Wellington, Fla. – March 5, 2021 – The top show jumping athletes from around the world gathered in the International Arena Friday, March 5, during Week Eight of the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF). Riding both in daylight and under the lights to represent their respective countries, the stakes were high for the athletes as they contended with their respective teams for a top spot on the podium. A total of 32 horse-and-rider combinations representing eight different nations fought for the first place honors in the 20th anniversary of the $150,000 FEI Nations Cup CSIO4*. In the end, the United States reigned supreme to defend their title and claim the win for the third year in a row.
Course designer Steve Stephens (USA) tested riders with a 12-obstacle first-round track, featuring open water and several different combinations at the 1.50m and 1.60m height. Switching up the format from previous years, the first round kicked off during daylight hours at 4:30pm, and picked back up under the lights at 7:30pm to offer two separate atmospheres in which athletes would compete. A total of 13 horse-and-rider pairs managed to leave all of the rails up on-course within the 75-second time allowed. Following Round 1, Ireland led the way with fault free trips from all four teammates including Shane Sweetnam, Bertram Allen, Michael Duffy and Cian O’Connor.
In addition to Ireland, the United States sat narrowly behind in second place on just one time fault from Jessica Springsteen, and clear rounds from teammates Lillie Keenan and Bliss Heers. Taking third place after the first round of competition was Israel finishing on a total of four faults, with faultless performances from Ashlee Bond and Sydney Shulman. After a 90-minute break, all eight teams were invited back to the International Arena to compete under the lights for the final round of competition.
Horses had to quickly adjust to the new atmosphere, which proved challenging for some returning pairs. Camilo Rueda Giraldo started off Round 2 representing Colombia as they took to the same 12-obstacle course. The first clear round was produced by Brazil’s Luiz Fancisco De Azevedo, who was fifth to go in the rotation of competitors and whose round would prove beneficial to his fellow Brazilian teammates. Additional clear rounds to follow were put forward by Israel’s Bond, Columbia’s John Perez and Canada’s Amy Millar.
Campaigning in her first Nations Cup for the United States, Heers and her trusted mount Antidote de Mars, owned by Bridgeside Farms LLC, put down the first fault-free finish for the team during the second round.
Returning 2020 team member Moggre, who is just 19-years-old, also completed a fault-free second round aboard new partner Balou Du Reventon, owned by Ann C Thompson. Springsteen concluded a successful night for the United States without adding any penalties to the scoreboard aboard Don Juan Van De Donkhoeve, owned by Stone Hill Farm. With a drop score of four faults from Keenan and Chansonette Farm LLC’s Fasther, the clear round from Springsteen ultimately secured the United States’ victory.
Since the inauguration of the event in 2002, five nations have taken the crown: Great Britain, Canada, Ireland, Germany and returning champions, the United States. With their win Friday evening in the $150,000 FEI Nations Cup CSIO4*, Team USA secured their title for the third year in a row. The young team was stacked with four talented rising stars and new horse-and-rider combinations. Team USA was ecstatic to put forward a win for their first Nations Cup performance of the year, and Chef d’Equipe noted it is indicative of what is to come for the future of Team USA.
FROM THE WINNER’S CIRCLE
Robert Ridland – Chef d’Equipe
On the United States defending their title:
“We knew coming in we had a very young team. Our second and third riders in the order combined I think they had a total of one nations cup experience, so that is not much experience in the heart of the order. It was a thrilling class. It was exciting because we were up against some real teams. When we saw the Irish team, for starters, on paper that’s a real solid veteran team. I couldn’t be more excited.”
On the win:
“Every time I get to jump for Team USA is my favorite competition. It’s something we all look forward to every year and it’s the aim. We plan out the year and the high point is always any chance we get to jump for Team USA, so to be able to bring home a win on home soil is thrilling. It’s what we set out to do. I have fantastic teammates, our Chef d’Equipe [Robert Ridland] and our manager [Lizzy Chesson], they do an unparalleled job so we are all ridiculously lucky. We are able to rise to the occasion. I think it’s fun – we have a very young time and each of us has something that is a first. For my horse [Fasther] this is the first time he has ever jumped a Nations Cup. I have jumped enough of them with some other horses but never with him and I think it’s really telling for the future of team USA. We have a really young team but we are a force to be reckoned with.”
On competing in her first Nations Cup:
“I feel incredibly blessed. My teammates are incredible and I am just thankful for the opportunity. My horse [Antidote de Mars] is incredible and I know going in whatever I ask he does, and he tries his heart out. After the first round it was obviously exciting to say the least! Then to go into the second round under the lights and to have to repeat the same thing, it doesn’t seem like much but then again the scores start coming in and I just rely on him. He’s amazing and he feels the pressure. He always rises to the occasion and I can count on him every time.”
On his partnership with Balou du Reventon:
“This week is actually my fourth week showing the horse, so every week we are just getting to know each other better. He is amazing! He has more experience in this atmosphere than I do so it’s nice to rely on him for that. Tonight I just really wanted to use this as an opportunity to use this to get to know my horse in this format. Hopefully it was successful so we can continue to be put on teams like this. I am just really thankful for the horse, and Ann Thompson who owns him is incredible and it’s been a really great time getting to know him.”
On the most difficult aspect of the course:
“I think the course asked a lot of the right questions for this type of class, and I think that’s important. It was really interesting how the first round went during the day and the second round went at night, because that is a change of atmosphere. Some horses struggle with it and some horses thrive with it. Of course I wouldn’t necessarily say there was one line that particularly stood out more than the others, I think it was the course as a whole and the riders and their horses knowing each other. The line across the middle, you had the Lugano oxer to the triple combination, and some rode seven strides and some rode six strides, even between day and night some changed their plans from the day to the night. I think it was a really interesting way to do this Nations Cup this year, but as the first one we’ve had I think it was a great experience. I had a great time and I think I can speak on behalf of my teammates too. It’s not often we get to do this, especially day and night, and I think the break was great for the horses. I was very happy with it!”
On the large break between rounds:
“It can give you time to overthink everything a little bit. I live close by so I ran home and watched my round. I had a time fault in the first round so I saw where I could make up a little bit of time. It was nice. I have never jumped this Nations Cup before and I was super excited. it was a great night!“
On feeling the pressure during Team USA’s first outing of 2021:
“I think you always feel more pressure when you are representing your country, and it was a lot of our first Nations Cup classes in a long time, so the pressure is always on. We were all so excited this whole week, I think we have a really fun team.”