Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Final 2023, Omaha (USA) – written by Louise Parkes
The first horse inspection took place today as the Omaha (USA) based Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Final 2023 got underway at the CHI Health Centre. A total of 40 horses from 19 nations came before the Ground Jury headed up by President Harry Braspenning (NED), and just one was held for further re-inspection tomorrow morning at 08.00 local time, Nurjon Tuyakbaev’s 10-year-old mare Lancelotta representing Uzbekistan.
The horses already took some time to exercise in the arena this morning, and tomorrow (Tuesday 4 April) they will practice over fences during the training session which begins at 13.00. The first Final competition, a 1.60m Speed and Handiness class will take place on Wednesday starting at 19.15 and the second competition, a 1.60m with jump-off, will follow on Thursday at the same time.
Friday will be a rest day before the 2023 show jumping champion is crowned on Saturday evening after a thrilling two-round contest in which the top 30 will go into round one and the best 20 then fight it out in one final round.
Many of the world’s top riders chose to trot their horses up themselves today including Great Britain’s Scott Brash with Hello Jefferson and Jur Vrieling with his lovely grey Long John Silver 3 who got a big hug from his rider when they were given the thumbs up. Fellow-Dutchman Harrie Smolders also showed Monaco NOP as did Ireland’s Denis Lynch with Brooklyn Heights.
Defending champion, Martin Fuchs had not arrived so it was the Swiss rider’s popular groom, Irishman Sean Vard, who presented Leone Jei, the horse with which Fuchs won team gold and individual silver at the FEI European Championship in Riesenbeck (GER) in 2021.
Vard talked about the 11-year-old gelding, and the part he personally plays as Team Fuchs prepare for this big week ahead.
“Always at Championships and big events Leone Jei has stepped up even though he is still young and inexperienced. He’s quite a hot horse so we try to keep him cool. For him the bigger the tracks the better he jumps and he was sensational in Geneva in December. After that he had a few weeks off while we were on the Sunshine Tour, and he was just hacking and doing conditioning work, and then he jumped at the Dutch Masters in ’s-Hertogenbosch (NED) where he finished fifth and gave a fantastic effort.
“We took him to Gorla Minore in Italy last week where he jumped three 1.25m tracks, but he’s always in shape, he’s a great horse for us and has done fantastic things and naturally being title defenders we have a really great feeling with him”, Vard said.
So how does it feel putting in all the preparation, knowing once Martin gets onboard it’s all out of his hands?
“It’s all very much in my hands until the horse goes through the start beams. It’s a team effort. Martin isn’t here yet, he had a late flight so I’ve ridden the horse five times already”, said the Irishman who rode up to international level himself before deciding to become a top groom.
He can arrive and the horse is 100% ready to jump. It’s a good feeling knowing that he trusts me to do it, and it’s also a good feeling knowing that I’ve played a huge part in it until he goes through that start beam”, he explained.
So what about Leone Jei’s character? “He’s a fantastic personality but he’s a bit of a hot-head sometimes, it’s all about managing his energy levels. He’s a big horse and sometimes he can be too fresh so it’s a delicate balance between doing too much and too little. Especially after driving from Switzerland to the plane in Liege (BEL) and then quarantine after coming here over the last few days. He’s very nice and very easy to be around, and he has filled big shoes since Clooney (Fuchs’ legendary former ride) retired.”
There’s no shortage of powerful opposition to the defending champion, however, and it’s all to play for when the action gets underway for real on Wednesday night.