The FEI World Championships came to a close on Sunday, August 14 with two Canadian competitors remaining to represent the maple leaf. Another hot day was lined up but with many of the athletes and horses having made their exit, there was a slightly different feeling in and around the venue. The crowds were still substantial as they had been throughout the week, out to enjoy both Para Dressage freestyle finals in the BB Horse Arena and the Show Jumping Individual finals in the Stutteri Ask Stadium.
As luck would have it, the remaining two riders in the championship for Canada were scheduled to compete at exactly the same time but in the two different locations. Tiffany Foster, who was holding in 15th place going into the individual show jumping final and Roberta Sheffield, who had earned 7th place in the two previous tests, was gearing up for her Para Dressage freestyle to music compiled by Avery Maude Dressage.
Sheffield had a lovely ride on her own Fairuza “Wonky” and earned herself a 6th place finish scoring 72.8%. “It was so fantastic to get into the freestyle,” she said after coming out of the ring. “Really, any result I will happily take because getting into the freestyle was my big aim. For me I wanted to get into the ring, and I wanted to do Canada proud. I am hoping that we have achieved that.”
“I put the floor plan together, I wanted something relatively simple where we could just flow through it in a nice fluent way. The music was put together for me by Avery Maude Dressage. Avery bought Double Agent, my Rio ride from me. So, we’ve just come full circle together.”
“Historically Fairuza has always gotten really good scores for her leg yields, she has a wonderful lateral freedom. So I wanted to really show them off and put movements together in an interesting way. My final thoughts,” she said, “is that I just want to get out there and do it again!”
Para Dressage Chef d’Equipe Clive Milkins shared her enthusiasm. “I have to say I’m thrilled with Roberta, she’s gone from strength to strength, she’s taken on board all the coaching and even today in the freestyle, her scores, other than one judge were on 75, 74%. I can’t ask any more from that!”
Reflecting back on the end of the championship, Milkins shared thoughts of the week past with a view to the future. “What I am thrilled with in this competition is that we have built from the success of Tokyo, okay, well the marks aren’t quite there yet, but the team has gelled even better than Tokyo and I was astounded at how well everyone worked well together. There have been some highs and lows in the marks and some highs and lows in the performances. That’s sport for you.”
“We’re going to go home, reflect, bounce back, look at what we did right. Build on the successes for Paris in two years’ time. The future is very bright overall. It is now truly “Parallel” Dressage. The standard of horses and knowledge of the riders and coaches has gone up every games. The horses are more harmonious, they are softer, and they are better trained,” he continued.
“We have great coaches, everyone is much better educated, the grooms are turning the horses out fantastically well. And now that coaches know about us, they are beginning to talent scout, and suggest to other people that Para Dressage is an exciting sport and isn’t all about therapy,” said Milkins.
Tiffany had a great first round, jumping clear and moving up in the standings from 15th to ninth going into the second round. With a tougher second course, she had two rails down plus one time fault giving her a total of 17.95 penalties and 12th place in the final individual standings.
“This has all been such a great experience,” said Foster. “I loved my horse before, but I love him even more now. For everything that he did for me this week and the feeling that he gave me. That’s my number one takeaway. And then all of the support from everybody. The whole crowd, everyone that came to cheer, everybody who watched. My phone just blows up with messages no matter how it goes. I’m so thrilled!”
“It was great for a Canadian to be in the top 25 of the who’s who in our sport,” said Show Jumping Chef d’Equipe Eric Lamaze. “To be part of the last group, the last 12 to jump at World Championships, that’s meaningful. I’m very proud of Tiffany and couldn’t be happier for her and for (her owners) Carlene and Andy.”
When thinking back on the Championship in his new role overall Lamaze said, “Simply, this experience was incredible. As Chef d’Equipe, I feel proud of so many moments. I feel like everyone has learned something.”
With the Dressage riders having left the site to get back to training, Dressage Chef D’Equipe Christine Peters thought back on the week’s events.
“I think the experience of Herning overall was very successful for Canada, we knew for Dressage coming in that we were a developing group. We have a very talented horse for Paris in Ryan Torkkeli’s mount Sternenwanderer and then obviously Naima is still very young in her career with some up-and-coming horses for the future so we are looking forward to that.
On the Para side, better than expectation with Bert – top five in the world, top six place finish in freestyle. We obviously can’t ask for much for than that. We know the pieces of the puzzle that we need to work on and I t hink in two years’ time, if we can get them put together you’ve got a medal there.
Overall very, very happy with this team and how they came together. Not only within the Dressage group, but how they aligned with the Para team as well. Couldn’t be happier and more proud of everybody here.”
The Canadian vaulters who competed early in the competition, made a statement for the sport in its journey of growth in Canada. Other countries commented throughout the week how far it has come and even Canadians back home and on site found a new interest in the unique discipline.
“The competition has been a huge highlight for all of us to share in the passion we have for the sport and to share our journeys,” Vaulting Chef d’Equipe Kathleen Saunders said reflecting on the experience. “It has been so beautiful here. The facility, the site, the food, the coordination, everything. It’s just got that wow factor. The ring was by far my favourite venue we have ever been to!”
One big shift that has been noticed across the board at these World Championships in Herning has been the focus and the recognition of the important role that grooms play in equestrian sport. One of the twelve grooms that worked with the Canadian mounts over the ten days of competition, is Caroline Holmberg who works with Artisan Farms LLC and Tiffany Foster’s Figor.
“For us grooms, it’s been great. They definitely raised the bar on how shows should arrange things for us. I felt it was really nice that they had a nice big groom’s restaurant by the barn area where we can easily get drinks, coffee, and food all day long. All accessible for us, so we don’t have to walk too far,” she explained. “They had created a takeaway system with to-go food that we could bring food back to the barns with us which is really easy.”
One big change were the public acknowledgments. “It was obviously fun that we were included in the photo shoots and the screen time in the arena and were mentioned by name, which is actually the first time ever that I have seen that done in my twenty years of grooming. That they mention in the jumping arena who is grooming for them, and a picture, that was really nice for that recognition. Those are two really major things that happened this week.”
In addition to the recognition the Herning organizing team have done for grooms, everyone saw the incredible efforts they put into environmental sustainability, volunteerism, and how they have provided an environment focused on horse welfare.
“We truly appreciated the immense and thorough planning the Herning 2022 Organizing Committee have done under the steerage of Jens Trabjerg chair of the organizing committee and Malou Trabjerg the General Manager, this was a world class event in Herning,” said James Hood, Chef de Mission and Director, High Performance for Equestrian Canada (EC).
“The event was welcoming, very friendly and it provided an excellent environment for comradery and team development, which is what we were aiming for here. We had some great performances and some challenging ones. But the team were incredibly supportive of each other – all across the disciplines. The athletes, coaches, grooms, veterinarians, support staff, supporters, chefs, and the EC staff on site – we all came together to celebrate a great effort and results. We are incredibly grateful to the host city of Herning and surrounding communities as well as the local Danish people for their hospitality. We’d like to thank everyone involved in hosting this highly successful championships for a wonderful experience.”
The Canadian Eventing team will compete in Pratoni, Italy beginning on September 14, 2022 in the World Championships held there for the discipline that requires different facilities than what Herning could provide. Hood will be heading there to support the team as chef de mission in less than a month. Kelly Houtappels-Bruder will also represent Canada at the Singles Driving world championships in Le Pin-au-Haras, FRA, September 15-18.
Hood then looked to the next step in Olympic qualifying competition. “We now will move to focus our efforts, training and planning on the Pan American Games, which are taking place in Santiago, Chile in October 2023. The team of technical advisors, and full support teams along with coaches and trainers we have in place have the knowledge, skills and motivation to get us there. We see Paris in the very near horizon and look forward to the next two years to get us there!”