The 2010 Alltech World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Kentucky, may still seem a ways off (they commence September 25 and conclude October 10), but for some American hopefuls, the road to the WEG begins this month.
February 25 is the first of five planned selection trials for the US WEG jumping squad. The remaining four are scheduled for February 27, March 3, March 5, and March 7. All will be held at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington, Florida.
According to the selection procedures issued by the US Equestrian Federation, each trial will consist of one round, not against the clock but with a time allowed. There will be no jump-off. For those of you unfamiliar with jumping competition, a jump-off is a fast, intense, beat-the-clock tiebreaker pitting those horses and riders who "went clean" (no penalties) in the first round in order to decide the winner.
The conclusion of the selection trials is just the beginning of the process for the US jumpers. The USEF has published an exhaustive procedural document on its Web site, www.usef.org. In a nutshell, following the fiifth selection trial, an expert group consisting of the USEF jumping selection committee, the US jumping chef d'equipe, and the US team veterinarian will name fifteen horses and riders to a "long list." The long list will comprise the top nine finishers from the trials plus an additional six to be named "at the discretion of the Selectors." (There are all sorts of what-if clauses in the selection procedures: What if a trial is canceled due to weather? What if two competitors are tied? What if the selectors can't agree on the additional six?)
Once the long list of fifteen is finally compiled, the contenders will bid the United States bon voyage to compete in one of three "summer tours" of international jumping competitions in Europe. One group of five horses and riders will embark on Tour 1: the CSIOs (FEI-recognized jumping competitions) in La Baule, Rome, and St. Gallen. A second group of five will contest Tour 2: CSIOs Rotterdam and Aachen. The remaining five will be sent on Tour 3, consisting of the CSIOs Falsterbo, Hickstead, and Dublin.
Following the final CSIO, in Dublin August 9, the selectors will name up to ten horse-rider combinations to the WEG jumping short list. From that pool, the aforementioned group of experts will choose the four WEG team members plus one traveling alternate.
That's how the jumpers will choose their WEG team, but each equestrian discipline does it a little differently. In dressage, for example, the process is reversed, with a series of designated qualifying competitions leading up to a series of two final selection trials, the results from which will determine the team.
The dressage qualifying process actually got under way last August, and there were three designated qualifying competitions in 2009. In 2010 there are thirteen more, the last one being the CDI (FEI-recognized dressage competition) Lamplight in Wayne, Illinois, May 21-23. Provisions exist for hopefuls to use scores from foreign CDIs toward qualifying, as well.
Again with the requisite lists of provisos and what-ifs, the top fifteen-ranked horse-rider combinations will be invited to compete at the US WEG dressage selection trials, to be held August 6-8 and August 13-15 at US Equestrian Team Foundation headquarters in Gladstone, New Jersey. The first weekend will consist of the Grand Prix and the Grand Prix Special tests, and the second weekend will consist of a second Grand Prix plus the Grand Prix Freestyle. The scores from the two Grands Prix will count 60 percent (30 percent each) toward the competitors' final total. The GP Special will count 25 percent, and the GP Freestyle will count 15 percent toward the total. Do all the math and the top three finishers will earn spots on the WEG team. The fourth slot will go either to the fourth-placed horse and rider or, at the discretion of the dressage selection committee, a properly qualified applicant who has met the selection criteria and petitioned for consideration.