Calgary, Alberta – June 8, 2006 - As the Spruce Meadows "National" Tournament opens in Calgary, Alberta, so do the Observation Trials for those 'cream of the crop' Canadian competitors hoping to be picked for the upcoming World Equestrian Games in Aachen, Germany.
The CSI5* "National" and the following week's CSI4* and CSI-W "Continental" tournament have been designated as Observation Trials. The riders have gathered and are ready to prove their worth to the Selection Committee, chaired by Terrance 'Torchy' Millar and also including Laura Balisky, David Ballard, Alan Chesler and Mark Samuel. In total, 11 riders declared for selection, but only five will be named to the WEG Team and have the opportunity to compete at the hallowed grounds of Aachen.
Without digging through my files, I am hard pressed to remember a major games team in the past 30 years that did not include Ian Millar among its members. Not having Ian on the team would be like a Canadian winter without snow - not likely to happen. With two horses declared for consideration, his Athens partner Promise Me and his 2004 Canadian Show Jumping Championship mount, In Style, it would be a safe bet that Ian will once again have his name recorded in the history books.
Eric Lamaze is also among those likely to find themselves heading to Germany, especially considering that just two weeks ago, Eric and his diminutive stallion, Hickstead, placed third in the 300,000 Euro Grand Prix held during CSIO5* Aachen. With a proven track record, they are not likely to be ignored, and Eric is sure to find himself making an impressive fourth consecutive World Equestrian Games appearance.
What's not to love about Chris Pratt? Even when forced to call upon his second mount, Mustique, for the Nations' Cup in Wellington, Chris still delivered a double clear performance. With Rivendell back in fine form following an abscessed tooth that kept him on the sidelines for the last week of Wellington, Chris has two strong candidates. This is a rider with all the talent who just needed to find quality horses, and when Jump Canada's Owner of the Year, Susan Grange of Lothlorien Farm, hired Chris a few years back, a winning partnership was formed. Although we often think of Chris as the 'rookie' of the Team, he is 37 years old and has the experience to be a serious contender.
They don't call him 'Super Mario' for nothing. Mario Deslauriers proved years ago - in 1984 at the age of 19, in fact, when he won the World Cup Final - that he is among the best riders in the world. With two quality horses, Paradigm and Naomi, declared for consideration, it is great to see Mario back in the thick of things.
Ian, Eric, Chris and Mario - incidentally, the only four men declared - comprised Canada's victorious Nations' Cup team at the CSIO Wellington. While one might be tempted to say, 'why mess with success?', there are several other candidates who might very well prove their merit in the coming weeks at Spruce Meadows.
At the top of that list would be Jill Henselwood who, like in 2005, competed in two World Cup Qualifiers in Europe before attending the World Cup Final with Special Ed. With back-to-back World Cup Final appearances, not to mention valuable European experience under her belt, Henselwood could be right in the thick of things with any one of her three declared horses - Special Ed, Callisto, or Black Ice, the Dutch Warmblood gelding she rode to victory in the 2005 Canadian Show Jumping Championships.
Two of Jill's students are also declared for consideration. Kim Farlinger, now 21, served notice that she is ready for the big-time when she challenged Mr. Millar for the Canadian Show Jumping Championship title in 2004. Cool under pressure, Kim is declared with del Destino. Meanwhile, 22-year-old Kelley Small is hot off a win in the $30,000 Grand Prix at the CSI3* Lexington Classic in Kentucky. Her partner, Calibur, has all the capability, and Kelley's 'no guts, no glory' attitude will carry her far.
Another young woman with all the makings of a superstar is 25-year-old Erynn Ballard. Even if 2006 proves not to be her year with Robin van Roosendael or Rio's Rhapsody, it won't be long before Erynn makes her Canadian Equestrian Team debut. Only the second Canadian in history to claim the Maclay Medal Final, and with an Individual Gold Medal from the North American Young Riders' Championship to her credit, it is only a matter of time before she is making waves in the senior ranks.
Margie Gayford was born to be a member of the Canadian Show Jumping Team - both her grandfather, Major Gordon Gayford and her father, 1968 Olympic Team Gold Medallist Tom Gayford, proudly rode for Canada. Margie has slowly and consistently been developing Stuntman, a 10-year-old Hannoverian gelding owned by Wingberry Farms. This will be their first trip to Spruce Meadows and one has to think that the big gelding will love the huge grass ring. Stuntman is the type of horse that would jump the moon if you asked him to, and it is only a matter of time before this pair scores a huge victory.
No stranger to Spruce Meadows, Alberta-based Tamie Phillips has also thrown her hat into the ring. The Chrysler Leading Canadian Rider at last September's Spruce Meadows "Masters" Tournament, Tamie has declared both Lucas and Starlet. Interesting story here - Tamie and her mother, Merle Gardiner, bred both of these horses, and having a Canadian-bred on the Team would make for some great headlines.
Last but not least, Laurie Bucci has flown directly to Calgary after spending the last two months in Germany training with Ludger Beerbaum. While there, she had the opportunity to compete at some of the best outdoor venues in the world including CSIO La Baule and CSI Hamburg, and her European experience could very well pay off at Spruce Meadows. Laurie says that Catesko, her 'one-eyed wonder', jumps straighter over the fences than most of the horses she has ridden, and the Holsteiner gelding appears to have no shortage of talent.
The WEG Team will be announced on June 23, so stay tuned. And this is also a good time to remind everyone that, exactly 20 years ago in the same venue, Canada's own Gail Greenough was crowned the 1986 World Champion with the unforgettable Mr. T. To this day, Gail remains the only woman and the only North American to ever win the World Championships. Will history repeat itself? Only time will tell!
This special report is a preview provided by PhelpsSports.com. Look for the debut of this new equestrian news website during the World Equestrian Games in August. Visit http://www.PhelpsSports.com
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<a href="http://www.equestrianmag.com/article/jennifer-ward-canadian-scene-equestrian-6-06.html">On the Canadian Scene</a> ~ EquestrianMag.com