My Week at the World Cup Finals:
I have been looking forward to going to Gothenburg for this year’s World Cup Finals for a while, but the week itself went by very quickly! It was a great experience and a fantastic week for Team USA.
NuNu, Glory (whom I brought to compete in the CSI division held during the World Cup), Craig, Camilla, and I made the trip to Sweden this week. After a busy week at school, I went home to New York to ride for a day and pack. I arrived in Gothenburg on Monday. My mom arrived on Tuesday so she could be there when the show started. The rest of my family, including my aunt and uncle, and my friend Chloe all came later in the week to watch.
The action started on Tuesday with the FEI jog that morning. The judges at the jog recognized Glory (who is a Swedish homebred horse) – he was definitely on home territory! I then flatted NuNu and Glory, who both felt good. That afternoon we had a team meeting with team coach Robert Ridland. He was very optimistic about the week ahead, both for the more experienced riders and the first-timers, including Reed Kessler, Lucy Davis, Karl Cook, and me. Lucy and I hadn’t seen each other since showing at Valkensvaard last year, so it was great to be reunited.
We started showing on Wednesday. NuNu jumped clear in his 1.40 warm-up class, and Glory jumped well in the 1.45 power-speed class (we had 4 faults in the speed phase, my error). Later that day, we went to a Rider’s Meeting, where the officials discussed all the rules regarding the week of competition ahead. That night, we went to a Welcome Reception, where they drew the order for the first round on the World Cup. I was happy to go 34th.
The first round of the World Cup, the speed leg, took place on Thursday. The course was set at 1.50. There were a few options regarding striding, and there was an inside turn option to a Swedish oxer, followed by a double vertical one-stride, and then another inside-turn. The course started off nicely, with an oxer off the turn and a triple bar across the diagonal, but the last line, a vertical-oxer double off a short turn, to the tall Rolex vertical, ended up being one of the trickier parts on course. I knew we had a good plan, but I definitely had butterflies in my stomach! NuNu warmed up well, we walked down the long ramp, and as soon as I knew it we were being announced to enter the arena. The crowds in Gothenburg were electric. The stadium was completely sold-out, and as we entered to loud applause, I made sure to pet NuNu on the neck and take a deep breath before picking up a gallop. NuNu jumped great, and we were prompt throughout the course. I think we started off a little conservatively from fence 1 to 2 to 3, but after that we picked up the pace and followed the plan. He did the inside-turn great to the Swedish oxer, slipped right inside after the double verticals, and jumped the last line great. We galloped through the finish timers, he let out a proud, playful buck, and we had gone clear in our first round! We ended up 9th out of the 39 starters the first day. I was thrilled! To top it off, the week started off with a win for USA, brought home by Beezie Madden and Simon. McLain also had a fantastic round on Super Trooper, and though they had a late rail on course, their fast speed landed them in 10th.
The second day of the World Cup, Friday, was a Jump-Off format. The course was a lot bigger than Thursday. Because the order of the class was the reverse of Thursday’s placings, McLain and I went back-to-back in the order. While warming up myself wasn’t exactly ideal, we went over our plan beforehand and I tried to stick with that. The course started off with two careful verticals, and I didn’t establish my pace early enough so we had two early rails. After the second line, we picked up the pace and found our rhythm better, but we ended up with 12 faults. I was a little disappointed with how I rode that class, but I knew what mistakes I needed to correct and with my placings from both days, I was qualified for Sunday’s Final. There were 15 clear in the class, which, given the height of the track, was a testament to the caliber of riders and horses at the competition. McLain, Beezie, and Reed were all in the jump-off. Steve Guerdat and his Olympic champion Nino des Buissonnets took home the win with an amazing jump-off and a ridiculous inside-turn to one vertical.
Saturday was a day-off for the World Cup horses and featured the Gothenburg Prize Grand Prix that night. On Saturday morning, we jogged the horses heading into the final on Sunday. NuNu jogged well, and I flatted him afterward. To my surprise, he was the freshest he had been all week! I was happy that he was feeling good after two big rounds and still energetic for Sunday. I tried to see a little bit of Gothenburg, so Chloe and I decided to take a run outside. Our plan was aborted by freezing rain that hit when we were twenty minutes away from the hotel, and we returned to the hotel soaked!
Glory competed in the Grand Prix that night. It was a sturdy track, and by far the biggest class we had done together. Unfortunately, I screwed up one line, but he was jumping out of his skin! We finished up strongly though, and I felt like I figured out a few things with him on course. Seven horses made the jump-off, including two chestnuts from the USA – the famous Flexible with Rich Fellers and Barron, Lucy’s new Grand Prix horse. The jump-off itself was a riding lesson, as Rolf-Goran Bengtsson (the Swedish crowd favorite), Marcus Ehning, and Ludger Beerbaum delivered faster and faster rounds. Ludger and Chaman won the trophy. The class finished at midnight, and I went right back to the hotel to rest up for the big day ahead.
Sunday morning started with a 1.45 open jumper class that I did with Glory. We went third in the order and had a fast, clear round. We held the lead temporarily until Rolf mastered the course to the delight of the crowd, and Nayel Nassar was a touch faster to take 2nd. We ended up third. I was really happy with how Glory jumped and our progress throughout the week! The prize giving was very exciting, as the sold-out crowd literally stomped their feet in excitement over the Swedish win. Glory was very excited in the victory gallop.
Early that afternoon, the World Cup’s 1st round began. I was expecting the courses to be big, but I was not expecting for so many riders to say it was one of the biggest courses they had ever jumped! The first round was massive – most of the verticals were my height and the oxers were tall and wide. I thought it was a good course for me and NuNu, as it started off with a long-approach to a triple bar, followed by a nice bend to an oxer, and I knew it would be a great place to set my pace for the rest of the round. The course included a very tall vertical to vertical (both planks) one stride, a stout triple combination (oxer – vertical – oxer) and a short three stride (Liverpool oxer to liverpool vertical) to finish. I went sixth in the order, so after walking the course, warmed up, ran back to the ring to watch the first horse go, and then finish up my warm-up. NuNu felt really good, and I made sure that we were getting across the oxers well. Entering the ring, we picked up a good gallop. He flew over the first two jumps and felt ready to go. The second line was a vertical to oxer, either a bending six or seven strides. We planned on staying out for the seven, and I ended getting to the oxer a little too early and had the front rail. He jumped the double verticals great, did the middle of the course super, and flew through the triple combination. I needed to pull it together a little more before heading to the last line, and so we just ticked the Swedish flag plank, but then held it together for the last two jumps. We ended up with a score of 8 faults, but I was really happy with how we handled the course, by far the hardest one we have jumped. There were no clear rounds over the course, with the best score being 4 faults.
The top 20 at that point in the competition make it to the final round. 17 elected to continue, and I went first in the order. The USA was looking good, with Beezie in the lead and McLain standing in 3rd. I promptly walked the course and kept our warm-up short, as NuNu had already jumped a lot. We jumped the course well, and while I could have done parts a little better, I was thrilled with how NuNu handled the challenge. He was fantastic all week. We ended up sixteenth, and I was very excited to bring home a ribbon from my first World Cup Finals.
Anyway, after I was finished with my round, I got to nervously sit next to USA team manager Lizzy Chesson as we watched the remaining Americans. Both Reed and Karl did a great job and ended up in 10th and 11th respectively. Trooper was jumping unbelievably well, especially considering this was his first time competing at this level and that this is his first year competing in big Grand Prixes. He and McLain had four faults in both of Sunday’s rounds, which landed them in fifth overall. When Beezie went into the last round, last to go, all the Americans were holding their breath. Her four fault score meant that she would be jumping off against Steve Guerdat and Nino for the gold medal.
When I went to the World Cup last year as an observer, I sat next to Lizzy Chesson when Nino jumped off against Flexible, and this was a little deja-vu. Last year, Nino had been clear and fast, but Flexible was just a touch faster. This year, it looked like Steve Guerdat wanted to leave nothing to chance, and he was lightening fast but had the last two rails down. Beezie could have a rail and still win, but that didn’t mean we weren’t all holding our breaths. She rode with unbelievable poise and showed why she is such a role model to aspiring riders like myself. It was great for the USA to bring home the win for the second year in a row.
My first time at the World Cup Finals was a great experience. I felt like NuNu, Glory, and I improved at the big courses in an indoor arena throughout the week. I was very happy with Glory’s last round and that NuNu and I jumped a clear round in the final and brought home a ribbon from Sweden. We still have a lot of progress to make, and I am excited to build on this in the future. The great performances by all the US riders made the week even better. I was proud to be part of the USA contingent!
After a week of horses galore, I flew back to Boston Sunday night. I had lots of schoolwork to catch on up after missing all of last week – back to reality! I am at focusing on school until I finish up with my final exams in the next few weeks, but I will be showing a little bit at Old Salem.