Wellington, Fla.—March 1
In years past, Nations Cup competition at the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival has often served as training ground for greener international horses or riders. But with a new Nations Cup program in effect, the U.S. team came to the International Ring ready to win.
Newly minted Chef d’Equipe Robert Ridland brought out the big guns for the $75,000 Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup CSIO, with Kent Farrington (Uceko), Beezie Madden (Simon), Laura Kraut (Cedric) and Reed Kessler (Cylana) on the order of go, and they didn't disappoint. The rider that locked down gold for team USA? Eighteen-year-old Kessler.
National pride was in full effect during the event to watch the hometown team take gold. The VIP boxes were packed with well-heeled owners and sponsors dressed to the nines, all of whom tranformed from demure to ecstatic when their countrymen posted a clear round. The Tiki Hut, a ringside bar, served as an unofficial Irish Embassy, and in the cheap seats face paint and team jackets were the fashion of the day. The Canadians tend to be among the most vocal fans, and they didn't disappoint, banding together at the far end of the arena to cheer that team to second. Even the ring crew got in on the fun, with each tractor hoisting the flag of home country of the driver.
Kessler and Cylana posted their first double clear performance in Nations Cup competition, and their timing couldn’t have been better. The United States needs to do well here and at Spruce Meadows (Alberta) this June to earn a ticket to the Furusiyya Nations Cup Final. Canada finished second, and the German team, led by double clear pair Daniel Deusser and Coronet d’Amour, took third.
Farrington pulled a single rail at the last oxer to finish with 4 faults on the board in the first round after Uceko got a look at the Budweiser Clydesdales eight-horse hitch. (Nearby carriages were Cedric’s undoing at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games as well.) By the second round Uceko had a chance for a deep breath and put in a foot-perfect clear.
The ever-springy Cedric jumped brilliantly for Kraut, who followed up a clear first round with a rail coming into the last line. “He had such a light rub that I think he thinks he was double clear, so he’s pleased right now,” she joked.
But it was Madden who had the most talked about trip. Simon clobbered the box in front of the 3.8-meter open water. “I knew he hit the box. That’s probably putting it mildly,” she said, to which Ridland replied, “They heard that in Miami.” Despite the disturbance, he kept his hooves dry, so didn’t log any faults. By round 2 the U.S. had secured the top spot after Cedric’s round, (only the top three scores in Nations Cup competition count) so Simon didn’t have to jump another round.
Like the U.S. team, the youngest on the Canadian squad kept it clean to help that team earn silver. An ecstatic Tiffany Foster had the Canadians on their feet cheering when she finished her second double clear round on Victor. Ian Millar, AKA “Captain Canada,” who was competing in his 118th Nations Cup competition in Wellington, didn’t have a fault either on his new horse, Dixon. Mac Cone didn’t have a great day, as Amor Van de Rostal did a drive-by at the open water, then after clearing on reapproach he had to circle before a double a few strides later. He came back to pick up 17 faults in Round 2, so Canada was unable to drop Eric Lamaze’s 5-fault score from Round 1 on Wang Chung M2S.
For more on this competition and what it means to top U.S. show jumping, check out the March 18 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse magazine.
That’s How you win?
Kessler’s secret weapon to shining in the spotlight? Hitting the dirt. "Lucky" for her it happened four times in the show ring in the three weeks leading up to Nations Cup night.
“We joke that every time I do something great, I fall first,” said Kessler. “It happened last year before the Olympic trials—I fell off on a trail ride and had to chase my horse for like three miles, two days before the trials. And right before the [Olympic observation events] I also flipped over badly on a young horse in Kentucky. The same in Spruce Meadows: I was going really fast in a jump off and she didn’t have enough stud in and slipped and I fell."
Quote of the Night
Each of the seven teams who competed lined up for a quick pre-class team photo, and a few Colombian, Venezuelan and Mexican riders were running late. Show staff raced around, working the radios to find them. After a good 10 minutes or so, one of the in-gate staff said to another “Did you check the Tiki Hut?” to which the other replied, “It’s not the Irish we’re missing.”
A New Format?
After the class, no one seemed exactly positive how the procedure to get the Finals worked, so John Madden, who chairs the Fédération Equestre Internationale Jumping Committee and helped craft the new system, pulled up the website for a quick primer. In short, two countries from North America will qualify for the Final, and the date and location for that competition hasn't been announced yet. The two countries with the most points after the Wellington Nations Cup and the Nations Cup in Spruce Meadows in June will earn an invitation to the Final.
The United States earned 100 points for winning here, and Canada earned 90 for second place. Mexico, the only other team eligible to earn points in the region, finished seventh, so they get seventh-place points (65). That country didn't have their strongest team in Wellington as several top riders, including Pan American Games team bronze medalist Alberto Michán, are in Spain.
To read all about the new Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup series, with Madden explaining the reasoning behind the new format, see the Feb. 18 issue of the Chronicle, the Show Jumping Isse.
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