What It Takes: The Road to the FEI Nations Cup™

For the last 105 years, the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) Nations Cup Jumping ™ series has been a hallmark of international jumping competition. Noted as one of the most distinguished jumping series for teams from around the globe, The FEI Nations Cup ™ serves as the ultimate test of horse and rider. One might come to question, what does it take to show at this prestigious level?

As with most professional sports, there is no checklist for success or easy way into the big leagues. For a show jumping rider in pursuit of this level of competition, it’s a blend of the right ingredients: a strong support system, a fiery passion for the sport and an unwavering commitment to a lifestyle.

Equestrian events, like the FEI Nations Cup™, are among the most visually compelling competitions in the world of sport. It is also a unique Olympic sport where a human and animal are partnered and a sport where both men and women compete on equal footing, in the same arena.

“This the only Olympic sport where you will see men and women competing equally,” McLain Ward explains. “It is also a sport that involves people in a range of weights, from 100 pounds and up, competing against each other. There is also a range of ages at the international level, which varies from 18 to over 65. I think that very few sports can combine all of these variables together.”

“What it all comes down to is, when you’re talking about the top riders in the world, it’s not just a job,” said the Olympic gold-medalist and ten-time veteran of the FEI Nations Cup™ Finals. “This is not a regular ‘9 to 5’—it’s all you do, and it’s your entire life.”

For equestrians competing at the FEI Nations Cup™, show jumping is not so much a sport as it is a way of being, and a strong support group is just as crucial to the process as the commitment to the goal.

“One thing to be understood, it takes an army meaning the people behind the scenes, including the stable staff, veterinarians, horse owners and, of course, the great athlete underneath you to make it possible,” said Ward.

The road to the FEI Nations Cup™ requires a team effort, and so often the bond between horses and riders of competing teams is overlooked as a major contributing factor to their glory. This is different from other professional sports. The horse and rider act as a team, and without that bond, the sport would not exist.

“You may be the best rider in the world, yet it means nothing without the horse,” said McLain.

Preparation for the FEI Nations Cup™ begins early in the journey for teams who have set their sights on attending. This is a unique event in the fact that there are really two teams in one, the horse and rider as one team intertwined with the other riders and horses for their country. This is different than any other equestrian competition because the riders have to be aware and help support each other, more so than they might at a regular competition. This is another reason that the FEI Nations Cup™ is so prestigious. It is a true test of teamwork in every sense.

Athletes who compete at the FEI Nations Cup™ level so often execute a course with such precision and power, that the physical and mental demands for these athletes is often not understood.

“It’s a sport which demands both strength and speed, balanced with finesse. There are many mental pressures involved in order to get the job done correctly,” said Ward. “Show Jumping should be treated like any sport. And to maintain a long career you must take care of yourself, with a focus on your weight, your strength, and keeping a healthy lifestyle. Those things are very important.”

Riders at the FEI Nations Cup™ must demonstrate excellent emotional control, as well. To put these skills into perspective, riders must think quickly and proactively while simultaneously using a series of subtle demands to guide an animal that might easily weigh a full ton, through a course of jumps that exceed the height of an average female.

“The sport certainly has an extreme element,” McLain said. “It’s exciting to watch horse and rider work together, and when it’s done well it can be spectacular to witness.”

It is those extremes that make the sport of Show Jumping distinct. Those extremes bring together unique and immensely talented horse and rider teams from around the globe, to compete for victory under one common denominator: the FEI Nations Cup™.

In 2015 Team Ireland took the win at the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ qualifier in Ocala with Team USA as the runner up. Team Columbia and Team Canada tied for a third place finish. (Insert Photo)

In 2016 Team USA forged ahead for the win at the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ qualifier in Ocala. Team Mexico came in second place, with Team Columbia close behind in third. (Insert Photo)

In 2017, again Team Ireland reigned supreme, winning the FEI Nations Cup™ qualifier in Ocala. Team USA came in second, with Team Canada in third. (Insert Photo)

For the 4th year in a row, HITS Post Time Farm has been chosen to host the FEI Nations Cup qualifier, which is being sponsored this year by Longines, making it the Longines FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping of the United States of America 2018. It is also being offered as a CSIO5* this year, with unprecedented prize money including $300,000 and $450,000. This event brings attention not only to HITS, but to Marion County. Last year over 5,000 spectators attended the event, making the usually quiet, City of Ocala, a bustling place full of people from countries all over the world.

This year there will also be a Nations Cup section for Junior and Children’s Riders. This will run during the same week, with classes offered Thursday-Sunday.

The locals are extremely supportive of the event, including the Mayor of Ocala, Kent Guinn. “It is one of the great events that make Ocala, Marion County, the Horse Capital of the World” Guinn said. The second annual “Jump Downtown” event will be held in Ocala’s Downtown Square on Saturday, February 17, 2018 at 4:30pm. Presented by Ocala Main Street, IHMC (The Institute for Human and Machine Cognition), and the CEP (Ocala/Marion County Chamber and Economic Partnership), Jump Downtown will feature a Parade of Nations honoring the countries and the riders participating in the Longines FEI Nations Cup Jumping event, followed by a Celebration of the Horse presentation of the 30-plus horse breeds showcasing the diversity of the “Horse Capital of the World”. Additional festivities on the Square will include snacks, music, horse drawn carriage rides, s’mores, and more! This is a free event for all to attend.

Join us on Friday, February 16 for the $300,000 Longines Grand Prix, Saturday, February 17 for the Parade of Nations and Breeds, and Sunday, February 18 for the Longines FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping of the United States of America 2018.

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