First Medals Handed Out at 2014 WEG
Team USA won reining gold in Normandy today. Belgium took silver followed by Austria with an historic bronze.
Photo: Dirk Caremans/FEI
The first medals of the Alltech Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) World Equestrian Games (WEG), currently underway in Normandy, France, were awarded today in the team reining and team dressage competitions, while the para-dressage riders contined their team tests.
Reining: Team USA Reins Supreme
The United States have won their fourth consecutive reining gold medal, followed by Belgium in silver and Austria in bronze, at the end of a second thrilling competition at the Parc des Expositions in Caen today.
After Mandy McCutcheon rode Yellow Jersey (Wimpys Little Step x Ms Clara Melody), owned by her father Tim McQuay, to a score of 224, the United States confirmed their supremacy in the team event established on Monday. On the first competition day, team members Andrea Fappani on Custom Cash Advance had obtained the top score (224) and Jordan Larson, riding HF Mobster, had earned the third best score (221).
The last rider representing the United States was Shawn Flarida. Riding Michel Kimball’s Spooks Gotta Whiz (Spooks Gotta Gun x Prettywhizprettydoes), Flarida performed an outstanding FEI pattern number six and as he concluded his run, the mark of 229.5 appeared on the scoreboard bringing Team USA’s total to 677.5.
The score remained unbeaten through the end of the competition.
“This is an awesome horse and I’ve been so fortunate to ride him for the last three years. I trust him completely and I know that he is very talented so I was afraid to be the one to make a mistake,” Flarida said. “The crowd here was wonderful and showing in front of such an enthusiastic audience was just great. My teammates couldn’t have been better and I am once again proud to represent my country with such outstanding horsemen and women.”
McCutcheon, the only non-professional rider on the team, was just as proud: “It’s an honor to be at this venue to represent my country. Riding a horse like Yellow Jersey is just unreal and I cannot thank my parents enough for giving me this opportunity and for trusting me with him. Today I really tried hard to focus on what I had to do and tried to get him through the run as best I could. It’s all a matter of being focused because if you let all that this event represents get in your way, you could panic.”
Fappani, a native Italian now riding for the United States, added, “Eight years ago my goal was to take part in the games. I didn’t make it in 2010 but I’m very honored and proud to be here today. My heart is in Italy but I have to thank the USA for giving me the opportunity to be where I am today. This is the reason for my decision to represent the stars and stripes.”
Larson, who has been showing HF Mobster since 2011, was also thrilled with the result: “It takes a very special horse to achieve these goals and I am very lucky to have had the opportunity to ride HF Mobster, aka ‘Hamster’, to an FEI gold medal.”
The Belgian team included Ann Poels Fonck, riding Nic Ricochet, and Piet Mesdagh aboard RS Spat Man O War, who scored 221 and 216.5 respectively on the first competition day. Today Cira Baeck rode Colonels Shining Gun (Colonels Smoking Gun x Shining Little Peach), owned by Katarzyna Roleska, to a score of 221. The talented pair were second to go.
“We started off really well today then I made a couple of little mistakes, so I am not super happy with the way I rode, but I did my best,” Baeck said at the end of her performance. “Four years ago we won the silver medal in Kentucky and I was really hoping to bring home a second one. We did that and I am thrilled.”
The fourth team member was Bernard Fonck aboard Sail On Top Whizard (Whizard Jac x Miss N Sis), owned by Danny Cerato. He closed his run on 219.5 and Belgium held the second highest total score (663).
“I’m very lucky to ride such a great horse who has won close to $300,000 in lifetime earnings but today I did not show him to the best of my ability,” Fonck said. “I am very proud of my teammates and of this second consecutive FEI silver medal and I will try to make up for my mistake in the individual competition on Saturday.”
Team coach Susy Baeck was quick to praise all the riders, the owners, the veterinarians, and the grooms for all their help which contributed immensely to the team’s achievement.
The bronze medal was determined after the third to last combination—Alex Ripper (GER) riding Awesome Paleboy—showed today. Team Australia with 653 points, Team Germany (646.5), and Team Austria (644.5) were all possible contenders for the podium. But thanks to Martin Muehlstaetter’s score of 224, aboard Wimpys Little Buddy, Austria slid to the third step of the podium and conquered the bronze medal. Martin is based in the United States and qualified for the 2014 WEG at events in Europe and America.
“My horse was pretty good today,” Ripper said about his 10-year-old gelding by Wimpys Little Step and out of All That’s Dun (owned by Kim & Martin Muehlstaetter). “We purchased him from Andrea Fappani, who trained him, as a four-year-old. He’s always been with us and always will be. Winning this medal here today is awesome,” he commented.
Austrian team members were Rudi Kronsteiner with Dr Lee Hook (221), Tina Kuenstner-Mantl with Cashn Rooster (214.5) and Markus Morawitz with Dun It Whiz Gerry (210).
Full reining results are available at Normandy2014.com.
Dressage: Germans Prove Untouchable for Team Gold
Germany claimed the dressage team title in convincing style today. Already out in front after their first two riders completed their tests yesterday, they nailed it with two more superb performances to finish well clear of Great Britain in silver medal spot, while the defending champions from The Netherlands took bronze.
The morning began with a superb performance from the third to go for Germany, Isabell Werth and 10-year-old Bella Rose whose score of 81.529 signaled the return of Team Germany to the top of the pecking order in this sport, in which they have always played such a dominant role. Helen Langehanenberg’s 81.357 with Damon Hill NRW was just the icing on the cake because, even without her brilliant effort, her country would be victorious.
Speaking about Bella Rose after the competition, said “I got her when she was three and from the first moment I saw her I could sense her talent and her charisma. She is special in her whole behavior, in her attitude, and her mind, and I hope we can grow together from here. It is a great pleasure to ride her.
However there was disappointing news later in the day when the German National Federation issued a press release announcing that Bella Rose will not compete for the remainder of the week due to a bruised sole.
The destiny of a German gold medal never looked in any great doubt, but it was impossible to predict the fate of the silver and bronze medals as fortunes fluctuated throughout the competition. And until British stars Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro posted the highest individual score in the closing stages, it was Team USA who were lying in bronze medal spot behind the Dutch.
Dujardin and Valegro more than lived up to expectations when sealing silver with the top score of the day. The 29-year-old rider admits that what was, by her standards and that of her extraordinarily talented horse, a poor performance at a premier competition in Aachen, Germany, last month acted as “a wake-up call.” Today she showed that all the hard work she has put in over the interim period was worth every minute.
The crowd went wild with delight when they entered the Stade D’Ornano and Valegro and his rider responded with a delightful performance that ensured the Dutch were pinned back into bronze medal spot. Apart from a hesitation coming down the centre line for the final time, the 12-year-old gelding and his rider were in perfect harmony.
“To go out there and get the welcome I got was fantastic; it’s such a great feeling to have that many people behind you” Dujardin said. “I had such fun! I went out there to do my very best and wanted to try to get us into a medal position. He did his best and I’m so lucky as he has just felt fantastic all week. He did try to stop on the centre line but apart from that I was really, really happy!”
The Spanish also challenged in the early stages today when Morgan Barbancon steered Painted Black, the former ride of Dutch superstar Anky van Grunsven, to a score of 75.143, but they were overtaken by the Americans when Steffen Peters and Legolas finished eighth individually and Laura Graves and Verdades slotted into 10th.
The Dutch, meanwhile, battled bravely in their attempt to compensate for the loss of two of their best horses in the lead-up to this event, and it paid off. “We are really happy with the bronze” said Chef d’Equipe Wim Ernes. “We had to substitute, but we showed real team spirit and managed to get it together.”
Edward Gal’s replacement ride, Glock’s Voice, produced a score of 72.414. The 44-year-old rider who claimed double-gold at the last Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Kentucky four years ago said his 12-year-old stallion was “a bit stressed and inconsistent, so I tried to stay relaxed.” The horse struggled with piaffe and had a mistake in the one-time changes, but delivered some other spectacular work including fabulous extended trot. And even though Adelinde Cornelissen and the 17-year-old Jerich Parzival would line up fourth individually at the end of the day after scoring 79.629, the Dutch total of 227.400 would only be good enough for third place on the final leaderboard. This was the 11th German dressage gold medal success since the team competition was introduced into the world championship program in 1966. Further, with their success in the team competitions, Germany, Great Britain, and The Netherlands nabbed the three qualifications for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic games that were up for grabs.
Tomorrow's Grand Prix Special competition will begin at 9:30 a.m. local time with Frenchman Marc Boblet and his mare Noble Dream Concept Sol.
Full dressage results are available at Normandy2014.com.
Para-Dressage: Morganti Victorious on Day Two
The form book was turned on its head today, the second day of the Round 1 team tests in the para-dressage competition.
In a thrilling conclusion to the Grade Ia team competition, Singapore’s Laurentia Tan pushed ahead of the dominant multi-Paralympic and world gold medallist Sophie Christiansen from Great Britain. That was drama enough, but then Italy’s Sara Morganti, one of the last riders to enter the arena, went one step further, edging out Tan to the top spot and moving Christiansen to third as the test, and the day’s competition, came to an end.
Morganti, riding Royal Delight, scored 75.783% to Tan’s 74.552% on Ruben James 2, and Christiansen’s 74.261% on Janeiro 6.
A nearly overwhelmed Morganti said, “I can’t believe it. It was my dream to come first, but Laurentia and Sophie are such good riders that I didn't think I could. But I worked very hard and I’m just so, so happy.
“My horse in London 2012 was the youngest horse in the games and now she is a little bit older and we have worked a lot with my personal trainer and the team trainer. There are a lot of people around a Paralympics rider and I’m very lucky. I thought I would never come first before Sophie. It is because I admire her and Laurentia so much that for me this is so precious.”
Tan was equally excited at having gone into the lead. Speaking after her ride she said, “Just wow. It’s unbelievable, a really good result. It was a very smooth ride and I felt I had a very good connection with Reuben while I was out there. Now though it’s just a case of taking it step by step and seeing what happens each day and taking it one day at a time.”
Christiansen admitted being disappointed by the day’s events but remained philosophical. She said, “I haven’t lost any test since London 2012, so it was obviously going to happen one day, but now I’m even more fired up for the rest of the competition. Today he (Janeiro 6) definitely upped it a gear but I always need to watch my tests before I comment on them. Obviously, for me, I can tell you how it felt, but it’s different from what the judges see. It could have been a little better with consistency but at least I’ve got something to work on for the rest of the week.”
First into the arena this morning were the Grade IV riders. The win went to Great Britain’s Sophie Wells, riding Valerius, with 74.595% ahead of her close rival Belgium’s Michèle George, who rode FBW Rainman to score 73.643%. In third place was The Netherlands’ Frank Hosmar on Alphaville N.O.P. with 73.167%.
Wells said of her debut ride at these games, “I was pleased. He went in and listened to me. It’s his biggest competition so far and he’s not done much this year with one thing or another. He got a little bit tense going around the outside but I reassured him so he came back to me and listened to me through the test. We’ve been working on different areas like the walks and the halt and those things improved and maybe I can build on them.”
The team competition has extra resonance this year as the top three nations secure their team places at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. Speaking of Team Great Britain’s chances, Wells added, “We’re hopeful. We’ve got a fair amount of pressure on us, but Lee (Pearson) got 77 yesterday and I just got 74 so that puts us in a good position.”
Belgium’s George comes to these games as a double London 2012 gold medallist and a runner up from the last Games in Kentucky in 2010. She said, “I am very happy for the first day because I was trying to put my horse safely in the arena and that is what I did, to give him confidence and to discover the arena and how he reacts to the crowd. I am very happy, and I know what to work on. The atmosphere is great, and it was a joy to ride here.”
The Netherlands team has stated publicly that its aim in the team competition is to medal and qualify for Rio. Talking about his ride and part in that effort Hosmar said, “It felt really good. He was really with me, so it was a pity with the last transition but, other than that, I was fairly satisfied. It must get better because I want to win.”
The Grade II team test win went to Great Britain’s reigning Paralympic and European champion, Natasha Baker, on Cabral, with a score of 73.647%. She was ahead of Rixt van der Horst of The Netherlands, who picked up a valuable 72.618% on her horse Uniek, ahead of Canada’s Beijing 2008 Paralympic gold and silver medallist, Lauren Barwick, riding Off to Paris and scoring 70.176%.
Baker said of her test, “He warmed up really well and I was really pleased with him. I probably allowed a little too much warm-up so I knew I was going to have to work hard in the test.
“He went in there and he found energy from nowhere as he normally does going around the outside, but as soon as I went down that centre line I knew that he was totally with me and listening and he was a really good boy. I wanted a good safe test and in two days time I can move up a gear and go for that little bit more.”
Van der Host added of her performance, “I am very pleased about the test. I was very nervous because it is my first international championship but he was relaxed and I was relaxed. In the beginning he was a bit nervous but later in the test he was much better.”
And Canada’s Barwick was clearly delighted with her performance. “That was electric!” she enthused. “It was a little bit challenging because the cameras weren’t there when we trained and they are big and black so right when the horse went into the arena there was something new which was a bit of a spook. But she settled for me nicely and came back really well. I always ride for today and train for tomorrow so I think that set her up for the rest of the week. Mostly I ride these two tests to prepare for the freestyle as that’s where we excel.”
The end of the first two days of the games mark the halfway point of the team competition. Great Britain currently leads with 226.816 points ahead of The Netherlands on 217.838 and Germany on 216.697.
Tomorrow marks the build up to team medals on Aug. 28 and the first Rio spots for para-dressage. Individual medals in Grade III and Grade Ib will be contested tomorrow, followed by Grade IV, Grade II, and Grade Ia on Thursday.
Full para-dressage results are available on Normandy2014.com.