The U.S. contingent had six rookies competing in the FEI World Cup™ Finals Omaha 2023. One dressage combination and five jumping combinations delivered solid performances in front of a home crowd in their first FEI World Cup Finals. They gained valuable experience at the international championship that will serve them for upcoming competitions and years to come.
Alice Tarjan and Serenade MF were the rookie combination in the FEI Dressage World Cup™ Final presented by Havensafe Farm. They finished ninth in the in the FEI Grand Prix Freestyle to Music.
“It’s been really exciting to be here,” said Tarjan. “At the end of the day, I think it is a 20 by 60 ring like every other ring that we ride in and, when you get in there, you have got a job to do. Certainly, the experience has been really fun.”
For the jumping rookie contingent, Nick Dello Joio and Cornet’s Cambridge made it to Round III in the FEI Jumping World Cup™ Final. They were the highest-placed U.S. first-timer combination, finishing in 20th place.
“I think I learned a lot. Part of coming here the first time is for a bit of experience,” said Dello Joio. “It was good nerves. I felt very prepared coming, but I think the nerves were good. I was just talking to McLain [Ward] back there [in the barns] and he was saying with his first World Cup [Final] to sitting back there before we walked up to hop on is the same. You have got to be able to channel them and put them to good use and not let them get the best of you.”
Elisa Broz was the youngest competitor in Omaha at only 18 years old. She rode Kardenta Van’t Meerhof in her World Cup Final debut and aimed to do her best.
“I kind of came in expecting nothing a little bit, just so I didn’t have any preconceived notions,” said Broz. “I would be lying if I didn’t say I was a little nervous, but I try to trust my horse and my trainer and what we have done at home and go out there and try my best.”
Ailish Cunniffe had a similar mindset for her first World Cup Final appearance. She and Vivaldi du Theil did their best in the high-pressure atmosphere, and Cunniffe hopes to be back for another World Cup Final.
“Honestly, I didn’t come in with crazy high expectations,” said Cunniffe. “I came in feeling really fortunate to be here in the first place, so I think that kind of helped me a little bit. Because I was like, ‘You know what? Whatever happens happens. I am lucky to have made it this far. I am going to try my best.’ I get to watch all of these amazing people show and compete. The fact that I get to show and compete at the highest level of the sport is indescribable.
“I think everything coming up after is going to look smaller and easier for sure,” added Cunniffe. “I think that it will make the next time that I hopefully get to come back here again a little bit easier, a little bit less stressful, a little bit less intimidating and just know that I have done it once so I can do it twice.”
Natalie Dean and Acota M had an educational week in Omaha, and Dean looks forward to the future with her talented horse.
“She is an incredible animal, I am lucky to ride her, and she has a big future ahead of her,” said Dean. “I think, for sure, I had some nerves this week, and they caught up to be a little bit. It is my first championship obviously, just learning how to deal with that pressure. I’m excited and I hope there are lots of championships to come.”
Simonne Berg and Cooper improved from Round I to Round II, and Berg gained experience balancing her show nerves.
“I think the mental game is really important,” said Berg. “I know, for me, I tend to get really nervous. Coming into the week, I tried to balance my nerves with what I am doing. My horse has always gotten me from start to finish no matter what. I was trying to place my faith in my horse, and it worked.”