FEI Ocala Longines League of Nations Picture Show

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Learn how the Longines League of Nations qualifier played out at the World Equestrian Center (WEC) in Ocala, March 19-23, 2024.

Stepping out to the rail of the Grand Outdoor Arena, flanked by the towering Equestrian Hotel on one end and grandstands on the other three, everything felt shiny and new at the World Equestrian Center (WEC) last weekend. The Florida sun was shining over the 387-acre facility which was completed in December 2020, but still looked like it might have opened yesterday instead of three years ago.

In addition to the existing hotel, a new hotel called The Riding Academy had opened just as visitors arrived for the Fédération Equestre Internationale’s newest “baby”, the FEI Longines League of Nations show jumping competition. And, the crowds came in throngs to see the WEC host its first really global event.

Ocala League of Nations Recap

On Thursday night of the same week, the $330,000 CSCIO-5* Lugano Diamonds Grand Prix gave the League of Nations nominated riders, and other international stars, a first look at the Grand Outdoor Arena and course designer for the week Alan Wade’s (IRL) tracks in Ocala. While it wasn’t actually part of the League of Nations competition, it was top-level sport and fans packed the stands that night, too.

Swiss riders took the top two spots in the Lugano Grand Prix, with Martin Fuchs and Leone Jei grabbing the win and $108,900 and Steve Geurdat riding Albfuehren’s Iashin Sitte in second. The USA’s Callie Schott finished third with Garant.

The Ocala League of Nations took place on Saturday, March 23, 2024, during a week of top-level international (CSIO-5*) jumper competition at WEC. Forty horse and rider combinations from ten nations came to battle for national pride on U.S. soil for the second leg of this new Nations Cup-style competition: Belgium, Brazil; France; Germany; Great Britain; Ireland; the Netherlands; Sweden; Switzerland, and the USA.

Riders for the U.S. Team were (in the order in which they jumped) Laura Kraut on St. Bride Farm’s 14-year-old Hanoverian gelding Baloutinue, Aaron Vale on Debbie Smith’s 11-year-old Holsteiner gelding Carissimo 25, Kent Farrington on Haity McNerney’s 11-year-old Zangersheide gelding Landon, and McLain Ward on Beechwood Stable’s 16-year-old Holsteiner mare Callas.

After all 40 horse and rider combinations had their turn around the technically challenging first-round course, and each team dropped their lowest score, the USA, Ireland and the Netherlands each sat on zero total faults. But, the total accumulated time over the course of the top three riders from each team was used to break the tie, leaving the USA slightly ahead of Ireland (1.12 seconds faster). The Netherland’s team time was the next one in line, 1.79 seconds slower than the USA.

Moving down the list of first-round scores, Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland, and Brazil followed and qualified to move on to the second round. Unfortunately, Great Britain and Sweden did not have the best day, so they ended up being the two teams who did not jump in round two.

In round two, the Irish Team was not to be denied and they pulled ahead to take the win, adding only five faults (one rail and one time fault). As the awards ceremony began, the skies opened up and rain came down in sheets, but the guys from the Emerald Isle (Darragh Kenny riding Amsterdam 27, Daniel Coyle riding Legacy, Cian O’Connor riding Maurice and Shane Sweetnam riding Otis Blue) didn’t seem to mind a bit as they celebrated on podium.

“I said we wouldn’t [be] the favorites tonight, and it suits us. But, as I said, we always ride better than you think we are,” said Ireland’s Chef d’equipe Michael Blake with a smile in the final press conference.

O’Connor had nothing but praise for the WEC, “It’s one of the great wonders of the world. The facility is fantastic. Sometimes the unsung heroes of our sport are the grooms, and for them, the way they’re looked after… the stables and the level of detail here is second to none. We’re absolutely delighted to be here. A big thanks to Roberts family for building this wonderful facility for us.”

Switzerland’s riders, including FEI World Rankings number 3 Steve Guerdat on Is-Minka, had an exceptional second round with their three riders adding no faults to their total from the first round. They finished as the runners-up in Ocala.

With the exception of Kraut and Baloutinue, who jumped clear in both rounds, the other U.S. riders were not as lucky in round two, with Ward taking down one rail with Callas and Farrington two rails with Landon to end the competition on 12 faults and in third place. (Vale did not jump in round two.)

US Chef d’equipe Robert Ridland commented on his team’s performance after the awards ceremony, “We achieved our objective, which was to be on the podium. Obviously, we’d have rather been where Ireland was, but when you’re dealing with the top 10 teams in the world, third is a valid achievement.”

Check out the complete results from the 2024 FEI Longines League of Nations Ocala.

How the League of Nations Competition Works

The League of Nations is a revamp of sorts of the Nations Cup format (although old-style Nations Cup competitions do also still exist at other shows). In the new Longines League of Nations competition, the top 10 nations from the FEI’s show jumping rankings field four-athlete teams in the first round of competition (with the best three scores from each team from the first round counting toward their score). For the second round, the best eight teams return, this time with three athletes each.

The three returning athletes are selected by each nation’s chef d’equipe. In the second round, they start in reverse order of placing from the first round. The final results are determined by the combined penalties of each team’s three best athlete scores in the first round and all of the team’s three athlete scores in the second round.

The first leg had been hosted by the United Arab Emirates in Abu Dhabi in February, where Germany took the top spot. Two more qualifying legs are planned in St. Gallen, Switzerland, May 30-June 2, and Rotterdam, the Netherlands, June 20-23. The final will be October 3-6 in Barcelona, Spain. For more information on the FEI Longines League of Nations, click here.

All legs of the League of Nations competition may be viewed (both live and on-demand replays) on FEI TV via Clip My Horse (paid subscription required although a free 30-day trial is available). For more information, click here.

View replays of the Ocala competition here.

More About the WEC Venue

The WEC in Ocala is billed as the largest equestrian competition facility in the world. In total, there are 6,000 acres owned by the Roberts family in Ocala, so there is much more space available for future expansion.

Currently there are two main outdoor arenas, a grass outdoor arena, five indoor arenas with spectator seating (and a sixth opening soon), 15 outdoor arenas with more planned, over 20 barns and 3,000 stalls, turnout paddocks, lunging areas, wash racks, tack rooms, a veterinary hospital, feed and bedding suppliers, with polo fields planned for the future.

On the human side, there are the two aforementioned hotels, plus “Home Away From Home” cabins, an RV park, walking trails, a pool and splash pad, a chapel, medical and physical therapy facilities, a spa, dining and shopping. Two multi-use exposition centers are already on the property as well, and a new 80,000-square-foot shopping venue is in the works near the WEC’s main entrance with a projected completion date in 2025. Find more information about the WEC here.

This article about the Ocala Longines League of Nations qualifier is a web exclusive for Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!

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