Mill Spring, NC – Round one of vaulting competition at the FEI World Equestrian Games™ Tryon 2018 (WEG) concluded on Sept. 19, 2018, with an exciting range of fan-favourite Freestyles in Mill Spring, NC.
Canada Shows Creativity in Nations Cup Team Vaulting Championship
New to WEG in 2018, the Nations Cup Team Vaulting Championship combines the Freestyle scores from two individuals and one squad into one total score per team. Team Canada was first in the starting order, and their final score of 20.606 earned a final placing of eighth.
The gold medal went to Germany, whose consistent performances resulted in a score of 26.502. Switzerland followed in the silver medal position on 25.833, with Austria close behind with 25.371 to take home the bronze.
Team Canada was led by individual, Todd Griffiths, 38, of Magrath, AB, who earned top 10 finishes at the past three WEGs and specializes in the Freestyle. He and Lunar Eclipse, a 10-year-old American Warmblood mare (sired by Company Commander) owned and lunged by Kimberly Wellmann of Lubbock, TX, contributed a score of 7.135 to the team total with their Moulin Rouge themed performance.
“All of my best moves were performed the best I’ve ever done in that ring today,” said Griffiths. “I was a little bit nervous because I was coming straight from lunging in the Pas-de-Deux, but Freestyle is my event, it’s my thing. I would say it was summed up really well by former WEG champion, Kai Vorberg (GER), when I came out of the ring. He said, ‘Todd, your jumps were great, your flip was great, it was a great performance,’ and that’s exactly how I felt about it.”
Another strong contribution came from the Canadian squad, comprised of:
• Alexandra Ballance, 22, of Qualicum Beach, BC;
• Jessica Bentzen, 27, of Parksville, BC;
• Jaydee Fluet, 11, of Sundre, AB;
• Alisa Schmidt, 32, of Chilliwack, BC;
• Kate Thomas, 21, of Lantzville, BC; and,
• Korynn Weber, 21, of Nelson, BC.
The six vaulters fluidly traded positions on Charles, an 11-year-old Friesian-cross gelding owned and lunged by Saacha DeAmborossio of Bothell, WA. Their emotional performance depicting the ebbs and flows of teamwork resulted in a score of 6.827.
“I am so happy with how that felt as a whole,” said Weber of the squad’s performance. “That was a really fantastic Freestyle performance. We don’t get to work together as a team very often because we live so far apart from each other. To be able to come into the ring with only a couple weeks of practice on a new horse, I am so happy with how that felt and looked all the way through. I’m super proud of how everybody did in the ring.”
Bentzen added, “It might have been a little easier to be a team of people who all live together, but this was the team we wanted. We all work really well together, and we have the same like-minded goals. And we have another Freestyle to go, so we’re going up from here!”
The final contributing Nations Cup score came from female individual, Jeanine van der Sluijs, 31, of Olds, AB, and Habakkuk, an 18-year-old American Warmblood gelding owned and lunged by Karin Schmidt of Tottenham, ON. Van der Sluijs, who describes her usual Freestyle tone as “pretty, happy and upbeat,” delved into darker territory with a mysterious routine that produced a score of 6.644.
“Overall, I think we did a really good job,” said van der Sluijs. “I made the right choices in the moment – there were a few things I had to adjust as we went, but that’s always to be expected in a competition setting. I’m really thankful for Karin being able to step in and be my lunger, and for her horse, Habbakuk. To work with both of them as a team has been really good.”
Speaking of the new Nations Cup format, van der Sluijs said, “It’s super exciting, I really enjoy the Nations Cup setting. I’ve been watching it at CVI Aachen for years and always wished I could be part of it, so that definitely was a really neat feeling. I think it’s a really great addition to the WEG vaulting set-up; it’s a really good way to get the audience involved even more and excited about our sport.”
Girls Rule in Pas-de-Deux Competition
The Pas-de-Deux Competition kicked off with a serious display of girl power from the two Canadian pairs, starting with WEG 2014 veterans, van der Sluijs and Dallyn Shields of Didsbury, AB. The duo performed a Xena: Warrior Princess themed routine on Phoenix, a 16-year-old Belgian/Paint/Thoroughbred-cross gelding owned and lunged by Rebecca Marland of Rocky Mountain House, AB. Their confident, warrior-like movements earned a score of 7.758 to tie for ninth place with Switzerland’s Svenja Lehmann, Selina Walder and Bentley 53 after the first round of competition.
“Personally, I thought that was one of our best run-throughs,” said Shields, who won the Pas-de-Deux CVI 2* competition on the WEG grounds of the Tryon International Equestrian Center with van der Sluijs in April 2018. “We’ve been working hard drilling the full run-through, especially in the last couple of weeks, so I’m glad it was able to pay off in there. It’s kind of a blur right now, but it was so fun.”
Shields, 16, and van der Sluijs have been training together for the past eight years – a full half of Shields’ life.
“I feel like we’ve been together for so long, not necessarily in the Pas-de-Deux, but in the team or as individuals training together,” commented van der Sluijs. “It was really special to do that together when we’ve already had a partnership for so long.”
Continuing on the theme of girl power, Schmidt and Cassie Sponchia of Delta, BC performed a Wonder Woman themed Freestyle on Sponchia’s Duke, a 14-year-old Shire/Warmblood-cross gelding, lunged by Alishia McKitrick of Abbotsford, BC. Their bold moves earned a score of 6.864 for 11th place, a top 12 placing that allows the duo to move on with van der Sluijs and Shields to the second round of the Pas-de-Deux Freestyle on Sept. 20.
“Overall we had a fairly clean go; a couple little wobbles, but we’re happy with how we did,” said Schmidt. “We’ve been training together for years – Ali, our lunger, used to be on a team with Cassie and me. We just have a strong friendship and connection from working together for so many years, and we had the opportunity to work together at a higher level and seized the moment.”
Jessica Bentzen Concludes Individual Female Competition Experience
While Bentzen still has another Squad Freestyle performance to look forward to, her run as an individual ended with an unfortunate slip off of Hugo, Deborah Bentzen’s 13-year-old Belgian/Saddlebred-cross gelding, lunged by Korynn Weber of Nelson, BC. The pair recovered to ultimately score 5.526 for 16th place in the Non-Nations Cup Individual Female Freestyle.
“He tried really hard, and he has already come such a long way,” said Bentzen of Hugo. “We knew bringing him here was going to be a big challenge, but he was the horse I did the whole season with and we wanted to take the family all the way to the end.”
Bentzen concluded, “There are so many amazing women here, even having made the top half in compulsories was a huge accomplishment, beyond what I was hoping for.”
After the conclusion of the first round of vaulting competition, the top 15 individuals will be invited forward into a second round, featuring a technical test on Sept. 20 and an additional Freestyle on Sept. 22 that will decide the individual medals. The top 15 squads will also have a second opportunity to perform their custom choreography set to music during the Freestyle final for team medals on Sept. 22.
Canadian Equestrian Team (CET) athletes will also compete in jumping on Sept. 20.