BARCELONA, Spain--With one rider in only his second ever Nations Cup and another in her early 20s, the U.S. team stall managed to finish a very good fifth in the Nations Cup Finals against teams that included all the top riders in the world rankings.
Led by Chef d’Equipe Robert Ridland, the team that consisted of Lillie Keenan, Laura Kraut, Schuyler Riley and Spencer Smith competed in the FEI Jumping Nations Cup CSIO5* on Oct. 3 in Barcelona, Spain, at the Real Club de Polo de Barcelona.
The competition began with the 15 teams that had qualified for the Finals, and it was cut to the top eight teams with the best scores after the first round on Friday.
“When we arrived here and looked at what we were going up against, those teams were the real deal teams; it was the ‘A’ team of all those countries," said Ridland. "To hold our own like we did today is something that we can be proud of.”
After Friday's qualifying round, the U.S. team returned on Sunday afternoon for the second round on a clean slate against seven other teams.
Over a very difficult, 1.60m course, the U.S. beat some of the top show jumping nations in the world, including Germany and Brazil as well as Great Britain, France and Switzerland that didn't make it to the Finals.
KEENAN, 25 of New York, N.Y., on Skyhorse had a beautiful trip going, but had the third fence in the final combination down behind as well as the last fence and ended up finishing on eight jumping faults and one time fault.
That final combination was very hard and caused a lot of faults.
Smith of Wellington, Fla., on Quibelle had a brilliant clear round to help the team.
This was Smith's first Nations Cup on Quibelle and only the second Senior Nations Cup ride ever for Smith.
“What a picture-perfect round he had today. That was just spot on,” said Ridland.
Riley, also of Wellington, Fla.on Robin de Ponthual had a rail down at the “b” element of the double combination and then jumped clean through the difficult final combination and last fence to have only four faults.
Anchor rider Laura Kraut of Royal Palm Beach, Fla., on Baloutinue, very uncharacteristically had the first fence down and then also the last fence for eight faults.
Kraut, riding as the anchor rider, has pulled out a clean round to help the U.S. to a win or a second place finish so many times, and if she had managed to do it again Sunday, the U.S. would have been tied for third.
Kraut was competing on Baloutinue in the third major competition this year after helping the team to a silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics and an historic win in the Aachen Nations Cup.
“If Lillie hadn’t left all the jumps up on Friday, we wouldn’t have been here today,” said Ridland. “Schuyler and Robin were so solid both rounds; they were a hair away from being clean both times. Baloutinue has so much energy and stamina and has been such a huge part of these past few months from Tokyo to Aachen to Barcelona. He’s so tough and game and gets a much-deserved rest now. Our alternate, Michael Hughes, came at the last minute when we had a spot open up. It was great having him here as the fifth rider, and he had a very good show.”
The U.S. team finished on 12 total faults for fifth place.
The Netherlands won on a clear total score, while Ireland was second with one fault and Belgium was third with four faults.
Sweden also had four faults but slower combined times left the team in fourth place, while the U.S. was fifth.
Germany placed sixth on 13 faults, Brazil was seventh with 14 faults, and Spain ended in eighth place with 26 faults.
“It’s been quite a run,” said Ridland of the U.S. team’s results over the past two months, from the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games to Spruce Meadows and CHIO Aachen and now the FEI Nations Cup Final in Barcelona. “To be honest, we’re ecstatic. There were so many riders, young and veteran, when you look back at the schedule. We always aim for the podium and in three of the four events, we were there, and we were pretty close here in Barcelona. Every one of those riders contributed.”
There were 14 different riders that were named to the U.S. Jumping Team over the past four major team events.
“Everybody is very proud of the riders’ effort this week and the last few months leading up to this,” Ridland said. “We were able to make last-minute switches, and so many riders and owners have been game to help and be there. We are already in selection procedures for next year’s World Championship, where we have to defend our title but won’t be on home soil. That’s why it’s so exciting and gratifying that we’ve been able to use so many riders of the future in this very crucial segment we just went through. It’s so important that we have the next generation of riders at these events, like at Aachen, in our future. We have a lot of big events ahead of us!”