By US Equestrian Communications Department
The NetJets U.S. Jumping Team delivered an impressive third-place finish in the FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ of Sweden CSIO5* at the Falsterbo Horse Show on Friday afternoon in front of an enthusiastic crowd. Led by Chef d’Equipe Robert Ridland, the team jumped to a final total of eight faults over two rounds, finishing just a single rail behind first-place Switzerland’s four faults. Great Britain took second place on eight faults but finished ahead of the U.S. team based on the time differential.
“I’ve got one excited group of riders,” Ridland said. “We’re proud of their effort. To bring a team over here without a veteran and to get experience and a podium finish, that’s what we do it for. We had Switzerland in our sights the whole time. I’ve always advocated the 3-2 system where it’s a combination of veterans and up-and-coming riders. We didn’t have a veteran this time and they acted like they were all veterans.”
Trailblazers for the team, Natalie Dean (Palo Alto, Calif.) and Acota M set the tone with an impressive clear round for the team after the U.S. drew eighth in the starting order. Riding in their first CSIO5* Nations Cup representing the U.S., Alise Oken (Charlotte, N.C.) and Gelvera answered with a second consecutive clear round, putting the U.S. in a four-way tie for first with Switzerland, Belgium, and the Netherlands on zero penalties through two rotations. The track was built by Frank Rothenberger (GER) and tested combinations throughout the day.
Alessandra Volpi (Woodside, Calif.) and Berlinda rode third in the order and dropped two rails for a total of eight faults after their first go around the track. Closing the first round were Karl Cook (Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.) and Kalinka van’t Zorgvliet, the anchor combination for the U.S. Needing a clear to keep pace with Switzerland on top of the leaderboard, the pair were nearly perfect but nudged the pesky plank to add four faults, with the team set to enter the second round tied for second on four faults with the Netherlands and narrowly behind Switzerland’s first-round score of zero.
Beginning the team’s second round efforts, Dean and Acota M, a 2013 Oldenburg mare owned by Marigold Sporthorses, LLC and groomed by Laura Regan, kept the pressure on Switzerland with a careful clear round, securing the only double-clear for the U.S., giving the team momentum ahead of the Netherlands with three combinations to go.
“Success and experience builds on itself,” Ridland said of Dean. “She had a very successful week at [CHIO] Aachen, which gave her incredible confidence coming here. When we bring these teams over with our riders of the future, the most important part of that is to make sure our chances of success are great. They all came in and rode against these foreign, veteran teams with confidence.”
Oken and Gelvera, a 2011 Dutch Warmblood mare owned by Hi Hopes Farm, LLC. and groomed by Barbara Macinska and Gail Shepard, rode to another solid round, finishing with just one rail and four total faults on the day. Volpi and Berlinda, her own 2008 Warmblood mare groomed by Emmanuelle Malboeuf, added four vaults early in their round in what was otherwise an efficient effort around the 1.60m track.
Both Oken and Volpi most recently were members of the U.S. Developing Jumping Team Tour earlier this summer in CSIO3* competition in Denmark and Norway, a key opportunity in the pathway structure.
“You can’t say enough, especially in a situation like this, about how the pathway works,” Ridland continued. “You don’t just jump into a 5* without that kind of experience and being able to learn from Anne Kursinski and those 3* experiences is what gave [Oken and Volpi] the confidence and ability to come here and do what they did today. It’s vitally important we continue the program in this way because these are the results that happen when you have a program giving opportunities that lead to performance.”
With the team sitting tied for second with Great Britain on eight faults and just four faults behind first-place Switzerland, Cook and Kalinka van’t Zorgvliet, a 2010 Belgian Warmblood mare owned by Signe Ostby and groomed by Brooke Belden, returned for an important final anchor round. The pair more than answered, producing a clear to keep the pressure on Switzerland. The Swiss needed a clear round from Martin Fuchs and Conner Jei to avoid a jump-off, and delivered, cementing the third-place finish for the U.S.
“You plan your strategy for the first round and when it works, you stick to it,” explained Ridland. “It’s very gratifying when the plan works like that. In any sport, there are going to be bumps in the road when the rookies and younger players hit the big leagues. It’s like calling up the ballplayers from the Minor Leagues to the [New York] Yankees or the [Los Angeles] Dodgers with the bright lights and the big city—but if you’ve had good preparation, it’s no different than any other sport. We felt all of them were very prepared for this, so the result is not a surprise to us.”