14 February - The Irish sprang something of a surprise when a team of first-time horses, that also included a rider making his Nations Cup debut, pipped superstar sides from the USA and Canada in the first leg of the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping 2015 series at Ocala, USA today.

In a competition that was very much a game of two halves, the winners stamped their authority in the early stages with four fantastic clears. And although they came under pressure second time out, they held on to win thanks to rock-solid performances from Kevin Babington and Conor Swail.

It was left to Swail to clinch it in the closing stages, and he did it in considerable style with his attractive nine-year-old stallion, Grafton.

The USA had to settle for runner-up spot while Canada and Columbia shared third place. And, in the field of six nations, it was the Venezuelans who finished fifth ahead of Mexico in sixth place. However only Canada, USA and Mexico were chasing points in today’s class which was the first of three North America, Central America and Caribbean qualifiers for the Furusiyya Final at Barcelona in September. After today’s result, the Americans hold the lead going into the next round which will be held at Coapexpan, Mexico on 24 April.

Great praise

New to the Furusiyya circuit, the HITS showground at Ocala drew great praise today, and course designer, Germany’s Martin Otto, didn’t over-stretch them with the height of the fences in the first round during which 16 of the 24 starters stayed clear.

The penultimate triple combination however was the bogey of the competition, and both the USA’s pathfinders, Lauren Hough with Ohlala, and their third-line partnership of Laura Kraut with her great grey, Cedric, ran into problems at this one to leave the host country looking vulnerable at the halfway stage.

There was a three-way tie at the top of the order as round two began with Canada, Columbia and Ireland on a zero score followed by Venezuela and USA carrying four each while Mexico already trailed with 12 on the board. And with 16 more to add, the Mexicans would make no progress.

Not improved

Only six horse-and-rider combinations kept a clean sheet at their second attempt, and as round two got underway, home chances were not improved when Hough lowered the vertical at fence two. Georgina Bloomberg had a great day, producing two fabulous clears from her mare, Juvina, but Kraut found herself in trouble again at the triple combination. First time out, Cedric couldn’t find his stride to the opening triple bar, but this time he seemed to panic after clearing the following planks and attempted to go on a single stride, instead of two, to the third element where it all went seriously wrong, leaving them with a second-round tally of 15 faults.

The Venezuelans slipped off the radar with 12 to add despite a great double-clear from anchors Pablo Barrios and Antares, but the Columbians and Canadians also began to lose their grip. Columbia’s fourth-line partnership of Roberto Teran Tafur with Woklahoma were again foot-perfect, but one of the double-errors from Juan Pablo Betancourt (Troya Retiro) and Ilan Bluman (Exacto LS) had to be counted along with the mistake made by pathfinder Daniel Bluman (Conconcreto Apardi) at the water. Not one horse faulted at the water in the first round, but there were several second time out.

Into a muddle

And it was here that Yann Candele and Showgirl got into a muddle, the mare scrambling for a stride that wasn’t there, and never getting airborne. When that was followed by a 12-fault score from Tiffany Foster and Verdi lll, and the legendary Ian Miller’s gelding, Dixon, also got his feet wet, then Eric Lamaze’s single mistake with Zigali PS in the middle of the triple combination would leave the Columbians and Canadians on 12 faults apiece.

Meanwhile a great double-clear from the last-line US duo of Beezie Madden and Simon put the pressure on Ireland’s Swail. The Irish second-round effort began with eight faults for Darragh Kenny and Picolo, and when Lorcan Gallagher followed with an unlucky foot on the tape at the water with Diktator v/d Boslandhoeve then Babington’s second clear with the busy mare, Shorapur, was badly needed.

With the American score now standing at eight faults, Swail knew a single mistake would lead to a jump-off as he arrived in the ring, but he showed incredible cool despite the inexperience of his horse, skillfully steering the young stallion home to clinch it with a four-fault final total.

Great result

“On paper the US were very strong and the Canadians had their WEG team here, so this was a great result!”, the Irishman said afterwards. “It was my horse’s first Nations Cup and it was same for Kevin’s, and it was Lorcan’s first time to ride a Nations Cup while Darragh Kenny was on his speed horse!” he added.

Gallagher is relatively unknown in his native Ireland, but the 23-year-old from County Down, who had never before competed in a team at any level of the sport, has been based with Shane Sweetnam at Spy Coast Farm in Florida for the last few years. Sweetnam loaned him the horse for today’s competition, and he more than justified the faith placed in him by both the horse’s usual rider and Irish Chef d’Equipe, Robert Splaine. “I grew up watching Robert ride, and it’s a dream being here!” Gallagher said today.

Babington talked about his feisty mare, Shorapur. “She is such a fighter, I’m so proud of her to jump clear twice in her first FEI Nations Cup. She always comes right back and fights for the next jump every single time” he said.

Swail pointed out that although he and his team-mates were not favorites to win today, he said “we came here to try and do a good job. Our horses jumped well and we handled everything that came at us”. He continued, “I knew a good first round would help us win in the second round. When you ride a good horse and jump a nice first round, it’s all about carrying the momentum and keeping your cool”.

Not the easiest of days

It wasn’t the easiest of days for the home team, as US Chef d’Equipe, Robert Ridland, pointed out. “Georgina and Beezie got us out of some deep trouble” he said. “At this early stage in the season it is difficult to really hit the ground running, and some interesting things can happen. We would have liked to have won, but we got maximum points which is all that matters.”

The Americans did indeed achieve their objective, pipping Canada for top points in this first leg in their region. But the Columbians had plenty to be proud of today too. Holding their own alongside a star-filled Canadian side, Daniel Bluman, his cousin Ilan Bluman, Juan Pablo Betancourt and Roberto Teran Tafur demonstrated the essence of the Furusiyya series which has opened up the sport of Nations Cup Jumping as never before, encouraging the development of athletes and horses from so many diverse nations across the globe.


1, Ireland 4 faults: Picolo (Darragh Kenny) 0/8, Diktator v/d Boslandhoeve (Lorcan Gallagher) 0/4, Shorapur (Kevin Babington) 0/0, Grafton (Conor Swail) 0/0.

2, USA 8 faults: Ohlala (Lauren Hough) 4/4, Juvina (Georgina Bloomberg) 0/0, Cedric (Laura Kraut) 6/15, Simon (Beezie Madden) 0/0.

3. Columbia 12 faults: Conconcreto Apardi (Daniel Bluman) 8/4, Troya Retiro (Juan Pablo Betancourt) 0/8, Exacto LS (Ilan Bluman) 0/9, Woklahoma (Roberto Teran Tafur) 0/0.

3. Canada 12 faults: Showgirl (Yann Candele) 0/4, Verdi lll (Tiffany Foster) 4/12, Dixon (Ian Miller) 0/4, Zigali PS (Eric Lamaze) 0/4.

5. Venezuela 16 faults: Verdi (Andres Rodriguez) 4/4, Wilco (Emanuel Andrade) 4/16, Atlodetto FZ (Luis Fernando Larrazabal) 0/8, Antares (Pablo Barrios) 0/0.

6. Mexico 28 faults: Caressini L (Luis Alejandro Plascancia) 13/DNS, Jumex Sport Archimdes (Sofia Larrea B) 4/8, Bariano (Eugenio Garza Perez) 0/4, Barbaro (Nicolas Pizarro) 8/4.

Full result here

Facts and Figures:

Ocala in Florida presented the first competition of the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping 2015 series today.

The event was the first of three qualifiers to be staged in the North America, Central America and Caribbean League.

The next leg in this region will take place in Coapexpan, Mexico on 24 April.

Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping qualifying events will take place in four regions - Europe Division 1 & Europe Division 2, North America, Central America & Caribbean and Middle East.

6 countries lined out in today's competition, with just three - Canada, Mexico and USA - eligible for qualifying points towards the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping Final 2015 which will be staged in Barcelona, Spain from 24 to 27 September 2015.

15 horse-and-rider combinations jumped clear in the first round, including all four members of the Irish team.

Only 6 jumped clear in round 2.

5 horse-and-rider combinations jumped double-clear rounds.

Course designer was Germany's Martin Otto.

The second leg of the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping 2015 series will take place in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates next Thursday, 19 February 2015.


Robert Splaine, Irish Chef d’Equipe: “The footing was great and the course designer did a great job. The second round was significantly harder, there is no doubt about that.

We have a lot of Irish riders based over here in the US, with great owners. I am always looking to broaden our base of riders so I come here quite often. It’s been a great competition today in a fantastic venue. These horses are unknown at this level, so if I can get 1 or 2 of them to come to Europe and jump in Division 1 that would be great. I would like to mention Lorcan (Gallagher) who did an absolutely fantastic job, he was the man of the match!

We have already agreed that we would love to come back here to Ocala next year to compete!”

Georgina Bloomberg USA, talking about her mare, Juvina who jumped double-clear in today’s competition: “We have been saving her for this competition. She is a very reliable horse, she loves the Nations Cup. I thought she did great today!”

Conor Swail IRL, talking about his horse, Grafton: “he’s just turned nine. I was off last year for a bit (injury) but when I came back I jumped him in Calgary and then to Dublin where he did some speed classes. He started his nine-year-old year coming second in the Grand Prix at week 1 of the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, it was a 1.45m class, and he has impressed me a lot so far this year. He’s a lovely horse and when his time comes he’s going to feature on a lot of teams. His owners, Susan and Ariel Grange, have played in big part in my success.”

Tom Struzzieri, Event Director: “We were excited to get this opportunity at HITS. Longines and Furusiyya make it so much easier to put this all together with all their support. We are happy with the results, although there are always things to improve, naturally.”

John Madden, Chair FEI Jumping Committee: Congratulations to team Ireland and well done to Martin for building such a great course. Thank you to Ocala for being such a wonderful city and host – they were extremely welcoming and professional. A special thank you and well done to Tom (Event Director) and the rest of his staff; they were really great to work with. I also have to thank the USEF – they are a great FEI partner and an important stakeholder to HITS. I also want to extend my thanks to Furusiyya for their vision and commitment towards continuously building something special. The FEI Nations Cup™ is the most important event to the FEI. For Furusiyya to come in and revamp the format whilst always focusing on the horse in everything they do is absolutely key.”

Robert Ridland, USA Chef d’Equipe: “There were already some odd things happening with Lauren’s horse in the warm-up arena, these things happen. It’s very difficult to understand as the footing was great, the weather was good and a lot was riding on the competition but these things can happen.” s

Standings in the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping 2015 North America, Central America and Caribbean League after Round 1 at Ocala, Florida (USA):

1.    USA        -    100

2.    Canada    -    90

3.    Mexico        -    80

image:Conor Swail and Grafton clinched victory for Ireland in the opening leg of the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping 2015 series at Ocala, Florida (USA) today. (FEI/Anthony Trollope)