WEG Results: Team Reining, Endurance

The 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games started this weekend, already handing out three world championships in two events: reining and endurance. Here is a wrap-up of the awards given in the Team Reining, Team Endurance, and Individual Endurance on Sunday:

REINING: Team USA Wins Gold for Third Time The powerhouse team from the United States took the gold medal at the FEI Reining World Championship, presented by John Deere. Their victory made it a three-peat, since they've been victorious in each World Equestrian Games that has included reining.


Craig Schmersal riding Mr Montana Nic to help Team USA win Reining Gold for the third time in three WEGs.

Belgium won the team silver medal, while Italy earned the bronze.

The order of finish for the remaining top-10 teams was: Austria, Canada, Germany, Brazil, the Netherlands, Great Britain and Mexico.

U.S. Reining chef d'equipe Jeff Petska noted how tough the competition was at this year's World Games, but he said the United States "brought a bunch of heavyweights to a heavyweight fight."

Veteran rider Tim McQuay--who also won the individual silver medal in reining at the 2006 World Equestrian Games--said, "The difference in quality of the overall exhibitors at this event has grown so much. It's just unbelievable how much better they've gotten."

But Team USA, as Petska said, brought its best. In order of their runs, McQuay and Hollywoodstinseltown scored a 220.5; Craig Schmersal and Mister Montana Nic scored 223.5; Tom McCutcheon and Gunners Special Nite scored 224; and Shawn Flarida and RC Fancy Step earned a team-competition high score of 227.

Flarida's performance came after the United States had effectively sewn up the gold medal, so his score wasn't even necessary for the win. But it's not like Flarida, who claimed the 2002 WEG individual gold medal and has earned more than $3 million in National Reining Horse Association competition, to back down.

"I'm not good when I go in there and cruise around," he said. "I need to go in there and do my job."

For Belgium, which has a small but developing reining community, the 2010 World Games brought the country's first-ever team reining medal.

"We were dreaming for third place, but getting silver is like a dream come true," said Belgian chef d'equipe Susy Baeck, whose sister, Cira Baeck, is a team member. "Tomorrow morning when we wake up, we will realize, and we will have a headache for sure."

For the Italians, however, international success is nothing new. They have claimed reining bronze medals in each of the previous World Equestrian Games. In 2008, they bested the U.S. team by winning the FEI World Reining Championships.

"We're tired of being third for the third time. It's time to move up!" said Italian chef d'equipe Mario Sbrana.

The Belgium team members were Baeck, Jan Boogaerts and Bernard Fonck and his wife, Ann Poels. Italy's team members were Nicola Brunelli, Dario Carmignani, Stefano Massignan and Marco Ricotta.

A "second-chance" qualifying competition for the individual finals will be held Tuesday. The top five riders will advance to the finals, which will be held on Thursday, along with the top 15 horses from the team competition.

ENDURANCE: UAE Takes Team Gold: After their riders finished third, sixth and seventh individually in the Endurance World Championships, presented by Meydan, the United Arab Emirates today accepted their team gold medals in the Main Stadium at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.


Riders from UAE lead the pack on their way to the gold in Team Endurance.

The UAE team's total time (23:53:36) was nearly 55 minutes faster than silver medalist France (24:49:46), while Germany surprised the world by claiming the bronze medal (25:34:16). It was Germany's first medal in endurance at a World Equestrian Games.

The UAE team members were HE Sheikh Hamdan Mohammed Al Maktoum, HE Sheikh Majid Mohammed Al Maktoum, and Sheikh Rashid Dalmook Al Maktoum. They had trained in Newmarket, England, to prepare for the World Games, because the grass training gallops and the climate there are far more similar to Lexington than Dubai, said Jaume Punti-Dachs, one of the team's trainers.

The French team members were Sarah Chakil, Virgnie Atger and Cecile Miletto Mosti.

The German team members were Gabriela Foster, Sabrina Arnold and Belinda Hitzler.

HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the individual silver medalist, elected not to be a member of his country's team for these World Games. He said before the ride began that he'd made this decision because it was "in the best interest of the team."

Maria Mercedes Alvarez Ponton, the individual gold medalist, also trained her mount, Nobby, in Newmarket since Punti-Dachs is her husband. She gave birth to their daughter, Maria Punti-Alvarez, just seven weeks ago. "I feel no different today than after any other ride," she said. "The only difference was that I could not sleep all night because I had to feed the baby."

With a 55%completion rate (55 finishers of 100 starters)--the highest completion rate ever for an endurance championship at the World Games--riders and team officials hailed the 100-mile course around the Kentucky Horse Park as a great success. The course crossed land owned by 26 different owners and passed through 256 gates, all of which had to be manned by officials or volunteers to control equine, pedestrian, and vehicular traffic.

Riders wore global-positioning-system tracking devices throughout the race, allowing spectators to follow them on television screens throughout the Kentucky Horse Park. "It was not part of the official timing or scoring system, but I think it worked well to keep the spectators interested in following the race as it progressed," said endurance discipline manager Emmett Ross.

Hanaba du Bois, the horse ridden by Jean-Philippe Frances of France to fourth place, earned the best-condition award, determined this morning by the ride's veterinarians.

ENDURANCE: Spaniard, New Mom Takes Individual Gold: Maria Mercedes Alvarez Ponton of Spain, riding Nobby, literally out-galloped her rivals to win the individual gold medal at the Endurance World Championships, presented by Meydan, at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.


Maria Mercedes Alvarez Ponton of Spain, riding Nobby finished less than a minute in front of the silver medalist to take individual gold in Endurance.

But HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, on Ciel Oriental, and his son, HE Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, on SAS Alexis, sprinted through the finish line only 1:55 later to claim the silver and bronze individual medals and lead the United Arab Emirates to their first team gold medal at a World Equestrian Games.

Ponton completed the last loop at an average speed of 29.44 kilometers per hour, while her UAE competitors chased her at an average speed of 31.66 kph. Ponton's average time throughout the 100-mile race was a speedy 21.07 kph.

Heather Reynolds of the United States started the race's climactic loop 6 in second place, but her mount Ssamiam, could not hold off the UAE charge and finished fourth. However, officials determined that Ssamiam was not fit to continue and eliminated him at the post-finish veterinary examination. Consequently, Jean-Philippe Frances of France claimed fourth on Hanaba du Bois.

With three riders unable to complete the course because of lameness or metabolic conditions, the U.S. team did not complete the competition.

"It's really a strange feeling, because I really wanted Sheikh Mohammed to be the World Champion," said Ponton immediately after the race. "I think he deserves it. He's the person doing more for this sport in the world. This sport is what it is now because of him. But I didn't know he was behind. I thought it was the American and the French guy.

Still, Ponton added, "I'm not going to change" medals.

Ponton, 34, and Nobby have now won three championships in the last three years—the 2008 Endurance World Championships, the 2009 European Championships, and now the World Games.

But in between her European Championship and her victory at these 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, she gave birth to a daughter, Maria Punti-Alvarez, just seven weeks ago.

"It's been really difficult to train and feed the baby and everything," Ponton admitted. "Last year when I got pregnant, I thought I could do [the 2010 World Games]. But everybody kept telling me it was impossible. I feel well. It's like it never happened, having a baby."

Ponton's gold medal was even sweeter because her husband, Jaume Punti-Dachs, trains Sheikh Mohammed, 60, and his sons.

Sheikh Mohammed, the prime minister of the UAE, hosted the 1998 World Championships in Dubai and regularly hosts other important endurance races. He had high praise for the course that crisscrossed the Kentucky Horse Park and crossed over numerous neighboring farms.

"I just took care of my horse. I enjoyed myself very much on this course today," he said.

Ponton was pleased with how well Nobby, 15, handled 100 miles of the Kentucky bluegrass countryside.

"[The course] was really, really difficult. Really fast for me and really difficult. People say it is flat. It's not flat at all. It was the most difficult race I've won with Nobby," she said.

Total attendance for events and the opening ceremonies at the World Games on Saturday, Sept. 25, was 23,081. Sunday's attendance was 12,259.

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