By Jackie McFarland
Having the opportunity to speak with the Rolex FEI World Cup Manager of Show Jumping, Robert Ridland, who also happens to be the President of Blenheim EquiSports, both before and after the event was a profound experience.
First let it be said that when Robert Ridland has a job to do, whether that job involves his family, his horse business or the business of our sport, he is completely focused on the task(s) at hand. Getting his attention pre-event was next to impossible, which is commendable for those he is working for – the horses and riders coming to the World Cup. His unwavering goal is to make this event the best it can possibly be for show jumpers worldwide. When asked what he does to help horses and riders settle in once arriving in Vegas, his answer was simply “Everything!”
We did have a celebratory conversation on a day post the final West Coast World Cup qualifier in late March and pre the World Cup Final in mid-April. “This day is unprecedented,” he exclaimed. “What just happened is the most amazing demonstration of sportsmanship I’ve ever witnessed.” The happening he referred to was when both the fourth and fifth ranked World Cup West Coast League riders stepped aside to allow the sixth-ranked rider to compete in the World Cup Finals this year. Gold Medal Olympian Will Simpson (ranked 4th) and previous World Cup competitor Jill Humphrey (ranked 5th) voluntarily stepped aside to allow Rich Fellers (ranked 6th) to be the fourth rider from the West Coast. Since the FEI World Cup is not a team competition, hats off to Will and Jill for acting as team players in an instance where it is not required or even expected. “It leaves us with a good feeling,” Ridland commented.
Ridland was also excited about the West Coast riders who earned spots to compete in Las Vegas – Mandy Porter, Ashlee Bond, Richard Spooner and as mentioned Rich Fellers. Although not the top finishers this year, “Our riders made us all proud,” said Ridland. “They were well-prepared and confident.”
Regarding the 2009 Rolex FEI World Cup Final, the consensus from rider, attendee, press and management was overwhelmingly positive, although bittersweet, knowing the event would not return in 2011. A bit spoiled after having the World Cup Final come to the states, namely to Las Vegas, five times in the last nine years, everyone was wondering – would the World Cup return to the US? To Las Vegas? If so, when? Ridland had the answer and shared it with the press, who in turn get to spread the good word.
Once the three top riders in the world, Champion Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum (GER), second by only two seconds and no faults McLain Ward (USA) and third by just over 4 seconds and no faults Albert Zoer (NED), had been questioned and congratulated at the press conference on Sunday, the parting comment regarding having the event return to Vegas was “this production is on par if not above any other show in the world.” At this point Sven Holmberg, FEI Vice President, stood at the podium and expressed disappointment that Las Vegas Events withdrew their bid for the 2011 and 2013 events. He then introduced Robert Ridland. After ten years of participation, Ridland took the time to honor some of the many names that made this phenomenal event possible year after year, including John Quirk, Bob Maxey, Shawn Davis, Tim Keener and Pat Christensen, among others. He then stated that Blenheim EquiSports, with the full support of Las Vegas Events, would be making a bid to bring the FEI World Cup Finals back to Las Vegas in 2014. “This team, this event is too good to give up,” he said. In response to this announcement Holmberg replied with a smile that the 2014 bid would be “very well received.”
After the amazing competition we were lucky enough to see this year – literally history in the making and potentially never to be repeated. Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum wins her third World Cup Final, the second one she’s garnered in Vegas, and as she so aptly stated “I think this was a great event – it was very, very close. This was the hardest win I’ve ever had. McLain made it difficult, he left no room for error. It was also my most perfect win – winning all three days on a once in a lifetime horse doing this at age 16.”
Think positive, go ahead and mark the dates in your calendars. In just five short years, the FEI World Cup Finals will once again return to Las Vegas. Now that is reason to celebrate.