Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The World is Coming

After five years of preparation, Lexington, Kentucky is bracing for the arrival of the world’s best equine athletes. They are coming for the 2010 Alltech World Equestrian Games, which begin on September 25 at the Kentucky Horse Park.  Although at this writing the games are less than a month away, the American teams are not yet set. However, each discipline has submitted a list of “nominated entries” to the Fédération Equestre Internationale, the organization that oversees international equestrian sport. Aiken has a number of representatives on these lists, including a handful of horsemen who are virtual shoo-ins.

One of the probable competitors is Robin Brueckmann, who will likely be riding on the para dressage team. Although Robin lives in North Carolina, the horse she will compete is Raison d’Etre, a Thoroughbred/Holsteiner cross gelding owned and trained by Ellie Schobel, one of Aiken’s premier dressage riders. Robin was selected as a “nominated entry” on the American team after final selection trials at Lamplight Farm in Wayne, Illinois this past June. Para dressage is a dressage competition for people with disabilities; 2010 is the first time that it will be included in the WEG. The competition runs from October 5 though October 10.

Other probable entries are three event riders who train and compete here during the winter months. The first and most likely is Phillip Dutton, who has been the first-ranked event rider in the United States for ten years straight. Phillip is on the nominated entry list with five horses, one of which is Connaught, a 17-year-old Irish Sporthorse gelding owned by Bruce Duchossois, a full-time Aiken resident. Phillip was born in Australia, but became an American citizen in 2006, in time to represent the U.S. at the 2008 Olympics in Hong Kong.

The second eventer with Aiken ties is Boyd Martin, another rider who grew up in Australia. Although Boyd has always held dual Australian/American citizenship (his mother, an American, represented this country at the 1968 Olympics on the speed-skating team) he only recently switched his competitive nationality from Australian to American. Boyd first came to Aiken as Phillip’s assistant, and now has his own training business called Windurra USA that he runs with his wife, Silva, an FEI-level dressage rider and coach. Boyd is nominated with two horses, Remington and Neville Bardos.

Aiken’s third eventing hopeful is Kim Severson, who won the individual silver medal and team bronze at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Kim is nominated with the grey Irish Sporthorse gelding Tipperary Liadhnan. Although Kim’s home base is in Virginia, she spends several months in Aiken each winter, where she competes her young horses and conducts annual clinics.

The nominated entries for the eventing team have one mandatory outing left, the LandRover 2010 USEA American Eventing Championships in Fairburn, Ga. from September 9 through 12.  Definite entries for the WEG will be named by September 25, and the eventing portion of the games runs from September 30 through October 3.

The final Aiken hopeful is Bill Long, who lives in Southern Pines, N.C., but who is on the nominated entry to compete in combined driving with a team of Gelderlander geldings lent to him by Jack Wetzel, an Aiken resident. The geldings (Digger, Director, Exodus and Bowman) are relative newcomers to the sport of combined driving, although they are an experienced four-in-hand coaching team. In fact, anyone who has seen a carriage parade in Aiken can probably picture them now: they are the stunning foursome of black horses with white socks and blazes that are customarily the parade’s leaders.

Jack Wetzel turned the team over to Bill Long, an experienced international competitor, not quite two years ago, and they have been competing against the best in the country ever since. As one of ten nominated four-in-hands, they are a definite possibility to compete, most likely as an individual entry rather than as part of the four-man American team. They are participating in a mandatory outing at the Carolina Horse Park in Southern Pines on August 28 through 31.  The combined driving competition at the WEG runs from October 7 through 10.

If all this talk about the World Equestrian Games is making you wish you had bought tickets, take heart. It might not be too late. Although no one is saying this out loud, tickets and hotel rooms don’t appear to be selling as wildly as the organizers had hoped.  In fact, tickets are still available, even to the hottest events such as the Grand Prix Freestyle and the Individual Show Jumping Final.  Some ticket prices have been discounted, and hotels around Lexington, which had raised prices with visions of a bonanza, have mostly dropped them again. Check out www.alltechfeigames.com for last minute arrangements.

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