The concept of the top four jump riders changing horses at the World Equestrian Games (formerly the World Championships) has always intrigued me. But I have some conflicting thoughts and feelings regarding the format.
Yes, for a rider to claim the title, he or she should have the ability to ride other horses. And the Final Four usually offers proof of a rider’s ability to adapt to different mounts, although I have a sense that part of Gail Greenough’s win in 1986 was Gail’s hard-earned partnership with the opinionated Mr T played a role.
But, the thing that doesn’t make sense to me is the changing of saddles. In 2006, the first change was Edwina Alexander (regular mount, Pialotta, a mare) riding Cumano (Jos Lansik’s regular mount and a stallion), and when the mare’s saddle and pad were put on the back of the stallion, he turned to smell it. Recognizing the female scent, the stallion had the predicted physical response. Hmm…
In 2006 three of the horses (Authentic, Pialotta, Shutterfly) looked like the modern type (a bit more Thoroughbred in appearance) while Cumano was a bit more towards the classic type.
And doesn’t changing tack fly in the face of the stock and trade of saddle builders and saddle fitters? What if the horses are built differently? For the answers, I asked Lesley McGill of The Saddle Doctor.
She said that when a wider horse wears the saddle of a narrower horse, they are “punished on landing as the saddle rams into the back of the scapula.” Conversely, “a wide horse’s saddle will contact the narrow horse with high withers, punishing him every stride.”
So why don’t the riders leave the tack intact and adjust the stirrups? McGill says that dressage riders tend to “get it,” but only about 5% of her clientele are jumper riders.
With all that in mind, I asked Eric Lamaze what would happen if he and Hickstead, a smaller, narrower stallion with a huge range of motion to his scapula, made it to the Final Four. “I hadn’t thought of that,” he said.
At the 2009 World Cup Finals, I was told by those involved that the Dutch were attempting to have international riders from The Netherlands mounted on Dutch horses - an admirable goal. With that in mind I looked at the Nations Cup teams at the Masters at Spruce Meadows and noticed that the Canadians were riding more Dutch-bred horses - 3 out of 4 were KWPN - than the entire Dutch team brought to Calgary. (Each of the European teams each brought 8 horses to the Masters tournament.)
Keeping with the same theme, one American rider brought more Irish-bred horses than the entire Irish team. Oregon’s Rich Fellers laughs, saying, “Sometimes I go to a show in Europe and I’m the only one with an Irish horse.” In Flexible he had the only Irish horse on the USA team, which otherwise consisted of Holsteiners. He also won the BP Cup with McGuinness and was second in another class with Colgan Cruise – both Irish.
The Irish were riding Dutch and Belgian warmbloods while the Dutch were predominantly riding German-bred and French-bred horses. The Swiss team probably represented their country’s breeding program best as they came with two Swiss-bred horses out of their allotted 8 horses. Sadly, no horses of North American breeding were evident.
Does that mean that registry marketing schemes are working very well, perhaps better outside a breed’s ‘mother’ country than inside the home nation? Or is there a bit of ‘the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence’ syndrome evident here?
In June we talked about the number of under-thirty riders at Spruce Meadows. In July, after a little more research, it became evident that a lot of those very talented riders had something in common: they had come through the Young Rider and Junior Rider qualifications and competitions.
Yes, the Americans definitely fit into that category – Karl Cook, Hannah Selleck, Jessica Springsteen, Nick Dello Joio, Brianne Goutal, Charlie Jayne, Georgina Bloomberg, etc. – but so do Keean White of Canada, Paula Amibilia of Spain and Henri Kovacs of Hungary. And some of these riders even competed in the FEI Childrens’ Finals for the 14-and-under crowd.
Having a system of competitions for the younger set makes sense, and it certainly pays dividends when it comes to later success – and a degree of confidence - in the grand prix ring. It makes me think that as an industry we should be adding our full support to that system and those early championships.
On the flip side, I did encounter a couple of non-riders in the same age group, but the experience did not result in an admiration of ability. On the hot, sticky Friday of the North American, I went to the Purdy’s booth for ice cream. The order was simple: one scoop of chocolate and one scoop of strawberry in a cup. “Sorry, we can’t do that.” What? “It’s too complicated.” Are you joking? The co-worker says, “We’ve been told not to do that because it’s too complicated.” What’s the complicating factor? Is it the swishing of the scoop in water before changing flavours? I left, a bit frustrated, without my ice cream, but, after a bit of reflection, I was thankful for the best laugh of the week even if it was on the sad side of funny. Maybe the Purdy’s employees would have benefited from a developmental series of international competitions.
Aside from the celebrity madness, I did notice a few other things at the National tournament in June.
Canada’s Tentative Position
I noticed that three of the four horses on the Canadian silver-medal team from the 2008 Olympics were out of competition. Chef d’equipe Torchy Millar said that In Style (Ian Millar’s mount) was back under saddle and that Special Ed (Jill Henselwood’s mount) was at Spruce working on conditioning but not yet jumping. And Mac Cone said that Ole was coming along nicely. Cone added that the injury the gelding is currently recovering from was not the same one that kept him off for a year earlier in his career.
Torchy reminded me that the ‘long list’ of 10 riders and 20 horses does not need to be announced until August 16th and that the final WEG selections (5 horses and riders) do not need to be made until September 29th.
But one has to wonder what would happen if any of the three don’t recover in time for the World Equestrian Games. Ian Millar doesn’t have another solid 1.60m horse, but he did move Dryden up to that level for one class mid-week.
The Youth Movement
Normally there are one or two outstanding 25-and-under riders, but this year there were nine. Another seven were under 30. That meant the under 30 crowd numbered 16 in total, making them the largest decade-wide group! Only 4 were older than 50. Maybe that bodes well for the future of the sport.
Many of the horses belonging to this group of younger riders were what could only be described as experienced. The oldest of which was a 20-year-old stallion that made his debut on the British Nations Cup team in 2001. And a horse belonging to one of Ian Millar’s students has competed at three World Cup Finals.
To read more about the value of the seasoned mount, read The May/December Partnerships in the upcoming issue of Gaitpost.
So I show up to the National expecting to see some of the usual faces as well as a few new ones, but oh no, that’s not what I encounter. Every news agency in Calgary had someone - or several someones - at Spruce Meadows.
Grown adults were behaving like 12-year-old girls at a Justin Bieber concert – not a pretty sight.
Why all the hoopla?
All one had to do was follow the direction of every lens and every microphone; they were aimed at one individual. The Boss was there. Yes, Bruce Springsteen was on site to watch his daughter Jessica compete in the 1.45 meter and 1.50 meter divisions.
Good luck concentrating on what your daughter is doing, Bruce!
To his credit The Boss managed to keep a calm voice and a small smile on his face as he repeatedly said that he was just “here as a father.” And who said singers can’t act?
Out of respect, the media backed off a few feet…and used their telephoto lenses.
Every paper and television station carried a story, bringing even more folks out to the Spruce Meadows National. Maybe that’s why the Meadows set a Sunday attendance record.
All the added attention was getting to Jessica’s coach too, but I can understand his defensive position. Imagine how hard it is for a coach to keep his riders, especially young riders, focused under such stringent scrutiny.
One can only imagine the commotion when Hannah Selleck’s moustache-toting father - or some other celebrity - shows up to watch the competition in the summer tournaments.
I sure wouldn’t want to be in their shoes, whether I was riding, coaching or spectating.