More than a few things have gone wrong during the FEI World Equestrian Games at the Tryon International Equestrian Center, but today two things went very right: a fabulous morning and afternoon of cross-country that had the imprint of a master, and perfect weather as the temperature cooled down and the predicted rains from Tropical Storm Florence held off.
A crowd of approximately 15,000 made a colorful backdrop for interesting fences that were just challenging enough to insure good sport.
“Doing a world championships at the 3-star level for 10 minutes (the optimum) for the first time, we were going into unknown territory,” mused course designer Mark Phillips, former technical advisor of the U.S. eventing team.
“There were a lot of good 4-star horses here and the best riders in the world, so it was a difficult one,” continued Mark, who also designs the Burghley 4-star in England, among other major events. He noted that when top riders such as Australia’s Chris Burton wound up with problems (he had a refusal on Cooley Lands at the problematical sailboat obstacle in the Mars water complex), the course designer has done his job.
As horses jumped the sailboat, their eyes were on a little waterfall that was part of the direct route, which many chose not to jump as the day went on, opting instead for the “dry route,” just galloping out of the water and aiming for a skinny obstacle and two log fences. The presence of all the optional fences also was distracting, which is part of the reason why so many had trouble there.
As a result, the water complex saw the most action during the day, with such prominent riders as world champion Sandra Auffarth of Germany riding as an individual rather than on the team, retiring after trouble there with Viamant du Matz. Also faulting there was the U.S. team’s Boyd Martin, who had a stop at the sailboat after taking an extra pull on Tsetserleg, who had been eighth following dressage.
“He was going great guns, and to be honest, I just made an epic mistake as a rider. I was going really well, and probably a bit too well, and I needed to steady him and add one more stride coming in to that fence,” Boyd recounted.
“I tried to change my mind right at the end. It was completely my fault and just majorly screwed up at one of the most important moments of our career.”
At the same time, he noted, “It’s a really good course. It’s got everything—it’s big, it’s twisty, it’s technical; there are options and there’s a mountain at the end. Yeah, I just got it wrong today.”
He wasn’t the only one on the U.S. team that could lay claim to that. The American squad stands eighth of 16 teams, with the British leading on 80.80 penalties, even without world number one Oliver Townend. The Irish are second on 89 and France third with 91.80. Germany, which led after dressage, sank to sixth on 114.20 after overnight leader Julia Krajewski on Chipmunk FRH had a refusal and time penalties to become the drop score.
However, Ingrid Klimke of Germany (the daughter of the late, great dressage star Reiner Klimke) rose to the top of the leaderboard with SAP Hale Bob Old (23.30), with Ros Canter of Britain second on Allstar B (24.60) and Sara Ennis of Ireland right behind with Horseware Stellor Rebound (26.30).
The highest-ranked U.S. rider at this point is Lynn Symansky, ninth with Donner, the type of thoroughbred for whom a course that demands fitness, as this one did, was made.
“My horse was pretty rad out there,” Lynn said with delight.
“I pretty much just soak up every moment. I’ve been with him a long time and he’s 15 this year, so I know we don’t have endless time. It’s so special to be here in front of the home crowd and getting cheered the whole way around. You couldn’t ask for more and he couldn’t have given me more today.”
Phillip Dutton is twenty-first with Z, who was free of jumping faults but had time penalties. The fourth team member, Will Coleman—originally an alternate, called up after Marilyn Little had to withdraw—wound up with several refusals from Tight Lines and stands sixty-eighth, 14 places back of Boyd. Lauren Kieffer, riding as an individual, had a fall with Vermiculus and was eliminated.
Interested in an analysis of what happened to the U.S. team, I had a talk with Erik Duvander, who took over as the U.S. Equestrian Federation’s eventing performance director last fall and hasn’t had enough time before a major championship to really make his mark on the program. Erik is always generous with his time and thoughts, so click below to watch a video of his comments.
Two horses were treated for soft-tissue injuries after the competition. Euforian, of Norway, was cared for at the treatment center on site, while Box Qutie from Sweden was taken to the Tryon Equine Hospital.
The storm is expected to deliver tons of rain tomorrow, making it unsafe to compete. So instead of the show jumping phase following cross-country, which as Erik pointed out is the test in a traditional three-day, horses will be inspected tomorrow and jump Monday. It was originally scheduled to be a rest day before the grand prix jumpers come in for their warm-up on Tuesday.
And that isn’t all. The cloud, both literal and figurative that has hovered over the WEG, has resulted in cancellation of the highly anticipated dressage freestyle, which was originally slated for tomorrow. Although attempts were made to reschedule it for Monday, the official statement from the organizers said, “the logistics of putting all necessary elements into place in time have proved insurmountable.” Apparently, the flight taking horses involved back to Europe couldn’t be changed, and it was deemed inadvisable in terms of horse welfare to fly the animals out on the same day they competed.
The WEG is a qualifier for the Olympics, and the top six-placed teams (aside from Japan, which is the host country) will get their tickets to Japan, so there was no pressure in that direction.
The freestyle is the second cancellation at this WEG. Wednesday’s endurance race was halted amid much controversy and furor after a misdirected start, along with weather and terrain conditions deemed dangerous for horse welfare.
A time has not yet been set for the eventing jumping —which will end a competition that is also an Olympic qualifier in that discipline. The six top-placed teams will get their tickets to Tokyo without having to go through an additional regional competition, such as the Pan American Games or the European Championships.