The postponement of the 2020 Summer Olympics until next year because of the coronavirus pandemic wasn’t necessarily bad news for talented Aiken equestrian Doug Payne.
Even though he is dreaming of being a member of the U.S. three-day eventing team in Japan, Payne doesn’t mind waiting for a while longer before trying to achieve that goal.
“I’m actually a bit relieved that they finally announced that it’s being officially postponed,” he said during a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon. “Being in limbo is the hardest. You want to make sure that your horse is the best prepared. But if they’re not going to run the competition, you don’t want to be unnecessarily working your horse now and risking potential injury. The fact that we have a definitive decision makes it a whole lot easier to plan for the future.”
Payne was a member of the gold medal-winning U.S. eventing squad during last year’s Pan American Games in Peru. He finished fourth individually on a mare named Starr Witness.
But Payne believed his best chance to earn a trip to Tokyo was with Vandiver, a gelding that he finished second with in last year’s inaugural $50,000 LiftMaster Grand-Prix Eventing showcase at the Aiken Horse Park Foundation’s Bruce’s Field.
“He is very experienced,” Payne said. “He would have had a very good shot because it (the disruptions caused by the pandemic prior to now) would have limited the number of horses that could have been qualified and ready to go.”
The postponement of the 2020 Olympics, however, will allow Starr Witness and another up-and-comer that Payne rides, the gelding Quantum Leap, to become more seasoned so they will be ready to compete at that level.
“There are advantages and disadvantages, and you have to look on the bright side of things,” Payne said. “With the postponement, they probably now will be in the mix for next year. It will give them more time to develop. They are both absolutely talented horses that will make their mark in the future.”
The plan for Vandiver, Starr Witness and Quantum Leap is not to push them now because the pandemic also has caused the cancellation and postponement of other eventing competitions.
“It would be in their best interest to sort of lay low,” Payne said. “They are going to have a light spring,” “There is no need for additional wear and tear and conditioning until we can make some competitive plans.
“They’ve had the last week off and they’ll probably have the coming week off as well,” Payne continued. “Then we’ll ramp up into some flat work, but there will be very little jumping.”
Also in Payne’s stable of equine competitors is Quintessence, a promising show jumper that won the $100,000 HITS Ocala Grand Prix in Florida in February.
“We’ve got young horses all the way down to weanlings and we have a bunch (of inexperienced ones) that are in work that are 4 years old and up,” he said. “We’ll have a bit more time to spend with them, so we can do as much as we can to effectively build a sort of pipeline of horses in development.”
Even under normal circumstances, eventing is a sport that is filled with uncertainty, so Payne’s response to the postponement to the Olympics was, for the most part, philosophical.
“In a life with horses, you become very accustomed to and adept at dealing with situations that don’t go as planned,” he said. “You have a plan A, B, C and D because there could be an abscess, an oddball injury or a scheduling thing. We’re in a perpetual state of having to adapt, and this is just another thing we have to adapt to.”
The Aiken Standard reached out to two past eventing Olympians with local ties, Phillip Dutton and Boyd Martin.
Martin did not respond by press time, but Dutton was available for a telephone interview late Tuesday afternoon.
“Considering the way the world has gone in the last two weeks, it wasn’t a surprise that the Olympics were put back for a year,” he said. “In the big scheme of things, I think it was obviously the right decision for the health and safety of everybody involved, from athletes, to trainers, to coaches, to the press. Also, it was going to be pretty hard to prepare in these conditions when you can’t be in close proximity to anybody.
“Having said that,” Dutton continued, “it was obviously very gutting because people – not just myself, but a lot of riders and athletes and trainers and coaches and grooms and doctors and veterinarians – have all worked for the last couple of years towards these Olympics. So it’s very disappointing, but understandable.
“The riders and horses will all have to back go back to the drawing board,” he concluded. “We’ll all have to do all the trials and preparation and qualification again.”
In 1996 and 2000, Dutton was a member of Australia’s gold medal-winning Olympic eventing team.
While riding for the United States in 2016, he won an individual Olympic bronze medal on a horse named Mighty Nice.
Dutton and his wife, Evie, own Red Oak Farm in Aiken.
“We’re hunkered down in Pennsylvania now” at their True Prospect Farm, Dutton said.
During this year's LiftMaster Grand-Prix Eventing showcase, Dutton finished second on Z and third on Fernhill Singapore.