Wellington, Fla. – March 5, 2022 – Week VIII of the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) saw the world’s top show jumping athletes take to the International Arena Saturday, March 5, to represent their respective country in the $150,000 Nations Cup CSIO4*, presented by Premier Equestrian. Competing both in the daylight and under the lights, a total of 44 athletes representing 11 nations battled it out for the win and their place at the top of the podium. Marking the 21st anniversary of the event, it was Team Ireland to emerge victorious and finally unseat the United States as the reigning champions, reclaiming a spot at the top of the podium for the fourth time since the event’s inception.
Course designers Steve Stephens (USA) and Nick Granat (USA) tested riders with a 12-obstacle first-round track, featuring open water and several difficult combinations at the 1.50m and 1.60m height. Following the format from the previous year, the first round kicked off at 4:30pm, picking back up under the lights at 7:30pm to present two different atmospheres for athletes to compete in. Seventeen horse and athlete combinations managed to navigate clear efforts within the 70-second time allowed. At the conclusion of Round 1, Ireland and Canada led the way on a score of zero, presenting fault-free rides from Ireland teammates Max Wachman, Andrew Bourns and Eoin McMahon and Cian O’Connor, and Canadian teammates Beth Underhill, Amy Millar, Tiffany Foster, and Erynn Ballard. In addition, Mexico, Great Britain and Australia secured a spot in Round 2 after each finishing on four faults, the United States and Belgium carried a total of 8 faults from Round 1 to move on to Round 2, with Argentina rounding out the top eight teams that would move to the second round of competition with 11 faults.
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. Argentina’s Luis Pedro Biraben piloted Chacco Bumpy as the pathfinding pair for the 12-obstacle Round 2 course, suffering just one rail and one time fault to finish on a total of five faults. The first clear round was produced by the fifth duo in the order of go, Great Britain’s Jessica Menoza riding her very own Play. Additional clear rounds were put forth by Foster, Natalie Dean (USA), Wachman, Emilie Conter (BEL), Eugenio Garza Perez (MEX), Lauren Balcomb (AUS), Lillie Keenan (USA) and Ben Maher (GBR).
Starting off strong for Team Ireland, McMahon notched just one time fault on the clock aboard Chakra 9, owned by Beerbaum Stables. Ireland’s youngest team member, 19-year-old Wachman, piloted Coolmore Show Jumping’s Berlux Z through a fault-free round, securing the first and only double-clear effort seen by the Irish team. Bourns and his veteran mount Sea Topblue, owned by Andrew Bourns Sporthorses and QBS Equestrian, galloped to a strong four-fault finish to keep Ireland in a leading position. Though O’Connor and Ronnoco Jump LTD’s Cerruti Van Ter Hulst Z were met with an unfortunate elimination as the anchor pair, their teammates’ strong rounds were enough to propel Ireland into the winning spot at the conclusion of the class.
Though Canadian team members put forth a valiant effort, they fell out of the winning position after finishing on a total of 12 faults, ultimately claiming second place overall. Foster piloted Artisan Farms LLC’s Figor to a stellar double-clear effort, the only one for the Canadian team. Team USA rounded out the top three on the podium, also with 12 faults, after brilliant efforts from teammates Spencer Smith, Dean, Tanner Korotkin and Keenan. Dean put down a clear effort in Round 2 to help push Team USA into the third position with Chance STE Hermelle, while Kennan put forward the only double-clear effort riding Argan de Beliard that helped secure the third place honors.
Since the inauguration of the event in 2002, five nations have taken the crown: Great Britain, Canada, Ireland, Germany and the returning champions, the United States. With their win Saturday evening in the $150,000 FEI Nations Cup CSIO4*, Ireland finally unseated Team USA after a three-year winning streak. Team Ireland was ecstatic to put forward a win for their first Nations Cup performance of the year, and Chef d’Equipe Michael Blake noted it is indicative of what is to come for the future.
FROM THE WINNER’S CIRCLE
On the win:
“It’s a great feeling, I’m very grateful to be a part of the team and to Michael [Blake] who gave me the opportunity. My horse Berlux Z is a very good horse. He’s quite experienced so he’s able to bring me to a bigger level because of his experience and I’m very grateful to be riding him.”
On Sea Topblue:
“Tonight I was very happy with him. This is his first Nations Cup for real. I was a little worried he might come out in the second round and think it was a jump-off, so I was a little nervous that I might have too much horse. After the second or third fence I realized that I was right on the money with him. I had enough control and he felt very comfortable. I think we underestimated the difference between the first round during the day and the second round under the lights tonight. I think what you saw on the scores was a lot of horses changed from one setting to another. I was very pleased with my horse, in general he didn’t change at all. He jumped the same during the day and night. In the first round and in the second round he felt very positive and very convincing. I was just so happy to be back on a team with guys like this again and I’m very proud of Max [Wachman] and the guys and what they’ve done. It’s a big achievement for me too.”
On Team Ireland’s win:
“I’m very grateful bringing a horse that hasn’t jumped a Nations Cup before and to be on a team like this, to be given the chance to develop a horse in an atmosphere like this, it really makes a big difference to professionals like me to be able to do it. And then to watch the likes of Max and Eoin do so well as well, it’s a very proud night. I think it was a good plan and well executed.”
On the win:
“First of all it’s always a great privilege to be able to jump for Ireland. I’m very grateful Michael [Blake] selected me. Coming here it was my plan to jump Chakra 9 in the Nations Cup so we planned our weeks building up to tonight. She’s been a very good horse for me. She’s 12 years old but even though she’s 12 she is not that experienced. She jumped two Nations Cups last year and she improved a lot from last year to this year and she’s been very consistent since we got here. She jumped fantastic in the first round and she jumped great in the second round as well. I was a bit too slow, it was a rider error, but I’m very happy it didn’t cost us tonight.”
On his ride:
“[Cerruti Van Ter Hulst Z] has been going quite well, she jumped well the last couple of weeks. She’s had good form – she was double-clear in the 1.50m and double-clear in a WEF Challenge Cup and clear in a CSI3* grand prix. Maybe I just haven’t showed her in the last couple of weeks, I wanted to let her freshen up, and that’s the thing with the schedule here you don’t want to over jump them. She just seemed a little more on her toes tonight. She took a serious dislike to the wall as soon as I turned the first time and I felt it. She kind of dug her heels and wouldn’t listen, but that’s horses and we regroup and school over a wall, build her back up, and I think she will be back to fight another day.”
On the future for Team Ireland:
“When you see the guys Eoin [McMahon], Max [Wachman] and Andrew [Bourns], the way they are able to get stuck in and do the job, it bodes well for the future of our show jumping and Michael [Blake] to be fair gave a fantastic chance to all of the people, with a mixture of experience on the team and it’s very healthy. It allows people to develop and we’re very fortunate to have that for Team Ireland.”
Michael Blake – Chef d’Equipe
On putting the team together:
“Obviously we came here to Florida, and normally I would have the team picked before I came, because it would be a bit more obvious, but this year we had a lot of riders…We actually have 38 riders here from Ireland, and I’m happy to pick the riders that I think deserved it. For the most part, I think they always do the job very very well. I have to say tonight they did the job very well. I’m delighted. Max, a phenomenal effort from him. Eoin is always a veteran. Andrew has been here in the states for quite awhile and he won a CSI4* grand prix a couple of weeks ago and he needed his shot and he rode very well. He had the last fence down and it would’ve been nice to have no pole on the ground, but we still did our job and we’re very very happy. Cian has always been an amazing rider for Team Ireland, he has won so many Nations Cups and I’m very proud of all of my team.”