February 20, 2014 -- Two days of intense and close competition ended tonight with the USA's Team 1 claiming the gold medal in the Stillpoint Farm Nations' Cup contest at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival (GDF) in Wellington, Florida, where we got a glimpse of the format for next year's Pan American Games and a lot of talent that is on the rise.
Led by Adrienne Lyle aboard Wizard, the USA 1 squad earned a total of 423.543 percent, to 414.488 for Canada 1, avenging (to some extent) the American women's hockey team's loss to Canada in the Olympics. Spain, interesting and impressive, was third on 412.632.
Amazingly, despite her high profile, Adrienne had never ridden on a team before. Yes, she was in the Olympic Games in 2012, but she appeared there as an individual.
Here, she served notice to anyone handicapping the team possibilities for this summer's Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games that they should count her as a definite contender. Though Wizard was out with a bruised coffin bone after last year's Dressage Masters, a rest of nearly a year and steady training in the interim have developed a more confident (and obedient) horse, one that is strong and demonstrating impressive piaffe and passage, as well as his trademark awe-inspiring extended trot. There are still a few mistakes -- in yesterday's Grand Prix, he broke into the canter from the trot at the beginning of the test, and today in the Special he had some trouble in the one-tempis -- but who doesn't make mistakes? Remember Isabell Werth's horse bucking in the 2008 Olympics? And about a hundred more oopsies from the biggest names in the sport over the years?
Adrienne, who is Debbie McDonald's protege, earned 71.6 percent in yesterday's Grand Prix and 72.158 percent today in the Grand Prix Special.
This event was not like other Nations' Cups you've seen. The format was the same as the Olympics at the highest level: Day 1 for the Grand Prix, Day 2 for the Grand Prix Special. However, the riders who competed in those segments got a 1.5 point bonus that was added to the team scores. The other half of the teams consisted of Small Tour competitors, doing the Prix St. Georges on Day 1 and the Intermediare I today.
The U.S. and Canada both fielded two teams. There were six countries represented among eight teams. The winning squad was composed of Olympic-team veteran Tina Konyot on Calecto V, the other Grand Prix entry. On the Small Tour side, Shawna Harding, who rode Rigo, was back from a serious bout with illness (Lyme disease, malaria, etc.) and Silva Martin (wife of eventer supreme Boyd Martin) made her team debut on Rosa Cha W. A native of Germany, Silva has a fascinating Australian accent.
At Dressage at Devon last year, Boyd told me the story of Rosa, and it's worth repeating here.
So now that you know who was on the top team for the United States, if you thought about it, you'd realize several people you'd expect to take part were missing. Chief among them was Steffen Peters. And then there's Guenter Seidel. The deal is, they're supporting the California shows that are in the same time frame as the GDF, so the United States didn't have its full firepower here.
I discussed that with coach Robert Dover. Of course, he had a solution. Here's what he had to say.
It would be fantastic to have not only all our top riders in this next year, but also more European participation (and Cesar Torrente of Colombia, president of the ground jury, would like more Latin American teams.) Thomas Baur, sports director of the GDF, is hoping to find a way to coordinate the schedule here so more Europeans can come in 2014.
The Stillpoint Farm that sponsored the Cup belongs to Tuny Page, always gracious, generous and quite a competitor herself. But still, backing an event of this nature is a big deal, and I asked her how she happened to do it.
One of the best things about coming to GDF (aside from getting away from the snow in my neighborhood) is running into people I haven't seen since last season. The wonderful Carl Hester of British Olympic gold medal team fame, revealed he has written a book (can't wait to read it) and his lawyers had five pages of changes that needed to be made so he wouldn't get sued. Carl is here to help Katherine Bateson-Chandler with Jane Clark's exciting new horse, Walnetta, who I hope to be watching compete next weekend.
I also ran into Jeannette Sassoon, who gave me the sad news that her gallant blind horse, Valiant, died in November at the age of 26. But he will live on in a book, a documentary and a movie, the story about a horse and his owner who would never give up.
Making new acquaintances also is a benefit of being here at this very special place, where competition goes on ceaselessly, it seems, as ring upon ring is alive with wonderful horses (and, of course, some that are just average).
Leida Collins-Strijik was the top performer in the I-1 today on her West Side, a homebred "designed" by her husband Tim Collins, who evented for Bermuda in the Olympics.
The 43-year-old mother of three was on track for the Athens Olympics when she broke her leg and her horse died. Leida, who trains at home in the Netherlands with Anky van Grunsven, is going to give the top level one more try, and it looks as if Westie might be the horse.
Then there was Juan Matute Jr., the 16-year-old Spaniard who topped the Grand Prix on Don Diego Ymas and was second to Leida today. I've been dying to say this: Matute is a cutie. Handsome, articulate, smart beyond his years and well-spoken, he's the teenager we all wished we had, especially if we needed someone to help with the riding.
He lives in the United States, so I think Robert Dover may be trying to recruit him for the team down the road, but Juan notes he has a special feeling for Spain -- his father rode on that country's squad in the past. His whole family was in the stands, busy waving Spanish flags for support (his 18-year-old sister, Paula, also rode on the team here) and they seem like just the kind of people we like to see in the sport.
Oh, in case you're wondering what happened today over the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center, a half-mile away and under the same management as the GDF, Brazil ruled the roost in the WEF class. A total of 121 showed, forcing a California split for pinning the ribbons (the fastest horse won the first section, the second-fastest won the second section, etc.) with Doda Miranda aboard Uutje taking one section and his countryman, Rodrigo Pessoa on Citizengard Cadjanine Z, taking the other.
I'll be covering jumping Saturday and Sunday, but tomorrow night, we have the freestyle here at Global Dressage, with six going in the Grand Prix version and 12 going in the I-1 section. There will be a full report about noon on Saturday in my postcard on www.dressagetoday.com. In the meantime, we'll have photos on Dressage Today's facebook page (www.facebook.com/dressagetoday) Be sure to look at what's up there now.
So until then,