The selection trials process for U.S. Equestrian Federation championship show jumping teams has been evolving for 20 years as officials and riders try and balance the fairness of objectivity with the wisdom of subjectivity. This year, I think they’re even closer to getting it right.
The selection trials held in early March (p. 8) didn’t pick our team for the 2008 Olympics in Hong Kong; they weeded out the contestants into a short list of 10 horses and riders from which the Olympic team will be chosen in July based on their performances at Super League shows in Europe this spring. And with the ability to choose four short-list horses via discretionary spots, or “byes,” the selectors had many options. Those byes proved to be important from a horsemanship standpoint.
With the byes, the selectors were able to name team stalwarts Sapphire and Authentic to the list right away, allowing McLain Ward and Beezie Madden to prepare them for the Super League shows in the manner they think best. After Jeffery Welles and Armani had jumped two clear rounds and proven they were back to their stellar form of 2006, the selectors added them to the list, allowing Welles to rest Armani, who is just getting back to the top of his game after a year off.
The selectors still had one wild card in their hand at the end of the trials, but Will Simpson called their bluff. Due to a freak incident, his Carlsson vom Dach wasn’t able to jump in the last round of the trials. Simpson made the ultimate horseman’s decision to not jump, though he was tied for second in the trials. With the one bye left, the selectors were able to reward Carlsson vom Dach’s consistent jumping. In a completely objective trials system, he would have shipped home with no further ado.
The short list has its share of new names—horses and riders. There are a few horses on the list that even their riders didn’t predict would be contenders. That’s part of the beauty of the objective aspect of the trials—new horses get a chance to shine. They’ll have the chance in Europe to prove whether their trials performances were signs of great things to come or some of their best days. I think Laura Kraut’s outlook said it all. She won the trials on Cedric, an extremely talented jumper. But she hasn’t bought a Chinese
dictionary yet, because she knows what the Olympics demand of a horse and she’s waiting to see what Cedric shows her at the Super League shows.
In May, June and July, the horses and riders on the short list will continue to prove themselves and from them the strongest will go to Hong Kong. But the five horses and riders who don’t make the Olympic team will also come home from Europe richer in experience and mileage that will pay off on future teams. It’s a win-win situation.
It’s a phenomenally tough challenge to create a selection system that’s open to everyone, allowing new blood to jump into contention, and that still protects the established anchors of the team from having to prove themselves. But this year’s process seems to have gotten us even closer to that goal.
Molly Sorge, Assistant Editor