Sunday, Apr. 14, 2024

We’re Making Progress In Some Areas And Losing Ground In Others

In the four-year cycle of international equestrian sport, this past year fell between the World Equestrian Games and the Olympic Games, the year always reserved for the Pan American Games.

Unlike former times when our most experienced riders on their top horses traveled to this event, today, unless the United States is in need of qualifying for the WEG or the Olympics, we’re more apt to send a team of horses or riders with less experience. This year was no exception.
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In the four-year cycle of international equestrian sport, this past year fell between the World Equestrian Games and the Olympic Games, the year always reserved for the Pan American Games.

Unlike former times when our most experienced riders on their top horses traveled to this event, today, unless the United States is in need of qualifying for the WEG or the Olympics, we’re more apt to send a team of horses or riders with less experience. This year was no exception.

The Pan Ams are hotly contested by many of our American neighbors, and we notched a team bronze but lacked a rider on the podium for the individual medals.

Brazil won with a team consisting of three riders based in Europe and one locally prepared. The Brazilian- based rider contributed a double-clear performance in the team event, which said a lot for the level at home. Canada stood one place below the home team on Nations Cup day, but team member Jill Henselwood went on to a well-deserved individual gold.

A new fixture on the Global Champions Tour debuted in São Paulo directly after the Pan Ams. Frenchman Hubert Bourdy won the main class, while we were without notable success from our own riders despite the impressive prize money on offer.

Early in the year, the Fédération Equestre Internationale events hosted here in Wellington, Fla., continued to grow in size and in international participation. Sadly, deplorable footing at the end of circuit for the CSIO and the Global Champions Tour event took a lot away from the prestige that these fixtures deserved. (see Sidebar).

Our strong team of Margie Engle, McLain Ward, Beezie Madden and Lauren Hough failed to win on home soil, but the competition was super and it is grand to have our own CSIO again, and an outdoor one
to boot!

Once again the Rolex FEI World Cup Final was hosted in Las Vegas. Crowds were impressive with the double draw of jumping and dressage. McLain Ward and Sapphire came out of the blocks on fire with an impressive win of the Table C opening phase but failed to keep it together through the next rounds, ending tied for eighth.

Sadly, despite an impressive array of U.S. riders, when jumping concluded our results this year mirrored those of prior years. Beat Mändli of Switzerland was a popular winner, having knocked on the door several times in the past with his wonderful (but now retired) partner Positano. Beat won with Ideo du Thot to notch his first major individual championship.

Our main emphasis internationally was the Samsung Super League series. Limited to the strongest eight nations in the world, the eight events are hotly contested, especially since the team with the fewest points at the end of the season is dropped from the series for the following year.

It looked a bit dicey early on when our teams had a hard time putting it all together, but they rallied in the second half and finished a more than respectable fourth, safe from relegation.

Meanwhile, we fielded a successful Developing Rider Tour. These young riders were ably directed by Melanie Smith-Taylor (see article p. 55). Melanie had a long international career with highlights to rival
any rider of today or yesterday, including Olympic gold and a World Cup Final victory.

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By far the most outstanding accomplishment by a U.S. horse and rider this year was the win in the ultra-prestigious Grand Prix of Aachen. In the same stadium where a rail at the very last fence snatched the individual World Championship title away from Authentic and Beezie Madden in 2006, the pair vindicated themselves by beating all comers over the two rounds and jump-off of this Grand Prix. The last U.S. winner of this class was Anne Kursinski on Starman in 1991.

The National Front

There’s no question that jumping continues to grow in our country.  Numbers seem to be up everywhere we look in just about every one of the myriad divisions on offer. Only the pony jumpers remain spotty. The division is beginning to take hold in some parts of the country while it languishes in others.

I was personally disappointed to have to miss the USEF Pony Jumper Finals (Ky.)—and my traditional role coaching the U.S. Pony Clubs Team—but an opportunity to have an officiating role at the European Show Jumping Championships in Mannheim, Germany, had to take precedence for this year.

Team events, such as the Pony Finals and the Prix des States (Pa.), are such wonderful opportunities for riders from all over the country to compete head-to-head and experience first-hand riding as a part of a team. We have to thank our U.S. Equestrian Federation for their support of these two events.

Young Jumpers are finally well accepted in this country with the Young Jumper Championships showing a 110 percent increase in participating horses in 2007. Of interest is that, for the first time, horses bred in the United States and Canada earned prize money and ribbons consistent with their percentage of the population.

This has not been true in the recent past and indicates that the quality of young North American horses, as well as their preparation, is on the rise.

U.S.-breds were victorious in four of the 12 YJC Champion categories on offer this year, a percentage exactly equal to the percentage of U.S.-breds in the program. Thanks to the interest and generosity of Danny Magill of Newsprint Farms, new awards have been inaugurated to further reward the breeders of horses bred here that go on to win in the YJC program. Each breeder will receive a check for $1,000 as the breeder of the highest placed U.S.-bred in each age group of the YJC League Finals.

One U.S.-bred, Peterbilt, a stallion (Lio Calyon—Concorde) (bred by Butch Thomas) and graduate of the International Jumper Futurity, finished as the 5-year-old winner of the Western League in 2006 and made it a double this year by capturing the 6-year-old title. The last horse to do that, Apache ridden by Richard Spooner, made his international debut this year winning good ribbons at major European shows including Aachen, as well as at the Spruce Meadows Masters (Alta.).

In looking at the results, it’s interesting to see the number of successful youngsters with parents that were successful at the grand prix level for North American riders. Horses such as Lio Caylon, Rio Grande, Carolus H, Ocean I, and Figaro are siring good young ones here at home.

Also interesting is the increasing interaction between Canada and the United States—no fewer than 10 Canadian horses qualified for the young horse events at the National Horse Show (Fla.), including the winner of the 7-/8-year-old event, Distant Star (Class Action—Night Twist) from King Ridge Stables (Ont.).

Special Events

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One other special FEI event deserves mention here—the World Show Jumping Final for Children (12 to 14 years of age under FEI rules) was held in North America again this year. It was hosted by the incredibly sporting and generous Chedruai family at their spectacular competition facility in Xalapa, Mexico.

Beautiful grounds along with world-class jumps and decoration made the riding experience special for 16 youngsters from around the world and their 16 counterparts from the host nation (each of whom bring two horses without knowing which horse the luck of the draw will see them riding!).

These kids do a great job riding unfamiliar horses over courses with jumps up to 4′ in height. But even more important, they spend a week with their contemporaries from every corner of the globe, make friends and see a new culture.

I’m always amazed at how language never stands in the way of either the fun or the competition at this event. A boy from Lithuania really impressed me this year. Barely 14 years old and with only two years of riding experience, he rode like a pro to win the first and second qualifying classes. Smooth as silk against the clock on what can only be described as a rather ordinary horse—he rode “cool as a cucumber” and with incredible feel and sympathy for his horse. It’s my bet that Matas Petraitis is a name we’re likely to hear more of in a few years.

Doing special events like the FEI Children’s Final or the European Championships in Germany makes me only too aware of how few really special events we have in our big country. As a fellow horseman recently observed, “The old days are over.”

The season used to conclude with the fall indoor circuit—the Pennsylvania National, the Washington International (D.C.) and the National at Madison Square Garden in New York City. “Indoors” used to be something that competitors from every area worked hard to qualify for and attend.

Now our “season” extends from mid-January to mid-December. So many of our shows are simply re-runs of the week before—whether at the same venue or another one. In the winter our grand prix horses go back and forth from outdoors to indoors to outdoors again—not the way any horseman would choose to
prepare to beat our European rivals at their World Cup game.

Come summer, most shows are so similar, and nothing seems to build toward something special. I feel lucky to have done my competing in the days when we planned our year with a balance between training, getting qualified, and then doing our best to “make it happen” at the events that were truly special.

I miss the days when a professional could explain to his clients that they shouldn’t expect to win until they had learned how to ride first. When a rider falling off was a rarity and not something that might happen six times in one class. And, when you traveled to another area of the country, you didn’t see the same (very) basic set of jumps that you just jumped over last week 600 miles away.

I know that our sport has become a lucrative business for many people, but that doesn’t keep me from wishing that we had a little of what still remains in other countries—where legitimate sport and good fellowship manage to be kept at least on a par with the business aspect.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a few more events that presented a sport that people wanted to watch? A sport where we could show off this wonderful animal that got most of us into this “business” in the first place.

Linda Allen

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