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Nine teams vied for the coveted championship with competitors from the United States of America, Canada, Great Britain, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Ireland, Netherlands, and France.
Team Germany triumphed over very difficult tracks built for the Nations Cup
Calgary, Canada, notorious for wicked weather that turns faster than any speed horse, for once was docile with sunshine, warmth, and blue skies. The grandstands that frame the International Ring were beyond maximum capacity and marked a new record for the Saturday of the Masters Tournament with 80,961 spectators who filled the stands and spilled over onto the grassy banks overlooking the ring.
Each team was made up of four riders (except for France, who only had three riders) and each rider had to complete the same course twice. Faults were tallied up after each round and the lowest score per team is dropped (except for team France who is unable to drop a score due to only having three riders).
To qualify for the second round nations had to finish in the top six. The order of go for the first round is determined by random draw and nations then came back for the second round in reverse order – with the highest ranking team from the first round coming back last.
Post Olympic Excitement
Today was “Holland Day” as it always is on the Saturday of the Spruce Meadows Masters, where the venue celebrates their partnership with the country that delivers actual tons of fresh cut flowers that not only adorn every jump in the International Ring, but also bring even more beauty to the already pristine grounds.
The crowd was very responsive to the show that was put on before them and the Canadian team entered the ring one, by one, to thunderous applause. It was a thrilling event for the fans as many of the competitors, such as Reed Kessler, Eric Lamaze, Tiffany Foster, and Ian Millar were being seen for the first time since London with their Olympic mounts.
Reed Kessler produced the best American ride with a four fault and a clear round
The course was designed by Leopoldo Palacios of Venezuela and was big and technical as would be expected from this class and this venue. The course had fifteen jumping efforts and covered a distance of 560 meters with a time allowed of 84 seconds. The jumps were set to maximum heights and spreads of 1.60m and made use of the sprawling International ring.
Part of the difficulty of the course is the obvious distraction of the crowd, but successful German competitor Phillip Weishaupt remarked that he felt as though his horse Catoki had “no scope at all” when he came into the International ring earlier in the week, because his horse was backed off due to all the fill in the jumps and the different colours of the poles. He joked that “here there are about 25 poles for each jump and in Germany we maybe have two poles per jump.”
Perennial problematic jumps were included such as the bicycle jump, the stonewall, and the wavy Canadian planks – all notorious for being sensitive to gentle rubs and making riders and crowds alike hold their breath. Weishaupt shook his head in disbelief when he recounted having the bicycle jump down.
“When I worked for Ludger Beerbaum he bought a replica of the bicycle jump and I felt quite comfortable to jump it, but it didn’t help!” he explained.
But it wasn’t the bicycle, the wall, the triple combination, or even the open water that proved most problematic, but rather a seemingly straightforward line placed down the centre line of the spacious International Ring.
An ornate looking oxer from the Beijing Olympics was set five strides out to an in-and-out, vertical oxer combination that was set short. Through both the first and second round rider after rider had difficulty jumping the line clear. In total, elements of the combination came down18 times. Canadian team member Eric Lamaze said “there is a thing as a short combination and there is too short.”
Some riders tried jumping jump number six and riding the line in six strides, but it still did not offer up a clean alternative.
“The difficulty of the course is evidenced with there only being eight clear rounds in total out of 36 rounds,” Lamaze’s teammate, Ian Millar reiterated what Lamaze said by adding that the line was “very difficult to do in five or six. Too many horses had serious problems there. I didn’t land in it, but too many horses had problems in it.”
American rider Brianne Goutal was eliminated in the first round when she had difficulty over fence number six and then circled in front of 7a. Upon circling, her horse, Nice de Prissey then refused. Canadian rider Tiffany Foster and her horse Victor took a tumble when he left the ground, but couldn’t quite clear the width of the oxer.
Foster came back for the second round as Canada was qualified, but she then fell off at 7a when Victor twice refused to jump the combination. Millar commented on Foster’s round and how it affects the team by saying “A lot of synergy goes into this exercise today and we get our energy from each other. When one of our riders has difficulty, it doesn’t matter how long we’ve been doing it, it takes away from it.”
Germany, having last won this event in 2007, was leading by so much after the first round that their anchor rider, Christian Ahlmann did not have to ride his horse, Taloubet Z in the second round. The German team finished with 17 faults overall.
The German team was ecstatic with their win
Team Ireland finished in second place with a total of 22 faults, the Netherlands took third place with 25 faults, and Great Britain finished in fourth place with 27 faults. Tied for fifth place was the United States of America and Canada with 28 faults. Belgium, Switzerland, and France did not make it back for the second round. Full results are here.
Competition at Spruce Meadows concludes tomorrow with the $1,000,000 CN International Grand Prix. Tomorrow’s CN will likely mark a long pause for Eric Lamaze who plans to take the rest of the 2012 season off. Lamaze will begin competing again in 2013 at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida, where he plans to rebuild his string of horses and come back in 2014 “at the high end of the sport.”
Lamaze and Derly Chin de Muze picked up just 4 faults over two rounds
Top Three - $300,000 BMO Nations’ Cup
Hans Dieter Dreher, Embassy II
Daniel Deusser, Cornet d Amour
Phillipp Weishaupt, Catoki
Christian Ahlmann, Taloubet Z
Shane Sweetnam, Amaretto D Arco
Jennifer Crooks, SF Uryadi
Andrew Bourns, Roundthorn Madios
Shane Breen, Cos I Can
3. The Netherlands
Jur Vrieling, VDL Bubalu
Leon Thijssen, Tyson
Harrie Smolders, Exquis Walnut De Muze
Jeroen Dubbledam, BMC Quality Time TN