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Hough, Engle and Garson Top Leaderboard after Trial #1 at the World Equestrian Games Selection Trials in Wellington, FL

The price of real estate in South Florida is among the most expensive in the nation, and the riders in today’s Trial #1 of the USEF Selection Trials for the FEI World Equestrian Games had to cover a lot of it in a time allowed of only 90 seconds. The distance of ground in the vast Internationale Arena in Wellington and the tight time for the challenging Leopoldo Palacios-designed course proved mighty expensive indeed to most riders. None went clear in the time allowed.

Twenty-four horse-and-rider combinations competed today for a place on the short list of 10 with a chance to represent the United States at the FEI World Equestrian Games in Aachen, Germany, this August and the Samsung Super League in Europe this summer. Six combinations from these trials will be placed on the short list, and they will be those with the fewest number of faults over the five trials. Four horse-and-rider combinations are chosen subjectively, two of the four have been selected, Beezie Madden of Cazenovia, NY, and McLain Ward of Brewster, NY.

Today only three combinations had just one time fault: Lauren Hough of Wellington, FL, and Casadora, a 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare owned by Laura Mako finishing in 91.05 seconds; Nona Garson of Lebanon, NJ, and Languster, a 10-year-old Danish Warmblood stallion owned by Ryan Automotive finishing in 91.82 seconds; and Margie Engle, of Wellington, FL, on Quervo Gold, a 13-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding owned by Wyndhurst Stables, Inc., finishing in 92.08 seconds.

Three riders posted rounds under the time allowed but all had four jumping faults. They were Kimberly Prince, of Hume, VA, on the long-strided Couletto K. James, who finished in the day’s fastest time of 87.67; Schuyler Riley, of Wellington, FL, on Ilian with 89.18 seconds, and Anne Kursinski of Wellington, FL, on Roxanna 112 with 89.80 seconds.

Hough summed up the course and what to look forward to in the remaining four legs of the Trials, “It was a tough course to begin with, and then you had the added factor of a tough time allowed which made it even more difficult to jump clear, because you are trying to somewhat stay within the time allowed, but also negotiate the course. So yes, I thought it was most difficult for the first day, and I would imagine it’s only going to get harder from here.”

Hough said she was most thankful just to make it into the ring today because Casadora became ill on Friday morning. “I had an interesting few days. My horse on Friday morning came down with a viral infection and had a temperature of 105.4. The fact that we’re here, I’m thrilled. I made it through the last three days, so all of my pressure is gone.” After two sets of blood work came back clean, and with Casadora acting like her old self, the decision was made to show today. “I’m just so happy that she’s healthy, and she’s been three days with a normal temperature, and her viral infection is out of her system. I have a great team. We really pulled together the last four days and worked with her around the clock…This is icing on the cake for me. The fact that she’s healthy is the best part. We just judged the horse. She bounced back quite quickly.”

Hough’s strategy today was straightforward—keep a rhythm and keep turns short. “She’s a fast horse naturally so I couldn’t take a deep breath anywhere. She benefited from her first ride of the day aboard her other mount, Classico. “I went all the way around because of the wall. On my first horse he didn’t see it and stopped. I knew because of that I’d probably get a time fault, but I wanted to play it a little bit safe today. So I know going around I’d have to stay pretty fast to be close to it, and I think I was just barely over.”

Hough cited the water jump #11 with the sharp turn to 12a and b, an option of a combination of verticals on either the right or left, as the toughest challenge for her today. She chose the option on the right. “I never really looked at the other one. It looked pretty scary to me.” Hough reiterated that overall the course was tough. “Leopaldo is very clever. You know just little things here and there. He keeps you on your toes,” she said. Several riders gathered faults at the water and the combination as well as the following fence #13, the second to last on the course, which required a switchback turn out of the 12a and b combination.

Hough is pensive about the rest of the selection trials. “This is a really long process, so I just have to go one day at a time and hope all the stars lineup, and I keep riding well,” she said. “This for me is sort of the highest pressure of the whole thing. Once I get through this and know I’m on a team somewhere I’m going to feel way more relaxed. I would say today I was just more relieved that I got that round over with because of what I’d been through with the horse for the last three days with her sick. It was just a big relief to know that everybody was okay and she could jump. I’m just glad today’s over. I think I’ll feel a lot more relaxed.”