Bromont, Canada - Thanks to the United States Equestrian Team Foundation (USET), eight developing eventing athletes earned the opportunity to foster their team skills through the USEF/USET Foundation North American Team Challenge at the MARS EQUESTRIAN Bromont CCI Three-Day Event, June 5-9. Serving as an intra-country scrimmage mimicking the FEI Eventing Nations Cup™ format, U.S. Eventing Director of High Performance Erik Duvander and U.S. Eventing Emerging Athlete Coach Leslie Law each served as a chef d’equipe for a team. Law’s team competed in the CCIU25 3*-L and Duvander’s team in the CCI3*-L, with scores weighted equally. Duvander’s team won the competition with an overall score of 96.90.
“Our feedback from some riders [after the Carolina International CCI and Horse Trials] was how can we make it more competitive, so that is something we will be looking at more in the future, as well as how Leslie and I set this up [in terms of] pressure we put [on the teams],” explained Duvander. “We are trying to win, and every team meeting we had has been about pressure. The riders feel it. However, it is important to have a nice balance. The difference [at Bromont] was we all [competed] in the [3*]. We will have more debriefs with these riders to see how [we can improve] next time around. There’s been a lot of learning, and we’ll tweak some things, but we are on the right track.”
Law’s team took the early lead following dressage with a score of 88.5. Alyssa Phillips (Fort Worth, Texas) and Oskar, her and Julie Phillips’s 10-year-old Holsteiner gelding, and Alexandra Baugh (Lexington, Ky.) and Ballingowan Pizazz, Altorac Farm’s 17-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding, took the top two spots after dressage in the CCIU25 3*-L division with scores of 25.7 and 28.8, respectively. Just over four points separated the teams heading into Saturday’s cross-country phase.
Duvander’s team stole the lead thanks to three double-clear cross-country efforts from Allie Knowles (Lexington, Ky.) and Business Class, Katherine O’Brien’s nine-year-old Selle Francais gelding, Kimmy Cecere (Ocala, Fla.) and Landmark's Monaco, Jacqueline Mars’s 12-year-old Irish Sport Horse/Thoroughbred stallion, and Sydney Elliott (Bossier City, La.) and QC Diamantaire, Carol Stephens’s nine-year-old Oldenburg gelding.
Duvander’s team maintained their lead following jumping with clear rounds from Knowles and Cecere, who placed second and third as individuals on scores of 28.7 and 32.1, respectively. Kylie Lyman (White River Junction, Vt.), who also competed on Duvander’s team with Xuanatu, Joan Nichols’s eight-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding, won the CCI3*-L with Da Vinci Code, Nichol’s 12-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding, on a score of 28.3, following double-clear cross-country and show jumping rounds. Although Law’s team came up short, Phillips and Baugh placed first and second with scores of 27.3 and 33.2, respectively. Each jumped clear on cross-country, incurring only time penalties, and produced double-clear show jumping rounds.
“Everyone barely knew each other walking into this. On the first day, everyone thinks of themselves as an individual, but within 24 hours, things start to change a little more,” said Duvander. “With our [cross-country] course walks, they wanted to walk it as a team. By doing [things like] this, people start feeling more comfortable with one another, they [learn] the character [of the team], and feel less threatened by one another because they are dependent on each other. There are many dynamics that happen naturally. The key is having respect for one another.”
Team Leslie Law
Law’s team consisted of three athletes with previous team experience from the FEI North American Youth Championships (NAYC): Baugh, U.S. Eventing Emerging Athlete Eventing 25 Program participant Mallory Hogan (Belvedere, Calif.), and Phillips. Baugh also competed at the first leg of the USEF/USET Foundation North American Team Challenge at the Carolina International in March, along with Cosby Green (Lexington, Ky.), Emerging Athlete Eventing 25 Program participant.
“[The USEF/USET Foundation North American Team Challenge] is awesome, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity. It really has been eye opening because I have been on past NAYC teams. Just to see how things worked then and how things have carried over to this competition. … I have loved every minute of it, meeting new people and connections, and working with such awesome people,” said Phillips.
After competing at the Carolina International, both Baugh and Green felt more at ease heading into Bromont. Entering the Carolina International, Baugh was not quite expecting team trot-ups and daily meetings. However, that prepared her for Bromont. She knew the expectations and could focus on deeper aspects of the program.
“The biggest thing that [Leslie and Erik] mentioned was about team orders on cross-country day. What they hit on is that sometimes it’s not the worst thing to be number one out of the box. … everyone is a part of it, and we all have very important roles being exactly where we are supposed to be,” said Baugh, who broke into the twenties in dressage with Ballingowan Pizazz for the first time.
For Green, Carolina was a great opportunity to get a feel for the team environment. She arrived at the Carolina International without team competition background, so the process overwhelmed her. However, it made her more prepared for Bromont and comfortable learning about her teammates.
“At Carolina, I got to learn what [Erik and Leslie’s] goals were overall and be introduced to the idea of a team. [At Bromont], I felt like I [could have] more fun with it. [I have] enjoyed the pressure [and getting to know] my teammates. …. I love having teammates and the support of Leslie and Erik. They can help with [anything], and that is awesome,” said Green, who competed with Highly Suspicious, Edie and Clay Green’s nine-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding.
After her positive experiences competing at NAYC, Hogan was excited to be a part of the USEF/USET Foundation North American Team Challenge. In a sport largely individualized as one moves up the levels, Hogan believes it is essential for young riders to get outside their comfort zone and compete on teams before hitting a bigger stage.
“When you get the opportunity to work as a team, you realize how useful it is to have teammates to support you. It’s important to be comfortable with a different feel because you aren’t riding for yourself anymore,” explained Hogan, who earned an overall score of 53.70 with Clarissa Purisima, her 12-year-old Holsteiner mare. “You’re riding in the back of your mind [knowing] that you have coaches here, teammates relying on you, and sponsors. Just dealing with knowing that you were chosen to be here, and you are here to perform and do a job; it is more pressure.”
Team Erik Duvander
While Cecere and Knowles showed up to the Bromont without previous team exposure, Elliott and Lyman have each competed on a FEI Eventing Nations Cup team. Elliott considered her first team experience in the FEI Eventing Nations Cup USA at Great Meadow a crash course compared to the insight she gleaned at Bromont. She entered Great Meadow having not worked with Erik, and only knew teammate Buck Davidson. Although she found that comforting, she did not have the knowledge she does now.
“[Before Great Meadow] the first experience I had was talking with Erik on the phone, so he never worked with me or my horse. I did not know what I was stepping into, but everyone was amazing. It was very different from what we are doing now. It’s very educational,” said Elliott, a U.S. Eventing Development Potential Program participant. “From the day that we got here, we had meetings, introductions, and we learned the ins-and-outs of every scenario that could possibly happen [in a team setting].”
Although Cecere arrived at Bromont without team experience, she brought unique insight from her boss and Rio Olympian Lauren Kieffer. Leading up to Bromont, Kieffer explained the process having previously been on Duvander’s Nations Cup teams. Kieffer set Cecere up for success and instilled confidence.
“[Lauren] couldn’t have done a better job. I have never been on a team, so that [guidance] was so helpful because I was nervous and had no idea what I was getting into,” said Cecere. “Erik and Leslie] were good about explaining that we were here for a reason, and they were here to make our experience that much better. They did not drill us or make us nervous. They were really good about being a team member; they took the pressure and edge off because many of us haven’t been on teams before, so they [made this fun].”
Knowles also had some insight on the team process from trainer Davidson, but gained a different perspective through the program.
“I had some understanding of how team events go. This has been really fun and a great experience and gave me a peak of what [competing on future teams] could be like,” said Knowles. “I really enjoyed working with the team, getting to know Erik, and [understanding] the feeling that your score isn’t just for you. … the selflessness and the team mentality is very healthy and good.”
Lyman got a bit of the team experience at Military Boekelo-Enschede in 2016. However, it was not the deep dive she received this week. As someone who spent the majority of her career competing as an individual, she is grateful for the experience and really enjoyed the team aspect.
“This has been such an eye-opening experience. It is so much more beyond the riding and lessons, and that has been incredible. They feel so genuinely invested in helping us and producing us as riders. It is motivating and encouraging to have [people like Erik and Leslie] behind you wanting you to get better. I’m so impressed and grateful for the time and effort they put into this,” said an appreciative Lyman. “It’s been a really fun group of people and interesting bouncing ideas off one another. All of us have a lot of respect for one another. It is fun cheering each other on. I cannot think of a better program and I want to thank the USET Foundation for their support. I gained a lot of experience.”
Complete results from the MARS EQUESTRIAN Bromont CCI Three Day Event
The USEF International High Performance Programs are generously supported by the USET Foundation, USOC, and USEF sponsors and members.