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Jumping to a thrilling conclusion
Virginia Kraft
September 25, 1978
With royalty on the sidelines, Canada took the team gold away from the U.S. last week in the first World Eventing Championships held outside of Europe
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September 25, 1978

Jumping To A Thrilling Conclusion

With royalty on the sidelines, Canada took the team gold away from the U.S. last week in the first World Eventing Championships held outside of Europe

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At the end of the day, only eight riders had clear cross-country runs, and 19 were no longer in contention. Of the seven teams entered, Holland, Argentina, Great Britain and New Zealand were out, leaving Canada, the U.S. and Germany, in that order. Only Canada, with a substantial lead, had all four team members still in the running. Its first rider in the cross-country, Juliet Graham Bishop, on her 14-year-old gray gelding Sumatra, had been the second contestant to complete the course. She had reported that speed was dangerous, and Canadian Coach B. K. Ishoy ordered the rest of his team to take it "cool and careful." It was clearly the right advice.

Leading the individual riders was Davidson on Might Tango. He was followed by 26-year-old Ralph Hill, the junior member of the U.S. team and the sleeper of the championships. Hill, riding in his first international competition, was on Sergeant Gilbert, a 9-year-old gelding he raised from a colt. He had a clean round and finished the cross country only 20 penalty points behind Davidson.

Although this should have been reason for rejoicing, U.S. Coach Jack LeGoff made clear his dissatisfaction with the course. "This is the biggest course I have ever seen in my life," he said. "It is the biggest course anywhere. The fences are too big, there are too few places to relax between, and too many jumps together. There has been a lot of damage out there today on that battlefield."

Few disagreed. Most criticism was leveled at the Serpent. "The jump asked too many questions of a horse that was tired," said Prince Philip. "And here you had a classic problem of a jump being built in April to be used in September. The bank had not had time to settle and harden. After the first few horses went over, the base turned into a foot of soft loam."

The heat and humidity of an unseasonably hot September were also blamed for the heavy toll. Going into the final day, only 26 horses were eligible for the stadium show-jumping test, a half-mile course intended simply to ensure that a horse is still able, and willing, to perform for its rider after the grueling endurance phase. The expected traps of a pure show-jumping course—tall fences, odd angles, difficult stridings—were generally missing, although the Lexington show-jumping layout was also considered more difficult than most.

While stadium jumping contributes less to the overall score than the two previous phases, medals are often won and lost here. This year Ireland's lone rider, John Watson, rode his 11-year-old bay gelding Cambridge Blue into the ring in sixth place and emerged minutes later, after a clear round, in second, to take the individual silver medal behind Davidson. In fairness to countries that cannot field teams, the FEI has decided that the privilege of hosting the world championships should belong to the nation of the individual winner. But since a country may not have the championships back to back, last week the honor passed, with the silver medal, to Ireland, Watson's home country. The bronze medal went to the German, Helmut Rethemeier.

The teams also experienced some juggling of medals as Rethemeier took his 9-year-old Holstein gelding Ladalco through a clean round of stadium jumping, claiming the silver for his team, while the Americans collected the bronze. As for the team gold, it remained solidly on this side of the Atlantic, but it was Canada's.

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