The American team is reigning Olympic champions, and will defend their gold from Hong Kong in London. The team consists of three of the sport’s most experienced riders; McLain Ward, Beezie Madden and Rich Fellers – as well of the rising star Reed Kessler, who is making her Olympic debut at only eighteen years old.
McLain Ward – who turns 37 in October – was on the winning American team in Hong Kong, riding Sapphire. This time around Ward will partner up with Antares F. Ward has two Olympics behind him, two World Equestrian Games and one Pan American Games – bringing home medals at all but one championship. ”This is my third Olympics. We want to stay focused on what we need to do and not let the excitement overwhelm us,” McLain said at yesterday’s media briefing. On his partner Anatres F, a 12 year old gelding by Araconit bred by ZG Hans Jörn and Gaby Funk and owned by Grant Road Partners LLC, Elizabeth Miller and Lauren Ward – McLain said; “Antares is incredibly talented. He has the stamina for this type of event – to perform for the days required.”
Madden is another multi-medalist on the American team, with two team gold medals from the Olympics in Hong Kong and Athens, as well as medals from the WEG in Aachen in 2006 and the Pan American Games in 2011. On her ride Via Volo, a 14 year old mare by Clinton owned by Coral Reef Ranch, Beezie said; “People walk up and are shocked by how small she is, but she has great stride and scope. Flexible is almost as small. We’ve never measured her."
Fellers – born on the 3rd of October 1959 – will ride at his first Olympics with Flexible, the horse that was his partner when Fellers won the World Cup Final in Den Bosch earlier this year. The two have competed at five World Cup Finals together. With his 15.2 hands, Flexible – an Irish bred stallion by Cruising and owned by Harry and Mollie Chapman – is one of the smallest horses in the competition but that does not prevent him from jumping fences higher than himself; “He feels like a small horse except when he’s in the ring. I’ve never been concerned about his size," Fellers said yesterday. “Flexible feels as fresh as ever. It doesn’t seem like (a bust competition schedule) he’s taken that much toll. I don’t anticipate any let down. He’s a real fighter through and through," Fellers added about his 16 year old partner.
Kessler will make her championship debut in London. She will ride Cylana, which she has had fantastic results with this season; “Cylana is a big horse but feels light on her feet. She’s a dream horse for a kid like me,” Reed commented on her 10 year old mare by Skippy II owned by Reed and her trainer Katie Prudent. As the youngest member of the team, Reed Kessler admitted there is “a certain amount of pressure” because of her age adding that the U.S. trials system was great at insuring the best horses and riders made the team.
The American Chef d’Equipe George Morris – by now a living legend – said this of his team at the press conference: “We have great riders, a lovely group of horses. I’ve been to 12 or 13 Olympics and I don’t run around to other venues which I find very distracting. I’m focused on my sport. I’m here for the equestrian sport.” Morris explained how the sport has changed through his career; “Since 1984 in Los Angeles this has become a different sport. It used to be that the Grand Prix of Aachen or Dublin were the big events. Now this has become bigger, wider and more difficult."
McLain Ward and Beezie Madden are both team gold medalists from past two Olympics, and commented on now and then. “Each Olympics is a different experience. We develop long term partnerships and the relationship with Antares is pretty established. Athens was out of the blue. In Hong Kong, the partnership of Sapphire and me was at the prime of our careers together. This is a new horse, but I know him well enough,” McLain said. On the American medal chances, McLain commented; “I think if we all stay focused and do our job we will be in the hunt." Beezie said; "Athens was the first time, and things went by kind of fast. In Hong Kong we were more seasoned. These are different horses and never really can compare one horse to another. They’re all special in their own way."
After taking home the team gold at the two last Olympic Games, expectations are high for the American team – but George Morris was careful in his predictions when it comes to where the medals will end up; “You can’t ever predict with horses. At this time there are five or six very even teams. I always have to say the Germans because of their work ethic. They want it, not just today – but all year, all of their life.”
As to the individual medals, Morris said; “Individuals? It will be the freshest, soundest horse at the end. Don’t think of the first day or the second day – but the third day or the last day. People get nervous and want to overtrain. On the last day for the individual it will be the freshest horse, not necessarily the best rider."
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