Longines Masters of New York: Training with Champions

Winners at the final leg of the Longines Masters Series—McLain Ward, Harrie Smolders and Erynn Ballard—give insights on how they school their horses.

April 29, 2018—Though there were 14 riders in the jump-off of the $382,800 Longines Grand Prix of New York and Erynn Ballard and Fantast went first, they set a time of 35.89 seconds that held the lead for the next 10 riders—until McLain Ward entered the ring. In only his third competition with Clinta, the Olympic gold medalist made tight turns and took chances to win the competition.

The biggest risk with the 11-year-old Oldenburg mare was rolling back to a two-stride combination and jumping the in fence on a left-to-right angle that resulted in a rub. “I kind of felt like we squirreled over it, but somehow she got all four legs over it,” McLain said.

The competition was part of the inaugural Longines Masters of New York, held April 26–29, 2018, in the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Long Island. New York is the final leg of the three-competition Longines Masters Series. The first was in Paris last fall and the second was in Hong Kong in February.

McLain Ward and Clinta, winners of the $382,800 Longines Grand Prix of New York © Erin Gilmore

Though McLain competed other horses throughout the week, he saved Clinta for the grand prix. He had spotted the mare last summer in Germany and “fell in love with her.”

What it’s like to ride Clinta: “She’s super careful and very sensitive. She’s really an incredible talent. It’s exciting to be part of her,” McLain said. “The quality, the carefulness is really unique.”

McLain’s training with Clinta: “What I’ve been trying to do with her right now, because she does jump so high over the jumps, is just jump enough that she stays nice and level and even. The thing you have to watch with her is that she doesn’t overjump.”

Harrie Smolders: Staying Cool

McLain wasn’t the only rider to stay calm under pressure during the week. The night before, The Netherlands’ Harrie Smolders and Cas 2 gave lessons in staying cool and riding fast to help Team Europe edge out Team USA and take the $200,000 Riders Masters Cup before a large crowd of cheering, flag-waving fans. Of the 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood, Harrie said, “He’s getting better and better to find the fences and to understand the game. Before he was not always paying attention in the turns to the fence and then he was surprised when the fence was there.”

The Netherland’s Harrie Smolders and Cas 2 helped Team Europe edge out Team USA in the $200,000 Riders Masters Cup. © Erin Gilmore

For the Saturday-night duel, five riders on each team competed head-to-head over two rounds. So in Round 1, Harrie was paired against Georgina Bloomberg with Manodie II H. Both went clear, but Harrie and Cas 2 were faster, earning Team Europe one point. After Round 1, the Europeans led the U.S. 4 points to 1. In Round 2, though, U.S. riders battled back. By the time Harrie, the final rider, entered the arena, he had to go faster than McLain’s and HH Gigi’s Girl’s 54.82 second-round time. Cas 2 blazed around in 52.91 seconds. The final score—Team Europe 8 points, Team USA, 7 points.

Harrie, currently second in the Longines FEI World Ranking List, has been riding Cas 2 since last July.

What it’s like to ride Cas 2: “He’s very light and adjustable, easy to ride and to flat. … He has a lot of blood, but he is quiet in the mind,” Harrie said. Back at the barn, he’s “sweet, always looking for attention. He’s a gentleman.”

Harrie’s go-to exercise at home for Cas 2: Because Cas 2 had difficulty turning to fences, Harrie said, “I practiced a lot on very small fences with turns because that had to improve. Turns on angles, around your inside leg. Angle the fence left to right, right to left. Today, he also showed that he had improved.”

On keeping horses happy: “We go every morning with my horses 30–45 minutes in the forest,” Harrie said. “Walk and trot and on hard and soft grounds in the forest. I think that keeps them mentally very good. And in the afternoon, they get worked and whatever else they need.”

Erynn Ballard: ‘He Makes Me Feel Pretty’

Another unique feature of the four-day competition was the $100,000 Longines Speed Challenge Friday night. Erynn Ballard and Fantast had the second-to-last fence down in the competition but still won, thanks to a system where a knockdown incurs only a two-second penalty, instead of the more-typical four seconds. With the knockdown, Erynn’s time was 60.62 seconds compared to second-place finisher Brianne Goutal-Marteau’s 61.86 seconds. The goal of the new format is to add excitement to the class because riders can more easily make up for lost time by speeding up and cutting corners.

Even with a rail down, Erynn Ballard and Fantast’s time was 60.62 seconds in the $100,000 Longines Speed Challenge. © Erin Gilmore

After her round, Erynn said there wasn’t any one turn or area on course where Fantast, a 13-year-old Belgian Warmblood, made up the time. “My horse just has so much natural speed. His legs are fast. He’s big-strided. You can turn him back. He’s smart. I think he won from start to finish.”

What it’s like to ride Fantast: “He’s a really comfortable horse,” Erynn explained. “There are some horses that you have to do a lot of training on when you’re up there—that require a lot of effort—but not Fantast. I can just sit there. When I’m trotting or cantering around on him, he makes me feel pretty.”

Keeping Fantast happy: “He’s a cool character. He loves to show,” Erynn said. “But when you’re training him, he doesn’t want to be picked on. If you need to correct him, you can’t get after him. You have to show him a different way to do something.”

Erynn’s go-to training exercise: “I like to keep it simple.” She places two rails on the ground in a line, putting 22 of her own steps between them and rides the exercise in five or six strides. She does this exercise with all of her horses, always keeping the distance between the two poles the same. That way she can feel the differences among her horses and can tell if one has a longer or shorter stride than another so that she can adjust each horse’s stride accordingly.

About the Longines Masters Series

Erynn, as well as McLain, Harrie and many others praised the Longines Masters of New York. According to Longines Masters Series creator EEM, the goal of the Paris, Hong Kong and New York competitions is to gather “under one roof the best of sport, entertainment and lifestyle.”

The New York edition worked to that end. In the three feature evening classes, riders stood on the podium or sat in cushy swivel chairs and were interviewed between rounds about their rides and the competition. During the Lamborghini Master Powers Six Bar competition, three announcers stood in the ring, interviewing some of the riders as they left the ring and discussing the rounds with grand-prix rider Todd Minikus.

The action and entertainment wasn’t just in the competition arena. The warm-up arena was in the middle of the vendor area with shops such as Longines—actress Kate Winslet made a showing—and Hermes along with more traditional equine stores. Sleek, modern black and white tables, couches and chairs allowed spectators to watch horses warm up as well as a variety of performers from hip violinists to young acapella singers. Tall “tree people” and harlequins on stilts mixed with the crowds and posed for pictures throughout the weekend. And not to be left out, children could have their faces painted or color on a large horse-themed mural.

A tree person (on stilts) chats with spectators at the Longines Masters of New York. © Sandra Oliynyk

“They’re making this an entertainment spectacle, which is phenomenal,” McLain said, summing up the overall experience of the event. “It’s something that’s been missing in promoting our sport and it’s making it more exciting to a more diverse audience.”

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