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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

U.S. second in Spruce Meadows Nations Cup won by Canada

CALGARY, AB, Canada--The U.S. Jumping Team finished second in the Nations Cup during the 2021 Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament CSIO5* on Sept. 11, 2021, in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Bliss Heers Ashkey HeuhofBliss Heers on Antidote de Mars (Photo by  Ashkey Heuhof)Led by Chef d’Equipe Robert Ridland, the team consisted of Natalie Dean, Alex Granato, Bliss Heers and McLain Ward.

The Canadian Show Jumping Team won the $600,000 Nations’ Cup for the third time in the event’s history.

Erynn Ballard, Tiffany Foster, Eric Lamaze,and Amy Millar led Canada to the win over four other teams.

With travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 global pandemic compounded by the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics and European Championships taking place weeks before this year’s Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ tournament, the starting field was diminished in numbers but not in thrilling sport.

Canada, Ireland, Mexico, and the United States were all invited to put forward a second team with only Canada taking advantage of the opportunity.

However, it was Canada’s top team that won with a two-round total of eight faults over the United States with 15 faults.

The Canada 2 team placed a close third with 16 faults while Mexico was fourth with 32 faults. Ireland rounded out the top five with 44 faults.


THE BEST performance of the day  for the U.S. was from Bliss Heers of Las Vegas, Nev., on Antidote de Mars.

In round one, Heers posted the only clear round of the day for the U.S. team and followed up with just one time fault in round two over the challenging track set by two-time Olympic course designer Leopoldo Palacios of Venezuela.

"My horse was on fire, as always,” said Heers, who was making her third Senior Nations Cup appearance. “He’s just a machine, and I can always trust him. It was an amazing feeling to be back on a team and be able to deliver a good performance.

“To be on a Nations Cup team is an amazing opportunity,” she said. “To be here at Spruce Meadows in particular, jumping one of the biggest classes in the world, that’s another honor on its own. To come out second in the Nations Cup was incredible, and to support my team and jump clear, the feeling is unbelievable. I have to say thank you to Robert for giving me the opportunity to jump at such a venue. They did a fantastic job here as always.”

“I can’t say enough about her,” said Ridland. “Her two rounds were very consistent and exactly what we needed.”

The pathfinders on the team was Alex Granato of Wellington, Fla., on Carlchen W, a 13-year-old Mecklenberg gelding, but refusals led to elimination in round one and retirement in round two.

Ridland described Granato and Carlchen W, members of the 2019 Pan American Games silver medal-winning team, as a “wonderful horse/rider partnership.”

But there had been issues with Carlchen W losing shoes throughout the week, including in the Nations Cup.

“When something like that happens with a horse with so much quality, it’s hard on their confidence,” said Ridland. “It was one of those unfortunate situations that happens from time to time. He’ll come back just fine.”

In her Senior Nations Cup debut performance, Dean of Palo Alto, Calif., put in very respectable rides, with just one time fault in the opening round and four faults in round two on Chance Ste. Hermelle.

“She rode in her debut like she’s been doing this for quite some time,” said Ridland of the 21-year-old rider. “It’s not easy to have your first Nations Cup ride in a five star. She was cool and rode beautifully. They were two beautiful rounds.”

“I kept pointing out to Bliss and Natalie that it takes three scores, and the second round changes things often," said Ridland. "We’re not out of it; we’re in the fight. Both of them proved it. Between the two of them, they don’t have a lot of experience, but they came through in the clutch.”

Veteran anchor rider McLain Ward of Brewster, N.Y., helped the team to the silver medal spot on the podium.

With an uncharacteristic eight faults in round one, Ward on HH Azur, a 15-year-old Belgian Sport Horse mare, returned in round two to record one time fault for exceeding the 82-second time allowed.

“That’s why he’s an anchor,” said Ridland. “Everything is really on the line when the anchor goes in. At that point in time, the win was out of reach, but second place wasn’t. The only thing that would keep us in contention was a one-fault round; we couldn’t afford a two-fault round or more. He intentionally rode for a one-fault round. Time allowed was a factor today, and McLain didn’t need to take the risk for a clean round. It was just textbook McLain. He did it, and that’s why we ended up second on the podium.”

The U.S. team was in third place after round one with nine faults and added six faults in round two to finish in second place with 15 total faults.

“The day ended up on a very big upward swing, and the sun came out for the presentation,” said Ridland. “This is the first Nations Cup here in two years, and it was just so nice to be back at one of the greatest facilities in the world.”

Fielding Nations Cup teams in back-to-back five-star Nations Cup events was something that Ridland and US Equestrian have planned for all year, as next week’s World Equestrian Festival at Aachen CHIO in Germany will be another major event.

“We said at the beginning of the year that starting out, we were in preparation for the Tokyo Olympic Games, but I said we can’t just focus on Tokyo,” he said. “It’s very important, but so is everything else. Two weeks after Aachen is the FEI Nations Cup Jumping Final in Barcelona. By the time we finish Barcelona, a very large number of riders will have been a part of team events this year. That’s what is so important, to think for the future. We are already in the early stages of the evaluation process for the World Championships next year in Denmark. We couldn’t come back from Tokyo and rest on our laurels. I’m looking forward to next week as well.”

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