Postcard from the Hickstead Nations' Cup

Coach Melanie Smith Taylor shares what went wrong for the U.S. show jumping team on Nations' Cup Day in Hickstead.
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Coach Melanie Smith Taylor shares what went wrong for the U.S. show jumping team on Nations' Cup Day in Hickstead.

July 26, 2008 -- Hey, all of you wondering about the Nations' Cup! I have no excuses for the Nations' Cup loss; there are always reasons things don't go well, but we lost fair and square, that's for sure.

Before the show began, George Morris asked me to remind all the riders that Hickstead in England is a special place. It is impressive and imposing for both horse and rider, especially first timers; the undulating ground rides very scopey and the ring and natural jumps can be quite spooky.

Nations' Cups are hard to win, no matter whether you are in Argentina, Aachen or Timbuktu. A lot of things have to fall in place for a lot of people on the day. There are always stories behind the scenes that you have to be there to know, unless someone reveals them. So I am in no way making excuses for us, but I am sharing those stories.

We all really wanted to win this one for George and all the team members who have participated so far in the Super League. It wasn't meant to be, so we must put this behind us, keep our sense of humor and move on. Fortunately, it didn't change our standing in the Super League when all was said and done.

Things obviously started off on a downhill slide from which we were never able to recover. Nicki Simpson's huge score of 28 faults in Round 1 was due to her mare's sore mouth (of which she was unaware). Nicki had tried a different bit the day before; the bit was too narrow and had pinched [the mare's] lips inward over her teeth, so that she had bitten her lips on both sides on the inside of her mouth. There was no slit in the corners like horses often get, so she was unaware of the issue until our vet, Shane, discovered the problem when he checked her all over after her uncharacteristic first round.

Nicki said she knew something was terribly wrong and would have pulled up if it had not been a Nations' Cup, knowing that she needed to finish. After an equipment change for the second round, which put pressure in a different place, the mare was able to concentrate on the jumps and was super, putting up one of only five clears all day.

Hillary Dobbs' wonderful little Quincy has seemed to have trouble recovering from all the travel and shocked us with four rails down in Round 1. Hillary felt she had overridden him to compensate for lack of energy and made corrections that improved her second-round score considerably to 5 faults.

Michael Morrissey's talented Crelido is a bit spooky, which makes him the good careful horse he is. In his class the first day, there was a huge camera boom in front of the water that terrified him as it moved when he came in the ring, so on Nations' Cup day, he was sure that crane was still at the water when he came around. He stopped about five strides out, not because of the water but because of his prior experience the day before--so he was eliminated. Crelido is a great water jumper and has had no problem with water this summer in Europe. It has only been the spooky objects near or beyond the water that have affected him.

I didn't think there was any way Michael would get Crelido over the water in Round 2, but he wanted to give it a shot. Before starting his course, Michael gave Crelido a chance to go by the water again and have a look. This made all the difference, as Michael did a masterful job of giving his horse confidence and a strong ride to the water the second time around. He jumped it beautifully, with no hesitation.

Then, unfortunately, Crelido slipped approaching the final combination down the hill, lost his confidence and stopped. It was definitely not their day either.

Lauren Hough, with quick study, was our ray of hope and jumped all the fences clear in Round 1, only stepping on the lathe when her horse grabbed the bit and left a stride early. He almost pulled it off. Then in Round 2, "Joey" got even stronger and had two rails down due to lack of rideability. He is a super jumper, but Lauren says she is still changing bits around to find the perfect one for him.

After Round 1, we were way last, but all the riders wanted to go back and improve their scores. It was an act of sportsmanship as well as showing what fighters they all are. It has been a long time since I remember a Nations' Cup being won on 24 faults. The course was definitely the winner here at Hickstead!

We all dressed up in our "smart casual" (as the invitation read) and attended the traditional barbeque at Dougie Bunn's home that evening. It was nice to witness Dougie at the ripe old age of 80 still holding court on the grounds of his beloved Hickstead. Cheers!