Postcard 1: 2008 Developing Rider Tour, Poland

Developing Rider Coach Melanie Smith Taylor checks in from Poznan, Poland, the first stop on the USEF Show Jumping Developing/Young Rider Tour.

Melanie Smith Taylor at the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation’s Gladstone, N.J., headquarters before departing for Europe with the Developing Riders’ squad of Jeanne Hobbs, Michael Morrissey, Tracy Magness, James Benedetto and Alexa Lowe | © 2008 by Nancy Jaffer

June 6, 2008 — Okay, everyone–here I go again. I ran up to the press area yesterday and wrote a longish email and then somehow it disappeared. My dad always used to wonder where all those emails went in cyberspace and now I do, too.

Things are fine here: Silence does not mean the opposite. To summarize briefly, there were a few blips the first day with fresh horses and getting in the ring for the first time, but all in all, everything went fine.

James Benedetto was the star of the day finishing fourth out of 69 competitors in the big class of the day. Jeanne Hobbs almost notched a win in the other class, having the fastest time in the power and speed with one rail down. Alexa Lowe, Michael Morrisey and Tracy Magness all got both their horses in the ring for nice opening day classes.

There are 18 countries and 13 full teams competing here–wow! The draw for the Nations’ Cup was humorous as the numbers for order of go were taped to the bottom of Polish vodka bottles. The coach from each country would pick a bottle of choice to reveal his or her team’s post position. Being at the end of the alphabet the U.S. was next-to-last to choose. Poland, the host country, was last. So there were two bottles left and the only remaining places in the start order were numbers 1 and 12. The first position is never coveted, especially with a young team. So I am playing Russian roulette deciding which bottle to pick. I got lucky and chose 12.

Unfortunately, that was the best luck we were going to have.

The Nations’ Cup course was quite big and hearty, not so wide, but tall and very, very square everywhere. There was a liverpool oxer five strides to the open water away from the gate, an oxer/vertical/oxer triple combination with a related distance to it caused major problems all day, and the double combination also were very scopey.

Tracy went first for us on Tarco and had 12 faults. She thought she only had 4, it was that kind of round. Her horse jumped well.

Alexa went second on Madyleen, who jumped brilliantly, but Alexa’s brand new stirrup leather broke over the fifth jump in middle of the triple combination and she had to finish the rest of the round being flung around in the saddle as the mare kept jumping higher and higher. She really fought for it and hung in there like a trooper for 12 unfortunate faults also.

Michael entered next on Crelido, who saw something he didn’t like, whether flags, balloons or who knows, and he spun around as if he had no intention of jumping the course. Michael rose to the occasion and with his determination got it done as well. His horse slipped or just didn’t set coming into the triple and slid into it, causing him to have to attempt it again giving him time faults. In his hurry to finish within the time, he had the last fence down. But the horse never questioned Michael again after his initial spook in the beginning. He ended with 13 faults.

But the scores of the first three riders don’t really reflect how well they rode and how well the horses jumped. They were victims of circumstance and you just had to be there to really understand and appreciate their performances.

James was our anchor on Gigi and performed like a true veteran, barely having 4 faults at the troubling triple coming in. And then there was Jeanne on Nielson who actually jumped the first round of the Nations’ Cup with only 4 faults. All the individuals were allowed to jump to qualify for the grand prix on Sunday. Jeanne’s score couldn’t count for our team as she was riding as an individual. But we are all a team here and we were so proud of her round. She was cool as a cucumber.

I felt all the riders handled the pressure of this career-shaping experience so very well. I was extremely proud of them. We didn’t qualify for the second round, but no shame here. Denmark won on a score of zero. We hope to emulate them next time; they were brilliant. We have some fabulous horses, not to mention great riders. We have our work cut out for us for the rest of the tour but everyone is pumped and positive. Onward and upward!

We all decided to go to the old city centrum for a team dinner last night and had so much fun. My stomach is still hurting from laughing. We have some very funny and special personalities in this group, along with a few natural comedians. The town square was very active last night, surrounded by outdoor cafes and discos. Eliza Shuford and a friend were here to cheer on the team, and they joined us, which added to the fun. I can’t say how late we all stayed out because you wouldn’t believe me anyway.

I’ve got to go watch the horses flat and get ready for today’s class, which is the final qualifier for the grand prix.