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US Equestrian Eventing High Performance Program Emphasizes Focus on Immediate and Future Athlete Success

by US Equestrian Communications Department | Jan 12, 2018, 4:56 PM EST

Lexington, Ky. – With an emphasis on identifying, selecting, and supporting U.S. combinations, the US Equestrian (USEF) Eventing High Performance Program has recently undergone revisions and changes that emphasize strategic development for the immediate and future goals of U.S. eventing athletes and team success.

USEF announced Erik Duvander as the newly hired Eventing Performance Director in October 2017. Duvander brings with him 30 years of strategic planning and program development at the high-performance level and introduced his plans for the High Performance Program at the United States Eventing Association Annual Meeting in December.

“The immediate focus of the Eventing High Performance Program is qualification, preparation, and execution of a successful World Equestrian Games (WEG),” says Duvander. “In preparation for the WEG, the majority of our horses will target a spring CCI4*, and we look forward to a strong showing at the Land Rover Kentucky CCI4*, in addition to some horses representing the U.S. at Badminton and Luhmühlen and spring CCI3*s. We will then utilize the FEI Nations Cups™ at Great Meadow and our hope is to secure an invitation to Aachen to practice and prepare in a team environment twice in July.”

Athletes with multiple horses will divide them between the spring CCIs in order to have time to focus on each individual horse at the major competitions in preparation for the WEG.

"We will train and prepare every day to select and field a team with a serious chance of winning a medal,” said Duvander. “However, if strategic decisions have to be made on the field of play, we will take into consideration that our USOC-approved target is Olympic qualification.”

In 2018, the program will be administered with the overarching concept of developing realistic and individualized performance plans that provide clarity, purpose, and focus for athletes and prepares them for championships and team competitions at the highest level. Additional goals of the program are to continue cross-country education and improvement, increase communication between athletes and program/team support staff, and create a four-year plan for success across the program’s three tiers.

Over the course of the next several months, USEF will develop a comprehensive, four-year performance plan for the High Performance Program that looks to the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, and beyond, as well as funding for training lists and targeted overseas competitions. The program consists of three levels: Elite, Development, and Emerging Athlete.

The Elite Program consists of athlete/horse combinations that are considered to be, or will be, “internationally competitive at Games level” before the next World/Olympic Games. With the goal of Games and Olympic qualification and podium achievement, criteria for selection includes a track record of success, depth and talent of a string of horses, the athlete’s ability to produce peak performances in conditions similar to the Games, and more. The Elite Program provides athletes access to training resources, veterinary and human medical advice, and financial support through coaching, training, and travel grants. All athlete/horse combinations are reviewed against agreed-upon targets and performance indicators (which could include competitions results, return to fitness, training targets, etc.); combinations that fail to meet agreed-upon targets within an agreed time frame can be removed from the Elite Program. 

The Development Program seeks to identify and support athlete/horse combinations that are well on their way to performing at an elite level through measured success at CCI3*, CICO3*, and CCI4* competitions. In 2017, a two-tiered system was introduced for the Development Program, which will continue in 2018. Tier 1 of the Development Program (Elite Potential) is designed to support experienced, international athletes who have horses that are on a trajectory to reach the Elite criteria in the next four years. These athletes will have the same access to the USEF training resources as the Elite Program. Tier 2 is designed for athletes who have not previously attained team selection or Elite criteria that are on a trajectory to achieve Elite status in this or the next quad. The 2018 Eventing Winter Training Lists for the Elite and Development Programs can be found here.

The selectors, in consultation with Duvander, review results and performance and analyze potential in determining the Training Lists, which are reviewed biannually. This review is overseen by the High Performance Working Group and the Eventing Sport Committee.

“Athletes who have their own effective coaching and management set-ups, which are then supplemented by the High Performance Program and its benefits, are very important,” said Duvander. “Our intention is to use, whenever possible, four-star events to prepare and practice in that environment where appropriate for individual and team competition training.”

The Emerging Athlete Program also encompasses a two-tier system that includes an accepted participants list as well as an auditing participants list. This list designates athletes with the potential to evolve into future team candidates. Athletes will participate in or audit training sessions as well as lectures that are focused on horse management, physiotherapy, and show jumping course design. Goals of this program are to develop talent that can be nurtured to produce high-performance riders to represent the U.S. at the international level. USEF Eventing Emerging Athlete Coach Leslie Law will continue as the coach for this program. He has guided athletes such as Caroline Martin, Jenny Caras, Madeline Backus, and Mackenna Shea, among others, to CCI3* and CCI4* success through this program. The USEF Emerging Athletes Working Group is currently evaluating this program, with anticipated improvements to its structure for 2019.

High Performance funding is not support for all, but rather is about trying to target athletes and horses that will contribute to the aim of sustained success at Games level.

It is important to note that inclusion or exclusion on a Training List does not imply or preclude an athlete for selection for a Games and Championships. Performance markers, key performance indicators, and soundness of horses may determine where and when funding is allocated. Lists will be reviewed in June of 2018.

For more information on the Eventing High Performance Program, contact USEF Director of Eventing Joanie Morris at [email protected]

The USEF International High Performance Programs are generously supported by the USET Foundation, USOC, and USEF Sponsors and Members.