October 17, 2015--Beezie Madden was a little off in predicting five or six clear first rounds on Saturday night. The Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Del Mar actually produced eight, but in every other regard Beezie was as precise as the Longines time-keeping devices on prominent display at the Del Mar Arena, in San Diego, California, Saturday, Oct. 17.
With her 2013 FEI World Cup Champion partner Simon, Beezie picked just the right time, Leg 5, to enter the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping North American League. “You can only count four of the seven qualifiers anyway,” Beezie reminded me during an interview earlier in the day. Simon knows his job well. Watch this video to learn about Beezie’s simple show-day prep for the 16-year-old Dutch Warmblood.
With apparent hair-trigger control of Simon’s stride and take-off points, Beezie put in a smooth and methodical clear first round. In the jump-off, she followed starter Richard Spooner’s lead on an angular route, smoothly slicing and dicing her way along, then taking an extra-angled approach to the big Longines vertical-oxer one-stride. She gunned it, but not crazily so, through a final sweeping turn and long gallop to the North America League oxer finale, landing with one eye on the clock to see her leading time of 37.33 seconds with two more riders to go.
Of course, nobody could beat her and the crowd was thrilled to see this Olympic gold medalist back out West, where’s she’s been a frequent visitor over the years.
Even runner-up Jack "Hardin" Towell admitted that being “bridesmaid” to Beezie wasn’t so bad. Aboard Lucifer V, Hardin tackled the seven-fence jump-off with pedal to metal from the get-go. Only Kirsten Coe and Czardas were clean at that point, and with a relatively relaxed time of 41.83 seconds; riding fourth, Hardin wasn’t taking any chances.
Hardin’s jet-black, 9-year-old Westphalian seemed like a pretty nice horse, so we asked the rider why he was named after the devil. Lucifer came with that name, Hardin explained, and some of his friends and loved ones felt it was appropriate. “The first year we had him he acted a lot like the devil. Nobody liked him!”
“But I’m really proud of this horse,” Hardin continued. “He still bucks and spins and has some quirks on occasion, but he’s really come around.”
Texas-based German rider Christian Heineking and Nkh Quanto had the catbird seat in the jump-off. He chose a relatively conservative route for the 9-year-old Quidam de Ravel son to finish third thanks to a clear jump-off. After all, they’d had some adversity in the first round, so why push it? Quanto threw a shoe about mid-way through the course, but neither horse nor rider let it fluster him.
California girl turned East Coaster Kirsten Coe finished fourth, followed by Richard Spooner and his longtime partner, Cristallo. World #6 ranked Kent Farrington and the 9-year-old Gazelle were sixth, competing with owning partner and big Southern California sport supporter Robin Parsky watching in the front row. Michelle Rodal (formerly Spadone) and Darius de la Ferme Rose were seventh. The 12-year-old Belgian Warmblood has a buoyant stride and a springy, airy jump. Their conservative round was lovely to watch and clear--up to the final fence. One of nine foreign riders in the field, Ireland’s Kevin Babington and Mark Q were eighth after a tough 12 faults in the jump-off.
Honestly, we thought it would be Richard Spooner’s night. Drawing the unpopular first-to-go spot to start the class, Richard and Cristallo looked more like just plain “masters” versus the “master of faster” moniker that is usually a great description. Going first again in the jump-off, they set the standard for sharp angles and shortest tracks and had the hometown crowd breathless until that dread last oxer. But, as at the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Sacramento three weeks prior, the last fence refused to stay up.
I thought it would be Richard’s night in part because it seemed a little karma was due. Organizers West Palms Events are establishing a wonderful habit of getting top riders together with their fans. It was Richard’s turn this time. Talking with a full house of U.S. Pony Club members, Compton Jr. Posse members and riders in the 12-and-under Onondarka Medal Finals held the same weekend, Richard was clearly having as much fun as the kids. He was asked many great questions. To hear his answer to one of them, “What advice do you have for developing your eye for the right distance,” watch this video.
Later, I told Richard the fun, informative and inspiring sessions made me feel like a Pony Clubber all over again. “That’s what I was going for!” he said.
After that, Richard joined several colleagues in the Charity Woof Cup. Raising money for various causes, riders raced around a modest-height, short course, then hopped off and ran to the center of the ring where a dog and handler waited for their turn in the relay: an agility course.
With faults converted to time, it made for a fast-paced warm-up to the big class. It was remarkable to see Will Simpson, Samuel Perot and several others racing around just minutes before it was time to return to the arena for the serious business of navigating designer Heiko Wahlers' big, challenging track. To the crowd’s horror, Lauren Hough flew off her horse, and sped to meet up with her canine teammate, but stopped abruptly in obviously severe leg pain. She had to “retire,” but was back in the saddle when her number was called for a four-fault round on her gorgeously colored gray, Cornet. (He jumps pretty well, too!)
At the press conference, riders and organizers had more thanks and kudos for Longines’ support of the new North American League.
"We are very honored to have Longines and the FEI here with us to celebrate the Del Mar International Horse Show," said Danielle Ballard of West Palms Events. "Being part of the North American League brings a new level of competition to the World Cup Qualifiers and we have enjoyed having riders attend who we do not normally have the pleasure of seeing at our events.”
And now, off to Calgary!