Although the United States and Canada both fronted star-studded teams, it was a “young” squad from Germany that took top honors in the $75,000 Nations Cup at the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival on March 2 in Wellington, Fla.
Veteran rider Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum anchored the team that featured three riders under the age of 30. The German team was excited to win on just 4 faults for the night.
“It was amazing. No one expected us to win, especially not ourselves,” said 23-year-old German rider David Will. “Of course the Canadians, the Irish, the English and the Americans all had very, very good teams here, and we are young, not so experienced, except for Meredith here. It was good to have somebody like her on the team. She gave us confidence as well to have her as last rider.”
Riders representing 10 nations battled for top honors in the only FEI Nations Cup competition held annually on U.S. soil. Spectators donned the colors of their favorite nation and lined every available viewing area for the sold-out class, creating an electric atmosphere that U.S. show jumping rarely experiences.
Anthony D’Ambrosio set two deceivingly straightforward courses. The top six returned for Round 2.
With Will aboard Don Cesar, Johannes Ehning with Salvador V, Jorg Oppermann with Che Guevara 17 and Michaels-Beerbaum and Checkmate 4, the Germans completed Round 1 on 0 faults, leaving them tied with the Canadian team at the midway point of the night. Canada finished an eventual third.
Watch Will's second round.
In the second round, Oppermann had one rail down, but teammates Will and Ehning jumped clean, so Michaels-Beerbaum was able to sit the second round out.
"It was really fun to ride with this team of young, handsome German boys," said Michaels-Beerbaum. "They were outstanding. I've gone fourth (as the anchor) with the team a couple of times now, and I've never not had to ride, so this was a first."
Ireland’s riders turned in an impressive performance of their own, finishing the night on just 8 faults for second place. Cian O’Connor and Blue Lloyd were the standouts, becoming one of only three pairs to jump two clear rounds. Backed by Shane Sweetnam and Amaretto D’Arco, Richie Maloney and Slieveanorra, and Darragh Kerins with Lisona, Ireland displayed consistent, confident rides throughout the evening.
Ireland also boasted the largest cheering section, in the form of an enthusiastic crowd that filled the Tiki Hut at the southwest end of the International Arena.
Ian Millar, who picked up just 1 time fault with Star Power but left all the jumps in the cups to help Canada to third place, said: “Anthony D’Ambrosio, given his WEF course on Thursday and tonight’s course, to me enters the ranks of the very, very elite course designers of the world. It was a fantastic piece of work. We had three double cleans and without going monstrous, it was a nice size. It was just really hard to jump.”
Surprises Send United States Sliding
However, it wasn’t the night for the defending CSIO Wellington champions on team USA; their accumulation of 22 faults landed them in fourth place.
Beezie Madden and Lauren Hough both rode impressive clears in the first round with Simon and Quick Study, respectively. But an unexpected Round 1 spook and refusal from Margie Engle’s Indigo left her sitting in the dirt in front of fence 8, a black and white oxer with a black liverpool underneath that rode away from the in-gate.
Engle, who won the $200,000 Spy Coast Farm CSI-W Grand Prix with Indigo less than three weeks ago, chalked up the 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding’s uncharacteristic spook to freshness.
“I’m trying to save him and do as little as possible before the [Olympic selection trials], and it was hot yesterday, and I didn’t want to work him during the day,” Engle explained. “But I thought the heat would take more out of him than it did. It was a combination of not having him quiet enough, and the black liverpool filled with water under the lights; it was a disappointing night. I just left him too fresh.”
Even with Engle as the drop score, the United States still lay within reach of a top-three finish going into Round 2, but Mario Deslauriers experienced a surprise of his own when Jane Forbes-Clark’s Cella balked and ran out two strides from the last fence in the second round, forcing Deslauriers to circle and re-approach. Four jumping and 2 time faults were added to his score, and unlucky rails from Engle, Madden and Hough in Round 2 dropped the U.S. team out of contention.
Watch Madden's second round.
However, with all four riders looking ahead to the Olympic selection trials and U.S. Equestrian Federation National Championship at the end of the month, Madden in particular was feeling confident about her new partnership with Simon, a 13-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding who was previously campaigned by Dutch rider Jeroen Dubbeldam. Abigail Wexner purchased Simon from the Netherlands in November. Simon and Madden won the $30,000 Surpass Grand Prix during Week 1 of WEF, and Madden plans to ride the plain brown gelding with a dynamite jump in the trials.
“He’s been a pleasure of a horse to have so far,” she said. “I feel lucky to have him; he’s jumped a lot of clear rounds. That was my first Nations Cup with him, and he had just a light rub at one fence.”
Madden will lightly prepare Simon for the trials, focusing on flatwork and conditioning, as well as a few small classes to work on rideability.
Skelton Rules $150,000 Grand Prix
While the Olympic selection trials are on the minds of U.S. riders, many international riders are lining up the WEF tour’s upcoming finale grand prix on March 31 in their crosshairs first. Sunday’s $150,000 Wellington Equestrian Realty Grand Prix CSIO was the first big lead-up class to that competition, and over a dozen countries were represented among the start list of 49 on March 4.
Great Britain’s Nick Skelton and Carlo 273 continued their reign of consistency by winning the Sunday grand prix, not an easy task over the D’Ambrosio-designed 1.50-meter track. A triple bar, one stride to one stride combination set squarely in the middle of the course at 6abc proved tricky to navigate, and several options elsewhere on course had riders making pinch decisions to add or leave out strides. Eventually, 11 riders representing nine nations qualified for the jump-off.
Watch Skelton's first round.
Laura Kraut and Cedric were hot on Skelton’s tail in the jump-off; the 12-year-old grey Dutch Warmblood gelding has had a light winter circuit in anticipation of an Olympic bid, but he looked fresh and able with Kraut, and the two fan favorites finished in second place on a time that was just 1 second slower than Skelton’s.
“I was sweating a bit at the end to be honest,” said Skelton. “I didn’t think I had the best draw in the jump-off. I went relatively early, and the fast ones were at the end. But Carlo jumped amazing and was brilliant today.”
Skelton took a daring path to the final fence, a bright G&C Farms oxer. He left out an extra stride to gallop in seven strides what other riders had chosen to do in nine, and it paid off.
View full results online at www.showgroundslive.com.