The U.S. reining team on Sunday won the first gold medal to be awarded at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. It was the third consecutive WEG gold for the United States, which captured the top spot this year with a score of 674.5 points.
Belgium medaled for the first time at the Games, capturing silver with a score of 659, and the Italian team had 655.5 points to win bronze for the third straight time in the Games.
All four U.S. team members, who competed in the Reining World Championships presented by John Deere, were among the top 15 individual high scorers, meaning each qualified to compete for medals Thursday in the individual competition.
In addition, there will be a qualifying competition Tuesday to select five more riders to take part in the individual event.
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Princess Haya bint al-Hussein, president of the Fédération Equestre Internationale, presented gold medals to the U.S. team in a ceremony in the Alltech Arena, where the competition took place.
Shawn Flarida, 41, a reiner from Springfield, Ohio, and the last member of the U.S. team to ride, wowed the crowd by posting the top individual score of the two-day competition with 227 points, riding RC Fancy Step.
He trumped teammate Tom McCutcheon and Italy's Stefano Massignan, who had 224 points each.
The others in the top the were Craig Schmersal of the United States on Mister Montana Nic and Bernard Fonck of Belgium on BA Reckless Chick, each with 223.5 points.
In reining, a Western-type horse is judged on athletic ability and maneuvers based on working cattle. The rider keeps the reins in one hand during the competition. Each rider starts with 70 points. Judges add or subtract half-points based on the rider's performance.
This was a seasoned U.S. team, with all the members having ridden in previous World Equestrian Games, Flarida said, calling it a "dream team."
"The horses and riders combined have won over $9 million," he said.
Flarida is the first reiner to win $3 million and is closing in on $4 million in earnings, the arena announcer told the crowd.
Tom McQuay, at 58 the senior member of the U.S. reiners, tied with Grischa Ludwig of Germany with the ninth-best score of 220.5 points and also will go on to Thursday's individual event.
At the media briefing after the medal ceremony, McCutcheon said that every horse on the U.S. team has won more than $200,000.
"It's an amazing team. We may not ever put one like it together again. Truly, it's a hard team to ever get by."
Even without Flarida's top ride, the U.S. team had the points to win; the top three scores of each team are used in the final tally.
Belgian rider Jan Boogaerts told a story after the competition about how the horse he normally rides had developed an infected stifle joint and was operated on earlier in the summer. A few days after the surgery, team manager Susy Baeck offered Boogaerts the opportunity to ride the alternate horse of her sister, Circa Baeck, also a team member.
"I only started riding him about four weeks ago," Boogaerts said in unaccented English. Boogaerts said he was a television "addict" and perfected his English by watching Chuck Norris on Walker, Texas Ranger.