When I’m talking to the general public about show jumping, a question I frequently get is, “When does the season start?”
Well, we, as riders, know that the season for equestrian sports never really quite ends. It more or less changes with the seasons. In the winter, the circuit migrates south to Florida and the 12-week Winter Equestrian Festival. The spring and summer bring riders north and to expansive grass fields. None more prestigious or lucrative than Spruce Meadows in Calgary, AB. And in the fall, there are indoors.
I love fall.
The Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ is the most prestigious individual indoor championship. Meaning that when the indoor shows get underway, so too does the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ North American League. And I happily get to work on my favorite of all jobs on the broadcast team.
I booked seven flights this week, which will get me through October. After kicking off the league (and the west coast sub league) at Thunderbird Show Park (or just, “tbird”) for the Longines FEI Jumping™ World Cup Vancouver. I’ll be headed next to New York and the American Gold Cup’s qualifier. Followed by Columbus, Del Mar and Washington, D.C.
Two championship series cannot run concurrently. So, with the FEI World Equestrian Games™ at Tryon taking place in the midst of what normally would be World Cup season, the North American League went on a brief hold after Vancouver. The east coast sub league will kick off in New York at the end of the month.
I am excited to continue with what my incredible team started at Thunderbird. There, 23-year-old Uma O’Neill won the first World Cup qualifier of her young career aboard her own Clockwise of Greenhill Z. Whom she’s brought up from the young rider ranks. The other star of the class was course designer Alan Wade. He built a big, technical track that saw just one clear round. Uma did not need to jump off to secure her victory.
While no one else could produce a clear round on the day, there were plenty of other pairs who impressed in Vancouver. Rich Fellers did not jump in the World Cup qualifier, but his up-and-coming international mount Steelbi was hard to miss in the ranking classes. Rich has compared the quick and careful Swedish Warmblood mare by Empire made her international debut in March and has already won two five-star ranking classes. Both at the ever-imposing Spruce Meadows this summer. Rich has gone as far as to compare her to his 2012 World Cup Finals Champion, Flexible: “high energy and efficient over the jumps.”
Eve Jobs has a new horse that looks like it is going to be something special. Limbridge, a 9-year-old Holsteiner stallion by Limbus, has an incredible, rocking-horse rhythm and spectacular jumping form. In the CSI4*-W Steel-Craft Doors Cup, the pair cracked the top 10 with just a single time fault. Producing a round in their 1.50m debut that could have won an equitation class. Karl Cook also has a talented young stallion on his hands. Watch out for the positively gorgeous Menelik, an 8year-old Hanoverian by Monte Bellini. The duo followed up their performances at tbird with a win in the Youngster Bowl at the brand new Sonoma International CSI2* put on by the Split Rock Jumping Tour.
Conor Swail just seems to win regardless of mount, especially at tbird. The defending champion of the event, Swail finished second as the fastest 4-faulter. Knocking (ever so lightly) only the most careful of planks that unquestionably came down more than any other fence on course. Swail still won the CSI4*-W Maui Jim Welcome Stake with Rubens La Silla. Whose son Zinedine LS also won during the week in the Maplebrook Farm 7-year-old Finale. I must give a shout out and thank you to Swail for simply tolerating me that weekend. Between the FEI, NBCSN and tbird, I needed three separate interviews from this man—plus, more questions in the press conference—and he kindly obliged with thoughtful answers each time.
Adam Cromarty is my partner in crime on air this year, and he and Jeff Ridout have joined the FEI team this season (This makes me very happy) to create digital/social media features to share more of the great stories in the League. Their first piece put the spotlight on Cook, and we went back to the barns to chat with the recently wedded rider to the Big Bang Theory’s (and fellow equestrian) Kaley Cuoco.
I love getting to know the riders a little more in a quiet setting and observing them in the barn. Karl has such a quiet humility and an obvious love for his horses. I have never seen such sweet, affectionate stallions; he had two at the show. When Karl entered their stalls, they both walked over politely and proceeded to nuzzle Karl on his face. He hugged all his horses, and they could have easily fallen asleep in his arms. It was really awesome to see.
The past two winners of the World Cup Finals—Beezie Madden and McLain Ward—have come out of the North American League, making me especially proud to be a part of this series. The NAL is truly special. The race for points and qualification becomes more contentious every year, and the season becomes incredibly strategic, featuring diverse venues—indoors, outdoors, sand and grass—and climates as well as requiring athletes to pre-designate which classes will count for points. Riders may only jump for points in a total of seven qualifiers each season, with their four best scores counting toward their final league standing.
A total of 10 riders from the North American League will qualify for the 2019 World Cup Finals in Gothenburg, SWE: Seven east coast U.S. riders (plus defending Champion Madden, who automatically qualifies), three west coast U.S. riders, two Canadian riders, and two Mexican riders. I can’t wait to share the season with you as it unfolds.
Catie Staszak is a multimedia sports journalist, working primarily as the lead show jumping broadcast analyst for the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ North American League. Staszak leads broadcasts from top horse shows and show jumping events across North America, working with FEI TV, the NBC Sports Network and Carr-Hughes Productions, and CBS Sports Network, among others. A competitive equestrian of more than 22 years, she has also worked on the TV and radio teams at ESPN West Palm and moderated at the international FEI Sports Forum in Lausanne, Switzerland. She strives to use her varied experiences in both the horse industry and broadcasting to help increase the exposure of equestrian sports.