While the British team is firmly in the lead at the FEI World Championships at Pratoni del Vivaro, Italy, after the first day of dressage, Team USA is in bronze medal position - and only half a mark behind the second-placed New Zealand squad.
Both of the U.S. riders who performed their tests today are in the top 10 - Will Coleman, who scored 26.4 aboard Off The Record (VDL Arkansas x Drumogoland Bay) is in fifth place, while Lauren Nicholson is in seventh with 27.1 on Vermiculus (Sazeram x Wake Me Gently). Their team total at this stage is 53.5. The Kiwis are on 53 with team first-timer Monica Spencer riding the 11-year-old Thoroughbred gelding Artist who she co-owns with Andrew Spencer in third place with a mark of 25.6 and Clarke Johnstone in eighth with 27.4 on the 12-year-old British Sport Horse gelding Menlo Park (Berlin x Gaerie Queen), owned by Clarke, Jean, and Rob Johnstone.
Coleman, who posted a solid, accurate test on the Off The Record Syndicate’s Irish-bred 13-year-old, said: “We’ve had a lot of traveling - like a lot of horses - to get here, and I think that’s never easy on horses. Given everything, I thought my horse tried very hard today and I’m very happy with him."
“I thought we squeezed every point out of the test that we could," Coleman continued, "and when he came out this morning that was my mentality - ok, it may not be our best stuff, but let’s just see if we can ride as clean a test as we can and leave as few penalties on the table as we can, and I think we did that. In that respect, I’m happy.”
Nicholson was visibly pleased with Jacqueline Mars’ Vermiculus; the 15-year-old Anglo Arab produced an elegant, flowing performance and resisted the temptation to “show off” too much, to which he sometimes falls prey. She said: “I’m thrilled with him. I think everyone knows that the Arab can throw in some moments, but I did not aggravate the Arab and he did quite well in front of the crowd! He does love a big moment; he’s always at his best at the bigger competitions. I was happy to put down a good score for the team - that was our job; I didn’t have to go in there and try and do anything amazing, just try not to mess it up. He’s super - the judges want to like him, and always have, even when he’s been naughty, and when he’s not naughty he’s very workmanlike, his changes are super-easy, and it was fun once it was done!
“My motto with him is that it doesn’t get better after the first 10 minutes, so I came down to the final warm-up as the rider two before me was starting his test, and that was enough for him.”
Team Great Britain have a 7.5-penalty advantage over New Zealand, and Badminton winners Laura Collett and 13-year-old Holsteiner gelding London 52 (Landos x Vernante), who Collett co-owns with Keith Scott an dKaren Bartlett, are in gold medal position after scoring an impressive 19.3. EquiRatings pointed out that this is Collett’s best-ever international score, and one of the top three ever seen at a World Championships.
Collet said: “Oh my God, what a horse! He definitely loves a crowd. He went into that arena and said ‘yes, everyone is here to see me.' He’s just a pleasure to ride when he’s like that. He was pretty good at Badminton but there were bits that weren’t quite good enough, and we’ve just been working on those, and once I got that first center line out of the way, I thought, ‘Carl [Hester, who trains Collett] will be happy with that!’ From then on it felt like he got better and better and I could have a lovely time, basically.
“I definitely felt the pressure - I am well aware I am sitting on one of the best horses in the world and people expect me to deliver, but luckily he delivered. And I managed to steer in the right direction! I’m just the luckiest person to be sitting on him, and he does just keep getting better and better. Let’s hope I can keep saying that throughout this weekend!”
Britain also holds individual silver at this stage courtesy of senior championship debutants Yasmin Ingham riding Janette Chinne and Sue Davies' 11-year-old Selle Francais gelding Banzai du Loir (Nouma D'auzay x Gerboise du Cochet), who finished second at Land Rover Kentucky CCI5* this spring and who were excellent in the dressage arena today for a mark of 22. They are individuals here, but Ros Canter - winner of the individual and team gold medals four years ago in Tryon - contributed to her country’s top score with a mark of 26.2 for fourth on Michele Saul's 10-year-old British Sport Horse gelding Lordships Graffalo (Birkhof's Grafenstolz x Cornish Queen).
The remaining team riders for the U.S. - Tamie Smith and Boyd Martin - do their tests tomorrow, as does individual competitor Ariel Grald. And the view so far is that this will not be a dressage competition.
Coleman, commenting on being first of the blocks for Team USA, said: “It’s a tough job [going first for the team] - I’ve been first before, I’ve been last before, so I think we all have the same sort of approach, that we want to go out and execute, and just keep giving our horses the best chance of coming home clear and with as few time-penalties as possible. It’s a really intense track, so my job is to go out there and bring back some good feedback for the other guys, and that’s what we’re going to try to do.
“I think it’s kind of a mongrel track, especially in the beginning - you’re just weaving up and down these Pratoni hills. Off The Record is not the most ‘blood’ but he’s a real fighter, and I think he’ll hopefully bring that same bulldog-like attitude to the cross-country, and if he does, then I think we should be ok.”
This is the fourth championship for Nicholson and Vermiculus, and she said: “I’m excited about the cross-country - it suits him, the jumps are big, it’s a proper championship track and I think everyone expected that and planned for it. He’s very seasoned at this point. Anything can happen, it’s cross-country day, but I’m very confident in the horse I’m sitting on heading out there.”
Nicholson came out for the test event here at Pratoni as a spectator and found the experience invaluable in helping to prepare the team for this event. She said: “In the States, we don’t often get to go to places we haven’t been to a dozen times before and I think that is something you have to practice - being able to compete somewhere you can’t visualize in your head, so I was very glad to have that under my belt.”
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