August 31, 2014 -- Boyd Martin is a shining star for U.S. eventing. Let me clarify that -- he's an all-around shining star.
I've watched this guy through bad times--and he's had plenty, many well-publicized--but he always bounces back. And who can forget how he and Phillip Dutton rescued the gutsy Neville Bardos from a blazing barn in 2011?
When Boyd broke his leg earlier this year, it didn't short-circuit his Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games plans. Boyd just took it in stride, so to speak, and though the leg still hurts, you couldn't tell by the way he is riding.
Which brings me to the news of the day: Boyd has repeated as the top U.S. eventer of the WEG. In 2010, he did it on Neville. Today, he did it on Shamwari 4, one of only two horses that completed the event here for the U.S. team.
A fence down at the first element of the triple combination in today's eventing show jumping kept him from moving up the leaderboard a few places, but he still wound up a very credible eighth with 63.9 penalties among the field of 59 riders who completed the event.
It was a downer for the team not to finish. Difficult conditions after days of rain made the cross-country an endurance test. Buck Davidson's horse, Ballynoe Castle RM, was pulled up after two refusals late in the course and Phillip's ride, Trading Aces (normally Boyd's mount) also refused and was retired after he ran out of steam--similar to what he did with Boyd at Rolex Kentucky in 2013.
So Boyd and I talked about the situation as the event wrapped up.
Meanwhile, the Germans had four clean rounds in the show jumping phase to completely dominate the event with 177.9 penalties. Not only did they take team gold, but Sandra Auffarth earned individual gold on Opgun Louvo, the horse on whom she won individual bronze at the London Olympics.
He's a Selle Francais, who returned to his original home in Normandy to make good. Sandra, 27, eclipsed the 2010 world champion, her teammate, Michael Jung. In earning individual silver, he was off the top of the podium for the first time since 2009. But he also was without his brilliant partner, Labioesthetique Sam, who was injured before the Games. Instead, he rode Fischerrocana FST, a mare with a fighting heart who had done only one 4-star before coming here.
William Fox-Pitt led Britain to the silver medal (198.8) and claimed individual bronze after being in the lead following cross-country with Chilli Morning. But he had the second fence down on Frederic Cottier's course, moving him into third place (54.3 penalties) and raising Auffarth (52), second after cross-country and Michael (52.3), who was standing third, up one place each. Always ready with his sense of humor, William said that while the knockdown was frustrating, "I'm probably lucky not to have had two fences down."
He noted he had never ridden a stallion at a high level of eventing previously, and was impressed by the chestnut.
"He's a real worker and trier and he's a rare commodity," he commented.
There was a heartbreaking moment in the victory gallop, in which only three British horses participated. The fourth member of the team, Harry Meade, just walked out of the arena. His mount, Wild Lone, died yesterday after completing the cross-country course and it was obvious he and his teammates were grieving for him.
The Dutch won their first world championships eventing medal in taking bronze with 246.8 penalties.
Now the U.S. has two teams--dressage and eventing--that will have to qualify for the 2016 Olympics by winning at the Pan American Games next year. Winning, as in gold medal. Silver is not accepted.
Coach David O'Connor discussed how the team will recoup from what happened at this WEG.
An event like the WEG is always a learning experience, and I was curious to know what Lynn Symansky (the only team member besides Boyd to finish the event) had learned here. She had two uncharacteristic refusals with Donner cross-country and he dropped a rail today, but he is a capable horse who no doubt will do better another day, as he has in the past.
It's not always wise to do a "what if?" scenario, but I was curious, so I figured out would have happened if Sinead Halpin, 38th on Manoir de Carneville, and Kim Severson, 23d on Fernhill Fearless who rode as individuals, had joined Lynn Symansky and Boyd on the team, leaving out Buck Davidson and Phillip Dutton (which never would be the case.) You've heard of fantasy baseball? This is the same thing. If that had been the team, Lynn, who was 47th, would have had the drop score and the team total would have been 269.5 penalties, acing the Irish out of sixth place and qualifying the U.S. for the 2016 Olympics. Just thought you might be curious.
But we must return to reality. Kim had a good comment about "what if." Remember, she used to be a team selector before returning to big time eventing.
I had wondered about the wisdom of bringing the eventing horses to Caen today from Haras du Pin, where they did dressage and cross-country. After all, the cross-country was a hard test, and they had to be loaded into vans this morning to come to d'Ornano Stadium.
But the riders seemed to think it was fine, and the reception of more than 20,000 spectators who packed the stadium was reward enough. They cheered everyone (though it seemed that the French riders, naturally, got the biggest reception.)
The afternoon was a festival of color, with national flags waving (France, Germany and Britain were the most prominent, but Dutch orange also made an appearance.) The riders who did well (and a few who didn't) were involved with a lot of punching their fists in the air in "I did it" mode, waving and pointing toward their horses' necks to make sure their mounts were included in the applause. The whole thing is very interactive and the audience gets into it, cheering and applauding louder.
So now it's up to show jumping to maintain the USA's honor in the Olympic disciplines. The competition starts Tuesday, and the U.S. squad of McLain Ward (Rothchild), Beezie Madden (Cortes C), Kent Farrington (Voyeur) and Lucy Davis (Barron) is ready to go.
Who's not ready to go is world number three, Britain's Ben Maher, as Jane Clark's Cella had an overreach during training and will not compete. So the British gold medal squad from the 2012 Olympics is unlikely to repeat. But watch out for Germany. Having swept the top team prizes in eventing and dressage, they are looking to humble everyone else and make jumping number three
I'll bring you all the news from show jumping this week, of course.
Tomorrow is a day off from the WEG, but I have a lot to do. I will, however, try to send a postcard if time doesn't get away from me. In any case, keep checking www.facebook.com/practicalhorseman and www.facebook.com/equisearch for more photos from the WEG.