Lexington, KY - It was a busy day in the Alltech Arena at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games as the Vaulting World Championships got underway with both the Team Compulsory Test and the Male and Female Individual Compulsory Tests.
The Gold Medalist from the 2006 World Equestrian Games in Aachen, Germany was back to defend her title today. Megan Benjamin, 22, of Saratoga, CA, performed her individual compulsory test aboard Urfreund Rosengaard, a 10-year-old Oldenburg gelding owned by Kirsa Kristensen and lunged by Lasse Kristensen, and received a score of 7.856 from the judges, putting them into the individual bronze medal position after the first day.
"He had a lot of energy going on in there," she said. "Definitely more than we had in the warm-up. I'm hoping that tomorrow we'll be able to get a calmer horse and I'll be able to perform a little better. He definitely picked it up in the horse score, though, because of all that energy. He was very forward. For me, that's a little challenging to be so soft and smooth on."
Also competing for the United States as an individual today was Mary McCormick of Woodside, CA. Aboard Sydney Frankel's 10-year-old KWPN gelding Sir Anthony Van Dyck, McCormick, 27, earned a score of 7.814 from the judges, earning her sixth overall after the Compulsory test.
"I actually did better out there than I expected to," McCormick said. "My horse was perfect. He was totally consistent in going forward the whole time. There were a few times that I just took a deep breath and took it in. Overall I'm just really pleased."
Alicen Divita, 21, of Redwood City, CA was the United States' final female vaulter to compete today. She performed on Giovanni, a 13-year-old Mecklenburger gelding owned and lunged by Julie Divita. The pair received a score of 7.431 from the judges to land them in 15th place before the freestyle.
"My horse was awesome," she said. "He was totally relaxed. It felt great, just like we've been working on in practice. Looking back you can always say that I could have done that better, but right now I'm pretty pleased."
Currently holding the lead is Joanne Eccles of Great Britain, who rode her family's horse WH Bentley to a score of 8.157. Sitting in the silver medal position, from Germany, is Simone Wiegele with a score of 8.037.
The individual males also took to the arena today. Vaulting first was Kenny Geisler, 29, aboard Jacadi de Rox, a 13-year-old Selle Francais gelding owned and lunged by Julie Ann Young. Geisler received a score of 7.011 from the judges to put him in 10th overall at the moment.
"It felt great," Geisler said. "It was a really great performance. It's great to be back in this beautiful arena after the test event last year. There's lots of good energy in here."
Jacadi de Rox is a new mount to Geisler; he just started vaulting on him yesterday.
"My horse didn't pass the vet check, so I switched to this horse yesterday. But he's an amazing horse. I couldn't ask for a better horse or lunger to take care of me out there. I think that was pretty much as good as could have been expected today."
Also performing today was 17-year-old Kristian Roberts of Moss Beach, CA. Although he has only been vaulting for four years, Roberts received a good score of 6.961 to put him just behind Geisler in 11th place. He rode Highwater Bay, an 8-year-old Shire gelding owned and lunged by Jill Palmer.
"It felt like the best I've ever done, definitely," Roberts said. "It all came together today, and my horse couldn't have been better."
Finally, the last male vaulter for the United States was Todd Griffiths of Babb, ND. Griffiths performed today about Lanson 16, a 12-year-old Hanoverian gelding owned by Jan and Betsy Garrod. Lunged by Jessica Ballenger, Lanson and Griffiths received a score of 6.523 to land him in 15th place.
"It felt really smooth and really comfortable," he said after his ride. "The horse went great. My lunger did great. Everything was great. I'm really happy."
The atmosphere in the Alltech Arena was electric when the American horses and vaulters entered the arena, and the competitors certainly took notice.
"It felt really good," Griffiths said. "As soon as you walk into the arena you can feel the energy of Team USA and that's something I've never experienced before. It was just incredible. My neck had goosebumps all over it."
The current leaders in the men's individual vaulting are Gero Meyer and Grand Gaudino of Germany with a super score of 8.401. Sitting just behind them with a score of 8.297 are their teammates Kai Vorberg and Sir Bernhard RS von der Wintermühle. Finally, sitting in third is Patric Looser from Switzerland with Record RS von der Wintermühle on a score of 8.253.
The U.S. Vaulting Team made their presence known as they performed a lovely team test. Lunger Carolyn Bland guided Palatine, a 12-year-old Westphalian gelding, around the circle calmly and quietly as the team performed their compulsory test. The team, made up of Devon Maitozo (35) of Woodside, CA, Blake Dahlgren (26) of Santa Clarita, CA, Mary Garrett (20) of Seal Beach, CA, Emily Hogye (14) of Ben Lomond, CA, Mari Inouye (27) of Redwood City, CA, Rosalind Ross (20) of Aptos, CA, and Annalise VanVranken (18) of Mays Landing, NJ, received the highest score of the day to rocket them into the lead on a 7.207.
"I think we did a really good job," Maitozo said after the team's performance. "We went out there and we just took charge. I feel like we did one of the best tests that we've done. Just in watching my team, I saw people reaching their potential in a lot of different ways."
Palatine was imported from Germany in 2007 and is owned by Maitozo. He was purchased specifically for the 2010 Vaulting World Championships, and was the USEF Reserve Champion Horse of the Year in 2009. Not only is Maitozo a vaulter on the team, who call themselves the Freestyle Artists Creative Equestrians (FACE), he also is their coach.
"I love to do both," he said. "So as long as I still have it in me, I want to keep vaulting."
Currently in the silver medal position is the team from Germany with a score of 6.997. Sitting in third with a score of 6.990 is the team representing Austria.
The Vaulting World Championships resume tomorrow morning with the Male and Female Individual Freestyles.
Photos: USA's Megan Benjamin, F.A.C.E. Vaulting Team. Photos by Shannon Brinkman for USEF.