The Latest Show Jumping and Hunter News
Rebecca Walton
September 9, 2014
View From The Sidelines
By Rebecca Walton
Tuesday, September 9, 2014 :: Posted 08:47:33 AM EDT

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© Sue Stickle/ Nick Skelton and Rebecca Walton Walton with Nick Skelton after winning Olympic Gold in 2012

Welcome to From The Sidelines, a short “WEG blog” that we will bring you as often as possible this week –

My name is Rebecca Walton and I have been reporting for PhelpsSports for eight years. I have been to the Olympics, to WEG, to multiple World Cup Finals, and major events all over the world. I am NOT a professional rider and I will never pretend to be, so keep in mind, some of my comments are my opinions. I have seen a lot though the years, and I would like to try and give you a small, but honest, “behind the scenes” look of what is happening at the Games this week – so here it goes!

September 9, 2014

The World Equestrian Games have come to a close and as I sit in the airport awaiting my flight home, it gives me a chance to reflect on the past two weeks, and more importantly, the Final Four.

While I have to say that watching the best riders in the world compete on the best horses in world is amazing, in comparison to the previous days, it was a bit anticlimactic. Other than Jeroen and Beezie’s final rounds, there was very little to keep you on the edge of your seat.

I think McLain really hit the nail on the head when he said it was orthodox riders on orthodox horses. In 2010, you had two truly world-class riders, Eric Lamaze and Rodrigo Pessoa, going against two relatively unknown riders, and a horse, Hickstead, because of unique way of going, made you very curious about how things would play out as the other riders tried to adjust to that style.

© Susan J. Stickle: Beezie Madden, Jeroen Dubbledam, Patrice Delaveau
Beezie Madden, Jeroen Dubbledam, Patrice Delaveau

Watching Sunday’s event was more like watching top riders swap horses in the schooling ring or in an equitation finals. At no point did I expect any of those riders to have a lot of trouble with those horses. And at the end of the day, I think any of the top four could have been atop the podium.

Jeroen was fabulous, but I thought Rolf was excellent too. Even though he had a rail and time faults with Zenith, I thought he did the right thing as professional giving a young horse a confident ride without a lot of pressure. Meanwhile I think Patrice was given quite a few gifts, as Cortes helped him out a lot in the triple, and Zenith had drifted so far right over it he was practically jumping the flags on the standard. In the end, an unnecessary time fault was his undoing.

I do not feel we really crowned a World Champion rider on Sunday, but I do think we saw a World Champion horse shine through. And I am not just saying this because I am American – but Cortes was truly fantastic. He had one rail during the entire competition- Nine total rounds and five of those coming over massive, challenging world championship level courses. He helped every one of his new riders and looked happy doing it. Cortes is the one that truly deserves an award, and I think it’s a real testament to Beezie’s training that he was able to do that. I also think it is interesting to note that the best horse in 2010 was Hickstead, who was also clear with all four riders, and Eric Lamaze earned the Bronze medal like Beezie….

 © Rebecca Walton: Beezie Madden and Cortes 'C'
Beezie Madden and Cortes 'C'

At the end of the day though, I agree with McLain, who questioned the relevance of the Final Four format. Aside from it being too much for the horses, while the swap is kind of neat, if the course designer has done his job during the week (and he certainly did), you are already watching four top riders, any of whom could be on the podium. Why not end on Saturday and not put the horses though the extra stress?

Which brings me to my next note – course designer Frédéric Cottier. I was not familiar with Cottier, (who looks like Pierce Brosnan!) before WEG. What he produced this past week was pretty amazing. He did an excellent job sorting out the best riders from the weaker riders, especially doing so without putting the less experience riders in too much trouble the first days. The horses that had to keep jumping Sunday, while tired, were able to do their job and do it well, and he was able to avoid a jump-off. When you think about the four riders that rose to the top, and the way his courses allowed that to happen, it was a very impressive world championship week for Cottier , and I hope to see more from him in the coming years.

Now it’s time to head back to America and prepare for the Indoor season! I will be looking forward to WEG in 2018, but I hope the FEI continues to review the format of the Games and the Final Four. John Madden noted Saturday that it has been reviewed in the past, but that spectators really enjoy the Final Four and that they have to look at it from all points of view. I disagree with this. I think there is only one thing that the FEI should be concerned about – the welfare of the horse. Yes, these horses proved that nine rounds is doable – but is it really necessary?

I am sure the discussion will continue, and there are four years ahead of us to make decisions regarding the Final Four, the qualifications, and the many issues in general the Games pose. I do not envy the challenges that Bromont and the FEI will face as the event continues to grow and expand, but I hope to see amazing sport in 2018.

Au Revoir Normandy! Bonne chance!

Ma Normandie

© file: Normandy 

When far from us the Winter flies,
When the world is born to hope anew,
Under France's lovely skies,
When the sun returns in sweeter hue,
When Nature 'round us greener be,
When swallows homeward wing their way,
I love to see my Normandy,
The land that gave to me the light of day.

Switzerland's dales I did behold,
And her chalets and glaciers blue;
I've seen Italian skies of gold,
And the gondoliers of Venice too.
Although these lands enchanted me,
I knew there was no hideaway
More lovely than my Normandy,
The land that gave to me the light of day.

There comes a time, as life unfolds,
That brings an end to reveries.
A time when must the ransomed soul
Revisit cherished memories.
When time has chilled my muse and me,
And songs of love are sung away,
I'll see again my Normandy,
The land that gave to me the light of day.

Written in 1836 by Frédéric Bérat

September 6, 2014

Well here we are, awaiting the start of the final individual qualifier! Thursday was quite a roller coaster ride, but the U.S. pulled off a Team Bronze medal thanks to a brilliant clear round by Beezie. The team can breathe a little easier now because we have qualified for the Olympics in Rio, which after the 2010 WEG debacle, is a nice relief. Some people are looking at our score and saying one less rail and we could have had Gold, but I prefer the glass half full outlook of one more rail and we would have had nothing. All of the knockdowns we had were unlucky, but that is where the sport is now – even the best horse can have a surprising 8-fault trip because the courses are technical and the rails are light!

© Susan J. Stickle: U.S. Bronze Medal TeamU.S. Bronze Medal Team

Meanwhile, I have begun referring to this lovely event as “Camp WEG,” since I spend the majority of my time in the press tent, which is literally a tent with spiders falling from the ceiling. You read that correctly – yesterday my coworker picked five spiders out of my hair in a matter of three hours. Very fabulous!

But today’s topic is much more interesting than my new arachnid friends.

With the Team competition behind us, we look ahead to the individual finals and the Final Four. Let me start by saying that the Final Four is a truly incredible event to watch, and seeing the best riders in the world ride the best horses in the world in very exciting. However, I truly have to wonder if this format is what is best for the horses…

The FEI is an organization that is constantly claiming to be focused on horse welfare and their mission, they say, is putting the horse first. Is designing a competition where four horses have to jump difficult and challenging 1.50m-160m World Championship tracks NINE times in less than a week really what is best for the horse?

There are two other major events that are considered championships – the World Cup Finals and the Olympic Games – both are difficult on the horse, but you have to admit that four-five rounds sounds a lot more reasonable than nine grueling courses in less than a week’s time. Why was it decided that nine rounds is what makes a champion rider?

To that end – what is the point of today’s two round? Why were the previous three rounds not enough to determine the Final Four?

Then there is the liability issue. In an ideal world you have riders like Beezie, McLain, Marcus Ehning, etc trading horses, so you have world-class riders on world-class horses, and I don’t think those riders would mind having one or the other on their horses. But we do not live in an ideal world. The world is becoming a place where money, not necessarily talent or ability, can get you on the podium.

© Susan J Stickle: Abdullah Al Sharbatly and HicksteadIf that becomes the case, I think riders would be very concerned about the consequences of a bad round on their champion mount. (I know I was pretty concerned when Abdullah Al Sharbatly dropped the reins on Hickstead in 2010 (left)…) What if something truly bad happened? I am sure they are all insured and such, but what if Sapphire were to have had a career ending injury while competing in a Final Four under the guidance of a rider without a clue as to her idiosyncrasies - that would have been a major loss in the sport….

I realize that I am speaking in hypothetical’s here, but at the end of the day, I really think the FEI, an organization claiming to be dedicated to the welfare of the horse, needs to rethink why they are asking world class horses to jump nine championship rounds in a week – there must be a better way to determine what makes a champion. While the idea of a Final Four and having horses and riders swap is exciting and interesting, I do not believe it is was is truly in the best interest of the horse, and at the end of the day, isn’t that what we all want?

I am looking forward to tomorrow’s event and I think it showcases the real talent of the horses and riders we have in the world now, but I hope going forward the FEI can find a way to keep the excitement without putting that kind of stress and pressure on these amazing horses.

September 4, 2014

The second day of Show Jumping has come to close, and the American journalists, as Beezie Madden said, are “guardedly excited.” All of the riders have been fantastic, especially Beezie, and watching McLain Ward’s clear round as the first rider out yesterday was extremely impressive. It was a true testament to the kind of rider that he is and his partnership with Rothchild. Even Lucy, who is making her world championship debut, showed a lot of character when she was able to recover so quickly after her incident at the wall on the first day, continuing on with only four faults.

© Susan J. Stickle: McLain Ward and RothchildAll of the teams and top individuals are tightly bunched, which showcases the amazing level of talent at the top of the sport. It is just a couple rails that can be the difference between the top teams. It is something that McLain has stated in the past and reiterated yesterday.

“Like in all these competitions, there is always a line between winning an eighth,” he said. “As the sport is growing, it is definitely becoming a finer line. You definitely need the chips to fall the right way.”

While watching riders like Marcus Ehning make the course look like a big eq final and not a huge 1.60m track, is amazing, but the larger concern is the riders at the bottom of the pack. The riders that had say, 28 faults, or the ones that did not finish the course for various reasons.

The issue was truly brought to the forefront when Chilean rider Tomas Couve Correa took a gut wrenching fall from Underwraps. It was a scary crash that he did not walk away from. It is reported that he was fully conscious when he left the stadium by ambulance and his life is not in danger, but you do have to question why he was here? He has not placed better than 12th at any event with Underwraps this year…

Even the best riders can have a bad fall, but the gap between the top riders and the lower level riders at this event is glaringly obvious. We have now had two riders injured and two horses put down during the World Equestrian Games. While some, like the death of Wild Lone, may not attributed to the standards, or lack thereof, at the Games, it is still something that needs to be addressed.

As it stands for Show Jumping, riders need only to go clear in a CSI3* grand prix, or have less than eight faults at a CSI4* or CSI5*. This is a World Championship. Only the best of the best should be here. How is it that the qualifications for WEG are less stringent than the qualifications to compete at a CSI5*?

© : FallSometimes this happens...

In the Eventing discipline during the Dressage phase, you continually heard that this was horse’s first 4* competition. Are you kidding me? Again, I reiterate, this is a WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP – and you are telling me that they get to make their 4* debut here? (Note: To qualify for Eventing you need to complete a CCI3* and a CI3* prior to competition – and that further means, they don’t have to finish with a top ranking – they merely have to cross the timers after the Show Jumping phase)

With over 150 horses competing in the Show Jumping at WEG, it is clear that the quantity is beginning to overwhelm, and while the quality at the top of the ranks is probably the best it has ever been, a hard look needs to be given to the qualifications for this World Championship.

© Rebecca Walton: The Other Tyep of Riding...
There are riders Marcus Ehning and McLain Ward... and then there is this....

Beezie addressed it yesterday saying; “I think for sure there is going to be some qualification to get to the WEG from now on. There is starting to be a bit too many people to handle. As we go, the level in the sport in other parts of the world is going to raise up, and with that in mind, and maybe a little bit of a qualification system to get to the WEG, I think it will be easily resolved. I think it would have been hard to imagine that four years ago. Already then, it was too late. It is way ahead of time that you have to change the rules; I would think that it would be modified before next time.”

I truly hope the FEI sits down to address this before Bromont. Quite frankly, if you have never competed at CSI5*, what right do you have to be vying for a World Championship title?  

September 1, 2014

First off – to confirm some gossip you may be hearing – these Games have been pretty poorly organized. I think a lot of the holes are known and being addressed, but everything from food to transportation has been frustrating. But that is to be expected in many ways – it’s a huge influx of people on this city, and you certainly are not going to keep everyone happy.

The biggest issues, especially from the media side, in addition to the above mentioned food, transportation, are access to different places and venues, and trying to keep up with latest rules of the day. But, the rules seem to change daily. The food vendors in the stadium shut down during the daily breaks so that those working as vendors can take their break – but then none of us (spectators AND media) get a chance to eat. There are places to eat outside of the Stadium, but not many of them, thus leaving many people standing in long lines. That’s especially tough on the media, when we are trying to get things done and meet deadlines.

© Mary Adelaide Brakenridge: A sold-out crowd of spectators gathered for cross-country, with plenty of team spirit on displayA sold-out crowd of spectators gathered for cross-country (aka stood in the mud and froze all day)

As far as transportation goes, shuttles are usually late, that is, if they even come at all. For Eventing’s cross country day, the journalists arrived 30 minutes after the first horse, when they were supposed to be there an hour before. Obviously traffic was a huge issue, and the Organizing Committee (OC) tried to anticipate as much as they could, but it certainly didn’t go as planned. Bathrooms (lack thereof) were a problem, the mud was a concern, and again, food was an issue.

The next issue: Access. I think journalists respect that there are areas that they can and cannot have access to, but when those places change regularly, it’s hard to follow. What is even harder to understand is the lack of access that even riders have to certain areas.

© Kendall Bierer: Great Britain's Harry Meade addressed the press after the conclusion of the 2014 WEG Cross Country phase. Great Britain's Harry Meade

After the final horse jumped during Eventing Show Jumping, I watched Harry Meade from GBR try to run back to get his jacket and get ready for the medal ceremony. He was trying to get through the tunnel to stabling and one of the security guards was giving him a very hard time.  He’s a rider, so clearly it is an area he should be able to access. And no horses were around at this point! Let a Silver medalist get by already! It was pretty appalling.

But I don’t want to sound like all that journalists do is whine all the time – the sport we have seen has been very good, and I think the OC is doing the best they can with circumstances that have been very frustrating.  But, the basic necessities.

Now on to show jumping! The first leg of the Speed Round starts on Tuesday and I am ready! After a week of covering reining, a discipline I am not very familiar with, I am ready to see some very familiar faces.

As a U.S. journalist, I have been asked a lot about our medal chances – my answer (going way out on a limb) is – I am not sure. Frankly, at the beginning of the year, I wasn’t completely confident in what our team might look like. We have a lot of great up and coming riders and up and coming horses, but we have been spoiled by the likes of Authentic, Sapphire, Flexible and Simon. We have some horses, that while proven grand prix horses, are not proven championship horses, but there is a chance to do that now.

© Erin Cowgill: McLain Ward and Sapphire in Aachen 2009McLain Ward and Sapphire

My opinion has also changed a great deal over the summer. Clearly, the riders that were aiming for WEG were doing their homework and it paid off. You can’t argue with results - a win at Hickstead and Dublin plus second at Aachen is pretty stellar. That is the world stage and that is high pressure for our less proven horses and less proven riders, and they have made it clear they are ready.

I am hoping for big speed rounds from Voyeur and Rothchild. I also think that Cortes (great position in the speed round) and Barron are quality mounts that can go very far in this competition with the right rides. It’s also important to point out that McLain has a lot of confidence in Rothchild. He knows what makes a championship horse, so I think we need to trust his gut instincts. But, be prepared for anything. I think we all thought that the WEG team from 2010 looked very strong, and it was almost a comedy of errors that sent us spiraling downward at that event.

© Shannon Brinkman: Beezie Madden and Cortes CBeezie Madden and Cortes C

It’s show jumping, and the theory of ‘Any Given Sunday’ always applies and anyone can have a rail at anytime. Also note that the atmosphere here is big – really, really big. That will be a huge test for all of these horses. Crowds are big at any international show, but I know that it rattled Charlotte Dujardin a bit, and I expect it to do the same this week. (Note: at one point the crowd gasped so loudly I thought she had fallen off – turns out it was a good gasp because she had received a 9.5 for her trot. But she would have had no way of knowing what the crowd is making noise about, good or bad and it’s very distracting.)

 © Rebecca Walton: Charlotte Dujardin and ValegroCharlotte Dujardin and Valegro

We also have a lot of teams that look very strong going against us. Germany, as usual, looks very solid, as does The Netherlands. I think Canada could also make a pretty strong bid. Eric Lamaze has been planning ahead with his teammates for this event, preparing horses and riders and finding really strong combinations. I would not be surprised if they rank high at the end of this.

Two power players that might be out of the mix though are Great Britain and the host nation, France. Both teams lost two of their strong horses, and that really sets you back. You can limp to the podium on a three-horse team, but you can’t do it with two. However, young horses and riders have surprised us before, so you certainly can’t write them off yet.

Tomorrow it starts!

Let the Games begin… and as McLain Ward always tells us, no matter what, you always need a little bit of luck!

© Rebecca Walton: Team USATeam USA

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