I have watched and been a part of countless Nations Cups.

The new Longines League of Nations is a huge step forward for the sport, in my opinion. The format changes the game completely.

Debuted in 2024, the new and improved global team series sees the top 10 teams in the world compete over four legs at events around the world, with the top eight advancing to the Final in Barcelona.

Leg 2 of the Longines League of Nations was hosted at World Equestrian Center Ocala on Saturday over a course set by Ireland’s Alan Wade.

After two thrilling rounds of the world’s best going head to head, Ireland emerged victorious over silver medalists Switzerland and a game star-studded team from the USA, which finished in the bronze medal position.

Darragh Kenny on Amsterdam 27 was clear in round 1 and dropped Ireland’s only rail of the evening in round 2. Daniel Coyle and Legacy, who has spent the winter circuit in Ocala, was one of six double-clear combinations in the class. Shane Sweetnam and Otis Blue completed the first-round perfection for Michael Blake’s team, meaning Cian O’Connor did not need to ride in the opening frame.

Later, this was a key factor in their victory.

Darragh Kenny and Amsterdam 27. ©FEI/Richard Juilliart
Daniel Coyle and Legacy. ©FEI/Richard Juilliart
Shane Sweetnam and Otis Blue. ©FEI/Richard Juilliart

The USA also finished round 1 with a perfect score as Laura Kraut and Baloutinue, Kent Farrington and Landon, and McLain Ward with Callas all were flawless. The drop score was local-favorite Aaron Vale and Carissimo 25, who put up a respectable 4-fault score. 

After round 1 and with ties broken on time, the top three in descending order were Team USA, Ireland and the Netherlands, all on zero. Belgium slotted into fourth on 4 faults, followed by Germany (8), France (8) and Switzerland (8), respectively. Brazil, Sweden and Great Britain all finished round 1 on 12 faults, putting paid to their bids.

The top 8 teams advance to the second round, and here is the new format wrinkle: in round 2 only three riders return for each team and there is no drop score. The chef d’equipe can also change the order of the riders.

In other words, strategy reigns supreme the pressure-packed second round and the chef’s only have a short window to devise it.

“You need to be really sure of the three people that you’re putting in,” said Irish team chef d’equipe Michael Blake of having no drop score in the second round. “You need to know that they can get it done. You have to get a good score from everybody.”

This new adaptation completely changes the dynamics of team competition as every fence means even more, and the scores and placings in round 2 showed this in dramatic fashion.

While many countries struggled over the slightly higher yet identical track in round 2 under the lights, the USA started the evening off with a clear from the veteran Olympian Kraut, which put them in command. The home crowd, silent during her round, exploded after the last fence.

USA’s advantage slipped after the second set of riders, however, as Coyle jumped clean while Farrington had a disappointing 8 faults.

Meanwhile, the Swiss team who were in seventh position after round 1, kept moving up as Pius Schwizer and Just Special VK were perfect following Is-Minka and the incomparable Steve Guerdat, another one of the evening’s double clear rounds. 

The third and final set of riders were up next. The best horse of the week, Leone Jei with pilot Martin Fuchs, was clear again, giving the star duo a double clear after their 5* Grand Prix victory on Thursday. This guaranteed Switzerland a spot on the podium, the question was which slot?

Cian O’Connor and Maurice entered the Grand Arena knowing that anything less than 4 faults clinched gold. A beautiful 1 fault round had the many Irish fans cheering. The final rider of the evening was Ward and a 4-fault trip dropped the USA into the third slot.  

Final Standings:

  1. Ireland, 5
  2. Switzerland, 8
  3. USA, 12

It was thrilling competition from start to finish. The League of Nations is a must-watch competition for all fans of the sport. The series next heads to St. Gallen, Switzerland May 30–June 2, then Rotterdam, Netherlands June 20–23. The Final will be held in Barcelona, Spain October 3–6.