The stage is set for a dramatic and exciting opening weekend at the 90th Royal Horse Show, where five-time Royal champion Waylon Roberts (Port Perry, ON) will take on a bevy of Olympic, World Cup and Pan-Am medalists to defend his title in the Good Crop Services Indoor Eventing Challenge, Friday November 2 and Saturday November 3.
“Having one rider completely dominate year over year is unprecedented,” said John Dunlap, president and chairman of the Board of the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. “But the field is so strong this year – it is difficult to pinpoint from where the biggest threat will come.”
Australia’s Clayton Fredericks seems the logical start – his resume includes team Olympic silver (2008), World Cup champion (2005 & 2008), World Championship individual silver and team bronze (2006) and has just competed at the Olympics in London. He has competed at similar indoor eventing competitions overseas, including the Stuttgart German Masters. In addition, Fredericks has applied to take over the coaching position for the Canadian Eventing team which becomes vacant at the end of this year.
But at The Royal Fredericks will be “catch-riding” a borrowed horse, which he may only have the chance to ride once or twice before entering the competition ring in Toronto.
“Waylon is lending me the horse he won on last year, right?” joked Fredericks. “It’s the least he could do!”
“Having indoor eventing as part of the program adds another dimension to the show,” explains Fredericks. “The crowd loves it, it adds a lot of anticipation to the night and creates a ‘one seat sees all’ experience for the audience.”
Now in its seventh year at The Royal, the Good Crop Services Indoor Eventing Challenge blends the skill and accuracy of show jumping with the thrill and adventure of cross-country riding – set to a background of rocking music and cheering crowds. Indoor Eventing at The Royal features a modified course of rugged cross-country jumps such as hedges, walls, and a bank, combined with fragile stadium jumps, whose poles and planks are designed to fall at the slightest nudge of a hoof. Penalties accumulate over two nights of competition and at the end the rider with the lowest score is declared the Champion.
Designer of the indoor eventing courses this year is Captain Mark Phillips, multiple British Olympic medalist and outgoing Chef D’Equipe of the American Eventing team.
“Indoor eventing is becoming very popular – it’s quicker than traditional show jumping, with more action and excitement!” remarked Phillips. “There is a bit more ‘wing and a prayer’ involved, riding at speed over a course which reflects outdoor cross-country jumps. But if these riders want a clean round, they will have to be a little steady in places – it’s a fine balance.”
Roberts, who has claimed the title every year but 2009 (when Penny Rowland of Orangeville, ON, edged him out) believes his system of mental preparation for horse and rider, combined with years of experience competing at the Royal will tip the scales in his favour, even against fellow competitor, Canadian Olympian Ian Roberts, who is his dad. And unfortunately for Fredericks, Roberts Jr. will be returning on his winning 2011 mount, Sable Giesler’s Evil Munchkin.
“It’s such a headgame,” states Waylon Roberts. “It tests our ability to be calm and collected the first night, and then really go for it the second night,” he explained. “I have a plan which starts two weeks out – getting the horse into a pattern and fine-tuning your ride to make sure everything you are working on is relevant to those two-minutes in the ring. There’s money on the line – it’s about keeping your composure and watching every single decision you make.”
American entry Doug Payne (Pottersville, NJ) will bring a horse who has had impressive results this year including a win in a section at the American Eventing Championships. Payne has a healthy respect for the atmosphere and prestige of competing at the Royal.
“The indoor eventing competition presents a number of significant challenges and is a true test of horse and rider,” explained Payne. “It’s obviously an intense atmosphere where only the best combinations will thrive. For the sport it’s a tremendous opportunity to showcase how versatile and talented our horses must be to achieve success. At the same time, it’s a perfect training opportunity for our horses, if they can handle the atmosphere at the Royal they will be better for it in competition later on.”
Roberts Senior is a little more blunt. When asked what the single hardest part of the indoor eventing competition at The Royal is?
“Beating my son!”