Today was all about Eventing but as an American it was sad to first have our top rider, Becky Holder, make the decision to withdraw her wonderful mount Courageous Comet after they were asked to go to the holding pen for the jog.
Then in the show jumping while Boyd Martin and Neville Bardos gave us a moment of hope after negotiating a clear round, we pretty much needed perfection today. With that clear Boyd ended up in the 10th spot. Phillip Dutton and Woodburn dropped a rail just three jumps from the end of the course and that moved him down to the 18th spot when the scores were tallied.
Our final hope for glory was Karen O’Connor aboard Mandika. The first couple of fences were fine but then the unexpected happened when Mandika refused a gate and then knocked it down when jumping it. Once that happened we knew today wouldn’t be for the U.S.
But glory was there for Michael Jung (GER). He’s relatively new to the Eventing scene but he was so far ahead of everyone else that he’s set a really high bar for everyone to catch up to. He finished on 33 on La Biosthetique-Sam FBW, with Silver medalist William Fox-Pitt (GBR) and Cool Mountain scoring 42. Bronze medalist Andrew Nicholson from New Zealand on Nereo scored 43.50.
While Great Britain’s Gold Medal was something they haven’t gotten since the 1990s. It was Canada’s Silver medal finish that was the real surprise. The last time the Canadians stood on the podium was in 1978. Behind them was New Zealand.
The extra surprise was that while Karen had a tough day, her husband David was clearly in the spotlight as he’s been coaching the Canadian team. While they’ve been organized they feel David has just taken them that extra step and we trailed behind them in fourth.
So, enough about Eventing, as there are tons of press releases on this site that will go into all the details. Tomorrow is the start of Show Jumping and so I thought I would zero in on that a bit.
Show Jumpers Are Poised and Ready
On the first day of Reining the show jumping team was in town so that they could be part of the parade for the Opening Ceremonies on September 25th. Team members McLain Ward, Mario Deslauriers, Lauren Hough, Laura Kraut and alternate Candice King met with a few of us to talk WEG.
Show Jumpers Are Poised and Ready
When asked about how they and their horses felt, the riders looked confident and answered from the heart. “My horse feels great. She’s just about ready to go,” commented McLain about his Gold Medal horse Sapphire who only recently won both the Hampton Classic Grand Prix and the Pfizer Million just a week apart.
“Now it’s just waiting the last few days and trying to keep everything together. I’m excited to be at our home venue and now we just need to stay focused on the job,” he added.
Mario, a former Canadian native recently married to Lisa (formerly Tarnopol in her equitation days) only recently became a U.S. citizen. He achieved a milestone when he was named to his first U.S. WEG team, which had been his goal for the year. Before this he represented Canada numerous times.
“I think my horse is going to peak at the right time. He was very good at the last few shows so we are just doing the final prep. I’m excited to be competing on my new team with my new Chef d’Equipe. Hopefully Urico stays on track and we are all on the same page come Monday,” he commented. As an aside Mario added, “It was exciting to walk into the Kentucky Horse Park this morning and see all the new stuff that happened.”
When asked about how it feels now to be riding for the United States, he remarked, “From the change of citizenship to getting a new horse in Urico, to getting a new owner in Jane Clark, just going through all the steps has been exciting. It was in the plan a couple years ago to go through the change and to see it come true now, to really have made the team and be here, it’s very exciting. This horse was eight-years-old when we bought him in April so to come this far and do all the travel and compete at the World Cup Finals and the Nations Cups and to finally be here in Kentucky is very exciting. I couldn’t ask for a better scenario. I have great teammates and we feel very solid.” Now as an American citizen Mario wants to help the sport grow in the U.S.; something he and his teammates feel will be helped along because of WEG.”
“I’m also really excited to be here,” commented Lauren. “This process started for us in February and to now have it actually be happening is very exciting.” Lauren and Candice have spent a lot of time this year competing abroad. Lauren just finished jumping in Spain with Laura.
“Cedric and Quick Study flew to New York on the 22nd. We’re going to layover at a farm close by and then we all move in together on the 1st. He was in super form in Madrid and I think now we just need to stay focused and do the best we can.”
Laura echoed Lauren’s sentiments. “Cedric has been going really well this last part of the summer. I wish I could say I’m positive that he will be peaking this next week, but he’s certainly been good all year. I’m very excited to be back in the United States. We’ve been in Europe all year, so to come here and have Starbucks this morning makes me very happy. Lexington, Kentucky is a home away from home for most of us because we competed here so much. It’s thrilling to get to come here and be a part of all of this.”
Candice as the backup for the team is equally prepared. “My horse feels on form and is ready to go if need be. I’m just excited to be here with everybody and like Lauren said, it’s been a long year leading up to this. It’s quite exciting for all of us and I think we’re all ready to do the best that we can.”
Team Chef d’Equipe George Morris has long been very vocal about his thoughts on how to prepare and select the team. He has been instrumental in creating a system that allows more freedom to choose the best horse and rider combinations based on a variety of competitions and not just on a selection trials.
“These riders are all great riders, great people, great friends of mine, and they have lovely horses. I purposely came to the WEG this year differently than we went to Aachen or went to Hong Kong because it is home territory,” explained George. “I didn’t gather these people together like I did in Holland a week before Hong Kong. I let them stay in their own rhythm. I have two of these girls that spent much of their time in Europe and I thought Madrid was a great ending horse show for their horses on the 12th of September.”
George went on to explain the rationale behind what he did adding, “I purposely left McLain, Mario, and Candice up at HITS because that ended on the 12th of September. These are professionals. They know the game better than I do. They know their horses better than I do. I’m having them come to Kentucky just as they have many times before as another horse show. They are very disciplined and they are very focused, which under pressure is important.”
George noted that the one thing he will focus on as they ready for the competition is to be adaptable. “They need a winning strategy, but they need to stay adaptable. They might pull it together if necessary or open it up. Their game plan is up to them but I think we will have a little meeting next Saturday to discuss our strategy for that opening night Speed course.”
When questioned about their plans as individuals, the riders quickly brought the focus back to the team. “I think for all of us this is really one day at a time and the most important thing is that we come home with a team medal. We really are strong as a team. On my behalf, the individual competition is not something I’m focused on. If that day comes any of the four of us will worry about it at that time, but to think that far ahead is difficult.”
“It’s icing on the cake,” expanded George, while Mclain jokingly added, “I’m actually concerned because my horse is so easy to ride that I’m afraid I’ll get my butt kicked. She rides like an equitation horse so it’s pretty easy!””
The riders concluded focused a bit on the fact that WEG is in the U.S. for the first time and what an opportunity this is. “My hope is that this is a very special event and it comes across to be as impressive as we hope it will be to the rest of the world, as well as to the people within the United States,” commented Laura. “I think we’ll have more viewers on television and in person that have never really experienced equestrian sport before. Hopefully it will be exciting and interesting for them because in the end that will only benefit all of us through sponsorships and more people becoming involved.”
When questioned whether there was a home team advantage here McLain noted, “It’s not the home field advantage but it is home field. As George always says we are a little bit of an island in the sport and we do have to travel abroad most of the time for international competitions and championships in particular. I think to be at home with our home crowd in familiar territory is something that we’re not accustomed to and is a great plus.”
McLain went on to talk about the long road to WEG explaining, “It’s a long journey. Most of our journeys started many years ago with our horses. I started thinking about this event on the plane ride back from Hong Kong. It’s a lot of stress on our support teams and our owners, but it has built up to this moment and this is what you live for. Like everyone said, this morning you started feeling the excitement and it doesn’t get old. This is my fourth championship in a row now and it’s just as exciting as the first time.”
“When it was first announced that WEG was going to be held in Lexington it became a goal of mine, to ride in a World Championship on our home turf,” commented Lauren. “Quick Study happened to come into my life at the right time and it was years ahead of just this year. We have all chosen different paths to get our horses to peak at the right time.”
Lauren noted, “I can’t add much to that other than I think in addition to all the preparation and planning that goes into this job, in the end a lot of it relies on luck. I always say that all the stars and moons have to be lined up to actually have this plan and actually have it carry out. Like McLain, I am lucky enough to have this be my third championship in a row and I feel very fortunate.”
Candice added, “I feel the same way. Like Lauren said, when it was announced that it would be on home turf I had never been to a World Games or an Olympics so it was a goal and I have very supportive owners. I found my horse three years ago and we wanted to make this the goal and it’s exciting to make it this far.”
The final statement came from George who remarked, “I just hope that my legacy includes organization of High Performance teams. It would include the Super League and my baby, our selection procedure. This country is very big and it is democratic; that’s how you have to approach the Selection Procedure. Each country is different, Holland is different, France is different, England is different, they are all different. I’m very protective of this baby that I created years ago with two or three people. Yes it sounds long because it includes pre-selection, subjective selection, objective jumping trials, and European horse shows. I hope this will continue after I retire because I think it is very important for our country to have those phases.”
As the week unfolds we’ll also have a chance to see how the team that was chosen handles the competition ahead.
As always, feel free to email me with your questions or comments at email@example.com.