With 14 venues in three countries for the 2019-2020 season, the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup North American League ™ required major surgery after the decision that there would be only eight qualifiers for three years starting with the 2020-2021 season.

Notable casualties that will not continue in the league after the current season ends next year include such big-name fixtures as the American Gold Cup in New York, Thunderbird in British Columbia and Live Oak in Ocala, Florida, which is in the enviable position of being the last qualifier in March 2020 for the finals in Las Vegas the following month. Starting in the fall of 2020, the qualifying season has been shortened to start Sept. 30th and end in early February.

Cutting back the number of qualifiers is designed to strengthen “the quality of the events,” as an FEI (international equestrian federation) statement put it. The hope is that the series “will see a higher demand from athletes to compete.”

The Cup, the annual indoor championship, once was a goal for nearly every top rider. But in recent years, that is no longer the case. While it still is prestigious, competition from the Longines Global Champions Tour and a host of other big money competitions mean it is no longer the only game on which the best competitors set their sights during the autumn and winter.

The FEI is working to change that, stressing the importance of “an international live broadcast signal and extensive promotion of the series,” calling it “a welcome compliment to the changing landscape of the broadcast product and development of this professional sports league.”

Remaining on the new list – which will include only shows rated 4 stars and above – are such respected institutions as the Washington DC International, the National in Lexington, Kentucky and Toronto’s Royal Winter Fair. But the Fort Worth, Texas, International, a newcomer to the League, was a startling addition because that show has never been held.

To be produced by the Split Rock Jumping Tour Dec. 15-20, 2020, the qualifier at the 5,800-seat Will Rogers Coliseum opens a new frontier. It will be the first FEI show in the Lone Star State, according to Derek Braun, who founded the Split Rock organization in 2015.

“It definitely was a huge leap of faith for FEI and USEF to choose us, but I’m sure they’re confident we can execute it to everybody’s standards,” said Derek.

Partnering in the project are two of the best-known Texas show jumpers, Erin Davis Heineking and her husband, Christian Heineking, a native of Germany who feels at home in Fort Worth.

Derek believes the Texas “horse culture” will offer fertile ground for the venture, which will be “heavily spectator-based.”

“I’ve looked at facilities in Texas for a couple of years,” said Derek. Although his base is in Kentucky, he offers competitions as far afield as California and New Mexico.

“We’re constantly prospecting new facilities across America,” continued Derek, who has an open mind in terms of location. Responding to a call six months ago from Erin suggesting Fort Worth, he realized the potential of hosting a Cup qualifier in Texas at the Will Rogers Coliseum.

“It’s such a natural fit for so many reasons,” he said, noting that since the final is held indoors, “it really makes great sense to do a World Cup qualifier at an indoor show.” In fact, most of the qualifiers in the new series will be indoors.

One of the things he likes about the location is “its access to people from the West Coast, the East Coast and Mexico. Fort Worth is an amazing city.” He also cited the equine market in the region, noting that all types of horse events are “so big there.”

Derek has mileage presenting a Cup qualifier in Columbus, Ohio, but it didn’t win a bid to repeat this time around. For Fort Worth, he’s had support from competitors in Texas, who asked him to hold an event there.

“I think we can make this one of the best events in America,” he commented, enthusiastic about the possibilities for opening up another audience for show jumping.

“We’re going to run two show arenas. We’ll have every level all the way up to the World Cup qualifier. We’ll have something for everyone,” he said.

The 120-acre Will Rogers Memorial Center offers all the stabling under one roof, while a covered arena next to the coliseum will host non-Cup classes.

“I think it’s important to hit all these different markets that don’t necessarily have an international horse show. Any time we can go to one of these venues and help grow a new market in those areas, that’s our goal,” he observed.

~ Nancy Jaffer