A change at the top for NZ eventing?

High Performance sport is now under review after the Rio Olympics, with equestrian bracing itself for a funding cut

(Image: Libby Law)
Erik Duvander at Rio (Image: Libby Law)

Erik Duvander has been intimately involved with Eventing New Zealand’s High Performance squad for more than a decade – travelling the world with the riders as coach and acting as a mentor and adviser.

But with equestrian’s HP funding now under serious review after the disappointment of the team’s result at the Rio Olympics, Erik could be on the move. Speaking to NZ Horse & Pony after the show jumping phase at Rio, where both team and individual medals slipped from New Zealand’s reach, Erik wouldn’t elaborate on his own future, other than to say that: “Change is good.”

“It’s obviously disappointing [the result in Rio] and obviously, our performance relates to how much funding we are going to get… it’s a little bit chicken and egg, where do you start? But at the end of the day, we need to look at what the team needs, moving forward,” he said.

“Change is good. I think it’s a healthy thing sometimes…. it’s not about me, it’s about what’s best for the team.”

Erik and the New Zealand eventing team at WEG 2012 (Image: Libby Law)
Erik and the New Zealand eventing team at WEG 2014 (Image: Libby Law)

Equestrian Sport NZ received $1.8 million of taxpayer’s funds over each of the past four years (a total of $7.2 million over the 2013-2016 funding cycle). Equestrian is considered a ‘tier two’ sport alongside athletics ($2.25m a year), men’s and women’s rugby sevens ($1.2m and $1m), and netball ($1.2m). The top-ranking sports are rowing ($5.3m a year), cycling ($4.7m) and yachting ($3.45m).

But the funding is very much tied to performance, and the delivery of team and individual medals was the clearly-stated aim.

Erik confirmed that ESNZ would go into talks with High Performance Sport New Zealand in October or November, with funding decisions to be released before Christmas. “I can’t say where we are going to sit on that, I can’t guess, but they do say that funding is also slightly based on how good an organisation is. If you are running a believable future plan, with good quality people in it, then they will support you. I don’t think we will be slashed [in funding] but it would be hard to go in and ask for more, that’s for sure.”

He still firmly believes in ESNZ’s programme and HP set-up. “We’ve got a really solid group of people. I believe in them, and believe the future is still really strong. I believe we were good enough to win medals this time, and I believe we will be good enough to win medals next time because of the quality of the riders, the quality of the horses… for a small nation, it is phenomenal.”

Erik with Sir Mark Todd and Tim Price at Aachen in 2015 (Image: Libby Law)
Erik with Sir Mark Todd and Tim Price at Aachen in 2015 (Image: Libby Law)

Erik said the three-day event in Rio was an “absolute roller coaster.”

“For the first two days, in the dressage, we were not performing to the level that we expected ourselves to do, so we put ourselves into not such a good spot going into cross-country… and then having Tim [Price, who was eliminated for a horse fall] slipping on the flat, that was tough. It put a lot of pressure on the other three. We brought everyone together and came up with a game plan, and at the end of the day we thought we’d done a good job on cross-country and put ourselves back into a competitive position.”

The horses were well looked after that night, he said, and trotted up looking “like a million dollars.”

Walking the show jumping course, Erik said, it “didn’t look super-difficult, but obviously at an Olympic Games there is a little bit of nerves, little bit of atmosphere, for the horses as well.”

And for the jumping to go as it did, with just Clarke Johnstone delivering a clear round, Erik said it was “disappointing…. as a team, to end up fourth, is unfortunate after looking so good.”

He was unwilling, at that point, to speculate on what, if anything, could have been done differently. “During events, that’s not the time for reflection. That’s what we do in our debriefs afterwards… that’s when we have a good think about it. You’ve got to keep your focus moving forward during events, otherwise you are thinking about the wrong things.”

NZL-Jonathan Paget with ESNZ HP Coach: Eric Duvander - at the 2015 RWC Fence: FIRST DAY OF DRESSAGE: 2015 GBR-Land Rover Burghley Horse Trial (Thursday 3 September) CREDIT: Libby Law COPYRIGHT: LIBBY LAW PHOTOGRAPHY
With Jock Paget at Burghley in 2015 (Image: Libby Law)

Erik Bo Duvander is 54, and was born in Chicago but moved to Sweden with his family at the age of five. He and his sister Elizabeth both competed at Young Rider level for Sweden, and Erik was driven to make eventing his career.

He went to the UK at the age of 22 and spent more than two years working for Mark Todd. He rode at the Barcelona Olympics, finishing 57th individually, and at the World Equestrian Games at The Hague, finishing 15th. His career highlight was being part of the gold-medal-winning Swedish team at the 1993 European Championships.

It was while riding at The Hague that he met his Kiwi wife Stephanie; the couple have three children. They moved to New Zealand in 2003; by this stage Erik was already making a name for himself as a coach, having trained for the Japan Racing Association and the Swedish eventing team.

In New Zealand, he started at first working with development squads, before landing the big job in 2005, after the Athens Olympics.

During his time at the helm, New Zealand eventers have won at championship level:

  • team bronze, 2010 Kentucky World Equestrian Games
  • individual bronze, 2010 Kentucky World Equestrian Games (Andrew Nicholson/Nereo)
  • team bronze, 2012 London Olympics