The U.S. team of Lauren Hough, Laura Kraut, Beezie Madden and McLain Ward added a spectacular finish to a stellar year of competition in Nations Cup competitions, finishing second in the Final in Barcelona, Spain on Sept. 30.
The U.S. finished with only four faults to The Netherlands, which had three clean rounds with just one time fault to win the one round competition.
"Last year third, this year second, it was tremendous," said U.S. team Chef d'Equipe Robert Ridland. "Beezie is on a young horse, a new combination, and it is fabulous. Same thing with Laura. That is a relatively new combination, and the other two, perfection. We knew we were coming with a good team. There is no question about that. We had four veteran riders out there, but the combinations themselves were relatively new, and we really couldn't be happier."
The Final was scheduled to begin at 8 p.m., Barcelona time, Saturday evening, but just before the competition began a set of lights at one end of the stadium went out, leaving a part of the course in darkness.
Electricians worked feverishly to correct the problem, but it took almost two hours for them to figure out that it was just a cable to one light that was causing the trouble.
Competitors have a right to be nervous going into a competition as important as the Nations Cup Finals, and having to stand around for almost two hours, not knowing whether or not you're going to ride, had to be very hard.
But Ridland said that this was a very veteran team and that they handled it beautifully.
"We sent the horses back to the barn," said Ridland. "The officials in Barcelona kept ll the chefs up to speed. There were three different options; one was what happened, the second was changing the course as only one side was dark, and the third was to have the class on Sunday."
RIDLAND said the course designer, Santiago Varela, had already redesigned the course on the fly, and the jump crew had already started moving fences when they finally figured out the problem.
The audience was there, and not one person left," said Ridland. "The crowd went crazy when they saw the fences being moved back, because they knew that meant the class was going to be held that night."
Hough on Ohlala were first for the U.S. team, and they were clean.
"I've actually never had that happen before," said Hough of the competition delay. "I had to get the horse ready twice, and it was a lot of sitting around. I had to stay focused without letting that nervous energy bunch up too much. But Ohlala was absolutely perfect. I'm thrilled, I'm absolutely thrilled."
Kraut and the 10-year-old gelding Confu had a rail down near the beginning of the course, and Madden on the 9-year-old stallion, Darry Lou, also dropped one rail.
Kraut moved up to one fence early on to make sure she made the time, and Confu flattened out a bit to have the fence down.
"Both Laura and Beezie were on relatively young horses," said Ridland. "Time was definitely a factor."
The U.S. team sat on four faults, tied with Belgium, Germany, and Switzerland, headed into the fourth and final round.
With one of its three first riders having gone clean and another with just one time fault, the final rider for Netherlands rode prior to the U.S. team in the fourth round, and a clear round from Harrie Smolders and Don VHP Z meant the win for the Netherlands.
U.S. anchors Ward and HH Azur had to go clean and also compete against the clock for the U.S. to be second. as, for all but first place, time would separate the placings.
"McLain knew going in that the time was close," said Ridland. "We knew the differential going in, so when he went in all he had to do was the same as he did in Rio (at the Olympics), go clean and go fast. Two times in 12 months he had to do that. When Harrie went clean, McLain knew he not only had to go clean but also fast. He took a gamble and left out a stride to the last fence."
"It felt like Rio all over again," said Ward. "In that situation, you fight to be the best you can be on the day - that is my job, particularly as anchor, to be able to handle that. I knew that the time was going to be the factor, so I tried to think about that on my round, and Azur performed beautifully. She felt really good. She felt brilliant the other day, brilliant today, maybe even better."
Ward's gamble paid off, and his time was just fast enough to put the U.S. second, just a mere 1.15 seconds faster than Belgium's, using the U.S. team's three fastest rounds.
The Swiss were fourth with eight faults, followed by Sweden, Germany, France and Canada.
"This team did a masterful job," said Ridland. "Lauren was brilliant with both rounds, a double clean (in the qualifying class Thursday and the Final Saturday). It was an amazing team."
"We've been first or second in every Nations Cup this year," said Ridland. "It's been an extraordinary year. We used a lot of riders. I believe we used 17 riders, We used a lot of young riders. This wasn't a bad way to end the year."
The team was in Barcelona during the time that Catalonia was choosing to become an state independent of Spain.
"We actually heard the police shooting rubber bullets in the distance, but otherwise no problem," said Ridland.
Ridland says the U.S. Show Jumping Team will now set its sights on the FEI World Equestrian Games™ in Tryon in 2018.
"It was an unbelievably consistent week," said Ridland. "In our first round on Thursday night and again tonight, we had four veteran riders, a couple of them on relatively new combinations, so in reality, we couldn't be happier. This was one of our big priorities of the year. We feel we are on the right path, and at this point in time, and now we start looking forward to the WEG."