BARCELONA, Spain--An extraordinary and unprecedentedly young U.S. team of Lucy Deslauriers, Alex Granato. Andy Kocher, Jessie Springsteen with one veteran, Laura Kraut, missed making the show jumping Nations Cup Finals on Sunday, Oct. 7 by mere seconds and then almost caught a very strong German team in the Consolation class Saturday evening to finish a very good second with only three riders, two of which were riding in their first or second Nations Cup.
Chef d'equipe Robert Ridland said that it was just the way things turned out that in the biggest Nations Cup of the year he had to use a quartet of young, up-and-coming riders.
"Even in the press conference, everyone was amazed at the team we used," said Ridland. "Everyone is used to my 3-2 formula, but I've never done a 1-4 before."
Ridland's 3-2 formula, using three very good veteran riders with two young, untested riders has resulted in a huge number of U.S. victories, and even though it wasn't his plan or hope to use a 1-4, one veteran and four youngsters, team, it performed incredibly well against the top 15 show jumping nations in the world.
"We set our priorities at the beginning of the year," said Ridland. "Number one was the WEG, number two was the World Cup and number three was the Nations Cup Finals.
Beezie Madden placed first and Devin Ryan was second in the World Cup and the U.S. team won the gold medal at the WEG.
"THE WEG was our complete focus, and we weren't going to risk any of the horses we used at the WEG by taking them to Barcelona," said Ridland. "It was Beezie's decision not to go to Barcelona, McLain's second horse HH Azur, is resting the rest of this year, and Margie (Engle) couldn't fit it into her schedule."
"Plus, all the Europeans have their second horses close at hand, just a van trip away, while we have to send horses across the Atlantic to compete just one weekend," said Ridland. "I've never done a 1-4 before, to go there was a major step, but that was the hand we were dealt."
In the first round Friday evening, Jessica Springsteen of Colts Neck, N.Y. on RMF Zecilie had four faults, Andy Kocher of Ocala, Fla., made his first-ever Nations Cup appearance and, on Kahlua, had four faults.
With the need for a clear round on the line, Lucy Deslauriers of New York, N.Y., on Hester, delivered, putting the U.S. team in contention for a top-eight spot to advance to the final.
But Laura Kraut on Confu had an unfortunate eight fault round as the drop score, so the U.S. team with eight faults was in a four way tie with Germany, France and Switzerland for the last two spots, with time determining the outcome.
"It was amazing, with two of the three medal teams from the WEG sitting there trying to figure out the time differential," said Ridland.
Switzerland and France had the fastest aggregate time to advance to the final round, leaving Germany and the U.S. to compete in the Consolation class.
In the six years that the U.S. team has attended the FEI Jumping Nations Cup Final, this was its third time competing in the Challenge Cup.
In 2014, the U.S. team won the Challenge Cup in a jump-off against Australia and again in 2013 in a jump-off against Switzerland.
FOR THE Consolation class, the team was Springsteen, Kocher, Deslauriers and the fifth rider, Alex Granato, replaced Kraut, but just minutes before the beginning of the class at 9 p.m., Springsteen had to withdraw, leaving one 19-year-old rider, Deslaurier, Kocher, who had ridden in only one 5* Nations Cup before, and Granato, who had never ridden in any Nations Cup competitons before.
"Jessie had ridden the mare at 6 p.m., and then put her back in her stall," said Ridland. "They were tacking up the mare when they noticed a minor inflammation in her leg. It was two minutes after eight,, and you couldn't change the entry after 8 p.m., with the first horse in the ring at 9 p.m. The irony was that we could have used Laura in the jump-off if there had to be a jump-off, but we couldn't use her for the first round."
In his first-ever Nations Cup appearance, Kocher had eight faults, Granato delivered a fabulous clean round and Deslaurier also was clean but had one time fault for a nine fault total.
Germany's last rider, Marcus Ehning, had to have a clean round to win, and he did just that, for Germany to win on a total of five faults, with Brazil third with 10 faults.
There was a $50,000 prize for all riders who had two clean rounds, and both Lucy Deslauriers and her Father Mario, who was riding for Canada, both had clean rounds in the first round.
Mario jumped before Lucy, and he had another clean round, but he had one time fault.
Then Lisa also jumped clean, but she, too, incurred one time fault.
"Lucy had 22/100ths of a second over," said Ridland. "But we did rib both Mario and Lucy about those time faults."
"Alex had the best round of the night," said Ridland. "Lucy is only 19 and she rode great. It was invaluable experience."
“I’m very happy with how they rode tonight,” said Ridland after Saturday's night class. “That is the ups and downs of the sport. Sometimes the luck is with you a little bit, sometimes it’s not. To go in with only three riders and no discard score is obviously a disadvantage, but we’ve done it before. Our backs were up against the wall and we came close to a jump-off. Marcus was on a roll, and it was unlikely he was going to have a rail down. But, finishing second – it was a good performance and everybody rode really well! I am proud of them all.”
“I’ve never jumped on any team, just for myself and my owners, but never on a team,” said Kocher. “Competing on a team is different, and there are a lot more nerves that go into it than I was expecting. I had a good time. The place is amazing, it is a really good facility, and it was a fun week. Kahlula did really, really well. She has jumped some five-star grand prix before, but this is her first time to jump something like this. She is just getting into the groove, and I was happy. Under lights, she just walked in and was good.”
Granato 0f Wellington, Fla., on Carlchen W rode in only his second-ever Nations Cup, and he delivered a crucial clean round.
“It was awesome, I loved the show,” said Granato. “It’s my first time here, and it was a little last minute that I ended up being on the team. I came as the reserve rider, planning to jump the Grand Prix. Then when some cards changed, we decided to go tonight and I am thrilled with the decision. I am thrilled with the horse. He felt fantastic and rose to the occasion.”
Then Deslauriers delivered the necessary clean round that gave them second place.
“I think, overall, considering the prestige of this show I couldn’t be happier,” said Deslauriers. “This is my fourth senior Nations Cup ever, so I am still quite new to this level. There is nothing quite like representing your country on the international stage, so I was very honored to be picked for this team. For it to go this well is just icing on the cake. I couldn’t imagine doing anything like this on a different horse. I have 100 percent faith in Hester, and I know he will quite literally do anything I ask, as evidenced by my third fence today. He is just an incredible partner and no better teacher at this level.”
"I'm excited about how the year turned out," said Ridland. "To have an unprecedented win in both the World Cup and the WEG, and then to win the WEG in a jump-off, it doesn't get more exciting."