And now for something completely different… 

Urban Dictionary definition of ‘mojo’: 1. Self-confidence, Self-assuredness. As in basis for belief in one’s self in a situation. Esp. in context of contest or display of skill such as sexual advances or going into battle. 2. Good luck fetish / charm to bolster confidence. 3. Ability to bounce back from a debilitating trauma and negative attitude

Standard & Poor’s has just downgraded the US Show Jumping Team’s status from triple A to BB minus. Where did it all go wrong? It’s tempting to draw further parallels between the recent string of failures for the US team and the floundering economy, but that would be both silly and pointless. I don’t think there is much correlation between the two trends other than the fact that if they were plotted on a graph they would point in the same direction. I’m a relative outsider to show jumping and, being Canadian, I definitely don’t have access to the kind of behind-closed-doors action that inevitably has an impact on who gets on what team, when. Looking at things from my far remove, the trouble really seemed to start when Sapphire had an alleged tender spot on her leg in Geneva last spring. With four Americans still finishing in the top 20, the 2010 WC Final can hardly be labelled a washout for the US, but of course the disqualification of Sapphire eclipsed that fact. 

Then, along came the 2010 WEG, an event which never escaped from under its cloud of rumoured financial failure. That wasn’t the only cloud over last year’s WEG, either. Not since the inaugural WEG in 1990 has the US been entirely shut out of the team medals in all three Olympic disciplines; but it happened right in front of a shocked and dismayed home crowd in Lexington. The only medals won at all for the home team (Olympic disciplines only) were Steffen Peters’ pair of individual bronze medals in dressage. The US show jumpers did so poorly that they didn’t even earn an Olympic team qualification for London– at least the dressage and event teams managed to achieve that in Kentucky. And now, following a rotten Nations’ Cup season capped by an even rottener performance in Rotterdam in August, the US Show Jumping team has been relegated out of the Super League and into the FEI Promotional League, joining such show jumping powerhouses as Latvia, Bulgaria, and Chile.  And as if this mud pie needed any more filling, the US team finished dead last at the Masters ten days ago.

Oxford Dictionary definition of ‘relegate’: 1. consign or dismiss to an inferior or less important position, category, etc. 2. transfer (a sports team) to a lower division of a league, etc. 

There’s nothing ambiguous about that definition, is there? The cloud continues to hang persistently over the US show jumpers, and so far there is no sign of a silver lining. Is it a rhetorical question to ask why? Is it just a trough between the waves of success that carried the Americans to two consecutive team Olympic gold medals in 2004 and 2008, as well as a team silver medal at WEG 2006? One fact that can’t be overlooked is that all but one of the horses from the 2008 team in Hong Kong are now out of the picture: Sapphire and Authentic have been the mainstays of the US team. No, ‘mainstay’ isn’t even a powerful enough word for what those wonderful horses contributed as members of the medal winning teams in 2004, 2006 and 2008. Big shoes are hard to fill and if they were people Sapphire and Authentic would wear size 16. I find it hard to believe that it’s all about a lack of horse flesh though. The US is the biggest and richest country of all those that have won show jumping medals in the past two decades. Surely depth of horse talent isn’t the only issue. Look at Beezie and Coral Reef Via Volo, who two days after the team finished sixth in Rotterdam and sent themselves packing to the Promotional League, won the Grand Prix there. Some might say it’s a lack of team spirit, that money is better made if you think about yourself first and to hell with the team. But look at our Mr. L’Amazing for proof you can help your team win medals AND win million dollar classes at the same time.

Oxford Dictionary definition of ‘confidence’: 1. firm trust; faith 2a. self-reliance; belief in one’s own abilities 2b. assurance or certainty

Is it Captain America’s fault? Captain America is what I’ve been calling George Morris ever since his photo appeared in a World Cup Final program inLas Vegas, misnamed in the caption as George America. My firsthand knowledge of Captain America is limited to overhearing conversations at major championships and watching him speak during top-three team press conferences (a declining occurrence of late), but he does have a longstanding reputation as a world class horseman and grouch. Captain America’s last big gig will be in London next year – provided the Americans get their Olympic qualification in Guadalajara – and that will be his last chance to prove himself as a good team leader. I say ‘good’ and not ‘great’ because after the past year or so’s results ‘great’ is simply out of the question. We live in a world where the collective conscience is quick to accuse and slow to forgive – just look at the way Obama can’t keep himself out of Fox News’ jaws, not even after the capture and execution of Osama bin Laden. I’m really speaking from afar here, but I don’t see how Captain America can escape at least a small share of the blame.

At the last Pan Am Games in Rio, the US team was not made up of the very best of the best. The team still managed to creep onto the podium but their score was closer to the fourth placed Mexicans than the silver medal-winning Canadians – who needed their medal in order to qualify for Hong Kong and sent their A team. The shoe is on the other foot this time around.Canada has its Olympic qualification, and the US doesn’t. But with Canada and Brazil being the strongest rivals, and both having already qualified for London, the Americans only have to reach a top five finish to gain their ticket to London. Surely they can manage that with the line-up they have just announced for their team…but anything other than gold in Guadalajara will do little to bring back the US Show Jumping Team’s mojo.