In a jump-off unprecedented at a world championships, the U.S. won gold in a dramatic afternoon of thrilling competition

Horse sport doesn’t get better than this.

This afternoon, the action at the FEI World Equestrian Games was filled with twists and turns, along with a copious amount of excitement and tension, as the U.S. earned a hard-fought team show jumping gold medal after a timed tie-breaker with the Swedish team.

The bronze medal German team, right; the silver medal Swedish team, left, and the U.S. gold medal team.

The bronze medal German team, right; the silver medal Swedish team, left, and the U.S. gold medal team.

The victory tied up a lot of loose ends. For rookie team member Devin Ryan, the jump-off gave him his first fault-free trip on the marvelous gray gelding, Eddie Blue, something he had been craving since show jumping started on Wednesday at the Tryon International Equestrian Center. Laura Kraut was grateful about bouncing back from yesterday’s uncharacteristic 8-penalty trip aboard Zeremonie, as she flew over the fences today without error on her feisty gray mare. The squad’s other championship rookie, Adrienne Sternlicht, was the drop score in three out of four round with Cristalline, but she gained confidence and learned a lot while contributing to the title with her lovely and talented mare.

McLain Ward and his student, Adrienne Sternlicht, shared a special moment as the U.S. team set out on its “victory walk” after the medal ceremony.

McLain Ward and his student, Adrienne Sternlicht, shared a special moment as the U.S. team set out on its “victory walk” after the medal ceremony.

Anchor rider McLain Ward had a great deal invested in the team. Adrienne is his student (she formerly rode with Laura) and he recommended that Coach Robert Ridland keep an eye on Devin, someone McLain has been following with interest. But last night, just before going to sleep, he said to his wife, Lauren, “What have I done?” Should the team fail, he knew, “it had a lot of me in it.”

After clearing the last fence, McLain Ward celebrated, saluting the crowd.

After clearing the last fence, McLain Ward celebrated, saluting the crowd.

But if you had to pick one person to whom the medal meant the most, I’d say it was the coach.

Coach Robert Ridland led the gold medal U.S. squad of McLain Ward, Adrienne Sternlicht, Laura Kraut and Devin Ryan into the arena, accompanied by ringmaster Pedro Cebulka.

Coach Robert Ridland led the gold medal U.S. squad of McLain Ward, Adrienne Sternlicht, Laura Kraut and Devin Ryan into the arena, accompanied by ringmaster Pedro Cebulka.

“This was our sport at its best,” Robert said of the incredible finish, in which the U.S. beat Sweden by a mere 2.06 second-difference between the times produced by each of the three fault-free jump-off rounds from the U.S. and Sweden. The two countries had been tied on 20.59 penalties. When it gets down to a 100th of a penalty, what are the odds of that?

McLain Ward clinched gold for the U.S. with a swift jump-off round on Clinta.

McLain Ward clinched gold for the U.S. with a swift jump-off round on Clinta.

Two missions were accomplished for the U.S. with its victory. The gold was fabulous, but with it came a berth at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, something earned by the top six teams. In addition to silver medal Sweden, that was Germany (bronze); Switzerland (fourth), the Netherlands (fifth) and Australia (sixth).

The coach quoted Adrienne as telling him, “Let’s don’t wake up from this dream,” but he knew it just as easily could have been a nightmare. Selection for the team started last June, and Robert has his own methods for monitoring who should be on the squad. There are those who criticized him for making Longines FEI World Cup winner Beezie Madden “one of the greatest riders ever to sit on a horse” the alternate, while having two senior championship rookies on board. He did acknowledge Beezie, who was here until Wednesday, ready to ride if necessary.

“She’s with us right now,” he said, making a big effort to include her in the success of the squad.

Click on this video to listen to what he had to say about a long, hard journey that ended happily. 

The dream Adrienne mentioned was always on McLain’s mind, and unbelievably, a rail Clinta pulled when she jumped too high over the liverpool today forced the jump-off. So his hard-fought, fault-free trip was a must-do, and he pulled it off beautifully. Hear what he had to say, and his nice tribute to Beezie, by clicking on this video. 

Adrienne already is looking at her future with the team, and as she talked about the gold medal during the press conference, she burst into tears.

“I’m so grateful for this opportunity,” she explained. Click on this video to hear her talk about what’s next for her.

Devin, who bought 9-year-old Eddie as a 4-year-old and trained him to this level, couldn’t stop beaming. “Eddie’s proven himself to be a super horse,” said Devin who was second to Beezie at the World Cup finals last spring. Click on this video to hear why. 

Laura, an Olympic team gold medalist like McLain, says “it’s great to be 52 and still a team member.” She noted the U.S. Equestrian Federation has what she terms “the best support system in the world,” and thanked not only its director of sport, Will Connell, and Lizzy Chesson, the managing director of show jumping, but also all of the people from the organization who contributed to the victory here.

Listen to what Laura had to say about her comeback today. 

Course designer Alan Wade got and deserved huge kudos for his courses. Today’s route was a fantastical fairyland of beautiful fences, ranging up to 1.64 meters in height for the Longines vertical and as wide as 1.85 meters for an oxer modeled on the main building at the famous Biltmore Estate in Asheville, about an hour west. The route was not as technical as yesterday’s track, but it was bigger.

Alan said he tries to protect the horses while testing the riders “to the best of their ability.”

The top 25 riders, including the whole U.S. contingent, will go forward on Sunday for the individual medal finals. With some of the horses having to jump again during the WEG, all the medalists went on a “victory walk” around the arena instead of a victory gallop after the medals were awarded. According to ringmaster Pedro Cebulka, on the hot and humid afternoon,“the USA and Swedish asked to walk the lap of honor because the horses had given it all and were very tired. True horsemanship.”

Visit this link to get the individual standings. 

Visit this link to for the team standings. 

I won’t be doing a story tomorrow, but I will be out at the four-in-hand driving and share a few marathon photos with you late in the day at www.facebook.com/practicalhorseman

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