At the Spruce Meadows Continental, Kessler had to go first on Mika in the Husky Energy Cup, and she fell victim to a dastardly last line. Course designer Bob Ellis asked riders to jump an oxer to a vertical-vertical one-stride combination, with a choice of five or six strides between them. Then, a wide, square oxer followed five or six strides after the combination.
Not having the opportunity to see anyone navigate the line, Kessler chose to ride five strides from the oxer to the combination of verticals on Mika. “I really should have added down the last line, but the way it walked, it seemed that everyone would just do the five and five down the last line. It was much longer than it walked,” she said. Mika toppled the top rail of both verticals. Added to a foot on the tape at the water earlier, that left them with 12 faults.
“So on Cylana, I said to myself ‘You just had 4 faults; you need to bring it now,’ ” Kessler said. She turned in a clear round, then placed third behind Fellers and Madden. In the CN Performance CSI-W, both Cylana and Mika jumped clean in the first round—after the jump-off, Mika was third and Cylana sixth. “Cylana was just a machine all week,” Kessler said.
“I really wanted to finish this last leg of the selection process as strongly as I’d started,” Kessler said. “I feel like I did that, so I feel very content with the results.”
As she sat on a golf cart, headed for lunch at the Spruce Meadows venue with her boyfriend, British show jumper Tim Gredley, she felt her phone ring in her pocket. “Somehow, I just knew it was George,” she said. “He started by telling me how proud he was of me, and all of a sudden, I couldn’t breathe! After the call, [trainer] Katie Prudent asked me who else was on the team, and I didn’t know! I didn’t even think to ask, I was so excited.”
Madden Is Sitting Pretty
Madden wasn’t sure what to expect of Coral Reef Via Volo in the observation events. The diminutive mare had been named to the long list in fourth based on their previous international performance, such as team gold and individual silver at the 2011 Pan American Games. But she’d contracted a nasty skin infection on a leg in January and wasn’t able to jump much.
Madden had to wait until May to show her and chose Devon (Pa.) and Spruce Meadows as the observation events for “Via” to show her readiness. The mare rewarded her patience with clear rounds in both classes at Devon, and clear rounds in the first round and jump-off of the Husky Energy Cup for second place. Her only rail came in the CN Performance CSI-W, when Via nicked the back rail of a triple bar. “It was an early jump, and it wasn’t a huge triple bar, but I probably just underestimated it a little bit. She shifted in off the rail, and she goes a bit left anyway, and she just clipped it behind,” Madden said.
“She felt better than ever, I have to say. She had beautiful rounds," Madden continued. "She’s more seasoned, even though she had that time off early in the year. She has a lot of blood, so the more she goes in the ring, the more relaxed she gets. It felt like it was good for her to do the jump-offs, for fitness and for getting in the ring a bit more.”
Madden is also the second alternate on the talented Simon. She’s had the ride on the powerful gelding only since November and had to develop a quick partnership with him. They had one rough round of 25 faults in the selection trials, but posted scores of 9, 4, and 1 fault in the other rounds. Simon jumped in the observation events at Kentucky, Devon and Spruce Meadows and never had more than one rail, winning the $50,000 Lexington Hagyard Classic. “He’s gotten quite consistent. I’d feel comfortable riding either one [at the Olympic Games],” Madden said.
Ward hasn’t had to prove himself for an Olympic or World Equestrian Games team spot since 2004. He had depended on the incomparable Sapphire, his mount for two Olympic team gold medals and team silver at the 2006 WEG. But Sapphire officially retired in May, and Ward suffered a compound fracture of his left kneecap in January. USEF selectors placed him eighth on the long list with his 2011 Pan Am Games team gold medal ride, Antares F. But Ward had a lot to prove at the observation events at Devon and Spruce Meadows.
Ward didn’t start showing until May, but at Devon he dominated, winning the $100,000 Wells Fargo Grand Prix of Devon and claiming second in the $50,000 Idle Dice Stake. At Spruce Meadows, he and “Andy” turned in two 4-fault rounds in the observation events. It was good enough for the selectors to name them into fourth on the ranked short list, making the team.
“I think he’s on really good form, which he showed at Devon. For sure, I would have liked to have been clear and clear, not 4 and 4, but there’s always a fine line between those two things,” Ward said. “I think you have to look at: ‘In the toughest situation, what’s a bad day?’ And if a bad day is 4 faults, that’s a good thing. Every horse can win a class, but if their bad day is five down, that’s not great. Basically, with Antares, not only has his international record been very good, but I think he’s shown that his bad days are never really bad.