Horses, Hurricanes, and World-Class Competition
At Tryon 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games
By Margaret Evans
As organizers and competitors stared down the threat of Hurricane Florence, the prestigious FEI World Equestrian Games 2018 (WEG) got underway on September 11.
The WEG is held every four years in the middle of the Olympic cycle and is the go-to event on the global equestrian sporting calendar. This year, it is being hosted at the Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC) in Mill Spring, North Carolina, and the schedule includes the disciplines of jumping, dressage, para-equestrian dressage, eventing, driving, endurance, vaulting, and reining. Also featured are equestrian-focused demonstrations, exhibitions, and the inaugural annual World Equine Expo™ all showcased in the 13-day event ending September 23.
This was to have been a Canadian experience. The honour of hosting the 2018 WEG was awarded to Bromont, Quebec, in 2014 but, in July 2016, the FEI announced that Bromont was pulling out due to financial issues. The bidding was reopened and TIEC was awarded the Games. They had less than two years to get ready for some 800 athletes from 71 countries, bringing over 800 horses, and attracting 500,000 spectators. But the world class facility was up to the task.
The facility has 1,288 permanent stalls on site and it was a refuge for horses evacuated from Hurricane Irma in 2017. Just what Hurricane Florence will serve up is still a nervous wait-and-see, but the majority of horses now stabled on site for WEG have been flown in and they would not be able to be evacuated easily to somewhere else, should transport and road conditions even allow it.
Canada is represented at WEG by a 39-member equestrian team. While WEG is a prestigious event in its own right, it is also a qualifier for Olympic and Paralympic selection for the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo. There is a lot riding on the success of our athletes. Canada’s flag bearer in the opening ceremony was dressage competitor Brittany Fraser-Beaulieu of Saint Bruno, QC.
Alex Luque Moral of Spain on Calandria PH leads after the restart of the endurance ride, and was in the lead when the endurance race was cancelled. Photo: FEI/Martin Dokoupil
Team USA’s youngest rider, 18-year-old Cade McCutcheon, laid down an impressive performance aboard Custom Made Gun, a 7-year-old stallion at the FEI World Equestrian Games™ Tryon 2018. Photo: FEI/Liz Gregg
But even as WEG got underway Wednesday, September 12, following opening ceremonies Tuesday, the 100 mile/160 kilometre endurance competition ran into problems. Some teams were misdirected at the start of the ride and sent down a wrong trail. The competition was stopped at the first vet gate and then restarted as a 120-kilometre championship. Given that there was no possibility of rescheduling the ride for the next day, the officials agreed that the change was the only pragmatic solution. However, why such misdirection occurred is under investigation.
But as the day progressed, the competition was cancelled altogether due to a dangerous combination of heat and humidity coupled with terrible trail conditions following heavy rain in the afternoon. But even as it was cancelled, riders were still out on course with the leader, Spain’s Alex Luque Moral, over halfway around.
British scientist Dr. David Marlin has been working on heat and humidity studies for the FEI since the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, and he provided the Ground Jury with data from the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) index showing a reading of 31. The WBGT is a measure of heat stress in direct sunlight and takes into account temperature, humidity, wind speed, the sun’s angle, and cloud cover. Anything over 25 is monitored extremely closely and all the officials (president of the Ground Jury, technical delegate, president of the Veterinary Commission, and the organizing committee) agreed unanimously that the competition should be cancelled. The decision underscored the FEI Code of Conduct for the welfare of the horse, which states that competitions must not take place in extreme weather conditions that may compromise welfare or safety of the horse.
Needless to say, the unprecedented misdirections in the morning and the cancellation in the afternoon were reported in the media as causing chaos and anger, and understandably many riders were disappointed and furious.
“This was a difficult decision to make, but it was done with horse and athlete welfare in mind as the conditions this afternoon after the rain resulted in extremely high levels of humidity and, combined with rising heat, it was deemed unsafe to continue the ride,” says Thomas Timmons, president of the Veterinary Commission.
Team Reining got underway on September 12, with 60 athletes representing 20 countries. Canada’s team members are Lisa Coulter with Smart Tinseltown, an eight-year-old Quarter Horse Gelding; Dean Brown with Cashin Malibus Chex, an eight-year-old Quarter Horse stallion; and Austin Seelhof with Lipstick Jungle, a ten-year-old Quarter Horse mare. The Canadian Team tied with the Netherlands for ninth place with a total score of 648.0 while the gold medal went to Team USA (681.0), silver went to Team Belgium (671.5), and Team Germany slid to bronze (666.5).
On September 13, Lisa Coulter of Princeton, BC placed 15th in the Reining Second Individual Qualifier. She was the highest placed Canadian individual, earning her a spot in the next round of competitions. She and Smart Tinseltown rode the FEI Pattern 5, earning a score of 214.5.
“These horses are major athletes and we ask a lot of them,” says Coulter. “Smart Tinseltown tried his guts out and ultimately he was just a little tired. I’m still thrilled with his heart and his performance, and he’s a great horse.”
The Reining competition will continue September 15 with the top 20 athletes vying for individual medals.
On September 13, the Canadian Dressage Team earned 11th place in the final day of team competition with a team total score of 206.538 in the Grand Prix. Representing Canada are Megan Lane riding Caravella, a 17-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare; Brittany Fraser-Beaulieu with All In, a 13-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding; Jill Irving riding Degas 12, a 16-year-old Hanoverian gelding; and Belinda Trussell with Tattoo 15, a 15-year-old Westphalian gelding. Germany earned gold with a score of 242.950 followed by the United States taking silver with 233.136, and Great Britain taking bronze, 229.628.
The gold medal-winning German dressage team: Chef d’Equipe Klaus Roeser, Isabell Werth, Dorothee Schneider, Sönke Rothenberger, and Jessica von Bredow-Werndl. Photo: FEI-Martin Dokoupil
Adrienne Lyle, a member of the silver medal-winning US dressage team, riding the 11-year-old stallion, Salvino. Photo: FEI/Liz Gregg
The focus is now on individual dressage competition and the top 30 athletes will go on to compete in the Grand Prix Special on September 14. The 15 top athletes will then have the opportunity to perform their customized choreography in the Grand Prix Freestyle to be held September 16. Watching top dressage riders perform to music on beautifully trained horses is a fan-favourite at all championships and Sunday’s competition is highly anticipated.
September 14 sees the second and final day of the dressage portion of three-day eventing. Watch for coverage of this discipline in our next instalment.
With WEG just a few days into its competition schedule, a social media firestorm has erupted with the lack of adequate accommodation for grooms. According to CEO and co-founder of Tryon, Mark Bellissimo, he underestimated the demand. Grooms were being offered RV’s, cabins/pods, rooms at an off-site hotel that is 35-minute shuttle trip away, or dormitory tents. It has proven to be highly unsatisfactory, especially should the weather seriously deteriorate, and organizers are scrambling to rectify the situation.
The official charity at the WEG is Brooke USA, the sister charity of Brooke headquartered in London, UK. Brooke is the world’s largest international working equine welfare charity, providing free veterinary services in the developing world and improving the lives of horses, donkeys and mules for the people who depend on them to earn a living.
For information on the work of Brooke, the Official Charity of the FEI World Equestrian Games™, click HERE.
Main article photo: A groom trots up Canada’s More Bang For Your Buck, Robert Gielen’s nine-year-old Arabian gelding, during the endurance vet check. Photo: FEI/Martin Dokoupil