August 9, 2006 -- The jumping portion of the FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG) has always generated plenty of lively debate. The format for the final day of competition--when the four best riders jump their own horses and the horses of their rivals in order to decide the individual title--is seen by some as the ultimate test of horsemanship, and by others as an odd way of doing things.
The riders have a lot to do before making it into that final group of four. They begin picking up points in the first speed leg and carry those points into the next day's two-round Nations Cup competition in which teams consist of a minimum of three and a maximum of four riders, with the best three scores taken into account to decide the result. The top 25 go into the individual semifinal out of which the final four emerge. On the final afternoon they begin again with a zero score, and the winner is the rider who produces the best result from all four horses including his or her own.
The world's top female rider, Ireland's Jessica Kuerten, has decided not to compete at the 2006 WEG, so with her out of the picture the spotlight quickly falls on Germany's Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum.
Germany has dominated the early stages of the 2006 Samsung Super League, and they are the reigning European champions. Their new FEI World Cup Jumping Final winner Marcus Ehning has exceptional performers in Gitania and Sandro Boy.
The Americans have planned their 2006 WEG campaign with great attention to detail and, having announced their selection some time ago, have given themselves a generous preparation period. Beezie Madden, McLain Ward, Margie Engle and Laura Kraut will be hoping to capture gold.
The Swiss have been growing stronger throughout the 2006 season and Chef d'Equipe Rolf Grass has been excited by some new prospects including Werner Muff's Plot Blue, while Beat Mandli also has a strong string of horses.
The Swiss will be bidding for their first team gold but the French have three wins to their credit. Team spirit has been the key to French success, and Chef d'Equipe Jean Maurice Bonneau has been an inspirational force in recent years. The only member of the Jerez team listed this time around is Eric Levallois with Diamant de Semilly Ecolit.
The British last took gold in 1978 and bronze in Stockholm and Rome. But with Nick Skelton and John and Michael Whitaker still competing at the top of their games, they pose a serious threat.
Twenty-nine teams are scheduled to compete in Aachen. Former Belgian riders Jean-Claude van Geenberghe and Gregory Wathelet and Germany's Bjorn Nagel have changed nationality to compete for the team that is sponsored by Ukrainian businessman Alexander Omischenko.
Winning an individual show jumping medal at WEG is as much about toughness as it is about jumping technique, especially where horses are concerned. This year at Aachen the Nations Cup will run over two days so horses making it into the final will have faced five days of competition.
Visit EquiSearch.com for Nancy Jaffer's in-depth coverage of the jumping competition August 29-September 3.