Predicting the U.S. World Equestrian Games Squad

Boyd Martin and Shamwari at Luhmühlen. Photo by Jenni Autry. Boyd Martin and Shamwari at Luhmühlen. Photo by Jenni Autry.

At the conclusion of seven selection trials this year, we’re oh so close to finding out who will represent Team USA in Normandy at the World Equestrian Games. The final vet checks before naming the squad are taking place today and tomorrow, and the list will be released by Friday. Our fearless selectors — Bobby Costello, Marcia Kulak, Derek Di Grazia, Debbie Furnas and Bruce Davidson — will choose six pairs for the squad — four for the team and two individuals — and up to 12 alternates. The list will then go forward to various USEF committees for approval before being announced.

There are easily eight pairs that could potentially be named to the WEG squad, so this is absolutely not an easy decision for the selectors to be making. It comes down to deciding which combinations are most likely to score as close to the low 40s in dressage as possible and deliver clear jumping rounds. Similarly, the alternates list is critical to build enough depth to ensure Team USA can still send the best squad possible should any of the horses face soundness issues before shipping out to France.

Keep in mind that the soundness of each horse is strictly confidential, and I’m going off the assumption that each horse mentioned below is sound. Without further ado, let’s take a look in alphabetical order at the pairs that have made a case for WEG selection this year, as well as my predictions for the squad of four and two individuals.

Buck Davidson and Ballynoecastle RM at Rolex. Photo by Sally Spickard.

Buck Davidson and Ballynoecastle RM at Rolex. Photo by Sally Spickard.

Jan Byyny and Inmidair can’t quite hit the mid- to low-40s dressage scores that some of these other hopeful pairs can achieve, but he’s a super cross-country horse, and Jan’s comeback story to the highest levels of the sport is a great one. Remember the alternate list is about giving the selectors a variety of options at the end of July, and with 12 spots available for reserve horses, Jan and JR made a good case for making the list with their seventh-place finish at Rolex this year.

The toughest Badminton course in recent memory stymied Tiana Coudray and Ringwood Magister’s hopes of making a strong case for WEG there, which muddies their situation. It’s tough to count Finn out when you consider how good this horse is in the dressage; he’s scored 43 in his last two four-star tests. A clear cross-country round at Badminton would have landed them on the squad. As it stands, Tiana and Finn are probably more likely to find their names on the alternates list.

We’ve already said Buck Davidson and Ballynoe Castle RM’s dressage score of 51.7 at Rolex this year was harshly marked, and they delivered two scores in the 45 range in their two CCI4* appearances before that. While they have dealt with demons in the past at big events in Europe and had a stop at the WEG in 2010, they have a clear cross-country record since 2012 and have not pulled a rail in show jumping all year. To put it simply, Buck and Reggie have come into their own. They’ve done more than enough to make their case for the squad.

Hannah Sue Burnett and Harbour Pilot. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Hannah Sue Burnett and Harbour Pilot at The Fork. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Buck Davidson and Park Trader are another pair worthy of the alternate list with the idea of building depth in mind. The dressage scores are still a work in progress, but the horse is fantastic across the country and also put in a clear show jumping effort at Rolex this year to finish 12th. Buck has worked hard to develop a partnership with this horse, and his efforts are certainly paying off.

The individual silver medalists from the 2011 Pan Am Games, Hannah Sue Burnett and Harbor Pilot have already successfully represented Team USA, and while their record across the pond has been spotty, they’re another pair with the ability to score in the mid- to low-40s in dressage, as proven by their 45.7 at Pau last year. Hannah and William went double clear on cross country at Rolex this year to finish in the top 15, and while they’re not as high on the list as some of the other pairs, they were vetted for WEG in Kentucky and are very much on the radar.

It was never really a question as to whether Phillip Dutton would make this year’s WEG team; he’s ridden at every Olympics and World Championships since 1994 and represented the U.S. on each team since becoming an American citizen. But once Mr. Medicott aggravated an old tendon injury at Rolex, the question became which horse would serve as Big Phil’s WEG ride. Had Mighty Nice not put in such a solid showing at Luhmühlen this past weekend, Phillip would very likely have been named to the squad on Trading Aces after Boyd Martin and the owners gave their blessing for that to happen.

Phillip Dutton and Mighty Nice at Luhmühlen. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Phillip Dutton and Mighty Nice at Luhmühlen. Photo by Jenni Autry.

But Mighty Nice is now proven over an overseas four-star course, and even with three rails down in show jumping on Sunday, that cracking cross-county round still probably just pushes him past Trading Aces. Phillip also said yesterday that he will be experimenting with different bits to get more control on show jumping day, and he can certainly be trusted to do his homework. While it wouldn’t be surprising to see Trading Aces named to the squad with Phillip, the more likely scenario is he gets named with Mighty Nice, with Trading Aces serving as a reserve horse for Boyd and Phillip.

Sinead Halpin and Manoir de Carneville have been waiting patiently for their chance to represent Team USA on the international stage. We already know they can deliver under pressure with that second-place finish at Burghley in 2012, and they finished on their dressage score at Rolex this year to just be edged out of the top three on the same score as Buck and Reggie, as Tate had a faster time on cross country. This is another pair that was harshly marked in dressage at Rolex, and they are absolutely capable of delivering dressage scores in the low 40s. 

In picking individuals for the squad, the selectors are looking for pairs that can hit a home run for medal contention. Lauren and Veronica showed they’re very capable of doing that at Rolex, finishing on their dressage score of 46.7 to become the new USEF National Champions. While the fact that they haven’t completed a competition together in Europe makes them a high risk, high reward pair, they remain a very attractive option for an individual spot. Lauren and Veronica could just as easily find themselves on the squad.

Lauren Kieffer and Veronica. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Lauren Kieffer and Veronica at The Fork. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Similarly, Marilyn Little and RF Demeter could pull out a very good performance as an individual pair. While their last few dressage scores at the CCI4* level have been in the low 50s, let’s not forget that they laid down a 43.7 at Rolex last year. And while their show jumping record is inconsistent, the mare is a virtual lock to go double clear on cross country and has already been around a Pierre Michelet course fast and clear. Marilyn and Demi have all the tools to deliver a very good performance on the squad or as an individual pair.

After putting in what Phillip called “one of the great efforts of the sport” at Luhmühlen, Boyd Martin and Shamwari 4 should find their names on the squad list. To deliver a top-three performance with Boyd’s leg still on the mend and Shamwari a very new ride shows just how good these two could be if given enough time to solidify the partnership. The horse looked so impressive across all three phases this past weekend and jumped one of the only clear show jumping rounds to make his case for selection. If you’re not excited about this combination, you should be.

If only this little Thoroughbred could hit those lower dressage numbers, Meghan O’Donoghue and Pirate might find themselves much higher up on the list of contenders. As it stands, Pirate is very consistent across the country and a good backup option to have on the list should other horses be facing soundness issues come the end of July.

Michael Pollard and Mensa G at Rolex. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Michael Pollard and Mensa G at Rolex. Photo by Jenni Autry.

The only pair to not have contested a four-star on this list, Doug Payne and Crown Talisman are worthy of a spot based on the horse’s performance across a Pierre Michelet course at Saumur. Tali is very capable of a dressage score in the 40s, and he would have done that at Rolex — where they just did the dressage — had it not been for a few costly bobbles. If a lot of soundness issues do end up cropping up next month, Doug and Tali are a worthy pair to invest in for the experience.

Michael Pollard and Mensa G have a mixed bag of results at this level, and the horse is also 16 this year. But they are capable of dressage scores in the 40s and also had a a clear cross-country trip at Rolex. Three rails down kept them out of the top 10 there, but they’re another strong pair on the list of contenders. They’ve also gone around a Pierre Michelet course, though with a runout marked on the score card.

Though alphabetical order has Kim Severson and Fernhill Fernhill Fearless appearing far down on this list, they’re high up on the actual list of hopefuls. And if Sparky’s dressage improves just a tad more, they could easily find themselves on the squad. Kim is one of the most experienced pairs on the list for WEG contention, and the selectors will want her on the list as a result. Sparky showed he has what it takes with a double clear cross-country trip at Rolex in his first four-star.

Kim Severson and Fernhill Fearless. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Kim Severson and Fernhill Fearless at Rolex. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Lynn Symansky and Donner are another pair high up the hopefuls list, and they could just as easily find themselves on the squad. But their string of bad luck this season is likely going to push them out of squad contention. I’d love to be wrong, of course, as Donner skipped around a Pierre Michelet course double clear last year and can leave all the poles in the cups. But he’s the only horse in serious squad contention that hasn’t done a four-star this year, and they parted ways at Jersey Fresh, meaning they’re probably more likely to be on the alternates list.

Trading Aces is definitely going to find his name on the WEG list; it’s just a question of where he ends up. We could find his name next to Phillip’s on the squad list thanks to their eighth-place finish at Rolex this year. But I still think the more likely scenario is Oscar is named to the alternates list as a reserve horse for Boyd and Phillip should either Shamwari or Mighty Nice be facing soundness issues at the end of July.

Who are my predictions for the squad? Assuming all these horses pass their vet checks, I’m predicting the selectors will choose Buck Davidson and Ballynoe Castle RM, Phillip Dutton and Mighty Nice, Sinead Halpin and Manoir de Carneville, and Boyd Martin and Shamwari 4 for the squad of four, with Lauren Kieffer and Veronica and Marilyn Little and RF Demeter as the two individuals.

Weigh in, EN! Who do you think will be named to the WEG squad? Which two pairs would be your picks for the individuals? Did I miss any other hopefuls for the team? Weigh in below.

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