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George Morris Leads U.S Show Jumping Team to Win First Leg of Samsung Super League at La Baule, France

by Maria Partlow | May 6, 2005, 5:45 AM

La Baule, France - Lady riders completely dominated the first leg of the 2005 Samsung Super League nations cup series in La Baule, France today where the all-girl American side won through ahead of the British, while America's Schuyler Riley and Britain's Ellen Whitaker produced the two double-clear performances of the day.

George Morris and his team now head for the second leg of the Samsung Super League series in Rome later this month full of confidence and knowing that all the effort has been worthwhile.

It was a drama-filled afternoon with the course designed by Frederic Cottier and Serge Houtman providing a stiff opening-round challenge but the Irish had even more to worry about when involved in controversy over one of their horses, the mare Ado Annie ridden by Harry Marshall, while Holland's Angelique Hoorn had a nightmare of a day when eliminated in both rounds when her horse, BCO VDL Oranta simply refused to do his job.

The day held no horrors for the Americans however as they showed their class to complete with just 16 faults on the board. The British finished just one fence behind while the home side from France were third ahead of Germany in fourth. The Belgians and Dutch finished on level-pegging in fifth while the Swiss slotted into seventh ahead of the Irish at the bottom of the order.

First in to face the 12-fence track, Angelique Hoorn was looking good until turning to face the final line. Oranta suddenly stuck in her toes and would not allow the rider to steer her towards the double three from home and, after a long struggle, the Dutch rider was obliged to leave the ring without completing the track.

Switzerland's Markus Fuchs however quickly showed that the course was jumpable when steering La Toya home clear and when Lauren Goffinet and the super little stallion Flipper d'Elle followed suit for France the spectators relaxed once more.

By the end of the first round the home-side heroes were vying for the lead with the Americans. Christian Hermon and Ephebe for Ever La Silla left all the fences intact and the five faults picked up by JPC Modesto Equifoam and Jean Marc Nicolas could be discounted when Herve Godignon hit only the oxer at fence seven to leave France with just four faults on the board.

Beezie Madden's stallion Judgement hit the front element of the triple combination at fence 5 and the 1.60m white vertical at fence six to return an eight-fault result but Georgina Bloomberg, 21 year old daughter of the Mayor of New York city who was experiencing her very first big nations cup outing, recorded a spectacular clear with Riviera and when Schuyler Riley did likewise with Ilian only the single error incurred by Laura Kraut and Miss Independent at the first element of the double three from home was counted by the US squad.

The British and Swiss were hot on the heels of the joint leaders with just eight faults at the halfway stage however and the Germans were still looming large with 12 on the board, helped in no small way by a foot-perfect run from Mylene Diederichsmeier and Countess G. The Belgians were hampered by the loss of a score for Ludo Philippaerts who was eliminated when his mare, Kira, who had not even glanced at the water under the vertical at fence three, slammed on the brakes at the middle element of the treble which was also had a water tray. They slotted into sixth at this stage but there was great confusion when the half-time scores were announced.

The Irish appeared to share the bottom of the order with the Dutch when both carried 24 faults but the commentator said that an enquiry was taking place into the Irish result.

Harry Marshall took over the ride on the Irish-bred mare Ado Annie last season when, having been competed on the US circuit by Will Simpson, she was bought back by her breeders, the Larkin family from County Meath in Ireland. La Baule presented the new partnership with their first big test but it was discovered that the mare's tongue had been tied down today. Initially Marshall, who knocked only the final fence in round one, was eliminated, but after the rules were checked and a call had been made to FEI headquarters in Lausanne, it was decided he should receive only a fine and he was allowed to come back again in round two.

Horse's tongues are sometimes held down to prevent them from getting over the bit which leads to great difficulty with control, but it is not permitted to tie down a horse's tongue during competition - however it is not an elimination offence either so the Ground Jury therefore decided to fine and warn the rider - "it was an innocent mistake" insisted new Irish Chef d'Equipe Taylor Vard.

Round two saw the tension intensify at the sharp end - the Swiss fell away with three mistakes from Christina Liebherr (LB No Mercy) and eight-fault results from Fuchs, Fabio Crotta (Madame Pompadour M) and Niklaus Schurtenberger (Cantus) and it was left to the British, French and Americans to battle it out for the major placings.

The French began to look vulnerable when Flipper d'Elle hit the first part of the treble combination and then, uncharacteristically, ducked out to the left when finding himself all wrong at the second element and when Christian Hermon collected six faults, Jean Marc Nicolas added another nine and Herve Godignon had one fence down the total of 23 was only good enough for third position.

Another fantastic round from Ellen Whitaker, niece of John and Michael Whitaker and yet another member of the talented British family who have been the backbone of the British squad for generations, secured runner-up spot for Britain when Nick Skelton and Russel produced another four-fault round, John Whitaker produced another eight-fault score and William Funnell and Mondrian added nine more faults to the four picked up on their first tour of the track.

In the end Laura Kraut and Miss Independent did not even have to go into the ring a second time because even with a single error from Beezie Madden and two rails down for Georgina Bloomberg the win was secured for the USA after another fault-free performance from Schuyler Riley.

The girls insisted that they owed much of their success to their new Chef d'Equipe George Morris - "he has tried to create more of a team spirit and we have been working really well together" said Schuyler who described her horse Ilian as "a bit like a brother - I've been riding him now for eight years and we've grown up togehter" she said.

Laura described this historic victory as "the beginning of a new era for American show jumping - George makes you believe that you can do it - he's fantastic!"

"We came here with high hopes" said Beezie, "we thought we had a good chance - George expected us to win!". She described the course as "excellent - the difficulties were spread all around the track, the combination was spooky and the last line had really difficult distances - you might have it planned to go on four strides from the double at fence 10 to the oxer at 11 but it all depended on how your horse came out of the double - you had to change your plan at the last minute if necessary" she explained. This particular line cause plenty of problems throughout the competition but the American ladies never looked bothered, all their horses proving infinitely rideable at the most important moments.

Commentating on the all-girl US line-up Schuyler said "we are used to this at home - its only here in Europe that it seems strange to have so many women on a team".

Course designer Frederic Cottier said he had built the track "to make it more difficult for the riders and more comfortable for the horses - it was not a very demanding course for horses - the triple near the lake was testing and in the last line there was a choice of strides between the double and the next, four or five strides - riders who waited and could not make a quick decision were in trouble there" he commented.

They are the early series-leaders with 10 points on the board followed by the British with seven but the double-champions from France are only five points behind the leaders and their dream of a hat-trick of Samsung Super League titles is far from over. In fact today it has only just begun.