The 1980s – When the US Ruled the Show Jumping World

The FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final has been dominated primarily by European competitors who have won the coveted title 21 times in its 36 year history. However, back in the 1980s, it was a very different story. The 1980s were the golden era for US show jumping. In addition to winning team Gold medals at the 1984 Olympics and 1986 World Championships, in addition to team Silver at the 1988 Olympics, the US dominated the World Cup, winning the Final seven times in its first nine years.

The first World Cup Final, held in Gothenburg, Sweden in 1979, was everything that the organizers and spectators hoped it would be. In the end, it was Hugo Simon of Austria who took center stage on the podium claiming the win on Gladstone in a jump-off with US rider Katie Monahan who took second with The Jones Boy. It was a crowded stage in Gothenburg that year, as Ireland’s Eddie Macken and Carrols of Dundalk tied for third place with another US rider, Norman Dello Joio on Allegro.

1980 World Cup champions Conrad Homfeld & Balbuco in Baltimore, Maryland.

1980 World Cup champions Conrad Homfeld & Balbuco in Baltimore, Maryland.

The US began its World Cup domination in 1980 when the Final took place in the US for the first time. In that 1980 Final in Baltimore, the Americans scored a one-two finish as Conrad Homfeld and Balbuco claimed victory while teammate Melanie Smith and Calypso took second. At the 1981 Final in Birmingham, England, the US once again took the top two spots, this time with Michael Matz and the great Jet Run leading the way. Teammate Donald Cheska and Southside, who were competing outside the US for the first time, took the runner-up spot. The 1979 winners, Hugo Simon and Gladstone, took third. A total of six US riders finished in the top ten!

Michael Matz and Jet Run on their way to victory at the 1981 World Cup Final in Birmingham, England.

Michael Matz and Jet Run on their way to victory at the 1981 World Cup Final in Birmingham, England.

A return visit to Gothenburg for the 1982 Final saw a change in the format and scoring along with another US win. Melanie Smith became the first female World Cup winner aboard her superstar Calypso. It was close as the pair finished only one penalty point ahead of second placed Paul Schockemohle of Germany and Akrobat, while Hugo Simon and Gladstone shared third place with Britain’s John Whitaker and Ryan’s Son.

Melanie Smith & Calypso - first female World Cup Champion winning in Gothenburg, Sweden, in 1982

Melanie Smith & Calypso – first female World Cup Champion winning in Gothenburg, Sweden, in 1982

Prince Philip congratulates Norman Dello Joio after winning the 1983 World Cup Final in Vienna, Austria.

Prince Philip congratulates Norman Dello Joio after winning the 1983 World Cup Final in Vienna, Austria.

Both Norman Dello Joio and Melanie Smith returned to the podium in 1983 in Vienna, but this time it was Dello Joio who clinched the win with I Love You, while Smith and Calypso took third place behind home nation favorites Hugo Simon and Gladstone. While a win on home turf was not meant to be that year for Simon, the ever-competitive Austrian did later reclaim the World Cup trophy with back-to-back victories in 1996 and 1997, and he remains one of the few riders with three World Cup wins.

The American National Anthem may not have been played at the prize giving ceremony at the 1984 Final in Gothenburg, but the stars and stripes were indeed still flying. Dello Joio and I Love You tied for second place with Brazilian rider Nelson Pessoa and Moet et Chandon Larramy, as Canada’s Mario Deslauriers, only 19 years-old, clinched the win aboard Aramis who was only seven years-old! Seven of the top thirteen finishers were US riders. It was the first time that the US relinquished the World Cup trophy after four straight wins, although the US quickly snatched it back the following year and held on to it for three more consecutive years.

The 1985 Final in Berlin saw a record field of 45 riders from 13 nations. Conrad Homfeld became the first rider to win the World Cup for a second time, and it was with the great grey stallion Abdullah, his partner at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles where he not only helped the US win its first-ever Team Gold medal in show jumping, but won the Individual Silver medal as well. European riders completed the World Cup podium, as Nick Skelton of Great Britain took second place aboard Everest S. James and France’s Pierre Durand and Jappeloup took third.

Click here or on the video link below to Conrad Homfeld and Abdullah at the the 1985 World Cup Final in Berlin!

Leslie Burr Lenehan & McLain receive their trophy at the 1986 World Cup Final in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Leslie Burr Lenehan & McLain receive their trophy at the 1986 World Cup Final in Gothenburg, Sweden.

It was good fortune for the US again in Gothenburg in 1986, as Leslie Burr Lenehan became the second woman to win the World Cup Final. As her female predecessor Smith did four years earlier in the same city, Lenehan and her horse McLain won the title with a score of zero faults, ahead of Canada’s Ian Millar and Big Ben, who later would become the first  rider to win back-to-back World Cup titles in 1988 and 1989. Conrad Homfeld made his third appearance in the top three, taking third place with May Be.

The US claimed success yet again at the 1987 Final in Paris, taking two of the top three spots. Katharine Burdsall, a former student of Melanie Smith, copied her mentor and rose to victory aboard The Natural, the horse she rode on the US’s Gold Medal team at the World Championships a year earlier. France’s Philippe Rozier and Malesan Jiva took second place while US rider Lisa Jacquin and For The Moment rounded out the top three.

Princess Anne presents Katharine Burdsall & The Natural with their trophy after winning the 1987 World Cup Final in Paris, France.

Princess Anne presents Katharine Burdsall & The Natural with their trophy after winning the 1987 World Cup Final in Paris, France.

Following that incredible run of seven titles in nine years in the 1980s, it would be 25 years before the US reclaimed the World Cup title. Rich Fellers and his chestnut stallion Flexible broke the spell, reclaiming the title in s’Hertogenbosch in 2012, followed by a second consecutive US win by Beezie Madden and Simon in Gothenburg in 2013.

While there have been many impressive performances in the World Cup Final over the years, no streaks have matched what the US did in the 1980s. With the world’s best horses and riders competing, it is impossible to predict what will happen in a Final, but I can guarantee one thing – this year’s Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final (as well as the Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ Dressage Final) in Las Vegas will be amazing and, in some way, history will be made. Tickets are selling fast, so if you haven’t booked yours yet, I recommend that you do so now; I know you don’t want to miss out!

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