Wellington, FL – Eleven nations brought forth teams to compete in the $150,000 Nations Cup CSIO4*, presented by Premier Equestrian, the highlight event of the eighth week of the 2022 Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) in Wellington, FL. The flag for Ireland was raised at the end of the night as the team, consisting of Andrew Bourns, Cian O’Connor, Eoin McMahon, and Max Wachman, led by Chef d’Equipe Michael Blake, won the fourth Nations Cup for Ireland in the 21-year history of the class at WEF.
Teams from Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, Israel, Mexico, the United States, and Venezuela competed in Round One, and the top eight returned for Round Two under the lights in the International Arena.
Heading into Round Two, Ireland was tied with Canada at zero faults after three clear rounds from McMahon and Beerbaum Stables’s Chakra 9, Wachman and Berlux Z, owned by Coolmore Show Jumping, and Bourns on Sea Topblue, owned by QBS Equestrian LLC. With three clear rounds, O’Connor did not have to compete with Cerruti Van Ter Hulst Z, owned by Ronnoco Jump Ltd.
Just one rail behind and tied for second were Great Britain, Australia, and Mexico. Belgium and the USA sat on eight faults, while Argentina had 10 faults. There were 16 clear trips in the first round over the course designed by Nick Granat (USA) and Steve Stephens (USA).
Fortunes changed dramatically in the second round as more rails fell, but with solid performances from the Irish team, they came away with the win.
Pathfinder McMahon and Chakra 9 had just one time fault in Round Two. It was an excellent performance for McMahon, who represented Ireland in last year’s European Championships, and his horse, who tallied three clear rounds out of four in two Nations Cup performances in 2021.
“Coming here, it was my plan to jump Chakra in the Nations Cup, so we planned our weeks up to tonight. She’s been a very good horse for me,” he said of the 12-year-old Holsteiner mare by Casall x Quidam de Revel. “Even though she’s 12, she’s not that experienced. She improved a lot from last year to this year. She’s been very consistent since we got here.
“She jumped fantastic in the first round, and she jumped great in the second round as well,” he continued. “I was a bit too slow; that was a rider error. I was very happy that it didn’t cost us tonight. It’s always a real privilege to be able to jump for Ireland. I’m very grateful for Michael selecting me.”
Eighteen-year-old Wachman felt similarly grateful to be a part of Team Ireland, and he gave a stunning double clear performance, one of only five in the class. “I’m delighted, and it’s a great feeling to win,” he noted.
Wachman has been riding Berlux Z, an 11-year-old Zangersheide gelding by Berlin x Major de la Cour, only since October. Berlux Z was on the team for France under the saddle of Simon Delestre at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
“My horse is a very good horse,” noted Wachman. “He’s been able to bring me to bigger levels, because he’s quite experienced and he’s not green. I’m very grateful to be riding him. It’s special to be on a winning team with [my trainer] Cian. All the lads are great.”
Riding in the third spot for the Irish team, Bourns and Seatop Blue were coming off a strong WEF circuit, having won the CSI4* grand prix during week three. They recorded just an unlucky four faults in Round Two.
“I was very happy with him tonight,” said Bourns of the 11-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding by Chacco-Blue. “This is his first Nations Cup. I was a little worried he might come out in the second round and think it was a jump-off. But, after the second or third fence, I realized that I was right on the money with him.
“I’m very grateful, bringing a horse that hasn’t jumped in a Nations Cup before, to be on a team like this and to be given a chance to develop a horse in an atmosphere like this,” continued Bourns. “It really makes a big difference to professionals like me. To watch the likes of Max and Eoin go in and do so well is a very proud night. I think it was a good plan and well executed in the end.”
O’Connor was the anchor rider for Ireland, and he and Cerruti Van Ter Hulst Z, a 12-year-old Zangersheide mare by San Patrignano Cassini x Corrado entered the ring in Round Two for their first shot at the course. With refusals at fence four, they were eliminated.
“Cerruti has been going quite well,” remarked O’Connor. “She jumped double clear in the 1.50m and double clear in the WEF and clear in three-star grands prix. I just haven’t showed her the last couple of weeks. I wanted to let her freshen up. That’s always the thing with the schedule here. You don’t want to overjump.
“She just seemed a little more on her toes tonight,” he explained. “She took a serious dislike to the wall as soon as I turned the first time. I felt it, but she dug her heels in. But listen, that’s horses. We’ll regroup and school the wall probably and build her back up. She’ll be back to fight another day.”
With 38 Irish riders to choose from competing at the Winter Equestrian Festival, Blake sat in an enviable position with a wealth of choices for his team. He chose horses and riders with solid recent results but also team members where horses or riders had less experience.
“I like giving opportunities to people that I think deserve them,” he said. “I have to say, we did our job very, very well tonight, and I’m delighted with the boys. Max is 18 years of age, and it was a phenomenal effort from him. Even though Eoin is not a whole lot older, he’s also a veteran. Andrew has been in the States for quite a while, and we needed his shot. He rode very well. I thought he was a little unlucky to have the last fence down. It would’ve been nice to finish with no pole on the ground, but you know, we still did our job, and we’re very happy. And Cian has always been an amazing, amazing rider for Team Ireland. He has been on so many Nations Cups teams and has pulled us out of a hole so often. I’m very proud of all of my team.”
O’Connor, who was on the winning team at the WEF Nations Cup in 2016 and 2017, is excited about the future for his country. “When you see guys like Eoin and Max and Andrew and how well they’re able to get stuck in and do the job, it’s really bodes well for the future of Irish show jumping,” he said. “Michael gives a fantastic chance to all the young people, and he fields from a mixture of experience for the team. It’s very healthy and lets people develop. We’re very fortunate to have that in Ireland.”
Ireland finished on five total faults for the win. Canada and the United States both had a total of 12 faults after two rounds. The teams’ cumulative times were the tiebreaker, with Canada taking home second place and the U.S. finishing third. Great Britain was fourth on 16 faults, Mexico finished fifth with 20 faults, and Australia placed sixth on 29 faults. Argentina took seventh place with 30 faults, and Belgium was eighth with 32 faults.
Along with Wachman, other double clear performances came from Lillie Keenan (USA) and Argan de Beliard, owned by Equivarandas, LDA., Eugenio Garza (MEX) on El Milagro’s Contago, Lauren Balcomb (AUS) riding her own Verdini d’Houtveld Z, and Tiffany Foster (CAN) on Figor, owned by Artisan Farms, LLC.
Karl Cook and Ircos IV Unconventional in $50,000 1.50m National Grand Prix
Forty-three horse-and-rider pairs tackled a course of 16 obstacles on Saturday in the $50,000 CaptiveOne Advisors 1.50m National Grand Prix which took place in the International Arena. The course was set with an allowed time of 76 seconds over a challenging track which included a triple combination.
First in the ring was Francis Derwin (IRL) who would go clear aboard Vlock Show Stables LLC’s Ricore Courcelle. The pair would ultimately come in third after being only one of 13 to post no faults in the first round. In the jump-off, they recorded a time of 34.292 seconds as one of five double clears.
Riding second to last in the jump-off, Karl Cook (USA) and Ircos IV, a 14-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding owned by Helen Signe Ostby. Cook and Ircos IV finished their jump-off round in a time of 33.234 seconds, edging out second-place rider Shane Sweetnam (IRL) with Indra Van De Oude Heihoef, owned by The Blue Buckle Group, who clocked in at 33.339 seconds.
“He’s one of those [horses] where if he’s feeling like he wants to jump clean, he’ll jump clean,” said Cook of his partner of two years. “Even on a course that you might think, ‘Oh this is definitely not his thing,’ if he wants to jump clear, he’ll jump clear.”
Cook noted that his unique style comes from his unique personality.
“He’s just a funny guy. He’s got such a weird character,” described Cook. “In general, courses that require more rideability are harder, because you can see we don’t really have much of that. But he still can do it.”
He went on to note, “When I first got him, I tried more traditional flat work, trying to get him between my legs and my seat and my hands. I could do it, but then we actually jumped worse in the ring. Over time, you say ‘Do I want rideability, or do I want to be clear?’ We just figured it out.”
The secret to the jumper by Nabab de Reve x Echo De Thurin, seems simple.
“The key that we found with him,” said Cook, “is just keeping him as happy as we can, and then [the win] is more likely, even if it’s completely weird looking and the head is all over the place. He’s kind of that horse that is always there and fills in the blanks. When we’re trying to rest some of the bigger jumpers, he fills in. It’s very valuable to have that because he’s easy to keep, and he’s always there.”
A Perfect Tie for Samantha Takacs and Blythe Goguen in Equitation 15-17
In a unique set of circumstances, the California Split in the Equitation 15-17 division today had co-champions sharing the same number of final points.
Of 46 entries, Samantha Takacs, of Oldwick, NJ, and Blythe Goguen, of Lexington, KY, topped the division among the two sections. However, both riders gained a total of 16 points over fences and won their respective under saddle classes, leading to a 26-point tie for a truly equal split of the championship honors.
Samantha Takacs was grateful for her ride aboard Chagall, an eight-year-old Holsteiner gelding owned by Sissy Wickes.
“I want to thank Heritage Farm,” said Takacs. “I only just started riding him [Chagall] two days ago, and from that first ride I thought he was so much fun. He has a great canter, wonderful jump, and he’s super sweet.”
Takacs is an equitation rider who regularly competes in the USEF Hunt Seat Medal, ASPCA Maclay, and USEF Talent Search.
“We rode in this division so I could get a feel for him and just start getting consistent,” said Takacs. “Our main goal is to be consistent going forward and to aim for top placings at finals.”
Blythe Goguen and Common Sense, a 16-year-old Swedish Warmblood gelding owned by Amber Ayyad, are another pair that have met down here in Wellington.
“I’ve been riding him since the first week down here,” said Goguen, “so we’re still a bit new to each other. He’s really special. He’s got a ton of experience and a lot of buttons so I’ve kind of been trying to figure them out, but he’s awesome.”
Goguen’s top placings today were the next step toward her goals for the rest of the season and the rest of the year.
“I did the Washington [equitation class] yesterday and had a couple of mistakes, so we did this to try to get a bit of a better feel for him,” she said. “He felt so much more relaxed, and I rode him so much better today. I look forward to doing the WEF Equitation Championship class week 12 on him.”
The reserve champions in the Equitation 15-17 California Split were Madyson Diaz, of Eastchester, NY, aboard her own Checkland, and Luke Jensen, of Benton, TX, who rode Holman Import LLC’s Ironman.
WEF 8 concludes on Sunday, March 6, with the 216,000 Grand PrixCSIO4*, presented by JTWG, Inc., which starts at 12:30pm.