Aug. 30—Haras du Pin, France
The U.S. team came into the cross-country portion of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in good spirits with high expectations. Although they’d drawn first in the order, it seemed like that might even be an advantage given that everyone expected the water-logged footing to deteriorate over the day.
But the team members couldn’t catch a break, as rider after rider ran into trouble.
Buck Davidson, first out on course, looked to be having a steady clear until Ballynoe Castle RM stopped at 30C, a narrow fish with brush on top that made up the second part of a bounce out of the water at 30 and 31. Davidson pointed him at the long route but retired when “Reggie” declined to jump that as well.
“It’s exhausting,” said Davidson about the conditions. “This last water, it’s serious. Where they cut the new turn up the hill [after removing two fences and a loop from the course] is like a plowed field. Poor old Reggie, he gave me every ounce that he had like he always does, and if I had to do it over again I would have aimed him at just the bank [at 30B] and gone to the log [option at 30C], but I probably would have just pulled up after that anyway. Yes, it’s the World Championships, but still he’s my pet, and he’s still one of the greatest horses ever, and I would never want anything to happen to him. I’m really, really proud of him. He jumped perfect; he tried his heart out.”
Davidson said the team strategy changed after he left the course early. “We sort of went out not knowing if this is Badminton [where wet weather at the British CCI**** created similar issues with the footing in April] or what it was, so we thought keep Reggie close to the time, but we are changing tactics now. We are going to take it to finishing today,” he said.
Unfortunately, that plan didn’t pay off. Phillip Dutton’s round on Trading Aces ended early when the 10-year-old Irish Sport Horse ran out of gas at the angled brushes at 24 and 25, and Dutton retired after a sticky fence and a refusal.
“It surprised me he got tired where he did,” said Dutton, who’s only been riding “Oscar” for a few months. The horse is usually ridden by his teammate Boyd Martin, but Dutton took over the ride to help Martin out after he broke his leg in March, and then the syndicate that owns Oscar allowed Dutton to aim him for the World Games when Martin recovered and was chosen with Shamwari 4 instead.
“I was going quick but not super quick,” said Dutton. “He’s a young horse, and I think it was a bit of a shock to his system. He got tired and said, ‘I’ve had enough.’ It wasn’t a problem with the fence.”
With two riders out, the team was eliminated, and things didn’t improve markedly from there.
Sinead Halpin, who rode as an individual, was the first U.S. representative to finish aboard Manoir de Carneville. They incurred a runout at fence 5, which gave Halpin even more motivation to get home.
“He didn’t even see it,” said Halpin. “He didn’t pick up on it. I’ve never had that happen; he normally sees everything. I kind of maybe got a little anxious, and he didn’t see, and I put my spur on, and he was surprised by it. That was disappointing, but all that was going through my head was, ‘I have to show the rest of my team this can get done.’ It was gutting, but the rest was just get home. It’s doable.”
Team rider Lynn Symansky on Donner and individual Kim Severson on Fernhill Fearless both made it home, but not without issues. Donner incurred two runouts, one at fence 16 in the second water and one at a corner at 27.
“I’m frustrated with my ride,” she said. “He was great in the beginning. I had tons of horse, even to the end I had a lot of horse, so it wasn’t that he got tired. At the second water we were really bold coming in, and he just ducked out of the second element of the one-stride at the very last minute. I thought I was on my line, and I thought he understood it, but at the last moment he sort of had a cheeky duckout. My second 20 was at the trakehner to the corner that I actually wasn’t worried about. I was just a little bit quiet in, and it was a little bit of a reaching distance for him, and he went out to the right again. I ended with a healthy horse. We made it to the finish, but obviously not the result I was looking for.”
Severson, on the other hand, was pleased with “Sparky,” despite incurring 20 penalties at the bounce at fence 30, the jump that turned out to be the bogey at the end of the course.
“He was absolutely brilliant,” she said. “There was no fence that I was like, ‘Oh my gosh,’ and it was honestly the best ride of my life. It sounds so stupid, but that was definitely the best horse to be on today. He is as straight as they come, and he wants to do it. He is a little Thoroughbred, and he is amazing.”
Despite the stop, Severson finished in 30th place of the 60 competitors who completed cross-country.
The bright spot for Team USA came at the end when Boyd Martin left the box aboard Shamwari 4.
“My horse is a real trier,” he said. “My plan was to set out and be really steady and see what my horse had left at the end. In hindsight, I probably should have pushed him a bit more at the beginning because he was full of running at the end.”
Martin was able to move up from 17th after dressage to ninth aboard “Shammie,” adding only 13.6 time faults.
“Coming in I expected this to be the toughest competition in the world, and I think that’s exactly what it was,” said Martin. “I am well mounted on a wonderful horse that has the heart the size of Australia, so I knew it would be a good show.”
Despite his own good result, he was heartbroken for his American teammates. “I feel like we are a team of great horses and great riders,” he said, “but with this course, even the best combinations were having difficulty. I think everyone tried their hearts out, and they should all hold their heads high.”
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