Daniel Deusser, Christian Ahlmann, Kent Farrington, Scott Brash, Ben Maher, Simon Delestre... In the lead-up to the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games – scheduled for September 11–23 in Tryon, North Carolina, USA – there have been a number of withdrawals and more or less surprising non-selections of show jumping stars. What is behind some of those absences?
Indeed, why are so many top riders forfeit for the eighth edition of the FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG) next month? Each of the riders mentioned above, for example, has worn the Longines World No.1 armband over the years and is still active at the highest level.
In Great Britain’s case, Scott Brash has only represented the country once this season, at the CSIO 5* of Hickstead. And while the Scottish rider triumphed in the Longines Global Champions Tour in London this summer with Hello Mr President, the nine-year-old gelding is still relatively young and inexperienced. In contrast, the British team manager Di Lampard was undoubtedly counting on the presence of Ben Maher, in great form this year with a string of high-performing horses – but maybe not all available for the national squad. For example, although nine-year-old mounts Explosion W and Winning Good have been in top form, there has been some speculation that their owners would prefer to reserve them for the CSI 5* Longines Global Champions Tour and Global Champions League.
As for Germany’s Daniel Deusser and Christian Ahlmann, the pair have not taken part in a Nations Cup since the Rio Olympics in 2016, where they contributed to a bronze medal for the country. Refusing to sign a contract imposed by their country’s national federation, the two multi-medallists excluded themselves from selection. Notably, the contract requires that riders for the Mannschaft are exclusively subject to administrative sports tribunals in doping cases, and can not make their case in common law courts. Having gone through condemnations for positive tests in the past, the two champions balked at the obligation.
Two other former World No.1s will be conspicuously absent in North Carolina. American Kent Farrington – whose horse Gazelle, the best horse of 2017, brilliantly defended his title last Sunday in the CSI 5* Grand Prix in Valence, France – is the first. Still, it should be noted that the Chicago native had to stop competing for three months earlier this year after a leg injury in Florida. And even though Gazelle finished second in the Longines Grand Prix of La Baule a few days after the return of his rider (before winning a CSI 5* at Spruce Meadows in Canada), the mount had some problems at the start of the summer. So it looks like the planets were not sufficiently aligned for the duo this year.
For France’s Simon Delestre, whose Hermès Ryan des Hayettes was unable to participate in the 2016 Olympics in Rio due to an injury at the Games, the explanation is less clear. On the one hand, the rider had declared since last autumn that he would be at the service of the French team and that his chestnut’s program this year would in fact be structured around the WEG. But in the end the combination did not take part in the Longines FEI World Cup Jumping Final in April and has mostly focused on the LGCT/GCL, where Delestre has yet to qualify for December’s Super Grand Prix in Prague.
On July 26, the rider and the horse’s owner, Philippe Berthol, announced that in the end Ryan would not go to Tryon, citing the risk of taking a plane after his misadventure in Rio. Nevertheless, the star horse took part in the CSI 5*s of Mexico and Miami at the start of 2017, not long after his comeback – competitions which required plane travel (although the horse has indeed hurt himself during a voyage to the United States). It may be that the horse’s entourage just has other priorities for him.
Other top riders have confirmed their absence from the WEG, including Australia’s Edwina Tops-Alexander, whose mounts California and Inca Boy van’t Vianahof have been somewhat inconsistent recently. Tops-Alexander is also of course very attached to the LGCT and GCL, founded by her husband Jan Tops. For her part, Portugal’s Luciana Diniz non-participation in Tryon is perhaps more surprising given her great run this year with Fit For Fun 13, winner in St. Gallen and second in Aachen. Still, the rider has said she wants to preserve her mare, and in any case seems more focused on the Grand Slam of Aachen, Geneva, s-Hertogenbosch and Spruce Meadows, where she will compete next week. Nevertheless, while Portugal’s chances of a Team qualification for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics through the Tryon competition were always fairly slim, just like Australia’s, some fans regret her decision not to go for an Individual title at the Games – although she did also opt out of the WEG in 2014 in Normandy and 2010 in Kentucky.
Others who will not be at the Games (for different reasons, voluntarily or after not having been selected) include Germany’s Philipp Weishaupt, Sweden’s Rolf-Göran Bengtsson, the Netherlands’ Jeroen Dubbeldam and Maikel van der Vleuten, Great Britain’s John Whitaker, Ireland’s Denis Lynch, Bertram Allen, Daniel Coyle and Shane Breen, the United States’ Margie Goldstein-Engle and Lauren Hough, Brazil’s Marlon Módolo Zanotelli and Rodrigo Lambre, Belgium’s Jérôme Guéry and Olivier Philippaerts, Switzerland’s Werner Muff (who reportedly turned down the reserve slot offered to him) and Pius Schwizer, and France’s Julien Épaillard.