Wellington Show Series Vital For Riders Heading To World Cup In Paris

Laura Graves and Verdades ride in Wellington.

Quite a few riders in dressage and show jumping qualified during Wellington’s 12-week winter series for the Longines FEI World Cup Jumping Final and FEI World Cup Dressage Final taking place next week in Paris.

The entire group will fly their horses from Miami to Paris for 10 days to compete in the indoor final against the best in the world. Top riders from the two disciplines will be in Paris from April 10-15, having completed a long and difficult World Cup qualifying process.

The 2018 Longines FEI World Cup Show Jumping Final and the FEI World Cup Dressage Final will take place at the AccorHotels Arena, formerly known as Paris Bercy Arena, located on the Boulevard de Bercy in central Paris. Major sporting events, including the ATP Tour tennis tournament Paris Masters, have been held at the venue. As one of France’s largest concert venues, and known for its unique pyramid shape, the indoor arena has hosted global megastars such as Madonna, Céline Dion, Tina Turner, Kylie Minogue and U2, among many others.

Paris will welcome 18 horse-and-rider combinations in dressage representing 13 countries at the 33rd FEI World Cup Dressage Final. In show jumping, the 40 best riders in the world will compete head-to-head.

Five of the 18 dressage riders competed this winter in Wellington, including Sweden’s Tinne Vilhelmson Silfvén, Americans Laura Graves and Shelly Francis, the Dominican Republic’s Yvonne Losos de Muñiz and Ellesse Tzinberg of the Philippines.

These championships are the culmination of winter season qualification points in the Musical Freestyle for the dressage riders. Last year’s second-place winner Graves, 30, will be a strong contender, as she has a newly crafted Freestyle with her and Curt Maes’ Verdades, a 16-year-old KWPN gelding.

Last year, Graves posted her personal best in the Grand Prix Freestyle with a score of 85.307 percent in the World Cup competition, held in Omaha, Neb. Graves said that Wellington has played an important part in her career.

“Wellington is the only venue in the entire country that gives us the opportunity to qualify for such world-wide events,” she said. “Everything you could possibly need is here — the best trainers in the country, the best riders in the country, the best horses in the country, the best footing in the country, the best organizers, the best sponsors and the crowds are all here.”

Graves has been working with Verdades, known as “Diddy,” for a number of years in Wellington.

“It has been really fun,” she said. “I was here when the Global Dressage Festival first started in 2012, and it has grown into something truly spectacular that no other country in the world has. My perspectives of the venue have changed as I have changed and grown because of this venue. It has given me the medium to design my career. Every time I need to make a change, there is an option for me here. I don’t have to go anywhere else. It allows me to adapt and learn because they are always bringing in the very best judges for us. They keep us sharp on our game.”

Sweden’s Vilhelmson Silfvén will head to Paris having competed in seven Olympic Games, eight European Championships, and six World Cup Finals. She will ride Paridon Magi, Lövsta Stuteri’s 15-year-old Swedish Warmblood gelding.

Francis, of Loxahatchee, will also be representing the United States with Patricia Stempel’s Danilo, a 14-year-old Hanoverian gelding. Since the early 2000s, the five-foot-two-inch rider has teamed with horse owner Stempel and consistently scores in the highest rankings for the United States throughout the national and international dressage circuits.

A first-time competitor for the indoor championships, Francis has beautiful acapella music designed by Marlene Whitaker to complement her horse, and she has a great chance to place high in the finals.

Olympic dressage rider Losos de Muñiz, who represents the Dominican Republic, will ride in Paris on her own Foco Loco W, or “Dobbie,” an 18-hand Bay 2005 Belgian Warmblood gelding. She is a longtime winter Wellington resident.

“Coming here and being here for the winter seasons has done everything for me,” she said. “If it weren’t for Wellington, the Global Dressage venue and everything here, I would not have the chance to go to the World Cup or be qualified for the World Equestrian Games or have had the opportunity to have competed in the Rio Olympics.”

Losos de Muñiz is thrilled with the opportunity to ride in Paris.

“Being excited to represent the Dominican Republic in Paris at the World Cup doesn’t even describe half of what I feel,” she said. “I am still on a cloud from this season. It’s been so go, go, go for me these last 12 weeks. When I finally get on the plane, then I will realize I am going to Paris. Grateful, for us, South American or Central American, the U.S. or Canada, Wellington is the only place in the world where we can qualify for any upcoming games or championships and be just as competitive on the world stage. It makes it all possible for us.”

Another new competitor for the indoor championships will be Tzinberg, 26, and her own Triviant 2, an 18-year-old KWPN gelding. She will be the first-ever athlete to represent the Philippines at the World Cup Final. She is a Wellington resident and winter season dressage competitor.

“Wellington is so unique in the sense that you can come here and really get to know your horse,” she explained. “It’s the only place in the world where you can do that. I don’t think I would actually be at this level without the time we spend here in Wellington. We had the chance to show almost every other week, and it wasn’t a high-pressure show situation. We were at the same stadium, same show venue and the same show ring to get to know one another and really work on things together. It’s wonderful not to have to travel 15 hours to show at a new competition.”

To follow the dressage riders in Paris, visit www.feiworldcupfinals-paris.com/en/fei-world-cup-tm-dressage-final.

The Longines FEI World Cup Jumping Final will include 40 of the best riders in the world. Last year’s winner, America’s double Olympic gold medalist McLain Ward with Double H Farm and François Mathy’s HH Azur, a 12-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare, will be heading to Paris to defend his title.

A total of 11 U.S. riders have made the cut from the North American Eastern and Western sub leagues. Among them are seven riders who qualified through events in Wellington: Alison Robitaille (Upperville, Va.) with Bertram and Diana Firestone’s Ace, a 13-year-old KWPN gelding; Devin Ryan (Long Valley, N.J.) with LL Show Jumpers LLC’s Eddie Blue, a 9-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding; Beezie Madden (Cazenovia, N.Y.) with Abigail Wexner’s Breitling LS, an 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood stallion; Kristen Vanderveen (Wellington) with Bull Run Jumpers Five LLC’s Bull Run’s Faustino de Tili, a 10-year-old Belgian Warmblood stallion; Sarah Scheiring (Chester, N.J.) with Cheval Equestrian LLC and Molly Ben-Menachem’s Dontez, a 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding; Andrew Kocher (Howell, N.J.) with MKO Equestrian LLC’s Navalo de Poheton, a 17-year-old Selle Français gelding; and Charlie Jacobs (Wellington) with CMJ Sporthorse LLC’s Cassinja S, a 12-year-old Zweibrücker mare.

To find out more about the 2018 Longines FEI World Cup Jumping Final, visit www.feiworldcupfinals-paris.com. It all can be watched live on FEI TV at tv.fei.org.