Coach Worries About the Outlook for U.S. Show Jumping Internationally
Published: Sunday, July 17, 2011, 12:24 AM Updated: Sunday, July 17, 2011, 9:23 AMhttps://www.facebook.com/plugins/like.php?action=recommend&api_key=127523153942902&channel_url=https%3A%2F%2Fs-static.ak.fbcdn.net%2Fconnect%2Fxd_proxy.php%3Fversion%3D3%23cb%3Df286b101b66a3b8%26origin%3Dhttp%253A%252F%252Fwww.nj.com%252Ff2c3a0f367bc404%26relation%3Dparent.parent%26transport%3Dpostmessage&font=verdana&href=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.nj.com%2Fsports%2Fnjsports%2Findex.ssf%2F2011%2F07%2Fcoach_worries_about_the_outloo.html&layout=standard&locale=en_US&node_type=link&sdk=joey&show_faces=true&width=4400http://platform0.twitter.com/widgets/tweet_button.html?_=1310995308629&count=horizontal&id=twitter_tweet_button_0&lang=en&original_referer=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.nj.com%2Fsports%2Fnjsports%2Findex.ssf%2F2011%2F07%2Fcoach_worries_about_the_outloo.html&text=Coach%20Worries%20About%20the%20Outlook%20for%20U.S.%20Show%20Jumping%20Internationally%20%7C%20NJ.com&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.nj.com%2Fsports%2Fnjsports%2Findex.ssf%2F2011%2F07%2Fcoach_worries_about_the_outloo.html
The chickens are coming home to roost for high-performance American show jumping, as it struggles to stay in the FEI’s (international equestrian federation) 5-star Nations’ Cup League of the sport’s best countries.
The most recent in a series of disappointments for the U.S. team came last week at Aachen, arguably the world’s most prestigious show. On paper what seemed to be a top-notch squad finished sixth of eight in the Cup, with 32 penalties to 12 for the winning Netherlands squad.
Overall this season, the U.S. is seventh of the eight countries. At the end of the series, it could be “relegated” to the less-prestigious Promotional League, which is the fate of the two bottom-ranked squads. In Coach George Morris’ view, that would be a disaster, since he considers the Promotional League “another planet” while the more competitive top league (once known as the Super League) is the centerpiece of his program and excellent preparation for championships such as the Olympics.
The downturn is hard to believe, since the U.S. won team gold at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics. However, the squad did finish a dismal 10th at last year’s Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, failing to qualify for the 2012 Olympics at that competition.
Morris feels a great deal of the problem for U.S. show jumping internationally stems from the decline in standards at home. Specifically at Aachen, however, he noted in an interview, “The conditions were very difficult and I’d say European horses are much more used to that. Not that that is an excuse.”
Cold rain on the night of the class and a grass surface, as opposed to the all-weather rings used for most jumping in the U.S., conspired against several of his riders.
“I’m very, very disappointed. We’ve had a very difficult year. This show, I thought we had a hell of a team and I thought we might win the Nations’ Cup here,” said Morris, one of the most respected figures in the sport globally.
“Our horses in America are so protected with the all-weather footing, the same fences” he said, critiquing a U.S. circuit that he considers less than challenging training for the world scene.
Team member Margie Engle’s mount Indigo, who accumulated 12 penalties in the first round at Aachen and 16 in the second, is an Australian import. Morris doubted the gray gelding had ever been in circumstances like those he encountered in Aachen.
He said the horse was “totally undone,” which led to lack of confidence during his stadium experience.
McLain Ward’s Antares had a “green” mistake to drop a rail in the first round, but the 2010 Dublin grand prix winner then went on to log 16 additional penalties in the second round.
Laura Kraut’s Olympic team gold medal mount, Cedric, faulted at the water in each round. Morris said she had not been able to school the water for the last few weeks because she broke her jaw earlier this summer and didn’t want to push her luck.
The star of the team was Beezie Madden on Coral Reef Via Volo, who had a rail in the first round, then went clean in the second, but that was not enough to change the result.
“When you add all those things up in this company, that’s not going to cut it,” sighed Morris, who has been warning for years that U.S. performance was heading south.
“What’s happened in this country is we’re lowering the standards, from basic riding to basic stable management, from the hunter division to the generic factory horse show,” said Morris, noting show management and course designers often are pressured to lower fences.
“Even Arabia and China and all these other countries are really working at high performance. European countries are getting better and better.”
He’s also disturbed that Americans own horses and parts of syndicated horses that are ridden by people from other countries.
“You have kids coming from Ireland and Brazil, Argentina and Germany. They’re tough. They’ll ride green horses, they’ll ride water stoppers (horses that refuse water jumps). So eventually, they’ll get the customer,” commented Morris, who was on the 1960 silver medal Olympic team.
He said he had a talk with his squad, because “They are the leaders of the next generation. If this is the direction it’s going, I’m very worried about the future for America, with our history of success and our traditions. This is not new, but it is coming more and more to fruition. You can’t go from our national circuit to this circuit. It’s too big a step. There are fewer and fewer people we have to draw from.”
October’s Pan American Games in Mexico offer another chance for the U.S. to qualify for the Olympics with a lesser degree of difficulty.
The other major show jumping countries in this hemisphere, Canada and Brazil, qualified at the WEG, so the U.S. has plenty of latitude to make it. If the team can’t be part of the top three, excluding Canada and Brazil, Morris said, “they shouldn’t go to the Olympics.”
Morris, 73, is retiring after the 2012 Olympics. He thought about retiring after the gold medal in 2008, but explained, “That’s not a very good character reference; to win and then leave.”
While he said he has worked “to the best of my ability to set up this program,” Morris contended, “They definitely need a new contemporary outlook on this whole thing that understands the culture today. Yes, I think it’s time for that, but it’s a difficult fix for whoever takes over. You can get lucky at a show or even a championship, but to fix it on a permanent basis, where you have depth to go to Europe, I think it’s a very big fix.”
ON THE RAIL — Not all the U.S. news from Aachen was bad. Dressage rider Steffen Peters, the Californian who swept all three Grand Prix competitions at the show with Ravel in 2009, came within a whisker of beating WEG gold medal superhorse Totillas and his new rider, Matthias Alexander Rath of Germany, in the Grand Prix Freestyle.
Totillas scored 82.83 percent; Ravel, 82 percent. World Cup champ Adelinde Cornelissen of the Netherlands was third on Jerich Parcival (81.78 percent.) In the Grand Prix and the Grand Prix Special, Totilas was the winner while Peters and Ravel were fifth in each.
On the small tour, Peters won both the Prix St. Georges and Intermediare I on Weltino’s Magic. The Westfalen gelding is the leader in the standings to qualify for the Pan American Games trials.
Germany topped the dressage team competition, even without a drop score when the fourth member of their squad had to withdraw because her horse had a hematoma. Britain finished second, ahead of the Netherlands and the U.S.
In Kentucky, the USEF Adult Saddle Seat Medal Finals went to pediatric gastroenterologist John Stutts. Sixth was a Jerseyan, Sherrill
Ducharme of Lawrenceville, trained by Nealia McCracken.
DERBY DAY — Hunter derbies have put the excitement back into a discipline that too often was ho-hum for all but the most devoted fans, after the era when horses galloped over natural obstacles set on rolling outside courses faded into history.
Those courses were replaced by standard fences on flat, all-weather footing, a competition that too often lacks dynamism.
The derbies, which began in 2007 under the auspices of the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association, are making the hunters fun again for the riders, the horses and the spectators. Natural fences and obstacles, as well as a variety of options, add interest and different ways to win.
“The template is out there for the hunter division being rejuvenated on a national basis, and we got it done here on a local basis as well,” said New Jersey Horse Shows Association President Katie Benson, who hosted a derby that drew 43 entries at her Briarwood Farm in Readington last week.
“I don’t think we realized how much people were searching for more to do in the hunter ring. We knew it got a little dull, but everybody’s excited now,” she observed.
“It’s something new, something different, and it opens up the judging to be more involved than just simply eight fences based on style and performance,” she continued.
“It’s so much more for the exhibitors to have to present, they have to do more on pace control, they have to do more on the horse and his way of going, as far as his readiness for what might come in the ring. It just is better horsemanship, I think, and the judges love it because there’s more to judge.”
The route, designed by Brian Livell with input from Benson, was reminiscent of the old-fashioned outside courses. The ring had manmade streams and a little lake. In the first classic-style round, horses jumped out of the ring to a back field, where they took two more jumps, then had to walk before coming back and clearing the last of the group of 14 fences in the arena.
In the second round, over a handy hunter course that called for a hand gallop, points were added for choosing the higher-option fences at 3-feet, 3-inches, as well as for making bold, tight turns.
The derbies reward those who take a chance, if they pull it off with style. That was the strategy of Briarwood’s come-from-behind winner, Brian Feigus, who was in fifth place with a score of 82 after the first classic-style round with Cherish the Moment.
“I decided I was low enough down that I needed to do anything I possibly could to move up. I wasn’t going to play it safe,” said Feigus, who jumped a lot of the jumps on a tight angle and had confidence in his mount.
“She happens to jump very well, so a lot of judges tend to like her. She’s a classic hunter type, she’s not that typical big warmblood,”
“It’s very hard to miss on her,” explained Feigus, who won the inaugural Briarwood Derby last year on another horse, Tesoro.
In the second round, he got a score of 100; a base of 88 plus four points for high options and eight points for handiness. His total for two rounds was 182, one point ahead of Gitano, ridden by Brendan Weiss of Southampton, Pa.
This was the fourth Derby the Dutchbred Cherish the Moment has won since October. She was imported by Emil Spadone and previously handled by Holly Orlando. The mare belongs to Feigus’ 24-year-old sister, Laura, who rides in the adult amateur division.
Feigus, 21, who turned professional in March and is sponsored by Antares Sellier, works out of his family’s Nevergreen Farm in Howell with his mother, Barbara, who is a trainer.
The leader after the first round with a score of 87 was Holly Mitten, a professional from Bedminster on Isabel, owned by Vicky Sroko. The elegant bay Dutchbred 6-year-old, who Mitten calls “My Rolls-Royce” is eligible pre-green and the show was only the fifth of her short career.
That meant Mitten had no choice but to put in a conservative trip in the second round, where she got a 75, with four points added for the options and three points for her handiness. With her first round, that gave her a total of 169, putting her fourth.
“I needed to be careful because she’s a baby,” said Mitten, “as a young horse, she’s just learning to go straight. Turning back on things is not something I’ve schooled her on a lot yet. But I think she’s going to make a fine derby horse. She’s very brave to the jumps.”
Mitten, a former eventer who was making her derby debut, likes the concept.
“People need to be able to gallop and get out in a field like that. I think hunter derbies are a great idea. It makes the hunters look a little more interesting, though I have a great deal of respect for the hunter riders, because eight perfect jumps scares me more than the grand prix jumps,” she laughed.
The Derby was among the highlights of a day benefitting the Hunterdon Regional Cancer Center. Approximately $30,000 was raised for the facility, where Benson’s late husband, Jack, underwent treatment.
The cancer center had a community outreach tent at the show, with a dermatologist nurse on hand to answer questions. People could give individual donations and receive ribbons to pin on their show coats representing the different types of cancer, such a pink for breast cancer or orange for leukemia.
Discussing why the concept of the show was so successful, Benson said, “Cancer touches many of our lives now, sadly, and people love riding their horses. I think they enjoy putting what they like to do together with helping out.”
Today: Dressage at the Park, Horse Park of N.J., Route 524, Allentown; Eastern Pennsylvania Reining Horse Association Show, Gloucester County Dream Park , 400 Route 130 South, Logan Township; Duncraven Back-to-Back Show, 1300 Trenton-Harbourton Rd., Titusville;Delaware Valley Horsemen’s Association Western and Draft Show, DVHA Showgrounds, Route 604, Sergeantsville; Oxbow Stables Dressage Show, Combined Test and Horse Trials, 39 Orts Rd., Hamburg; Colts Neck Polo, Buck Mills Park, Colts Neck (2 p.m. start, coltsneckpolo.com).
Tuesday: The Ridge at Riverview Show, 3 Wolverton Rd., Asbury.
Wednesday: Applewood Farm Dressage Show and Combined Test, 30 Fox Hill Rd., Califon.
Thursday: Thursday Night Dressage Show, Delaware Valley Horsemen’s Association Showgrounds, Route 604, Sergeantsville.
Friday: Windy Hollow Hunt Dressage Show, Sussex County Fairgrounds, Plains Road, Augusta (through Saturday); Smoke Rise Riding Club Show, 1 Talbot Dr., Kinnelon; United Professional Horsemen’s Association Children’s Benefit Show, Gloucester County Dream Park , 400 Route 130 South, Logan Township (through next Sunday); Delaware Valley Horsemen’s Association Beginner/Camp Show, DVHA Showgrounds, Route 604, Sergeantsville;
Saturday: On Course Riding Academy Show, 210 Beaver Run Rd.., Lafayette (through next Sunday); Bit O’ Woods Farm Dressage Show, 2207 Fostertown Rd., Hainesport; Tinicum Park Polo, 963 River Rd., Erwinna, Pa.(1 mile from New Jersey over the Frenchtown bridge, 2 p.m. start, tinicumpolo.org).
Next Sunday: Delaware Valley Horsemen’s Association Jumper Show, DVHA Showgrounds, Route 604, Sergeantsville; Orange County Dressage Association Show, Sussex County Fairgrounds, Plains Road, Augusta; Centerline Farm Hunter/Equitation Schooling Show, Route 517 (north of the Fairmount light), Tewksbury; Chestnut Ridge Equestrian Center Dressage Show, 260 Millstone Rd., Perrineville; Colts Neck Polo, Buck Mills Park, Colts Neck (2 p.m. start, coltsneckpolo.com).
Nancy Jaffer may be reached at email@example.com.
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