By Catie Staszak for FEI
Conor Swail (IRL) proved his Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ North American League dominance Saturday night before a packed crowd in Fort Worth, Texas (USA), securing his third victory of the NAL season by way of an eight-horse jump-off.
Tiffany Foster (CAN) and Figor finished second, with 24-year-old Ailish Cunniffe (USA) and Vivaldi du Theil third.
Swail took victories at the league’s opening two events at Vancouver (CAN) and Sacramento (USA) with Vital Chance de la Roque, but in Fort Worth, he brought forward a new winning partner in the 14-year-old gelding, Count Me In. Remarkably, he has ridden both horses for less than a year.
“I decided to bring [Count Me In] here for a few reasons. He was up in Thermal (California, USA) for a few weeks, and this was a stop on our way back to Wellington (Florida, USA),” Swail explained. “The other reason is that it gives me another option if I decide to go to World Cup Finals. The horse that you use [at the Finals] has to have competed [in at least one qualifier].
“[Vital Chance de la Roque] is small and fiery, while [Count Me In] has more range,” Swail continued. “The one thing they have in common is that they’re both extremely good athletes and want to leave the jumps up for me, and that’s the reason why I’ve had such a good year.”
A brand new NAL stop in Fort Worth brought an enthusiastic crowd to the Will Rogers Coliseum, and they cheered on the sport’s best athletes, along with some local newcomers. Anderson Lima (BRA) set a big but fair track that saw rails fall throughout. First to jump on the evening, Kristen Vanderveen (USA) delivered with an early clear round before the class quickly leveled out. Ultimately, seven other riders would join her for the shortened track, including Swail and Foster, who won Washington’s (USA) leg in October.
Those two riders, the two leaders in the NAL standings, would battle it out for top honors. Swail and Count Me In set a standard that put immense pressure on their competitors, stopping the timers in 33.18 seconds. Last to go, Foster gave great chase and used her horse’s immense stride to her advantage. The duo narrowly missed the win with their 33.27-second time.
“We all have our numbers in the jump-off. For me, it was a nice six [strides between the first two fences]. Then I had a nice rollback turn and got eight strides to the double,” Swail detailed. On the rollback [turn] to the vertical in the middle of the arena, I caught a hot one, and that just about was the reason that, thankfully, Tiffany didn’t catch me.”
Swail maintains a comfortable lead in the NAL standings with 63 points; he has earned points in every World Cup event he has jumped this season. Foster sits second with 59 points, while Natalie Dean (USA) is third with 41 points.
The North American League takes a brief reprieve for the holidays before returning at another new stop in Puebla (MEX) on 26 February 2022.