Mill Spring, N.C.—Sept. 17
Medals and Olympic qualifications were on the line today at the Mars, Incorporated World Eventing Championships at the FEI World Equestrian Games, and it was tense until the very last fence was jumped. As it fell to the ground, the crowd groaned.
Germany’s Ingrid Klimke and SAP Hale Bob OLD led the individual competition after cross-country but didn’t have a rail in hand. It looked like they had the gold medal in their grasp until the bay gelding tapped the final rail over an oxer, giving the win the Great Britain’s Ros Canter and Allstar B.
Canter’s clear round also sealed team gold for Great Britain, while Ireland earned a historic silver medal, the country’s first team medal since 1995, and France, the reigning 2016 Olympic champions, earned bronze.
Team Ireland also picked up its first individual championship medal in 40 years when Padraig McCarthy and Mr. Chunky moved up from seventh after cross-country to silver, and Klimke dropped to bronze.
A British rider last earned an individual gold at a WEG in 2006, when Zara Tindall won on Toytown. The team is coming off a gold medal from the 2017 European Championships (Poland).
An incredible cross-country day on Saturday, in which all four team riders came home double-clear, put Great Britain in the gold medal position. Due to rain from Hurricane Florence, the show jumping was postponed until today.
“I don’t think it’s hit home,” said Canter. “It was quite a shock when it first happened, and there were quite a few tears, which isn’t very normal for me. It’s absolutely incredible, not just for me, but for the whole support team behind me and Team GB. It’s the most incredible feeling.”
“It’s quite amazing really,” said Great Britain’s Chef d’Equipe Richard Waygood. “These guys and girls stuck to the basics, kept them there, kept the system, kept going from beginning to end, and it’s paid dividends. Absolutely fantastic.”
After working for the German team for several years, team coach Chris Bartle’s came back to his home country, and over the last two years the British team has seen a renaissance.
Canter said Bartle changed her style of riding, so it’s less intense. Using a longer rein, she’s tried to let her horse do the job and not help out too much.
“It’s not only that, it’s the confidence he instills, and also it’s always about the rider with Chris,” she said. “The horse does his job, and the rider always has a job to do, so today when I went into the show jumping, instead of getting really nervous, it’s all about the process; it’s all about jump by jump. My job is to keep my eyes open, keep my reins long, and the results happen.”
Canter is a relative newcomer to the British team. She made her senior championship team debut at the Europeans last year with “Alby,” a 13-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Ephebe For Ever—Narenca B, Ekstein), and this year they finished third at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials CCI**** (England).
“I went to the Europeans last year, and that gave me a feel for what this job is about. Allstar B was fantastic at Badminton, so I’ve had a bit of exposure at the top level,” she said.
Gemma Tattersall, who finished 30th with Arctic Soul, echoed Canter’s thoughts on the team.
“I think it’s the whole team environment,” she said. “Chris Bartle is an absolute legend. I was training with him for about five years before he switched. But it’s not only Chris, it’s also Dickie. They bounce off each other. The last two years we’ve had the most incredible team environment, and this year the morale between all of us has been unbelievable, and I think that’s what’s made it so good.”
Irish Chef d’Equipe Sally Corscadden was thrilled with her riders.
“It’s absolutely huge,” she said. “We’re making history today when you think about. To be here today is just absolutely fantastic. I had belief in these guys that they could be competitive, and that was our goal the whole time. We just stuck to that goal, and this is where it got us.”
Sam Watson, who rode Horseware Ardagh Highlight to 14th individually, rode through the worst of the rain on cross-country but had no problems.
“All I was saying is, ‘Please rain harder, please rain harder.’ Good Irish horses, good riders,” he said. “These guys have got good results the last 12 months, and it really went to plan. Padraig [McCarthy] and Sarah [Ennis] put in really big individual performances, and we knew that myself and Cathal [Daniels] could back them up and be good pathfinders. All four of us have done our job.”
The Irish team has undergone several changes since Corscadden took her job in 2017. This winter the group fundraised for training and placed a renewed focus on cross-country training.
“My view is that medals just happen,” said Watson. “Sometimes you get them because other people have a tough day, sometimes you earn them, so my focus has been on performance. The journey to getting to here and improving our performance across the board individually and as a team has been a really fun journey. I love training. I love training with the people we have around us in all three phases. I love competing in this sport. It’s been a fantastic journey. It’s great to have the medal, but it’s just a bonus.”
McCarthy wasn’t exactly a medal favorite this week, but he always believed in Mr. Chunky.
“With a horse like this, you have to dream big,” he said. “If you don’t think that you can do it, you can’t do it. It’s amazing to be sat here and be in that position after today’s jumping. It’s been on my mind since the beginning.”
A former show jumper, McCarthy had no problem with the pressure of today’s phase, especially because he wasn’t in a medal position when he went in the ring.
“I have experience jumping him in the big competitions, and he’s a very good jumper,” he said. “In a previous life I used to be a show jumper, so it gave me a lot of confidence going in there. I had a very good warm up; the horse was jumping brilliant. He felt great. I didn’t put any pressure. It’s different if you’re going in to jump for a gold medal. I wasn’t jumping for a medal at that stage.”
Klimke was disappointed in her rail with “Bobby,” but she was happy to be on the podium for her first time in her fourth WEG.
“If somebody would have told me before that I come here and win individual bronze, I would have been very happy. It was very close, the last fence and last rail for sure I was disappointed, but it was the only mistake Bobby did the whole weekend,” she said. “He jumped very well in the warm up and felt very supple and loose. It was just a bit of bad luck.”
The U.S. team was hoping for Olympic qualification this week, and needed to finish seventh, but the group ended the weekend in eighth. They’ll seek qualification at the 2019 Pan American Games (Peru) now. Phillip Dutton and Z were the only U.S. pair to jump clear in the show jumping, and they finished 13th.
“He jumped incredible,” said Dutton. “He didn’t get the best ride from me; a bit embarrassed about that, but he helped me out. It’s a really strong track. You’ve got to keep thinking and focus all the way round. He did a great job.”
Z only completed his first four-star this spring, but Dutton says he’s the best horse he’s ever had.
“I’ve got to work on his fitness a little bit more,” he said. “It’s not that natural for him to gallop for 10 or 11 minutes, but I think, like marathon runners, I think over time he’ll get better and better. He loves it, and there hasn’t been a day since I’ve had him that he hasn’t improved. He’s got a great work ethic.”
Boyd Martin had three rails down on Tsetserleg. “He pulled up well [on Saturday], and he felt fresh,” he said. “He got in there and felt a bit impressed. It’s a shame; he’s been training very well, and the lead up was good, but he’s difficult through the combinations. I did the best with what I had out there.”
“It’s a bit sad. [Chef d’Equipe Erik Duvander] has done a great job,” he continued. “It’s sad for us we didn’t produce a better score because I feel there’s been huge improvements in our training and our riding. He’s put so much effort into trying to bring our country up. He probably hasn’t had enough time to make a huge impact yet, but I hope he continues because I do think he’s the right man for this country.”
Will Coleman and Tight Lines and Lynn Symansky and Donner also added three rails to their score each.
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We’ll be onsite for the full two weeks of WEG to bring you all the news you need to know plus gorgeous photos and insight into the competition. Be sure to check out the Oct. 8 issue of the Chronicle for detailed analysis.