Lexington, Ky.—Sept. 26
The crowd may have been rowdy for today’s final reining team session, but they failed to drown out the announcer—until the moment Shawn Flarida entered the ring.
And the wild roar didn’t die down until long after he left it, having secured the third consecutive U.S. team gold today, Sept. 26, at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.
Flarida and RC Fancy Step finished with the top individual score, a 227.0, a full 3 points ahead of anyone else in the field.
“He’s just a great horse, and I’ve showed him a lot,” said Flarida, of Springfield, Ohio. “He’s a strong horse, and he turns real hard. I was so proud of him. But I’m such a fanatic, so it’s a long way from perfection.”
Flarida said RC Fancy Step, a 6-year-old palomino Quarter Horse, could have had a better run and sliding stop down the left side of the arena (the team competition pattern included three sliding stops at the end of the test), but he thought the stallion’s slow and fast canter circles were his top movements.
Flarida is the only reining rider in history to have reached the $3 million mark in lifetime earnings, so his position as team anchor was no surprise. He won individual gold at the 2002 WEG in Jerez, Spain, and is eager for another chance this year.
“The WEG in Spain [where he led the U.S. team to gold in the inaugural WEG reining competition] was phenomenal,” Flarida said. “I was so young and had never even been out of the country. But I had a little more to expect here.
“I’m in front of my hometown crowd, and I bought a lot of tickets for friends to be here,” Flarida continued. “And I love to compete. If you told me they were going to have a marble out there, and we were going to win it and take the marbles home, I’d try pretty hard.”
Close on Flarida’s heels was teammate Tom McCutcheon. He rode Gunners Special Nite into a tie for second place with Italian rider Stefano Massignan on Yellow Jersey (224.0). McCutcheon, Aubrey, Texas, was pleased with his ride, but even happier about the performance of his team.
“This team right here, I don’t know if we’ll ever get the opportunity to put together another team like this one,” he said. “I think every horse on this team has won $200,000 or more. I think it’s an amazing team. In 20 or 30 years, I think I’ll be able to look back and say, ‘Remember that team?’ ”
U.S. pair Craig Schmersal and Mister Montana Nic were just .5 points behind in a tie for fourth with Bernard Fonck and BA Reckless Chick of Belgium. Tim McQuay, Tioga, Texas, and Hollywoodtinseltown provided the drop score for the U.S. team, a 220.5, but many nations would have gladly taken that solid mark, as it put the pair in a tie for ninth overall.
Belgium Second, Italy Third
With a total of 674.5 points, the U.S. riders posted a 15.5-point margin of victory over the silver medalists from Belgium.
“What better group could you have? These guys have all been with me to one World Games or another,” U.S. chef d’equipe Jeff Petska said. “Everyone had their part. I know these guys were much more nervous in team competition than they’ll be in the individual because they know there’s someone relying on them.”
Petska also earned the most laughs during the post-medal press conference when asked if the additional weight carried by riders on the Adequan U.S. Reining Team benefited their performances.
“We brought a bunch of heavyweights to a heavyweight fight,” he said with a smile.
Bernard Fonck led the Belgian team to their first WEG reining medal with his score of 223.5. Ann Poels earned 219.5, Cira Baeck picked up 216.0 points and Jan Boogeaerts was the drop score with a 0.
When asked if they thought they might overtake the U.S. team at the next WEG, the members of the Belgian team shook their heads.
“No, I don’t think we can ever beat them,” Baeck said. “They’re way too good for us. But we’ll try. We’re a small country, but we’ll try.”
Susy Baeck, Cira’s sister and chef d’equipe of the Belgian team, added, “We were hoping for top five. We were dreaming for third. Getting silver is a dream come true. Tomorrow when we wake up we will realize what we’ve done. And we will all have a headache for sure.”
But the Italian team, who took home their third bronze in as many World Championships with 659.0 points, was not as delighted with their placing.
“We’re tired of being third,” Dario Carmignani said. “It’s time to move out.”
Yesterday’s overall leader, Italian Stefano Massignan and Yellow Jersey, stayed near the top today and finished tied with McCutcheon for second. They’ll compete for an individual medal in Thursday’s final.
Full reining results are available at the Alltech WEG website.