A look back, a look ahead

By Nancy Jaffer
December 31, 2016

What will you remember about the equestrian year gone by, and what do you hope for in the equestrian year to come?

As 2016 takes its place in history and 2017 gets a turn on the calendar, let’s enjoy a break in the headlong rush of our lives and look at them both: what was accomplished over the last 12 months, as well as what’s coming our way in the upcoming year.

We’ll start with New Jersey. Those who appreciate seeing special equestrian competitions close to home have a lot to look forward to in 2017. Part of 2016’s good news was word that the U.S. Equestrian Federation’s Grand Prix and Intermediaire I dressage championships, as well as the Brentina Cup, will be returning to the Gladstone facilities of the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation May 18-21. It’s likely they also will be staged there in 2018 and 2019, offering continuing opportunities for volunteering, if sitting and watching isn’t sufficient involvement.

Laura Graves and Verdades made an impact on fans at Gladstone the last time the USEF dressage championships were held there. (Photo by Nancy Jaffer)

A redo of the interior of the foundation’s historic stable, which will mark its 100th anniversary in 2017, got under way in 2016 and will be finished in time for the dressage championships.

Monmouth at the Team moved the state’s oldest horse show to a new venue in August, and the turnout was amazing, both competitively and socially. Everyone wanted to be part of the action at the USET Foundation headquarters. Expect another great show there in 2017.

The Mars Essex Horse Trials will be held at Moorland Farm in Far Hills June 24-25, in the wake of a successful 2016 derby cross exhibition that gave the enthusiastic crowd attending a glimpse of eventing’s attractions, while demonstrating how eager people in the area are for more top-flight equestrian competition. That was the goal of the Gladstone Gathering, held at the USET Foundation in 2015. The re-emergence of Essex, last held in 1998, was a direct result of that initiative.

Holly Payne Caravella of Gladstone rode in the preview of the Mars Essex Horse Trials at Moorland Farm. (Photo by Nancy Jaffer)

There also was word that at some point, grand prix show jumping will be part of the scene at Moorland. The location has been best known for steeplechasing at October’s Far Hills Race Meeting, for which pari-mutuel betting in 2017 has been approved.

We learned that May’s Jersey Fresh International Three-Day Event found some extra land at the Horse Park of New Jersey to use for its CCIs. That will answer the concerns of riders who felt insufficient acreage led to the necessity of laying out cross-country courses that doubled back on themselves too much.

Speaking of Jersey Fresh, the 3-star CCI in 2016 was won by a Jerseybred, Powell, ridden by Ryan Wood. Powell’s breeder, Ilona English of Ringoes, earned the USEF’s Leading Eventing Breeder title for the third consecutive year in 2016. Her Summit Sporthorses also produced Ruby, a half-sister to Powell who has distinguished herself.

Iona English and Powell. (Photo by Nancy Jaffer)

In the world beyond New Jersey, the Tryon, N.C., International Equestrian Center won its bid for the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games after Bromont, Canada, dropped out due to financial reasons. The U.S. is the home of major championships for two years running, as the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup and the FEI Dressage World Cup are set for March 29-April 2 in Omaha. Why not take the opportunity to see international competition without the cost of an overseas flight?

The CenturyLink arena in Omaha will be the host of the 2017 World Cup finals in dressage and show jumping. (Photo by Nancy Jaffer)

The USEF will be starting 2017 proactively, as new president Murray Kessler, an amateur show jumper, unveils the strategic plan on which he and others have been working for months. While much of it is still to be revealed Jan. 11 at the annual meeting in Kentucky, Murray made appearances at various USEF affiliates in December.

There, he stated the intention of having the organization become more active with the base of the sport and adding members who don’t compete but are interested in horses to varying degrees. Education on line will be a big component of the USEF’s role. Compliance to show standards also will click into place, making it possible for the USEF to penalize competitions that don’t live up to requirements designed to make life better for competitors and, most important, their mounts.

Horse welfare continues to be a matter of concern and action on the competitive scene, from the USEF, the FEI (international equestrian federation) and other organizations.

If only there were as much interest in doing something about abuse and cruelty outside of the competitive ranks. Happily, horse rescues have proliferated and are doing their best, but they need help. So consider a contribution or volunteering to lend a hand. There are a number of such organizations in New Jersey that would welcome assistance.

The great equestrian moments of 2016 include the retirement of Valegro, the best dressage horse in history, as he performed once more before a packed house at Olympia in London. Will we see his like again? Maybe, but not soon.

Valegro up close and personal with his admirers in Central Park. (Photo by Lawrence J. Nagy)

My favorite equestrian moment of the year doesn’t involve Olympic medals or farewells, but it does involve Valegro. I will never forget how he stood so quietly when the crowd was invited for a hands-on visit in the arena at September’s Central Park Horse Show. His star quality involves more than strutting!

A moving moment at the Rio Olympics came when Great Britain’s 58-year-old Nick Skelton, a survivor of a broken neck, hip replacement and other medical issues, came through on Big Star (who also had recovered from injury) to realize his dream of winning individual gold.

Nick Skelton and Big Star. (Photo by Nancy Jaffer)

And don’t forget the amazing comeback of William Fox-Pitt, the British eventing star who was in a coma after a fall in the autumn of 2015. Against the odds, he worked to rehab from traumatic brain injury and rode up to his usual standard with the British team at the Rio Olympics.

There you are—special 2016 moments in all three Olympic disciplines. I hope you had some of your own. But while we’re on the subject of the Olympics, the decision to limit teams in all three disciplines to three members was very disappointing. Since there are limits on the number of athletes who can compete in the Games, a way had to be found to cut back so “more flags,” (ie representatives of more nations) can compete. That may not be a good thing in eventing, or even show jumping, if teams from countries new to the sport in the Games are not really qualified for the challenge. Three-member teams in dressage have been done quite a bit, but the likelihood of injury to either horse or rider there is miniscule compared to any sport involving jumping.

The International Olympic Committee wants sports to be easier to understand, but the idea of substituting an alternate when a competition already is under way will only complicate things. I fear the day is coming down the road when eventing will be out of the Games anyway, even though cross-country tends to draw great crowds. It’s expensive to put on, though. Let’s hope if the sport eventually is dropped, it hasn’t been so badly compromised in an effort to remain in the Games that it bears no resemblance to its former self.

I traditionally end my year in review stories by remembering those we lost during the preceding 12 months. There are always too many distinguished horsemen and women who depart, but here are a few we should take special time to remember:

Those with New Jersey connections include former USET Captain Frank Chapot of Neshanic Station, who rode in six Olympics and was the breeder of the great Gem Twist. Frank was saluted in a September memorial at the USET Foundation where the greats of several decades gathered to pay tribute.

Frank Chapot (Photo by Nancy Jaffer)

Roger Haller, who founded the Essex Horse Trials with his parents at their Bedminser farm, left us in March. But he will be remembered with the U.S. Eventing Association’s educational fund named in his memory.

Roger Haller (Photo by Nancy Jaffer)

Others we lost included trainer Sandy Sternberg, formerly of Colts Neck and volunteer Tricia Haertlein of Lebanon. The eventing community was shaken when rider Philippa Humphreys had a fatal fall at Jersey Fresh.

Elsewhere, Parry Thomas, the owner of dressage superstar Brentina and sponsor of her rider, Debbie McDonald, also left us, as did VIP tent hostess extraordinaire Kiki Umla, and Ron Southern, the founder of the famed Spruce Meadows showgrounds in Canada.

Nancy Jaffer Equestrian Sports marked its first anniversary this month. I appreciate the support and encouragement everyone has given my weekly efforts on the website. Please keep reading, and always feel free to contact me if you think you have a story. Even if it doesn’t work out, I enjoy hearing from you. Follow me on facebook at www.facebook.com/nancyjafferhorses or on twitter at Nancy Jaffer@NancyJaffer. And be sure to say hello when you see me at the shows and events.

Happy new year!

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