WEG Reining Concludes; Eventers Tackle Cross-Country

WEG Reining Concludes; Eventers Tackle Cross-Country

Shawn Flarida steered Spooks Gotta Whiz to win individual reining gold at the Parc des Expositions at Caen, Normandy tonight.

Photo: Dirk Caremans/FEI

Reining concluded today at the 2014 Alltech Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) World Equestrian Games (WEG) in Normandy, France, as the individual medals were awarded. Meanwhile, the eventers took to the cross-country course for the second of their three phases of competition.

Reining: Flarida Makes it a Fantastic Five with Victory in Individual Final

America’s Shawn Flarida galloped to gold in the reining individual final tonight where U.S. riders filled every step of the podium.

Partnering the 7-year-old Spooks Gotta Whiz, 45-year-old Flarida produced a super score of 233.5 to put the result beyond doubt when last to go. And his team gold medal winning compatriots from earlier in the week, Andrea Fappani and Mandy McCutcheon, clinched silver and bronze.

Flarida’s fabulous five golds include a double at Jerez (ESP) in 2002, team gold in Kentucky (USA) four years ago, and team and individual gold again at Normandy 2014. Tonight he showed the cutting edge that has kept him at the top end of his chosen sport for many years.

And Spooks Gotta Whiz produced the perfect performance to do just that, Flarida said: “Andrea put so much pressure on me as far as he went in there and marked a 230 and set the world on fire—it was definitely a lot of pressure but at the same time it was a lot of fun, just knowing that I had that horse to do what he can do.”

The whistling and cheering rose to a crescendo as the action played itself out in front of a packed house in the Parc des Expositions in Caen. A total of 21 made the cut into the individual medal-decider and it was America’s Troy Heikes and Lil Gun Dunit who took the early lead when posting a score of 220.5. But Germany’s Ludwig Grischa raised the bar with a great run from the 7-year-old Ruf Tuf Juice, and 226.00 would leave them out in front right into the closing stages.

Great Britain’s Josh Collins was first to go in the second group of horse-and-rider combinations, scoring 218.5 with the pint-sized Spook a Little. They didn’t quite nail their first stop, but the 24-year-old who works in the family jewelry business which includes amongst its distinguished clientele the British royal family, said “This was our first WEG and I’m very happy”, promising to return to challenge for a medal at next year’s FEI European Reining Championships in Aachen, Germany.

It wasn’t until McCutcheon set off with Yellow Jersey that Grischa’s lead was seriously undermined. Family connections are everywhere in the sport of reining, and McCutcheon’s 10-year-old stallion is owned by her parents, Colleen and Tim McQuay. Tim McQuay was a member of the winning U.S. team at the 2010 WEG, and Mandy McCutcheon is married to another member of that winning side, the 2010 individual champion Tom McCutcheon who also made it into tonight’s finale.

Her score of 227.00 put Mandy out in front until, second-last to go, Fappani set off with Custom Cash Advance who racked up a mark of 229.00.

Flarida was the only competitor to return to the ring after the last drag break, and the crowd went wild as he galloped through the entrance gate to his first halt and back up. They got even wilder as he put together four spins to the right, four and one-quarter spins to the left and then circles, fast and slow, at each end of the arena, with the lead-changes crucial to a strong score. The noise level was near-deafening as he brought the pattern to its conclusion with run downs and rollbacks before the final sliding stop. When the commentator confirmed his score of 233.5 the spectators nearly lifted the roof off the arena in a show of appreciation.

Talking about the sound level throughout the evening, Flarida said afterwards, “My horse didn’t hear my verbal cues at all, he ran in there and he had to listen to my hands and my legs. It was a blast to show here, the crowd was really into it. It was really, really neat!”

He took the time to accept congratulations from the public as he walked around the arena with his horse after completing his gold-medal-winning run.

“It’s one way for us competitors to give back and say thank you for them yelling and screaming their hearts out," he said. "They’re going to be hoarse tomorrow, and we do really appreciate it. It’s really fun to see the little kids when you ride by, they’re trying to touch the horses, and we enjoy doing it.”

Still, he insisted his victory was no walk in the park: “There were a number of different guys that could have stepped up and won this. When you go in there and show, there is so much emotion and so many things going on, I didn’t really know what way it was scoring. I knew my horse was as good as he could be, he prepared exactly like he showed, and from a horseman’s standpoint when they warm up and they prep just like that, then it makes you really happy. Sometimes it doesn’t always go that good, but tonight it was just right.

“My game plan was 'don’t make any mistakes.' For whatever reason that horse, he knows when show-time is. I don’t know how he knows, but he steps up and he does his job.”

Mandy McCutcheon was also thrilled with her ride: “Fappani joked that “this would have been my best performance ever if it wasn’t for this guy right here,” pointing at Flarida. Fappani has only been competing with Custom Cash Advance for a short period.

“I think this was just the fifth time I’ve shown him," he said. "We started with a 216 (score), not knowing each other just a few months ago, then 200, 224, 228, and now 229 so it has kept getting better and better. Coming into this games the only thing that worried me a little bit was that I didn’t have as much time as I probably should have had with this horse. I purchased it just a few months ago, but I came here confident that the horse knew what he was doing and I just knew that I needed to give him the confidence myself to do his job, and that’s what I kept telling myself tonight. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.”

Mandy McCutcheon reflected on the circumstances that have led her to individual bronze: “I’ve been lucky to have the opportunities I’ve had for my whole career. The opportunities my parents have given me—I couldn’t be more thankful or appreciative to them, I wouldn’t be here without them and the same thing with (husband) Tom. He’s been asked a million times what’s it like to be watching me on the team, and he’s said, 'she’s followed me everywhere.' And he doesn’t mind supporting me, so I really appreciate that."

Flarida spoke about the challenge of tonight’s pattern: “That run-in stop is kind of the key to that pattern, it’s the hardest one, and when everyone’s yelling like that and those horses run in it’s pretty exciting. The three of our horses tonight, that’s where we did it.”

Following the prize-giving ceremony he could be seen giving his gold medal away. Asked about that at the post-competition press conference, the newly-crowned champion revealed it wasn’t going too far: “I gave it to my little boy right there,” he said, pointing to his son Sam. “He’s a real horse enthusiast and he told me we’d have to work hard for this tonight, so I thought it would be fitting if I handed it to him.”

Eventing: Germany Still on Course for Gold, but Britain Closes Gap

William Fox-Pitt (GBR) and the stallion Chilli Morning take over the individual lead after a superb cross-country round which puts Great Britain three fences behind overnight leaders Germany in team eventing.

Photo: Trevor Holt/FEI

Germany is still on course to win team gold at, but Great Britain has closed the gap after a thrilling day’s cross-country during which the huge cheering crowd witnessed some truly outstanding horsemanship.

Britain, the only team to have four clear rounds, has risen from fifth to second place and is within three jumping fences of the Germans. Australia is now third, France fourth, and Netherlands sixth after the dramatic departures of the New Zealand and U.S. teams.

William Fox-Pitt (GBR) conjured a brilliant performance from Chilli Morning and now heads the individual cross-country leader board, on a score of 50.3. But the British camp is in subdued mood because after the loss of Wild Lone, the horse ridden by team anchorman Harry Meade into 25th place with 26.4 time penalties; the 13-year-old gelding collapsed and died after the finish.

“Harry is a close friend of mine and it’s hard to celebrate much,” Fox-Pitt said afterwards. “It was the hardest terrain I’ve ridden because the ground was very soft and the course demanding, but Chilli gave me a lovely ride. There are not many eventing stallions who would keep trying for you like that and I’m very proud of him.”

Despite the devastating tragedy for Meade, he was determined to state that he felt the cross-country course played no part in Wild Lone’s death.

“The ground conditions played no part in what happened to Wild Lone,” said an emotional Meade. “He gave me a wonderful ride and felt extremely comfortable. I’m obviously devastated but I want to say that I thought the course was a very good test and I would be very sad if anybody was to draw any incorrect conclusions that the tough, testing nature of the competition in any way contributed towards what happened.”

There were 40 clear rounds and 63 completions from the 87 starters, including many excellent displays of sympathetic horsemanship. No horse and rider pairs finished within the optimum time.

An exciting jumping test is in store tomorrow as only 2.2 penalties cover the first five riders on the individual leader board. The dressage leader Sandra Auffarth (GER) had a superb round on the powerful French-bred chestnut Opgun Louvo. She added 16.8 time penalties compared to Fox-Pitt’s 12.8, and is now in second place just 1.7 penalties adrift on a score of 50.2.

Auffarth’s team mate, defending champion Michael Jung (GER), proved an inspirational pathfinder on the relatively inexperienced 9-year-old fischerRocana FST. Jung is now third on 50.3 and could easily become the first rider to win back-to-back world titles since Bruce Davidson, Sr. (USA) in 1974-78.

“She did a wonderful job,” said Jung of his gallant mare. “She was very focused. I gave her a little more time in between fences, but her energy when she saw the fences and lit up was fantastic.”

Ingrid Klimke (GER) incurred 32.4 time penalties on FRH Escada JS and is now in 21st place, while Dirk Schrade is Germany’s discard score after two run-outs on Hop and Skip.

The New Zealand team had a less than happy day, but individual rider Jonelle Price produced the class round of the day, finishing with fastest time to collect just four penalties, rising 22 places to fourth on the neat little Thoroughbred Classic Moet.

Andrew Nicholson (NZL), the only remaining member of the Kiwi team, also made Pierre Michelet’s exacting course look easy and produced the second fastest time, for 7.2 penalties. He is now in fifth place on a score of 52.5 on Nereo and is another within touching distance of becoming his country’s fourth world champion, following Blyth Tait (1990 and 1998) and Vaughn Jefferis (1994).

New Zealand’s pathfinder Mark Todd fell when Leonidas ll tripped on landing up the step out of the water at fence 30, which was the most influential obstacle. Then Tim Price on a tiring Wesko was pulled up by stewards near end of the course. Jock Paget, third after dressage on Clifton Promise, was left to go all out for an individual medal, but pulled up after a run-out at the second corner at fence 5 and plans to re-route to Burghley next weekend.

The U.S. team was eliminated when their first two riders, Buck Davidson (Ballynoe Castle RM) and Phillip Dutton (Trading Aces), both retired. Their best-placed rider is Boyd Martin, who is in ninth place with Shamwari 4.

Badminton winners Sam Griffiths and Paulank Brockagh, 17th, were excellent pathfinders for the Australian team, who are now in bronze position. With the team down to three riders, following the withdrawal of Christopher Burton’s TS Jaimaino due to colic, there was great pressure on Shane Rose (Taurus, 30th) and Paul Tapner (Kilronan, 13th), who both went clear.

The French team is fourth, with their youngest rider, Maxime Livio, the highest-placed in eighth on Qalao des Mers.

“I have never ridden with such patriotic support, not just for French riders but for every nation,” he said.

There were many notably determined performances, including that of British pathfinder Zara Phillips, for whom this was by far the biggest test since giving birth to her daughter Mia in January. She survived an alarming moment at the bounce of hedges after the water at fences 17-18 and found herself hanging perilously out of the back of the saddle, but recovered well and is now in 15th place on High Kingdom.

“My horse was definitely in charge,” said the 2006 world champion. “I was just steering and trying to hang on. I was too far off the hedges but he got me out of trouble. I wasn’t nervous because I knew the horse I was on. He was fantastic.”

Sam Watson, 23rd on Horseware Bushman and pathfinder for the sixth-placed Irish team, summed up the day. “You had to combine looking after your horse with remembering it was a world championship and riding for your life. For me, it feels like a great day’s hunting in Ireland when you’ve jumped fences you’d never dreamed of and you’re now in the pub recovering!”

Tomorrow, there will be a final horse inspection at Haras du Pin before the horses are driven to Caen for the jumping phase which starts in the main D’Ornano Stadium at 2:00 p.m. local time.

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