Wellington, Fla.—Feb. 17
The entry list for today’s $290,000 Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup at the Palm Beach Masters read like a who’s who of show jumping—with the U.S. fielding two FEI World Cup Final winners in Beezie Madden and McLain Ward and their 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games (North Carolina) gold-medal winning teammate Laura Kraut, as well as strong teams featuring WEG riders from Ireland and Israel.
But by the end of the first round, it was the young team from Mexico that held the lead on 0 faults, with the U.S tied for second on 8 faults with Ireland.
As the last to go for his team in the second round, Nations Cup first-timer Manuel Gonzalez Dufrane could afford one rail to stay ahead of the Israeli team, which had moved into second, and he delivered with Hortensia Van De Leeuwerk, jumping a second clear.
Mexico finished with a total of 4 faults, while Israel finished with 9, and the U.S. with 12.
“Amazing,” said Dufrane when asked how it felt to clinch the win for his team. “This is my first ever Nations Cup, and it’s unbelievable. I tried to focus and keep calm, and everything went good.”
Anyone paying close attention will know that Mexico’s win today wasn’t a complete surprise, since they won the prestigious Aga Khan Nations Cup trophy at the Dublin Horse Show last year—the first time in 37 years they’d sent a team—and the fact that every rider today was under the age of 30 is a sure sign of their growing strength.
Chef d’Equipe Stanny van Paesschen has been working to increase the depth and strength of the team since taking on the role in 2017, and it’s paying off.
“Two years ago I said to my old friend Eddie Macken, ‘I will try as much as I can to push the young riders forward, but they need some time.’ There are still very good young riders behind,” he said. “We have great support from the older riders, like Enrique Gonzalez, who came today. He was with Manuel in the practice ring because he was alone while I was watching. I think we have a great team. I always say we go for our flag, because today my flag is Mexico.”
The team, which also included Fernando Martinez Sommer (Cor Bakker), Eugenio Garza Perez (Victer Finn DH Z) and Juan Jose Zendejas Salgado (Tino La Chapelle) clearly have a lot of camaraderie and support, with the loudest cheers in the crowd coming from their supporters.
“It feels good,” said Perez. “Coming off of Dublin we knew we had a great team, great riders and great horses. These three riders are amazing. They ride much more than their age, and we really pulled together and pulled out the win.
“I think it all starts with [Stanny],” he continued. “He’s really brought a change to [the Mexican program], but there’s also a team of people behind it. They’ve been amazing and really pushed the sport to a whole new level, and hopefully this can continue, and you’ll see Mexico much more in the press conferences.”
The U.S. team had a last-minute change to their roster when Margie Engle decided not to ride after feeling unwell. Lucy Deslauriers was called up with Hester to join Madden on Breitling LS, Ward on HH Azur and Laura Kraut on Confu.
The team was off to a good start when Madden and Breitling LS jumped a stylish clear, but Deslauriers faulted at the water and one other fence, and then Ward and Kraut picked up 4 faults each.
In the second round, Madden added 4 faults, and Deslauriers and Kraut went clear, so it was up to Ward to jump clear for the team to finish second. But “Annie” dropped another rail, which allowed the team from Israel to move past them into second.
“We knew Margie was feeling a little under the weather already yesterday, so luckily Lucy was ready to sub in,” said Madden. “I think she did a great job. She hasn’t done a lot this season—neither have a lot of our best horses, so with this coming early in the season I think maybe it caught us a little bit. Lucy rallied for the second round. They all jumped well; we just didn’t put enough clear rounds together.”
For full results, click here.
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Be sure to check out the March 11 print edition of the Chronicle for much more from the Palm Beach Masters.