PALM BEACH POST -- MARCH 18, 2012 -- With no clear favorites, the United States Equestrian Team selection trials for this summer's London Olympics show jumping team begin this week at the FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival.
The first of four selection trials that run through Saturday at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center is Wednesday at 1 p.m.
Held in conjunction with the USEF National Show Jumping Competition, the selection trials will determine a list of 12 rider/horse combinations.
A field of more than 30 riders features a mix of veterans, including Margie Engle and Lauren Hough of Wellington and young up-and-comers including Reed Kessler, Katie Dinan, Jessica Springsteen (daughter of rock star Bruce Springsteen), and Nick Dello Joio, son of 1992 Olympian Norman Dello Joio of West Palm Beach.
"One of the things that happens with the trials is that it is wide open, that's the American way," said Kent Farrington, one of the more experienced riders. He will compete with 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood Uceko, the horse he rode to team gold at the 2011 Pan American Games in Mexico.
"That's the purpose of the trials is that everybody has a chance," Farrington said. "Whether or not it's good or bad, I don't know. We have to use our horses pretty heavy to come up with the list of 12. It feels like we are jumping Trials here every week and to make the horses do that again seems like a lot of jumping. But that's the system and we have to make the most of it."
The field will be whittled down to 12 who then will have to participate in two of the four designated USEF Observation Events in May and June.
The four USEF observation events are the May 1-6 Del Mar (Calif.) National Horse Show, May 8-13 Kentucky Horse Show, May 29-June 2 Devon Horse Show and June 13-17 Spruce Meadows.
The final U.S. Olympic team of four riders and one traveling alternate will be named by July 6.
The Olympics show jumping event is Aug. 4-8.
Two-time Olympian McLain Ward of West Palm Beach and Brewster, N.Y., sidelined by a shattered knee he sustained during a January show, is one of three riders already on the list with two horses, Sapphire and Antares F. and exempt from this week's trials.
USEF Selectors said the two-time team gold medalist should be on the list based on record since he has not healed sufficiently in time for this week's selection trials. Ward will be judged on his level of fitness during the post-trials observation competitions.
Ward is undergoing physical therapy and is about a month away from getting back in the saddle.
However, he will be coaching Dinan at the trials and will serve as guest analyst for Wellington-based PhelpsSports.com.
Joining Ward on the list are Olympians Laura Kraut of Wellington and her mount Cedric and Beezie Madden of Wellington and Cazenovia, N.Y., and Coral Reef Via Volo, both unanimous selections based on performance.
The National Jumper Competition, which has not been held since 2008, is offering prize money including $60,000 for first place.
IF YOU GO
What: USEF Olympic Trials and National Show Jumping Championship
When: Wednesday, 1 p.m., Thursday, 1 and 7 p.m., and Saturday, 7 p.m.
Where: Palm Beach International Equestrian Center, 14440 Pierson Road, Wellington.
Webcast: All four sessions will be webcast live at USEFnetwork.com
Riders to watch: Margie Engle, Lauren Hough, Mario Deslauriers, Kent Farrington, Charlie Jayne, Christine McCrea, Will Simpson, Jimmy Torano.
Admission: General admission is free for all trials sessions. Saturday night there's a $20 per car parking charge. For information call (561) 793-5867.