“By the time Laura [Kraut] went, we knew that we would probably be in the jump-off,” said Team USA Chef d’Equipe Robert Ridland.
Team USA was stacked heading into the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ of Mexico with Jessica Springsteen, Kent Farrington, Bliss Heers and Laura Kraut hauling their top horses to San Miguel de Allende. Yet on Friday, the title of Team USA’s MVP belonged to none other than Kraut.
“When Laura went into the ring for the second round I said, we need two clear rounds out of you starting now, not counting the first one,” said Ridland.
Neck and neck with Team Mexico over both rounds, it came down to a medal deciding jump-off between Kraut with 10-year-old Baloutinue and Eugenio Garza Perez (MEX) with 10-year-old mare Contago. In the end, Baloutinue’s natural foot speed won out, and 39.43 seconds on the clock secured the win for Team USA against Garza’s 42.13 seconds.
Kraut may have brought it home, but it was the entire team who set her up for success, and quick word of advice from Farrington was the pragmatic voice in her head on course.
“We watched Eugenio go and as I was walking in Kent said, ‘your normal speed will be quick enough’. So, when I started, I went maybe just a touch quicker than my normal speed,” said Kraut, who ultimately gave into the temptation of adding leg towards the final element.
“You just never know, so I thought I better get going to the last one. I’m pretty world famous for chipping in at the last jump. So when I saw the forward one I thought, ‘oh dear lord please let this work’,” laughed Kraut.
Whether it be luck, finesse or a prayer, Kraut was the only rider to produce a double clear effort over complicated 1.60m track designed by Benjamin Fernandez (MEX). Though it was no challenge too great for her Tokyo Olympic Silver medal partner Baloutinue.
“I couldn’t be happier with him. He’s just probably the horse of a lifetime, and I know that’s a big statement, because I’ve had some incredible horses. He just knows what his job is and he’s happy to do it. I’m really proud of him and it takes a horse like that to do what we did today,” said Kraut.
Baloutinue might be an Olympic veteran, and a certified CSI5* Grand Prix winner, but at just 10-years-old he could still be considered green at the top level. Especially after losing a year’s worth of experience while recovering from an injury last year. Kraut doesn’t mind taking their time, though, because they have a long future ahead.
“I certainly feel more in sync here than I did in Tokyo, and he was injured last year so I missed a good bit of the year. But he’s come back better than ever like Jesse [Springsteen’s] horse so we’re hoping that taking that year off will keep him preserved for what’s coming. Paris, hopefully,” Kraut explained.
This Nations Cup was also Springsteen’s first team outing with her own Tokyo Olympics Silver medal partner post-injury. With 14-year-old Don Juan van de Donkhoeve, the pair logged a respectable 0/4 score.
“I couldn’t be happier to have him back. He feels the best he’s ever felt. I did two big Grand Prix at the end of WEF, so I really felt ready and confident coming into here,” said Springsteen.
Farrington’s rising star, 10-year-old stallion Landon, was also in top form going into Friday’s class. With podium placings in a number of 5* Grand Prix this season, and a glistening 100% top ten finish rate at 1.60m according to Jumpr App, it’s just a glimpse of what’s to come.
“He’s a very up and coming horse in the sport. I was very happy with his performance today as he finds his way at the higher level. We were lucky to have Laura Kraut on our team today. She’s showing us why she’s one of the best riders in the sport, and brought her best horse here and performed amazing,” said Farrington.
Heers also brought her best horse, who has a certain affinity for San Miguel de Allende. Shortlisted for the Tokyo Olympics, the 13-year-old Antidote De Mars had a show stopping year along the Major League Show Jumping (MLSJ) tour. The pair won their first 5* Grand Prix at MLSJ San Miguel, and also took home the overall 2022 Team Championship with the Helios. There is no question Heers knows exactly what it means to be part of a team.
“I’m honored to be able to ride with this group of riders, and to be here today with my home team and win in San Miguel. It’s amazing,” gushed Heers.
The Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ of Mexico was the opening stage of the North American, Central American & Caribbean division, and Team USA will keep their sights set on qualifying for the FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ Final in Barcelona come fall. It’s a goal which evaded them last year, but according to Ridland the prospect of redemption has made their drive even stronger.
“There’s a lot on the line this year, and it was so gratifying that when we had our call to arms at the beginning of the year, everyone, including our athletes, owners, and staff, came forward to make this happen. We have a great support team behind us,” said Ridland.
Full results here.