Ward Edges Out Engle To Win $25,000 USET Festival Of Champions Grand Prix

Talk About The Festival, the Footing, and Other Shows 

The conversation turned to the light turnout this year at the Festival. Ward and Engle both agreed there were a variety of reasons why not all the top riders were there. One of those reasons had to do with the footing at Gladstone, which although much improved this year from past years, still doesn't quite get a five-star rating. 

Last year the problems with the footing were an issue because the riders were competing in an Olympic Selection Trials. The riders recalled the footing being somewhat like a suction cup in places and quite a few of their horses (including one of Engle's) had shoes pulled off. This year the footing was still deep but better.

"They've made a huge effort," commented both riders, "but this is a case where it's wrong and they need to remove it and put in all new footing," added Ward. "It's abrasive and a lot of people were unhappy with it last year. The horses never feel like they come off the ground super. They don't pop off the ground. The management team is great. But it's a broken product and it needs to be fixed."

Beyond the issue of footing was the fact that since they have to compete at the Festival every other year in a selection trials, sometimes on off years they take a break. "We come here every other year for the Trials and only four - maybe six - riders go away happy. The rest feel beaten. We all have places we prefer and where we do better," commented Ward.

Finally, the sport and the number of show jumping events happening at any one time have increased. So, the riders have a greater selection to choose from. "We have so many horse shows you really have to pick and choose," noted Engle. 

Ward and Engle also mentioned that some riders had gone to compete at Spruce Meadows in Canada, perhaps believing it would have given them more chances for bigger bucks, but that's not how Engle and Ward see it. "There is more money week in and week out here," noted Engle.

McLain further explained that 30% of the money they win is lost through taxes, even though they are promised to get 20% back. "I've never ever gotten anything back in the past."

"We are also jumping for consistently more money here," continued Engle who went on to say that there wasn't as much of a need to go abroad especially in a non-championship year. So, sometimes that's the time to give the owners a break from the greater expense of competing internationally. "It eases the pain a little bit."

Both riders are also seeing more foreign riders coming here and the hope is that this will continue since the money is creating an incentive.

Would They Come Back?

For sure both these riders will be back at the Festival, especially next year when the World Equestrian Games Selection Trials will be taking place. "This is a nice event. It's a nice show," commented Ward. 

"It's nice to support our own country," added Engle, "and it's nice being exposed to different events all at one location."