Wellington, Fla.—March 21
A week ago, Margie Engle wasn’t sure if Indigo would even be jumping in the selection trials for the U.S. show jumping team for the 2012 London Olympic Games.
Indigo’s right front shoe was off, and Engle’s staff was frantically soaking and packing his foot, hoping against hope that the abscess that had taken him out of action the weekend of March 2 would resolve itself before the trials.
Their prayers were answered in Round 1 of the U.S. Equestrian Federation selection trials as the big gray powered his way to one of just eight clean rounds of the day in Wellington.
“He has so much heart. He’s done very little to be prepared for this. I’d planned to rest him a lot, but not quite this much. He hasn’t had a chance to jump too much in the last two months. But hopefully he’s got enough blood and heart, and we’ll just have to see how things go,” Engle said.
Watch Indigo and Engle's round.
Engle attributed Indigo’s uncharacteristic stop in the FEI Nations Cup on March 2 to his abscess developing. They’d thought he’d had a bruised heel in the week leading up to the Nations Cup, but they were managing it with special shoeing. Then, after the Nations Cup, his abscess became evident.
The other seven clean rounds were: Laura Kraut on Teirra, Christine McCrea on Romantovich Take One, Reed Kessler on Cylana, Charlie Jayne on Athena, Kent Farrington on Uceko, Mario Deslauriers on Urico, and Kirsten Coe on Baronez. Lucy Davis rode Nemo 119 to just 1 time fault, while 11 riders sit tied with just 4 faults to their names.
Beezie Madden had just a foot in the water on her new mount Simon, and Cortes C had two rails down.
Still Three To Go
Kraut, who was named to the long list for selection on her 2008 Olympic team gold medal ride Cedric before the trials, was thrilled that her newer ride, Teirra, jumped clean.
“I’m riding a mare who has enormous heart and is a real trier, so I felt a little bit more comfortable,” Kraut said. “I’m also feeling at ease knowing that Cedric didn’t have to jump; he’s back in the barn laughing at her. I’d say I feel fortunate at this moment. There are still three long rounds to go, but I’m happy.”
Kraut survived a worrisome moment when Teirra clonked a rail coming out of the triple combination, but it stayed in the cups. “She rubbed it pretty hard,” Kraut said. “I was going around the corner and kept looking at the scoreboard, waiting for them to put a 4 up there, but then I figured I’d better look at the next jump. I saw that she had paint on her foot when we came out of the ring.”
Watch Kraut's round on Teirra.
McCrea, who piloted her Pan American team and individual gold medalist Romantovich Take One to one of the clean rounds, was happy with her result but reluctant to celebrate just yet. “I’m going to jump one jump at a time,” she said with a slight smile. “My horse felt fantastic. He was jumping sharp, and he felt back to his best. I was thrilled with him. It was really hot out there. I had to change my plan [while preparing Romantovich Take One for the trials] a couple of times just based on how he felt. I showed him in some small classes [during the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival], and then I jumped at home last week and felt like I’d gotten him ready enough for this.”
Watch McCrea's round on Romantovich Take One.
Really? I'm Here?
While Engle, Kraut and McCrea all have well-worn team jackets hanging in their closets, Kessler is a new face in the selection trials. At age 17, this is the first year she’s been eligible to jump in FEI five-star classes. “I’m just very happy to be here. I'm still in shock. This is a very big day in my very short life so far,” Kessler said.
She and Cylana were the first to jump clean over Alan Wade’s course, and Kessler is also one of the 4-faulters on her Mika. “Leading up to it, I was thinking, ‘I hope I can do this!’ and Katie [Prudent] kept saying ‘You can do this.’ I’m shocked and thrilled. It’s only the first day, but I’m thrilled with how my horses went,” Kessler said. “I wasn’t that nervous. I just wanted to execute to the best of my ability. I had no real expectations, and I think that might have helped.”
Watch Kessler's round on Cylana.
Wade’s course saw rails fall at just about every fence, but two lines were the real hot spots. Along the far end of the ring was a line of a triple bar, then five or six strides to a vertical-oxer-vertical triple combination. Quite a few horses didn't quite make it out over C and had the rail there.
Kraut revealed that when she walked the course, she’d been most worried about a green plank vertical that led into the last line of an oxer six strides to an oxer-vertical one-stride combination. But then she’d been surprised when she rode the line how difficult the oxer and combination were. “The [six strides] actually got very steady, more so than I thought they would. And the oxer into the double was big. The course was nice; it was plenty big,” she said.
Just Keep Jumping
Out of 37 starters in Round 1 of the trials, 20 had 4 faults, 1 fault or jumped clean. There were also four horses with 8 faults. Will Simpson, competing on Acorina, retired on course after a few rails, and Jeffery Welles was eliminated from the round after two stops on Merlin. They’re at the bottom of the list.
All the riders and horses jump two rounds tomorrow—one in the light of day at 1 p.m., and one in the evening under the lights at 7 p.m. Then they rest on Friday, and jump one more evening round at 7 p.m. on March 24. Three riders have been given byes from the trials and have been placed on the long list already—McLain Ward on Sapphire and Antares F, Kraut on Cedric, and Madden on Coral Reef Via Volo.
After those rounds are completed, all the horse/rider combinations are put onto a ranked list according to their scores through the four trials. They—and the riders and horses given subjective spots on the list before the trials—then have to jump at two of four designated observation events, after which the selectors (Chris Kappler, Mark Leone, Susie Hutchison and Chef d’Equipe George Morris) will name the team.
“I think this time there’s a fair amount of subjectivity because it’s going to be very difficult,” Kraut said. “Luckily we’ve got a very good group of selectors, along with George, to watch all these horses and riders. I think they’ll take everything into account. Normally, it ends up that it’s really just the last five still standing. If we end up with 10 superstars that they’re having to choose from, we’ll be very lucky.”
Watch Charlie Jayne's round on Athena.
Watch Mario Deslaurier's round on Urico.
Watch Kent Farrington's round on Uceko.
Watch Kirsten Coe on Baronez.