In a competition that was as unpredictable as it was exciting, Ireland came out on top with a superb team effort at the second leg of the Longines League of Nations™ staged at the World Equestrian Centre in Ocala, Florida (USA) tonight, where Switzerland finished second ahead of the American hosts in third place.

The 10 best teams in the world are battling it out over four qualifying events for the eight places on offer at the series Final in Barcelona (ESP) in early October, and today’s line-up included eight of the top 10, and 16 of the top 20 riders in the world rankings. With the Paris 2024 Olympic Games just around the corner all were out to impress, and when nine of the 10 team pathfinders jumped clear over Alan Wade’s 12-fence track it looked like a very even contest.

But then the surprises began to unfold, with the Olympic and World champions from Sweden missing the cut into the second round along with the British. In contrast the Dutch, the Irish and the American hosts all went through on a zero scoreline.

Drama and tension

The new format, with just three of the four team members returning for round two in which every score would count, again produced plenty of drama and tension. Lying eighth, Brazil led the way in round two, and their final tally of 26 faults still saw them move up two places to sixth place in the final analysis.

The Swiss, carrying eight faults, then solidified their position when both Steve Guerdat and Is-Minka and Martin Fuchs with Leone Jei posted double-clears while Pius Schwizer was foot-perfect this time out with Just Special VK.

Team Germany, winners at the series-opener in Abu Dhabi last month, added 12 for a total of 20 faults, and when Kevin Staut had a fall from Beau de Laubry Z who stopped at the third fence then that was elimination for the French. Meanwhile the Belgians, in fourth after round one on just four faults, dropped right down to seventh place when Niels Bruynseels’ Delux van T&L ducked out at the penultimate narrow vertical located close to the in-gate, incurring 21 faults.

The Dutch lost their grip when the very much on-form partnership of Willem Greve and the mighty stallion Highway TN NOP left three on the floor second time out. The pair who shone so brightly on home ground at ’s-Hertogenbosch just a few short weeks ago ran into trouble at the line from the open water at fence four to the following vertical and then the oxer at fence six, picking up 12 faults. This section of the track was hugely influential all day, and when the first element of the double at seven and the triple bar at fence nine were raised in round two they also influenced the final result.


A man on a bay horse jumping a fence in Ocala.

Daniel Coyle of Ireland rode Ariel Grange’s Legacy to a double-clear during the Longines League of Nations in Ocala. (FEI/ Richard Juilliart photo)

On the sidelines

Shane Sweetnam and his 10-year-old Otis Blue had produced one of Ireland’s three first-round clears but team manager Michael Blake decided to leave this pair on the sidelines second time out and to bring in Cian O’Connor whose services hadn’t been required first time out because Sweetnam, Darragh Kenny (Amsterdam 27) and Daniel Coyle (Legacy) had all jumped clear.

But his side began to look vulnerable when second-round pathfinders Kenny and Amsterdam 27 clipped that first element of the double at seven before American star Laura Kraut brought Baloutinue home for a brilliant double-clear. However Coyle and Legacy put Ireland back on the map with their second clean sheet of the day, so when Kent Farrington’s Landon racked up eight faults then suddenly the Irish had a one-fence advantage.

As last Irishman O’Connor rode into the ring he knew a fence down could lead to a jump-off with the US if last-line American McLain Ward followed with a clear from Callas. And nobody was betting against that.

O’Connor’s horse, Maurice, had not jumped the first round so hadn’t seen the arena which was now under lights, and the 12-year-old gelding looked a little unsure as the Irish pair set off. But he grew in confidence as his round progressed and the only thing showing on the scoreboard as he crossed the line was a single time penalty to bring the Irish tally to five. That would prove plenty good enough to win the day when Ward’s mare, Callas, hit the middle element of the triple combination in an otherwise foot-perfect run.

Second place would go to Switzerland on eight and third to the USA who finished on 12 faults along with The Netherlands, the Americans getting the edge when their combined times left them almost a second faster.


Irish team manager, Michael Blake, talked about the tactics he employed on his way to victory today.

“We always knew if things went according to plan we would go with the three (riders) we went with in the second round. And with Shane, Darragh and Daniel giving us the clear rounds (in the first round) we had a short discussion whether we would jump Cian or not, and the horse having jumped so well under lights in Wellington we decided to go with the fresh horse,” he explained. He was very grateful to Sweetnam for bringing the 10-year-old Otis Blue into the team at the last minute.

“Shane was really good to step in when Bertram (Allen) took a fall last week, Shane was riding a horse that had never done a Nations Cup before, so we are really thankful to him and his owners for making the horse available to us,” he said.

Sweetnam described the grey as “a very talented horse, but he’s only really started doing anything near this level in the last couple of months and I said to Michael he has the ability to do it but I don’t know does he have the experience yet. But he showed he had today and we got the job done and got us into a good position for the second round.”

Kenny said today’s class was super-competitive. “This is a fantastic new idea with the Longines League of Nations, and everyone was trying to win. My horse (Amsterdam 27) has been jumping great in Wellington, and the first round felt super. He’s an older horse and he’s done a lot in his career but I’m still getting to know him myself and it feels like every round is getting better and better.”


Coyle and Legacy have been enjoying an extraordinary run of form of late. “This was always Legacy’s plan after the World Cups earlier in the year, I talked to Michael and he said he’d select her for here if everything goes well. It has taken years to get to the bottom of Legacy and maybe to the bottom of me and how we work best together. I’m happy with how it worked out today, delighted with the way she jumped,” said the 29-year-old who has been blazing a trail at the highest level of the sport with the 14-year-old mare.

O’Connor was delighted to have sealed the win today. “You can only deliver when last to go if the team have done their job, and my job was easy riding with these three guys, they had amazing clear rounds and they set the whole thing up for me!” he said.

Chef d’équipe Blake told O’Connor he could afford a time fault “but I didn’t really want to ride for a time fault at the beginning of the course because if you have a fence late then you miss out on a jump-off. But when he jumped out of the combination I just started to take a breath and I had an extra stride to the last and I gave the horse a moment and we picked up a fraction of time but I was happy, we had the job done!” he said.

With 190 points now on the board after their runner-up finish in Abu Dhabi and today’s victory, Team Ireland now head the Longines League of Nations™ leaderboard ahead of Germany in second with 160 while Switzerland has moved into third with 150 points.

Next stop in the series is the third leg at St Gallen (SUI) on May 31.

Results here.