Langley, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada – May 28, 2022 – The feature event of the 2022 Canadian Premier welcomed spectators to the Fort Grand Prix Arena at Thunderbird Show Park for the $200,000 Major League Show Jumping (MLSJ) Team Competition CSI 5*. Eight MLSJ teams took turns jumping a challenging 1.50m track designed by Canada’s Peter Grant to vie for a podium finish. After three riveting rounds, it was Team Helios in the gold medal position as the first MLSJ Team Competition winner of 2022.
The format for the class, unique to MLSJ, see teams compete over three rounds of competition. In Round One, each team fields three riders back to back. The goal: keep the jumps up and stay above the cut line as the four teams with the lowest total scores advance to the second round. In Round Two, the top four teams field two riders apiece over a faults-converted speed course, meaning any rail down will add three seconds to the final jump-off time. The two quickest teams advance to the gold medal match, and the slower two, to the bronze medal match. The third round is a head to head jump off to decide the podium.
First in the ring to open the class was Team Lugano, who, despite their depth of roster, showed signs of greenness to the League, coming home on 24 faults after Hilary McNerney (USA), Vanessa Hood (USA) and Kent Farrington (USA) all jumped the track. The Roadrunners, with two returning MLSJ riders in Kaitlin Campbell (USA) and Kyle King (USA) plus one newcomer in Alberto Michan (ISR), started off strong with a clear round from Campbell, but each of the remaining two riders had 8 penalty-points for a team total of 16 in 238.27 seconds.
The Spy Coast Spies recorded a clear round from Lacey Gilbertson (USA), but with Irishmen Shane Sweetnam (IRL) and Jordan Coyle (IRL) on 4 and 12 penalty-points to add, respectively, they would tie the Roadrunners on 16, edging ahead with a quicker time of 220.20. The Trailblazers started out incredibly strong with Emma Marlow (USA) and Daniel Bluman (ISR) both recording clear rounds, but their fortunes turned when Nicky Galligan (IRL) tallied rails and time faults to put the team on a total of 15.
New MLSJ team ShowPlus Northern Lights put forth three riders for the home nation and accumulated 20 penalty-points amongst Vanessa Mannix (CAN), Sean Jobin (CAN) and Sam Walker (CAN). Team Helios had a positive start with a clear ride from Eugenio Garza (MEX) and 4 penalty-points from Ashlee Bond (ISR), but Bliss Heers (USA) recorded 12 penalty-points to put them in a three-way tie on 16 in 227.93 seconds.
Team Eye Candy, hungry for a win coming off their season finale victory in December of 2021, remained in contention as the two Irishmen, Paul O’Shea (IRL) and Conor Swail (IRL), each came home on 4 penalty-points and Jacqueline Steffens (CAN) accumulated just a time fault for a total of 9 faults, the best total score recorded. Alas, the Crusaders’ jumping abilities fell short of their canoeing at the team draw event. Callie Schott (USA), Hunter Holloway and Nick Dello Joio (USA) all had two rails down for a total of 24 penalty-points and the team slotted into eighth place with a slower time than Team Lugano.
With the Spy Coast Spies, Trailblazers, Helios and Eye Candy making the cut into round two, scores were reset to zero and the speed was kicked up a notch as teams put forth two of their riders to vie for the gold medal match. Helios sent in Eugenio Garza (MEX) with Victer Finn DH Z and Ashlee Bond (ISR) with Donatello 141, coming home on a total time of 108.18 seconds to set the bar. Rookie Lacey Gilbertson (USA) with Karlin Van’t Vennehof and veteran Shane Sweetnam (IRL) with Alejandro from Spy Coast Spies did what they needed to do and jumped home in a combined 103.58 seconds to take the lead.
For the Trailblazers, Marlowe and Cherokee recorded a clear but conservative ride in 60.51 seconds, prompting teammate Daniel Bluman (ISR) to withdraw Gemma W, knowing he was not going to catch the two prior times and the team was already bronze medal match bound. Eye Candy sent forth powerhouses Paul O’Shea (IRL) with Squirt Gun and Steffens (CAN) with Freaky, whose combined time was 112.26 seconds, relegating them to the bronze medal match and advancing the Spy Coast Spies and Helios into the jump-off for gold.
The bronze medal matchup featured the fighting Irish, Nicky Galligan (IRL) versus Conor Swail (IRL). Galligan galloped Javas Miss Jordan ferociously around the track in 52.56 seconds and put pressure on Swail. While typically cool and calm under pressure. tbird’s winningest rider caught an early rail aboard Theo 160 and couldn’t make up the time. The pair came home in 65.41 seconds, awarding the bronze to the Trailblazers.
All eyes fell on the matchup for gold between Helios and Spy Coast Spies. Bliss Heers (USA) and Goodbye were efficient around the track but the final two rails fell for a finishing time of 58.77 seconds. Jordan Coyle (IRL) knew he and Picador had to be quick in case of a rail, which proved to be a good tactic as the last rail fell and his final time clocked in at 55.28 seconds, snatching the win for the Spy Coast Spies. In a plot twist at the final moment, the Spy Coast Spies were eliminated post-competition after a small amount of blood was spotted on Picador‘s side by the FEI ground jury.
”Unfortunately, when Jordan Coyle came out of the ring, his horse had a small nick. The FEI rules are in place to protect the welfare of the horse. The [ground jury’s] decision was made with a lot of thought, and they took their time on it,” said MLSJ co-founder Keean White. “The horses always come first and we all play on a level playing field. We all know that’s the rule and when it happens, it happens. It doesn’t happen often.”
As a result, Team Helios took the win, and Spy Coast Spies were relegated to second. “I think we’re going to have quite a battle this year between Spy Coast and Helios,” he continued, “and I don’t think Eye Candy is going anywhere.”
“I think what Keean [White] and everyone at Major League has done has been really amazing,” remarked Garza. “I think it’s a format that works, a format that keeps it interesting. It’s not too hard on the horses and it just makes for a great class. We as riders, have been looking forward to this class the whole week. To cap it off with a win is pretty good.”
MLSJ Vancouver is the first of 10 stops on the 2022 MLSJ tour.
“Everyone at tbird had a Major League envy last year,” commented Chris Pack, President and Operations Director at tbird. “It was going to start here but with [Canada] shutting down we were just fans of it last year. Cheers to Keean [White] and Matt [Morrissey]. They have an innovative product that brings not only great horsepower but also a lot of excitement to the fans. We’re trying to build a fan base here and this is something that they can grasp and understand. We’re very proud to be part of it.”
$200,000 Major League Show Jumping Team Competition CSI 5*
Place / Team
Rider / Nationality / Horse / Faults / Time / Jump-Off Time
Eugenio Garza Perez (MEX) & Victer Finn DH Z – 0 / 79.23 / 54.70
Ashlee Bond (ISR) & Donatello 141 – 4/ 72.33 / 53.48
Bliss Heers (USA) & Goodbye -12 / 76.37 / 58.77
2) Spy Coast Spies
Shane Sweetnam (IRL) & Alejandro – 4/ 72.54 / 52.16
Jordan Coyle (IRL) & Picador -12 / 74.01 / 55.28
Lacey Gilbertson (USA) & Karlin Van’t Vennehof – 0/ 73.65 / 51.42
Emma Marlowe (USA) & Cherokee – 0 / 81.11 / 60.51
Daniel Bluman (ISR) & Gemma W – 70.89 / WD
Nicky Galligan (IRL) & Javas Miss Jordan – 15/91.39 / 52.56
Source: Press Release by Catie Staszak / Catie Staszak Media for Thunderbird Show Park
Photos: © Tbird – Thunderbird Show Park / Quinn Saunders