Public disputes. Allegations of selector bias and unsoundness issues. Last minute changes to the team lineup. The selection process for the Canadian Olympic eventing team has had more plot twists than season six of The Game of Thrones.

“It’s been a very eventful couple of weeks here,” says Equestrian Canada mental coach Dirk Stroda. “Too much noise, in my opinion. Some things I would do differently, but it’s always easy to say that after the fact.”

The drama started at the Bromont CIC3* observation event in June when Canada’s most veteran team rider, Jessica Phoenix, opted not to contest the cross country phase against the advice of chef d’equipe Clayton Fredericks.

When the team was named one month later, Phoenix’s name was notable for its absence among the top four. She appealed the selection. Fredericks was deemed to be a biased selector and Phoenix was awarded a spot on the main team at the expense of teammate Katherine Robinson.

Relegated to reserve, Robinson’s Olympic dream seemed all but over. Then, three days ago, soundness concerns ruled out Selena O’Hanlon’s mount Foxwood High. Now O’Hanlon is out and Robinson is back in.

It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions for all involved.

“When you prepare for that long, with all the uncertainty, it’s very difficult to keep the focus and keep the momentum,” says Stroda. “The momentum can stop in a split second when someone says you’re not going. The momentum for someone who wasn’t even thinking of going has to get going.”

We caught up with Stroda to talk strategies for dealing with drama before a career-defining moment like the Olympic Games.

Horse Network: All the uncertainty heading into this Olympics has to be unsettling for the athletes. How do you past that?

Dirk Stroda: Overall, I had a clear plan for every athlete and I broke it down over four weeks, counting backward from this past week.

The first week was all about curiosity. Being curious about how to maximize their experience—what to think about, what to pack, the vaccinations, does the new apparel fit? All those details.

It was the same conversation with the grooms, the team vet, the coaches, everyone. Be curious in your craft. You want to know as much as possible, be as prepared as possible, so you can lead your team in your area of expertise. I wanted to create self-reliance.

The second week was know your challenges and find answers. For example, the water quality for the horses isn’t great. Reports from the Brazilian laboratories show its full of potentially harmful pathogens. What’s your plan A? The federation will have filter systems. That’s good. Do they enough? What if someone steals them over night? Have a Plan B—UV sticks, iodine, have another solution.

Once you have the answers, you can gain clarity. You gain certainty. That doesn’t come if you leave questions unanswered.

Week four I wanted them to understand that they have to get to Rio strong. With the batteries fully charged. You have to start strong. You have to maintain your strength during the competition. And you have to finish strong. You can only build your performance on strength.

Now they’re at the point where it’s “I can’t wait to go. I’m ready.”

HN: What about team camaraderie? You’ve spoken in the past about the importance of building a compassionate and supportive team. How do you come together with your teammates in these types of circumstances?

DS: If you don’t like the story you hear—from media, from online magazines, from print magazines, from people around you, from critics, from supporters—you have to tell yourself a different story.

I don’t want anybody, on any team in Canada, working for four years toward that one goal and then getting absorbed by the outside noise.

Here’s how I approached it. Everybody who goes to Rio will have a chance of a lifetime. Rio is not another Wellington or Bromont. It’s what you’ve dreamed of for four years. What a tragedy if this moment that starts in five days finds you unprepared. Finds you absorbed by things that are completely non-relevant.

They have to shift away from all the outside noise and think about what they’re able to do in Rio. They are able to create legacy in Rio. They are able to put a stamp on their sport. They are able to manifest their dreams.

But it doesn’t come if they get absorbed in all these things. It only happens if you tell yourself a different story. All the adversity, all the ups and downs, all the uncertainty, that has to be put aside now. You cannot carry it forward. You have look at what’s in front of you.

In your car, the review mirror is small. The front windshield is large. It’s an invitation to look forward.

HN: As a coach, you have a front row seat to the turmoil these athletes are going through. What’s that like personally?

DS: I care about everybody who was involved in those decisions and those that stay home. I can feel the hurt. My focus in coaching is to help the athletes connect with their emotions because this is key in equestrian sport. You have to understand your emotions, you have to connect with them, and you have to control unwanted emotions.

I care for everybody who dreamed of going and is not able to go. That is not easy for me to get over. I have a compassionate relationship with all the athletes on the team. I feel with them, especially those not on the plane for Rio.

Now we have a job to do.

All the athletes going to Rio have an honorable goal and that is to create their own legacy and legacy for their sport internationally and also in Canada. There are kids at home who are looking up to them. There are owners and sponsors who are looking up to them. We don’t have the luxury to get absorbed in what people said and what they didn’t say.

You have to make a drastic shift and look through the windshield. They all have to be willing to be open and not be attached to the past. They need to have an “I can” attitude and a willingness to perform, to have fun, to enjoy, to get together as a team and, hopefully, to create a miracle.

HN: That’s great advice. Do you get the sense that, that is where the team’s mindset is at?

DS: As far as I can say, from six thousand kilometers away, yes. The intensity, the willingness, it’s there.

They were in Ocala for the team camp last week. Now they’re in Rio. Changing locations, it’s easier to leave things behind. There’s lots to discuss and a need to discuss, but that all can be done after Rio.

The athletes, they want to focus on the job ahead. That’s the language they want to talk. It’s not their intent to be political. They’re in the sport with all their heart and they are heavily invested. They want to do the best for themselves, for their country, for the sport. We have to get our integrity back and our seriousness.

I have great hopes for them.

HN: As does Canada. Thanks for your input, Dirk!