Between being named the newest USEF Eventing Selector and bringing her top mount Inmidair back to the Advanced level following a three-year hiatus, Jan Byyny has had a bustling spring season.
She’s already attended Carolina International, Kentucky and Luhmühlen as a selector, and now that Jan has a better feel for her new role, she kindly took time out of her busy schedule to take us behind the scenes.
“When I was asked to be a selector, my first thought was, ‘I want to be selected for teams. I don’t want to be the one selecting. I’m not done competing yet.’ But since I won’t have a horse that could be considered for the next year or so, I changed my thought process,” Jan said. “I decided if I want to be selected for future teams, then I want to know how it all works.”
Jan is no stranger to representing Team USA, having won winning individual bronze and team gold with Shared Dreams at the 2003 Pan American Games at Fair Hill. She was selected as an alternate for the 2004 Athens Olympics and also represented the U.S. with Task Force at both the 2005 World Cup Finals in Malmö and the 2006 World Equestrian Games in Aachen.
She was also selected to ride at Luhmühlen in 2005 with Waterfront when the U.S. sent a group of riders to compete in the new CCI4* at the venue. Returning to the venue 12 years later as a selector brought an entirely new experience.
“We had such a great group of American riders, and everyone really worked together. I was so proud of them,” Jan said. “Even though it was called a ‘soft’ four-star, is there such a thing? Maybe it wasn’t Badminton, but Luhmühlen is never Badminton. It’s Luhmühlen. And the show jumping was tough.”
With her first overseas trip as a selector complete, Jan has been working with the other four selectors — Bobby Costello, Phyllis Dawson, Debbie Furnas and Derek di Grazia — to select the team that will compete next week in the Nations Cup CICO3* at Great Meadow in The Plains, Virginia.
“It is a great group of people. Everyone has a little bit of a different way of looking at things, and I think that’s a healthy thing. We may not always agree, but at the end of the day we all want the same thing — for the U.S. to be the best,” Jan said.
“As a selector, you have to be able to say what you think and not be afraid to be wrong. You listen to the other four people and hear their opinions and then have to be able to say, ‘That’s a great point. I hadn’t thought about it that way.’”
Having been in a position as a rider when she wasn’t named to a team or placed on a training list, Jan said it’s eye-opening to see the “nuts and bolts” of how selection works. “If you’re ready, you’re going to be selected. If you’re not, you’re not. It’s really that simple.”
While Jan is fully immersed in being a selector, she is also actively seeking her own competition goals. Next week will mark a major milestone as Inmidair, an 18-year-old New Zealand Thoroughbred gelding Jan owns with her parents Dick and Jo, returns to FEI competition for the first time since finishing seventh at the Kentucky CCI4* in 2014.
A soft tissue injury in his foot forced Inmidair’s withdrawal as an alternate from the 2014 World Equestrian Games, and since then Jan has slowly and carefully rehabilitated him. He returned to competing at Pine Top in February and ran the Advanced at Fair Hill’s April Horse Trials. A sixth-place finish in the Virginia CIC2* last month officially signaled that “JR” is back.
“I want to enjoy my time I have with him because he is an awesome horse. He thinks he’s better and badder than ever! He has been so happy to be back out. I learned a valuable lesson at Virginia because I’ve been trying not to jump him too much, but he was wild. I had to gallop him before going cross country just so he would be rideable,” Jan said.
“It was great information to take away. I said to myself, ‘Jan if you’re going to keep going with him, you have to train him!’ I want to be a horseman and competitive. If I’m going to do this, I want to win, but I want to do it the right way.”
Jan said having three years away from competing at the Advanced level proved to be a valuable time, both to produce her younger horses coming up the levels and also to focus on furthering her own education.
“I realized things I needed to improve on. We had success before because JR is really talented and we’re both gutsy, but now we have to be better than that because the sport has moved on,” Jan said.
“When you haven’t run Advanced for awhile and you want to make time and be competitive, you have to make sure you have prepared yourself to do that. That’s not always an easy task, but it’s a fun task. I’m thoroughly enjoying it.”
As for the horses in her string she hopes will be in contention for teams in the coming years, Urrem, a 9-year-old Selle Francais mare Jan owns with her parents, continues to be a standout. The mare sustained a tendon injury in the Plantation Field CIC2* last year but is back to competing now; Jan plans to aim her for the Fair Hill CCI2* this fall.
“She’s probably one of the nicest horses I’ve ever had. The way she went around Plantation last year made me think she was ready for the next level, but I think it’s good to make sure you have your i’s dotted and t’s crossed before stepping up to Advanced. She’s super brave, fun and careful — completely an alpha mare but probably the sweetest thing I’ve ever had.”
Jan also has Volcan de Caverie, an 8-year-old Selle Francais gelding, who hasn’t finished outside the top 10 since stepping up to the Preliminary level at Sporting Days in March.
In the midst of all this, Jan continues to run a thriving training and boarding facility alongside her boyfriend Tom Finnen at Surefire Farm, which once again hosted one of Area II’s most popular summer horse trials last week in Purcellville, Virginia.
“Going to Luhmühlen as a selector wasn’t ideal timing since we were getting ready for Surefire the following weekend — thank you to Tom for staying home to keep getting everything ready! — but I am so grateful that I had the opportunity,” Jan said.
“Even though I wasn’t competing, I felt proud to be an American. Everything about it was inspiring — even watching the CIC3* with all the Germans preparing for the European Championships and seeing the quality of the dressage. Being a selector is a fascinating role, and I feel honored that I was asked.”