The U.S. Jumping Team earned the silver medal on Saturday, Aug. 7 after an intense jump-off battle with Sweden in the Jumping Team Final to conclude equestrian competition in Tokyo. The team of Laura Kraut and Baloutinue, Jessica Springsteen and Don Juan van de Donkhoeve, and McLain Ward and Contagious put the pressure on the Swedish team, showcasing the best of the sport under the lights in Tokyo. The Swedish team topped the podium, with the Belgian team finishing with the bronze.
Kraut and Baloutinue, an 11-year-old Hanoverian gelding owned by St. Bride’s Farm, were the first combination to test the second-round track built by Santiago Varela for the final night of team competition, and the pair delivered with a clear round to start the team off strong.
“Today, he was just in the game. He was relaxed and focused and just did everything I asked of him,” Kraut said. “He’s just one of the best horses I’ve ever had the privilege to ride, and for him to come in here tonight, he’s still new to this level of jumping, and he’s gotten better each day that he’s jumped.”
Following Kraut’s fantastic finish, Springsteen picked up the baton and guided Don Juan van de Donkhoeve, a 12-year-old Belgian Warmblood stallion owned by Stone Hill Farm, to a fast four fault round, keeping the team within reach of the podium. In the pair’s championship debut, they excelled under the pressure.
“This course was super technical. The first time I walked it, I made a plan, and that was what I stuck with in the ring,” Springsteen said. “There were a lot of half strides where you had the option to choose whether you wanted to do one less or one more, and my horse has a big step. I was able to do most of the leave-outs, which really helped me with the time allowed.”
As the pair’s anchor combination, Ward and Contagious, a 12-year-old Deutches Sportpferd owned by Beechwood Stables LLC, found themselves needing to keep the team within striking range of the Swedish, and delivered with a solid round, as Contagious barely tapped a rail to add four to their score. Ultimately the team’s total of eight tied them with the Swedish team, forcing a jump-off to determine the gold and silver medals.
“I thought the horses jumped great last night and really well again today. The task for me was a bit difficult to go in cold to that round last night, and I was a little bit anxious about it,” Ward said. “I had a feeling that we were going to settle in, and everyone delivered. Jess stayed as cool as can be after having an early rail, and I thought my horse’s rail was a little unlucky, and Laura was just lights out.”
The order for the jump-off remained the same as the second-round order, with Kraut and Baloutinue entering the ring first to set the pace. The duo finished with a quick clear round and were followed by Henrick von Eckermann and King Edward, who matched their pace and kept the score even. Springsteen was tasked with keeping the team on zero in the jump-off and delivered with Don Juan van de Donkhoeve, crossing through the timers with another fast clear for the U.S. With the draw order, Ward would need to pull out all the stops to try to keep the gold medal out of Sweden’s grasp. He pushed Contagious and delivered a brilliantly fast, clear effort for the U.S., as the rest of the team waited to see what Peder Fredericson and All In would deliver. Ultimately, the gold was earned by the Swedish team, which was well-deserved after their tremendous performance, with the U.S. team securing its second consecutive team silver medal at an Olympic Games.
“Sweden has been lights out, which was expected, but they have really been on a different level. We would have had to have an incredible day to beat them, and I think we pushed them right to the limit,” Ward said. “In competition, when you push them to that limit and they still win, you’ve got to be proud with the fight and the medal.”
“This was a hard-fought battle,” Kraut said. “McLain is fast, and we know he’s fast, and he definitely put the pressure on Peder. He had .4 seconds to make up, and Peder and All In are just so fast, just like we saw on the individual final. This is what we do this for. It’s a lot of work, sweat and tears, but I’m just so thrilled, and I’m so fortunate to have a great team here with me.”
“This was truly a team of four, plus the army behind us,” added Ward, noting the support they received from teammate Kent Farrington, who competed in the individual qualifier but sat out the team competition.
Chef d’Equipe Robert Ridland was thrilled with the way the team’s strategy played to their preparation and noted that they were confident the team competition would most likely go to three rounds and made a point to be sure the horses were fresh and ready for the task at hand.
“It’s what you dream of. We came up with a plan a long time ago, and the emphasis was always going to be on the team competition. The plan was, of course, that we’re bringing four riders here and all four were going to be whatever results we were able to get,” Ridland said. “Today was supposed to be the day that we really channeled everything, and we tried to leave as much gas in the tank as we could through the qualifying round to get there, and we’ve all been saying that the team was going to be three rounds, and we were prepared for that. It just became magical. It was sweet revenge for Sweden, and it’s a great rivalry. They were amazing, and we pushed them to the limit. That’s what has made us proud.”