The Biggest and Best of 2018

What a year 2018 has been, and it technically isn’t even over yet! From moments that made history to those that had the crowds going wild, we wrapped up the biggest happenings of the year.

February 14th

2018 seemed to be “The Year of SafeSport.” Although the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) established a Safe Sport Policy in late 2013, over three years before the U.S. Center for SafeSport was created in early 2017, February 14, 2018 marked the signing of the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017 into law. In short, according to USEF, the bill imposes a duty on amateur sports organizations, including USEF and its members, to report suspected sexual abuse to local or federal law enforcement or to a child-welfare agency designated by the Justice Department and designates the U.S. Center for SafeSport as the independent national safe sport organization.

Since then, USEF has been strongly enforcing sanctions imposed by the U.S. Center for SafeSport, including notifying members of updates to the Safe Sport Sanctions List, issuing mandatory training for members, and reinforcing that sexual abuse has no place in our beloved sport.

April 15th

After taking the crown in 2013, the one and only Beezie Madden picked up her second FEI World Cup Jumping Final win this year in Paris, France, aboard Breitling LS. The duo had the crowd on the edge of their seats as they hit the middle element of the triple combination at fence six, their first fault in three days of competition and giving them no leeway for more mistakes, but crossed the finish line just in time. “When I had that rail down, I was a little nervous, but I still felt my horse was jumping well and I knew I had to pull it together,” Beezie said. “We’ve really believed in [Breitling LS], but he’s taken time to mature, so for him to come through is fantastic! It’s taken a little while to replace Simon and Cortes but it’s happening!” she added.

April 29th

In its first year with a new title sponsor, the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event in Lexington, KY, concluded with Great Britain’s Oliver Townend and Cooley Master Class beating Germany’s three-time defending champion Michael Jung by less than three points. Overnight leaders Michael and Fischerrocana FST went into the show jumping round without a rail to spare, but the front rail of the triple bar came down, sending Oliver to tears and to the top of the podium. “Obviously it’s a fantastic feeling,” Oliver said of the win. “[Cooley Master Class] came [to me] right at the right time,” he continued. “When I sat on him, I said, ‘one way or another, we’re finding a way to keep this one.’”

June 9th

Under the guidance of trainer Bob Baffert, Justify and jockey Mike Smith won the Belmont Stakes in Elmont, NY, by 1¾ lengths, walking away as the thirteenth winners of the coveted Triple Crown. The 2015 Thoroughbred stallion was the first Triple Crown winner to not race as a two-year-old, the second to win with an undefeated record, and made Bob the second trainer to win twice.

A little over a month later, it was announced that Justify would retire to stud. “I am disappointed he won’t run again, but I am thankful he came into my life,” Mike said. “There was never a time when I rode him that I felt like I was going to get beat. There was no horse who could run with him without sacrificing themselves, and there was no horse who could come get him.”

September 11th – 23rd

Of course, we couldn’t forget about the 2018 World Equestrian Games (WEG)! For the second time in WEG history, the quadrennial event was held in the U.S., this time at the Tryon International Equestrian Center in Mill Spring, NC. The event, which spanned 13 days (and endured a hurricane!), included competition in the FEI disciplines of jumping, dressage, para-dressage, eventing, driving, endurance, vaulting, and reining from the best from an array of countries.

“It’s a truly spectacular venue and almost all the necessary infrastructure for our eight disciplines is already in place. We are looking forward to a fantastic celebration of top level sport as all the disciplines come together to crown their world champions at the Games in two years’ time,” Ingmar de Vos, FEI President, said in November 2016, when it was first announced that WEG would be hosted in North Carolina. The massive event was inarguably the biggest affair to happen in 2018 and each discipline had its own moment of glory. From the cancellation of one to the success of another, we can’t forget a minute of it.

The first discipline to award medals, the U.S. continued its reign of the reining team competition as Cade McCutcheon, whose mother, father, grandfather, and uncle are all WEG gold medalists; Casey Deary; Daniel Huss; and Jordan Larson claimed the gold. Three days later, Daniel and Cade, who rode in a run-off for third place, took silver and bronze in the individual competition.

In a twist of events, 2018 became the first WEG without an endurance competition. After starting, stopping, and then restarting the event due to confusion at the starting line, it was completely cancelled due to the potentially “dangerously high combination of heat and humidity” that arrived after an afternoon rainstorm hit Tryon, as well as the track’s condition following the storm. Later, it was revealed that 52 horses had been sent to the Endurance Treatment Clinic for treatment of metabolic issues, adding to the decision to cancel.

The dressage podium saw the same countries in the same order—Germany in gold, the U.S. in silver, and Great Britain in bronze—for both classes that were held (the third class, the Freestyle, was cancelled due to Hurricane Florence’s weather). With tears in her eyes, Isabell Werth made her final salute and walked out of the dressage ring aboard Bella Rose, who had battled soundness issues for the past four years, only returning to be awarded a gold medal—not once, but twice. Alongside Sönke Rothenberger, Jessica von Bredow-Werndl, and Dorothee Schneider, Isabell helped top the team competition’s Grand Prix, and did the same during the individual Grand Prix Special. U.S. dream team Laura Graves and Verdades claimed individual silver, marking the highest individual dressage WEG medal for the country. “This was my answer to all those who did not understand how I could leave the world’s number one horse (Weihegold OLD) at home for this one. Most people here know how close I am to Bella and to bring her back after the long recovery after WEG 2014 is extra special. We always knew it could be a risk, but it is like that with every horse,” Isabell said following her Grand Prix performance.

After postponing the final phase by a day thanks to Hurricane Florence, eventing saw Great Britain on top in both team and individual competition, a WEG first for the country. Overnight leader and German powerhouse Ingrid Klimke slid to third after a dropped rail, opening up the win for Rosalind Canter and Allstar B, the first British individual gold winners in 12 years.

Originally set to kick off the second week of competition, para-dressage packed a few memorable punches for the U.S. as it saw the country on the WEG leaderboard for the first time. Rebecca Hart and El Corona Texel became the first WEG para-dressage medalists as the duo captured the Grade III individual bronze medal and claimed silver in the Freestyle a few days later. Adding two more bronze medals was Kate Shoemaker on Solitaer in the Grade IV Freestyle and Roxanne Trunnell on Dolton in the Grade I Freestyle. “The 2018 World Equestrian Games was a culmination of years of work for me. To be able to stand on the podium and see my flag raised not once, but twice was beyond an emotional experience for me,” Rebecca told the United States Para-Equestrian Association.

Of the four vaulting medals awarded at WEG, half of them went to Germany. Team Norka des VV Koeln-Duennwald picked up gold for the country’s second consecutive WEG win while Kristina Boe claimed the gold in the individual female competition, the first since 2002, with her routine aboard Don de la Mare lunged by Winnie Schlüter.

Jumping saw a few history-making moments that can’t be forgotten. Starting off the sport’s medals, the U.S. claimed its first WEG gold with the team of McLain Ward on Clinta, Devin Ryan on Eddie Blue, Laura Kraut on Zeremonie, and Adrienne Sternlicht on Cristalline competing on home turf. The crowd went wild as Ward topped the first head-to-head jump-off in WEG team jumping history with a clear round. “All the [team riders] came through brilliantly and I am so proud to be American today,” said McLain after the win. Laura added, “This is right up there with everything I have achieved in my career. The team spirit has been amazing and I so can’t believe it.”

Later, Germany’s Simone Blum dominated aboard DSP Alice to become the first female to take individual gold, winning by more than three points after five clear rounds.

Wrapping up WEG was the U.S. taking its first driving team gold thanks to Chester Weber, Misdee Wrigley-Miller, and James Fairclough leading from the start of the competition and finishing more than three points in the lead.

October 1st

The beloved dressage duo of Laura and Verdades made history this year when they became the first U.S. pair to ever top the FEI Dressage World Rankings. After a successful WEG the month before, Laura and the 16-year-old KWPN gelding slid into the top spot with 2,714 points, a mere one point ahead the German powerhouse team of Isabell and Weihegold OLD. Before this, Isabell held the number one position for almost two years. “I’m just beside myself, and it certainly doesn’t feel like a reality yet,” Laura told USEF upon receiving the news. “What this horse has allowed me to do for U.S. dressage is extraordinary. We are so excited.”

November 4th

In the 135th edition of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Maclay National Championship, Canada’s Sam Walker claimed the top prize. Two jumping rounds, a flat phase, and a work-off put Sam on top aboard Waldo, making him the first male winner since Jacob Pope in 2012. “I think I’m kind of in shock more than anything. I didn’t expect for everything to come so soon and I’m really, really grateful that I got to experience this and ride in this class, let alone come out on top,” Sam said of his win. “This is my second indoor season on Waldo. He’s a really quirky horse. There’s only three or four people in the barn who ride him, because sometimes he can get a little confused. I think he likes to have his rider.”

“I was so pleased with how it turned out, John [Brennan] and I,” said Missy Clark, Sam’s trainer at North Run alongside John. “We talked to Sam a lot about being a smart horseman, and that test was difficult to land the lead and hold it or even have the time to orchestrate and set up a flying change. We were gambling as he was leading the whole way through. I think at one point, he was in second, but he was definitely ahead at that point. I was hoping he would play his hand like he did. I was so proud that he thought like a horseman. I would have done the same thing if I was sitting on that horse. I was thrilled with that choice.”

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