The Land Rover U.S. Eventing Squad along with alternate and reserve combinations completed their mandatory outing this weekend at MARS Great Meadow International as their final prep event before September’s 2022 FEI Eventing World Championships in Pratoni del Vivaro, Italy.
All five members of the squad, along with the eight reserve and alternate combinations completed the CCI4*-S at MARS GMI. Team alternate Liz Halliday-Sharp (Lexington, Ky.) with Cooley Quicksilver finished in first place. Squad members Tamie Smith (Murrieta, Calif.) with Mai Baum and Will Coleman (Gordonsville, Va.) with Off The Record finished in second and third place, respectively.
“By and large, there’s a lot to take away that’s very positive from the weekend,” said Chef d’Equipe Bobby Costello. “I thought the horses looked as well as a group as I’ve ever seen them in the dressage—everyone was either at their personal best or better, so that’s excellent. A couple of them in the show jumping have got a little work to do between now and Pratoni, but the cross-country today was just brilliant. The athletes looked like they were feeling confident, and the horses were jumping very well.”
“It couldn’t have gone better,” Smith said about her weekend with ‘Lexus,’ the 2006 German Sport Horse gelding owned by Alexandra Ahearn, Ellen Ahearn, and Eric Markell. “I thought he was super in the dressage. He had a bobble in the first halt, but other than that, he just keeps getting better. He show jumped beautifully last night, and I just went out for a nice cruise today.”
Smith said that she took a conservative approach on the cross-country with a focus on preserving Lexus’s conditioning for Pratoni, but he felt strong on the Great Meadows course and turned in a competitive run.
“I let [Mai Baum] tell me—I went out of the box and let him go the pace he wanted, and he actually went faster than I expected, but he just went easy. I was pleasantly surprised that I only had six time penalties when I got through the finish flags because I felt like I was just kind of cruising around.”
With the FEI World Championship as the next event on the athletes’ schedule, the pressure is on and excitement is up. Smith feels optimistic heading to the big stage.
“I’m excited. I feel so prepared, and of course nerves happen, but I feel ready, and Lexus is ready,” she said. “I think we have a great team dynamic, and I’m ready to go and so is he. I’m just trying to pace ourselves and stay chill. The work is done; now it’s just getting there.”
Ariel Grald (Southern Pines, N.C.) will travel to Pratoni on her first-ever championship team with Anne Eldridge’s 2009 Irish Sport Horse gelding, Leamore Master Plan. The pair completed their MARS GMI outing with no jumping penalties to finish in 11th place overall.
“It’s an honor to be here with all these great riders, and I’m excited to learn from them through this whole process,” said Grald. “It’s an exciting time to be representing the U.S. We all have really great programs that have gotten us here to this point, so something that’s really important to stay focused on is continuing the success that we’ve had to be named to the team and to keep the momentum going moving forward to Pratoni.”
Team alternate Halliday-Sharp was thrilled with the progress Cooley Quicksilver has made over his career and his winning performance at this year’s MARS GMI.
“He was really professional this weekend. I was completely thrilled with him,” Halliday-Sharp said of ‘Monster,’ the 2011 Irish Sport Horse gelding owned by The Monster Partnership. “He just keeps getting better. He’s only an 11-year-old; he’s done quite a lot but he is still a young horse. I think he deserves this. He earned it, and a 25.6 is a very respectable four-star winning score anywhere in the world, and that’s something I always strive for.”
The team horses will have one final gallop as a team before shipping to France for the last stretch of training ahead of the World Championship, which begins with the first horse inspection on Wednesday, September 14.
Learn more about the 2022 FEI Eventing World Championships at pratoni2022.it/en/.