It's day 1 of the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, and Mother Nature has smiled on Lexington, Kentucky. A cold front moved through yesterday evening, breaking the 90-plus-degree heat wave and giving the parched region a welcome drink of rain (albeit not nearly enough to revive the Bluegrass). Saturday dawned cooler, clear, and sunny, with highs in the upper 70s -- welcome relief for both humans and horses.
Opening ceremonies aren't until tonight, but competition is already under way with day 1 of team reining competition. US rider Tim McQuay on Hollywoodtinseltown took an early lead with a score of 220,5, followed by Austria's Martin Muhlstatter on Wimpys Little Buddy and Alejandro Roberto Gonzalez Barragan of Mexico riding Custom Harley.
Dressage champion Anky van Grunsven of the Netherlands moves from reigning (she is the current Olympic dressage individual gold medalist) to reining with her Quarter Horse Whizashiningwalla BB. The pair currently lies in fifth place, but that may change, as competition is ongoing as I write this. It's impossible to be every place one would like to be at these events and still get everything done, so I've resorted to sneaking peeks at the TV monitors in the press center while working on my computer.
German competitors Nico Hormann and Mister Dual Spring had a near-wipeout during a sliding stop. The Quarter Horse didn't quite fall down, but almost, nearly unseating his rider. Mister Dual Spring stood up a bit unsteadily but walked away. We don't have word yet as to whether he sustained any injury. We'll be sure to let you know if there were any ill aftereffects.
Jumping-team press conference
The US WEG jumping team held a press conference this morning at the headquarters of the US Equestrian Federation. Inasmuch as the last time I saw some of these riders and their chef d'equipe, George Morris, was in Hong Kong for the 2008 Olympic Games, I figured the team was feeling a distinct home-court advantage at not having to make an ardous trip before competing. But as rider Laura Kraut pointed out, "Candice's [reserve rider Candice King on Skara Glen's Davos] and my horses [Cedric] came from Europe. Plus horses at this level are used to travel, so it's not a big advantage. The bigger issue in Hong Kong was the [hot, humid] weather."
In Europe, where Kraut and King were competing and training, "Everyone was asking me, 'How's the weather? What should I wear?' But the weather [in Lexington] should be perfect -- cool and hopefully no rain."
Morris made it clear that he's designed a system for producing winners -- his team won gold in Hong Kong -- and called the admittedly long jumping-team selection process "my baby."
"I hope my legacy includes an organization, a recipe, for high performance," he said. "I'm very protective of our selection procedure." Realizing the United States' relatively isolated status from the rest of the world, Morris's method includes early selection trials (the WEG's were in February) followed by overseas competition junkets for the contenders to give them experience and exposure. In the case of the WEG this year, Morris balanced the travel with the ability to leave horses at home until relatively late.
"I left them in their own rhythm," he said. "I left them at home. I had them come to Kentucky as another horse show. I purposely came to the WEG differently this year from Aachen [WEG 2006] or Hong Kong."
An international equestrian melting pot
Even more so than an Olympic Games, a World Equestrian Games brings the horse world together. Not only are there competitors, officials, and spectators from around the globe; there also is an unmatched opportunity to watch, admire, and learn from equestrian disciplines so different from our own. They are different, of course; yet fundamentally they are all the same, grounded in superior horsemanship and the love of the horse. Below are a few photos that I hope give you a little bit of the flavor of the WEG thus far.