24 May 2018
Spencer Smith to Make Team USA Debut at CSIO5* Nations Cup of Rome
“My goal is to jump on a Nations Cup team for sure. Hopefully by the end of the year, maybe. If there is a Nations Cup I can be a part of—that is what I really want to do.” Little did Spencer Smith know that less than two weeks after he spoke those words in a friendly interview, he would receive the call-up to represent his country in one of the world’s most prestigious Nations Cup competitions. Twenty-one-year-old Smith will compete in the CSIO5* FEI Nations Cup of Rome on Friday, marking his first appearance on a USA team. Veteran riders Kent Farrington and Lauren Hough were planned to ride on the team, but withdrew at the last minute. The young American rider, whose parents are well-known trainers Ken and Emily Smith, is in the middle of a planned semester away from his studies at University of Miami, Florida. With the opportunity to work for Eric Lamaze from his European base at Ecurie D’Ecaussines in Belgium, Smith relocated with Torrey Pines Stable at the end of this past winter season. Smith has been competing at three and four star shows in Europe this spring as he juggles riding duties with his job working for Eric Lamaze’s Torrey Pines Stables. Over the winter season in Wellington, he made headlines when he picked up his first, career Grand Prix victory in the CSI3* Horseware Grand Prix with the 13-year-old Selle Francias gelding Theodore Mancais (Kashmir Van Schuttershof). Smith likely didn’t expect that win any more than he expected to wear the Team USA colors this weekend. Now, on the eve of his debut Nations Cup appearance, get to know America’s newest breakout rider. Q: When did you start training with Eric Lamaze? How did that connection come about? That connection came about through my parents. When I was a junior, Eric sent a lot of horses to me. When they were finished with the big sport they would come to me, and my parents would sell them, but in the meantime I would ride them and be able to jump the high juniors, the U25 and classes like that. He sent me horses from when I was 14, up until now. He’s really helped me a lot. Two years ago, Eric called and invited me to ride a horse in Gijon in the five star in Spain. That was my first show really with him, and that’s how it all started. It was a big shock, but it was awesome. Q: And now that you’re working for Eric full time in Europe, what do your days look like? At the beginning of the week I come back from the show, I ride all morning. We school horses, or jump horses that didn’t go to the show, and then in the afternoons I drive all over the place and scout horses and try a bunch of horses. There are literally four small shows within 30 minutes of where I am in Belgium, all the time. So no matter what, I can always be looking at horses. A lot of them are not tapped, whereas in America, everything is covered, nothing slides through a crack. And here there are still some cracks. So I do that every afternoon basically until about Wednesday and Thursday every week, depending on the show. Then I leave to the show, and show my horses and Eric’s horses. And then I come back and do it all again. Q: What kind of horses do you look for, and what’s the toughest part of scouting? I’ve found a bunch of equitation horses that we’ve sold to the States. We have some partners in Germany that we do a lot together and they find and scout for me. We are starting to get more into young jumpers, finding some jumpers that are prospects for the big classes. The hardest part is just being at the right place at the right time and noticing something a bit different. That’s the biggest thing; being able to look through whatever is going on and seeing the picture that it will be in the end, which I can’t say that I really know how to do, but I’m working on it. Q: What’s it like working with Eric Lamaze? It’s awesome. It’s an opportunity that I think that very, very few people ever get to do and will ever get to do. I’m super lucky that he let me be a part of his team. In everything Eric says, you just keep your ears open because you’re learning something all the time, 100% of the time. You pick up on this or that, he’ll tell you one little thing and it’s like, wow, it’s crazy. Basically being with someone who is at the absolute top of the sport, getting to see the sport from their perspective is really cool. Q: Can you pinpoint one thing in particular that’s changed in your riding since you went to work for Eric? He’s made me a change a lot of my riding. He’s made me more competitive for sure, and hungrier to go fast and try. He never gets mad at me if I mess up trying. As long as I’m trying to win, or trying to go for it, he doesn’t discourage me if I have a rail in a jumpoff from going fast. He wants me to do try, it doesn’t matter about the rail. It’s all about the trying and competitiveness. Q: Can you describe your development with that Theodore Manicais since you started riding him last fall? It’s a horse that Eric found. Eric had gotten me into the Spruce Meadows Masters [in 2017], so I was super excited. He got Theodore in the week that we were flying to Canada and I jumped it at home. Eric said that I should just bring it to the show because it’s nice to have another horse there. So I brought it there and jumped the first day in the 1.50m, he had the last down— which was my fault. And then he jumped in the 1.50m the day after and was clear, and jumped the 1.60m the next day and was 11th, and it just kind of took off from there. He’s an absolutely unreal horse. For sure, he’s the best horse I’ve ever had, no question. Q: What are some of your goals [other than jumping a Nations Cup!] I just want to stay consistent at the higher level, jumping these international grand prix classes. And just try to be competitive and get some results. Q: What are some of the skills you’re learning to help achieve your goals? When I really started doing real grands prix two three years ago, I’d go in the ring and be super tense. I’d really want to jump clear, and I was just nervous. You’re not thinking your way around the course yet. Now, I’m able to go into the ring, and I can think my way through it. The more you can go in and do it, the more you’re able to think your way around the course instead of just riding and attacking whatever you see. Being able to pass up distances and choose, while you’re on course, what’s going to work later in the course, and being able to see a bunch of steps ahead is what I’m starting to learn how to do. Q: What advice would you give to someone your age or younger who wants to get to where you are? Any way that you can, try to make a connection with someone who can bring you to the next level or who is willing to help you. If you have someone, like I do, then you’re already a step ahead but if you don’t, you have to find someone. I’m lucky because my parents make sure I always have opportunities. Without them I would really have nothing. It’s just about working hard and being picked up by the right people. Keeping your head down and working hard but still being able to talk to people and ask for advice and ask for help. Not being afraid to ask for advice is always super important.
21 May 2018
New Potential: Darragh Kenny & Balou Du Reventon
Darragh Kenny is very arguably the most talented rider in the sport at forging winning connections with brand new horses. He’s done it with Imothep, with Prof De La Roque, with Red Star D’Argent and Sans Souci Z. And now, he’s done it with his newest partner, Balou Du Reventon (Cornet Obolensky). After competing together for just two weeks, they picked up the biggest prize of the Kentucky Spring CSI3* at the Kentucky Horse Park. But the Irish rider is modest when this fact is pointed out; ‘’It is just because I’ve ridden so many different horses in my life, and I’ve had to figure them out quite quickly,” he says. “I think that’s the main reason.” Kenny’s jumpoff in this past Saturday’s $131 Mary Rena Grand Prix CSI3* in Lexington, Kentucky, USA shows a winning pair at the very beginning of their partnership. See the jumpoff here. Balou Du Reventon was formerly seen with Jorge Matte of Chile and Russia’s Ljubov Kochetova. With the stallion clearing every fence by miles (he once won a CSI4* Grand Prix with Kochetova as the only clear round with a time fault), he spends extra time in the air that Kenny hopes to hone when he heads to Europe with his top horses this week. “He’s not a very difficult horse at all – he’s a super horse, very careful, very easy to ride, very naturally talented so it’s easy,” Kenny says. “That’s the last few I’ve done this on, they have all been really superstar horses so it’s worked out well.” Kenny had his eye on Balou Du Reventon for several years, and feels lucky that he now has the stallion to take to the top levels, thanks to owners Kenny and Ann Thompson. “I’ve known the horse probably for three or four years now. I always thought he was an incredible horse,” Kenny says. “I just have to work and get him more confident jumping across the oxers. Sometimes he gets a little too over careful and gets too high. He just needs to relax a bit and jump a little more across. I think for sure that will come in another few months time. Kenny is well set up to make a serious bid for Team Ireland’s Tryon 2018 World Equestrian Games squad. The team will be chosen later this summer. Kenny competed in his first senior team championships at 2014 Caen, where he finished in the top 12. Now, with four more years of experience under his belt, the World No. 58 is hoping to make a return trip to WEG if all goes well this summer. Not only does he have Balou Du Reventon, he also has quickly made a winning team with Babalou 51 (Balou Du Rouet), the mare that took Australia’s Matt Williams to the 2016 Olympic Games, and that was also successful with Todd Minikus. Kenny won the previous week’s CSI3* Kentucky grand prix with the mare. Kenny’s mount Go Easy De Muze (Vigo D’Arsouilles) is stepping back up to competition after spending time on the sidelines, and he also has Cassini Z, with whom he will save for the LGCT and GCL events that he focuses on. “It couldn’t have gone better for the two weeks,” says Kenny of his spring tour in Kentucky. “It’s the first time I’ve actually ever shown in Kentucky at the outdoor shows before. It worked out to be very successful; myself and Hardin Towell have started a business together, so we wanted to come here and show a little bit. He’s going to base in Kentucky and I’m going to go to Europe, and we’re going to do both locations together.” Kenny has his own farm in Holland, near Peelbergen, and a big business that Kenny has been running successfully on two continents for several years now. “I’m very lucky with the team of people I have, that I can just fly here and get on the horses and go. The most important thing is to have a great team of people around you, and I’m very lucky at the moment that we have a super team of staff, flat riders and trainers and everything. It’s working out great.” Photo ©Barre Dukes/Phelps Sports
18 May 2018
Development of the Sport Pt2: Six Stars & Nations Cups
The ideas that were brought up at Cesar Hirsch’s “Jumping Into the Future” forum in Wellington, Florida in March continue to take hold and inspire more discussion for improvement of show jumping in North America. We asked Hirsch about the follow up to several of the topics that are forefront in the sport today. As show jumping grows into a busier and busier calendar, with CSI5* events all but common throughout the entire year, there is the notion that a new, higher rating may emerge. “I do think that ‘six star’ events could happen in the near future,” Hirsch said. “Anyone can look at the very top events in the world and see how they stand out compared to others who are given five stars purely based on the prize money denomination, which is how shows are currently rated. Other top sports such as tennis and golf have Grand Slam or Major events.” Athletes pinpoint the standout events when they plan their calendar, but when there is a CSI5* every week of the spring and summer, the events start to blur together, making it harder to stand out. “I think we have come to a point now where there has to be another category,” Mclain Ward said during the March forum. “I don’t think that a five star every week is of the same level. I think there could be a super league. You take four or six major events a year for the top horses and athletes to pinpoint.” While the idea of a new “super league” (separate from what used to be called the Super League of Nations Cups) has potential, Hirsch believes it is still far off in the future. There is virtually no disagreement about preserving the Nations Cup series. Rather, discussion is ongoing about enhancing the value of the Nations Cup, something that is lost in certain parts of the world. Anyone who has witnessed the Nations Cup of Aachen and also, the Nations Cup of Wellington, knows that the two competitions are polar opposites in energy level and excitement. “With our panel being from North and South America, we do see the need to strengthen and create more events,” Hirsch said. “I think that show managers, National Federations, and media are all responsible to make these more special events. There are only four Nations Cups in North America/Mexico. They need to be special and a big deal. The panel was emphasizing that Nations Cups need to remain, and they need to be important. They are the centerpiece of why we are an Olympic sport.” Introducing more, lower level Nations Cups to develop riders and gain experience in team competitions is a possibility. “We all know that CSIOs are very costly, there fore the possibility of having a lower level CSIO during a CSIO5* was discussed (now that is not allowed),” said Hirsch. It would be similar to the CSI5* and 2* the same week. This will bring the cost down and give the opportunity for developing riders to feel the excitement of top-level competitions.” Since the winter season ended in Wellington, the confluence of big names and big stakeholders in the sport scatter towards competitions in different parts of the world. But there is a spark that this forum ignited. In a quickly moving sport, it is essential to keep the flame of progress moving forward.
09 April 2018
Nationality Change for a Greater Goal: Team Israel
The arc of Team Israel reached a new high over the winter, when riders representing the country rode to numerous successes in Wellington, Florida, USA at the Winter Equestrian Festival. Daniel Bluman placed in every CSI grand prix of the season, and won two, CSI5* grands prix with two different mounts. Danielle Goldstein also won a CSI5* grand prix at WEF, marking unprecedented results under the flag of Israel (Bluman is pictured above at left, Goldstein at right.) Several years ago, both riders switched nationalities (from Colombia and the USA, respectively) to represent Israel, and with more riders following suit, Israel is quickly coming together to perhaps become the next show jumping team to make an impact on the world stage. At this young stage, the team does not have a big sponsor standing behind them, and Israel has never competed as a show jumping team at an Olympics, European, or World Championship. This year, at least one of those things will change. Under FEI requirements, riders who switch nationalities must wait two years before they represent their nation in team competition, and for that reason, the upcoming Longines FEI World Equestrian Games Tryon will mark the first time that Team Israel Show Jumping will have enough qualified riders to fit that requirement, and appear in international team competition. Even with two strong riders such as Bluman and Goldstein to count on, performing strongly at WEG going to be a big ask. Team Israel chef d’equipe Pascal Levy is fully cognizant of the challenge, but the Normandy, France-based coach is looking forward to what the year will bring. Levy coaches private clients of many nationalities, including Kristaps Neretnieks of Latvia, who will compete at this week’s FEI World Cup Jumping Final; an individual WEG contender from South Africa, and riders harking from Russia and other nations. Several years ago, he expressed interest to a few of his contacts in training a small, up and coming country. He received a call from Michel Finquel, CEO of GPA Helmets, and the Israel show jumping team director. Finquel, who has long been involved with the Israeli Equestrian Federation was working to develop Team Israel, and Levy has been involved ever since. “It’s really just begun this year,” Levy said about the formation of a team. “And even though we will not be able to all be together so much before the World Games, the atmosphere between the riders is really quite nice, with everyone giving support on WhatsApp, sharing the results and following each other. Now we are growing, and looking for sponsors to achieve the Olympic dream!” With the Olympics still two years away, the 2018 WEG will be an interesting first step to read the temperature of this new team. In addition to Bluman and Goldstein, Dan Kramer, Alberto Michan, Elad Yaniv, Theodore Boris and Simon Nizri are among the riders representing Israel that Levy will be able to consider for the team for Tryon. With their home bases in Europe, Florida and California, it’s truly a wide-ranging group of riders, who are mounted on horses at different levels and age experiences. “Israel began to be considered as a real show jumping country last year, with the fantastic European Championships that Danielle Goldstein had [riding as an individual, she placed 9th.] And I think the next few years will be totally different and bigger,” Levy said. “We also have two young French-born riders, Robin Muhr and Tressy Murh who will mostly likely represent Israel at the European Young Rider Championship this year, they are good riders and will be good for the future.” Why do riders change nationality? Most of the time (and Bluman is an exception to this, having already been to two Olympics for Colombia), it stems from the desire to have a better chance to compete on a bigger level, when you’re from a nation that has many strong riders before you. While Israel is not unique in attracting riders who have changed nationality, Levy notes that while there is motivation to gain an edge to compete internationally, all the riders who have changed flags to Israel share a common thread beyond just being able to show. Their sentiment for Israel is strong, and they are all Jewish. “When a team is built all from money, as we have seen with some countries, it’s not so good for the sport, but when it’s built from a sentimental motivation, it is very good for the sport,” Levy says. Israel regularly makes headlines in world politics at a level that concerns the whole world. So can an Israeli show jumping team help bring people together? In a manner of sport, for sure it can, says Levy. “There’s a big way that sport can bring people together. It’s the main goal of the Olympics, after all, to bring people together and have world peace. If Israel is part of that, it will be good for the sport.” “We may come from different places, but we ride for what brings us all together,” reads the Team Israel Show Jumping motto. It’s a valiant sentiment worth following, as the Israeli riders from different places gain individual strength, and prepare to come together under one flag at WEG 2018.
09 April 2018
World Cup Rider Jamie Barge is Ready for Paris
Jamie Barge is proof that the horse is a great equalizer. To watch her ride capably over the sport’s most advanced tracks, one would never know that she overcomes a unique challenge every time she enters the ring. The 32-year-old rider from the United States and her horse Luebbo are among the roster of qualified athletes, which include 11 Americans, competing in this week’s Longines FEI World Cup Jumping Final at AccorHotels Arena in Paris, France. “Luebbo is unique in many ways!” Barge says about the 13-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Lord Pezi x Stakkato) with a big personality that she found through Germany’s Eva Bitter in 2014. “He’s top careful and he loves to jump. He always tries hard and has the biggest heart for this sport.” Last year, he proved it when he and Barge made their World Cup Final debut on home turf in Omaha, Nebraska. They finished inside the top 30. On this year’s path to Paris, Barge added a few extra stops into her winter season schedule that have helped pave the way with their successes. Normally based out of Southern California, Barge began her season where most West Coasters do, at the HITS Coachella Desert Circuit in Thermal, California. HITS Coachelle hosts the last FEI World Cup Qualifying class of the North American Western Sub-League during its one week of CSI competition. Barge and Luebbo jumped there, and then went on to Florida, where they also picked up points in the World Cup Qualifier at Live Oak International in Florida (pictured above). Then it was on to the nationally rated $1 Million Grand Prix at HITS Ocala, with a super double clear performance that earned her the 4th placed-prize check of $100,000. “I was very happy that he jumped clean and had a positive class [at Ocala],” Barge said. “The prize money is a huge help in helping us get to Europe to prepare for World Cup Finals.” While Barge and Luebbo have experience under their belt jumping the big tracks of a World Cup Final, this year they headed to Europe early, to get in some more practice jumping indoors. They spent several weeks in Germany doing just that. “We don’t have many indoor arenas in California, and it’s a much different feeling than riding outdoors in a big ring,” Barge says. “My plan has been to get Luebbo adjusted to the time change and the cold weather!” Barge counts Eva Bitter among her support team, as well as Marco Kutcher, whom she spent six months training with in Europe a few years ago. Gaby Salick and Alison Robitaille have helped her while stateside. As for that unique challenge: Barge has dealt with extreme hearing loss since her childhood. She is legally deaf. What does that mean in the ring? She cannot hear the starting bell, and instead has to watch the countdown clock to know when to start. But unless you already knew about it, Barge's hearing loss is unnoticeable, and it certainly hasn't held her back. Her support team is always at the rail to relay information, if needed, but once she is going, Barge has said that the hearing loss doesn’t really affect her ride. There are advantages and disadvantages to being able to hear a rail fall behind you. And as noted, the horse doesn’t care much whether you can hear or not. If anything, Barge relies on her horse’s body language reactions even more than the average rider. She rides with above average focus, and it has gotten her all the way to the World Cup Final. While the highlight of her winter season was qualifying for Paris, this week, she will be hoping to make the highlight of her spring an even stronger finish to go home with.