Photo Courtesy NBC 2008

On a steamy night in Hong Kong, the United States Show Jumping Team’s dreams came true. After three rounds of testing competition, it all came together.

The bright stadium lights cut through the humid night air, illuminating a winding, flowing course of fabulously decorated and designed jumps. Round one was more of a warm up, and it decided the order of go for the next round, which would start the team competition.

Round two featured a number of surprises; the highly touted German team didn’t perform as expected, finishing up with 20 faults. Not one of their riders jumper clean. Actually, only four of the 77 riders competing managed to naviagte the course cleanly, and one of those magical four was the United States’ Mclain Ward. He and his talented mare Sapphire simply glided around the course with astonishing precision.

Laura Kraut and Cedric had a superb round until the last fence, when the pair brought down a rail at the last possible second. Will Simpson and Carlsson Vom Dach had eight faults, and Beezie Madden and seasoned mount Authentic had an uncharacteristic stop on course. Madded later said that something must have irritated Authentic’s ear, as he had been violently shaking his head in the strides before the unlucky fence, and had been totally unfocused.

The next surprise came at the end of Round Two, when the results became clear: the US was tied for first with Switzerland, with each team bearing 12 points. Behind them were Sweden and Great Britain. Germany had slid to eighth.

Round Three shaped up to be one of the most exciting finals in recent Jumping history. Ward and Sapphire started off with clear rounds, and were soon followed by Kraut and Cedric, then Simpson and Carlsson. Madden and Authentic came in clear but just over the time, earning them three time faults. However, it was a fantastic performance, and the US was able to keep their top spot.

Germany and the Netherlands, another top team, simply failed to step up and deliver, and they remain safely behind the Americans. Canada, however, rushed up into the second spot, and despite losing team member Mac Cone and his mount Ole, tied the US for first. Each team had 20 points, which meant they would jump off for gold and silver.

After quickly learning the shortened jump off course, the North American teams mounted up and got ready to battle. The US had the advantage with four riders, meaning they had a drop score, while the Canadians had only three riders, meaning they would have to be almost perfect to win.

Mclain Ward was first in the ring, and he laid down a fast, clean ride to put the pressure on the Canadians. Jill Henselwood and her horse Special Ed were next, and despite a fairly quick ride, they pulled one rail. Laura Kraut and Cedric were next up for the US, and the grey gelding certainly showed how much he had matured by performing beautifully and going clear.

However, the tension thickened as Eric Lamaze and the extremely talented horse Hickstead stepped into the stadium. The pair soared around the course in the fastest time yet, and were clear. Despite their superb performance, the US still needed one more clean round, and Will Simpson and Carlsson entered the arena with the hopes of completing that golden task.

Carlsson is quite a hot horse, and he is certainly a difficult ride. Although Simpson is an experienced and talented rider, having to deliver a clear jump off round at the Olympics Games will give any rider nerves. As the pair began the course, it was clear that Carlsson wanted to run, but Simpson kept him under control and guided him safely over the first part of the course. Everything seemed to click together, and it wasn’t until the last fence that the team had a bit of a bobble. It wasn’t a huge hitch; those not in tune with riding and jumping at this level probably didn’t even notice it. But Carlsson was coming in a bit too fast, and was in danger of running past his distance, which could cost them a rail. However, Simpson steadied his mount, and Carlsson put in a smaller stride at the base of the fence before powering over. Somehow, he knew that this was no ordinary competition, and he made sure that no legs of his would go anywhere near the top rails of the last oxer on course.

As Simpson landed, the crowd erupted, and Carlsson galloped off proudly as the US team realized what they had done. Simpson’s face told the entire story as he removed his helmet and simply reveled in the moment.

Since the US team had three clear rides, anchor rider Beezie Madden was spared from having to ride in the jump off round, which would allow Authentic to rest up for the Individual competition. The Canadians, though beat, seemed proud that they had beaten Europe’s best riders and earned a silver medal. Norway claimed the broze.

The medal ceremony was truly a great moment to experience, and it seemed that the Americans were both shocked and overjoyed that they had come out on top. When the Star Spangled Banner was played, both Kraut and Madden were in tears, and it would be safe to say that Simpson and Ward also got a bit teary-eyed.

When the team mounted up again, they still seemed to be in a state of awe as they took two glorious laps around the arena before coasting out of the stadium to a smiling Chef d’Equipe George Morris.

It was truly a great day for North American show jumping; for years we have been thought of as less than than the Europeans, with lesser horses and somewhat “different” training menthods. There is little doubt that the Europeans will eventually try reclaim their spot as dominators of the Show Jumping world in more traditional competitions such as the World Cup Final, but maybe this time, the Americans will fight back a bit harder. And just maybe, we’ll continue on our quest for greatness and prove to the world that will really do belong. And we have all along.

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