With just one week left till the opening of the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG) in Normandy, France, the excitement has nearly reached its peak.
WEG runs August 23 – September 7, with the Jumping competition beginning on September 1. A total of 54 National Federations have declared their nominated entries – 38 have entered teams, and another 16 are sending riders to compete as individuals. Although nominated entries were due at the end of July, the federations do not have to declare which riders and horses will ride until August 22 – just a day before opening ceremonies! 196 horse-and-rider combinations are expected and how they perform could give us a good idea of who we’re likely to see at next April’s World Cup Finals in Las Vegas.
With three consecutive FEI Nations’ Cup wins in early August (two with teams comprising WEG short-listed horses and riders), the U.S. has re-established itself as a leading medal contender, and there is good reason to believe that they will redeem themselves after medal-less performances at the 2010 WEG and 2012 Olympics. On Wednesday, the U.S. named a squad comprising veterans Beezie Madden with Cortes ‘C’ or Simon, McLain Ward with Rothchild and Kent Farrington with Voyeur together with the younger Lucy Davis and Barron; Margie Engle with Royce is the alternate.
At Aachen last month, the U.S. team was very impressive, finishing second in the Nations’ Cup behind Belgium. All the riders put in good performances with Davis and Barron producing a double-clear. Farrington won the Prize of Europe class and placed second in the Grand Prix aboard Voyeur, who won the show’s “Best Horse” award.
The U.S. then dominated at Hickstead, clinching the Nations’ Cup with a team of four Olympic veterans –Ward on Rothchild, Engle on Royce, Madden on Cortes C, and Reed Kessler on Cylana. Madden, the 2013 World Cup champion who only recently returned to competition after breaking her collarbone in May, went on the make Hickstead history, winning the prestigious Longines King George V Gold Cup aboard Cortes C, becoming the first woman to win the class in its 108-year history.
The following weekend the U.S. claimed another Nations’ Cup victory at Dublin. Madden rode her World Cup winner Simon, while Katie Dinan rode Nougat du Vallet, Jessica Springsteen was on Vindicat W, and Charlie Jayne rode Chill RZ. The strong performances gave chef d’equipe Robert Ridland multiple options for assembling his team and he appears to have a WEG squad ready to return to the medal podium.
Great Britain also has announced its WEG team with the exception of the reserve and it includes Olympic veterans Scott Brash, Ben Maher and Michael Whitaker, as well as Joe Clee and Spencer Roe. Brash, currently ranked number one in the world, will be riding his 2012 Olympic gold medal partner Hello Sanctos, while London Olympic teammate Ben Maher, ranked number three, will be riding Jane Clark’s Cella, with whom he won Team Gold at the 2013 European Championships. Clee is on Utamaro D’Ecaussines, while Roe will be aboard Wonder Why. Despite missing the Nations’ Cup classes at Hickstead and Dublin, Whitaker, a four-time Olympian, has also been named to the squad with his European Team Gold medal mount, Viking V.
As strong as the U.S. and Great Britain may be, Germany seems to be most people’s favorite to repeat their 2010 WEG gold. Christian Ahlmann and his Olympic mount Codex One is a more than likely team candidate, as the pair recently won the Grand Prix of Aachen and the Valkenswaard Grand Prix, although his Aragon Z and Cornado II are also on the list. Daniel Deusser has three nominated horses including his 2014 World Cup winner Cornet d’Amour, as well as First Class van Eeckelghem, and Fyloe V. Claeyssenhof.
Olympic and WEG gold medalist Ludger Beerbaum, currently ranked number two in the world, has three nominated horses (Chiara 222, Chaman and Zinedine) and three-time World Cup champion Marcus Ehning is listed with his veteran partner Plot Blue, as well as Cornado NRW. Beerbaum, Ehning and Deusser are all ranked in the top 10 in the FEI World Rider rankings. Three-time World Cup champion Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum is also short-listed with Atlanta 541 and Fibonacci 17, while Katrin Eckermann is listed with her Aachen mount Firth of Lorne as well as Carlson 46.
The U.S., Germany and Great Britain seem to have the deepest talent, although other countries, notably Holland and Belgium, are also strong contenders for team and individual medals with talented horses and riders we’re likely to see at Vegas next spring. When WEG concludes, the World Cup qualifying season will kick into high gear and the countdown to Las Vegas will officially be underway. I hope you’ve ordered your tickets, because if you love equestrian sports, next April’s FEI World Cup Finals in Las Vegas is one event you will not want to miss!