Conversations With Equestrians: Michael Stone

Can ESP (WEF) + Stone = WEG 2018 for the FEI?
The right mix of masters could bring the WEG back to the US, or so we would like to speculate… I had the chance to interview one of the individuals who could make this happen, Michael Stone. We spoke twice this year, once in Wellington during the WEG trials at WEF and then again in Lexington directly before the WEG Final Four on Saturday night. We touched on WEF and WEG impressions and strategies.

Who is Michael Stone?
Born and raised in Ireland, Stone, 52, is a former International show jumping rider. He also competed in Eventing and Dressage at a national level.

Michael Stone

Aside from his riding experience, I would venture to say he has an extremely well rounded resume in equestrian sport. Stone has held several titles at the Federation level spanning two decades, including Secretary General of the Equestrian Federation of Ireland from 1987-1997 as well as FEI Assistant Secretary General, FEI Sports Director and FEI Secretary General from 1997-2007.

Plus he has served as Team Manager of the Irish Team and the Irish Junior and Young Riders Teams during several national and international events, including the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta and the 1994 FEI World Equestrian Games in The Hague. Before he joined the FEI in 1997, he also spent five years as Management Director of his family’s horse feed business.

Within a week after leaving the FEI, Stone was standing on the polo field at Wellington with Mark Bellissimo of ESP. That was 2007 and after a year of consulting, Stone became a permanent fixture in Wellington.

EqSol: Tell us about all the hats you’ve worn and how they fit.
 I feel quite lucky to have worn all these ‘hats’ in so many aspects of the sport. It certainly gives me unique perspective and I don’t think many people have had that opportunity.

I was involved in governing eventing, dressage and show jumping in my role as the Secretary General of the Irish Federation (the title is considered to be synonymous with President or CEO). Government of a sport means constantly learning about the many layers of what makes the sport tick, from the rules and regulations to those who are committed to competition. When I managed the Irish teams it was not only rewarding to further support the sport, but I gained an inside look at how difficult the role of a rider truly is. That experience gave me invaluable insight to working with riders through the FEI and now understanding the exhibitors at WEF and the other events hosted by ESP.

In my tenure with the FEI, what I had garnered in my years serving the Irish Federation helped me to rise to the role of developing and enforcing the rules for the Olympic disciplines of show jumping, dressage, and three-day eventing as well as for endurance, reining, vaulting, driving in more than 130 countries. One of the most interesting projects I worked with was facilitating the establishment of the FEI Coaching System. It’s a system that works with developing not just riders but coaches for developing countries. Many of the South American riders we see here developed under that system. Jeremy Mullins leads it now.

My current position as president for ESP is very different than my previous positions in non-profit, governing organizations. Here we are motivated to create the best show in the world, an equestrian destination.

EqSol: Tell us more about how you landed here and what you do in your current position.
 In 2007, I had a disagreement with Princess Haya. Essentially one of us had to go, she was appointed and I was hired, so it was me. I left the FEI on a Wednesday, Mark Bellissimo called me on Friday, Saturday we had a deal and by the following Wednesday I was standing in the polo field. For the first year I worked as a consultant from Switzerland and now I live here permanently.

I’m involved in every aspect of the business from sponsorship and marketing to scheduling and special events. I run the business of equestrian show business. And show in this sense truly does have a double meaning – one being top-notch competition for riders at all levels and the other is fabulous equestrian entertainment for spectators of all ages.

EqSol: What have you done and propose to do for WEF competitors?
 What have I done? Spent millions changing all the footing. I worked with Mark to find the right people and put new European footing in every ring. I had new jumps built. We bring in top judges, top course designers to a world-class facility. We reduced the entry fees for the Grand Prix classes by 10%. We worked on the show schedule, introduced new classes likes the Young Rider Grand Prix, a $500,000 Grand Prix, a Puissance during Nations Cup Week, and the Charity Event will return this year. We raised $500,000 for charities in 2010, this year our goal is to raise a million.

We are also working with the USEF to give the top thirty riders on the computer list a special deal for their rankings, a similar concept to the invitational style in Europe.

We continue to invest in the property. We consolidated the showgrounds, all competition will be on the north end now. All our numbers – sponsorships, entries vendors – are up, not down. I think what we have done and the continued enhancements planned are culminating to achieve our goal of creating the best for the best. If you want to compete at the top of the sport, you come here.

Palm Beach International Equestrian Center © Dunn’s Arial Photography

EqSol: For spectators?
 Currently the shows are geared more towards the exhibitors than the spectators. We aim to enhance the spectator experience, but it is a slow process. We continue to promote our evening events. We offer a nice media center and encourage media to cover events. There is a list of great classes worthy of press coverage. We would like to see TV coverage, that comes from bigger sponsors and larger audiences, both of which we are developing.

EqSol: Speaking of world-class, we are fresh off the 2010 WEG. Based on your experience, will you share your impressions?
 This is the first WEG where I haven’t had an official role as Team Manager or on staff, so that was a big change. All World Championships are fantastic. It’s the best quality in horses and riders. Lexington is horse country and the setting is beautiful. Both the indoor and outdoor stadiums are fabulous and the courses from the footing to the creative jumps to the design were excellent.

There were some issues with this event, possibly some unavoidable and certainly ones we can learn from. As fabulous as the Kentucky Horse Park is, the grounds are spread out over acres so there was a lot of distance between venues. Not only did that mean a lot of walking for spectators, but more significantly it is a loss of intimacy. In places like Aachen and Wellington the layout is more compact. You feel closer to the riders and the action. Pricing was another factor. It was expensive to truly experience the entire games, so most attended their discipline only. A lot of the other disciplines could have drawn more crowds had seats been available for a low general admission price.

Of course it’s easy to be wise post event. Overall I believe thousands of equestrians from all over the world had a memorable experience.

EqSol: And tell us about your plan to bid on the WEG in 2018.
 The bid is due next year. It is an intensely detailed proposal. We’ve been working with Wellington Village, Palm Beach city government and the state of Florida on the plan and the potential economic impact. In Lexington the impact was estimated at $180 million. Already a strong tourist and equestrian state, I think it the impact could be more in Florida.

Our experience at ESP is apparent and the facility footprint is similar to Aachen – compact. With the international arena and the extensive stabling, parking for competitors and spectators with separate entrances, we have an established infrastructure. We would definitely have to expand in particular areas, build more seats, a cross-country course and other details in order to host a World Championship event spanning eight disciplines. But our current team is strong and can run an event of this magnitude.

After we submit our bid we won’t know the decision until April of 2013. That would give us five years to prepare.

EqSol: So what ideas do you have to create the ultimate WEG?
 An intimate equestrian experience that supports every aspect of the sport – reasonably priced for the spectators with opportunities to interact with the energy of the event and a fantastic facility for competition.

Economic impact aside, bringing the WEG to Florida would mean the entire state focuses on equestrian sport. It raises awareness, generates improvements to streets and roads, telecommunications and infrastructures. It makes equines and equestrians a central focus and that is ultimately what it is all about – the horse and horse sport.

Thank you Michael for sharing your knowledge and insight. We will see you at future WEFs and look forward to WEG 2018 in Wellington.

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, 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.


Conversations With Equestrians: Nicole Shahinian Simpson

By Jackie McFarland

High-pressure situations are not new to Nicole Shahinian Simpson. Her reputation for catch riding began during her successful junior years, which culminated with winning both the AHSA (now USEF) and ASPCA Maclay Medal Finals. As a professional she continues to win at the highest levels, including competing in seven World Cup Finals and as a member of the 2002 WEG Team.

As we connect with these top-level riders and try to tap into what makes them successful, we find that they tend to possess an uncanny skill to get ‘in the zone’. Some may have developed this skill, but most simply have it. It is innate and gives them the ability to perform with supreme focus in a calm, cool and collected state of mind. Nicki Simpson has this innate talent in spades. She is not only a naturally beautiful rider, but she can make a 1.60m course look like her ASPCA Medal Final win.

Technically, Nicki and Tristan ‘won’ the WEG trials at WEF this year. That means that aside from the three riders given bys – McLain Ward, Laura Kraut and Lauren Hough – who didn’t have to complete trials but took the three top spots on the long list, Nicki had the lowest overall faults after the trials were complete. Although many factors go into the Selection Committee’s decision, this one should be considered. Also it is notable that although Tristan may have all the scope, she made him a world-class competitor. The very skill mentioned above – that uncanny ability to ride a 1.60m course in a smooth and unwavering way – brings out the best in the horse. And Tristan is now at his best.

Having just returned from the second leg of the European Tour, we spent some time talking with Nicki about the experience and about her business with her husband, Olympic Gold Medalist Will Simpson.

Eqsol: What shows did you attend on your tour?
 On the second leg we competed in two Nations Cups – Rotterdam and Aachen. I also went to Chantilly (seventh stop of the Global Champions Tour) on my own; Laura Kraut and Lauren Hough were there but we weren’t on a team.

EqSol: Was this the first time you had shown at these venues?
Yes. I’ve been to watch but not competed. Aachen is so steeped in tradition; I believe they celebrated 100 years last year. It is quite magnificent. Of course the field rode beautifully and the jumps were fabulous. There were 50,000 people in the stands waving white handkerchiefs during the closing ceremony – it was truly surreal.

EqSol: How were the courses? How were they different from and similar to courses you competed in for the WEG trials?
 The courses were what they should be. You know its funny, I don’t get too caught up in the specifics of the difficulty of the course. They build, you walk and you find a way to jump it clean. The courses designers are the best in the world, they know how to build a course that’s not gimmicky but fair, tough enough, but not out to kill anyone and ultimately produce a good result.

Each venue is different – Aachen is on an enormous grass field that requires a lot of galloping, it has a Spruce feel. Rotterdam’s arena is smaller than the one at WEF. Yet each event produces unique results because of both the venue itself and the course designer matched with it. It’s been really fair everywhere.

EqSol: The competition – is the ‘feeling’ different when competing in Europe at CSIO 5* shows on a Nations Cups Team as well as a potential WEG Team member?
 As a competitor when you walk through the gate – you go out to produce the best round that you can no matter what. There is secondary pressure of being on a team where your score is that much more important in other ways. On the competitive side it’s the same – still your best effort – but it is a little extra pressure when you are part of a team.

Competing in Europe is exciting in many ways. From the language to how the shows are run. Certain aspects are very different. The first time I went was a World Cup Final – don’t know how many years ago – that was a big eye opener. You get into the groove of their system a bit faster every time you go.

EqSol: And the tour results?
 Winning the Nations Cup in Rotterdam was great of course. It was fun to win as an all-girls team – they called us ‘George’s girls’. We all rode well and the horses were great; it was a nice way to start. We had great scores again in Aachen – I had 4 in the first round and went clean in the second, Laura had just one rail in each round and both Candice and Lauren were clean in the first with 4 in the second. We were only 3 faults from second place team.

In the Grand Prix of Aachen, Tristan and I had only the first jump down but were clear otherwise. The jump was just a vertical on the rail, it was too easy in some ways and a lot had it down. It was a careful jump so you couldn’t ride at it too hard. If it had been a giant oxer it would’ve been different, that was the trap.

We were 8th in the Speed Class and 15th in the Grand Prix in Chantilly. I’m really pleased with our overall results.

EqSol: Your favorite horse and rider post-tour?
 I have to say that Hickstead and Eric Lamaze are an amazing combination. Hickstead is just a machine and Eric competed and even won with a broken foot in Aachen. Watching them win at Spruce and then watching them do the same at Aachen was pretty incredible.

EqSol: So… Tristan. He wasn’t a big name until this year. Can you tell us a bit more about the match?
 Ilan Ferder asked me to start riding Tristan and a few others in May of 2009. Tristan was a nine-year-old then, just coming along. He jumped in his own way but had talent and was ready to go the next level. We took it one step at a time. He definitely had all the scope and just needed to get more seasoned and mature a bit. He certainly has achieved that now and will continue. There’s not a jump I’ve jumped where he’s been at his max.

EqSol: What is next for you and for the family business, Simpson Show Jumping?
 We’ve got 20 horses in training. We do teach a few select riding clients that have similar goals, which works well in our program. It’s fun to have a few serious riders. We have some nice young horses that we are bringing along. The key is to keep developing top prospects for the future. Our ultimate goal is to continually establish international level horses along with owners who have a sincere interest in seeing their horses compete at the highest levels and potentially represent our country on teams both nationally and internationally.

So I thought we were just taking a few to Menlo, but a few turned into 15 horses. Our next major event is the Masters at Spruce. Of course we don’t know if I’ll be going to Kentucky – we’ll know after August 16th. 

The family is doing well. Will had a great Spruce – Black Cherry and Archie Bunker both did well. They are getting ready for the Masters. Sophie moved up to the 1.20m at Spruce. She’s totally dedicated and very serious about her riding, and loves it. Yes, she reminds me of me. She will so some Equitation, but we have her ride the jumpers like you would ride an Equitation course. Ty is very athletic and into sports. He really likes to work with the horses around the barn and loves to build things. He can sit down with a 2,000 piece Lego set and use each piece in his building. It’s interesting that he loves to watch the crew build the courses and often he talks with the course designers.

Thanks so much Nicki. It would be great to see you on the WEG Team and we congratulate you on your tremendous success, especially with developing Tristan into an International horse.

August 11, 2010 – POST INTERVIEW UPDATE:
Tristan doesn’t return from Europe. Naturally we asked…

EqSol: What happened?
 The USEF picked the team yesterday and so we had to know if Tristan was coming back beforehand. So I called to find out and was told he was not returning, which meant he would not be available for the team. I had to withdraw.

EqSol: What happened previous to this?
Tristan didn’t return on the original flight booked on July 28th, but I didn’t know anything about it until right before the horses were supposed to fly. At that point when I called Ilan he assured me the horse would be home if a few weeks. So that is what I believed. And when we did the interview I didn’t want to say anything, as I hoped he was coming back.

Then I got a call last Friday (August 6th) from another US rider that the horse was competing with another rider in Belgium, Samantha McIntosh. She works for Ilan’s partner, Tal Millstein, and rides for New Zealand. That was a surprise.

EqSol: And your statement on this situation?
 The facts say enough. I’m very disappointed and not happy with how things were handled. But it is what it is. One rumor I’ve heard that is completely untrue is that I quit. Why would I do that at the 11th hour?

Although it was completely out of my hands, I feel I had a sense of responsibility to the team and now can’t commit to it.

Will Tristan compete at the WEG with Samantha McIntosh? Will he be sold? Even after Nicki’s fabulous results up through Chantilly, he now won’t be on the US Team. We are sorry for Nicki and all others who are effected by this decision.

Conversations With Equestrians: Rich Fellers

By Jackie McFarland

The chance to compete in two internationally acclaimed events in the same year doesn’t come often. Not to mention the even slimmer chance that one horse and rider team could potentially earn their way to BOTH the World Cup and the World Equestrian Games (WEG). However Rich Fellers and Flexible are on that powerful path.

Setting the standards high, Rich started off the World Cup qualifying season in the fall of 2009 with three wins. Well on his way to earning an invite to Geneva for the 2010 FEI World Cup Finals, Rich and the mighty Flexible traveled south from their home in Oregon to Thermal and then east to Wellington to solidify their position not only for the World Cup Finals but for the WEG as well. Leading the North American West Coast League in World Cup Points with one qualifier remaining, Rich and Flexible are Geneva bound in April. Since these two also showed they had what it takes in Wellington, the dynamic duo will also be traveling on one of the three European tours this summer as a potential WEG team candidate. We had a chance to sit down with Rich in Wellington.

EqSol: The decision and plan to qualify for both the World Cup and the WEG?

RF: Originally last summer the main objective for big championship events for the future was the World Cup Finals. We wanted to redeem ourselves after Las Vegas* plus Harry and Mollie Chapman (owners of Flexible) really enjoy the travel, so we set our sights on Geneva and started in with qualifying last fall. Things went well, we ended up with some really good scores. Then in early December George Morris came out for his annual clinic at the farm in Oregon – we had dinner and discussed the possibility of the WEG. He was very positive and supportive of us giving it a go. He felt that the dates of the two events were far enough apart – April for World Cup and October for WEG – that it wasn’t too much for the horse.

So then we just started looking at different options for Florida for the winter. Do we do just the trials or the full circuit? Do we take all the horses or just a couple? Luckily it turned out that almost all of our customers wanted to go to Wellington. We started in Thermal to try and earn some good World Cup scores. The qualifying rules changed this year, a rider can keep up to eight scores, which is more than previous years. We went into the winter season with 72 points and although we had one rail in each qualifier we earned some good points. We were ready to make the trip to WEF for a few weeks. 

*In 2008, Rich was second in the World Cup Finals. In 2009 he went into the final round in the 6th position and ended up with an unfortunate 30 faults, dropping him to 18th.

EqSol: Wellington trials and tribulations. Tell us about the WEG qualifiers from your perspective.

RF: The courses were super. Guilherme did a great job. He tested the horses and the riders equally, both in scope and technical questions asked.

Trial # 1: Thursday, February 25th, 7pm: Clean
Flexible started out great in the first trial on Thursday night by going clear. I thought it was really big, the rest of the riders agreed. It asked quite a few questions – a double oxer combination early in the course as a scope test. You had to be careful at the end of course with a vertical-oxer-vertical triple followed by a steady eight to a Liverpool oxer– big with tight distances, wide oxers and delicate verticals all towards home. That’s Flexible strong point, he’s very careful. We were all surprised that 13 were clear; it’s a testament to the preparation and quality of the horses and riders.

Trial # 2: Saturday, February 27th, 7pm: 16 faults
Saturday night was also a $75,000 Grand Prix. The course was more technical plus the jumps were, again, big and wide. It was an unfortunate night for me. The ONE stride in all five courses that I lost connection with Flexible was three and half strides away from a large triple combination. As we approached it from a left bend I went to make an adjustment to get my distance to A of the triple. He spooked and dodged off to the right. It happened so fast there was no chance for recovery, so I kicked and tried to get through. In the next eight seconds, I accumulated 16 faults. In hindsight I should’ve circled. It was a fluke occurrence, not something I anticipate with him.

Trial # 3: Wednesday, March 3rd, 3pm: Clean
Wednesday on the grass was the most difficult.* To walk into a new venue, jump the 1.60m Grand Prix as your first and only class is both physically and mentally challenging. The strong wind was a distracting factor – the way it makes things move that are usually still, the decorations, palm trees and it adds noise which excites a horse. It’s actually a great test for horse and rider focus. The best horses are very focused on the top rails of the fence and are not easily distracted. I remember walking the course and feeling the pressure of the challenge plus wanting to make a comeback after our 16 fault fluke. It was a very tough course but Flexible was a star. He cantered around like it was easy, very relaxed, and very rideable.

*The trial on Wednesday, March 3rd was held off property on a large grass field called ‘The Stadium’. The wind on that day was quite strong and the air cold. The other four trials were held in the International Arena.

Trial # 4: Friday, March 5th, 2pm: 4 faults
On Friday we were back in the International Arena for the $30,000 1.60m Classic. I actually thought it was the only breather, although not much of one. It required careful rides with a lot of tall verticals – not as hard on the horse as wide oxers but easy to rub. We had a rub on one of those tall verticals.

Trials # 5: Sunday, March 7th, 1pm: 4 faults
I predicted ahead of time and told my wife Shelley that the only scope test left was an oxer-oxer-vertical triple away from home. Sure enough Guilherme built that very test into the tough course for the $150,000 CN Grand Prix. That scope test is always a concern, especially for smaller horses like Flexible. After walking the course a couple of times, I made my plan and told Shelley I had to trust the horse. He was again amazing and skipped through the triple like nothing, not losing an ounce of momentum. I actually thought we were clean, but then didn’t hear a cheer from the crowd. Then I wondered, ‘What came down or was I over the time?’ I thought my pace was good… Turns out he didn’t clear the water, he has always been good about the water, usually stretches out well so it didn’t cross my mind. But that’s the breaks – I was still really happy.

Results after 5 WEG Trials: 24 faults
Overall Position: 12th
Qualified for next step of WEG Team Selection: Yes!

EqSol: Winter Circuits and qualifying complete, now the plan is…
RF: The next phase to the plan is rest, refresh and prepare for World Cup Finals. We’ve been home since mid March and leave a few weeks later for Geneva. The barn isn’t planning to show again until May and then go to Spruce this summer for a few weeks. My son graduates from high school during the National, so we’ll be home for his graduation. As for Flexible, the World Cup Finals is a strenuous championship event plus travel. After that he’ll rest and show a few classes at Spruce Meadows, then head to Europe for the July-August USEF European tour, the CSIO’s in Falsterbo (SWEDEN), Hickstead (ENGLAND) and Dublin (IRELAND). We’ll see how that goes and whether or not we’ll be preparing for the WEG in October.

EqSol: What other horses will go to Europe? 
RF: Hopefully McGuiness. He had an injury that we’ve finally diagnosed and we hope to start him back soon. Or possibly a horse will have to step up like Flexible did when McGuiness and Gyro were both injured. My wonderful wife Shelley told me the other day that she would let me take her fabulous young horse, Revenge, on the tour. He is probably one of the nicest horses we’ve ever owned. Shelley turned pro eighteen months ago when we started the business and shows him in the 1.40m division. She’s really good.

EqSol: Tell us about your barn and the Chapman’s, great supporters of the sport…
RF: We made a transition from being privately sponsored to opening the doors of our business in October of 2008. The Chapman’s, who had both owned the barn and sponsored the horses, decided they wanted to be clients and not barn owners anymore. So they sold the facility in the fall of 2008. Now instead of employing us, the Chapman’s are clients of ours and we run a small show jumping and sales barn.

Everything went very smoothly, although the ownership changed hands we were able to stay at the facility and start our business. It can be a challenging balance – our schedule is different than a lot of the big stables. We pick nice quality shows and rarely do an entire circuit. It was a big decision and expense to come to Wellington. But once the barn decided to come, we didn’t look back.

Harry Chapman was a very good rider, invited by the USET to go east and train with the team. He chose to stay in Oregon for school and a career. The Chapmans, as owners, are like the best horse you’ve ever had. They have stood up to the test of time. Their enthusiasm and support is undying – even when things don’t go well, they always believe.

We are grateful for Rich’s time and tales. We congratulate Flexible, Rich, Shelley, The Chapman’s and wish all the very best of luck on foreign soil – Switzerland, Canada, Sweden, England, Ireland and hopefully back to the US in Lexington.

Conversations with Course Designers: Jack Robson

By Jackie McFarland

Jack Robson

I was thrilled to have another fascinating conversation with yet another person who plays a significant role in our horse show world, actually one of this week’s World Cup Officials, President of the Jury Jack Robson. Robson has spent more than a quarter century working as a course designer, technical delegate and jumper judge.

EqSol: What is your horse history?
JR: Actually I don’t come from a horsey family. I’m a northeasterner – born in Massachusetts and have lived in both Connecticut and upstate New York. I’ve been in California for about 18 years.

My first career was as a machinist, making microchips before they were in vogue. One day a friend of mine who worked for Barney Ward in Brewster, NY in the early seventies called me when he needed a hand. So I said sure. Turned out I liked it a lot and stayed for seven years. You could say it was a turning point in my life.

A Fort Reilly Calvary School graduate at Barney’s taught me how to ride. I jumped up to 1.40m. When I realized I couldn’t afford to have horses, I chose to stay involved by working on the jump crew. My career progressed from there.

EqSol: How did your career as a horse show official progress?
JR: Frank Chapot helped me get my judge’s card. I was at the Saratoga Horse Show and Frank asked me if I was interested in getting my card. I said, ‘Yes sir.’ So he threw me a clipboard and a watch, said ‘You’re working on it’ and walked away.

Frank was my mentor in both judging and course design and I can’t thank him enough. He opened many doors for me.

EqSol: And as a course designer?
JR: I assisted and worked with Frank, Bert de Nemethy, Pamela Carruthers, Robert Jolicoeur… all those guys. I was both a jumper judge and course designer by the early eighties. I was one of the first course designers listed when the AHSA chose to include them in the roster. Then I got my FEI-C (candidate judge) and had that for about 12 years. Now I have an FEI-I (International) card as both judge and course designer.

I love course designing. When you ask fair questions and get good answers it’s a great feeling. I get to see all types of courses as a judge, learning each time. As a judge I get to watch the best jumpers at all levels – it’s the best of both worlds really. Then I can practice what I’ve learned when I design. I get a chance to design about ten times a year. And I judge about 30 weeks a year.

EqSol: Some of your favorite horse show memories?
JR: [smiling] When Pamela C and I got jumped in Cleveland. She was designing and we were sitting on the wishing well discussing the next class. She looked over her shoulder and said nonchalantly in that British accent ‘Be very still’ as the horse proceeded to jump over us.

In the early eighties Mason Phelps modeled The Newport Jumping Derby in Rhode Island after Hickstead. It was a big field. I remember Anthony D’Ambrosio’s horse leapt straight down the steep hill (instead of walking down) – it was maybe sixteen feet down. He landed flat on his stomach, got up and in two strides jumped the vertical. Rodney Jenkins got hung up on the Irish Bank. Buddy Brown wore a helmet cam with a Super 8 attached; he almost broke his neck.

The Tijuana Jockey Club hosted a horse show. That was fun.There was a zoo on the infield of the track. The show was on the grass field right beside the zoo. You waited for your class next to the lions and elephants.

EqSol: And your future plans?
 Possibly the WEG. That would certainly be an honor. I will continue to work with Blenheim EquiSports and the Langer Equestrian Group in California and Colorado. HITS Arizona, HITS Ocala and Spruce Meadows might on the roster next year. In any case I’ll keep trying, improving my game. The sport evolves and you have to keep up with it.

Thank you Jack and thank you Emma (Jack’s Jack) for playing ball with Chloe.

Conversations With Equestrians: Linda Allen

By Jackie McFarland

An Afternoon Chat with Linda Allen
Yet another world-renowned course designer, Linda Allen, sat and spoke about designing and beyond. Her talents were well utilized at Blenheim June Classic I, where she not only built for many jumper divisions, the $30,000 Grand Prix but also the tracks for the final Young Rider trials. We sat with Linda and her canine companion Willow. This endearing Papillion pup is making her debut in Aachen this summer. Lucky dog!

EqSol: How did you become a course designer? What is your horse history?
LA: I rode for a number of years mostly on horses I trained myself – thoroughbreds off the track. I competed up to the international level. Due to back injuries and a number of surgeries, I had to quit riding. But I wanted to stay in the sport. Course designing was the way I chose to do so.

As I rider I realized what an important role the course designer played in whether you advanced as a rider. So I learned the mechanics by setting for small shows. I’ve been designing as a career steadily since ’82.

EqSol: Your course design mentors?
LA: When I competed I became friends with Pamela Carruthers and often picked her brain. Also Bert de Nemethy and Dr. Arno Gego. How do you determine difficulty for these important Young Rider trials?

LA: It’s a two-fold situation – the Zone wants to send the strongest riders it can. But the trials shouldn’t be the end game; instead they lead up to the event. I try to provide the building blocks for riders for future events without discouraging them. The right team for this given year should be clear based on the results.

It’s great for the riders to have the trials over three days. The format follows the championships – the difficulty builds up height wise and can go to 1.50M. If a rider doesn’t do fairly well here they aren’t likely to make the team.

The courses ask a lot of different kinds of technical questions. Using the water a lot – because usually at that event the open water is a big factor.

EqSol: How the course like the one today evolves for you…
LA: It’s difficult because you have three important classes in one week. I want variety from one class to the next – to not repeat the same questions. So first I develop the key elements – combinations and technical lines and then build from there. Sometimes it happens in ten minutes, other times it takes much longer. Either time you fool with it a lot until you are happy. Focus on protecting…

LA: Today I designed the Young Rider tracks first and then tracks for the other classes. When designing for grass you have to move jumps a lot, thinking about not only where the jumps are but also where they will be – because of the ground. First you protect the horses, try to keep their work as pleasant as possible. Protecting the horse in turn takes care of the rider. A close second here is protecting the grass – keeping the ground not only good for Sunday but for the upcoming weeks. And last, but not least, you take care of the ring crew – they work hard.

Along with course designing across the world for many years, Linda has a long list of accomplishments including developing an organization, publishing a book, 101 Jumping Exercises for Horses, and giving clinics.

EqSol: Can you tell us about your involvement in the development of young jumpers?
LA: I helped to start this organization in the US that has evolved into two programs – the International Jumper Futurity for breeders and purchasers of young horses which consists of three different opportunities for four-year old showcases – East, Midwest and West Coast. And the Young Jumper Championships developed from the IJF for nominated 5, 6, 7 and 8 year olds.

We’ve grown this year, which I am impressed with since this is a trying time in the industry. Although things are slow to change, we are building the foundation for developing young horses in a systematic way. It is still challenging, there is no culture or system for young horses here. Some in the sport have more interest than others.

About fifteen years ago Germany developed a completely different approach. You cannot build for Young Horse classes without a special license – it’s a minimum of 10 years to get to the highest ‘S’ level. Young jumper classes are scored, not timed. Each round receives a 1-10 score for quality of jump, carefulness, rideablilty – a horse you want to take home. The horses are beautifully broke with a lofty jump. The concept was very unpopular at first. All the jumper judges had to get a new education. Some fabulous riders came from this division like Marcus Ehning, Marco Kucher, and Christian Ahlmann. It’s taken very seriously. Germany is the only country that does it this way.

Side note: In a country so devoted to the ‘hunter’ and its scoring system, is this German system worth considering in the US?

EqSol: And your future plans?
LA: Heading to Aachen later this month, I’m going to present a paper there. I’ll stay on to spectate throughout the show, the only way to stay current in our game. Frank Rottenberger is the resident designer. He took over some years ago and does a good job – he was one of my assistants in Atlanta.

Probably over the last five years I’ve accepted more clinic dates. So I’m booked with more riding clinics than designing now. I truly enjoy teaching. I’ve become more particular about where and when I build. I’m designing in Oregon next and for the Fidelity Classic on the East Coast. I’m also on the Ground Jury for the 2010 WEG in Kentucky.

EqSol: Are you planning another book?
LA: I did complete a DVD on course building, mostly for course designers at smaller shows to help them with technique. So they can get better results with less work and more tips to stay out of trouble.

I’ve been planning another book for awhile, I just don’t seem to have that chunk of time needed to get it written. I have a publisher that wants a more general topic – course designing doesn’t draw a wide audience. I’ve got a few different ideas. Someday…

Wishing we were joining you in Aachen. Someday… Thank you Linda and Willow!