Riders on Nations Cup in Wellington

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Christopher Hickey on Witness Hilltop leading USA Team 1 to victory in the Nations Cup. © 2012 SusanJStickle.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

WELLINGTON, Florida, April 14–Laura Graves, selected for USA Team 2 as a rookie on teams and CDIs expressed what seemed to be the unanimous feeling about the first non-championship Nations Cup in the Western Hemisphere that was staged as the finale of the Global Dressage Festival winter cicuit under lights Saturday night.

“I’ll be fighting to be on a team next year,” said the 24-year-old whose squad won bronze behind USA Team 1 that took gold and Europe that captured silver at the Global Dressage Festival CDIO3* presented by Stillpoint Farm.

Or as Katharina Stumpf, an Austrian adult amateur rider in her second winter circuit in Florida and who helped the European team win silver, said: “I would never dream of something like this. It was fantastic.”

And Devon Kane, whose Diamante Farm became a sponsor before even the first shovel of dirt was dug in what has already become one of the premier show grounds in the world: “It showed the ability of the dressage world and the community to come out and support us and do it in a big way.”

Laura Graves and Veradades in the Nations Cup Freestyle. © 2012 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

The Nations Cup was one of five CDIs at the new multimillion dollar facility built by Equestrian Sport Productions as part of the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center that hosts the $6 million Winter Equestrian Festival of jumper and hunter competitions.

The first year of the Global Dressge Festival provided $270,000 in prize money, among the most lucratve in the world, and included the only CDI5* in North America in 2012 with a $120,000 purse as well as two World Cup qualifiers, each with $50,000 in prize money.

The show grounds consist of five outdoor arenas with footing the same quality as the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, a covered arena that may be the largest in the world and able to easily contain three full size rings, permanent stabling for 200 horses that will grow to 300 by next winter and a central retail and cafe plaza as well as a VIP pavilion that the organizers plan to make permanent by 2013.

Although the Nations Cup this weekend came two weeks after most of the equestrian community left Wellington the first week of April after a season that began in November, riders and teams took it very seriously. Not just for this year’s results, but the goal of elevating Olympic dressage qualification to Grand Prix level, same as the European Championships. This year’s Nations Cup was small tour, next year will be mixed small and big and 2014 will be at all Grand Prix. So the Pan American Games that will be the qualifying competition for Rio De Janeiro Olympics in 2016 could be at Grand Prix thanks primariy to the Wellington shows that will benefit two continents–North and South America.

Saturday night, however, the focus was on the birth of the series.

Mikala Gundersen of Denmark who rode on the European team: “It was really really exciting. Going last as the anchor made me a little nervous.”

Mikala Gundersen and My Lady. © 2012 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Christopher Hickey, 2007 Pan American Games team and individual gold medalist who was the top scoring rider in the freestyle and helped his team to the gold medal, said:  “It was a wonderful experience. To go to the ring to watch your team mates… that was a true team feeling. And to have it come down to the last ride, well, that’s a nail-biting experience.”

Caroline Roffman, who rode on the USA Team 1 with Pie who has had his share of physical issue, said: “I’m in heaven.”

Shelly Francis, of USA Team 1: “I had a blast.”

Mikala Gundersen described the show grounds as “a big international atmosphere which is what everyone has been talking about and that we now have.”

Lloyd Landkamer, organizer of the Global Dressage Festival who was dressage manager at the 2012 World Equestrian Games in Kentucky, being honored at the Nations Cup. © 2012 Ke Braddick/dressage-news.com