Lexington, KY - On a cool Kentucky fall evening, the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games continued with the final of the Team World Jumping Championship presented by Rolex at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, KY. Hopes for U.S. medal were high as the home country was represented by four of the most experienced and successful riders in the world. Coming into the final in third place (with just over a point separating the top three teams), the U.S. were prepared for a fight at the top.
But it wasn't meant to be.
And sometimes at horse shows, that's the way it goes. There are good days when all goes your way. Then, unfortunately, there are not-so-good days where your four years of preparation and success don't go according to plan. In short, the most important horse show of the year for four riders that have won the biggest classes across the globe in 2010 just wasn't the U.S. Teams' horse show.
In the words of U.S. rider Lauren Hough, "Onward and upward." U.S. Team Chef d'Equipe George Morris, who has been showing horses since 1948, was both realistic and reflective.
"That's horse showing. Why is that sad? There are ups and downs. It's like life," he said. "Horses are a reflection of life and it isn't up, up, up, up, up. I'm very sorry, but that's horse showing. I've been to a lot of horse shows. I'll tell you that it is not all up. Mostly it is down and sometimes it's up."
In the Bronze-medal position going into the final night of Team show jumping, they found themselves sitting at 10th place among the 10 teams at the end of competition on a combined score of 38.69. In the end, it was Germany to take the coveted Team Gold medal on a final combined score of 17.80. The Silver medal was awarded to France (24.32), and the Bronze medal was presented to Belgium (24.70).
"The first night was exactly what I wanted: to be in the lead," said Morris. "We pulled on together, but it just wasn't our horse show."
Wednesday's competition was split into two sections due to the large number of competitors. The afternoon session included Teams not in the Top 10 and Individuals not in the Top 15, and the evening session featured the top 10 Teams and top 15 Individuals. The four U.S. horse-and-rider combinations all performed during the evening session.
Lauren Hough, 33, of Wellington, FL, was the first up of the U.S. Team. Aboard Quick Study (Quick Star x What A Joy), an 11-year-old French Warmblood gelding (owned by Laura and Meredith Mateo), the pair entered the final night of Team competition on a score of 12.46. In Round One of Team competition, they had a downed rail and one time penalty.
Hough said that a shaky warm-up was part of the culprit tonight as she took on 12 faults in a time of 81.96. Her final score was 22.420 for 59th place in the Individual rankings.
"The end of my warm up was not good. He stopped a few times out here, which is uncharacteristic of him," she said. "I think he was just a bit rattled. He doesn't knock rails like that. I think he left his brain out here. It's the worst day in the world to do it, but that's the sport, and you have to keep going. I've got some good team mates. I'm devastated, but that's the sport."
"Lauren's horse...that's very unexplainable," said Morris. "Picking up four faults or a clear...it was unusual for him (to have 12)."
Mario Deslauriers, 45, of New York City, NY, came into the final round on a score of 8.00. Riding Jane Forbes Clark's Urico (Zandor Z x Fedor), a nine-year-old KWPN gelding, the duo had two rails during Round One of Team competition. Tonight, they were determined to better that performance.
As fate would have it, a mistake at fence #7 - an massive ascending triple-bar that gave many riders a challenge - startled the crowd as the horse didn't make the back rail and sent poles flying as he found his way to the other side. Deslauriers and Urico were able to gain their composure and continue with the round after circling before fence #8. They picked up 13 faults to finish in 52nd place individually on a score of 21.000.
"My horse started out great. He was very ready, and he was jumping well out here," said Deslauriers. "I was a little close at 5b, and he made a big effort there. I think maybe the light was a little spooky. He's nine years old. Last night, he was over-jumping everything. I think he was just trying to jump too high, and he got himself into trouble a little bit. Then I lost my stirrup and couldn't keep him straight so I had to circle. I think he scared himself trying to over-jump the triple bar. He hit the rail quite hard and then he stepped on himself, so he felt a little shock on his feet. But he was a good trooper to try to finish the course well. It was a little bit of a struggle but he got himself over."
"Mario's horse is a little green," said Morris. "He had a great year. I'm not saying too green, but he was green at that triple bar. That was a very impressive fence."
Laura Kraut, 44, of Wellington, FL, was determined to improve upon her earlier performance aboard Cedric (Chambertin x Carolus I), Happy Hill Farms' 12-year-old KWPN gelding. The pair picked up four faults during Round One of Team competition. The tiny, scopey horse returned to form on the big stage and jumped an immaculate clear round. Their final score of 10.040 left them in 19th place to qualify and continue on to the Individual medal competition on Friday night.
"Tonight he was perfect. That's how he's jumped all year," said Kraut. "That's why the first night took us all by surprise. But he's settled in now, maybe a day too late!"
Of the pressure going in to tonight's competition, Kraut said, "I felt like I was going to have a heart attack! Any clear round can help. When things aren't going your way, they just aren't going your way. As a team, things just weren't falling where they needed to. All four horses and riders are tough and it just wasn't our week."
The final combination for the U.S. squad was McLain Ward, 34, of Brewster, NY, and the incredible 15-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare owned by Ward, Tom Grossman and Blue Chip Bloodstock, Sapphire (Darco x Hedjaz). The pair had seen some its career highs in 2010, and they were determined to bring that excellence and skill to their final team performance tonight.
They had four faults at an oxer coming off the water jump during Round One.
With the weight of the nation on his shoulders, Ward cantered confidently into the ring.
But bad luck continued to plague the U.S. Team as Ward and Sapphire pulled the back rail of the oxer at fence 9 in addition to clipping the front rail of the final oxer on course. They added eight faults to the Team score. His final score of 12.270 and a 26th place finish also qualified the pair to continue on in the Individual medal competition.
Commenting on the accomplishments of the mare, Morris said, "She did HITS, she did South Hampton. She was great the second night, and she was great the other night," said Morris. "But that's horses. It wasn't like she didn't have a good night tonight. It wasn't like Hong Kong where all the horses and all the riders showed every night. It didn't go like that. There's not one reason because each horse had their moment. And each horse didn't have their moments."
Lead in the running for an Individual medal is Brazilian Rodrigo Pessoa and HH Rebozo who stands in first place on a score of 2.80. Belgium's Phillipe le Jeune and Vigo d'Arsouilles are in second with 3.11. Third place is Germany's Carsten-Otto Nagel and Corradina on a score of 3.24.
Show jumping competition continues on Friday night as the final four riders are determined that will challenge each other - and ride each others' horses - in Saturday night's exciting conclusion to show jumping competition with the awarding of the Gold, Silver and Bronze Individual medals.
Photo: Laura Kraut and Cedric. Photo by Shannon Brinkman for USEF.