The In­side Scoop on WEG

The World Eque•trian Game• are •et to kick off. Here’• the late•t on the •ite and the coun­trie• mo•t likely to reach the podium.

Practical Horseman - - Special Dressage Issue - By Nancy Jaf­fer

The 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games™ are set to take place Sept. 11–23 at the Tryon In­ter­na­tional Equestrian Cen­ter in Mill Spring, North Carolina. Here’s the lat­est on site prepa­ra­tions and Team USA’s prospects at medal­ing in show jump­ing, event­ing and dres­sage.

The FEI World Equestrian Games™ of­fer the chance of a life­time, not only for ath­letes mak­ing their de­but at the com­pi­la­tion of eight world cham­pi­onships but also for U.S. spec­ta­tors who have never been to a com­pe­ti­tion of that mag­ni­tude. The Sept. 11–23 WEG at the Tryon In­ter­na­tional Equestrian Cen­ter in Mill Spring, North Carolina, is just the sec­ond fix­ture to be held in the U.S. since the Games be­gan in 1990. The first was in 2010 at the Ken­tucky Horse Park.

If you’re putting off a trip to WEG, think­ing the U.S. will host an­other, a bet­ter ques­tion is whether there will be an­other WEG any­where be­cause the event has be­come so ex­pen­sive and com­pli­cated to run.

“The size that it’s grown to is very chal­leng­ing for any or­ga­nizer to put on,” says Michael Stone, the Tryon WEG’s pres­i­dent and sports di­rec­tor (see side­bar, page 26).

So there’s no time like the present to en­joy a smor­gas­bord of di­verse choices at Tryon with a menu that in­cludes show jump­ing, event­ing, dres­sage, para-dres­sage, rein­ing, vault­ing, four-in-hand driv­ing and en­durance. The com­pact na­ture of the venue means it’s pos­si­ble for spec­ta­tors to eas­ily walk from one arena to an­other to catch sev­eral dif­fer­ent com­pe­ti­tions, which to a cer­tain ex­tent is the point of WEG.

“It’s re­ally nice that all the dis­ci­plines are to­gether. It cross-min­gles the equestrian pop­u­la­tion around what we all love, the horse, and ex­poses peo­ple to dif­fer­ent sports,” said John Mad­den, a for­mer first vice pres­i­dent of the FEI who also served as chair­man of that or­ga­ni­za­tion’s showjump­ing com­mit­tee.

The WEG will be the big­gest sport­ing event in the U.S. this year, in­clud­ing ap­prox­i­mately 1,000 ath­letes. “We’ll ex­pect about 500,000 spec­ta­tors. Even on the world stage of sports, that’s big. Hav­ing said that, the prac­ti­cal­ity of it is very dif­fi­cult,” ob­served John, who is mar­ried to Beezie Mad­den, the show-jump­ing dou­ble-bronze medal­ist at the 2014 WEG in Nor­mandy, France.

“But at the end of the day at Tryon, we’ll have great sport, a great fa­cil­ity and we’ll have chal­lenges. Yes—traf­fic, ho­tels, all of that will be dif­fi­cult.”

Then John chuck­led, mus­ing, “Some­body from some for­eign coun­try will end up stop­ping at a diner on the way be­cause they had to stay too far away and meet some won­der­ful wait­ress who gives them the best cup of cof­fee they ever had. That be­comes part of the story.”

Big ad­van­tages for Tryon as an on­go­ing op­er­a­tion are its seven per­ma­nent restau­rants and other fa­cil­i­ties as well as its state-of-the-art sta­bling with a sep­a­rate quar­an­tine fa­cil­ity right on the grounds

and plenty of space for train­ing the 1,500 horses that will take part in the Games.

But be­cause Tryon is out in the coun­try­side, hu­man hous­ing isn’t as con­ve­nient, with ho­tels gen­er­ally from a half-hour to an hour away. “That in it­self pro­vides sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges around lo­gis­tics for a team and also for peo­ple trav­el­ing—me­dia, spon­sors, spec­ta­tors,” pointed out Will Con­nell, the U.S. Equestrian Fed­er­a­tion’s di­rec­tor of sport. But he’s a prob­lem-solver who never loses fo­cus on his role with the U.S ef­fort. “Al­ways the aim is to try and cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment where the rid­ers and staff can per­form to their very best,” he ex­plained.

As Will ob­served, even those who have com­peted pre­vi­ously at TIEC or at­tended com­pe­ti­tions there will find they have a learn­ing curve for WEG. “This is not the Tryon you know. There’s go­ing to be a com­pletely dif­fer­ent over­lay. There’s go­ing to be se­cu­rity, there’s go­ing to be dif­fer­ent park­ing, there’s go­ing to be mag and bag [screen­ing with a mag­net scan­ner and bag check], there will be lines to get in.”

Show Jump­ing: A Global Mar­ket

The ex­cite­ment of see­ing a mul­ti­tude of flags has been height­ened by the fact that some coun­tries which once were also-rans and in it just for the ex­pe­ri­ence, are now con­tenders. That is par­tic­u­larly true in show jump­ing but less so in dres­sage and event­ing, where the prospec­tive medal scale weighs heav­ily to­ward the usual sus­pects.

“The world has got­ten smaller in a lot of ways,” said McLain Ward, a mem­ber of the bronze-medal show-jump­ing team in Nor­mandy, who is also a two-time Olympic gold medal­ist and World Cup cham­pion.

“The peren­nial fa­vorites, the Ger­mans, the Dutch, the Amer­i­cans, the Bri­tish, are strong,” he noted, nam­ing only a few. France and Swe­den could also be medal con­tenders. Show-jump­ing coach Robert Rid­land ad­vised that Canada shouldn’t be over­looked and that Bel­gium and Ire­land also are show­ing strength in the run-up.

At the same time, McLain em­pha­sized, “There are a lot of coun­tries that were not fac­tors even 10 years ago that are fac­tors now and I think that’s made the sport more ex­cit­ing. It’s opened up a global mar­ket.”

Latin Amer­ica presents a show-jump­ing strong spot in Brazil, and in North Amer­ica, Mex­ico has shown prom­ise. Some of the Mid­dle East­ern coun­tries, in­clud­ing Saudi Ara­bia and Qatar, have made their pres­ence felt. Is­rael could well be­come more prom­i­nent for the first time. Its star is Daniel Bluman, who rode for Colom­bia in the Olympics and switched cit­i­zen­ship.

“The sport con­tin­ues to de­velop a lot and you have more and more rid­ers over the world do­ing well,” said John. He noted that the Olympic for­mat for 2020 has ex­panded dra­mat­i­cally in terms of the num­ber of teams par­tic­i­pat­ing: 20, rather than the 12 who show-jumped in Rio two years ago. “I’m re­ally hop­ing the sport de­vel­ops world­wide so there are 20 de­serv­ing na­tions to go to Tokyo,” he com­mented.

There are al­ways more teams in the WEG than in the Olympics. While 18 teams jumped in Nor­mandy, there could be be­tween 30 and 35 teams com­pet­ing in Tryon. Where does the U.S. fit in?

“I al­ways be­lieve that the U.S. at its best will win,” said McLain. “If we’re a lit­tle short of our best, hope­fully we’ll get a medal. It’s al­ways won­der­ful to have the home-crowd ad­van­tage. It’s al­ways won­der­ful to have the en­thu­si­asm and sup­port, but it also comes with its share of bur­dens and stresses which you don’t deal

with when you’re abroad.”

U.S. Event­ing Per­for­mance Di­rec­tor Erik Du­van­der, a na­tive of Swe­den, re­mem­bers his ex­pe­ri­ence rid­ing in front of a home crowd at the first WEG 28 years ago in Stock­holm as “an op­por­tu­nity you wouldn’t want to miss. It drives you. You want to be at your best when you’re rid­ing in front of your coun­try.”

This WEG is the first time that the show-jump­ing world cham­pi­onships are be­ing held with­out the Fi­nal Four for the in­di­vid­ual medals. That in­volved hav­ing the top four rid­ers through­out the pre­vi­ous seg­ments of the com­pe­ti­tion all start out on zero penal­ties and switch horses so each rode four more rounds. In re­cent years, the con­cept has come un­der crit­i­cism for a num­ber of rea­sons, in­clud­ing the fact that the horses have be­come wildly ex­pen­sive. Even a great rider who isn’t used to a horse could make a costly mis­take with a mount that the ath­lete is in ef­fect catch-rid­ing.

“In the old days, when the horses were very, very dif­fer­ent and the world was much big­ger, I think it was re­ally valid,” said John. “But now the test of the sport is so much more to do with the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the horse and the rider than ever. As our sport evolves, it goes to­ward treat­ing that re­la­tion­ship as pre­cious. It’s a nice step for­ward and it will be nice to see how that works out as well.”

Un­der the new for­mat for in­di­vid­ual hon­ors, the top 25 rid­ers fol­low­ing the speed and team com­pe­ti­tions will qual­ify for the two-round in­di­vid­ual fi­nal. Af­ter all 25 have com­peted, the top 12 with the least penal­ties from the pre­vi­ous days’ com­pe­ti­tions and Round A of the fi­nals will re­turn to jump again over a dif­fer­ent course. The medals will go to the three rid­ers with the least penal­ties through­out the en­tire com­pe­ti­tion.

Event­ing and Dres­sage

For event­ing and dres­sage, there are fewer coun­tries to be con­sid­ered as likely WEG medal fac­tors than in show jump­ing. In both dis­ci­plines, that in­cludes Ger­many and Bri­tain while the Dutch, the Danes and pos­si­bly Swe­den or Spain could fig­ure in

dres­sage. In event­ing, the Aus­tralians, New Zealan­ders and French are also ones to watch.

“I wouldn’t say we’re a gold-medal prospect, but our goal is to get qual­i­fi­ca­tion [for the 2020 Olympics] and try to medal,” said Erik, who came on board as event­ing per­for­mance di­rec­tor only last au­tumn and is a “wicked as­set” ac­cord­ing to peren­nial U.S. team mem­ber Boyd Martin.

The all-im­por­tant qual­i­fi­ca­tion, achieved by fin­ish­ing in the top six at WEG, is also the goal for show jump­ing and dres­sage. The idea is that af­ter WEG those teams can con­cen­trate on pre­par­ing to do well in Tokyo in­stead of fig­ur­ing out how to get there. Mak­ing the top six—a very achiev­able goal for the U.S. in all three dis­ci­plines— would elim­i­nate the worry of hav­ing to qual­ify for Tokyo at the 2019 Pan Amer­i­can Games in Lima, Peru. Both event­ing and dres­sage needed to qual­ify for Rio at the 2015 Pan Ams in Canada, hav­ing failed to make the cut at the 2014 WEG.

Ac­cord­ing to Boyd, “This has been the year where, as a coun­try, we’ve looked the strong­est. The last cou­ple of teams, I don’t think the se­lec­tors had to do any­thing ex­cept pick who­ever’s left. And now, this year, there’s a num­ber of horses and rid­ers who are in great form, have had good re­sults.”

Sadly, he suf­fered a blow when Sham- wari—the leader af­ter cross coun­try at the Luh­mülen, Ger­many, event in June—suf­fered what ap­pears to be a ca­reer-end­ing hind-leg in­jury. But Boyd, the top U.S. fin­isher in both the 2010 and 2014 WEG, had an­other can­di­date in the up-and-com­ing Tset­ser­leg, an 11-year-old Trakehner geld­ing. The pair has been named to the U.S. team headed to WEG along with Phillip Dut­ton and Z, a 10-year-old Zanger­sheide geld­ing; Lau­ren Ki­ef­fer and Ver­micu­lus, an 11-year-old An­glo-Ara­bian geld­ing; Mar­i­lyn Lit­tle and RF Scan­dalous, a 13-year-old Olden­burg mare; and Lynn Sy­man­sky and Don­ner, a 15-year-old Thor­ough­bred geld­ing. At press time, the show-jump­ing and dres­sage teams had not been named.

In dres­sage, the U.S. has un­prece­dented strength and depth, ac­cord­ing to Tech­ni­cal Ad­vi­sor Robert Dover. It’s needed, with lots of chal­lenges to be faced.

It had seemed, for in­stance, that Great Bri­tain would be weaker with­out Vale­gro, who re­tired af­ter win­ning in­di­vid­ual gold for Charlotte Du­jardin in Rio. But Charlotte now has a spe­cial new horse, Mount St. John Freestyle, a 9-year-old whose abil­ity has prompted her nick­name, Mrs. Vale­gro. The mare’s in­ex­pe­ri­ence may not be in her fa­vor, but if all goes well for Charlotte, per­haps she could once again be an in­di­vid­ual medal con­tender along with Is­abell Werth of Ger­many on Wei­he­gold OLD and Laura Graves of the U.S. with Ver­dades, in ad­di­tion to Ger­many’s Sönke Rothen­berger and Cosmo.

It’s hard to think of any coun­try beat­ing Ger­many for gold. Robert cat­e­go­rizes it as “a su­per power.” If Is­abell could be cloned, she has enough horses to com­pose the en­tire Ger­man team, but the world-ranked No. 1 rides with some for­mi­da­ble team­mates.

Robert has a great deal of con­fi­dence in the ta­lented rid­ers who will make up the U.S. team. For her part, U.S. Dres­sage De­vel­op­ment Coach Deb­bie McDon­ald— who was named to suc­ceed Robert later this year—also has a good feel­ing about the home team’s prospects at WEG.

“As far as the rid­ers and tal­ent we have in the U.S. right now,” she said, “I think it’s a very strong pos­si­bil­ity that we’re go­ing to be on that podium.

The Tryon In­ter­na­tional Equestrian Cen­ter has the per­ma­nent in­fra­struc­ture needed to make it a vi­able op­tion to hold the 2018 WEG.

ABOVE RIGHT: The carousel at Tryon is a per­ma­nent fix­ture.

ABOVE: Amer­i­can Adri­enne Lyle, who com­peted in the 2012 Olympics, rode Salvino in the dres­sage test event in Tryon last April.

LEFT: U.S. Event­ing Per­for­mance Di­rec­tor Erik Du­van­der (left) and Boyd Martin, who has been named to the 2018 WEG U.S. event­ing team

From left: U.S. Dres­sage Tech­ni­cal Ad­vi­sor Robert Dover with U.S. Dres­sage De­vel­op­ment Coach Deb­bie McDon­ald and vet­eri­nar­ian Rick Mitchell at the 2014 WEG in Nor­mandy, France

Tracy Fen­ney and MTM Reve du Par­adis com­peted at the WEG jump­ing test event in Tryon last fall.

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