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.
08 April 2018
Edwina Tops-Alexander and California Star in LGCT Grand Prix of Miami Beach CSI5*
This time last year, Edwina Tops Alexander of Australia wore beach clothes to the Grand Prix of Miami Beach and watched from the sidelines. Pregnant at the time, she spend much of the 2017 out of the tack, but on Saturday, April 8, 2018 it was quite a different story, as the mother to Chloe Tops rode to the best finish in this year’s edition of the €300,000 Grand Prix of Miami Beach CSI5* on the Longines Global Champions Tour. Tops Alexander rode California, the 11-year-old KWPN mare (l’Esprit x Libero H) that came to her from Abdel Said in 2016. She won the 2017 Saut Hermès Grand Prix with California, and while the story of the day was that the mare hadn’t been feeling her best the week in Miami, Tops Alexander and her team made the last minute decision to jump the grand prix, and with some help from chiropractor Steve Engle, California bounced back to top form. The week that the LGCT comes to the Miami Beach, Florida, is easily one of the biggest weeks for show jumping in the United States, and as the only international competition featuring in North America this weekend, all eyes were on the horses and riders that came to compete in the elite location. Saturday’s day of jumping was another lengthy day of sport to accommodate the Global Champions League Final, which went up against the start of the Grand Prix. With 60 entries in the single round, CSI5* GCL Final, competition began at 2pm while the sun was still high in the sky. That class was of utmost importance to anyone who wanted to ride in the grand prix, as only the top 35 from the GCL Final qualified for the Grand Prix of Miami Beach. Therefore, the cutoff was right at the 8 faults mark, with Egypt’s Abdel Said coming in onto the start list on 8 eight faults with Jumpy van de Hermitage. However, only five riders managed to go clear in round one of the grand prix. Uliano Vezzani’s track was made even tougher by the change in shadows that cut the ring in half as the sun began to set behind the VIP tent. Riding from full sunshine into shade is always a topic of conversation at Miami Beach, now in its fourth year. But, much like she did in 2016, when she also won the Grand Prix of Miami Beach, that year with Lintea Tequila, Tops Alexander rode last in the jumpoff and came in well under the 2nd placed time of Bassem Mohammed and Gunder for Qatar. Ireland’s Darragh Kenny had the winning time with Cassini Z, but a rail down relegated him to 3rd place. Pieter Devos of Belgium was 4th with Claire Z, and Eduardo Alvarez Aznar of Spain placed 5th with Fidux. “Obviously, being at the end was an easy spot,” Tops Alexander said. “It paid off to be in the position. I think Uliani did an unbelievable job the whole weekend. There were faults everywhere, he’s great at what he does and knows his job very well. With a course like that, you have to ride your own horse and try the best you can.”
03 April 2018
Year Three of the Global Champions League Begins
Amid the busy calendar of international show jumping sport, the Global Champions League is striving to stand out and attract new spectators this year. During its opening leg in Mexico City two weeks ago, the CSI5* rated series debuted with several, noticeable changes that went beyond a new logo; format and scoring have also been tweaked. Those changes are welcome ones for a series that aims to mold show jumping into a faster paced, easy to follow team format. With the addition of two new legs to its annual schedule, the GCL will now land in 17 cities around the world, and include more teams—19—than in previous years. It’s clear that organizers have fined-tuned their product to improve upon such weaknesses as a difficult to follow scoring grid. Most notable are: -Teams now follow each other. Instead of a rotational, Nations Cup-style order that saw the first rider from each team complete their round before the second rotation began, each team enters the arena together and rides one after another. --A quicker result. This makes for an instantly available score that puts the emphasis on the team right away. It’s much easier to follow who is winning and who is losing. And it increases the pressure on each rider to perform, as they have a clearer picture of where they stand when the start bell rings. --A better scoreboard. In past years, a complicated list of rankings filled one side of the screen as the competition unfolded. There was so much data that it was difficult to follow, and hard to read. This year, that information is simplified, with overall placing shown in a larger, easier to read display. - “The new system is more clear, easier to follow, and you could see that things could change so quickly,” said Gregory Wathelet in Mexico. He placed 2nd with his teammate Darragh Kenny as part of the “Paris Panthers” team. -The competition, which still takes place over two days as a single-round speed each day, is also still stacked up before the LGCT Grand Prix on the Saturday. Is it still in danger of being overshadowed by the LGCT Grand Prix, or vice versa? Perhaps. But the ranking points, the prize money, and the caliber of riders are impossible to ignore. The GCL will undoubtedly be something to watch this season. The next leg takes place this weekend in Miami Beach, Miami, USA.
03 April 2018
Year Three of the Global Champions League Begins
Amid the busy calendar of international show jumping sport, the Global Champions League is striving to stand out and attract new spectators this year. During its opening leg in Mexico City two weeks ago, the CSI5* rated series debuted with several, noticeable changes that went beyond a new logo; format and scoring have also been tweaked. Those changes are welcome ones for a series that aims to mold show jumping into a faster paced, easy to follow team format. With the addition of two new legs to its annual schedule, the GCL will now land in 17 cities around the world, and include more teams—19—than in previous years. It’s clear that organizers have fined-tuned their product to improve upon such weaknesses as a difficult to follow scoring grid. Most notable are: -Teams now follow each other. Instead of a rotational, Nations Cup-style order that saw the first rider from each team complete their round before the second rotation began, each team enters the arena together and rides one after another. --A quicker result. This makes for an instantly available score that puts the emphasis on the team right away. It’s much easier to follow who is winning and who is losing. And it increases the pressure on each rider to perform, as they have a clearer picture of where they stand when the start bell rings. --A better scoreboard. In past years, a complicated list of rankings filled one side of the screen as the competition unfolded. There was so much data that it was difficult to follow, and hard to read. This year, that information is simplified, with overall placing shown in a larger, easier to read display. - “The new system is more clear, easier to follow, and you could see that things could change so quickly,” said Gregory Wathelet in Mexico. He placed 2nd with his teammate Darragh Kenny as part of the “Paris Panthers” team. -The competition, which still takes place over two days as a single-round speed each day, is also still stacked up before the LGCT Grand Prix on the Saturday. Is it still in danger of being overshadowed by the LGCT Grand Prix, or vice versa? Perhaps. But the ranking points, the prize money, and the caliber of riders are impossible to ignore. The GCL will undoubtedly be something to watch this season. The next leg takes place this weekend in Miami Beach, Miami, USA.
01 April 2018
California Raises the Level at San Juan Capistrano
The West Coast of the United States added a new, internationally rated week of show jumping to its calendar this past week in San Juan Capistrano, California. Springtime through the summer season in the Western US usually means a complete lack of FEI show jumping classes, but the Blenheim Equisports marked a positive change from March 28 – April 1, 2018 at its Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park location with a new CSI3* week of competition. The biggest class of the week, the $80,000 CSI3* Gold Tour Grand Prix, saw a field of 23 riders from eight countries. The USA’s Keri Potter topped a jumpoff of seven with Bitalica, a 12-year-old AES gelding by Viento Uno W x Lancelot. "The course was definitely a notch up in regards to technicality and height, but the forward distances suited my horse. It was a good track for him," Potter noted. "This is a pretty cool horse. I've been riding him for about a year now. He was pretty scared when I got him, so it's been great to form a relationship with him." The newly formed Founders Club, a group of equestrians who want to raise the level of sport on the West Coast, were recognized in opening ceremonies ahead of the grand prix. Team USA show jumping chef d’equipe Robert Ridland, who is an owner of Blenheim Equisports, was also in attendance and welcomed all in attendance. "The FEI classes have been a big step up for California,” added Potter. It raises the horses and riders to a certain level that we should be at in order to compete with the rest of the world."
01 April 2018
California Raises the Level at San Juan Capistrano
The West Coast of the United States added a new, internationally rated week of show jumping to its calendar this past week in San Juan Capistrano, California. Springtime through the summer season in the Western US usually means a complete lack of FEI show jumping classes, but the Blenheim Equisports marked a positive change from March 28 – April 1, 2018 at its Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park location with a new CSI3* week of competition. The biggest class of the week, the $80,000 CSI3* Gold Tour Grand Prix, saw a field of 23 riders from eight countries. The USA’s Keri Potter topped a jumpoff of seven with Bitalica, a 12-year-old AES gelding by Viento Uno W x Lancelot. "The course was definitely a notch up in regards to technicality and height, but the forward distances suited my horse. It was a good track for him," Potter noted. "This is a pretty cool horse. I've been riding him for about a year now. He was pretty scared when I got him, so it's been great to form a relationship with him." The newly formed Founders Club, a group of equestrians who want to raise the level of sport on the West Coast, were recognized in opening ceremonies ahead of the grand prix. Team USA show jumping chef d’equipe Robert Ridland, who is an owner of Blenheim Equisports, was also in attendance and welcomed all in attendance. "The FEI classes have been a big step up for California,” added Potter. It raises the horses and riders to a certain level that we should be at in order to compete with the rest of the world."