To start the eighth day of WEG I popped over to the Vaulting arena this morning to watch some freestyles before whizzing over to the Tryon Stadium to catch the Canadian para riders and then nipping back and forth to the US Trust Arena for the show jumping. It was hideously hot and I almost wish it would rain to dampen down the dust created by all the construction work and stirred up by an endless stream of vehicular traffic.

Vaulter Jessica Bentzen and lunger Korynn Weber.

Vaulter Jessica Bentzen and lunger Korynn Weber.

Please Give Hugo A Hug

Vaulter Jessica Bentzen and lunger Korynn Weber may have just eked into the second round of the women’s individual vaulting freestyle, but they both knew the temperament issues that they faced with their equine partner, Hugo. “He’s quite difficult in that he’s very sensitive,” explained Jessica, who had an unplanned dismount in the opening round which left her 15th of 17 starters. “He’s got a very suspicious nature and he’s a nervous character and in this atmosphere he just couldn’t cope.”

“Some days he comes out full of nerves and all he needs is a hug; but you can’t do that from the end of a lunge line,” noted Korynn.

This was the combination’s tenth competition together this season and Jessica said it was the first time Hugo had had an issue. “Can you blame him? It’s a big ring and a huge atmosphere to come into,” she said. “It’s an atmosphere North American horses never get to see. In Europe they have Aachen and other CVIs where the horses compete in a bigger ring, separate from the warm up, but in all of our competitions in Canada the horses are always right next to the competition ring so there are always other horses around and other people. I doubt the North American horses have ever run into a ring like this one.”

Para riders Pepo Puch and gold medallist Stinna Tange Kaastrup of Denmark.

Para riders Pepo Puch and gold medallist Stinna Tange Kaastrup of Denmark share a laugh. (Sarah Miller/MacMillan Photography)

What The Heck Is Going On Up There?

It’s been a while since I’ve covered para-dressage and I had forgotten just how humbling it is. Canada’s Para riders Lauren Barwick and Roberta Sheffield were both in action for the maple leaf today at Tryon. Although neither medaled in the Grade III Individual Championship, both were gracious in defeat. In this sport it really is the taking part that counts the most.

To begin with, Lauren, 40, was never expecting to be selected. Her first qualifying show came two months after the birth of her first daughter, Viola, ten months ago. “Imagine riding 60 days after giving birth,” said Laura. “Being a new mom I haven’t had the time to really compete and train. Engelbrecht is only nine and he has not benefited from great riding from me either. I would describe it as unbalanced and uncoordinated. He’s like ‘what the heck is going on up there?’ And he deserves better out of me and that’s what I’m looking forward to doing next year. The WEG is giving him the experience for Tokyo.”

The challenge for Roberta Sheffield was helping her gorgeous 16-year-old PRE elite stallion Bailaor learn how to be a Para horse and how not to be a grand prix horse. Originally trained to grand prix by Spanish star Beatriz Ferrer Salat with a view to the London Olympics, the dark bay Andalusian ended up in the UK and then “by weird coincidence” found himself with the breeder of the horse Roberta rode in Rio. She in turn offered the ride to Roberta who’s domiciled in the UK. “Para is a whole new challenge for him. I still feel him going into the test asking me ‘What do you want? You can’t just want walk and trot.’ But today was a really, really good feeling. He stayed on the aids and with me, rather than him offering me all the fancy stuff that we don’t need.”

Rheumatoid arthritis affects all four limbs of Roberta’s body as well as every joint, her spine, neck and jaw. The bones in her feet are “so crumbly” that they are damaged by the use of stirrups so she doesn’t use them in the arena. “My sponsors, MDC, give me the best possible stirrups to use so I do the warm-up with the stirrups, but then I get rid of them for the test so my feet don’t break up anymore.”

We Will Fight To The End

I know for a fact Mark Laskin will be more than just disappointed with the results of his show jumping team in today’s Speed Competition. I don’t even have to ask him and he doesn’t want to have to tell me. I just know.

It was a long, hot, sunny day. I never understood before today how people could wear jeans in this weather. I am now educated: you can’t see the sweat through blue jeans.

Representatives of 49 nations jumped Alan Wade’s Table C and out of 120 rounds only eleven came under the 80 second barrier. Sadly, none of them were on our team. One of them, Rowan Willis, who finished the day in third behind Steve Guerdat and Pedro Veniss, was a complete curiosity. Who the heck is this guy? More on him tomorrow.

Israeli Show jumper Dani Goldstein rocking the peacock locks.

Israeli Show jumper Dani Goldstein rocking the peacock locks.

I don’t think many would debate that the pool of established talent was rather thin on the ground for Canada in the run up to WEG. But we came with the best we had at the time we needed them. Before Tryon, two members of the squad, Erynn Ballard and Kara Chad, had never competed in a senior championship. I was covering the Atlanta Olympics the year Kara was born. That’s how young she is. Bolstering the newbies with around 60 years of combined experience are Mario Deslauriers and Eric Lamaze. The ’but’ in that equation is that Mario is on a green horse in her first championship. Eric is Eric. He’s the best in the business.

And you know what? Nobody did badly. It’s just that in sport you have to be better than everyone else to make it the podium or in Canada’s case qualify for the next Olympics which was probably their only realistic goal here at Tryon.

I’ll tell you another thing. Canada is in 12th place in the team standings. That’s just two places away from qualifying for the second round of the team medal competition. As Eric said today, tomorrow we go back to “normal” show jumping. “Okay we aren’t in the greatest situation, but we will fight all the way to the end.”