08 March 2010

New FEI Nations' Cup Formula A Rousing Success

A new FEI Nations' Cup formula debuted in Wellington, Florida (USA) on Friday, to raucous approval from an enthusiastic public that under new rules actually gets to participate in the event itself. In a rather drastic move to try to give the so-called "promotional leagues" their own distinctive brand and increase general appeal of the sport, the FEI revised these second-tier-and-beyond CSIOs for 2010 to include a new round in which team riders negotiate a varied obstacle course filled with revelers from rival nations who have had a few too many drinks. The exciting proposal was originally the brainchild of the fledgling North American Riders' Group (NARG), who are hoping to create a more rodeo-like atmosphere to build a broader spectator base for show jumping.

The USA squad are clearly struggling to adapt to the new format as Lauren Hough's Casadora got caught out at the imposing José Cuervo Mexican Flag hazard, and the subsequent Rider vs. Drunken Fans shouting match still ended squarely in favour of the Mexico cheering section. Kent Farrington’s ride United then took offence to the challenging final Corona Beer Bong line, which unexpectedly included an Insult The Other Teams' Horses phase. The horse refused to go forward and ultimately required sedation and removal from the arena via horse ambulance. The consensus was that the American horses generally needed toughening up, instead of being coddled to the point of not having sufficient self-esteem to manage in this new, riotous world order. The third US pair, Ashlee Bond and Apache, failed to successfully navigate several Mexican streakers, leaving the USA in a disappointing fourth position on their home turf despite having held their own earlier on. Thankfully the strange south Florida weather had improved somewhat and none of the streakers suffered hypothermia.

The Mexican team were likewise tested by a politically incorrect, last-minute addition to the course which involved dodging former CNN personality Lou Dobbs as he ranted against illegal immigration and demanded to see their visas, but they still managed to land in silver medal position as even Mr. Dobbs' rabid foaming at the mouth proved to have little real effect. Course designer Anthony D'Ambrosio defended the highly controversial choice, saying that a great course should reflect different aspects of a venue's host culture and present a full range of challenges. Besides, a little controversy is a great way to get the show covered by the media, with the mainstream press demonstrating a level of interest in the WEF not seen since Madonna came to town.

The Canadians meanwhile had no trouble, handily finishing atop the podium as they have grown accustomed here in Wellington. Explained chef d'équipe Terrance Millar, "We've been working all winter on getting the horses used to the new format. After the Vancouver Olympics, we even had the Canadian women's hockey team come round to properly acclimate the horses to this sort of drunken revelry, so they didn't bat an eye." Millar continued, "I think the format that is used here with the Drunken Revelry round is a fantastic format for Nations' Cups in terms of spectator appeal and excitement. I think it really gives a punch to it. Personally, I wish they would adopt that format for all Nations' Cups. I think it's much more modern and what the sport needs." Rider Shane Sweetnam of the third-placed Irish squad added, "Every year, there seems to be more people, more excitement, and more alcohol at this Nations' Cup. Every year, it means more to all of these drunken fools here." USA chef d'équipe George Morris commented that his charges were focused on their WEG selection trials and therefore had neglected training for the challenges posed by the new Nations' Cup formula. He promised that the USA side would be well prepared for next year, however, and added that any horses who didn't get it together might find themselves on a trip to Miami.

The FEI meanwhile are very pleased that the new formula has won so many fans, as both the top league and the promotional leagues have struggled to find a strong identity after the demise of the highly successful if very oddly named Samsung Super League with FEI. Not to mention that no one even has the rules straight on who should and should not be relegated. The Drunken Revelry round has thus far not been added to the top Meydan FEI Nations' Cup Series, since this would present a religious conflict for the title sponsor. Because if anyone can be assumed to adhere strictly to Muslim traditions, it's the Gulf's ruling families and their myriad front companies. As a result, this new round with drunken audience participation is proving to set the promotional leagues apart from the more prestigious CSIOs, which now appear far too sedate by comparison.

Equestrian Sport Productions President Michael Stone remarked, "We specifically engineered the footing to withstand a neverending deluge of spilt alcoholic beverages, so it held up beautifully. And being Irish, naturally I am delighted to have Mexico step up so commandingly and claim the gold medal for drunken revelry. It's good to have some competition to keep things interesting." Added ESP CEO Mark Bellissimo, "Next year it will only get better as our in-kind sponsors, including José Cuervo, Tecate, and Dos Equis, will be generously expanding their contributions."

In related news, former US president George W. Bush has promised that if he succeeds in being elected president of the FEI Nation in November, he will immediately declare war on Mexico, prompting Lou Dobbs to squeal with delight.

Of course, the real story is only on The Carrot, but if you'd like another take on this spectacular event, see Nancy Jaffer, The Chronicle of the Horse, or ESP news.

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