Medal winners – produced not bought

After a long-term partnership with Opgun Louvo, Sandra Auffarth (GER) waves on the podium after the pair won the individual gold medal at the World Equestrian Games 2014, France. EPA/IAN LANGSDON

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Since the 2014 WEG, there is no shortage of discussion and blogs as to why North American Eventers cannot beat their European counterparts. Some obvious advantages include:

  • availability of more competitions,
  • an existing owner culture that is part of the social fabric,
  • access to top training, and
  • plenty of horse breeders.

However, it is worth studying the methods and circumstances of the medal winning combinations to determine what separates them from the rest of us.

Long-term partnerships
It took six years of FEI competitions for Sandra Auffarth (GER) and Opgun Luovo to conquer the Eventing world and win individual Gold at the 2014 World Equestrian Games in Normandy. Six years provides a lot of time in the saddle to train and perfect the partnership. If Sandra rode Opgun Luovo an average of five days a week for those six years that would be 1,560 rides. Quite likely, there were more rides, but the point is that they were not an overnight success. This partnership began early in the horse’s career and it took time and patience.

The story for Michael Jung (GER) and La Biosthetique Sam FBW is very similar. Four years after their first FEI event, they won gold at the 2010 WEG. Two years later, they were gold medalists again at the 2012 Olympics in London.

Gold medals do not come easy or fast. Statistics show that it takes a horse and rider years to form a podium partnership. After reviewing the results from the last three major games (2010 WEG, Kentucky; 2012 Olympics, London; 2014 WEG, Normandy) it was interesting that eight out of the nine medal-winning horses were produced by their podium partner.

The only exception was the bronze medal winning horse, Chilli Morning, ridden by William Fox-Pitt at the 2014 WEG. William took over the ride from Nick Gauntlett after the horse had successfully competed at the four-star level at Burghley Horse Trials in 2011.

The other medal winning mounts began their careers with the riders at the one-star level with the exception of Andrew Nicholson’s silver medal winning 2010 horse, Nereo. Their first FEI event was at a two-star but Andrew began riding the horse when it was a four-year old.

Top riders compete many horses and plenty of these horses are sold at some point in their career. However, riders are not selling medal-winning mounts. Riders know what they are sitting on and will not part with the opportunity to stand on the podium, regardless of the large sums of money that come with a sale.

Producing medal winners
Notably, the last North American individual medalists at the Olympics and WEG produced their podium mounts from the start of the horse’s international career:

  • McKinlaigh and Gina Miles (USA), silver medalists at 2008 Olympics, Beijing
    After importing McKinlaigh from Ireland as a 5 year old, Gina produced the horse through the FEI levels
  • Poggio II and Amy Tryon (USA), bronze medalists at 2006 WEG, Aachen
    Prior to Amy riding Poggio II the horse had never evented, formerly a racehorse and then a trail-riding horse

Buying four-star mounts
When lacking a four-star team horse, some  North American riders have had the means (owners, syndicates) to purchase a promising mount in time for major games. In a short amount of time, these top riders formed great partnerships with these four-star proven horses. Although they attained respectable results, podium finishes eluded them.

  • Mr. Medicott and Karen O’Connor (USA), 9th at 2012 Olympics, London
    Purchased from Germany, Mr. Medicott competed at four CCI4* events
  • Mystery Whisper and Phillip Dutton (USA), 23rd at 2012 Olympics, London
    Purchased from Australia, Mystery Whisper competed at three CCI4* events
  • Shamwari 4 and Boyd Martin (USA), 8th at 2014 WEG, Normandy
    Purchased from Sweden, Shamwari 4 competed at two CCI4* events

Quality young horses
Producing quality young horses appears to be the key to getting on the podium. Finding these young horses is the challenge. The riders on the podium are certainly not buying their horses from North America. Therefore, it would be safe to assume that North Americans need to find their podium prospects as young horses overseas. This would be step one to even the playing field.

Getting the financing and finding the horses won’t be easy but we have to start somewhere.

How can you help your nation?
Would it not be cool to be an owner of a quality young prospect that is training with a proven and driven rider? Shares in these syndicates are quite reasonable and if you love the sport of eventing, this would be a fun way to participate. Contact your favourite rider and talk to them about what sort of budget you can contribute. They will be more than happy to discuss your options. Don’t be shy, make a call today. The rider contact information is usually on their websites.


Long-term partnerships win medals. Take a look:

 2014 Normandy World Equestrian Games

Gold medalist – Sandra Auffarth on Opgun Louvo
Opgun Louvo FEI career:

  • First FEI event: CIC1* – 10/07/2008 with Sandra Auffarth
  • FEI events prior to games: 29 and all with Sandra Auffarth

Silver medalist – Michael Jung on Fischerrocana FST
Fischerrocana FST FEI career:

  • First FEI event: CIC1* – 23/03/2011 with Michael Jung
  • FEI events prior to games: 24 and all with Michael Jung

Bronze medalist – William Fox-Pitt on Chilli Morning
Chilli Morning FEI career:

  • First FEI event: CCI1* – 17/05/2007 with Nick Gauntlett
  • FEI events prior to games: 39 and 10 with William Fox-Pitt

 2012 London Olympic Games

Gold medalist – Michael Jung on La Biosthetique Sam
La Biosthetique Sam FEI career:

  • First FEI event: CIC1* – 23/03/2006 with Michael Jung
  • FEI events prior to games: 37 and all with Michael Jung

Silver medalist – Sara Algotsson Ostholt on Wega
Wega FEI career:

  • First FEI event: CIC1* – 20/07/2007 with Sara Algotsson Ostholt
  • FEI events prior to games: 23 and all with Sara Algotsson Ostholt

Bronze medalist – Sandra Auffarth on Opgun Louvo
Opgun Luovo FEI career:

  • First FEI event: CIC1* – 10/07/2008 with Sandra Auffarth
  • FEI events prior to games: 20 and all with Sandra Auffarth

 2010 Kentucky World Equestrian Games

Gold medalist – Michael Jung on La Biosthetique Sam
La Biosthetique Sam FEI career:

  • First FEI event: CIC1* – 23/03/2006 with Michael Jung
  • FEI events prior to games: 28 and all with Michael Jung

Silver medalist – William Fox-Pitt on Cool Mountain
Cool Mountain FEI career:

  • First FEI event: CIC1* – 24/05/2007 with William Fox-Pitt
  • FEI events prior to games: 10 and all with William Fox-Pitt

Bronze medalist – Andrew Nicholson on Nereo
Nereo FEI career:

  • First FEI event: CIC2* – 28/03/2007 with Andrew Nicholson
  • FEI events prior to games: 16 and all with Andrew Nicholson

 

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