Q & A with U.S. Olympic Eventing Chef d'Equipe David O'Connor

We caught up with U.S. Eventing Team chef d'equipe David O'Connor at the conclusion of the final team outing at the Great Meadow International on July 10 to get his thoughts on the team's preparation for Rio.
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We caught up with U.S. Eventing Team chef d'equipe David O'Connor at the conclusion of the final team outing at the Great Meadow International on July 10 to get his thoughts on the team's preparation for Rio.

Follow along with all the Olympic action from Rio!

The U.S. eventing team enjoying the spotlight at Great Meadow International. | Amy K. Dragoo photo

The U.S. eventing team enjoying the spotlight at Great Meadow International. | Amy K. Dragoo photo

Q1: How did you think that this event served as a prep for the Olympics for our team?

David: It worked out great, because I think the new set-up that we have here created an atmosphere. The community support here was great this weekend with having this many spectators come out, and so it gave a big event feeling to it and also a true international feel to it. We don’t get to practice that very often. You know, three or four different sites, probably Rolex and Plantation Field are starting to get that way. Fair Hill has a little bit of that, so here having that type of atmosphere is really important to practice in. So it ended up being a perfect prep for what we’re going to go through in three weeks.

Q2: How did you feel like the course rode?

David: It was good. With the heat here baking the ground the last couple days there’s no place that I know of that would be able to handle that and not have the ground turn really hard, and so we’ve been putting a ton of effort into the course for the footing. Listening to the horses I didn’t really hear a lot of hard galloping, which is what I was kind of looking for, so I was really happy with that. It’s a beautiful piece of ground and it’s a great to gallop on, so it’s a site that we use for preps, and I hope for future games we’ll be coming back here.

Q3: How do you help a team member stay focused if maybe they didn’t have the best performance today?

[Editor’s note – David speaks of team member Boyd Martin’s refusal on cross country with Blackfoot Mystery – read more about that, as well as Boyd’s comment, in the final press release.]

David: Well, we don’t change the plan; you adjust the plan. I think all of these guys are very confident and we know exactly what we have to work on. I’ve never had a problem with someone making a mistake as long as they admit it, which obviously they have, and those mistakes are fixable. In the end probably Boyd was just a little bit casual. I think that he thought that he’d already ridden it and it was going to happen because the [first] horse was good. He won’t be causal going into the Games, so I’m actually not that worried about it. He’ll be fired up--I can guarantee it.

Q4: How do you get the horses and riders to peak at the appropriate time heading into such a big event like this?

The U.S. Eventing Team: (left to right) Clark Montgomery, Lauren Kieffer, Boyd Martin, Philip Dutton and chef d'equipe David O'Connor | Amy K. Dragoo photo

The U.S. Eventing Team: (left to right) Clark Montgomery, Lauren Kieffer, Boyd Martin, Philip Dutton and chef d'equipe David O'Connor | Amy K. Dragoo photo

David: A lot of it’s timing. If we’re heading three weeks away we’ll give them a quiet time, and we’ll give them a week at home. I’ll go to them next week, or the week after when we get back from Aachen, and then we’ll all get together. So I’m a big believer that with this type of group is not to have them together for too long because they’re very established. They have relationships around them, whether it be their family or their own personal relationships, and it’s really important to try to keep that as long as possible. Then we come together as a group for six or seven days at a time. There’s great morale in this group. They respect each other and they respect each other’s riding, so it’s kind of easy as long as you don’t try to create something that’s so unnatural. You try to create something that they have the tools for.

Q5: Was that a little bit of the mindset into why all of these were the same riders who were on the Nations Cup team?

David: Yeah, there was an advantage to that with having the reserve horses who are very, very strong to have them be on [the Nations Cup team]. It’s very unusual to have that happen, so we just kind of took advantage of it. I thought it would’ve been great for the public and great for the community to see that the Nations Cup team is our Olympic Team. Those horses needed to run…so we took advantage of [this opportunity] and it obviously worked out. Because I don’t know, what did we win by? 138 over 177. Yeah, wouldn’t I love to have that happen in three weeks!

Q6: What are you most looking forward to about this years Olympics?

David: Ehh, getting it over with. [laughs] I’m excited because I think right now these are the four best that we have and four really, really good horses. And they’re good cross-country horses, they’re good cross country riders and so I’m really excited about having a strong group like that. Our whole deal is about four clear cross-country rounds--that’s got to be number one. Everybody spends a lot of time talking about the dressage or the show jumping or this and that and the other, but it’s got to be four clear cross-country rounds, because we haven’t had four clear cross country rounds in this country for quite a long time. Even back in my day it was hard to get the third rider, and so that’s our main goal is four clear cross-country rounds. And with a couple of the dressage performances that we know we have, and that they’re very good show jumpers as you saw last night, we’re in for a shot at a medal, so I’m excited about that.

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