Top riders agree – the Winter Equestrian Festival is a marathon not a sprint

  • Ireland’s Mark McAuley is coming to the end of his first season at the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) and his approach to the 12-week contest has drawn praise from his peers.

    “It’s very impressive to see what Mark has done,” said Daniel Bluman after Mark finished second this afternoon, one place ahead of Daniel in the $216,000 CSI4* grand prix, behind winner Darragh Kenny – who, like Daniel, is not new to WEF.

    “Most of the time you see people overjumping and horses being tired by the end of the season,” said Daniel, who was last to go in this afternoon’s jump off, in a time that was exactly one second slower than Darragh’s winning round of 39.43. “I think it’s a place and a circuit that you must know how to play with, to try to get really strong for the final week, finishing with the Rolex grand prix, which is the highlight of the season.”

    Darragh agreed that staying competitive through the whole Festival is a feat that is hard to pull off. “I think to be able to manage your horses to go through 12 weeks here and still at the end have somewhat fresh horses is incredible,” he said.

    Mark had back-to-back runner-up finishes, after claiming second place in last night’s FEI $140,000 CSI4* 1.50M championship – and missing out on victory this afternoon by a slim margin, finishing on a time of 39.52 with the 13-year-old bay gelding, Jasco VD Bisschop.

    “I think when you manage to get your horses consistent at this level then hopefully the wins are going to come,” said Mark. “I’m very happy with the consistency of this horse in particular.”

    This afternoon, the course itself proved to be a test of stamina for the 44 horse and rider combinations competing.

    “Last week I was in Paris and I think we were finishing the course in half the time,” said Daniel. “We were taking 90 seconds today, where there, we were taking 55 to 60. It was a long course and it was getting warm out there so I think fitness was definitely an important factor out there today.”

    For Mark, WEF proved a tough but instructional experience. “For me one of the best things about the circuit here has been competing week in week out with such good riders, in such good competition at such a high level,” he said. “I think it’s been very good for my riding. I think you really have to be on the ball here every time you go in the ring or you’re not going to get anything.”

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