Today was the calm before the storm and no, we’re not referring to Hurricane Florence. The 139 grand-prix show jumpers at the Tryon International Equestrian Center had a chance to check out the big U.S. Trust arena, created by putting artificial footing over the grass derby field, and erecting seating for 17,000 fans around it.
The stands were empty and quiet, but tomorrow we anticipate big crowds and thunderous applause for the first phase of competition over designer Alan Wade’s courses. It’s the big moment—most of these riders have been preparing for it since the Rio Olympics two years ago.
To get ready for what their performances when it counts, the riders had 95 seconds in the ring, where they could do what they wanted—work on the flat, jump and let their horses check out a weird skinny wall emblazoned with an eagle.
The U.S. team of McLain Ward, Laura Kraut, Devin Ryan and Adrienne Sternlicht, along with alternate Beezie Madden, gave us a chance to ask questions this morning after they were finished with their rides.
I wondered about the odd-looking skinny wall, an eagle with outstretched wings supporting a series of white blocks that looked as if they would come off very easily (we’ll see tomorrow.) All of the riders took their horses by for a look-see.
“One of the reasons I personally—and I think most of the riders who have experience jumping Alan’s courses—like him is that he’s a horseman,” said McLain. “You expect in these championships to have a funny fence, something that is going to test a horse’s bravery. But as a horseman, he gave you a little bit of a chance to see it today and address it. That’s a great example why I am such a fan of his as a course builder,” McLain continued, noting the riders were permitted to see the fence but not jump it today.
McLain, who is from Brewster, N.Y., will be riding Clinta, an 11-year-old Oldenburg mare who became a star of his string this year. Since he has been part of so many championship teams, I wondered if the thrill had worn off for McLain. Hear what he had to say in the video below.
The high-powered squad includes two of McLain’s gold medal teammates, Laura, with Zeremonie, an 11-year-old Holsteiner, and Beezie with Darry Lou, a 10-year-old Dutchbred stallion. The balance of the group involves newbies Devin, who made a big splash when he finished second in the Longines FEI World Cup™ Show Jumping Final last spring on Eddie Blue, and Adrienne, who did a great job in the observation trials aboard Cristalline.
“We certainly have a team that we have huge confidence in,” said Coach Robert Ridland, noting that even so, “it’s not going to be easy” to finish in the top six, the group that automatically gets a berth in the 2020 Olympics.
The U.S. dressage team did it last week when they won the silver medal; the eventing team missed by one spot. And there are more nations that are big-time contenders in show jumping than in either of the other Olympic disciplines. And of course, he also hopes to have his riders on the podium for both the team and individual medals.To hear more of Robert’s thoughts, click on the video below.
Devin, from Long Valley, N.J., has had many sensational performances with Eddie, the Dutchbred 9-year-old gelding he got as a 4-year-old and trained himself. Being on his first championship team is a landmark, and we talked about what it is like from his vantage point. Hear Devin's thoughts in the video below.
Adrienne, a Greenwich, Conn., resident, remembers watching the 2014 WEG in Normandy, France and feeling “so far away from anything relatively close to that. It’s an honor to be here,” she said. Her mare, a 10-year-old Bavarian warmblood, is quite a star. Adrienne tells us about the close relationship she has with her horse below.
Laura lives in Wellington, Fla., now, but originally she was from the area where WEG is being held. That’s a plus for her, since family and friends will be on hand to support her. She has spent a lot of time as an alternate, from the day she was selected to be the reserve for the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona with Simba Run, so it always means a great deal for her to make a team. Hear Laura's thoughts below.
Beezie is in an unaccustomed spot as an alternate, especially after winning the Longines FEI World Cup™ finals earlier this year. The Cazenovia, N.Y.,-based rider is a trouper, so she does what any job requires—even if it’s not exactly what she envisioned. Listen to what she said about that.
Tomorrow, we’ll be keeping an eye on teams from Germany, France, Belgium, Ireland, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Sweden, who would appear to be the USA’s biggest rivals, while the Mexican team was the surprise winner in Dublin last month, so perhaps they will play a role.
Individually, there are too many big contenders to narrow down the field. Favorites likely would be McLain, the World No. 2; Lorenzo de Luca of Italy, Eric Lamaze, Canada; Steve Guerdat, Switzerland; Marcus Ehning, Germany; World No. 1 Harrie Smolders, Netherlands; Henrik von Eckermann, Sweden and Kevin Staut, France, among others.
We can’t wait for the one-round speed class to begin tomorrow morning!