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It was a little jarring when we first heard the term “home court disadvantage” as United States Equestrian Federation leaders began preparing for the World Equestrian Games that begin at the Tyron International Equestrian Center on Sept. 11. Surely, they’d misspoken and meant, instead, “home court advantage.”
Since hosting the 2010 WEG in Kentucky, the Federation has carefully examined the reality that having the Games on home turf can be an extra challenge for athletes because it multiplies potential distractions. More family and friends at the venue sounds great in theory, but not so much when juggled with maintaining a horse and rider’s pure focus on the major task at hand: delivering a medal winning performance amongst the world’s most competitive equestrian pairs.
The U.S. eventing team’s new High Performance Director Erik Duvander spoke about this at the U.S. Eventing Association’s meeting last fall. “There can be a downside to competing at home if you’re not prepared for it,” he said. Fortunately, lack of preparation is unlikely to be an issue this year. “They learned a lot by watching what worked and didn’t work for the American team in 2010.”
Haygain believer Allison Springer was an alternate for the 2010 WEG and the 2012 Olympics. Her current horses are a little too young to go after a WEG spot this year, but she’s happy to share her excitement about what she’s seen in the way of U.S. team preparation for these Games:
Of the “home court” question, Allison says, “It’s just a lot more demands on your time.” Anticipating and helping handle those demands is one of the USET’s many efforts to assist team riders. “There is an enormous support staff to make sure competitors don’t have to worry about anything other than competing,” she explains. From sports psychology tune-ups to transportation to the venue, “They have been working hard for months in advance to eliminate any logistics to worry about and make it so the riders can concentrate amid the chaos.
“Huge changes have been made in the last six years, with a lot of thought and research going into how other countries are preparing,” she continues. “It’s been an awesome effort in terms of collaboration among riders and coaches. They are great changes and I’m excited to see where that leads us in the next Olympic cycle.”
A highly individualized approach to each horse and rider’s needs is a hallmark of Duvander’s approach with the eventing team. And it reflects the Federation’s approach with eventing’s counterparts in the Games’ seven other disciplines, each unique in their demands of horse and rider.
Horse fitness is a prime example. Every team horse needs to peak at the same time, but they’re all going to achieve that in a different way and on a different timeline. “It’s very different for a pure Thoroughbred versus more of a Warmblood sort of horse,” Allison explains. “Erik has jumped full in trying to understand the programs of all the people who had the best shot of being on the team.”
Knowing their fitness, nutrition, veterinary and farrier routines are the foundation of that knowledge, plus working with each potential pair to determine the best competitions to prepare for, or supplement, the events that were part of the qualifying process. Some horses might step down a level to get that “rock star” sense of confidence, while others benefit from more challenging outings, Allison notes.
Whatever each horse and rider pair’s pre-Games routine is, consistency is critical. That’s why Haygain devoted these past several months to its own pre-Games routine by lining up Haygain Hay Steamers for the estimated 170 WEG-contending horses whose managers and veterinarians requested them. Delivering 22 full-bale HG 2000 steamers to Tryon barn aisles was no easy feat, but Haygain understands that providing one advantage from home – clean, irritant-free, good-tasting hay – fits perfectly with its mission of fostering horse health, performance and well-being.
WEG fans are invited to visit the Haygain exhibit in the Equine Expo Vendor Village. Shopping area B3, near the SmartPak tent, is the place to experience fresh Haygain Steamed Hay produced by three steamer models, learn the science proving its benefits and get a demo of the steamers’ simple, safe operation. Also, tired fan legs can get a re-energizing boost from the ComfortStall Sealed Orthopedic Flooring in Haygain’s booth, sending them back out with a new spring in the step for more equestrian action.
While Allison won’t be at this year’s WEG, her intent to return to the international arena is on track. Over Labor Day weekend, she dominated the Chattahoochee Hills Horse Trials with two of her current up-and-comers and Haygain fans: Lord Willing won it and Business Ben finished sixth.