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.
28 March 2018
Billy Raymont to Make World Cup Final Debut With Australian Warmblood Oaks Redwood
Billy Raymont is currently on what could be described as a grand tour of the world. The Australian born and based show jumper has hit several career milestones in the last few months, and is looking ahead to his biggest one yet, in a few weeks time in Paris, France. With an active yard in Queensland, Australia, where he brings along 15-20 horses at a time, teaches and competes, 38-year-old Raymont has, in the past, taken horses across to the USA or Europe for short trips. Last summer, he was paired with a horse that has changed everything, the Australian-bred Oaks Redwood, a 13-year-old warmblood by ASB Conquistador x Verdi owned by the Tucker family. Known as "Basil", he was sent to Raymont to compete, and together the two won a string of World Cup Qualifiers in the Australian League last fall. That put Raymont at the top of the Australian League rankings, and raised his sights as to what could be next. “To be honest, a short conversation with [fellow Australian rider] Jamie Kermond a couple of months before the end of our World Cup Series initiated all this,” Raymont says. “He asked if I was interested in going to the World Cup Final, and that we should maybe plan on going there and work on doing things together.” Australia’s chef d’equipe, Todd Hinde, had already been planning a schedule for Jamie that included the Longines Masters of Hong Kong CSI5*, and Raymont suddenly found himself on the entry list. “I didn’t quite understand what it was like getting into these five star shows, but it ended up that Hong Kong was my first five star show, which was quite crazy,” Raymont said. “It’s been really good to be able to go along with Jamie and Todd. They’ve organized so much, and made it stress free for me.” At Hong Kong in February, Raymont and Oaks Redwood jumped three clear rounds amid the big atmosphere of the glittering indoor competition. “Being around riders who we’ve mostly only watched on TV is a bit crazy, but I felt comfortable enough,” Raymont says. “I had a plan when I went to the Hong Kong Masters that I would just do the medium tour and small classes. My horse went so well the first two days that I was keen to start in the Grand Prix on Sunday, but I decided to stick to my plan. The experience gave me a lot of confidence that my horse was good for it, and that I was too.” With that experience under their belt, Raymont and Oaks Redwood flew onward to Europe, where they are based with Yves Houtacker in Holland, and jumped Peelbergen and Braunschweig. But Raymont wanted one more good indoor experience before April’s World Cup Final. With the indoors season winding down and few opportunities left, Raymont and Hinde called the prestigious Saut Hermés CSI5*, and were granted an entry. Suddenly, Raymont was staring down his first international grand prix under the glass-ceilinged Grand Palais over a notoriously challenging 1.60m track in the tight confines of the grandest of indoors. “Last year, with all of our Australian World Cups being certificates of qualifications for the WEG, they were all pretty full standard, but I was sure a 1.60m grand prix in Europe would be different,” Raymont explains. “We don’t even dream of seeing a 1.60m track indoors in Australia. But it wasn’t hugely different. My horse handled it really well, and I needed that class to really be ready going to the World Cup Final.” In their first international grand prix start, Raymont and Oaks Redwood put in a solid performance at Saut Hermés, with just one fence down. In less than three week’s time, they will return to Paris for the 2018 Longines FEI World Cup Jumping Final. “It’s a bit of a new level for Australian breeding, to have a couple of horses at this level, going to Europe and doing this sort of thing,” Raymont mentions. “It’s nice to give people at home that confidence that our horses are coming over and doing this.” Oaks Redwood has certainly proven his mettle to compete at the very top level in the world, and will have his biggest chance yet at the Final. For now Raymont is focused on a good performance in April, but he’s also found himself penciled in for another big entry—the long list for Team Australia at September’s World Equestrian Games. Raymont will take it step by step, with a bit of optimism that the world’s biggest stage still awaits.