Wednesday, Jun. 5, 2024

Newly Named U.S. Eventing Team Gears Up For Paris

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Following the announcement of the U.S. Olympic Eventing Team at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, Chef d’Equipe Bobby Costello said that the high intensity weeks leading up to the July 27–29 event are his “favorite time.” 

“I think anybody that has Olympic aspirations, as far as an athlete goes, thrives in times like these,” Costello said. “There are certain people that love that kind of pressure—that actually perform their best under that pressure—and I believe we have athletes that have those qualities.” 

Those athletes are Will Coleman, selected with his 2021 Aachen CHIO4*-S winner Off The Record (and direct reserve horse Diabolo); Boyd Martin and Fedarman B, the horse with whom he earned a pair of eighth-placed finishes at the Luhmühlen (Germany) and Pau (France) CCI5*s last year (and direct reserve horse Commando 3); and Caroline Pamukcu with her 2023 Pan American Games (Chile) individual gold and team silver medalist HSH Blake. Liz Halliday and Cooley Nutcracker have been named the traveling alternates.

Will Coleman and Off The Record, owned by the Off The Record Syndicate, most recently finished third at the Cosequin Lexington CCI4*-S (Ky.) Kimberly Loushin Photos

Coleman and Martin are both Olympic veterans, Coleman having represented the U.S. at the 2012 London Olympics alongside Martin, who also competed at the 2016 Rio and 2021 Tokyo Games. This is Pamukcu’s first Olympic selection.

“Without a doubt, Caroline was the next best qualified person for that spot, and it just so happens that this will be her first Olympics,” Costello said. “She’s gotten great experience, particularly at the Pan Am Games last year. Caroline won’t mind me saying that she’s actually been around for a very long time; she was making developing lists when she was 17, 18, 19. She’s been part of the developing program for years, and it’s really cool to see someone break into the senior ranks and make a statement doing so.”

With Martin on the team for his fourth Games, Costello said that selectors have chosen a competitor who offers both a proven ability to perform on the world’s biggest stage, as well as guidance for teammates who haven’t yet had an Olympic run.

“It’s great to have Boyd when he’s on these championship teams, because he brings with him such a wealth of experience,” Costello said. “He’ll be able to impart his wisdom, with athletes that haven’t been to an Olympics yet, of what to expect, and what makes an Olympics different than any kind of championship that they’ll ever do.

“I’m sure Boyd is going to be, as always, super hungry to go and have his best ever result at this Olympics,” Costello added. “As he gets older, he just gets hungrier and hungrier, which is great.”

Costello sees the value of Coleman’s experience as well, and he recalled the calm steadiness to his performance at the 2022 FEI World Championships (Italy), where he helped his team to a silver.

“He’ll be bringing in his really methodical, meticulous preparation into this Games,” Costello said. “He’s super interesting to watch, because you can almost see him in his thought process.”

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Coleman enters these Olympics with a proven partner in “Timmy”. They made history in 2021 as the first U.S. pair to ever win the Aachen CHIO4*-S and have completed three five-stars together, most recently finishing seventh at Kentucky last year. It’s been 12 years since Coleman’s last Olympics, and Costello expects the rider will leverage that experience as motivation to excel in Paris.

“I don’t think he had the Olympics that he necessarily wanted,” Costello said of London, where Coleman picked up a stop with Twizzel on cross-country and the team finished seventh. “So there’s no doubt that he’ll be highly motivated and prepared to go to Paris and really make his mark.

“For Will and all these guys,” Costello added, “there’s a real opportunity to go there and do something special.”

The selected horses also represent a range of experience: Off The Record and Fedarman B are both proven five-star horses, while the younger HSH Blake, Diabolo and Commando 3 are successful four-star horses who have not yet contested a five-star. Diabolo is entered in what would’ve been his first five-star at Luhmühlen (Germany), taking place June 13-16, but his selection as a direct alternate will change that plan.

“Coleman’s horse is ready to step up to the five star at Luhmühlen in a couple of weeks, but instead he’ll be his backup horse for the Olympics,” Costello said of Diabolo.

All the selected horses and direct alternates most recently contested the Cosequin Lexington CCI4*-S in May, where they finished in first through fifth positions, led by Coleman and Martin’s reserve horses. Traveling alternate Cooley Nutcracker most recently competed in the Defender Kentucky CCI5*-L, where he finished eighth in his five-star debut.

Boyd Martin and Fedarman B, owned by the Annie Goodwin Syndicate, finished a close fourth, behind Coleman’s two horses and his own direct reserve, Commando 3, during the horse’s last outing at the Cosequin Lexington CCI4*-S (Ky.) in May.

“I absolutely feel that the selectors did just the right amount of picking horses that have a history of proven success and put those at the forefront of the team,” Costello said of the mix of athletes. “Both [Boyd and Coleman] have probably two of the nicest young horses that I am aware of as their direct reserve. So I would personally have no misgivings whatsoever, if for whatever reason, either of those direct reserves had to step up.”

Costello said the Olympic selectors—Deborah Furnas, Jan Byyny, Phyllis Dawson, Jonathan Elliott and Kim Severson for 2024—took a nuanced approach to assessing the horses’ potential, even when their resumes don’t yet include the highest level of competition.

“I truly believe that these horses have always been given such a good ride, they don’t know what they can’t do,” Costello said of the four-star horses chosen for the team and as reserves. “It definitely matters the type of four-star horse: It has to have an impeccable record, and it has to be ridden by someone that’s proven to be able to develop horses to that level and beyond. I think that is what gives the selectors confidence that they can make decisions like that, use horses like that, when necessary.”

Caroline Pamukcu and her four-star partner HSH Blake are the rookies on this year’s Olympic team.

Pamukcu and “Blake” are the youngest duo on the team, but Costello feels that the pair’s continual development has helped them stand out to selectors. 

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“You can’t ever give the selectors a reason not to select you; I think Caroline has been a really good example of that with Blake over the last couple of years,” Costello said. “She’s just been on a very slow, steady upward trend. That horse just thrives with the ride that Caroline gives him. So I think that was a brave, but well thought-out choice.”

On the other hand, Martin said that his now-successful partnership with Fedarman B, or “Bruno,” wasn’t always a sure bet. Bruno was developed to the four-star level by Annie Goodwin, an eventer who Boyd and his wife, Grand Prix dressage rider Silva Martin, helped coach. When Goodwin died in a riding accident in 2021, her parents and fiancé asked Boyd to take on her promising gelding. Boyd says it took about six months for him to click with the horse.

“Then we decided to form a syndicate, we brought a broader group of people in to get behind Bruno,” Boyd said. “From that moment on, everything’s just fallen into place. Usually with horses, there’s ups and downs and highs and lows. We started off low, and then I’ve just been on an upward curve, up until this point.”

Behind Boyd, Coleman and Pamukcu, the selectors curated a pool of alternates, including Halliday with three of her horses, as well as Sydney Elliott, James Alliston, Jennie Brannigan and Will Faudree.

“To have Liz in that fourth slot? I think we are so fortunate to have Liz, who’s such a great competitor and has such a lovely string of horses,” Costello said of Halliday as their traveling reserve. “And man, it’s weeks and weeks away from the Olympics, so she will have to be at the ready. Because knowing this sport, anything can happen.”

Costello drew from his personal experience as an alternate when he advised the alternate athletes to stay as committed to their preparation as if they, too, had a ticket to Paris.

“I told every alternate that you need to keep preparing as though you are absolutely, 100% going to be representing the country at the Olympic Games,” Costello said. “That is what’s so difficult about that position, but it’s absolutely necessary that each one of those guys keep preparing towards the mandatory outing like they’re going to the Olympics.”

The team will participate in the mandatory outing in Aiken, South Carolina, at the Stable View Summer Horse Trials, June 21-23, before heading to their training base in France on July 17. With all there is to look forward to, Costello was sure to take a moment, after making phone calls to all the team candidates, to look back on the work that has been done to equip the U.S. for its best possible chances.

“The process of the last several days of the vet evaluations, and the selector meetings, and hours of research and deliberation, and watching videos, and having our blacksmith there, and our physio there to check out the well being the horses—the amount of work that goes into what just happened, selecting these horses and athletes, is a monumental task,” Costello said. 

“I think it’s fun for people to sit back and have their picks,” he continued. “But I just hope people really appreciate the amount of work that goes into getting to the point that we are at right now, post-selection. It’s a huge, huge job and responsibility, and we’ve got the best back-up team, I think, of any country.”

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