Partially beneath a sea of blue. In between, a few reds. Above it, the portrait of her beloved chestnut bay, Majestic Summer.
“This is what you are riding for in the future. Everyone talks about Olympic Gold or the World Cup trophy. Nice as they are, this is the one piece of hardware everyone wants to win. The American Gold Cup. One day, each of you will get to lift this cup high in victory. It’ll be your statement that you belong.” They touched the cup much like how a priceless artifact would be touched, barely.
Very few see this room in her home. Riding glory covers every inch. All of it earned by the daughter of a North Carolina stable foreman.
What makes the American Gold Cup different? The course. The competitiveness. The prestige. “A lot makes it different,” Trish explains. “You won’t find another course of its design. Not the Olympics. Not the World Cup Finals. The course is designed to clearly separate the best from the rest of the field. The competitiveness is a who’s who of the best in the world. The prestige is competing among the best.”
the prize: The American Gold Cup (Traverse City, Sep 2020)
photo credit: Elaine Wessel/Phelps Media Group
Previously, the event was held at Old Salem Farm in Westchester County, an hour outside NYC, before moving to Traverse City in 2020.
Traverse City is a blue-collar town. In its harbor, a small fishing fleet which works Grand Traverse Bay, northern Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. It is also called the cherry capital for an obvious reason. During the summer, it becomes an equestrian town with a decidedly blue-collar feel.
In the early years, it was where a rider could learn their craft. Club, B and C level shows where a rider would gain their experience on Saturday afternoons. Soon, the level of competition began to improve. The upper Midwest was fast becoming the cradle of American equestrians. Traverse City became an important stop in the path of development. Its blue-collar setting allowed those from very modest backgrounds to compete in equestrian sports.
For more than fifty years, Traverse City has featured some of the best showjumping competition. From Premier AA level to CSI5*, every notable professional has competed here. Beezie Madden, Kent Farrington, McClain Ward, Jessica Springsteen, Kelli Cruciotti. And, a certain alumnus named Trish Van Hollen. More recently, it has added Major League Show Jumping (MLSJ) to its show portfolio. The MLSJ tour brings 5* competition to North America, with competition at the team and individual levels.
“This is the first time we are competing at this level,” Elizabeth said at the Tuesday afternoon presser. “It sends chills just to be here … where we are walking among the very best in our sport. Whether we belong, whether we can be competitive at this level, long term, only time will tell.”
Deborah added what they have been able to accomplish this season has been remarkable. “Are we satisfied? Not really. We have been competitive, we have ridden well. By no means are we satisfied. There is room for improvement, to become better riders. Sure, every rider says that, but it is different to make it happen. It takes commitment and giving our best every time we step into the practice ring, every time we step into the show ring.”
There is plenty of x-factor when competing for the gold cup trophy. It has eluded some of the very best in McClain Ward, Shane Sweetnam, Daniel Bluman and Margie Engle. Beezie Madden is a three-time winner. Kent Farrington, two-time winner and defending champion. Mario Deslauriers, Richie Moloney, Devin Ryan, Jessica Springsteen, and Molly Ashe Cawley each have won the trophy. In showjumping, they are the household names, the rock stars of the sport.
The field is pre-selected to represent the fifty best jumpers in the world, at the moment. While Trish believes Elizabeth, Deborah and Tara are ready now, it may take another 2-3 seasons of dominating performances to become part of the select field. “The FEI can be notoriously slow in recognizing fast-rising talent. So, I wouldn’t characterize it as an oversight just yet. They likely have noticed, but want to see if they’re a flash-in-the-pan.” Griffin was disappointed they did not make this year’s field. “They have proven themselves to be very competitive, particularly this season. They’ve shown they can compete with the best and are unafraid of the competition. Clearly, they belong. They just don’t hob-nob with the blueblood crowd in the sport.”
A question was asked about whether going to medical school was a distraction. Tara laughed before answering. “I’m a daughter of a trauma surgeon, certainly the finest, in my estimation. Deborah and Elizabeth, their mom is the best surgical RN around. Growing up, it was ‘Don’t let horses distract you from your studies,’ for the three of us. School is not a distraction while we’re riding and riding is not a distraction while we’re in school.”
The CSI2*/CSI5* American Gold Cup began this morning.
While others are waiting, Elizabeth, onboard SAM: Secret Agent Man, stayed in motion, earning the win in the $5,000 1.40m Jumper Open. The prize money by EquiLine was winner-take-all.
And, so it goes.