Highlights From The 2011 National Horse Show

Travel back to the east coast for some continued west coast wins. From fourteen-year-old Pilar Flournoy to John French and Small Affair, the well-earned victories made the trip east worthwhile. We’ll let the words and lens of Jennifer Wood Media below provide some more east coast highlights from two top capital shows.

Other east coast feats include solid placings to some of the west coast equitation elite in the USEF Hunter Seat Equitation Medal Finals – including 3rd Alison Fithian (Benson Carroll and Stacia Madden), 7th Alexa Anthony (Cara Anthony and Andre Dignelli) and 8th Morgan Geller (Jim Hagman, Katie Gardner and Don Stewart).

John French and Small Affair
Photo by Jennifer Wood Media, Inc.

The 2011 National Horse Show made its mark in Lexington, Kentucky and Richard Spooner galloped away with the big win in the $250,000 Alltech Grand Prix. Leading a jump off of five riders, he masterfully maneuvered a fault free ride on Cristallo that no one could beat. Olivia Esse ended her junior career with impressive results, including Champion on and Reserve in the Small Junior Hunters and Grand Junior Hunter Champion on Illusion. A grand exit from her junior years to her college years. Of course we would love to mention all who showed their moxie on the east coast but we can’t possibly include everyone. Helmets off to all for a job well done.

Painting the WEG Picture

By Whitney Campbell and Jackie McFarland

After years of hoping, bidding, planning and building, the Kentucky Horse Park gates officially closed for the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Lexington, yet the economical and reputable impact the city and state experienced during the 16 days of competition still lingers. Hosted in the United States for the first time, the city and state lived up to its reputation as the acclaimed ‘Horse Capital of the World’ when hosting this international equine event. The 16 days of grueling competition included eight different disciplines of equestrian sport, challenging 632 athletes and 752 horses from 58 countries for their chance of a WEG 2010 Medal. Competition aside, from the extensive Alltech experience, fabulously painted horses, shopping galore to the demonstrations throughout the facility, the amount of attractions available for visitors was abundant.

And for Openers…
The theme of the Opening Ceremonies was based around the athleticism, versatility, spirit, and the partnership between man and horse. Spectators enjoyed demonstrations and performances by racehorses, a Friesian Dressage Drill Team, Saddlebreds and many other equestrian entertainers. The traditional parade of athletes included all 58 competing countries. Midway through the ceremonies, FEI President HRH Princess Haya declared the official Opening of the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games by commenting, “For the first time, the World Equestrian Games have crossed an ocean to bring the best of our sport to another continent. We are witnessing a new beginning that will help spread the magic of horse sport and inspire young equestrian athletes to aim for the top.”

Reining in its Second WEG
Before the evening’s Opening Ceremonies, Reining, the only competing discipline that originated in the United States, was underway. Since Reining was added as a discipline at the 2006 World Equestrian Games, it has opened the doors for a broader and more diverse horse culture to participate at the Games. Judged on the athletic ability of a western type horse in a show arena, the format of competition at the games involves two days of Team Competition, a Qualifying Competition, and finally an Individual Final Competition. The team made up of Tim McQuay, Craig Schmersal, Tom McCutcheon and Shawn Flarida along with their talented quarter horses won the Team Gold. There was an unfortunate turn of events in the Individuals for Gold Medal favorite Shawn Flarida when his stirrup broke during one of his movements, resulting his hand touching the saddle and an immediate five point deduction from each judge. However his teammates Tom McCutcheon and Craig Schmersal were still able to clinch the Gold and Silver Medals in Individual Reining.

Enduring Sport
The second day of the Games held the longest continuous competition of all eight disciplines, Endurance. The 100 miles race against the clock through open terrain, trails, roads, and bridges involved five required compulsory stops for veterinarians to check the horses’ fitness and they had to pass in order to continue. The horse and rider duo that not only passes each check but then finish the fastest after the five segments wins the Gold. Out of 100 competitors, only 55 completed the entire race. Those who did finish returned the next day for the Best Conditioned Judging. This discipline separates itself from the rest not only for the longest time spent in the saddle in one ‘sitting’, but because it involves competitors from all realms of horse society. From small town trail riding housewives turned pro, to Sheiks born into the sport, once on horseback they share the same goal and the same passion for their equine partner. Having just given birth to a baby girl seven weeks earlier, French Endurance rider Maria Mercedes Alvarez Ponton on her fabulous horse Nobby defended their title for the Gold.

All the Moves
The fundamental training to many equestrian disciplines, the Dressage competition spanned over four days. According to the FEI Rules, Dressage is “the development of the horse into a happy athlete through harmonious education. As a result, it makes the horse calm, supple, loose and flexible, but also confident, attentive and keen, thus achieving perfect understanding with his rider”. Beginning with the Team Grand Prix, horse and rider from each team perform the same test, a combination of movements and gaits, designed to demonstrate the level of achievement of those qualities described above. Each team member is scored individually, and then added together for a final score in which the best scores determine medal placing. The Grand Prix Special follows team competition and is the Individual Competition complement to the previous day’s tests. Following the same format, horse and rider are judged and the pair with the highest score wins. The most anticipated and attended event in Dressage is the Grand Prix Freestyle Competition. Each rider designs and choreographs an original test incorporating music using the same movements required in the regular Grand Prix test. Often labeled dancing with hooves, this event shows off individual talents and creativity. In the Individual competition, the successful team of Steffen Peters and Ravel were the first United States Team members to earn a medal, Bronze, in a World Championship in both the Grand Prix Special and Freestyle.

A Combination of Grace and Guts
A true test that challenges a horse’s grace, endurance, precision, and overall athleticism is the Three Day Event, or Eventing, competition. Horse and rider compete in three different phases over three days involving Dressage, Cross Country, and finally Stadium Jumping. Those who score well in the Dressage test and refrain from adding time or faults to their score from cross country or stadium will likely find themselves in medal contention. The Cross Country phase of Eventing is always a crowd pleaser due to the large spectator viewing areas and the intensity of the solid obstacles on the course. This particular day at the Games brought in the most spectators, topping off at 50,818 attendees. After the Stadium phase, the German rider who started off with the lowest Dressage score, Michael Jung managed to add no time or jumping faults to that first day score claiming the Gold Medal, while 2010 Rolex Three Day Event defending champion British rider William Fox-Pitt settled for Silver.

The World’s Highest Jumping Athletes
Show Jumping challenges the horse and rider’s stamina, speed, agility, scope and precision. Over the course of several competitions Monday through Saturday (with Thursday as a day off), the rider finishing with the least number of penalties earned the Gold. Beginning with the Speed Competition, more than 120 horses and riders representing 27 countries competed on courses designed with a variety of Kentucky themes from horse racing and breeding farms to products and culture. The Americans looked promising taking the top two spots after the first day of competition but it was the German’s who took home the overall Team Gold Medal after Wednesday evening’s top 10 Team Final competition. The 30 riders with the lowest scores returned for the Individual Round on Friday.

The exciting week of show jumping culminated with the top four riders, those with the lowest scores from the week, competing on Saturday evening for the Rolex Final Four. Making it to the Final Four from a talented pool of 121 riders is quite an accomplishment and an exhibition of a great partnership with a horse. This was the first year the Games had four riders from four different continents, Philippe Le Jeune of Belgium, Eric Lamaze of Canada, Rodrigo Pessoa of Brazil and Abdullah Al Sharbatly of Saudi Arabia. Each rider began their first round on course aboard their own mounts. Given the option to change only one piece of tack, and a maximum of three minutes to acclimate to the new partner, it was time for riders to display true horsemanship as they attempted the same course on each of the other rider’s mounts. Each horse and rider combination went clean in two of the four rounds. However the end result, and the only rider to jump clean all four rounds, was Belgium’s Philippe Le Jeune taking home the Gold Medal. And after five days of competition, the only horse to jump all four rounds of the Final Four clean was Lamaze’s mount Hickstead. The 14-year-old stallion was awarded Best Horse Honors for his amazing efforts.

For the first time
Amongst the multiple sessions of Show Jumping in the outdoor stadium, the Para Dressage, Vaulting and Driving disciplines also competed in outdoor and indoor facilities at the Kentucky Horse Park. The 2010 World Equestrian Games marked the first time riders with physical disabilities had the opportunity to contest their equestrian abilities while competing amongst the world’s best competitors. Participating riders were asked to complete tests involving specific movements typically seen in Dressage and also competed for individual and freestyle medals. Several countries were represented in the final results, but Great Britain and Germany were tops. British rider Sophie Wells on Pinnochio won Gold in the grade IV Individuals and the British Team were also Gold Medal winners. German rider Hannelore Brenner riding Women of the World took the Gold medal in the grade III.

Mounts and Dismounts Required
Performing gymnastics and elements of dance to music while balancing on horse cantering in a circle is certainly high-level gymnastics. In Compulsory, Freestyle and Team Competitions, vaulters are judged and scored on technique, form, difficulty, balance, security as well as consideration of the horse and the performance of designated exercises or movements. In addition, it is the only discipline holding separate competitions for males and females both in Compulsory and Freestyle Vaulting. The US Team of Devon Maitozo, Blake Dahlgren, Mary Garrett, Emily Hogye, Mari Inouye, Rosalind Ross, and Annalise VanVranken along with their horse Palantino lunged by Carolyn Bland won Gold in this event.

Horse and man partnership comes into play in the Combined Driving Event where each driver drives a team of four horses through three separate competitions. Driven Dressage requires the same test for all competitors and like ridden Dressage, is judged on the agility and movement of the horses. The 18-kilometer marathon challenges competitors across country, similar to Eventing’s Cross Country, tests the fitness, judgment, and horsemanship of the driver. The Obstacle-Cone competition is the final phase of competition where the Driver is required to drive his team through twist and bends without incurring faults. Lowest total score again determined the medals and the US Team of Chester Weber, Tucker Johnson, James Fairclough, and their fabulous teams of horse earned a Silver Medal, whereas American Tucker Johnson brought home an Individual Bronze. After driving competitively for a quarter of a century, Johnson is retiring from competition on a great note.

And there’s more…
Those who visited the Kentucky Horse Park on a general admission pass could easily fill the day with exhibits and events covering the park grounds. The trade shows offered high quality equestrian goods from apparel to tack and everything else horse, from artists to vacations.

The Equine Village provided guests the opportunity to meet breed and discipline registries as well as clinicians and other horsemanship organizations. There were daily demonstrations and clinics where several top competitors exhibited their talents and skills to spectators. The Kentucky Experience gave visitors from across the globe and even local guests the chance to see what Kentucky offers, from music, food, art, and recreation to of course the horse. The title sponsor, Alltech, created the Alltech Experience, a sprawling set-up with innovative rooms illustrating all the ways the company approached nutrition, health and performance. And that was just in the front, out back was a beer garden, areas devoted to kids, with animals of all kinds visiting from the Newport Aquarium, painted horses galore, music and more. Plus the permanent structures and exhibits at the park include several museums, a stable of breeds and several association headquarters.

Every aspect of the Kentucky Horse Park, especially hosting the magnanimous WEG is geared toward one purpose: to bring the world the majesty of the horse. Attracting the equestrian world to Lexington was a feat, and not without challenges, but certainly memorable for many. The World Equestrian Games showcased the athletes, both human and horse. The largest sporting event to come to the United States since the 2002 Winter Olympics, the 2010 WEG tallied a total of 507,022 in attendance by the final day. Hats off to the state of Kentucky who hosted an all-encompassing event that truly put the horse on a pedestal.


Conversations With Course Designers: Guilherme Jorge and Hap Hansen

By Jackie McFarland

Analyzing the World’s Most Competitive Courses with Special Guests Hap Hansen and Guilherme Jorge
We’ve all ridden plenty of Grand Prix classes from our seats… in the audience. And thanks to modern technology we’ve watched the WEG courses via FEI.tv, the new USEF network and YouTube. But I had the chance to watch with Hap Hansen, who certainly knows what it’s like to ride those courses from the seat of the saddle. Plus in the midst of the competition I was able to converse with Guilherme Jorge, assistant to World Equestrian Games head course designer Conrad Homfeld. Through their experienced eyes, we analyzed the world’s most competitive courses from Lexington, Kentucky, home of the 2010 WEG.

Brazilian Jorge was honored to be a part of an impressive team of international designers, including course architect Richard Jeffrey from Great Britian and assistants American Anthony D’Ambrosio, Canadian Michel Vallaincourt and Christa Stormans from Germany. Seven other course designers joined this elite group plus an excellent jump crew of eight. They were truly a design team, with Homfeld asking for their suggestions and impressions of his designs and distance choices.

Jorge commented, “Homfeld’s courses use his knowledge and experience as a rider at this level and his course design experience. His speed course asked a lot of technical questions. It was a good test and interesting to watch. The tests got tougher on Tuesday, but he kept the less experienced riders in mind.” After our Wednesday interview, he was off to a meeting about Friday’s course.

After the warm-up round on Sunday evening where each rider had 90 seconds to get to know the arena, each day forward counted towards both the Team and Individual standings. Monday was a 1.50m speed class, with faults converted into seconds, so each of the 121 starters were scored according to their time. The placings worked as follows – the fastest overall time, which on this glorious Monday was Mario Deslauriers on Urico, was given a score of 0. His winning time of 71.25 was then subtracted from each subsequent score and that total was multiplied by .5. For example on this same glorious day, McLain Ward was second with a time of 71.79. The formula is: 71.79 – 71.25 = .52 x .5 = .27. That is the score McLain carried into Day Two.

The course theme was the ‘nature of Kentucky’ and the jumps were magnificent. Some memorable jumps were the line from fence five, a vertical with wings resembling mountain peaks to an impressive arch wall at fence six in tight four strides and a combination at 10a-10b made from plank board fencing.

The last line of a liverpool vertical to Rolex combination caused quite a few four fault conversions, adding precious seconds onto riders scores.

Day Two was another all day affair – 119 horses passed through the timers. The cumulative scores from this day determined the ten teams that would compete in the Team Final Competition the following evening. I sat with Hap and watched each horse negotiate the brilliant 1.60m Thoroughbred industry-themed course. Hap had the following comments regarding the course, which you can see on the virtual map for 10/5/2010: Team Competition.

Fence 1: A big enough oxer with a nice approach to get everyone started.

Fence 2 –3: There was quite a bit of distance between fences one and two, a good opportunity to gallop in order to stay within the time allowed. However it was important to go far enough around the turn to meet it straight and ride the line, which even though there was a slight bend to the right it rode in a nice seven strides. A few riders rode it in eight.

Fence 4 –5a, b, c: A rollback turn to the left to a tall skinny vertical – a cool jump representing a film slate from Sea Biscuit – which was a careful fence. Best way to approach was to go wide but the time allowed made that difficult. You could see the ones that were confident, careful vertical jumpers who would shave the turn. From there a steady six bending strides to a tricky triple combination – oxer at A, in one to tall vertical at B, what measured a steady two to an oxer at C but rode in a variety of ways depending how much the horse backed up to jump the B element. Each element of the triple took its toll.

Fence 6: Pass the in-gate to the solid black wall. The fence represented a Win, Place, Show scoreboard from the Churchill Downs track and was an intimidating solid looking jump. Quite a few blocks fell.

Fence 7 –8: A sweeping left turn to a wide 4.30m (14′ 1″) water – with several options on the track – inside in seven, center to center in eight or wide in nine strides. This was also tricky as there were quite a good number of feet in the water. The water was set in a line walking long in four strides to a ‘light’ plank vertical that some chose to ride in the forward four and others in the steady 5 – may have been 50/50. Those who stepped in the water did the five. Most who jumped the water well kept going forward for the four.

Fence 9: Right hand turn to a green and gold Keeneland oxer at end of the ring. This was not a particularly difficult fence but it did come up fast after that difficult line. Due to this and because the horses were still forward after the last line and didn’t back off the front rail, it came down a surprising number of times. Like for McLain and Sapphire, it led them right into the front rail, that was the trap.

Fence 10: Rollback to the FEI purple vertical with jockey silks. Not too much trouble at this jump.

Fence 11 – 12A-B – 13: This last line was a difficult track and caused a good amount of rails. Fence 11 was a wide enough oxer then an option of a forward four strides or quite a few tried to collect the horse for a steady five to a very short and airy white vertical – vertical combination and finishing in a forward six stride bending line to a 1.90m (6′ 3″) wide Rolex oxer.

“Overall it was a brilliant course. Exciting to watch with great results. The presentation was beautiful,” noted Hansen. Of the 119 horses, just over 15% (17 horses) went clean; another four were close with one time fault. Nineteen more had just one rail. The remaining 79 horses had 5 faults or more.

So the results from yesterday were tallied – faults were added to the speed score – and the team totals were determined. The ten teams with the lowest cumulative scores competed in a final round on Wednesday night. Again the total number of faults each rider scored in the round were added to both the overall team score and their individual score. These totals resulted in both the final Team standings, awarded on Wednesday, as well as which riders were return for the top thirty on Friday night. The top four scoring riders after Friday’s class would compete on Saturday in the Final Four. Fifteen more rounds were added to Wednesday’s list – the fifteen best scoring individual riders that weren’t on a team competed for a score, to determine if they would make it to the top thirty individual competition.

The course wasn’t altered much from the one Hap analyzed on Tuesday, however the few changes were key as many riders experienced. Guilherme shared some of the slight height changes, with some jumps as high as 1.65m (5’5″). Fences # 2, 3, 6, 9 and 10 were raised and 5A was square when on Tuesday it was slightly ramped.

The difficult line mid-course from the open water to the plank vertical, fences seven to eight, changed to an equally difficult width test – a wide (2.20m or 7’3″) triple bar in a forward four or holding five strides to the plank vertical. This made your track from the wall at fence six extremely important and didn’t ride the same as a gallop to an open water, instead riders had to choose a track that would get them to the base of the triple bar and then they each had to know not only how far into the line the horse would land but as well how adjustable once inside. There were a lot of problems here, including the unfortunately long distance to the triple bar that came up for Mario Deslauriers and Urico, which ended up in a frightening crash where Urico sat down on the back side. The pair circled and recovered to finish the course.

Venezuela’s Pablo Barrios had the opposite problem; he rode beautifully across the triple bar and went forward for the four, which came up too long, and the pair plowed through the plank vertical. Both successful and experienced riders, these mishaps proved the challenges that the fifty-five entries encountered on course.

It was Germany’s night. They came in with a total score of 17.80 and with three of four teams riders going clean, the score remained the same for the win. France also had an excellent showing only adding 4 faults to their score, moving up from fifth to second. Belgium made a big jump from eighth to third only adding two points to their total score. It was not a great night for the US, although Laura Kraut did shine with a beautifully clean round.

Displayed here is a nice representation of the track and the jumps used on this day. The jumps in black were used in Round One and in red are Round Two. Visually the theme was Iconic WEF and Kentucky, which the jumps beautifully illustrate. As a brief review, one of the most challenging lines was the final one in Round One, an oxer-oxer-vertical triple combination across the diagonal in line with the final jump. Most scores were between four and eight faults, with only five of the thirty riders going clean. In Round Two, the shortened course was slightly less technical and thirteen of the twenty-four who returned were fault free, including a great comeback by McLain Ward and Sapphire who jumped brilliantly in both rounds to move from a rank of 26th to 7th.

Having watched this at the USET Talent Search Level multiple times it was quite amazing to see the stakes taken up several notches and see four of the world’s best riders ride each others horses over a 1.60m course. Again having the honor of sitting with Hap Hansen, we collectively thought that Hickstead would be the most difficult to ride. Although certainly strong and sometimes slightly out of control, he proved to be on his best behavior for the Final Four and was actually the best horse of the night. Abdullah Al Sharbatly and Rodrigo Pessoa each had surprising rails on their own mounts, but Sharbatly rode the other three horses like a pro and jumped into second place. Small mistakes if not just tired horses took a toll on Pessoa and Eric Lamaze who dropped to fourth and third respectively. Phillippe Le Jeune was simply stellar. Clean on each of the four rides, he was clearly the champion.

Both of my special guests agreed that it was a week of great sport. Jorge, who started the road to the WEG for the Americans when he designed all the WEG Trials in Wellington last winter, absorbed great knowledge from master course designers and riders, as well as contributing his own expertise. Along with keenly watching every horse and rider, Hansen also had a few days of fun socializing with friends from all over the world, shopping and experiencing Kentucky hospitality. I am thankful to them both. Course photos from Guilherme Jorge; course walk photo from Lisa Mitchell.