A beautiful and sunny warmer day in Herning on day three brought the end of the individual male and female vaulting competitions at the FEI World Championships in Herning with some triumphs and some disappointment for the Canadian team.
The Canadian para-dressage team began their preparations with their first familiarization in the field of play on Monday afternoon.
The show jumping team have started their time at the worlds with a horse inspection and further preparation of their horses for the start of competition on Wednesday.
For the third day of individual competition in the Jyske Bank Boxen arena, Canada’s two female vaulters and one male vaulter took to the ring in the freestyle test which accounts for 50% of the athlete’s overall Championship score. The Freestyle test is designed by the vaulters where they can be creative and do exercises that are not part of the compulsory program or technical exercises.
First up was dual Canadian/US citizen and Delta, BC native Shaina Hammond. Sporting a pale green leotard with butterflies in her hair, she performed a beautiful and graceful piece aboard her partner for the competition, William II Z, lunged once again by owner Maik Husmann. She performed extremely well, scoring 8.042, a personal best in the freestyle. Combined with her previous two scores for the compulsory and technical tests, she moved up two places on the leaderboard for a final placing of 20th out of 35 with a combined and final score of 7.559.
“It couldn’t have gone better! Every move felt like one of the best times I’ve ever done that move,” said Hammond. “I am incredibly happy with it. It’s my first eight in freestyle; I am so stoked!”
Hammond also took the time to reflect on her first World Championships. “Overall the competition was great. I went into compulsories with a great mindset; the tech test I was a little nervous, but my horse really helped me out with that, because he is just so together. Today we were able to get back on the same page and just kill it!”
Shaina splits her time between BC and Utah and has coaches on both sides of the border. Coach Cambry Kaylor, who has been coaching Hammond since she was eleven years old and is based out of Technique Equestrian Vaulting Club in Lehi, Utah, was left almost speechless after the round. “I’m just so proud,” Kaylor said.
Coach Gabe Aniello, originally from Oregon, trains athletes out of West Coast Vaulters on Vancouver Island, BC. “It was perfect,” was all that Aniello felt needed to be said. “I have a phenomenal team, the right team to be working with,” said Hammond. “I just couldn’t be happier.”
Next up was the youngest Canadian vaulter at the competition, eighteen-year-old Averill Saunders of Sundre, AB. After a phenomenal showing during the technical round, expectations were high for the freestyle round where Saunders went in holding fourth place. She planned to share a routine about the labels that people place on others and sported a custom leotard with words and expressions that can be harmful screened over the black-and-white fabric.
The routine started out well. but partway through the young vaulter ran into difficulties with one of her moves and made an unexpected dismount. It was obvious the disappointment Saunders felt at that moment and the crowd shared it with her. The scores unfortunately also reflected the challenges she had in the ring and she finished the round with a respectable 7.806 in 25th position out of 35 vaulters. When calculated, and due to the weighting of the freestyle score, the final individual combined score over the three tests was 8.002, placing her just shy of the top ten in 11th.
The individual female podium was shared by three countries familiar with vaulting success on the world stage. Frances’ Manon Moutinho with Saitiri earned gold with a combined score of 8.963, Julia Sophie Wagner of Germany with Giovanni 185 took silver with 8.529 and host team, Denmark’s Sheena Bendixen with Klintholms Ramstein took bronze with 8.511.
When asked about how she felt about her experience in the final ring, Saunders was able to stay somewhat positive. “It’s part of the sport, it happens,” she said. “As a person I am a perfectionist, so I won’t necessarily have a sense of satisfaction from that performance, but it’s something that I can turn into momentum and a feeling to keep me going and do better next time.”
Those in the venue and in the sport congratulated her on how well she had performed throughout the competition. During the interview, one even shared her thoughts: “You’ve done amazing! You have so much potential, and I believe in you.”
The Canadians in Herning all felt the swell of interest and excitement for the members of the team and the intriguing sport of ‘gymnastics on the back of moving horse’. And Saunders especially showed everyone in the vaulting world and equestrian community how committed and serious she is about making progress in the sport, not only for herself and her country, but for vaulting overall.
Our third vaulter, as the announcer called the ‘lone wolf’ male from Canada, Talmage Conrad of Lethbridge, AB looked strong in the warmup and seemed prepped to head into the final test. His theme was a classical Romeo and Juliet piece that would focus on his strength as a former gymnast to put up some big, intricate moves on his competition horse William II Z, lunged and owned by Maik Husmann.
His strength and unique style came through during the routine and then during an impressive multi-rotational dismount he had so much momentum, he experienced a slight fall at the very end. Even so, he still achieved a score of 8.249 for the test. Combined with his two scores from the previous two days, he ended in 13th place with a 7.949.
Conrad was extremely pleased with the result. “It was amazing,” he shared. “I couldn’t have asked for anything better. It was by far my best run through the year and I was able to put it down in the arena. I couldn’t be more excited. I guess I touched the ground on my dismount, but for everything to fall into place the way it did, I am just incredibly happy right now.”
He continued about being at his first World Championships: “This has been an amazing experience; I can’t wait to come back. It’s so nice to compete on the world stage with everyone finally. I have been looking forward to this since I started – and to do it in such a beautiful place, its amazing.”
Performed under the same basic rules of the sport of dressage, para (which stands for parallel, running alongside open divisions) dressage athletes are divided into grades according to the level of their impairment. To participate in FEI para-dressage competitions, the rider’s ability must be classified, which determines which of the five grades (I-V) the rider competes in, as well as which aids the rider may use. Grade I is for the highest level of impairment and Grade V is for the lowest.
Canada has three para dressage athletes competing in Herning, two classified at Grade I and one at Grade III:
Jody Schloss from Toronto, Ontario is classified as Grade I and will ride her own 18-year-old Danish Warmblood gelding Lieutenant Lobin (Lobster x Fanal Prydsholm).
Roberta Sheffield from Lincolnshire, ENG is classified as Grade III and rides her own a 13-year-old Gelderlander mare Fairuza.
Winona Hartvikson from Langley, BC is classified as Grade I and rides 19-year-old Hanoverian gelding Onyx sired by Wolkentanz and owned by herself and Jane MacDonald.
The entire Canada para-dressage team have been acclimatizing to the Herning property and routines for several days, getting used to the new surroundings and ensuring the horses are settled prior to performances later this week.
On Monday, August 8, all three Canadian para-dressage athletes made their way to the BB Horse Arena in the afternoon to begin the process of familiarizing the horses and riders to the atmosphere and major games arena environment.
After finishing her first familiarization of the competition ring, Sheffield remarked, “It is a really exciting ring to work in and it is going to present some new and interesting challenges,” she said. “But I loved my horse’s response to those challenges. And she really rose to it and I am hoping that we keep that same energy and exuberance into the coming days.”
Schloss also shared her excitement. “I am very excited to be here and Lobin was so good,” she said. “I was worried he would be hyper or too calm, but he was in a perfect tempo.”
The horses went through the Para-Dressage 1st Horse Inspection Tuesday morning, August 9 (all were accepted) and then the team will head back to the ring for further familiarization in the BB Horse Arena. Grade I athletes will compete for the first time on Wednesday, August 10.