Almost The Olympics

By Roger (17 July 2016)

Last weekend, I photographed the FEI Nations Cup, at Great Meadow, in The Plains, Virginia (link). This was the last event for the US Eventing Team, heading to the Olympics in Rio. It was a long, hot weekend, but the equestrian skills of the competitors were what you'd expect from Olympians – top notch. There were riders from the US, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Puerto Rico. This was the first time the Nations Cup was held outside of Europe, and it ended with a US victory. Go, Team!

On Friday, we had the opening ceremonies and a bareback puissance. A puissance tests a horse's ability to jump large obstacles, and this one was done with no saddle. You may think riding a horse is no big issue, since there is plenty of room for you on top, but, I think, jumping over tall obstacles, with no saddle and stirrups, is just plain nuts. Chris Talley, riding Wyeth, jumped a fence at five feet, 3 inches to win the event. The top rail was taller than the horse's withers. It was an exciting competition to watch.

Up high, with no saddle

Up high, with no saddle

Chris Talley, in one of his early jumps

Chris Talley, in one of his early jumps

Saturday began with the dressage, a highly regulated expression of horse training in which the horse and rider are expected to perform a judged series of predetermined movements, from memory. To the uninitiated (me), dressage can be hard to follow. Luckily, my experienced assistant for the weekend talked me through the important moves and moments to look for. (Thanks, Jen.) This is always a formal dress event, and the British Team went all out. Clark Montgomery, from the US Team, won the event on Loughan Glen.

Ben Way, from Great Britain, dressed in his top hat

Ben Way, from Great Britain, dressed in his top hat

Emily Beshear, USA

Emily Beshear, USA

The afternoon was dedicated to show jumping. This is another of the three Olympic equestrian events. The jumps vary in height and width, and the riders must negotiate the course, with a time consideration. Of course, the horse cannot knock down any of the rails or refuse a jump. The winner of the event was Clark Montgomery, from Team USA.

The location, inside the brand new Fleming Arena, was full of colorful and interesting jumps. This made for a very cluttered background. I needed to move around to find the backgrounds with the fewest distractions. I found a couple, but that gave me too many repetitive photos. Photography is full of compromises.

American Clark Montgomery swept the entire event

American Clark Montgomery swept the entire event

Canadian Colleen Loach heading for the last jumps

Canadian Colleen Loach heading for the last jumps

Sunday began with the sounds of the hounds from the Middleburg Hunt. The dogs ran around the course, delighting the kids in the crowd. They were well-behaved, but couldn't resist the call of the pond. With the sound of the horn, they were off, and the final event could begin.

Middleburg Hunt hounds taking a dip

The final event was the cross-country. Although time is still a consideration in scoring, this is an endurance test. Courses can vary from less than two miles to four miles. Sunday's course was just under two miles. It was designed by Mike Etherington-Smith, and he took full advantage of the beautiful Great Meadows grounds. Each of the jumps were, again, different heights and widths, through water, up and down hills. The course wound throughout the grounds, with portions running through the arena for those avoiding the heat in the spectator and sponsor tents. The shapes of the jumps were all different and meant to appeal to the eye and imagination. There were wagons, houses, brush, a cannon, and even one that looked like a hammock between two trees. Craig Montgomery finished off a great weekend and, again, won the event for a complete sweep.

The cross-country event is definitely the crowd favorite. The course was packed with spectators, and the design of the course allowed them to move between the jumps. We visited many of them, but I spent the most time around the pond for the most dramatic shots.

Hallie Coon, USA, jumps the hammock

Sinead Halpin, USA, jumps the beer wagon

Boyd Martin, USA, in the pond

Holly Payne Caravella, USA, and a different angle on the pond

All in all, it was another great weekend at Great Meadows. It is always one of my favorite venues for photographs. You can see the scores for all the competitors here. Here's wishing the best for our Olympic Equestrian Team when they compete in Rio. They certainly made for an enjoyable weekend.