In the 18-year history of the Nations Cup at the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF), there had only been one jump-off to determine the gold medal. On Saturday, March 2, 2019, another jump-off took place and garnered the United States of America their seventh victory in the history of the class. The team, consisting of Wilton Porter, Beezie Madden, Adrienne Sternlicht, McLain Ward, and Chef d’Equipe Robert Ridland, took the gold medal in the $150,000 Nations Cup CSIO4*, one of the highlight events of week 8 of WEF.
The eighth week of competition at WEF concludes on Sunday, March 3, with the $209,000 CSIO4* Grand Prix, presented by Lugano Diamonds at 1 p.m. WEF hosts hunter, jumper, and equitation competition until March 31 and offers more than $9 million in prize money.
Saturday’s Nations Cup consisted of two rounds over a course set by Steve Stephens (USA). Teams of four represented the nations of Argentina (the exception, which had three riders), Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Israel, Ireland, Mexico, the United States, and Venezuela. After the first round, each team dropped their highest score. In the second round, the top six teams returned in order of highest to lowest total faults. The winner was determined by the lowest total of each team’s top three riders from each round.
The six teams that returned for the second round in order from most faults to least were Mexico, Colombia, Israel, Ireland, Canada, and USA.
The winning nation was represented by Porter on Caletto Cabana, owned by Sleepy P Ranch LLC, Madden on Abigail Wexner’s Chic Hin D Hyrencourt, Sternlicht riding Toulago for Starlight Farms 1 LLC, and Ward on the Beechwood Stables LLC-owned mount, Contagious.
The U.S. team led in the first round with a four-fault total, but they were tied with Canada and Ireland. Ward and Contagious were the pathfinders, putting in a clear in the first round but dropping the back rail at the final oxer in the second round.
“My horse was a little nervous and needed a little bit of hand-holding,” said Ward. “I thought he jumped a much better round in the second round, and I think I thought it was done and just took it a bit for granted. He’s not really gone two rounds like that before in one evening.”
Porter, riding in his first senior Nations Cup competition, piloted Caletto Cabana, a 12-year-old Holsteiner gelding by Cassini I, to double clear rounds.
“I’m very excited to say the least,” said Porter. “I’m honored to have been able to ride with three riders who have gold medals in senior championships. That’s a pretty big honor for me, so I definitely felt like the rookie coming into it, but I have a great horse and he gave me a lot of confidence to get the job done tonight.”
Sternlicht and Toulago had nine faults in the opening round and contributed four faults in the second. “I heavily relied on my teammates tonight for our win so I’m very grateful to them,” said Sternlicht. “My horse is kind of a steady eddy. He’s so reliable. I always know what I’m going to get from him. That being said he was unexpectedly spooky at the water tonight. It’s definitely something I have to address, but again I was really happy with my horse and the way he jumped the rest of the course. I’m grateful for my teammates putting in super performances.”
As the anchor, Madden and her mount had four faults in the first round and clinched the all-important clear in the second round to take the U.S. into a jump-off with Ireland as both teams ended the two rounds with eight total faults.
“I was hoping for a double clear,” said Madden. “He was a little wound up with the atmosphere tonight for the first round and didn’t have the best warm-up. I felt like he was intense the first round, and I just tried to keep it more relaxed the second round; there were less horses out there warming up for the second round. I think he went the way he typically goes for that round.“
In the jump-off, Daniel Coyle and Ariel Grange’s Farona showed fatigue and ended up with 12 faults in 41.80 seconds. Ward and Contagious were able to cruise around clear in 43.69 seconds to secure victory.
“When Robert said there was a jump-off, I actually jumped at the opportunity because I felt he was jumping better each round,” said Ward. “ [The jump-off] was not such a hard job. But I thought it was nice the horse jumped his best round in the third round. I’m excited for all of his owners, and he’s got a great future.”
“This is what we were planning!” said Ridland. “It was a good day.”
Ireland finished second with a team of four riders competing on horses that had never been in a Nations Cup competition before. Coyle, along with Lorcan Gallagher and Dacantos Group’s Hunters Conlypso II, were double clear. Shane Sweetnam and Spy Coast Farm LLC’s Kirschwasser SCF had four and eight faults, and Paul O’Shea riding Tequestrian Farms LLC’s Imerald Van’t Voorhof contributed four faults in both rounds.
Gallagher, who was competing in only his second senior Nations Cup, stated, “It’s a bittersweet night, but I’m very happy and proud with my own horse tonight and the American team was very competitive. We were all on horses that were competing in a Nations Cup for the first time. Obviously we are disappointed we didn’t get the win when we were that close. Each round, a couple of rails fell that maybe wouldn’t have another day, but it’s great to have this competition here for us and to see what the horses are capable of. [We are] building towards qualifying for Barcelona and for the European Championships to qualify for the Olympics. We still haven’t done that, so that is the main goal.”
Third place went to Canada on 13 total faults, led by the double-clear effort from Nations Cup rookie Nikki Walker riding her own Falco van Spieveld. Beth Underhill and Sandy Lupton’s Count Me In had zero and four faults, Amy Millar and AMMO Investments’s Heros tallied 12 and five faults, and anchor Mario Deslauriers rode Amsterdam 27, owned by Wishing Well Farm LLC, to four and eight faults.
“I thought he was very good in the first round but even better in the second round,” said Walker. “He’s such a reliable horse. I had a lot of fun with him tonight. It was very enjoyable.”