Eleven nations have fielded teams to compete on Saturday March 5 in the $150,000 CSIO4* Nations Cup, presented by Premier Equestrian, the showpiece event of week eight of the Winter Equestrian Festival 2022.
The Irish flag was raised late in the evening as the side of Andrew Bourns, Cian O’Connor, Eoin McMahon and Max Wachman, led by team manager Michael Blake, lifted the fourth European Cup Nations for Ireland in 21- year class history at the WEF.
Teams from Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, Israel, Mexico, the United States and Venezuela took part in the first round, and the eight frontrunners returned for the second round under the lights of the international arena.
Heading into the second round, Ireland were tied with Canada at zero faults after three clear rounds from Chakra 9 of McMahon and Beerbaum Stables, Wachman and Berlux Z, owned by Coolmore Show Jumping, and Bourns on Sea Topblue , owned by QBS Equestrian LLC. With three clear rounds, O’Connor didn’t have to compete with Cerruti Van Ter Hulst Z, owned by Ronnoco Jump Ltd.
Just a rail behind and tied for second were Great Britain, Australia and Mexico. Belgium and the United States sat on eight fouls, while Argentina had 10 fouls. There were 16 clear first-round trips on the course designed by Nick Granat and Steve Stephens.
Fortunes changed dramatically in round two as more rails fell, but with strong performances from the Irish team they came away with the win.
Pathfinder McMahon and Chakra 9 only had one time fault on lap two. It was a great performance for McMahon, who represented Ireland at the European Championships last year, and his horse, who has had three clear rounds from four in two Nations Cup performances in 2021.
“Coming here it was my plan to skip Chakra in the Nations Cup so we planned our weeks until tonight. She has been a very good horse for me,” he said of of the 12-year-old Holsteiner mare “Even though she’s 12, she doesn’t have a lot of experience. She’s improved a lot from last year to this year.”
Wachman, 18, felt grateful to be part of the Ireland squad and he achieved a stunning double clear round, one of only five in the category.
Wachman has only been riding Berlux Z, an 11-year-old Zangersheide gelding, since October. Berlux Z was in the French team under the saddle of Simon Delestre at the Tokyo Olympics. “My horse is a very good horse,” Wachman said. “He was able to take me to higher levels because he’s quite experienced and he’s not green. I’m very grateful to ride him.
Riding in third place for the Irish team, Bourns and Seatop Blue were coming off a strong WEF circuit, having won the CSI4* Grand Prix in week three. They only recorded four unlucky fouls in the second round.
“I was very happy with him tonight,” Bourns said of the 11-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding. “It’s his first Nations Cup. I was a bit worried that he might come out in the second round and think it was a play-off. But, after the second or third fence, I realized that I was right with him.
O’Connor was the anchor rider for Ireland, and he and Cerruti Van Ter Hulst Z, a 12-year-old Zangersheide mare, entered the ring in round two for their first shot on the course. With denials at close four, they were eliminated.
“Cerruti is doing pretty well,” O’Connor said. “She did a double clear at 1.50m and a double clear at the WEF and clear at three stars. I haven’t shown her for the past few weeks. I wanted to let her cool off. That’s always the thing with the calendar here. You don’t want to jump over it.
With 38 Irish riders to choose from competing at the WEF, Blake was in an enviable position with a wealth of choice for his team. He chose horses and riders with solid recent results, but also teammates whose horses or riders had less experience.
“I like giving opportunities to people who I think deserve them,” he said. “I have to say we did our job very, very well tonight, and I’m delighted with the boys. Max is 18 and it was a phenomenal effort on his part. Even though Eoin isn’t much older, he’s also a veteran. Andrew has been in the US for a while and we needed his chance. It rode very well. I thought he was a bit unlucky to have the last fence down. It would have been nice to finish without a post on the ground, but you know, we still did our job, and we are very happy. And Cian has always been an incredible, incredible driver for Team Ireland.
Ireland finished on five fouls in total for the win. Canada and the United States both had a total of 12 fouls after two rounds. The teams’ aggregate times were the tiebreaker, with Canada taking second place and the United States third.