Aachen, Germany, September 2, 2006 -- We all realized that barring a disaster of Biblical proportions, Beezie Madden would be part of tomorrow's Final Four show jumping test at the World Equestrian Games (WEG).
The only surprise today in regard to Beezie, as the top 25 riders jumped to earn a spot in the ride-off for the individual world championship, was that she actually incurred four faults.
But it wasn't a knockdown; Authentic, who soars neatly over everything in his unorthodox fashion, simply touched a tile at the far edge of the water jump. He's entitled, after jumping three clean rounds in the team competition. And during the second of two rounds this afternoon, he was perfect again.
Okay, so who did I think would be in the Final Four with Beezie? For sure, I picked Gerco Schroeder of the Netherlands and the storybook white stallion Eurocommerce Berlin. (By the way, if he were my horse, I would have given him a more fitting name, like Moonbeam or Sir Gallant or something, he's so beautiful. But a sponsor is a sponsor, and they're hard to find. Oh, I have a great photo of this horse that I'll try to put up in my gallery next week as we take one final look at the WEG, so you can see what I mean about this Holsteiner's rapturous looks.)
I think I'm starting to ramble here; it's because I'm so tired after this looong WEG. And I didn't jump even one fence! Gerco's horse looked to me as if he were feeling the effects of a lot of jumping. He had eight faults in the first round and four in the second to put poor Gerco down into a tie for 11th in the class. So much for him; there I was wrong.
I knew there would be a German in the Final Four mix, and it had to be a Beerbaum. So while I considered that it could be Ludger Beerbaum, I decided World Cup Champion Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum (who grew up in California, by the way) would probably be the one. Meredith started riding for Germany after marrying Ludger's brother, Marcus, and she has a great horse in Shutterfly. I was very surprised when she had five faults in the first round, but she came back with a brilliant clear and others obliged by faltering to put her into the Final Four.
Jos Lansink, a native of the Netherlands who rides for Belgium now, also has a snowy Holsteiner stallion, Cavalor Cumano (at least that's a more musical-sounding name than Eurocommerce...) He got behind the eight-ball in the first round at the WEG, when Cumano had to jump in the pouring rain, but the horse showed his talent today with two clean rounds that boosted him into the finals.
The only other double-clear belonged to a real longshot, Edwina Alexander, an Australian who is based in Holland with her boyfriend, horse dealer Jan Tops. I'm not sure I ever heard of Edwina before, but I do know her horse, Isovlas Pialotta, who was ridden in the U.S. by Lynne Little.
Even Edwina considered herself a no-hoper. She had packed her clothes and was going to leave tonight. Whoops, change of plans. She needs to stay until tomorrow evening to see whether she wins the world championship.
Now I have to explain what this involves, in case you don't know. In the Olympics (and just about everywhere else), you ride your own horse when you're going after a title.
In the world championships, you jump a course on your horse, then switch off with the other three riders and take their horses over the same course. There are a few other competitions that follow this format, including the U.S. Equestrian Federation Talent Search, but the one at the WEG is the highest level of this approach.
And it's controversial. Many people say that really, it's just the catch-riding championship of the world. It can be tricky if one horse is particularly quirky. But I think tomorrow's competition should be quite interesting. As the riders pointed out, Pialotta, Authentic and Shutterfly are sort of the same type; very elastic and adjustable, light on their feet. Since Cumano is a stallion, you can guess that he's much different, a heavier, more powerful type of horse.
But these riders all have had experience on a variety of mounts, so the challenge should be something they take in stride. Luck plays a bigger part in this championship than most, I think, and in the last round, the competitors are going to be dealing with some very tired horses.
There's always been a lot of talk about changing this format, but it hasn't happened so far (and it certainly isn't going to happen before tomorrow) so we'll just have to see how it plays out.
I asked John Madden, Beezie's husband and trainer, what he thought about how things had gone to this point--you can listen to his answer in this audio clip.
John Madden discusses what is important to the Maddens and how they view this final.
Today was really interesting. Frank Rothenberger designed two different courses, with the second one shorter than the first. There were some different fences than we've seen before; a big oxer with birch standards and a little ditch underneath it, and a golden triple built to resemble the candle holders in the Aachen cathedral. (That's what Beezie is jumping in the picture at the beginning of this article.)
You needed to have both power and finesse at your command this afternoon; one mistake, and you were cooked.
McLain Ward had been sitting fifth and we all hoped he and Sapphire would make the final four along with Beezie. But two knockdowns in the first round put him out of it, and he blamed himself. Listen to his explanation and know that you'll watch him going for it again really soon--at the World Cup, the Olympics or the next WEG in 2010, and he will doubtless be on the receiving end of a big title one of these days.
McLain Ward explains what went wrong.
Okay, let's see how tomorrow goes. I will fill you in right before I leave Aachen.
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