World Eques­trian Games Wrap-Up

The eight-dis­ci­pline cham­pi­onship dis­played great sport but weather and or­ga­ni­za­tional is­sues proved chal­leng­ing.

Practical Horseman - - CONTENTS - BY NANCY JAF­FER

Spec­ta­tors wit­nesssed great sport, and the U.S. jump­ing and dres­sage teams walked away with gold and sil­ver medals, re­spec­tively. But or­ga­ni­za­tional chal­lenges have some ask­ing what the fu­ture holds for the eight­dis­ci­pline cham­pi­onship.

The FEI World Eques­trian Games over­all pro­duced glo­ri­ous sport with a bonus for the home fans who dom­i­nated the stands at the Tryon International Eques­trian Cen­ter in Mill Spring, North Carolina, in Septem­ber. The spec­ta­tors were thrilled to see so many U.S. com­peti­tors claim a slew of team medals— gold in show jump­ing, driv­ing and rein­ing and sil­ver in dres­sage. There also were sev­eral in­di­vid­ual U.S. medals, in­clud­ing sil­ver for dres­sage rider Laura Graves and Amer­ica’s first three WEG para-dres­sage medals (see page 92 for more), along with sil­ver in driv­ing and sil­ver and bronze in rein­ing.

An­other first was the only tie-breaker in WEG team showjump­ing his­tory, pit­ting the United States against Swe­den. The Amer­i­can squad, an­chored by McLain Ward, claimed the top prize by a mere 2.06-sec­ond mar­gin in the jump-off.

Two days later Ward just missed the in­di­vid­ual medals, fin­ish­ing fourth on Clinta. But as he pointed out, all four team

mem­bers, in­clud­ing Laura Kraut and rook­ies Devin Ryan and Adri­enne Stern­licht, fin­ished in the top 16 out of 124 starters from 25 coun­tries.

By virtue of their medals, U.S. show jump­ing and dres­sage qual­i­fied for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Fin­ish­ing eighth, the even­ters didn’t make the cut and will have to try to qual­ify at next year’s Pan Amer­i­can Games and, if nec­es­sary, the Na­tions Cup. Event­ing Per­for­mance Di­rec­tor Erik Du­van­der—who by WEG had been at the helm less than a year—worked on devel­op­ing a new plan de­signed to put the United States back on top.

The event­ing com­pe­ti­tion it­self went beau­ti­fully with its cen­ter­piece cross-coun­try course de­signed by for­mer U.S. Coach Mark Phillips drawing raves. The route, re­plete with op­tions, was safe and sane. It marked the first time a world cham­pi­onship was held at a three-star level, rather than a four-star level, and all 16 teams tak­ing part com­pleted, some­thing that hasn’t hap­pened at a world cham­pi­onship since 1994.

In the wake of a dis­as­ter in­volv­ing the en­durance race on

the first day of the Games (more on that later), some of­fi­cials wanted to err on the side of cau­tion and re­duce the op­ti­mum cross-coun­try time from 10 min­utes to eight. Along with a group of chefs d’Žquipe, Phillips fought that. They suc­ceeded, com­pro­mis­ing by tak­ing out two fences but leav­ing in a long run up a hill near the end of the course that had been a hot dis­cus­sion topic in the months be­fore the Games.

The Chal­lenges

While WEG of­fered many shin­ing mo­ments, there also were a lot of not-so-happy mem­o­ries, many of which in­volved the weather.

“There’s been some fab­u­lous com­pe­ti­tions in fab­u­lous com­pe­ti­tion are­nas, but there’s also been chal­lenges and the weather hasn’t helped. It’s been a dif­fi­cult WEG,” ob­served U.S. Eques­trian Fed­er­a­tion Di­rec­tor of Sport Will Con­nell, whom Amer­i­can ath­letes praised, along with his staff, for their ef­forts to make their ex­pe­ri­ence as smooth as pos­si­ble.

FEI Ve­teri­nary Di­rec­tor Gšran •ker­stršm said the gov­ern­ing body stud­ied the area’s weather for the last three years, prompt­ing them to move the Games from Au­gust to Septem­ber. But

still, of­ten op­pres­sive hot and hu­mid con­di­tions pre­vailed with the threat of Hur­ri­cane Florence dom­i­nat­ing the head­lines.

Even in the two years lead­ing up to the Games, high tem­per­a­tures and rain­fall ham­pered ef­forts to ex­e­cute an am­bi­tious plan to ex­pand TIEC, and Mark Bel­lis­simo, the man­ag­ing part­ner of Tryon Eques­trian Part­ners whose am­bi­tion for years was to host a WEG, said the boom­ing econ­omy also made it dif­fi­cult to get some con­struc­tion ma­te­ri­als. As WEG teams be­gan ar­riv­ing, the fa­cil­ity looked like a con­struc­tion site—the sound­track of the early days was the noise of ham­mers and rivet­ing.

Lack of ad­e­quate hous­ing for grooms, along with or­ga­ni­za­tional chaos, didn’t help. On the first day of com­pe­ti­tion, en­durance rid­ers were mis­di­rected, lead­ing to a re-start. Later that day, of­fi­cials can­celled the cham­pi­onship when the com­bined tem­per­a­ture and hu­mid­ity index went too high for horse wel­fare and part of the newly pre­pared trail be­came slip­pery from a sud­den storm. Some an­gry rid­ers and team of­fi­cials got into a skir­mish af­ter the can­cel­la­tion and law en­force­ment was called in to calm things down. The FEI is in­ves­ti­gat­ing the sit­u­a­tion.

“We got off to such a bad start with en­durance that was ac­tu­ally no fault of the or­ga­nizer, it was just a suc­ces­sion of mis­takes. That set a tone … that was very neg­a­tive,” said Michael Stone, pres­i­dent of the WEG or­ga­niz­ing com­mit­tee.

Mean­while, through­out the Games, spec­ta­tors in the main arena grand­stand had to sit in the blaz­ing sun amid 90-de­gree tem­per­a­tures with­out any­thing over­head (ex­cept in the up­grade/ VIP area) to shield them. Park­ing and shut­tles were a prob­lem early on, as they usu­ally are at a WEG or Olympics. U.S. Dres­sage Fed­er­a­tion Pres­i­dent Ge­orge Wil­liams re­called stand­ing in line for two hours on the first day of dres­sage be­fore he fi­nally

could get on a bus to the venue from the spectator lot.

“We made mis­takes,” ad­mit­ted Bel­lis­simo. “We did the Games be­cause we wanted to save the WEG. From a sport per­spec­tive, if the goal was to save the Games [af­ter orig­i­nal 2018 or­ga­niz­ers in Bromont, Que­bec, bowed out due to fi­nan­cial prob­lems] and pro­duce top sport, I be­lieve we did that.

“What was most im­por­tant to me is that we stepped up in dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances and did our best,” he added.

Even their best couldn’t over­come Mother Na­ture, how­ever. Al­though Hur­ri­cane Florence was a trop­i­cal de­pres­sion by the time it reached the Tryon area five days into the Games, its ar­rival still caused ma­jor prob­lems or­ga­niz­ers were pow­er­less to pre­vent.

Pre­dicted day-long rain­storms and wind gusts re­sulted in the event­ing show-jump­ing phase be­ing post­poned from Sun­day to Mon­day. The dres­sage Grand Prix Freestyle, also sched­uled for Sun­day, was can­celled when the FEI and or­ga­niz­ers said they could find no way to stage it be­fore the Euro­pean horses were sched­uled to fly home on Mon­day.

Laura Graves had led the way to sil­ver for U.S. team­mates Kasey Perry-Glass, Adri­enne Lyle and St­ef­fen Peters and also earned an in­di­vid­ual sil­ver in the Spe­cial, sec­ond to Ger­many’s Is­abell Werth on Bella Rose. Graves, rid­ing her Ver­dades, was itch­ing for a re­match in the freestyle.

When Graves, who is not known for be­ing emo­tional, was in­formed the freestyle had been can­celled, she said, “I burst into tears. It hit me re­ally hard. I’m sure it was dis­ap­point­ing for a lot of peo­ple, but it was es­pe­cially for me, in my home coun­try, to have that op­por­tu­nity taken away,” she con­tin­ued, ex­plain­ing how much she had wanted to share with fans her “very Amer­i­can freestyle” to the song, “Com­ing to Amer­ica.”

The Fu­ture of WEG

While some of the prob­lems of the Tryon WEG were unique to that venue, many of the dif­fi­cul­ties were re­lated to the con­cept of hold­ing eight world cham­pi­onships at the same time.

“The WEG it­self is a mas­sive un­der­tak­ing and a huge ex­pense to ac­com­mo­date a large num­ber of ath­letes and grooms and all the of­fi­cials,” USEF’s Will Con­nell said. “The cur­rent for­mat is prob­a­bly un­sus­tain­able. It makes for a beau­ti­ful menu of sport. But I won­der who can af­ford to take it on in the fu­ture in its cur­rent for­mat?”

The FEI is won­der­ing that, too. FEI Pres­i­dent Ing­mar de Vos promised a re-think at the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s an­nual meet­ing in Novem­ber. No one has bid for 2022, so that year could in­volve

in­di­vid­ual world cham­pi­onships or pairs of cham­pi­onships that might work well to­gether, such as event­ing and driv­ing.

The WEG is meant to bring in more peo­ple to watch horse sports than would at­tend stand­alone cham­pi­onships, but at Tryon, weather kept crowds down. The or­ga­niz­ers orig­i­nally planned for WEG to draw 500,000 spec­ta­tors. But es­ti­mates by the end of the Games were that ap­prox­i­mately 200,000 at­tended.

Opin­ions vary on whether hav­ing all the cham­pi­onships to­gether is a help or a hin­drance to good sport. Ap­par­ently, it de­pends on which dis­ci­pline you’re talk­ing about. Jimmy Fair­clough, a mem­ber of the USA’s goldmedal four-in-hand driv­ing team, said be­ing part of the WEG helps his sport, which also has a stand-alone cham­pi­onship once in ev­ery four-year cy­cle.

“I pre­fer the WEG,” he com­mented. “We had a lot of peo­ple for our marathon day. If it was just a stand-alone world cham­pi­onship, I don’t think you would have got­ten as many peo­ple. So many peo­ple came up to me and said, `I never knew this ex­isted.’ They were there for jump­ing or some­thing else but came to watch it be­cause they had time.”

On the other hand, U.S. Show Jump­ing Coach Robert Rid­land said, “The time is right to go back to a show-jump­ing world cham­pi­onship … WEG is un­wieldy.”

Ac­knowl­edg­ing that at the WEG show jump­ing helps pro­mote some of the other dis­ci­plines, he’d pre­fer sin­gle or dou­ble cham­pi­onships, men­tion­ing that when he ran the FEI World Cup Fi­nals in Las Vegas, jump­ing and dres­sage were put to­gether in that for­mat for the first time in 2005 and it worked.

Robert Dover, the U.S. dres­sage tech­ni­cal ad­vi­sor, is on the same page as Rid­land. “It’s a very dif­fer­ent propo­si­tion go­ing for­ward—we’ve seen so many WEGs now lose a huge amount of money,” Dover said.

“I forsee it more prob­a­bly go­ing into ei­ther in­di­vid­ual world cham­pi­onships or smaller groups of world cham­pi­onships, where they mesh more eas­ily to­gether. I can imag­ine en­durance will be an in­di­vid­ual world cham­pi­onship from now on.”

Jon Garner, Eques­trian Canada’s di­rec­tor of sport, ob­served, “At the end of the day, you’d be hard-pressed to say the sport hasn’t been in­cred­i­ble. I thought when Tryon was awarded it … the com­pe­ti­tion side would be no prob­lem at all—it would be the other stuff. That’s been proved to be pretty much cor­rect.”

“The num­ber of peo­ple you have to en­ter­tain, the num­ber of peo­ple you have to host, the com­pli­ca­tions with trans­port and hous­ing,” said Michael Stone, pres­i­dent of the Tryon 2018 or­ga­niz­ing com­mit­tee. “It not only is a fi­nan­cial bur­den, but it is also an enor­mous lo­gis­ti­cal bur­den for peo­ple who have never done it be­fore.”

Com­peti­tors and team of­fi­cials have a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence than the av­er­age spectator, and many of them praised the WEG, in­clud­ing the sta­bles and are­nas. Dover said, “The staff and vol­un­teers were ex­em­plary in ev­ery pos­si­ble way, and the com­pe­ti­tion it­self was the great­est com­pe­ti­tion in the his­tory of the sport of dres­sage.”

Garner pointed out that there are pluses to hav­ing so many dis­ci­plines in one place. “When you get an event like this, you re­ally do get to see what the horse is all about and how this four-legged crea­ture has so many dif­fer­ent abil­i­ties within their own breeds. As a horse fan, it’s re­ally cool to see.”

“I was quite dis­ap­pointed about all this neg­a­tive me­dia, so­cial me­dia,” said Graves. “I had three clients who can­celled their trip based on that me­dia re­view. To not see our stands filled was very dis­ap­point­ing. I don’t think fa­cil­ity-wise you can com­pare it to any­where else. Peo­ple had tem­per­a­ture-con­trolled restau­rants they could sit down in, the shop­ping was un­be­liev­able. The venue it­self was spectacular as far as ac­com­mo­da­tions for the horses, the sta­dium, the foot­ing. It

was a great show.”

Laura Graves (USA) and Ver­dades earned dou­ble sil­ver medals in dres­sage. Top left: Team USA cel­e­brates af­ter clinch­ing gold in show jump­ing. Bot­tom left: In­grid Klimke (GER) and SAP Hale Bob OLD se­cured in­di­vid­ual bronze in event­ing.

McLain Ward and Clinta were the last to go in an ex­cit­ing tiebreaker jump-off with Swe­den. Top right: The U.S. dres­sage team watches Laura Graves and Ver­dades. Bot­tom right: Ros­alind Can­ter and All­star B earned an in­di­vid­ual gold medal for Great Britain.

Lynn Sy­man­sky and Don­ner went dou­ble-clear on cross coun­try for the U.S. Top left: Much of the site was a con­struc­tion zone dur­ing WEG. Bot­tom left: Is­abell Werth (GER) and Bella Rose earned dou­ble gold medals in dres­sage.

Fans cheer for dou­ble sil­ver medal­ists Laura Graves and Ver­dades.

Si­mone Blum (GER) and DSP Alice won gold in jump­ing.

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