Throwback Thursday: Could Molokai Have Been A Short Format World Champion?

May 17, 2018 - 7:30 AM

He was known for his speed and jumping, not his dressage—and yet the steeplechase kept him a point away from the title of 1994 world champion.

Things looked very bright and then suddenly very grim for the U.S. eventers on Sunday morning at the 1994 World Equestrian Games in The Hague, the Netherlands.

In only the second WEG ever held, the eventing competition was still long format, with timed roads and tracks and steeplechase before riders set out on cross-country, and the footing on those phases took their toll.

Jim Graham and Easter Parade had posted a crucial clear round on cross-country to put the U.S. team in second overnight, only to be spun at the horse inspection the next morning. Since Bruce Davidson had been forced to withdraw Eagle Lion after the horse cut his knee in a fall at the water complex, the team went from medal contention to eliminated just like that.

But Dorothy Trapp and Molokai (Hawaii—Pretty Copy, Copy Chief) made sure the eventing squad didn’t go home empty-handed, jumping a clear show jumping round to earn the individual silver medal. It was the event of a lifetime for Trapp and the off-track Thoroughbred she’d had since he was 4, but how many people know that she was only a few steeplechase time penalties away from the gold medal?

Dressage was never Molokai’s greatest strength, but in The Hague he performed one of his best tests. “That’s the test we’ve been working on for two years,” Trapp said at the time.

Trapp, of Lexington, Kentucky, walked the cross-country course 5 ½ times. “After the third walk, it wasn’t the course I was worried about, it was the turns,” she said in the Chronicle’s coverage of the event. “I had to know exactly where I was—every bump, where the footing changed—every second.”

But when she did her routine visualization of the course, she saw it unfolding perfectly, and she knew they were ready. They’d twice jumped clean around Burghley (England), finishing in the top 10 both times, and she tried not to let herself think about the importance of their first team championship at the WEG.

Dorothy Trappweb
Dorothy Trapp found Molokai as a 4-year-old off the track and trained him to become the 1994 FEI World Equestrian Games individual silver medalist. Photo by John Strassburger.

The sand footing on Phase A had significantly deepened by the time Trapp started late in the day, but the steeplechase track was so hard that Trapp almost pulled up. She said “Mo” wasn’t galloping in his usual exuberant style. “He wanted to slow down, so I let him,” she said. “I really thought there was something wrong.”

She was still on time at the 4-minute marker, but she slowed enough in the final 30 seconds to incur 2.4 time penalties for being 3 seconds over the time allowed.

She had still more sand to contend with on Phase C, where she handwalked Mo, and then she thought he felt funny when she got back on and picked up the trot.

In the veterinary box, she learned he’d pulled a nail out of a shoe. The farrier replaced it, and veterinarians assured her he was good to go. And once she got on course, she found she had her usual enthusiastic partner.

She had a hairy moment at fence 5, the Sheepfold combination, when Molokai tripped over something two strides away from the first oxer. “I thought we were dead,” said Trapp. “But he’s such a cat, and all it meant was that for the first time I had to kick out over the last oxer.

“After that he started to figure out the ropes [that lined the galloping track],” she added. “The rest of the course was sort of like bobsledding.”

Trapp had a ride she’ll never forget. The course’s only real hill came after the first water complex, and she tested Mo’s energy levels there. “I relaxed, and he took off,” she said. They were at the 7-minute mark and right on time.

He skipped through three offset fences at 18-19-20. “He jumped me out of the saddle three times,” said Trapp.

Soon came the fence she’d been most worried about, 23AB, a bounce over two logs into water at the bottom of a steep hill. “It looked like a big beast that was saying, ‘I’m going to eat you,’ ” she said. “Plus, I have a definite bounce-a-phobia. As I came down the hill, I kept saying to myself, ‘You will not make him go too slow to the bounce; you will not make him go too slow to the bounce.’ ”

She screamed as they cleared the fence, punched the air, and charged out of the water. He was 10 seconds ahead of the clock at the 12-minute mark, jumped carefully through the final combination, and finished 8 seconds inside the 13-minute optimum time. The only other horse to jump clean and inside the time was Twist La Beige HN, for Jean-Lou Bigot of France.

Watch riders take on the cross-country at the 1994 WEG. (Trapp begins at 25:18.)

The mood in the U.S. camp was somber after Sunday morning’s horse inspection, but Trapp put the disappointment behind her as she entered the arena to jump. She had a few hairy moments—Mo helicoptered over the liverpool—but they produced a clean round.

“I thought I’d pulled a rail, and I thought we’d be fifth or eighth in another big three-day, so I was a little disgusted,” she said. “Then I saw the scoreboard.”

Trapp_Molokai_WEG.jpgWEB
Dorothy Trapp, realizing she’d just won a silver medal aboard Molokai. Photo by John Strassburger.

When three of the four horses ahead of her pulled rails, she moved up to receive her silver medal on a score of 56.3. Since gold medalist Vaughn Jefferis of New Zealand won on a 55.6 with Bounce, those steeplechase time penalties were the only thing between her and the world champion title.

“I’ve been saying Mo is one of the best horses in the world, if not the best, and now he’s proved it,” she said.

Molokai and Trapp (now Crowell) went on to earn the first USEF National CCI**** title at the 1998 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day, where they were always hometown favorites. Known as one of the world’s best cross-country horses, Mo jumped around Kentucky, Burghley and Badminton and died in 2013 at the age of 30.

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