Beezie Madden Leads Pack in Day One of WEG Show Jumping

The first qualifier and speed class for the individual and team FEI World Championships in show jumping has ended, and the 16 efforts put in front of the 116 show jumpers going round were a bit more than a few could handle. And for Team U.S.A., there were few bumps along the road translating into less than a handful of downed rails in a windy Main Stadium. Overall on this first day of show jumping in Aachen, six horses were eliminated, and one retired.

Show jumping will see a series of tests, with the first being today's speed class, in which the riders began point accumulation. After the morning and afternoon sessions, it was Team U.S.A.'s Beezie Madden from Cazenovia, New York, aboard Authentic in the lead with a modified score of 77.62 (or an adjusted score of 0.00), heading into Wednesday's first portion of the two-part Nations Cup. Additionally, she was awarded the Prize of the Sparkasse, which is awarded to the top-placed rider on Day One. Canada's Erik Lamaze sits in second with a score of 78.40 (or an adjusted score of 0.39) aboard Hickstead, and Gerco Schroder and Eurocommerce Berlin are in third place with 78.47 (or an adjusted score of 0.43).

How It Works

To win a Gold medal in show jumping at the WEG takes not only skill and precision, it takes a background in math. To figure out the scoring, you have to do your math. It's a bit tricky, so a brief explanation is mandatory.

The scoring for the speed competition is entirely based on time. Rails down are charged as 4 seconds added to your final time in which you complete the course. So, if you finished the course in 80 seconds but had 2 rails down, your score would be 88 seconds (or penalty points). To confuse matters, to get the final score that overall number is divided by 2. If Rider A posted a ride score of 88 seconds/points, then Rider A has an ultimate score of 44 points. And if this rider were to be the lead rider of the day, that 44 becomes a zero score. If the next best rider had a score of 86 seconds, divide that number by two to get 43 points. The rider in second place receives one fault that is then carried into the next competition (44 - 43 = 1), and so forth.

Tuesday was the speed challenge where the horse-and-rider time is converted into a score. From there, a two-day Nations Cup is contested on Wednesday and Thursday, where teams of three to four riders will charge the course. All of the individual and team riders compete in the first round on Wednesday. Then only the best 10 teams from the first round and the individual riders are allowed to compete in Thursday's round. The riders from the eliminated teams are allowed to take part on Thursday as individual riders if their results from the speed competition and first round of the Nations Cup justify continuation. Each of the riders' points is added together after the second round of the Nations Cup.

Day Two (Thursday) will decide the team medal final and team medal presentation, where the top three scores on each team are tallied to determine the end results. Once the tally has been made, the top-placing 25 horse-and-rider pairs head into a series of two individual semi-final rounds (Saturday). From this group, once the scores have been calculated from the previous three rounds, only four emerge as the finalists who will go face-to-face in Sunday's final challenge to take home the title of Rolex World Champion. The rider with the fewest number of fault points will be named the winner. It's an exciting finale, where each rider takes on the course aboard their own mount, and then rides each of their three opponents' horses in a show of ultimate horsemanship. It's certain to be one of the highlights of the five days of show jumping.

Only once has the United States taken the Team World Championship in show jumping. In 1986, the memorable team of Katherine Burdsall, Conrad Homfeld, Katie Monahan, and Michael Matz brought home the first and last team title. Hopes are high that this year's selection of Margie Engle, Laura Kraut, Beezie Madden and McLain Ward will have the right stuff to see the job through.

The Speed Class

U.S. Chef d'Equipe George Morris was very pleased with the position the American team has worked itself into. The team sits in second place (on an adjusted score of 6.85) right behind The Netherlands in first place (on an adjusted score of 6.01) and before Brazil (on an adjusted score of 6.99).

"This team did an excellent job. McLain's horse couldn't have gone better," said Morris. "At this level, you can't play catch-up."

In today's speed class, the first American to go was Wellington, Florida's, Margie Engle and Hidden Creek's Quervo Gold, a 13-year-old Belgian Warmblood (owned by Hidden Creek Farm). As one of the most celebrated show jumpers in American history, Engle has seen it all, and practically won it all. With more than 175 grand prix wins to her credit, she has been named the American Grand Prix Association Rider of the Year a record nine times and ridden on more than 20 winning Nations Cup teams.

Unfortunately, today the efforts of this horse-and-rider pair saw four downed rails. It was not a typical day for Engle, to say the least.

The combination at obstacle 5 (a spread consisting of an oxer and vertical) was the first to give Engle penalties (they downed the oxer's top rail). Then it was on to the second offender, a vertical at jump 7, to make it eight faults. The next pole to hit the ground was at fence 8 (a triple-bar oxer), and last to add points was the rail at oxer 9a. By the end of their round, they had picked up 16 penalty seconds, when added to their time, left them sitting in 88th place with a score of 101.75 (or an adjusted score of 12.07).

"He was fine starting off, and I think if I had just kept it at that pace, he would have been fine. He gets a little undone when I try to go too fast," said Engle. "In the middle, I was originally planning on doing six strides after the water to the double, and everyone seemed to be getting the five very easily, and once I went forward going down to the double he just got a little undone."

"Once I slowed down again he finished up beautifully," she continued. "He's not really a speed horse. He's better for jumping big courses, and I just needed to stick to that plan and not try and go too fast. If I'd just kept it a little more even like I started off the course, I think he would have been fine."

Number two for the American's was another Wellington resident, Laura Kraut and the nine-year-old Dutch Warmblood, Miss Independent (owned by the Miss Independent Group). Kraut was an alternate at the 2002 WEG in Spain, and a member of the 2000 Sydney Olympic team.

Their turn around the course ended in one downed rail at the spread over the course's second liverpool at 10b. Having picked up four points for that wet rail, Kraut and her horse ended their first-day run at 89.57 (or an adjusted score of 5.98) in 48th place.

"The two is so short in those liverpools, particularly when you're on a big open stride like I was," said Kraut. "I saw so many horses just wipe out the front rail of that."

Kraut believed she held the horse, and therefore, "killed the motor," keeping her from clearing the jump.

"She's never spooky at liverpools, so I knew she wouldn't back up there," she said. "So, I felt like I had to help her, and I think I was a split second too late."

Otherwise, Kraut said she was concerned with the last jump on the course because Miss Independent has a tendency to drift right.

"I was so worried about that jump anyway, and I thought 'Don't do this one too far back because it would mess it up.' So, I actually held her out, and I took a hold on her. She went, 'Oh, gate,' and went right for the gate. She's got such an honest heart that the minute I said 'No, no, no,' she said, 'Oh,' and went right to it. I heard George yell."

The last of the Americans to go before the afternoon break was McLain Ward of Brewster, New York, and his 11-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding, Sapphire.

It was only a year ago that Ward was in Aachen as a part of his country's Samsung Super League team that eventually took home the Gold medal. In fact, it was at Aachen that he chose to ride with a broken collar bone that was on the mend. It was aboard his 2006 WEG mount, Sapphire, that he posted double-clear rounds, propelling the U.S. to the Nations Cup victory there after falling only weeks earlier at Hickstead where he sustained his injuries. In 2004, Ward was a member of the U.S Olympic team that brought home a Gold medal.

Today, Ward sailed through the course, posting no time or jumping penalties. He ended his first day of work on an impressive score of 79.35 (or an adjusted score of 0.87), seating him securely in fourth place. He commented on the course in general.

"It's very big and difficult, but it's fair," Ward began. "These are the very best in the world, and there's a lot at stake here, so that also makes it more difficult. We've been working for this for two years, so we don't want to go in there and blow it. There was a little pressure to get going, get started, so all of that factors into the difficulty."

Ward felt the course really lent itself to him, specifically when it came to being able to leave out strides. He believed the tricky distance questions worked to his advantage. He's been preparing Sapphire for the WEG for the last two years, and he was very happy to have come in and put down a clean-and-clear score. He did have a few words about his teammates' performances and encouraging words regarding the group's spirit.

"Margie's round was unfortunately disappointing. It happens to the best of us in show jumping," he said. "Laura had a very solid round. Beezie and I spoke after she went. We're a little in a hole, and we need to keep digging. There's a long way to go, but I think one of our best qualities is we don't stop fighting. We just keep on digging."

Being in Aachen at the WEG is a "perfect" scenario for Ward.

"For me, this is what heaven should be. This is the best in the world, and I always say it's like Yankee Stadium for baseball," he said. "I could live here every day."

Last up for Team U.S.A. was Madden and the 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding, Authentic (owned by Abigail Wexner). The pair's speed and accuracy maneuvered them into the top spot. She was more than pleased, and commented on the course that left others not so happy.

"I think the difficulties were nicely spread out throughout the course," she began. "I think the first major problem was the line to the water and after the water. My horse jumped the water great, and he has enough adjustability that I could add a stride after the water so that he could jump the double a little easier, and maybe a little bit of a breather across the middle [of the course]."

It was the troublesome double liverpools that were the next problem they faced, and they weren't alone. Rider after rider found them to be a tricky spot on course.

"My horse has seen those here a few times, so I had a lot of confidence in him there," she said.

Madden was the undisputed anchor of the 2005 U.S. Nations Cup team, and a decisive factor in its success in bringing home the title. Her double-clear rounds in the final hours of the 2004 Athens Olympics show jumping competition helped the U.S. team bring home the Gold.

One of the more memorable moments during the speed class was the disappointing round provided by Sweden's Malin Baryard-Johnsson and Butterfly Flip. In a shocker that not only sent fellow Swedes, but the entire stadium into dropped jaws, the pair was unable to complete the course after a second refusal at the liverpool at 10a. Their first approach was unsuccessful, and a second turn at the jump proved fruitless, resulting in their surprising elimination.

Next Up...

Show jumping competition continues on Wednesday with the first of two rounds of the Nations' Cup, where the team medal will be decided. Saturday brings the top 25 individual riders a step closer to Sunday's final four battle for the Gold.

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