The performances of the U.S. Teams have consistently improved since the Sydney Olympic Games. This steady increase in the world rankings is a direct result of the USEF's commitment to acquire the best coaches, to increase the USA 's exposure at European competitions, and to initiate a solid athlete pipeline in the form of the Developing Rider programs.
For the first time, we have two U.S. riders in the top five on the Dressage World Ranking List (February 2004).
Lisa Wilcox and Debbie McDonald are ranked second and fourth, respectively. McDonald became the first U.S. rider to win the World Cup Final Championship. Guenter Seidel finished third and George Williams finished fifth. The U.S. has never been allowed to send three riders to the Dressage World Cup Final and it was a bonus for all three to place in the top five.
As the birthplace of Dressage , Germany continues to dominate the world rankings and the Netherlands is always right behind. There are always several countries vying for third place – Spain , the United States and Denmark are currently very close to each other in the standings. Spain moved up due to its performance in Sydney in 2000, while Sweden moved down a bit.
The target for the U.S. is to remain in the top five, with a focus on third, but the real challenge is to rise above third. Currently, Dressage in the U.S. has some of its strongest rider/horse combinations ever. Our goal to win a team silver medal at the 2002 World Equestrian Games was achieved, marking the U.S. Dressage Team's best finish to date at a championship.
In 2003, the dressage team placed second in the Nations Cup at CHIO Aachen, with two U.S. riders finishing second and third individually. The success of the Dressage Team in the 2003 Pan American Games, the 2002 World Equestrian Games and the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games certainly reflects the increasing depth of U.S. Dressage. Therefore, the U.S. will look to medal in the 2004 Olympic Games.
To achieve this, we must continue to compete against the best riders in Europe in front of international judges. Short-listed riders from the Olympic Games Selection Trials will go to Europe to train with Klaus Balkenhol and compete at European competitions prior to Athens .
The United States continues to assert itself as a major force in International Eventing. To date, the U.S. has three riders ranked in the top 10 in the FEI – World Event Rider rankings. Karen O'Connor is fifth, Bruce (Buck) Davidson Jr. is seventh and Darren Chiacchia is ranked 10th .
USEF expects the Eventing Team to do well coming off a World Championship victory in 2002. Most of the horses and riders that competed on that team will be coming back as candidates for the Olympic Games. The International Federation no longer maintains a ranking list for nations.
However, it would be safe to say that the United States , New Zealand , Great Britain , Australia and France are the most competitive nations in Eventing today. Each of these countries has similar strengths in that they enjoy the ability to field teams subjectively, they have well-developed pipelines to horses well bred for Eventing competition, and they have broad-based support from sports organizations in their countries where equestrian is a popular national sport.
On any given day, these five countries can produce winning international teams. The U.S. is currently considered a top contender to win the Eventing team gold medal at the 2004 Olympic Games, having won the team gold medal at the 2002 World Championship (World Equestrian Games, Jerez , Spain ).
In Show Jumping, any one of five or six nations can top the rankings. And, while Dressage scores are dependent upon subjective numbers to rank athletes, Show Jumping athletes just have to leave the rails up. Germany , Ireland , France , The Netherlands, Switzerland , Sweden and to a lesser degree Brazil (which has riders who have been based in Europe for many years) are consistently successful because of their day in/day out exposure to competition at its best.
In addition, these countries have ready access to the best young horses being produced by the various sport horse programs in Germany , Holland , Ireland , and other countries.
For the United States there are several Olympic hopefuls that should be watched. Chris Kappler made history twice in 2003 when on consecutive weekends he won the $200,000 Budweiser American Invitational and the AGA Show Jumping Championships, becoming the first rider ever to sweep these events back-to-back. He was a member of the gold-medal winning team at the 2003 Pan American Games where he also won the individual silver medal. Royal Kaliber, his mount for the past four years, is in top form.
Other athletes to watch coming into the U.S. Olympic Trials with strong performances are Beezie Madden, another member of the gold medal team at the Pan Am Games, and a third member of that group, Margie Goldstein Engle. Although Goldstein Engle suffered a seriously broken leg in early February, she is expected to participate in the Olympic Selection Trials in May.
Several past Olympians are 2004 team contenders as well. Norman Dello Joio comes into the trials from a big win at the American Invitational in Tampa . Lauren Hough has consistently been in the top placings this year, and Anne Kursinski did extremely well early this season. Peter Wylde, who has been living and competing in Europe, will return home for the Trials with his 2002 World Championship mount, Fein Cera, and must be considered a favorite.
McLain Ward and Alison Firestone are looking for their first Olympic Team selections and can always be counted on to come through in big competitions. All of these riders have extensive international experience.