There was a great sense of anticipation and excitement in the air as the Show Jumping competition of the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games got underway in Normandy, France, last week; not unlike what the buzz will be in Las Vegas next April for the 2015 Longines FEI World Cup Final!
Great Britain, one of the Gold Medal favorites with a team comprising Olympic and European Champions, had a major setback before the competition even began as Ben Maher had to withdraw Jane Clark’s Cella due to a small overreach injury before heading to France. Belgium then withdrew Jos Lansink’s mount Ensor de Litrange before the first horse inspection.
Team U.S.A. was also favored for a spot on the podium after a very successful summer on the European circuit which included victories in Nations’ Cups at Hickstead and Dublin as well as a second-place finish at Aachen. The team comprised Olympic veterans Beezie Madden and McLain Ward, as well as veteran Kent Farrington and youngster Lucy Davis who were both making their WEG debuts.
A total of 153 horse-and-rider combinations started the first leg of competition with 35 nations in the Team competition and 54 countries having riders in the Individual competition. The opening leg was a speed class and Ireland’s young superstar Bertram Allen (only 19!) had a fantastic round on Molly Malone V, his Dublin Grand Prix winner, which proved unbeatable. Patrice Delaveau of France finished second on Orient Express HDC, while Belgium’s Gregory Wathelet and Conrad de Hus finished third just ahead of 2013 World Cup winner Beezie Madden and Cortes C. Germany’s Daniel Deusser and his 2014 World Cup winner Cornet d’Amour finished 7th. After the first round, France led the Team standings with Sweden second and the US third.
For the next round of Team competition, the course was nothing short of breathtaking in its design, and it also proved influential in the standings. Some felt that perhaps the horses may have been distracted by the artistic jumps which included a Viking ship, a giant hand that held brushes like Normandy’s famed impressionist painters, a gun with a knot tied in its barrel, and a medieval fortress, to name a few; but it was a masterpiece to look at!
Only 20 of the 144 starters managed to cross the finish line fault-free, and only two teams managed to have no penalties added to their overnight score, including the Dutch Team who rose from fifth place to the top of the leaderboard, and Brazil, who jumped up from 12th place to fifth, which earned them a spot in the top-ten team finale.
Super performances by Team U.S.A., specifically clears from McLain Ward on Rothchild and Beezie Madden with Cortes C, moved the US into second, and Madden into second individually. Germany, the WEG 2010 Gold Medalists, moved into third after clears from both Marcus Ehning on Cornado NRW and Daniel Deusser on Cornet D’Amour. Host nation France dropped to fourth, but their star Patrice Delaveau and Orient Express HDC jumped into the individual lead. Sweden’s Rolf-Goran Bengtsson and Casall Ask stood third, while Germany’s Deusser and Dutch rider Jeroen Dubbeldam with Zenith SFN rounded out the top five.
The pressure in the final round of the Team competition was intense, especially for France who desperately wanted a win on home soil. Penelope Leprevost, a member of the French team said it best, describing entering the arena as being “like entering a boiling cauldron.”
In the end it was The Netherlands who captured Team Gold on a score of 12.83. This was their second championship title, having won at WEG 2006 in Aachen. The Gold Medal team included Maikel van der Vleuten on VDK Group Verdi TN N.O.P., Jur Vrieling on VDL Bubalu, Dubbeldam on Zenith SFN, and Gerco Schroder on his Olympic mount Glock’s London N.O.P. Both Dubbeldam and Schroder had been members on the Gold Medal team in Aachen.
France re-claimed their Silver Medal from WEG 2010 in Kentucky with a score of 14.08, edging out the US who took Bronze with 16.72. As the second-to-last rider to go, Beezie Madden had all the pressure knowing she had to go clear to clinch the Bronze. She demonstrated why she is regarded as one of the world’s best by producing one of only ten clears in the competition, which secured the US a spot on the podium and propelled her to the top of the standings in the Individual competition. Sweden’s Bengtsson held second, while Denmark’s Soren Pedersen and Tailormade Esperanza De Rebel S moved into third. Overnight leader Delaveau of France dropped a rail and three spots to end the day in fourth.
With the weight of the team competition off their shoulders, the riders focused on the individual medals as the top 29 in the standings competed in a two-round competition hoping to earn one of just four spots in the Final. Madden and Ward were among the top contenders and they advanced with 19 other riders to the second round. In the end, just 3/10th of a penalty kept Ward from joining Madden in the Top Four, as the two-time Olympic team Gold Medalist and 2006 WEG team Silver Medalist wound up fifth.
The home crowd went wild with the news that Delaveau, who grew up only 40km away, not only made it through but actually led the rankings. Sweden’s Bengtsson and The Netherlands’ Dubbeldam joined him and Madden for the final battle for Gold.
The final round at WEG is different from all other competitions in that the top four riders ride not only their own horses, but each other’s horses as well. The format is controversial, but it’s truly exciting to watch the world’s top riders compete over a world-class course with only minutes to prepare on horses which they have never ridden!
Dubbeldam’s rides on all four horses was pure harmony. As the only rider to produce four clear rounds he secured his second Gold Medal of the Games and became the first Dutch rider to win the Individual World Championship. It was disappointment for Delaveau who was achingly close to Gold and who had to settle for Silver after receiving one time penalty in the third round on Casall Ask. Madden secured the Bronze medal with a total of 12 faults, her second WEG individual medal after having won Silver in 2006.
Madden’s amazing mount, Cortes C, owned by Abigail Wexner, earned the ‘Best Horse’ title as he was the only horse to produce clear rounds with all four riders. In addition, he jumped four clears out of five rounds in the earlier competitions.
The thrilling finale to WEG gives us good insight into the excitement we can expect next April at the 2015 Longines FEI World Cup Final in Las Vegas. Don’t miss your chance to watch the sport’s absolute best horses and riders go head-to-head in Las Vegas next April; be sure to order your tickets today!