We’ve talked a lot about the U.S. WEG picture this spring if only because it’s much more muddled due to human and equine injuries, sudden retirements and multiple selection trials still to go. Canada has a smaller — yet mighty! — pool of athletes, and there’s been talk that the program’s smaller budget following the 2012 London Olympic Games means it’s possible the country won’t be sending individual competitors to Normandy. But there will absolutely be a team, so let’s breakdown the frontrunners:
Hawley Bennett-Awad and Gin & Juice: Fan favorite Ginny has now completed eight four-stars with Hawley in the irons, making them the most experienced pair in the hunt. The mare has already been clear around a Pierre Michelet course at Pau last fall, and she’s finally learning to take a deep breath in the dressage. They’ve finished in the top 16 in the three four-stars they’ve contested since failing to complete in London, and Hawley and Ginny are ready for redemption on the international stage.
Rebecca Howard and Riddle Master: Parting ways on a particularly tough Badminton course was just a blip on the map for these two, who have been extremely competitive on the European circuit in the past year. Two top-12 finishes at Badminton and Burghley in 2013 earned them honors on British Eventing’s list of top 20 horses of the year. Rebecca and Rupert are heading to Luhmühlen CIC3* to get their groove back before Normandy.
Selena O’Hanlon and Foxwood High: Selena has worked very hard at bolstering her upper-level string since retiring her 2010 team silver medal WEG partner Colombo, and Foxwood High emerged as her horse for the future at Rolex, where he jumped clear around his first four to finish 10th. He’s green to the level but very game, and Selena knows how to handle the pressure when it counts. That impressive performance at Rolex likely earned them a ticket to Normandy.
Jessica Phoenix and Exponential: At 16 years old, Tucker isn’t a spring chicken anymore, so Jessie has been extremely careful in managing his competition schedule for the past year with Normandy in mind. The horse has jumped clear around every four-star he’s ever attempted (4), and while he hasn’t competed at this level since the London Olympics, assuming he’s fit and sound, he’s a shoo-in for the Canadian team.
Also in the hunt for Team Canada:
Peter Barry and Kilrodan Abbott: Eddie has long been loved by fans of the sport for the easy way he romps around big cross-country courses, but Peter has run into into trouble in their last two four-star attempts. They parted ways at Pau and had a runout at Rolex this year, which unfortunately pushes them further down the list for WEG contention.
Kyle Carter and Madison Park: Parker’s triumphant return to the highest levels of the sport was unfortunately stymied when the horse caught a leg at the Head of the Lake at Rolex, dumping Kyle in the process. With questions still remaining about his ability at this level following the serious injury he faced at Blenheim in 2011, their WEG status is up in the air.
Shandiss McDonald and Rockfield Grant Juan: Another of the Canadians now based in Europe, Shandiss and Juan always get around the cross country just fine but pick up a lot of time penalties along the way. They do have the experience of jumping around a Pierre Michelet course having completed Pau last fall, and this horse can lay down a competitive dressage test.
Rachel McDonough and Irish Rhythm: Rachel made her four-star debut with this horse at Rolex this year and enjoyed a double clear trip around the cross country. They unfortunately pulled a number of rails the next day, but the horse certainly proved himself. They’re likely too green to the level to be considered for Normandy, but they will have rightfully earned consideration for the future based on their performance in Kentucky.
Selena O’Hanlon and Bellaney Rock: While he’s currently being overshadowed by his barnmate Foxwood High, Rocky is still on the radar. He picked up a stop on cross country at his first four-star in Kentucky, but he’s had consistent performances at the three-star level, with a 14th-place finish last fall at Fair Hill CCI3* standing out as a highlight.
Jessica Phoenix and Pavarotti: Jessie’s individual gold medal Pan Ams partner hasn’t completed a four-star yet, but he did the dressage at Rolex this year as a presumed possible warmup for Normandy, so he’s in the hunt. He’s already proven in Europe, having jumped around a Pierre Michelet course at the Le Pin au Haras CIC3* last year; he also placed 10th in the Blenheim CCI3* last fall.
Kathryn Robinson and Let It Bee: Also based in Europe, Kathryn has campaigned this horse for a long time with the hopes of representing Canada on the international stage. They just finished a very respectable 14th in The Irish Field CCI3* at Tattersalls this past weekend. The only mark against them is they have yet to complete a four-star, having been eliminated at Pau the past two years.