Nations Cup week of the Palm Beach Masters Series is finally here!

The first of three qualifiers for the North America, Central America and Caribbean League, a win on Sunday will put one team in the driver’s seat of the points race. USA, Canada and Mexico are all vying for points; only two will qualify for the Final in Barcelona this October. I am excited to follow the action this week and there are a number of things I will be keeping my eye on as we move towards the feature class.

The strong favorites going into the Nations Cup are Team USA. With riders Margie Engle, Laura Kraut, Beezie Madden, Devin Ryan, and Mclain Ward, they are by far the most experienced team in the field.

What makes this team unique is that, in the past, the majority of the American teams have featured one or two younger riders (under 25). This team dynamic provided a couple young American riders with valuable experience and opportunities to learn from team veterans.

Conversely, the team this week is highly experienced, and the youngest rider, Devin Ryan, is fresh off a team gold medal performance at the 2018 World Equestrian Games Tryon.

Since this team is full of veteran riders, expectations will be very high and anything less than a win will be viewed with disappointment.

More importantly, Team USA has historically fielded less experienced teams for the other two Nations Cups, so to be well positioned to qualify for the Final they cannot afford to finish behind Team Canada or Team Mexico on Sunday.

I expect the crowd to create an exciting atmosphere for Sunday’s class. Over the past few years this class was in Ocala, FL, and although it was on American soil, it never really felt like a home competition for the Americans. The team riders rarely spend time at that venue, and it was a three and half hour drive from their home base in Wellington.

This week’s venue, Deeridge Farms, is in everyone’s backyard and excitement has been growing for weeks.

In front of a large crowd, I am looking forward to knowledgeable fans cheering on each nation. Team USA is very experienced so the crowd shouldn’t be an issue, although the festivities may distract younger riders on other teams.

I think the biggest determinant of success for this Nations Cup will be how the riders choose to use their horses throughout the week.

For most Nations Cups, the class falls on a Friday, meaning there is relatively little flexibility with what you can do with your horse beforehand. In this scenario, most riders will do a warm-up class on Wednesday to get their horse in the ring, make sure there are no surprises and that the horse is jumping well. Then they will go straight to the Nations Cup.

Conversely, this week the Nations Cup falls on the last day of competition, so there will be a lot more strategy going into how much riders compete their horses before the two round class on Sunday. If a rider does a few classes throughout the week, they may have to deal with a tired horse on Sunday, while a rider who only jumps one class earlier in the week may have a horse that is out of form Sunday. Getting the balance right will be key to putting in clear rounds.

While Team USA has fielded a strong and experienced team of riders, they are also under immense pressure to deliver a win this week. If they can manage their horses’ schedules, keep their nerves under control and stay focused in Round 2, they will be on top of the podium on Sunday.

About the Author

Dr. Tim Worden has worked as a sport scientist with numerous FEI-level show jumping riders. He has a PhD in biomechanics and specializes in applying human high-performance training techniques to horses.