Erik Duvander is dialed in for the Pan Am Games but is also looking to build the next generation of American Eventing talent.
The U.S Eventing Team needed help. It was 2017. The 2018 Tryon World Equestrian Games were just 10 months away, and the team had experienced months of coaching changes and shifting strategies. They needed someone with long-term vision. Someone who could lead them into the future and to the pinnacle of the sport.
Thankfully, Erik Duvander was up to the challenge.
With more than 30 years of strategic planning experience for equestrian teams in other countries — including New Zealand, Japan, and Sweden — Erik was no newcomer to the high-pressure world of eventing. He jumped into his new role as the Eventing Performance Director for Team USA and hit the ground running.
Yet, despite everyone’s best efforts, the Eventing Team came up short with an eighth-place finish at the World Equestrian Games — just missing qualification for the 2020 Olympics.
A second chance…
But the U.S. Eventing Team, with Erik at the helm, is ready to compete at the Pan American Games – it’s a second chance for the Team to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. And, with the help of supporters of the United States Equestrian Team Foundation, they are ready!
Team USA this year consists of Boyd Martin from Pennsylvania, Doug Payne (South Carolina), Tamie Smith (California), and Lynn Symansky (Virgina). It isn’t easy to get this talented, but far-flung, group together.
But a pre-Games’ “Team Camp” this summer helped provide some quality team-building time. Before the Team headed south to fly from Miami to Lima, they made a pit stop at Stable View Farm in Aiken, South Carolina. The group spent a few days together training as a team. “It’s a fantastic venue,” Erik noted. The team had access to the farm’s arenas, cross-country courses, and more.
Big Country = Big Challenges + Big Opportunity
In fact, you might be surprised to know that one of the biggest challenges in American eventing isn’t about talent or coaching… it’s simple geography.
“When I worked for New Zealand, I had all my riders basically within an hour of each other,” Erik recalls. “It was very easy to be able to pull together a team training session. That’s obviously something we can’t do here in America.”
“We have riders from the East Coast and the West Coast,” he explains. “It’s a big country so it’s difficult to figure out what to do structurally.” And with Erik responsible for spearheading and implementing strategic initiatives for the future of U.S. Eventing, that is one of persistent struggles: the sheer size of the country and how spread out the riders are from one another.
But, says Erik, one of his biggest challenges is also his greatest asset.
Although the size of the U.S. poses a challenge for creating connections among fellow teammates, the number of talented professionals in the American equestrian world is a great asset. “We’ve got fantastic horse owners, good horses, and good trainers,” says Erik. “Our events are fantastic. It’s good ground for future success.”
Searching for America’s Next Superstar
For Erik, building the groundwork for future success means a lot of traveling as he tirelessly searches for the very best athletes and horses America has to offer.
“It’s important for me to reach outside our training squad and constantly look for the next generation of riders,” says Erik. He likes to check in on young up-and-coming riders and get to know them. “It takes effort,” he admits, “but it’s an effort that I don’t mind at all because I believe it will make a difference.” Erik is keenly aware that at the end of the day, young riders are the future of the sport.
“I don’t want any superstars being undiscovered or someone who is hell-bent on being a champion and they haven’t been noticed.”
Be a Part of the Team You Love!
Above all, Erik says, a pure love of the sport is what brings everyone together and creates the foundation for Team USA’s future success. “Our riders, they love their horses. The grooms love the horses. It’s a joyful space to be in,” says Erik.
And making it to the Olympics will take a team effort — including the help of friends like you!
“Without the fantastic donors and horse owners we have, it would be impossible to do what we do. All the bits and pieces have to come together and gel so we can keep developing and growing. If we’re going to win medals in the future, we need to be the best in all the areas.”
Supporters of the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation are critical to helping individual teams like U.S. Eventing navigate the challenges of today and find the talent of tomorrow.
And Erik will surely be the first to tell you, when the U.S. Eventing Team takes the field this week in Lima – and hopefully next summer, in Tokyo – the investment will be worth it!