Leslie Wylie
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Welcome to Eventing Nation, Total Saddle Fit!

We are very excited to announce our newest member of the EN sponsor dream team, Total Saddle Fit.

Eventing Nation “residents” live all around the world and represent every riding discipline imaginable, but there’s one common denominator that ties us all together: Our love for our horses and a shared desire to keep them happy and healthy.

That extends to making sure they feel comfortable in their tack… even if it means losing our own minds in the process.

Illustration by Morgane Schmidt/The Idea of Order — check out her comics every Wednesday on Horse Nation!

Illustration by Morgane Schmidt/The Idea of Order — check out her comics every Wednesday on Horse Nation!

Thankfully, technology is fast evolving to meet our efforts in the middle. Enter Total Saddle Fit, a manufacturer of high-end equestrian products with an emphasis on intuitive designs that make horses happier and more comfortable.

“Whether it is improving saddle fit, protecting a horse’s back or simply a more comfortable piece of tack, everything we do just makes sense. And you can always be sure you are getting top-shelf quality. We stand behind our products’ function and quality so much that every item carries a 30-day 110% money back promise… yes you read that right, we will give you more than you spent if you aren’t satisfied!”

That’s a company that believes in its products, and we do too.

Total Saddle Fit understands that correct saddle fit involves more than the saddle proper. You’ve got to take into account the big picture — girths and saddle pads included.

Total Saddle Fit’s Shoulder Relief Girth line emphasizes shoulder freedom, utilizing an intelligent design that allows for full range of shoulder motion under saddle. It promotes elbow comfort as well, thanks to recessed ends that move the girth away from the horse’s shoulder.

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Less expensive and longer lasting than a flocking adjustment, it’s the best $124 you’ll ever spend on saddle fit. The girths are available in black, brown and chestnut in both jumping and dressage styles — check out the full line here.

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Shoulder Relief Girth in Limited Edition Chestnut.

Saddle pads are also a critical component of proper saddle fit. Total Saddle Fit’s Six Point Saddle Pads are anatomically designed to adjust saddle balance and weight distribution to the shape of your horse’s back. They feature 100% sheepskin and a whopping six shimming options so you can fit your saddle to your horse just like a professional saddle fitter would with a flocking adjustment.

The pads are available in half…

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Six Point Saddle Pad – Sheepskin Half Pad

… and full-pad styles, in dressage and jumping shapes with and without sheepskin.

Six Point Saddle Pad

Six Point Saddle Pad – AP/Jump

Have a high withered horse? Check out the optional Wither Relief Technology, which removes pressure from the withers and trapezius muscles and allows for more pommel clearance.

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Wither Freedom Sheepskin Half Pad (also available in Full Pad style)

We’re excited to welcome Total Saddle Fit on board and we know our readers are, too! We encourage you to learn more and shop on Total Saddle Fit’s website here, and be sure to “like” them on Facebook as well.

Go Total Saddle Fit, and Go Riding!

Burghley at 300 Frames Per Second

Screenshot from Screenshot from "Burghley Horse Trials 2014" by Centaur Biomechanics.

Watching cross-country in realtime, everything happens so fast that it’s hard to comprehend the countless turning cogs that ultimately produce a successful — or unsuccessful — jump. The more experienced and educated your eye, the better your ability to deconstruct that blur of motion into an assembly line of actions that culminate in a specific result. But even the best eye in the world can’t physically slow down time in order to get a better look. A high-speed camera, however, can.

Centaur Biomechanics made a big splash when it came onto the equestrian scene in 2006 because its purported purpose was to do exactly that: take horse and rider performance analysis to a new level using the latest video technology.

Led by British biomechanical scientist Russell Guire, the company uses high-speed cameras 20 times faster than the human eye to objectively quantify equine behavior. The footage Centaur has gathered has helped advance research and further our understanding of the equine biomechanics. For instance, did you know that the force going through a horse’s limbs on landing from an Advanced-level jump equals about two-and-a-half times its body weight?

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Centaur was out in full force at Burghley — check out their footage:

[CentaurBiomechanics]

Go Eventing!

Event Horse Names, Part 5: Celebrity Edition

Eventers name their horses after the darnedest things. Thus far in this series, we’ve singled out hundreds of USEA-registered event horses named after  literary references, boozeeventing empires and monster trucks. Today we turn our gaze toward horses named after celebrities and other pop culture icons.

Let’s kick things off with a few event horses whose namesakes are Hollywood stars: George Clooney, John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe, Redford, Tom Cruise, Bridgette Bardot, Jimmy Stewart, James Dean, Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford, Cosby and Charlie Chaplain. I bet hearing over the horse show loudspeaker that you’re “riding George Clooney” just never gets old.

Others have named their horses after characters rather than actors. While combing the USEA horse database I stumbled across a Ron Burgundy, Cosmo Kramer, Napoleon Dynamite, Jack Sparrow, Tony Stark, Forrest Gump, Vincent Vega, The Fonz and Austin Powers.

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Sorry Jessica.

There’s a whole subset of  horses named after bands and musicians: Lady Gaga, Mazzy Star, Mick Jagger, Ringo Star, Coldplay, Bruno Mars, will.i.am, Will Smith, Steeley Dan, Johnny Rotten, Johnny Cash, Elvis, Snoop Diggity Dog, Bob Marley, Tina Turner, Jimmy Buffet, Eminem, Cher, Springsteen, Bono, James Brown, Stevie Wonder and Frank Sinatra. I went to one horse trial where two horses named after rival jam bands, Widespread Panic and Phish, just happened to be competing against one another. And we’ve got to give an honorable mention to horses named after bad song puns (I’m Rexy and I Know It) and Katy Perry lyrics (Shake The Glitter Off).

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Fashion designers are another popular source for names: There’s a CoCo Chanel, Jimmy Choo, Calvin Klein, Dior, Ralph Lauren, Giovanni Versace and Georgio Armani.

Moving right along, let’s hit up the oval office — is there anyone more famous, really, than the president? I found an Obama, Ron Reagan, Theodore Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Mister President, Jackie O and — wait for it — a Monica Lewinsky.

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I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface here. Does your horse have a celebrity-inspired name? Share in the comments section below!

WEG Remix: A Pink Coat Among Pinque Coats

Sanna Siltakorpi and Lucky Accord at WEG 2014. Photo by Leslie Wylie. Sanna Siltakorpi and Lucky Accord at WEG 2014. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

World championship competition is not generally the time when riders let their fashion freak flag fly. But that didn’t stop Finnish eventer Sanna Siltakorpi from donning a hot-pink coat, blinged out helmet and purple stirrups in the show jumping phase at WEG.

The 27-year-old and her Swedish Warmblood gelding, Lucky Accord, pulled one rail to finish in 27th place individually. I stalked her a little bit online and it appears that pink is a recurring theme in the girl’s life — her cross-country helmet cover has big pink stars and a pink pompom, and a photo on the homepage of her website shows her rocking some fuchsia breeches. I guess since Finland did not field a team, she was like, “What the heck, I’m gonna do me.”

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Photo by Leslie Wylie.

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Photo by Leslie Wylie.

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Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Equestrian fashion is slowly liberating itself from the conservative, George Morris-approved dress code of yesteryear. Europe is leading the charge but hints of “self-expression” are starting to show up here in the States as well. Love Sanna’s look? Here are a few items inspired by her look:

Top row: Animo Leon Jacket, $642 from Animo; Alexis Riding Top by SmartPak, $79.95 from SmartPak; Lorenzini Original Aluminum/Titanium Stirrups in Purple, $265.95 from SmartPak. Bottom Row: Sox Trot Socks in Rae, $8.95 from SmartPak; Tredstep Symphony No. 1 Argenta Full Seat Breech, $229.95 from SmartPak; Custom Samshield Helmet in Pink Flower Swarovski, $1,418 from Samshield.

befunky_artwork.jpgOr, if you really want to take it to the next level…

befunky_artwork.jpgGo Sanna. Go Eventing.

Le French Chinch’s Adventures in Normandy

The world’s most well-traveled chinchilla added yet another stamp to his passport when he made a celebrity appearance last week at the World Equestrian Games.

Chinch has always had a keen interest in WWII…

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…so he jumped at the opportunity to accompany EN on its WEG journey.

After making a brief public appearance…

…he headed to the press room, where he was fawned over by the foreign press…

…tweeted by the FEI…

…and cursed by IT.

Undeterred, we sent him out into the field on some top-secret missions, including helping William Fox-Pitt win the dressage…

… taste-testing local cuisine…

…and generally serving as an ambassador for ‘Murican cheer.

Where in the world will the Chinch show up next? There’s no telling. Be the first to find out by following him on Twitter and Instagram.

Go Eventing!

Was WEG Cross Country Too Tough, Too Soft or Just Right?

Joseph Murphy and Electric Cruise gettin' it done at the first major combination on Pierre Michelet's WEG course. Photo by Jenni Autry. Joseph Murphy and Electric Cruise gettin' it done at the first major combination on Pierre Michelet's WEG course. Photo by Jenni Autry.

To call a four-star cross-country course designer’s job “tough” is like calling the footing on last weekend’s WEG course “damp.” These people have one of the hardest jobs in the sporting world, imagining and then bringing to life a gauntlet of obstacles that rewards the best while weeding out the under-prepared — ideally without causing bodily harm.

The stakes are even higher with a world championship course. And, to further complicate matters, there is less precedent upon which to base design decisions since WEG rolls around just once every four years. How do you know how far to push the envelope? The job requires more than experience and knowledge. It’s a test of instinct.

Challenging without punishing is a balancing act that, if executed poorly, could result in a “dressage show” at one end of the spectrum and tragedy at the other. According to the FEI’s Course Design Guidelines (updated February 2014), the ideal course is doable but not so doable so that every horse/rider combination makes it through the finish flags:

The goal of seeing as many finishers as possible is desirable for all levels, but the degree of difficulty must not be compromised in order to achieve this, for example by the overuse of alternatives.

But what does “as many finishers as possible” translate to? There is no hard and fast rule for what percentage of the field, ideally, should be expected to finish, nor of what percentage of those finishers should complete with no jumping faults. Add to that a revolving door of variables and the equation grows even murkier:

As a general philosophy, the numbers of finishers is more important than the number of clear rounds. It has to be accepted that the quality of the field and the weather conditions can impact on the statistics and that, particularly at the higher levels, many Athletes now choose to retire once they are clearly out of contention or are not going to achieve a qualifying result, and that these issues are reflected on the scoreboard with more retirements and less ‘cricket scores.’ Similarly the ‘elimination after an Athlete fall’ will create many more eliminations.

Pierre Michelet’s massive, technically challenging WEG course had the absolute respect of the world’s top riders. While acknowledging its difficulty, they also unanimously praised it for being fair and rewarding a forward, attacking ride. The game changer turned out to be the deep going, a variable that felled what seemed like competitor after competitor and wreaked havoc on the scoreboard.

In a press conference at the end of cross-country day, one journalist asked Pierre how he felt about the way his course rode. He responded that he was pleased, that it had been an “exciting” competition. He noted that while issues on course abounded in the morning, the rounds steadily improved throughout the day, despite the deteriorating footing, because of smarter riding: Riders were starting out slower to conserve energy and were taking more options.

Pierre’s cheerfulness surprised me — the course’s toll on competitors had seemed severe. Upon what was Pierre drawing his analysis? From a course designer’s perspective, what is the benchmark for a successful cross-country day versus an unsuccessful one?

Here is what the day looked like on paper:

2In a nod to the FEI Course Guidelines’ emphasis that “the numbers of finishers is more important than the number of clear rounds,” 73 percent of WEG 2014 competitors who started the course completed it. That percentage surely would have been even higher had the footing been decent, as many of the competitors’ issues on course stemmed from their horses’ exhaustion due to the heavy going rather than the obstacle itself.

Despite the footing wild card, the percentage of finishers at WEG 2014 is just slightly less than that of the last WEG in Lexington, which saw a 76 percent completion rate.

4To further put the WEG completion percentages in context, let’s compare them to those of regular four-star events. You might guess that there would be fewer finishers at a WEG because of the increased difficulty of the course, but you’d be wrong — the course may be stiffer at WEG, but so is the caliber of the competition, so it balances out or even falls a little short. All three of the CCI4* events that have taken place thus far this year had lower completion percentages than the past two WEGs.

First there was Rolex in April, which had a 71 percent completion rate:

3Next was Badminton in May, which thanks to treacherous footing coupled with a tough track had one of the lowest completion rates of any CCI4* in recent history, 44 percent:

1Luhmühlen fared slightly worse than Rolex but significantly better than Badminton with a completion percentage of 68 percent. Not reflected is the tragic rider death that also occurred here.

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Looking back to 2013 for the other three CCI4* events on the calendar, Pau had 60 percent completion, Burghley had 69 percent and Adelaide had 85 percent. What that all looks like together:

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So, WEG actually had the second highest completion rate of any four-star event in the last 12 months. Surprised? I was.

It was also surprising to see how close together most of the percentages were with the exceptions of Badminton, which had a fluke year, and Adelaide, which had far fewer entries than the other events and thus may provide a less representative sample. It’s not like course designers just sit down with a pen and piece of paper and say, “I’m going to design a course that approximately 70 percent of competitors will be able to complete.” So how do they do it?

I don’t know, but I’m impressed. Go course designers. Go Eventing.

The ‘World Queuing Games’: 13 Livid Facebook Stories from Eventing Spectators

The line outside one of three food vendors at Haras du Pin on Thursday. Photo by Leslie Wylie. The line outside one of three food vendors at Haras du Pin on Thursday. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Can’t say we didn’t see it coming. All week the Games had been struggling to accommodate crowd numbers that were less than half of 50,000 spectators Haras du Pin was anticipating for cross-country day. Jenni and I experienced our fair share of logistical hassles…

… but the stories we’d heard coming from spectators were positively nightmarish in comparison: horror stories of overflowing bathrooms, nonexistent food, rough security guards and mob crowds.

One American woman I started talking to (while waiting in a line, of course) told me that for the opening ceremonies at D’Ornano Stadium, attended by 20,000, there was only one open entrance into the stadium. It quickly became bottle-necked and, when it became clear that no other entrance was going to be opened, some ticketholders lost their patience and began surging forward, knocking over gates and creating a dangerous situation for those at the front of the queue.

“I looked around for a security guard to help re-establish order, but there wasn’t one, and the one person who was working the entrance was on her phone,” the woman recalled. “I’m not exaggerating; I was scared for my life.”

So …

It’s about an hour drive from the main venues at Caen to Haras du Pin without traffic. The motorway is wide-open, but once you get off the exit, the route narrows to winding back roads through quaint villages. The organizers claimed to have “a special traffic plan” in place for handling the influx of traffic: They’d set aside some 148 acres of meadow for parking; made some roads one-way; set out police officers to direct the flow; and sectioned off certain roads for officials, organizers; national federations and “special invited guests.”

The plan didn’t work — or at least not well enough. While early birds who arrived well in advance of the cross-country start had no problem getting in — the EN team arrived at about 6:45 a.m. to beat the traffic — those who waited until mid-morning to drive in were met with brake lights as far as the eye could see.

Throughout the afternoon, we kept hearing stories of ticketholders who had been stuck in gridlock for four, five and six hours, some of whom missed or almost missed the event completely. Actual parking wasn’t an issue as the lots didn’t even fill up (on a side note they parked the earliest arrivals in the furthest lots, which makes very little sense); the problem was getting there.

A few angry ticketholders took to venting on the WEG Facebook page:

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And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Just click here to see the laundry list of Facebook reviews with grisly details — the descriptions of the toilet catastrophes are barely fit to print. In addition to traffic complaints there are disturbing comments from volunteers, like this one from a cross-country jump judge …

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… and a host of other grievances. WEG itself, however, seems happily oblivious, acknowledging the problems but offering no recourse. From a press release issued this morning:

“The Dressage and Cross-Country competitions in the Eventing were fully booked at Le Pin National Stud : 22,600 spectators watched the Dressage and 50,000 followed Cross-Country on Saturday 30 August. Le Pin’s arena demonstrated that it was perfect venue for hosting sporting events of this calibre. Despite the poor weather of previous days, the quality of the track was particularly appreciated by the competitors.

All the meadow car parks were open from 06:30am, accommodating a steady flow of 14,500 vehicles and 120 coaches. Significant work went into preserving and preparing them for heavy use on the day. Despite the best efforts and good will of all, traffic became significantly congested from 09:30am with the journey time to reach the site ranging from 1hr15 to 3hrs. The Organising Committee regrets the amount of time it took for some spectators to access the site.

Delusional.

Of course, as one Facebook commenter put it:

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WEG can spin it however they wish, but it’s our job to make sure that WEG Organizing Committee understands that a repetition of this year’s fiasco will not be tolerated at Bromont in 2018. Email them at jem@normandie2014.com and let your voices be heard on Facebook and Twitter.

Furthermore, it’s worth starting a discussion about how feasible it is to continue on with the eight disciplines, one venue format, as opposed to separately held championships for the various disciplines. The current system has been in place since 1990, and while the past two WEGs have been (arguably) well run — Aachen in 2006 and Lexington in 2010 — how many other venues in the world have the infrastructure in place to pull off such a feat? It’s a great idea in theory, but the execution, as we’re seeing in Normandy, is easily botched.

What do you think, Eventing Nation?

[Starving to Death in a Mud Pit: WEG 2014 Is the Woodstock of Eventing]

#WEG2014: WebsiteFinal Team ScoresFinal Individual ResultsEN’s Coverage@eventingnation

Final Press Conference: Sandra, Michael & William Discuss Being Awesome

There were more top eventers in the press room than you could shake a jumping bat at following today’s competition. All three medal-winning teams were in attendance to field questions about how they felt the competition shook out.

Gold medalist Sandra Auffarth was all smiles, and while Michael Jung and William Fox-Pitt presented themselves with typical composure and grace you can bet they were silently grinding their teeth a little, William dropping to Bronze after a rail and 2010 WEG champion Michael having to relinquish his crown. World beaters almost have to have a “second place = first loser” sort of mentality, and these guys never let themselves off easy. They’ll be back at the drawing board tomorrow — OK, maybe Tuesday — plotting how to close that 0.3-point (between Sandra and Michael) or 2.3-point (between Saundra and William) gap between Gold and Not Gold.

I made a sincere attempt to transcribe the press conference but Sandra and Michael’s Denglish just didn’t sit right on the page. Instead, I present to you the full video, which is almost as unwieldy thanks to lengthy French translations and my caffeine-shaky hands. For all you diehard WEG followers, have at it!

Go Eventing!

Sunday Video: FEI TV Eventing Show Jumping Recap

It’s been a nail-biting day here at D’Ornano Stadium complete with the sort of surprise ending that makes eventing such an exciting sport — it’s never over until the last jump of the last competitor on the last day. The FEI just posted a quick video recap of today’s grand finale, replete with dramatic music, slow-mo sequences and British accent that (almost!) do justice to the day that was.

In the spirit of the sport, Eventing Nation’s WEG coverage isn’t over until the last security guard kicks us out of the press center. So keep it locked here!

Go Eventing.

WEG Show Jumping: The View from the Stands

When I heard that WEG’s eventing show jumping was being held in a giant soccer, er, “futbol” stadium, I cringed, imagining a sad-looking sea of empty seats. But equestrian sport in Europe is an entirely different beast than it is in the States — less a mysterious niche and more a source of fierce national pride.

The energy in the stadium today was palpable, a electric current that ran through everything. It was manifest in billowing flags and the forward lean of fans in their seats. The announcer’s voice foamed with enthusiasm, rousing the crowd to a fever pitch again and again. There was an earthquake rumble of gasps when rails fell and cheers when they didn’t. Each clear round was rewarded by a voluminous surge of music that almost, but not quite, overwhelmed the boisterous roar of the crowd. My surprise that the horses and riders were able to maintain their composure never did wear off.

As the afternoon wore on the intensity grew, the atmosphere becoming indistinguishable from any other action-packed game in any other stadium on any other continent. Ultimately, sport is sport. Fans are fans. Everyone craves something to root for, a partaking of something shared, the assurance we’re not alone.

Go eventing.

And Our New World Champion Is Sandra Auffarth!

Sandra Auffarth and Opgun Louvo. Photo by Jenni Autry. Sandra Auffarth and Opgun Louvo. Photo by Jenni Autry.

One rail was all it took for Germany’s Sandra Auffarth and Opgun Louvo to steal the lead from Britain’s William Fox-Pitt and secure a place atop eventing’s most prestigious podium. We’ll have a full report coming shortly, but here’s the quick play-by-play.

William dropped to bronze with Chilli Morning and Germany’s Michael Jung moved up to silver with fischerRocana FST. Germany takes team gold, following by Great Britain with silver and the Netherlands with bronze.

For Team USA, Sinead Halpin and Tate had two rails, Boyd Martin — who ultimately finished eighth — pulled one rail. Kim Severson and Fernhill Fearless laid down a double-clear trip to huge cheer from the crowd. Peter Barry and Kilrodan Abbott jumped a clear round for Canada, with Selena O’Hanlon and Foxwood High and Jessica Phoenix and Pavarotti both pulled four rails.

Kim Severson and Fernhill Fearless. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Kim Severson and Fernhill Fearless. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

It was a bigger atmosphere that most of these horses have seen — a brighly-lit European soccer stadium full of screaming, flag-waving fans. The announcer had the enthusiasm of a game-show host and every clear round was rewarded with a burst of dramatic music on the loudspeaker. When a French rider entered or exited the ring, the stands practically shook with home team spirit.

The top 15:

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Stay tuned for much more from WEG.

#WEG2014: WebsiteFinal ScoresTeam ResultsSchedule & ResultsEN’s Coverage@eventingnation

 

4 Examples of French Eventing Insanity

What’s red on right, blue on left, white in the middle and insanity all over? French eventing.

The home team is sitting in fourth heading into show jumping and it’s no surprise — their riders turned in some of the most brave, tactful cross-country rides we saw all day. But there is something else about the sport in this country you need to know: It’s insane.

1. French eventing fans are insane.

I’m serious. I’ve never heard so much screaming as I did yesterday when a Frenchie was out on course. These people would press up to the galloping lanes a dozen deep, start cheering and waving flags around before the horse even came into view, politely pause for about three seconds while the horse prepared for liftoff, then lose their minds completely the instant the horse’s feet reconnected with the ground. Also, everyone is totally decked out for the occasion — here are a few photos I snapped while walking around on course.

2. The French horses are insanely cool.

My favorite horse to watch of the day was Cedric Lyard’s Cadeau du Roi, a 12-year-old French-bred thoroughbred who looked like he was having the time of his life from start to finish. He hunted down each jump with pricked ears and the earnest, over-the-moon expression of a kid opening presents on Christmas morning. His expression changed only once, to a look of surprise when he glanced off a skinny, but gamely leaped over it on second attempt and galloped on with a smile — or as close an approximation to a smile as an equine can muster — on his face.

Here’s the full video of his round:

3. The French riders are insanely charming.

No one was working the crowd more shamelessly yesterday than Rodolphe Scherer, an individual competitor for France. Who gallops around a world championship course waving and blowing kisses at fans? This guy. (On yet another cool-looking grey French horse nonetheless.) Rodolphe knows his way around an international caliber course — he represented France at the ’96 Olympics, placed 12th individually and won team silver at the 1998 WEG in Rome with Bambi de Briere, and he nearly won an individual Olympic medal with her at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, placing fourth. Currently sitting in 26th place, Rodolphe may not win a medal this weekend — but he definitely won our hearts.

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4. The top-placed French rider, Maxime Livio, is insanely hot.

I distinctly remember Jenni and Kate coming back from covering Pau CCI4* last year clamoring about this attractive young French rider, Maxime, who had finished third. He’s officially got the world’s attention now, being the top-placed French rider here in Normandy (he’s sitting in 8th heading into show jumping). We’re not encouraging you to stalk Maxime on Facebook, but if you want to, we won’t stand in your way.

Here’s the video of his ride from yesterday:

Go France. Go Eventing.

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Canada Survives Brutal Cross-Country Day

Jessica Phoenix and Pavarotti. Photo by Jenni Autry. Jessica Phoenix and Pavarotti. Photo by Jenni Autry.

When Peter Barry set out on course at 10:24 a.m. local time on Kilrodan Abbott, he just wanted to make it through the finish flags. Of the six riders who’d gone before him, there were two retirements, one elimination, one 60-faulter and a sole clear round from Australia’s Sam Griffiths and his 2014 Badminton-winning mare Paulank Brockagh. No pressure, Peter.

His objective, he explained when we caught up with him after coming off course, was simply to show his team that it could be done so they could head out of the startbox with confidence. Peter and his big-hearted Irish Sport Horse gelding accomplished what they set out to do, calling upon every ounce of their partnership to pocket just 20 jumping penalties and a chunk of time.

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Peter celebrates his successful go through the third water, which was the end of the road for many riders. Via FEI TV.

At the end of the day their score set them in 49th place but, as less-lucky riders before and after him came to find out, sometimes finishing is an accomplishment in and of itself.

Next out was Jessica Phoenix on Pavarotti, the alternate she subbed in when A Little Romance suffered an injury in her final gallop prior to shipping out to France. Since Jessie withdrew Pavarotti after dressage at Rolex this year, it would be his first attempt at four-star level cross-country. And while of course there are no “move-up” four-star courses, debuting as part of a team on the world stage is perhaps not the most ideal situation — especially considering the additional challenges that today’s course posted. Thankfully, Jessie and her horses have a history of rising to the occasion.

“I think for a horse’s first four-star this was a serious question,” Jessie says. “When we walked it we were thinking this is, like, a four-and-a-half or five-star event. Pavarotti is more the horse that just takes the bit and is like ‘Grrrr, let me at it’ even if it might be a little above his level. I think A Little Romance is more of a lady — she’s a little bit smarter than the boys. So I think given the conditions and the way the course rode, you know, everything happens for a reason. I’m sorry I couldn’t be here on A Little Romance but with Pavarotti as my backup, I’m a lucky, lucky girl.”

A spectator with Canadian pride! Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Canadian pride! Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Jessie and Pavarotti made short work of Pierre Michelet’s course, which she described as “beautiful.” She and Pavarotti had an opportunity to preview the lay of the land last year when they participated in the test event. “It was a forward, galloping, bold, safe … it never felt trappy and it just really rewarded good, forward, positive riding,” she says. “It was so well suited to my horse — I couldn’t have picked a better course for him.”

Thankfully Pavarotti’s fitness proved to be on par with the challenge. They finished with 33.6 time penalties, which was in line with the dozens of time penalties other riders were racking up. Still, she says she was relieved when officials cut out a one-minute loop late in the course to help compensate for the heavy, tiring footing.

“I think that 11-and-a-half minutes would have just exhausted these horses,” she says. “I think it would have been almost unattainable if they had left it in.” At one point, she says Pavarotti’s legs turned to jelly a bit, but that he caught a second wind and took off again with ears pricked.

“I could just cry, that horse is so incredible,” she says, looking a little teary-eyed as she says it. “He is mature beyond his years and, oh man, I’m just so excited for his future.”

Selena O'Hanlon

Selena O’Hanlon and Foxwood High heading to the startbox with Canadian coach Clayton Fredericks. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Jessie and Pavarotti are Team Canada’s top-placed pair heading into the show jumping. Selena O’Hanlon and Foxwood High picked up 20 jumping penalties and 39.6 time for an overnight position of 43rd. Hawley Bennett and Gin & Juice weren’t quite their usual cross-country machine selves.  A sticky moment followed by a lengthy hold on course snowballed into eventual elimination.

Only eight teams remain intact in the wake of today’s cross-country carnage, and Canada is one of them. They’ll head into show jumping placed seventh in the standings.

As Jenni pointed out yesterday, Canada has some serious WEG mojo in its court and a 2010 team silver medal to defend, and here at EN we’ll be flying our #CamericanPride flag high tomorrow at WEG eventing’s grand finale. The jog takes place here at Haras du Pin at 7 a.m. French time (that translates to an ungodly 1 a.m. EST), after which the competition will pack up shop and move to D’Ornano Stadium in Caen.

Keep it locked here for the livest updates in town, er, the world, and Go Evening!

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Harry Meade’s Wild Lone Collapses, Dies After Clear Cross Country at WEG

Harry Meade and Wild Lone. Photo by Jenni Autry. Harry Meade and Wild Lone. Photo by Jenni Autry.

We have just learned that Wild Lone collapsed and died after jumping clear cross country this afternoon with Great Britain’s Harry Meade at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. Our thoughts are with Harry, Alf’s groom Jess Errington and owner Charlotte Opperman, as well as Team Great Britain at this very sad time.

The following statement has been released:

It is with great sadness that we announce that Wild Lone, ridden by Harry Meade (GBR) and owned by Charlotte Opperman, collapsed and died approximately 16.15 today after completing the Cross Country at Haras du pin (FRA) at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games 2014 in Normandy.

The 13-year-old gelding had completed the Cross Country course clear with 26.4 time penalties to go into 25th place. The rider had just dismounted and shortly afterwards the horse tragically collapsed and died.

As per FEI Veterinary Regulations, a post mortem will be carried out on the horse to establish the cause of death.

Lully Des Aulnes (no 2), ridden by Joris Van Springel (BEL) has been taken to a referral clinic for further investigation after a fall at fence 30, the Rolex Water Trough. An X-ray taken on-site has established there is no fracture, and the referral clinic is now treating wound on the left hind fetlock.

Professor Yves Rossier, the Foreign Veterinary Delegate, reported that horses were finishing the course in good condition.

At every FEI event, the maximum consideration is given to the safety and welfare of horses and athletes.

A press conference is presently being held in concert with the announcement. Check back soon for more details.

Godspeed, Wild Lone.

Willliam Fox-Pitt Leads ‘Badminton 2.0′, Team USA’s Medal Hopes Dashed

William Fox-Pitt and Chilli Morning. Photo by Jenni Autry. William Fox-Pitt and Chilli Morning. Photo by Jenni Autry.

It was survival of the fittest, literally, today on the cross-country course at Haras du Pin. Galloping hooves quickly churned the saturated turf into a muddy pulp, exaggerating the physical toll of an already long and hilly track. Despite yesterday’s removal of a one-minute loop late in the course, the heavy going coupled with a true championship caliber course rewarded grit and punished even the slightest mistake — and no one made the optimum time of 10 minutes, 32 seconds.

As the result of myriad falls, retirements and eliminations, at the end of the day only nine out of 16 teams remained intact: Germany (1st, 177.9), Great Britain (2nd, 186.8), Australia (3rd, 226.8), France (4th, 235.5), Netherlands (5th, 238.8), Ireland (6th, 294.3), Canada (7th, 324.0), Brazil (8th, 347.7) and Spain (9th, 263.8).

While there wasn’t much movement at the top of the leaderboard — William Fox-Pitt/Chilli Morning (GBR) moved from 2nd to 1st, Sandra Auffarth/Opgun Louvo (GER) moved from 1st to 2nd, and Michael Jung/fischerRocana FST (GER) moved from 4th to 3rd — cross-country carnage left the rest of it up for grabs.  Yesterday’s 3rd place finisher, Jonathan Paget and Clifton Promise (NZL) retired on course, and fellow Kiwi Jonelle Price rode Classic Moet all the way up from 26th to 4th after posting the fastest go of the day.

Comparisons to this year’s Badminton Horse Trials, a sloppy mess that claimed several of the sport’s most experienced event riders as victims, began early. Badminton winner Sam Griffiths (AUS), the fourth rider out and the first of the day to turn in a clear round on his tough mudder mare Paulank Brockagh, drew it himself after finishing: “It’s just like riding Badminton again. I threw my watch out and let her pick her pace.”

New Zealand’s Mark Todd, who came unattached from his Leonidas II, said the course rode to plan — he attributed his spill to not to fatigue but to a lack of unresponsive on course — but still cautioned against speed. “You can’t go quick around it,” he said. “You go quickly, you won’t get home.”

Germany’s Michael Jung, who sits in third place heading into the show jumping on fischerRocana FST, added that it was important to have a good feeling heading out on course: If the horse is too fresh, it will wear out; if it’s too slow, it will lack the aggression to get the job done.

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New Zealand’s Tim Price and Wesko preparing to set out on course, where they unfortunately met elimination. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Buck Davidson and Ballynoe Castle RM had the unenviable position of being first out on course, both for the competition and Team USA. As one of the squad’s most experienced horse/rider combinations the placement was a logical choice, but playing guinea pig for a field of 90 has its perils. In this case, no one could have anticipated just how dramatic a drain the course would have on its equine athletes.

The stalwart trailblazers started out strong but Reggie grew visibly tired mid-course. Buck nursed him along until they finally ran out of steam at the third water complex, a technical combination late on the course that had spectators gasping throughout the day as horse after horse scraped its way through — or not. Buck could barely coax Reggie out of a trot on the re-approach, and after two attempts to make it through he called it quits.

“Poor Reggie, he gave me every ounce that he had — he always does,” Buck said. Ever the conscientious horseman, Buck wasn’t willing to push his longtime partner past his limits and risk an accident later on course. “Yes, it’s the World Championships, but he’s still my pet, and he’s still one of the greatest horses I’ve ever ridden, and I would never want anything to happen to him.”

Buck said he doesn’t blame the course and he certainly doesn’t blame Reggie — just mother nature. “I’m really, really proud of him. He jumped perfect, he tried his heart out … I’m disappointed but look, somebody had to go and be first out, and you’re just not really sure what you’ve got.”

All things considered, Buck seemed hopeful: “We’ve got more information for the team, and my horse is healthy and happy.”

Buck Davidson and Ballynoe Castle RM. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Buck Davidson and Ballynoe Castle RM. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Buck’s unhappy result foreshadowed a steady stream of horses and riders who would fall prey to the course, teammates included. Individual rider Sinead Halpin was the next American out of course and while her go wasn’t foot-perfect, she and Tate never gave up and scrapped their way to the finish, collecting one runout along the way. The issue arose at a combination; Sinead says he never got his eye on fence 4.

“The rest was just get-it-done,” Sinead said. Of the course: “You have to fight for everything — you’re on plan B before you know it.” Like Buck before her, Sinead made a smart decision not to be overambitious with regard to speed, giving her horse a strong ride at the fences but letting him set the pace in between.

Game faces: Coach David and Sinead head to the start box. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Game faces: Coach David and Sinead head to the start box. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Hopes were high for veteran Phillip Dutton, the next Team USA rider out, but he and Trading Aces met a premature end as well. He described the course as a test of endurance that was just a bit much for his young horse. “It wasn’t a problem with the fence,” Phillip said. “He’d just had enough of the day.”

Phillip and Trading Aces looked great early in the course...

Phillip and Trading Aces looked terrific through the first water…

Phillip and Oscar looked great early on...

…but hit a wall later on course.

Even with no chance of medaling, Team USA continued forging forward throughout the afternoon. Kim Severson, who is competing in her third WEG, ran into trouble with Fernhill Fearless at the last water, where they collected 20, but got through the finish flags. Lynn Symansky and Donner met their match at #16, the Land Rover water complex, and fence #27, a big brush corner, but made it home with 40 jump penalties.

Lynn Synasky and Donner. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Lynn Synasky and Donner. Photo by Jenni Autry.

On a bright note: Boyd Martin and Shamwari 4 came through in the clutch to do America proud at the end of the day. He said it wasn’t the smoothest round by far, and he wishes he had pushed a bit harder for time because his horse was full of running at the end, but nonetheless his clear round and time of 13.6 moved him from 17th after dressage to ninth heading into show jumping.

Boyd Martin and Shamwari 4. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Boyd Martin and Shamwari 4. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Boyd and Shamwari at #4 and #5.

Boyd and Shamwari at #4 and #5.

Riders who made it through the finish flags, jump penalties or no jump penalties, were treated to a hero’s welcome.

Great Britain's William Fox-Pitt gives Chilli Morning a big pat beyond the finish flags. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Great Britain’s William Fox-Pitt, who is currently in Individual Gold Medal position, gives Chilli Morning a big pat beyond the finish flags. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

The top 15 competitors heading to Caen’s D’Or Stadium tomorrow to face off in WEG eventing’s grand finale:

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As Buck said, walking back to the barn with a happy, healthy horse is worth more than any medal. Our thoughts this weekend are with Great Britain’s Harry Meade, whose Wild Lone collapsed and died after the finish of cross country, and his team.

Go Eventing.

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USA Wins Team Gold in Helmet Wearing at WEG

Phillip Dutton and Trading Aces. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Phillip Dutton and Trading Aces. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Team USA may be in bronze position overall but when it comes to helmets, we’re leading the pack. All six American riders completed their WEG dressage tests in helmets, making an unprecedented statement about where the U.S. eventing stands on the issue of protective headgear.

Helmets are still less popular than top hats in international championship competition but they’re swiftly gaining ground — British dressage world record holder Charlotte Dujardin wore one on her way to multiple WEG Gold Medals on Valegro this week. In 2012 we noted that only two event riders competed in helmets at the London Olympics, which seems meager in comparison to the number of helmets worn by WEG event riders this week:

UntitledPhillip, Boyd, Kim and Buck wore helmets by Charles Owen. This maker of helmets and body protectors has been tremendous in its support of eventing and was named the official helmet of the USEA in 2012. The company has sponsored events ranging from Rolex to the AECs as well as a variety of individual riders.

Boyd Martin and Shamwari 4. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Boyd Martin and Shamwari 4. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Kim Severson and Fernhill Fearless. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Kim Severson and Fernhill Fearless. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Photo courtesy of Phillip Dutton Eventing FB.

Photo courtesy of Phillip Dutton Eventing FB.

Lynn Symansky and Donner. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Lynn Symansky and Donner. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Buck Davidson and Ballynoe Castle RM. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Buck Davidson and Ballynoe Castle RM. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Want the look? Check out the Ayr8 with Piping by Charles Owen. This helmet expertly blends function, comfort and style and is fully customizable. Choose from an exclusive leather look fabric or a more traditional microfiber suede, select a main color, match or contrast it with a mesh color and a paint color, and then accent it with either single or double piping, available in many options including cotton, suede, leather look, stonewash, patent, sparkly and metallic. There are tens of thousands of possible combinations so you can create a truly unique look.

Ayr8 with Piping by Charles Owen

Ayr8 with Piping by Charles Owen.

 

Sinead wore a helmet by her sponsor KEP Italia. This helmet maker prides itself on cutting-edge safety, perfect fit, maximum comfort and top-shelf style. Its products feature an advanced air ventilation system and cutting-edge material innovations.

Sinead Halpin and Manoir de Carneville 2

Sinead Halpin and Manoir de Carneville. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Want the look? Check out the KEP Cromo-T Textile Riding Helmet. Available in three colors, you can choose from a chrome or opaque finish in a matching color lpus a chrome, opaque or metal glossy frame finish.

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KEP Cromo-T Textile by KEP Italia.

Go eventing in a helmet!

The Team: Images from WEG Day 2 Dressage

I stood by the warmup ring for a long time today, watching. I watched grooms giving horses one last scratch, coaches giving riders one final piece of advice, riders giving their best for their country, horses giving their all without question, countrymen giving standing ovations, teammates giving hugs.

Teamwork is such a constant part of our lives that it has a tendency to become invisible, a translucent spiderweb of bonds and transactions. Sometimes, as morning dew and sunlight make apparent the spider’s matrix, these connections seem more opaque.

That’s what is so special about team competitions: They help us remember the overlap of things. Groom, coach, rider, horse, countryman, teammate… we are all companions of a shared experience. No one arrives at their destination alone.

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Go Eventing.

XC Day at Haras du Pin: A Spectator Survival Guide

Are you one of the 50,000 lucky spectators with tickets to WEG’s most exciting sold-out event? That’s awesome, but if you’ve already had a taste of WEG’s decidedly laissez-faire attitude toward logistics you’re probably also freaking out. We’re not about to let it ruin our day, and we don’t think you should, either. Here are some practical tips for enjoying Saturday’s competition in comfort and style.

First a couple basics:

– The start time has been moved up to 10 a.m. from its original time of 10:30.

– The order of go is the same as it was for dressage. The U.S. leads off with Buck and Reggie being the first ones out on course. Order-of-go sheets will be available tomorrow at info booths and not only do they exist — wait for it — they’re free! (As opposed to the 3 Euro they have been charging the straight-dressage spectators.)

– Just in time for people to start panicking WEG has posted an official Cross-Country Spectator Guide. But we’d recommend supplementing it with these bits of advice we’ve picked up the hard way…

Wear mud boots. As we mentioned yesterday, the ground here ranges from squishy grass to space mud to ankle-deep slop. The sun came out today and has dried out the course a bit but if you packed boots you’re gonna want to wear them. If not there’s a Dubarry vendor here, just sayin’.

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Bring something to sit on. This ain’t Rolex, folks. There aren’t grandstands set up around jumps of interest or swanky tailgate parties to crash. This guy looks pretty happy in his folding chair (bonus points for the pocket binoculars) but one of those portable folding stools would be ideal.

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Don’t believe the weather forecast. On paper it looks perfect — 68 degrees with a 20% chance of rain — but if I’ve learned anything about France this week it’s that the weather is beholden to no one. One minute it’s cold and raining, the next it’s blue skies and singing birds. Come prepared for anything.

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Pack sustenance. During dressage the food-to-humans ratio was a bit out of proportion (see photo below). Allegedly there are 20 food and 10 beverage trucks coming tomorrow and it’s also OK to bring in your own stuff, which is more fun anyway. Think adorable French wine and cheese picnic!

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BYOTP. Haras du Pin seems to be fairing pretty well on this front but I have heard WEG bathroom/port-o-potty horror stories that would give you nightmares. Bring toilet paper. It’s just not worth the risk.

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Pack a paper bag to breath into on the way there. There’s no gentle way of saying this: Getting to Haras du Pin is going to be a pain in the bum. Parking will be an even bigger pain in the bum. Your bum will likely be numb from pain by the time you walk through the entrance gate. There is apparently a special parking plan in place for cross-country day and here’s hoping it actually works, but based on the success of WEG’s other “plans” I wouldn’t bet money on it.

It’s been taking us about an hour to drive from our hotel in Caen to Haras du Pin and that’s before spectator traffic starts piling in AND it’s been during dressage — cross-country day is going to be a vastly larger event. Which is to say, it’s going to take you longer than an hour to get here so take that into consideration.

Want directions? (Insert cynical laughter here.) How about an address? (Insert even louder cynical laughter.) According to the Haras du Pin website, it’s Le Haras national du Pin – 61310 Le Pin-au-Haras, France. I know, I know, that’s not even really an address. The WEG website offers comparably useless directions here. After a great deal of pushing buttons on our car GPS, we figured out that the best way to get there was to type in the area code, hit city centre and follow the signs from there. Not very scientific but it worked. The good news is, once you get off the exit from the motorway there is lots of pretty, pastoral scenery to keep you entertained while you’re stuck in traffic. Seriously, it’s the most bucolic drive ever, all quaint villages and secret gardens and random sheep wandering around. Good for the ol’ blood pressure.

So, you finally got here. Good job! But your journey isn’t over yet. According to WEG, the event’s 20,000 parking spots are spread across 60 hectares (148 acres) of meadow. Which translates to, “You’re going to have a hike from your car to the course, and it’s going to be uphill both ways.” #kiddingnotkidding!

Here’s the parking map — the lots open at 6:30 a.m.

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I know what you’re thinking: Screw this! I’m going to take the shuttle. Bad news… shuttle registration is closed. There are, however, two special TERS (local trains) between Caen and Argentan for spectators with cross-country tickets. There are seats remaining — they are 12 Euro for adults and 6 Euro for children and can be booked online here. If you decide to go that route I wish you the best of luck; the website is in French and despite two years of French in college I couldn’t make heads or tails of it.

Hey, maybe it will all work out. Maybe for once WEG will prove us all wrong and knock our socks off with its mad organizational SKILLZ. Here’s hoping!

One way or the other we’ll be there with bells outlandishly patriotic red, white and blue outfits on. Go USA, and Go Eventing!

A Good Day For His Best Test Ever: Brazil’s Ruy Fonseca Breaks Into WEG Top 10

Ruy Fonseca and Tom Bombadill Too have a globetrotting championship resume that includes the 2010 WEG in Lexington, the 2011 Pan Am Games in Guadalajara and the 2012 Olympics in London. But they’ve never had a test that equaled the one they had here today. Their score of 44.2 launched them into the top 10 of an increasingly cutthroat field.

Ruy has a lot of cheerleaders here in the U.S. and spent the beginning of 2014 in Florida preparing for Rolex. On behalf of his American fans (Eventing Nation being among them!) we caught up with Ruy after his test to congratulate him and see about his gameplan for the rest of the weekend:

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Tom Bombadill Too and his groom head back to the barns after a successful dressage test. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Here’s hoping Ruy’s “best test ever” turns into his “best competition ever” with quick, clear jumping rounds this weekend. Go Ruy, and Go Eventing!

 

 

 

Hawley Bennett Over the Moon With Her ‘Pocket Rocket’

Hawley Bennett-Awad and Gin & Juice. Photo by Jenni Autry. Hawley Bennett-Awad and Gin & Juice. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Hawley and supermare Gin & Juice caught a shooting star in the dressage ring today, laying down a top-20 score of 47.8 for Team Canada.

With the sole exception of the Event at Rebecca Farm CIC3* earlier this summer, where they earned a 47.1, today’s score was a personal best in their 9-year history of competing in FEI events. They bested their score at the 2010 WEG, where they helped earn a Team Silver and finished 17th individually, by 4.7 points.

Hawley was all smiles when we caught up with her to talk about her test, tomorrow’s cross-country course and how she thinks it will suit her fiesty little “pocket rocket” mare:

Hawley Bennett-Awad and Gin & Juice

Looking forward to seeing this pair make short work of cross-country tomorrow! Still to come from the North American contingent this afternoon are Boyd Martin/Shamwari 4 and Selena O’Hanlon/Foxwood High. Go USA! Go Canada! Go Eventing!

Leslie Law’s Sydney Olympic Partner Shear H20 Has Passed Away at Age 24

Leslie Law and Shear H20 at Burghley in 2004. Photo: Gareth Owen/Creative Commons. Leslie Law and Shear H20 at Burghley in 2004. Photo: Gareth Owen/Creative Commons.

Our thoughts are with the many individuals whose lives were touched by Shear H20 (“Solo”), the great grey Irish-bred gelding who was successfully competed by Leslie Law in the 2000 Olympics and beyond.

From Lesley Grant-Law’s Facebook page this afternoon:

Sadly Leslie’s great horse Solo (H2O) had to be put down today. Medalist at Sydney and 2nd and 3rd at Badminton and that is just off top of my head. Leslie adored that horse and often praised him as his most favorite most consistent horse ever. Many thanks to Claire Llewelyn who gave him a lovely life post Leslie and the Jeremy Lawton and Susan Lawton who proudly owned him.

Solo was the first of two similarly striking ISH brothers upon whom Leslie would win Olympic medals for Great Britain — Team Silver on Shear H20 in 2000 and Individual Gold on Shear L’eau in 2004. Leslie and Shear H20 completed Badminton and Burghley twice apiece with no cross-country jump penalties between 2002 and 2004, finishing in the top five all but once. They were also on the Bronze Medal winning team at the 2002 World Equestrian Games in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain. The horse was retired in a ceremony at the European Eventing Championships at Blenheim in 2005.

“Solo has realised dreams for me I did not even imagine I had,” said co-owner Jeremy Lawton in this “Horse & Hound” article published on the eve of Solo’s retirement. “For Leslie, he was the horse that finally gave him the success he had worked and strived so long for. If Solo had not been as good as he was we might never have bought Shear L’eau and Leslie might not be Olympic Champion.”

Godspeed Solo, and Go Eventing.

Donner’s Story: All-American OTTB Represents Team USA

Lynn Symansky and Donner. Photo by Jenni Autry. Lynn Symansky and Donner. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Heather Benson of Retired Racehorse Project researches the breeding and racing history of Lynn Symansky’s Donner, one of two American-bred OTTBs competing at WEG.

From Heather:

Not only is Donner the only OTTB on Team USA, he is the only horse that was actually bred in the USA, the rest being European imports. Recently the Retired Racehorse Project took a closer at this pair that is truly representing Team USA through and through!

Donner was foaled on April 18, 2003 in New York. His dam, Smart Jane, was a sound and tough race mare that saw 45 starts, mainly in her home state of Maryland. She etched out three wins and was retired at age six after pulling up in her last race at Pimlico.

Donner’s grandsire, Smarten, at age 17 in 2003. Photo courtesy of finalturngallery.com

Donner’s grandsire, Smarten, at age 17 in 2003. Photo courtesy of finalturngallery.com

Smart Jane relished a long distance — all of her wins came at a mile or more and she ran her best the longer the races went. This is no surprise when you take a closer look at her pedigree. Smart Jane is by the well regarded Maryland stallion Smarten, an extremely tough horse that had both speed and stamina to spare. In his three-year-old season, he had the misfortune to run into a whirlwind named Spectacular Bid but still managed six wins out of 17 starts, including the Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio and American Derbies. His very high in the money (1st, 2nd and 3rd placings) percentage of 81% showed that he was game in every race he started in. Sent to stud in 1980, he would prove a cornerstone of Maryland’s Northview Stallion Station for nearly two decades. Smarten’s best runners include Classy ‘n’ Smart, a Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame inductee and dam of U.S. and Canadian Hall of Fame filly, Dance Smartly; Pennsylvania Derby winner Smart Guy; and the outstanding Kentucky sire Smart Strike.

Going one generation further, Donner’s other ancestors also passed on a huge amount of stamina and class down the line. His second dam, Synclinal, was unraced but sired by one of the best stallions of his generation, Vaguely Noble. Vaguely Noble was an Irish-bred Thoroughbred that was considered one of the top horses in Europe in the late 1960s. He beat the best of his generation, including the Epsom Derby winner Sir Ivor, in the 1968 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and was promptly purchased and syndicated to stand in the U.S. at Gainesway Farm in Kentucky. There he would become a valuable source of stamina for the American market and become both a leading sire and a leading broodmare sire. His best offspring include the great turf mare Dahlia, Epsom Derby winner Empery and the sensational Exceller.

Vaguely Noble-Donner’s great-grandsire and an important source of stamina in pedigrees. Photo courtesy of finalturngallery.com.

Vaguely Noble, Donner’s great-grandsire and an important source of stamina in pedigrees. Photo courtesy of finalturngallery.com.

Donner’s third dam (his great-grandmother on his mother’s side) showed the family’s class in another light. Unlike her granddaughter Smart Jane, Hippodamia (by Hail to Reason) loved to run shorter distances and loved to run them fast. American-bred but racing in France, she took home the most important race for French two-year-old fillies, the Criterium des Pouliches, and earned herself the honor of Champion Two-Year-Old Filly in France for 1973. She would follow that up with a second in the French One Thousand Guineas in the following season. But it was in the breeding shed where she made a lasting mark.

Hippodamia was the dam of eight winners from her 15 foals, all bred in the U.S. Her best was Globe (by Secretariat), winner of the Grade 2 Excelsior Handicap and Grade 3 Grey Lag Handicap. Her filly Hoya was a stakes winner in France and then came back to the U.S. where she set a new course record for 1 1/2 miles at Keeneland. Her daughters proved to be stellar broodmares as well, producing 17 stakes winners in succeeding generations.

Sent to the broodmare barn in 2000 with good expectations considering her solid family and race record, Smart Jane produced a number of foals, including the multiple stakes winner Five Diamonds (by Flatter) and stakes-placed Smart Tori (by Tenpins). But it was her third foal, a 2003 colt by Gorky Park (Fr), that would make history.

Donner’s sire, Gorky Park, deserves some recognition as he may well be the source of Donner’s jumping prowess. A French-bred stallion, but the product of an American sire and dam, he raced but was successful not in the flat races like the rest of Donner’s family but over jumps in hurdle and steeplechase races. Starting his career in his native France, he was eventually imported to the U.S. and into the barn of the great trainer Jonathan Sheppard with whom he would win the Continental Cup Steeplechase Handicap at Great Meadow in 1991. Retired after his next race, he then stood at stud in Virginia and New York, siring both flat winners and several notable jumpers.

Donner’s racing career did not begin until July of his three-year-old year, likely due to his large size (17.1 hands). His first race, a Maiden Special Weight over 1 1/8 miles on the turf at Belmont Park, was probably designed to take advantage of his big frame and distance bloodlines, but he tired quickly and finished last. Started again in a nearly identical race two weeks later, Donner (racing as Smart Gorky) again finished last, nearly 30 lengths behind the winner. A new plan soon formed.

Dropped down to the $15,000 claiming level and switched to dirt, Donner showed more interest in his next start and finished in fourth. His connections dropped him down another claiming level, this time to $8,000, in the hopes of getting a win and some confidence for the youngster. Donner pressed the pace in second for the first time in his career but faltered in the long stretch run at Laurel to finish fourth once more.

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Lynn and Donner at Pau. Photo by Jenni Autry.

One a cold December day, right before Christmas in 2006, Donner’s racing connections tried once more to see if their big, gangly gelding wanted to be a racehorse. They entered him once more for a $8,000 claiming tag at Laurel Park and kept the distance to a mile. A big field went to the post that day, 11 in all. Donner raced in the pack, looking like a horse with every chance, but weakened in the stretch, disinterested or tired. A racehorse he was not to be.

Newly retired and looking for a new career, Donner was re-started and then purchased by upper-level eventer Lynn Symansky in 2008. She describes her first impression of the big young horse in a recent blog post in the “Chronicle of the Horse”:

I definitely didn’t know he’d turn into the horse I have today. He was a good athlete and showed a lot of promise, but he was rather flighty and spooky—Donner is aptly nicknamed ‘the deer.’ Some horses are the type that can fit into several disciplines, but Donner never seemed to fit perfectly into any one mold. He didn’t have the movement to be a dressage horse, he wasn’t scopey enough to be a pure show jumper, he wasn’t classic or relaxed enough to be a hunter, he wasn’t quiet enough to be a hunt horse, and he sure didn’t have the feet to be an endurance horse. But what I did know from the very beginning was that he always showed up for work.

Lynn’s work soon paid off and they moved through the lower levels quickly. By 2011 Lynn and Donner found themselves as part of the Gold Medal winning U.S. Team at the 2011 Pan American Games and in 2013, they were not only the Best Conditioned, Best Turned Out and Highest Placed OTTB at 2013 Rolex Kentucky CCI4*, they placed fifth overall, the highest placing American at the nation’s premier three-day event. They’ve had some ups and down since then but the WEG selectors had faith that, despite a less-than-perfect preparation, Donner would show up when he was needed the most. Tomorrow he and Lynn will have their opportunity to shine on the equestrian world’s most prestigious stage, representing their country on multiple levels at once!

Go Donner, Go Team USA and Go Team OTTB.

Top 5 Must-See Things at the WEG Games Village

I am a total trade fair junkie. I love to wander around and buy/lust over/eat/drink all the things. Here are a few of our favorite 2014 Games Village discoveries:

#1. This swanky gear you can’t afford.

But it never hurts to dream! I’m kind of in love with these Sergio Grasso custom boots, especially the ones with the national flags done up in Swarovski crystal. WANT.

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This super-flash shadbelly by Alessandro Albanese also caught my eye, literally. Made of a glistening wool fabric with oversize sparkly crystal buttons and pink accents, it’s DQ to the max. Whether you aim to impress judges or just blind them, this will get the job done in spades.

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#2. This ridiculous French interpretation of an American diner.

It was kind of adorable, actually. The menu was in French but the decor paid homage to nearly every American cliché in existence from personal firearms to “Happy Days” reruns. The equivalent inverse, an American interpretation of a French cafe, would probably involve mustachioed waiters in berets who delivered baguettes to your table on a bicycle.

We should have known better than to order the “Tacos and Guacamole,” which should have been called “Stale Cool Ranch Doritos and Guacamole.” The French fries, however, were an ironic win.

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Or, as Chinch prefers to call them, “freedom fries.”

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Apparently nobody wants to eat bad American food in France. Who’d have thought?

#3. This FEI selfie booth.

In a belated attempt to be technologically hip, the FEI has been really big on selfies lately. A couple weeks prior to WEG they released an app called “Horsify Me” that takes your own face and, in an unexpected nightmare twist, blends it with the face of a horse. Because that’s not disturbing at all! (I tried it out myself here.)

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Anyway, in addition to a iPad station where you could “Horsify” yourself, the FEI’s Games Village tent included a “Selfie Stable” where people could dress up like horses. Haven’t you always wanted to post a selfie of yourself wearing a creepy horse head mask on Instagram?

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#4. This horse-riding simulator.

Sure, a Racewood Simulator costs over $65,000, but unlike your real horse this one will never go lame, refuse a jump (although you can program it to do so if that’s your jam) or require costly upkeep.

This girl is test-driving the jumping model over a virtual cross-country course; dressage, polo and racing simulators are also available. According to the website, “The body, neck and head move independently and the different jumping actions are as close as you can get to the real thing.” It also includes leg sensors that respond to pressure like a horse and sensors on the bit, saddle and stirrups that will give you feedback on your weight and balance. Um, OK, that’s pretty cool. Does anyone have 65 grand I can borrow?

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Elsewhere in the Village, there was this life-sized version of that carnival horse race game where you throw balls into a hole and it makes “your” horse jump forward. Except in this case the kids do it themselves, rocking back and forth to get ahead while their parents place bets outside the gate: “If my kid beats your kid, you owe me 20 bucks.” Or something like that.

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#5. This boozy tribute to Normandy.

Forget milk and honey — this is the land of cider and cheese. (Fun fact: Unlike many parts of the country, Normandy actually doesn’t produce much wine.) These photos were taken inside a great big Normandy-themed tent that showcased the region’s exports, notably including an apple brandy known as calvados. It’s a common custom during meals to take a pause between courses called a trou normand, or “Norman hole,” in which diners partake of a glass calvados in order “to improve the appetite and make room for the next course.” Hey, whatever you French alkies have to tell yourselves.

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The Normandy tent had other stuff too, I guess.

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Keep it locked here for much, much more live from WEG throughout the week! Go Eventing.

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