OCALA, Fla. –-The U.S. team of Lauren Hough, Laura Kraut, Beezie Madden and McLain Ward came from behind in this country's first 5* Nations Cup on Feb. 18 at HITS Ocala to just barely make it the podium, tied for third place with 24 faults, in what was a hard fought battle to the end, with Canada winning with eight faults and Brazil placing second with 16 faults.
“We always set the bar high, that’s the standard that we always expect,” said chef d'equipe Robert Ridland. “We felt that we were really prepared to win gold, but that’s the nature of 5* events. It’s the first time that we have had a 5* Nations Cup in the United States, and that was a 5* course, no question about it. The good news is, we had a podium finish, which is obviously what we always aim for. And we finished second in our league for today.”
As the first 5* in this country, course designer Marina Azevedo of Brazil had set a very difficult track for the $450,000 Nations Cup.
Hough, riding Ohlala, had the only clean round for the team, which she posted in the second round after finishing on eight faults in the first.
Kraut on Confu and Madden on Darry Lou both had four faults in each round, while Ward had a very uncharacteristic 12 faults in each round on HH Callas.
“I THOUGHT he jumped brilliantly,” said Kraut of Confu. “It was a very big course today. I think that Marina built a really strong track. You wouldn’t jump one any bigger anywhere in the world. I think my horse jumped the second round incredibly. I just didn’t have the luck of the show jumping gods at the last jump because he really made a beautiful round of it!”
"McLain's mare had been jumping really well," said Ridland. "McLain rode the course just the way we walked it. You can't put your finger on the problem. He changed the way he rode somecof the fences for the second round, and he had three different rails. Sometimes horses just come out not feeling 100 percent. But that put pressure on the rest of the team."
It was just a bad day at the office," said Ridland. "Not the worst, because we did end up on the podium."
"This was early in the season," said Ridland. "We had laid out our priorities last fall, the World Equestrian Games, the World Cup Finals and the Nations Cup Finals.
"But you always try to win at home. This was the first 5* in this country, and it was a real 5* course, it was tough, plus it had enormous prize money, so it attracted everybody's A team.
"Our three riders whose scores did count were respectable, but Canada just had a great day," said Ridland.
After the first round, Canada and Germany were tied with four faults, Brazil was third with eight, the U.S. and Ireland were tied fourth with 16 and Mexico was sixth with 26 faults.
Canada's Ian Millar, amazing at 71, riding Dixson, and Eric Lamaze on Coco Bongo were both double clean, the only ones to achieve that honor, while Tiffany Foster had one rail to have Canada finish on a total of eight faults, while Brazil added another eight faults to finish on 16 for second, while Germany fell apart in the second round, finishing the two rounds on 32 faults.
THE U.S. tied with Ireland on 24 faults, but as the home team were the foursome that made it to the podium.
"For Ian to come out double clean at 71, that's amazing," said Ridland. "I would have loved to have seen his round, but as chef d'equipe I have to be in the warm-up area. But you have to take your hat off to him."
"It was a hard fought class," said Ridland. "The course was very, very good. There's never been a 5* Nations Cup in this country before. We want to put the U.S. on a par with Aachen, Hickstead, Dublin, etc., so to do that it had to be a 5* course, and Marina did a great job.
"Everybody gave their best effort," said Ridland. "We didn't plan the year to peak in February. We want to peak in September. But you don't like not winning when you send your A team. We were disappointed, but we were on the podium, and we're second in our league, and that's important in our effort to qualify for the Finals.
"What is concerning is keeping that position. The next qualifying Nations Cup in our league is in Mexico, and that will be hard to field a team with the quarantine. There's a 40 day restriction on horses going to Europe, so no horse that goes in the World Cup final can be on the team in Mexico and no horse whose rider wants him in Europe after Mexico can be on the team.
'I think the teams for Mexico and Langley in Canada could be very important. If Mexico wins in Mexico we could be in a difficult place, "said Ridland.
The two top teams for the North and Central American League qualify for the Finals.
Canada leads now with 100 points, the U.S. got 75 points for being tied for third, and Mexico has 55 points, but Mexico will put up their best team on home turf, and a win would give them 155 points, while, even if we finished second, the U.S. would then be tied with Mexico on 155, and, of course, Canada is in there determined to qualify, too.
IN ADDITION to hosting America’s first CSIO5* Nations Cup competition on Sunday, Feb. 18, the CSIO5* Ocala offered children’s and junior team competition on Saturday, Feb. 17.
In the $5,000 FEI International Invitational Junior Team Competition, the U.S.’s ‘Stars and Stripes’ team earned the silver medal, with team members including Kyle Perkovich of Long Grove, Ill.. on Sovereign, Carolina Villanueva of New York, N.Y., riding Zabel D, and Faith Davis of Gurley, Fla., on Da Vinci.
In the FEI International Invitational Children’s Team Competition, the three-person combined ‘Americas’ team, composed of Natalie Pedley of Puerto Rico on True Blue Mate, Ansgar Holtgers Jr. of Wellington, Fla., on Hookjipa XXX, and Emma Callanan of Lebanon, N.J., riding Q-Two, won the gold medal..
A second, entirely U.S. team, made up of Holtgers, Callanan, Genevieve Munson (of Rogers, Ariz., on Cassonetti, and Alexa Leong of Sacramento, Calif., on Hertogin ter Drie Leien, also finished on the podium in third place.
“I thought it went fantastic,” said DiAnn Langer, Chef d’Equipe for the Children’s and Junior teams. “It was a great learning moment for all of the young riders. I think they were all extremely happy to be a part of it, they’ve expressed that over and over. I think it was a wonderful competition.”