It was a clear-cut victory for the Netherlands on a thrilling night at the Longines FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping 2017 Final at the Real Club de Polo in Barcelona. Finishing with just a single time fault, the new champions pinned Team USA into runner-up spot while Belgium, who also finished on a four-fault score, lined up third when combined times were taken into account.
“Barcelona is wonderful and the Final of the Nations Cup is always thrilling,” said Dutch Chef d’Equipe Rob Ehrens. “It’s very difficult already on the first day—you start with 15 countries and separating the teams is very hard. We saw that by what happened to Ireland who were the gold medal winners at [the Longines FEI European Championships staged in August but didn’t qualify for Round 2 of the Nations Cup Final], but that is the jumping sport and that is what makes it exciting!”
With a second position finish, U.S. chef d’equipe Robert Ridland said the Hermès U.S. Show Jumping Team will now set their sights on the FEI World Equestrian Games™ Tryon 2018.
“It was an unbelievably consistent week,” said Ridland. “Our first round on Thursday night, and tonight we had four veteran riders, a couple of them on relatively new combinations, so in reality, we couldn’t be happier. This was one of our big priorities of the year. We feel we are on the right path, and at this point in time, we start looking forward to the WEG.”
It was almost two hours after the scheduled start time when the action got underway because of problems with one of the floodlights illuminating the ring. Another masterful course designed by Santiago Varela ensured that it came down to the last-line riders to decide the result of this 2017 title-decider, and it was cliff-hanger until Smolders sealed it with a copybook round from his European individual silver medal-winning ride Don VHP.
Jur Vrieling set the stage for the Dutch with a similarly impressive run with the fabulous stallion, VDL Glasgow V. Merelsnest and the only fault the Dutch would count would come from Michel Hendrix and Baileys, who went just over the time allowed of 81 seconds. Third-line rider Marc Houtzager was the only one to post a single error, with Sterrehof’s Calimero, at the first element of the double at fence five for the discount score.
“Jur is experienced but Glasgow is quite green, this year is his first time in a championship and he was extremely good this week,” Ehrens said. “That’s a horse for me to keep over the winter season because I think this should be a combination for the World Equestrian Games next year. Michel Hendrix is an up-and-coming rider, very talented, he produced this horse himself. And Harrie is in brilliant form this year, he’s in the flow! I’m very happy for him and also for the country. He is a top jockey and an unbelievably good team player.”
Smolders was delighted to bring it home for the Netherlands, but admitted that it took a bit of an effort.
“I felt (Don VHP) started to get a little tired and that I had to carry him around a bit in the second round today, but he gave everything,” Smolders said. “He gets a rest now that he really deserves. I’m super confident this season because he jumps clear after clear, but still you have to do it, and it was a big track today, a big challenge, the time was really tight so I couldn’t afford to leave it somewhere. I had to be really on it, but my horse was incredible!”
Ehrens is an exceptional team manager, leading the Dutch to a series of brilliant results in recent years and now adding the Longines FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping title to his long list of spectacular achievements. With typical humor however he said that the success has little to do with him but was all down to his team.
“The only thing I have to do is tell them what time to get out of bed, what time to get into bed and what time to walk the course. I have an easy job and I’m a happy coach!” Ehrens joked.
While the Dutch just couldn’t be caught, the U.S. team of Lauren Hough on Ohlala, Laura Kraut on Confu, Beezie Madden on Darry Lou, and McLain Ward on HH Azur proved their experience and fortitude, finishing on a mere 4 faults for second. The U.S. team took home third in 2016, only to climb up the podium to second in 2017.
“Last year third, this year second. It was tremendous,” said Ridland. “Beezie [Madden] is on a young horse, a new combination, and it is fabulous. Same thing with Laura [Kraut]—that is a relatively new combination and the other two [Hough and Ward], perfection. We knew we were coming with a good team. There is no question about that. We had four veteran riders out there, but the combinations themselves were relatively new, and we really couldn’t be happier.”
Hough and Ohlala once again served as pathfinders for the U.S. team, riding their second clear round of the competition. The Ohlala Group’s 13-year-old Swedish Warmblood mare put in a flawless performance after a long wait to get started.
“I’ve actually never had that happen before,” said Hough of the competition delay. “I had to get the horse ready twice, and it was a lot of sitting around. I had to stay focused without letting that nervous energy bunch up too much. But [Ohlala] was absolutely perfect. I’m thrilled, I’m absolutely thrilled.”
Kraut and St. Bride’s Farm’s 10-year-old Holsteiner gelding Confu had a spectacular round but dropped one rail near the beginning of the course, serving as the U.S. team’s drop score. Madden, with Abigail Wexner’s 9-year-old Dutch Warmblood stallion, Darry Lou, also dropped one rail. The U.S. team sat on 4 faults, tied with Belgium, Germany, and Switzerland headed into the fourth and final round.
With just 1 time fault, the Netherlands rode prior to the U.S. team. A clear round from Harrie Smolders and Don VHP Z meant a win for the Netherlands. U.S. anchors Ward and HH Azur would compete against the clock for second. Ward and Double H Farm and Francois Mathy’s 11-year-old Belgium Warmblood mare did just that, delivering their second clear round of the competition and sealing second for the U.S. team.
“It felt like Rio all over again,” said Ward. “In that situation, you fight to be the best you can be on the day—that is my job, particularly as anchor, to be able to handle that. I knew that the time was going to be the factor, so I tried to think about that on my round, and Azur performed beautifully. She felt really good. She felt brilliant the other day, brilliant today, maybe even better.”