Devin Ryan competes at the FEI World Equestrian Games on Sept. 19, 2018 in Mill Springs, N.C.
The jumping competition at the FEI World Equestrian Games began Wednesday at the Tryon International Equestrian Center in Mill Spring, North Carolina. Ending on Sunday, it’s the final event for the 2018 WEG, and the four members of the NetJets U.S. Jumping Team have two goals:
1) Qualify the team for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020
2) Win the team competition, a feat never accomplished by American riders at the World Equestrian Games but last accomplished at the 1986 world championships
Should the U.S. jumping team finish in the top six (or top seven if Olympic host nation Japan is among the top six), it will earn a chance to win another medal at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. In Rio, the U.S. team took silver behind France.
“That’s not going to be easy, it never is,” said Robert Ridland, a 1976 Olympian and the U.S. team’s chef d’equipe, in a pre-competition press conference.
He also called the home-field advantage more of a disadvantage.
“We feel confident because we feel like we’ve got a great team,” he said. “It’s not because of the home field advantage. To be honest, it’s a little of a home field disadvantage — the pressure of doing it in your home country.”
Ridland led the U.S. jumping team to a bronze medal in the team competition at the 2014 WEG (qualifying the team for the 2016 Olympic Games). He then guided the team to a bronze at the 2015 Pan American Games, then the Olympic silver medal in Rio.
His formula for team success is to pair two veteran riders with two younger members. At the 2014 WEG and in Rio, Olympic veterans Beezie Madden and McLain Ward led younger rider Lucy Davis (23 in Rio) and Kent Farrington (then 35).
Ward is the only member of those teams competing in the 2018 WEG. Joining him are two-time Olympian Laura Kraut and WEG newcomers Adrienne Sternlicht (25) and Devin Ryan (36). Madden is the traveling reserve rider at these Games.
Ward brings a wealth of experience to his fourth World Equestrian Games. Since winning an Olympic silver medal in the team jumping competition in Rio — his third Olympic medal — Ward, now 42, has continued to improve. The four-time Olympian was the FEI Jumping World Cup champion in 2017; it was his 17th World Cup Jumping Final. In the past year, Ward and his horse HH Azur were part of the team that tied for silver at the FEI Jumping Nations Cup in Rome. Since March, he has been riding Clinta, an 11-year-old Oldenburg mare, and horse and rider have racked up a series of wins, and they were part of the U.S. team’s bronze-medal tie in the Nations Cup in the Netherlands in June.
“We had a phenomenal summer and have been on an upward trajectory,” Ward said in the press conference. “We’re going to go day by day, and we’re hoping for a good result for the team, first and foremost.”
Ward has won two WEG medals: silver in 2006 and bronze in 2014 in team competition. He also has gold and bronze medals from the 2011 and 2015 Pan Am Games team competitions, respectively, along with an individual gold won in 2015. His Olympic medals include two golds (2004 and 2008) and a silver (2016) in team competition.
One award missing from Ward’s vast trophy collection: an individual gold from a WEG or Olympic Games.
Kraut is competing at her third World Equestrian Games. The 52-year-old won a silver medal in the team competition in 2006 and also competed at the 2010 Games.
She made her international debut as an alternate for the 1992 Olympic equestrian team, then competed at her first Olympic Games in 2000. She then won an Olympic gold medal in 2008 (team competition) and was a reserve rider for the 2016 Olympic team.
Now riding Zeremonie, an 11-year-old Holsteiner mare, Kraut missed the 2017 season because her horse was injured. But her goal was to qualify for the 2018 WEG.
Like Ward and Clinta, Kraut and Zeremonie were part of the U.S. team’s bronze-medal tie at the Nations Cup in the Netherlands in June.
Kraut grew up near the Tryon International Equestrian Center and is looking forward to competing in front of her friends and family.
“You feel the pressure to perform well in front of a home crowd,” she admitted. “But you can also turn that around and say you know that the home crowd is behind you.”
Laura Kraut competes at the FEI World Equestrian Games on Sept. 19, 2018 in Mill Spring, N.C.
The youngest member of the U.S. jumping team, Sternlicht only made her international debut last year. An avid equestrian as a child, she took time off in high school, then went all in while a student at Brown University.
But she never pictured herself competing at a World Equestrian or Olympic Games.
Then in 2016, she paired with Cristalline, a 9-year-old Bavarian Warmblood mare, and began training with McLain Ward. In May 2017, she made her Nations Cup debut in Mexico, where they helped the U.S. team win the silver medal. Since then, she has been a member of several Nations Cup teams and collected numerous individual top placings, resulting in her selection to the 2018 NetJets U.S. Show Jumping Team for the World Equestrian Games.
Ryan may be one of the younger members of the U.S. jumping team. But he and his horse, Eddie Blue, a 9-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding, have the longest relationship of any pair on the 2018 U.S. jumping team. As owner and manager of River Run Stables in New Jersey, Ryan partnered with Eddie Blue five years ago, and the two began collecting top placings on the grand prix circuit.
As the runner-up at the 2018 FEI World Cup Jumping Final, Ryan automatically landed a spot on the short list for the 2018 WEG. It was not a result that Ryan expected. But he had a philosophical approach: “If it was meant to be, it’s going to happen. If not, then I’ll go for it the next time.”
U.S. Medals At The World Equestrian Championships
The FEI World Equestrian Games have been held every four years since 1990. They were last held in the United States in 2010.
Prior to 1990, the competition was divided by discipline, and the jumping portion was known as the show jumping world championships. It debuted in 1953 with individual competition and 1978 for the team competition.
No American rider has ever won an individual gold medal at the world championships or World Equestrian Games. The closest to gold? Conrad Homfeld aboard Abdullah won a silver medal in 1986, and Beezie Madden also won silver — in 1990 riding Authentic. Madden also won an individual bronze medal in 2014.
In team competition, the U.S. won gold in 1986, silver in 2006 and bronze in 2014. The Netherlands is the defending team world champion.
How Jumping Works
Jumping, the last of the three Olympic disciplines to be contested at the WEG, begins tomorrow with the first competition. All athletes and horses who are starters for their teams and individual championships compete.
These athletes then compete in the second competition, Round 1, on Thursday. Only the top 50 athletes from the combined scores of the first competition and Round 1 of the second move on to the second competition’s Round 2 on Friday.
The team competition is then tallied from the penalties incurred by the best three athletes per nation in the first competition plus both rounds of the second competition.
The top 25 athletes after the first two competitions will compete in the individual final on Sunday. They compete in Round A. Then the top 12 move on to Round B. The individual placings are determined by adding together each athlete’s penalties incurred in all the competitions, including the final two rounds on Sunday.
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered five Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.