Team USA riders seemed to go into the World Equestrian Festival CHIO Aachen (Germany) with a few post-Olympic scores to settle. And settle they did.
By the end of the 10-day show, the U.S. show jumpers had won their first Aachen Nations Cup in 16 years and individually settled for second by a tail hair in the week’s marquee Rolex Grand Prix, while the U.S. eventers flipped that script by individually winning the CCIO4*-S for the first time ever and finishing second in the eventing Nations Cup by that same tail hair. Meanwhile, the Dutta Corp. U.S. dressage team overcame a shaky start to competition on Friday to finish just off the podium, taking fourth place in the Lambertz Nations Cup CDIO5*.
In all three sports, the U.S. Equestrian Federation sent teams designed to give international experience to promising younger riders, including several who had been short-listed for their respective Tokyo Olympic teams.
The big results for the U.S. started rolling in Thursday night, Sept. 16, when the NetJets U.S. Jumping Team won the Mercedes-Benz Nations Cup. The team, which paired two Tokyo Olympians with two riders short-listed for the Games, held its own in a fight with Sweden that looked for a bit like it might shape up as a replay of the two teams’ Tokyo jump-off. This time, however, anchor rider Laura Kraut laid down a final clear round just when it was needed to avoid a jump-off and take the win in two rounds.
On Friday, the Land Rover U.S. Eventing Team, led by Tokyo Olympic alternates Tamie Smith and Will Coleman, contested the dressage and show jumping portions of the CCIO4*-S. After dressage, Smith was in second place aboard Mai Baum, and Coleman was in 11th on Off The Record, but the influential afternoon show jumping session shuffled results. Smith dropped in the standings while Coleman, who turned in one of the rare clean rounds, moved up to third place.
On Saturday, Coleman and “Timmy” flew around the cross-country course with the fastest time of the day to move into first place and become the first U.S. pair to win the competition. As a team, the U.S. riders missed the top spot in the Nations Cup by 0.3 points, finishing second to the British squad.
“Hopefully [this win] means something [to supporters of American eventing],” Coleman said. “It’s just one event, and if we’re trying to build something that’s sustainable and lasting and repeatable, maybe this is a step in the right direction. I think everybody that was here this weekend representing the United States did a fantastic job. I’m very proud to be associated with this group of riders. I was really proud of all of them today, how they rode and the way they supported one another. It was a really fun trip to be a part of. I think if there’s one thing to take away from it it’s the power of that and the value of a team being really there for one another.”
On Sunday, two U.S. riders—Kraut and Brian Moggre—made the seven-rider jump-off in the Rolex Grand Prix, one leg of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping. First in the ring was FEI World No. 1-ranked Daniel Deusser aboard Killer Queen VDM. The pair jumped clean and put the pressure on everyone else to follow with a time of 41.85 seconds.
Only two riders—Kraut aboard St. Bride’s Farm’s Baloutinue and Tokyo individual gold medalists Ben Maher and Explosion W of Great Britain—were able to beat that time, but both pulled a rail in the process. It wasn’t until the final rider of the jump-off, Moggre aboard Ann Thompson’s Balou Du Reventon, that Deusser truly had to worry: The U.S. pair jumped clear and came the closest to his time but had to settle for second place by just 0.31 seconds, stopping the clocks at 42.16 seconds.
“I am thrilled: I am going to be honest. I have dreamt about riding in Aachen since I was a little kid. I used to watch it on TV,” Moggre told the Aachen press. “’Balou’ hasn’t just made it a positive experience for me, it has been an awesome experience.“
In dressage, Charlotte Jorst and Kastel’s Nintendo, an 18-year-old Dutch Warmblood stallion owned by Kastel Denmark, led a relatively inexperienced U.S. dressage team to a fourth-placed finish in the FEI Dressage Nations Cup. The pair scored a personal best of 79.10% in the freestyle Sunday to finish seventh individually.
Teammate Ben Ebeling also contested the freestyle with Amy Ebeling and Sasha Cutter’s 13-year old Belgian Warmblood gelding Illuster van de Kampert, scoring 76.32% to finish in 11th place.
The other two team members—Anna Buffini and her FRH Davinia la Douce, a 14-year-old Hanoverian mare, and Jennifer Schrader-Williams and Millione, an 18-year-old Danish Warmblood gelding owned by Millione Partners LLC—competed in the Grand Prix Special on Saturday, finishing fourth (71.78%) and sixth (71.72%), respectively. The weekend results were an improvement over the first day of competition, Friday’s Grand Prix, where all four rode and sat in eighth of eight teams afterward.
“I could not be happier. This was all our riders’ first-time down centerline at one of, if not, the best show in the world, and all had great results,” said Chef d’Equipe Debbie McDonald. “After the first day, we were a little unsure of what to expect when we were standing in eighth as a team. For the last two days of competition, with the Special and the freestyle, they all really stepped it up.”
Check out some of the best images of the week below, as captured by photographer Shannon Brinkman:
Click here for full results.