March 2, 2014—Here's the Nations' Cup score for the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center: Canada-6/USA-5.
Those aren't, of course, the totals for last night's renewal of the class, which was won by Canada (8 penalties), with Great Britain surprising even its chef d'equipe by coming in second (9), and the USA (12) further back in third.
What I'm referring to is the overall series, begun in 2002. Canada broke the tie for the most wins over the last 13 years with a performance so well orchestrated that its last competitor, Eric Lamaze on Power Play, didn't even have to ride to clinch the victory.
As U.S. coach Robert Ridland and his Canadian counterpart, Mark Laskin, discussed, Canada is on a sporting roll lately -- there was the curling victory in Sochi, then women's bobsled gold and two hockey wins in Russia. And now it's show jumping's turn.
Double-clears were hard to come by over Steve Stephens' course. Only Great Britain's Tim Gredley (Unex Chamberlain), Brazil's Doda de Miranda (AD Uutje) and Canada's Yann Candele (Showgirl) managed it, though Eric might have added his name to the list if he had jumped a second round. Special kudos should go to Tiffany Foster of Canada on Victor. She took heavy fall from another horse at a combination during a class on Thursday and gave us all heart palpitations as she seemed unable to rise, yet eventually walked out of the ring under her own power with a little help from her friends.
The U.S. squad seemed incredibly strong on paper. But horses actually compete on all-weather footing. So it didn't worked out as planned, despite having three members of its 2008 Olympic gold medal squad on board -- Laura Kraut was even on her 2008 mount, Cedric. She had a 0 and a rail; McLain Ward on Rothchild produced a clear on his first trip but dropped two poles on his second, and Beezie Madden logged a knockdown with Simon in her first round, then corrected it with a brilliant anchor trip. Brianne Goutal, 25, on the squad for experience, was marked at 4/4 with Nice de Prissey.
While the U.S. was second to Canada after the first round, it just couldn't hold its place through a second tour of the course for which only eight teams were eligible.
In its second season, the Furusiyya FEI Nations' Cup underwent a rule change that is making things more difficult for the U.S. Last year, an American victory here practically assured the U.S. a place in the fall finals, because competing nations only got points for where they finished in the line-up, and Canada was second, but Mexico was last. Those three countries were the only ones in last night's record 12-team field who were eligible to earn points during the evening for the finals in Barcelona.
Now teams in contention receive points for where they finish among themselves. While Canada was first, the U.S. got points for second and Mexico got points for third in the finals qualification, despite finishing ninth.
A Nations' Cup in Mexico has been added to the 2013 lineup for North America, which just included Wellington and Spruce Meadows last year, so the teams in contention for two Barcelona spots will meet again in May south of the border.
Yesterday's finish makes things tough for the U.S. Coach Robert and I talked about that after the class.
On the other hand, his British equivalent, Rob Hoekstra, was all smiles as his team goes forward in Europe for its finals qualification efforts.
As always, the Cup brings out the good-natured partisan in everyone. The Canadians waved giant flags in their section of the stands. The Tiki Hut was redubbed the "Irish Embassy" for the night, complete with sign.
A curb on bringing in alcohol means the sidelines happily are better behaved than they were a few years ago, and now the cheering doesn't get rowdy.
An addition this year was a squad from Israel. While lead rider Danielle Goldstein, who has dual U.S./Israeli citizenship did a great job on Carisma to wind up with just one time penalty, a fall by second team member Elad Yaniv put the squad out of contention.
Nations' Cup is a special evening for the fans, but it's more special for some teams than others. Obviously, it's most important for the North American squads vying for the finals. And for Britain, it offered a chance to try new horses. But for the others, aside from national pride, what do they get out of it?
I talked about that the other day with McLain.
Oh, I forgot that the U.S. show jumping team now is officially the Hermes jumping team, after the French fashion and leather goods company launched a partnership with the U.S. Equestrian Federation. It was celebrated earlier this week in posh Grand Prix Village next to the showgrounds, at the fabulous stable of Tim Gredley, complete with champagne, caviar and chamber music, the three C's of good living. Go to Practical Horseman's Facebook for a photo of McLain in his new Hermes jacket.
There's a merry-go-round at the entrance to the PBIEC, and I feel as if I've been on it for most of the past two weeks. Shuttling between show jumping and dressage at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival involves more than just the half-mile trip from one facility to the other. I also have to change my mindset, from rails and penalties to piaffes and percentages.
Of course, I'm so incredibly lucky to be able to watch many of the world's best in both disciplines, not to mention getting the chance to photograph and speak with them. It is amazing what Equestrian Sport Productions has done in this little corner of Florida, making it -- as the signs say -- the winter equestrian capital of the world. It's definitely a desired destination for so many in horse sports, and I expect more will come when eventing eventually is showcased as well.
But it does get a bit wearing. I was at the AGDF yesterday morning shortly after 8 a.m., then came to the PBIEC for the Nations' Cup and was still working after 1 a.m. last night Oh, and then I got up at 6 a.m. today to do it all again. But I'm not complaining, especially since it's 4 degrees at home up north as I write this.
So now to dressage. The Palm Beach Dressage Derby, formerly of far-out Loxahatchee, is running in Wellington for the first time in the 31 years of its history. It is a foundation event for what has become the world’s largest dressage circuit. We almost lost it, until ESP stepped up and gave it a home.
It was started by Gisela and Howald Pferdekamper, who came from Germany, and Janne Rumbough, a Danish immigrant.
Amazingly, Janne -- who celebrated her 70th birthday during the show -- is still riding and doing a darn good job with horses she has brought along. I was eager to catch up with her for her views about the show that has been such a big part of her life.
Yesterday was the Derby's Grand Prix (see Dressage Today's Facebook for some photos). The show is hosting a World Cup qualifier, but the winner, the accomplished Tinne Vilhelmson-Silfven on Don Auriello, isn't contesting tonight's freestyle because she's already qualified for the Cup finals in Lyon, France, and wants instead to practice the Special tomorrow, since it's important for championships such as the upcoming Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.
Tinne's score of 77.4 was a blowout. Second went to last weekend's freestyle winner, Adrienne Lyle on Wizard (71.98), who said watching Tinne ride is like poetry. Adrienne obviously will be the big gun in this evening's competition.
Third place Mikala Gunderson, riding My Lady (owned by Janne) has been on quite a streak—a third-place streak. She says she's being called "the yellow lady. But there was nothing to be ashamed of in her score of 71.66.
A few other things of note: Caroline Roffman made U.S. dressage coach Robert Dover proud with a score of 70.14 percent on Her Highness O in her first CDI (international dressage competition), but she kept telling me she was just happy to finish, since the horse had bitten herself and bled in two previous outings this year.
Paragon, who had problems earlier in the season, appears to be getting back on track with a test marked at 68.3 percent. There was a little resistance in the reinback, but it is fun to see a horse with his long legs do the extended trot down the length of the ring.
Okay, I'll be getting up early tomorrow morning to write another dressage postcard, so be sure to look for it on www.DressageToday.com.