Team USA Wins WEG Silver in Show Jumping, Drivers Placed Well After Dressage

It was a late start for the show jumpers on Thursday at the 2006 FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG), but it is better late than never. The Main Stadium was once again packed to the rafters, full of fans cheering the competitors and witnessing the contest of the team medal in Aachen. Earlier in the day, the second of two days of driving dressage was wrapped up, with an American driver sitting at first and fifth positions.

The second round (B) of the Nations Cup was held in the early evening, and up first were the individual riders. Last to take to the 13-obstacle (16-effort) course were the team members from the top 10 countries to make the cut. It was only the best tonight--The Netherlands, Ukraine, U.S.A., Germany, Switzerland, Brazil, Spain, Great Britain, Belgium and Ireland. Each country sent forth its best jumpers in hopes of being awarded a medal.

At the end of the late night, it was a hard-fought Team Silver medal victory for Team U.S.A., and it was Beezie Madden and Authentic that were called upon in a clutch--and they delivered in spades. Posting the only triple clear round of the competition thus far (one of only four in the Nations Cup), Madden put in a fairy-tale round that lifted the United States in the ranks, from out-of-medals range and onto the medal podium, to accept the Silver on a score of 18.85.

"We still have a lot of jumping to go," said Madden, cautiously looking toward individual competition on Saturday, and possibly Sunday's top four rider spots up for grabs. "My horse feels good. I hope I will be in on Sunday, but there is a long way to go."

Madden was asked, should she make it to the final four, what horse would she most like to ride of the other horses in the competition. "I think any horse that makes it to the final four would be a pleasure to ride," she said. "Shutterfly, Meredith's horse, I'd love to ride that one." She was referring to German rider Meredith Michael Beerbaum's mount.

U.S. Chef d'Equipe George Morris commented on the state of the sport at the post-awards press conference. "The universality of the sport is very, very different today," he began. "There are many people across the world, who ride superbly, on lovely horses that are beautifully managed and beautifully schooled. And, I'm very happy, and I say that having been in the sport at this level for 50 years, and to see the evolution and the way it is going does my heart good."

The Gold medal was awarded to the team from The Netherlands on a final Nations Cup score of 11.01. Bronze medal honors were bestowed upon Germany with a score of 19.16, just one one-hundredth of a point ahead of the Ukrainian team that finished on 19.17.

First up for the Americans were Margie Engle and Hidden Creek's Quervo Gold. The pair downed one rail. Number two to jump for Team U.S.A. was Laura Kraut and Miss Independent. Immediately, there were problems when the pair downed the first rail, visibly off their game early on. They regrouped, but dropped a second rail. McLain Ward and Sapphire were third to be tested by the course, and they sailed across it without penalties of any kind--a much needed clean-and-clear--that moved the U.S. team a step closer to the medals. Finally, Madden hit a proverbial homerun with her third clean-and-clear round that had Americans in attendance jumping to their feet and pumping their fists in a victory dance.

Show jumping takes a day off on Friday before heading into the Top 25 individual medal competition on Saturday afternoon. It's certain to pack the house and bring the world's best show jumpers to the penultimate test leading to the Gold, Silver and Bronze medals awarded on Sunday afternoon as the final medals handed out at the 2006 WEG.

Madden and Authentic lead the individual medal race on a "perfect" score of 0.0. In second is Gerco Schroder and Eurocommerce Berlin (Germany) on 0.43. Third place is held by Ludger Beerbaum (Germany) and L'Espoir at 2.70. American McLain Ward and Sapphire are sitting at fifth place with a score of 4.87.

Among the American riders making the cut for the finals are Madden and Ward. There are three Dutch riders, three Ukrainian riders, two British riders, two Swedish riders and two Swiss riders joining the two Americans in the top 25.

Day Two Driving Dressage: Chester Weber at First, Tucker Johnson at Fifth

The stands were full and the shutters were clicking for the world's best four-in-hand drivers today in Stadium Two. This is not just the World Equestrian Games for drivers; it is also the 2006 World Four-in-Hand Championship. At the end of a tough two days, the U.S. finds itself in the top spot, both individually and as a team.

Day Two of the dressage competition of driving saw the remainder of the 49 competitors and some very high scores. American Tucker Johnson had the second go of the day and earned 43.26 penalty points for a score of 73.0%, which put him in the lead overall despite a canter break and a blip in one of his shoulder-ins.

"There were a few ragged edges that I would have liked to have lived without, but I was pleased with the outcome," Johnson said.

To the joy of many, the rain seemed to hold off overnight for once, and as a result the footing got nothing but praise from Johnson. What could also be helping are the 20 truckloads of sand that were deposited in the training areas on Tuesday. The marathon course is apparently already in top condition. Johnson said he will make some minor changes to his team for tomorrow's marathon course.

"The right leader will have to come out, and I'll put my marathon leader in, Eminence, and see what he can do up there," he said. This is a team that's been coming together over the past two or three years and some of them are a little bit more together than others. The right leader, Avalon, was a dressage horse in October, and now he's a driving horse, so he's come along very quickly...all-in-all I'm quite happy with the way they're working."

Johnson feels the course asks all the right questions, but he didn't want to make any forecasts on their performance just yet. They've had a very up and down marathon season and are just hoping for a smooth go on Friday.

"It's a very technical course. There are a lot of tight turns from left to right that come up in a very short period of time. There are a lot of angles. It's a very challenging, technical course. Several hazards use hills. There are two water sections with turns in them which make it hard for the horses because the carriage pulls heavier in the water than it does on land."

The third American driver in the line-up was Chester Weber of Ocala, Fla., who took over the lead and kept it with 38.78 penalty points and a score of 75.8%. With Weber's score combined with Johnson's, the team's two highest scores, the U.S. is sitting in first place as a team with a score of 82.04. Behind them in second is Belgium with a score of 88.07 and then Germany with a score of 88.19.

Weber had great praise for his team, saying that they definitely have a better score in them, but considering the conditions, he is very happy with what they've got. "The team's been together--I've been showing them for a full year now," he said. "I bought the right wheeler a year ago and was really impressed with him as a horse, and I hope that he'll be together with me in 2010 in Kentucky. I am hoping that of this group...the two leaders are both nine, and the left wheeler is 15. It would be nice if he got to Kentucky. Right now he is sound as can be. It's happened before, but we have got some horses behind him to replace him. I'm pleased with how the future looks. I've been putting together a group of horses; one of my personal goals is to try and be an individual medalist, if not the Gold medalist, in Kentucky."

Weber is impressed with the marathon course, but is ready to tackle it, especially considering he is the second to go tomorrow. He said although he likes to watch other competitors go, he does much better when he goes early in the order. "I think it is very technical--difficult. For me usually that's good. My horses are technically worked very well. Sometimes, as much as I enjoy the very forward, racing courses, I don't seem to be as good at going fast as some of the other people."

Tomorrow, the drivers will participate in the marathon competition, which will take place over a 17-kilometer course, consisting of eight marathon obstacles grouped closely together. Before the teams reach the obstacle course portion of this phase, they have to complete 7,000 meters in the gait of their choice and then 1,000 meters at the walk. The obstacle course phase is almost 9,000 meters and is against the clock. Penalty points are also handed out for time faults or if one of the grooms has to dismount from the carriage. Saturday will decide the team and individual honors after the 600 meter-long obstacle course, consisting of 20 obstacles and 26 passages.

Just behind Weber, currently in the second spot is The Netherlands' Ysbrand Chardon with 41.22 penalties and then Germany's Michael Freund with 41.60 penalty points. Johnson is currently in fifth place with 43.26 penalty points.

When asked about his history of starting well in dressage and then not have a strong cross-country or marathon phase, Weber first joked by answering, "No comment," but then went on to explain. "I like more open and easy courses, but technical courses are better for my scores. I don't want to make this too easy for these old guys sitting next to me. We're going out there to do our best and win this thing. That's what we're here for."

Friday's Competition

Competition at the 2006 WEG continues on Friday with the first of two days of reining. The team medal will be decided in this discipline, plus the marathon phase of driving will take place.

Heading into the final weekend of the Games, there is plenty of equestrian competition in store, with Saturday seeing the final driving competition, plus the top 25 show jumpers will battle it out on course to see who makes it to the coveted final four spots to vie for Gold, Silver and Bronze medals.

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