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Friday, September 22, 2023

U.S. wins the Nations Cup in Mexico to open its campaign to qualify for the Paris Olympics

SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE, Mexico--It was a little too exciting a finish for the U.S. in the Nations Cup in Mexico, which was the beginning of a three pronged effort to qualify a show jumping team for the Paris Olympics.

Laura Kraut on Baloutinue Pasion EcuestreLaura Kraut on Baloutinue (Photo by Pasion Ecuestre)Kraut, last to go for the U.S. in the second round, had to go clean to force a jump-off with defending Champions, Mexico.

Riding Baloutinue, Kraut under that pressure rode a beautiful clean round, and the U.S. and Mexico were tied with 8 faults, which forced a jump-off to determine the winner.

Kraut would not only produce that critical clear effort aboard her championship partner Baloutinue, but she would also go on to secure the victory for her team in a two-horse jump-off with Mexico's Eugenio Garza Perez.

On the team with Kraut were Kent Farrington on Landon, Jessica Springsteen on Don Juan van de Donkhoeve and Bliss Heers on Antidote de Mars.

Kraut had the only double-clear over Mexican Benjamin Fernandez's 1.60m track to win the bonus prize money.

In the jump-off, Kraut was clear again, with a winning time of 39.43 seconds. Garza secured second for Mexico aboard Contago with a jump-off time of 42.13 seconds.

Both teams finished the second round on total scores of 8 faults. Canada was third with 20 faults.

"When Laura went in for the second round, I said, 'We need two clear rounds out of you, starting now,'" said chef d''equipe Robert Ridland. "That wasn't counting her first one. We had already made that decision that she would jump-off if she was clear."


AFTER THE U.S. failed to qualify for the 2022  FEI Jumping Nations Cup Finals, Ridland entered the 2023 season with an aggressive strategy.

PodiumThe U.S. team on the podium with chef d'equipe Robert Ridland (Photo by Pasion Equestre)He brought four of the country's best combinations to Mexico with an eye toward getting the better of the home nation, who had won four of the last five editions of the event on home soil.

"This planning really happened at the beginning of the year. We knew what was ahead of us, long-range, to qualify for the Olympics in Paris, and this was a huge step to get there," Ridland said. "We needed to bring experience. We have some young riders in the mix as well, but we had to bring our 'A' team."

Ridland's three pronged effort to qualify for Paris began in Mexico.

For the first prong, the U.S. had to qualify for the Nations Cup Final in Barcelona by being one of the top two between the U.S., Mexico and Canada.

Then, if the U.S. qualifies for Barcelona, the second prong was to be the leading team out of all the teams not already qualified for Paris, as that team would get an automatic berth n the Olympic Games.

The third prong would be in the Pan American Games, where the leading team of those not already qualified would also get an Olympic berth.

Three of the U.S.'s four team members are Olympic medalists, and each of those riders, Kraut, Farrington, and Springsteen, delivered at least one clear round on the day.

After the first round, the Americans led on a score of 4 faults, but rails from Springsteen and Heers in Round 2, and clear efforts from Garza Perez, Nicolas Pizarro on Pia Contra and Manuel Gonzalez Dufrane on Hortensia van de Leeuwerk, left the U.S. tied with Mexico.

Kraut went second in the jump-off.

"We watched Eugenio go, and as I was walking in the ring, Kent said, 'Your normal speed will be quick enough,'" Kraut said. "So when I started, I went maybe a touch quicker than my normal speed.

"I couldn't be happier with him. He's probably a horse of a lifetime," she said. "That's a big statement, because I've had some incredible horses."

“It was amazing. We almost went rider for rider with Mexico the entire time, which made for an incredible competition. By the time Laura [went, we knew that we would probably be in a jump-off,” said Ridland. “The course was excellent. It was going to be a major test but also doable, but they didn’t lower the standards at all, and it was a real course. By the results, any Nations Cup that only has one double-clear combination means it was tough. It was an amazing Nations Cup. It was a fantastic venue, and they’re wonderful hosts. There’s a lot on the line this year, and it was so gratifying that when we had our call to arms at the beginning of the year, everyone, including our athletes, owners, and staff, came forward to make this happen. We have a great support team behind us.”

Farrington on Landon went first for the team and had four faults and a time of 76.49 seconds.

Landon made his debut for the  U.S. Jumping Team last year and has become a promising young talent for Farrington.

Heers on Antidote de Mars, also had a rail in their first-round trip to finish with four faults, putting pressure on the final two team combinations to produce clear rounds.

In their first appearance for the team since 2021, Springsteen on Don Juan van de Donkhoeve had togo clean to keep the team on four faults moving into the second round to stay at the top of the standings.

Springsteen was careful and calculated in her trip, notching the first clear round for the team on the afternoon.

As the anchor rider and veteran pair of the team, Kraut on Baloutinue was clean, so the team went into the second round on four faults ahead of both Mexico, 8 faults, and Canada, 12 faults, at the conclusion of round one.

Farrington was clean in the second round, but Heers had eight faults.

Then Springsteen had a late-falling rail at the plank vertical for four faults.

So Kraut had to go clean to force a jump-off.

In an exhilarating finish, a tie with Mexico on a two-round score of eight faults forced a  jump-off between Garza Perez of Mexico and Kraut.

Garza Perez went first in the jump-off, finishing in 42.13 seconds and putting the team’s final placing in Kraut’s capable hands.

Kraut executed a precise and efficient jump-off round with Baloutinue, crossing through the finish in 39.43 seconds to secure the team’s win.

The United States takes an early lead in the North and Central America and Caribbean division of the FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ with 100 points.

Mexico is second with 90 points, and Canada is third with 80 points.

The division continues on May 14 in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., in two weeks.

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