canada primarily with Peter Grey in the summer and Bruce Davidson in the US during winter. I trained with Bruce for 13 years. I was fortunate to have some nice horses and under his tutelage, I got to compete at some three stars including Blenheim. I did well at some and terrible at others.
“Having spent time with Bruce, I really appreciated how competitive the sport is, and what it takes to be at the top. Bruce has spent literally decades at the top of the sport which is very unique. I mean, how can you not learn from someone with that sort of record. His philosophy of coaching and what I learned with him has definitely translated to my enthusiasm and commitment for the team.”
7) How does one become a Chef d’equipe?
“I became chef because I sit on the High Performance committee, chaired by Grit High, which is a group of fantastic volunteers that make things work. There has just been huge involvement from our committee, a lot of volunteers spending a lot of time making it happen in addition to several other committees.
“Basically we wanted to split the role between the coach and the Chef. With David’s schedule we thought the chef should be the liaison between the team and the High Performance committee. I was honored with the position. David and I had gotten together and chatted four or five years ago and took on our roles at the same time. We saw eye to eye on how to increase competition for the team and what we wanted Canada to be. It has worked out really well.”
8) While the riders are preparing to compete, how are you preparing yourself for the Games?
“Trying to mentally prepare for all the stuff that has to happen between now and then. You can only hope that you for-see what might happen and be prepared to deal with it. You have to get your head into it. It’s going to be a grind, but this is what you work for. There’s going to be a lot of work hours, not a lot of off hours; this is what we’ve prepared for. It’s important to keep the enthusiasm high for everyone.”
9) What will be the biggest challenges between now and the Games?
“On the team side, hopefully keeping all the horses fit and sound. Making sure that all the logistical planning over the past year works out and doesn’t become a distraction for the riders. At this stage it is all about the riders, their horses and being comfortable that we can tell our owners that we did all we could for their combinations.”
10) Any other thoughts?
“My biggest worry is what John’s design for the team hat will be.”
In case you missed it, here is a great interview with Graeme Thom on the Eventing Radio Show (episode 93). Get a closer look at the individual horse and riders combinations on the short list.