All photos by Calina. – I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there is a pretty big event looming in 2012. I’ll give you a hint…its going to be held in London next summer and they hand out a few medals. The result was a fierce year of competition in 2011 as the horses/riders geared up, sought to get qualified and tried to impress the team selectors. The problem, of course, is that nearly every other horse/rider combination with a shred of Olympic potential has the exact same plan.

We Canadian are looking to see something along these lines in 2012!

I was fortunate enough to be at three of this year’s 4* events, and watch portions of the others on the wonder that is FEI TV/youtube. I saw some incredible riding, some amazingly athletic and clever horses and came away inspired to ride better. I was also reminded that you need to be very, very good to have success at this level. But even that isn’t enough, you also need to have luck on your side because these 1,100 lb beasts we spend so much time with are very fragile.

A few horse/rider combinations come immediately to my mind, as having fallen victim to some eventing bad luck in 2011.

There was lots of good for Hamish Cargill and Sandhills Tiger this year. They came to Rolex and completed, and then begun an English adventure to prepare for Burghley – but their Burghley adventure came to an abrupt end, when Tiger re-injured a tendon half-way around the massive Burghley course. It was a disappointing end for their season, and Tiger’s competitive career at the 4* level. Hamish’s supporters will just have to hope for new blog entries and await Hamish’s return to the 4* level.

Hamish Cargill and Sandhills Tiger at Rolex

Rafferty Rules’ bruised coffin bone is more of a blip along the road, but its timing was not ideal. I’ve liked this pair for quite some time, and I know I wasn’t alone in hoping they would get to challenge a 4* course this year. Instead, Reggie was sidelined this fall, missing his chance to contest Burghley or compete for the US at the Pan Am Games.

Sharon White and Rafferty’s Rules at Bromont 2011

Canadian Lisa Marie Ferguson and Kyle Carter also encountered back luck this year. Kyle had an unfortunate pop-off Madison Park at Burghley and then Madison Park slipped the tendon off his hock at Blenheim. He will have a long rehab, but we hope to see him back in action. Lisa Marie probably had the most horrible end to the 2011 season imaginable – her Olympic hopeful, Smart Move, was struck by a car and killed in Florida earlier this month.

That’s enough of the bad, I’d rather focus on the positive and share my favourite Top Five Eventing Moments of 2011.

#5 – Age and Experience Triumph

Mark Todd at Burghley 2011

Mark Todd, winner of Badminton 2011, is 55 years old. Mary King, winner of Rolex 2011, is 51. Andrew Nicholson is also 51 and was the runner-up at both Burghley and Pau.  One of the things that I like best about this sport (and equestrian sports in general) is the importance of experience. That experience is often paired with age, and all three of these riders have both in spades and are likely candidates for medals in 2012.

#4 – Colleen Rutledge jumps around Burghley

Colleen Rutledge and Shiraz

I’m not sure how anyone could not root for Colleen Rutledge. She has a fabulously athletic horse and a lot of drive, dedication and ambition. Colleen has a serious 4* horse and is tackling some of the biggest courses in the world – largely without the support of her national federation. It’s for those reasons, and many more, that it was so nice to see her faith in her horse pay off at Burghley. Shiraz jumped around that course like it was child’s play, and put in a nice show jump round too.

#3 – Jessie Phoenix steps up to the 4* level

Jessica Phoenix and Exponential

I think it’s safe to say that Jessie Phoenix had a super 2011. While she technically started in her first 4* at WEG in 2010, she actually completed her first 4* at Rolex in April of 2011. She then went on to finish as the top Canadian at Burghley. Jessie is hard working, gracious and a super ambassador for Canadian Eventing. After some disappointments in the last few years (she missed out on the Olympics in 2008 due to a injury to her horse, Exploring), she brought home two medals at the Pan Am games (including an individual gold medal) and we can’t wait to see what 2012 has in store for her.

#2 – Neville Bardos secures top placing at Burghley

Boyd Martin and Neville Bardos

If Neville Bardos can be considered “lucky” to be alive after the barn fire at True Prospect Fire, I’m not sure what term can be used to describe his success at Burghley (he finished in 7th). Miraculous, perhaps? We could quibble about terms, or we could just agree that Neville is one tough horse. Three months after the devastating fire that left him in intensive care, he shipped across the pond, jumped a double-clear cross-country round at Burghley and added just 4 faults to his score on Sunday.

#1 – Mary King wins the FEI HSBC Classics Series

Mary King with her well-deserved trophy

If you read HJU regularly, you’ve no doubt heard us reference Mary King’s big win. You might even have tired of hearing about it. I don’t care, I still think its worthy of mention. The woman was 3rd at Badminton, took 1st and 2nd a week later at Rolex, was 3rd at Burghley and 4th at Pau. William Fox-Pitt kept the pressure on throughout the season, and with EIGHT 4* horses in his arsenal, he was well-armed. Throughout all this, Mary was consistently lovely and gracious. Perhaps it’s easy to be gracious when you are on top, but she had some less than stellar moments in 2011 (including a fall at the European Championships) and she still impressed us with her outlook.

Sinead Halpin and Manoir de Carneville

There were lots of other great moments in 2011 (including Sinead Halpin’s consistent performance in her first season at the 4* level). We can’t wait to see what 2012 has in store, and can’t wait to bring you lots of coverage!