The United States Equestrian Team (USET) placed third in the $75,000 FEI Nations’ Cup, Presented by CN, March 9, in Wellington, Fla.
Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Great Britain, Ireland and the United States battled it out under the lights of the Internationale Arena in front of thousands fans, each cheering for their favorite country. In the first round, six teams were quickly reduced to five when Great Britain withdrew following the elimination of its first rider. Fielding a three-man team, there was no point in the British continuing, as they would not have three scores to count.
As the pathfinder for the United States, Margie Engle was clear all the way until the final fence with Hidden Creek’s Quervo Gold, resulting in four faults. Lauren Hough had trouble at the triple combination, which came early on course at fence four. After having the A element down, Casadora put on the brakes at the B element and refused a second attempt, resulting elimination.
McLain Ward and the 12-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare, Sapphire, left all the rails up over the track, as did Beezie Madden, who rode Abigail Wexner’s 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding, Integrity, in her 42nd Nations’ Cup appearance.
At the end of the first round, the United States had a score of four faults, tying with Ireland for second position. Canada was in the lead with a perfect score of zero, while Argentina was in fourth position with nine faults. Belgium trailed in fifth with 17 faults. As the second round got underway, Belgium decided to call it a night, leaving just four teams in the running.
Engle again posted a four-fault score with Hidden Creek’s Quervo Gold when the pair downed fence five, a dimly lit vertical. An injury to Hough’s hand prevented her from returning in the second round, reducing the United States to just three riders. While Ward again jumped clear, Madden incurred four faults at number six—a plank—to bring the United State’s second round score to eight faults. Added to the four faults incurred in the first round, the team total was 12.
It was not enough to catch Canada or Ireland. In the second round, Mario Deslauriers posted a clear round for Canada, the defending champions, as did 26-year-old Erynn Ballard, who scored a double clear riding Robin van Roosendael. When Eric Lamaze jumped clear aboard Hickstead, incurring only one time fault in the process, the Canadian victory was sealed with a two-round total of one fault. Anchor rider Ian Millar, an eight-time Olympian, had the luxury of sitting out the second round with In Style.
As for the Irish, three team riders, Conor Swail, Cian O’Connor and Darragh Kerins, jumped fault-free to pull ahead of the United States into second place.
Although Canada had been a favorite coming into this year’s edition, a victory was by no means a certainty.
“In this company, I did not expect it to go as smoothly as it did,” said Ian Millar, who was making his 108th Nations’ Cup appearance. “The course designer was conservative, and there were more clears than normal in a Nations’ Cup. But when we got hold of that lead, we weren’t going to let it go!”
Canadian Team chef d’equipe Terrance Millar said, “Certainly it’s a big confidence booster to win here against the U.S.; they are the gold standard. It is an excellent sign for us because they are such a strong team.”
The Irish were also pleased with their placing.
“The Americans are the team to beat and for us to be second tonight will mean a lot back home,” Cian O’Connor noted.
Understandably the American contingent, competing under the guidance of chef d’equipe George Morris, was disappointed with its third place finish especially considering that Engle, Ward and Madden had made up three-quarters of the Silver-medal effort at the 2006 FEI World Equestrian Games.
“Things fell apart a bit for us tonight,” Engle reflected. “My horse was good in the first round until the last jump. Then it was hard to come back in the second round with only three riders.”
Ward added, “Losing Lauren for two rounds basically was tough. It is a bit of a sick feeling right now, but we’ll be back.”