August 27, 2017 -- Irish rider Conor Swail was certainly the odds-on favorite coming into the $135,600 Longines FEI World Cup™ Langley on Sunday, August 27. He and Flower had won three big grands prix here at Thunderbird Show Park and, at #60, he occupied an impressive place on the world show-jumping rankings. For a rider, those kind of expectations can be a double-edge sword, but his mount Flower felt no such issues as she sailed around a course, designed by fellow Irishman Alan Wade, that all acknowledged was fair but big with a capital “B.”
Watch the video interview with Conor below:
“She likes to run and jump and that’s what I let her do,” said Conor, who owns the 12-year-old Zangershiede mare with his Calgary-based client Vanessa Mannix. As she demonstrated during the prize-giving ceremonies, Flower is a spooky horse everywhere but on course. “She spooks at things that aren’t there,” he laughed. “But she’s a funny character. When she’s on course, she is dead brave and very careful.”
And fast. With the advantage of going last in the seven-horse jump-off, Conor and Flower were 3.6 seconds swifter than second-place finishers, Canadian Christopher Surbey and Daylight VDL. Conor has only been riding Flower since January and stated the somewhat obvious in saying, “I think the pieces are all starting to come together.”
Christopher Surbey was on an even newer ride with Daylight VDL: Sunday afternoon’s class was only their fourth competition together. The 9-year-old Dutch gelding is a big horse with a big stride, and given the newness of their partnership, Chris knew he was in trouble with Conor riding after him in the final go.
Californian Jamie Barge continued her solid success of the past few years with Luebbo, finishing third with double clears and a jump-off time of 46.44. Jamie is hearing impaired so she didn’t hear much of the packed stands cheering her gutsy effort as the second-to-last in the jump-off. On crossing the timers, however, her first move was arms outstretched and a hug of Luebbo’s neck, reflecting a bond between these two athletes that gives them a big edge and is obvious to all.
Capping off the biggest Thunderbird tournament yet, in both exhibitors and spectators, the competition finale class drew 27 starters. They ranged from Olympic veterans to accomplished young adults juggling grand prix riding with college studies. The partnerships bore flags from Canada, the U.S., Ireland and Mexico. Seven went clear over the first 13-effort round. Sayre Happy and Dolinn were a fourth double-clear, with a 47.67 time for fourth place. Canada’s Jenn Serek and Wicked were the fastest of the four-faulters in the jump-off for fifth, followed by Mexico’s Eugenio Garza Perez and Armini Si Z in sixth and American Leah De Martina and Abunola in seventh.
With an assist from Canadian course designer Joseph Rycroft, Alan Wade made the most of the World Cup qualifier’s maximum 1.6-meter specs, with two fences at that height. It seemed to be jump materials, however, that caused many problems as an early-course combination, 5 a-b, with materials that drew the horses eye down, brought down several rails. Per tradition, the mass of blue and white poles that comprise the “Longines Triple” on all courses throughout the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping North American League took its share of heartbreaking end-of-the course rails right in front of a packed VIP area.
Alan and Joseph have been working together for five years, Joseph bringing a special knowledge of the field as a regular on the north-of-the border circuit. He also knows the venue’s creative and colorful jump materials and the grand prix field’s unique slight slants. “It’s not something you can see,” noted French rider Eric Navet earlier. “But you can feel it when you ride and it makes this a very interesting course.” Riding his budding superstar Catypso, and second to last in the first round, Eric had perhaps the most heartbreaking knock down of all--at the very last fence, the FEI oxer, as the crowd in Thunderbird’s newly-built Timber Frame building let loose stunned sighs of disappointment.
Thunderbird Show Park, or “TBird,” is in Langley, about 40 miles from Vancouver, British Columbia. Sprawling over 88 acres of former farmland, the venue was built by the Tidball family, which includes international jumper riders: ‘80s Canadian Olympian Laura Tidball-Balisky, and her daughter Laura-Jane Tidball, who competed today aboard Concetto Son. They had one rail to finish ninth. Exhibitors say that having horse people as owners is reflected in every detail of the facility, from first-class footing and ample room to roam to niceties like bobby pins and pony tail holders in the ladies restroom. “We want to keep getting better for another 44 years,” said Thunderbird president Jane Tidball at the close of competition. Next year’s plans include bumping the competition up from FEI 3* status to 4* status.
As a Canadian athlete, Christopher Surbey was especially appreciative of the boisterous fans who filled VIP areas and general admission grandstands alike. This is Thunderbird’s third time hosting Longines FEI World Cup™ NAL competition and it has twice hosted the FEI Nations Cup™ competition to start the summer show season, clearly helping to make equestrian sport a big deal in British Columbia.
Thunderbird is located in an appealing area and it’s a kick just driving to the venue. The property sits on the “Historic Otter 248 Trail” that winds through Frasier Valley countryside with fun stops for organic berries, honey, meats, alpaca wool and Christmas trees! And, of course, horses. Langley is “The Horse Capital of British Columbia,” after all, and this Sunday afternoon’s athletes--horses and humans--put on quite a show in a spectacular showcase.
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