Alison Robitaille & Ace at the ingate, Palm Beach Masters, February 2017.
For a rider who is allotted a spot on a Nations Cup team, the honor is both a nod to their commitment to the sport and to the work they’ve put in over the span of their career. This week, the second North American leg of the FEI Nations Cup season kicks off at Coapexpan, Mexico. Among those making their final preparations to represent Team USA is a familiar face: although this isn’t Alison Robitaille’s first outing competing for her country, this latest accomplishment is one she’s had her eye on for quite a while.
Robitaille, of Middleburg, Virginia, appeared at the 1998 Rome World Equestrian Games, won team silver at the 1999 Pan Ams, and is a four-time World Cup Final veteran. She was 1st alternate for the 2004 Athens Olympic Games and has more than 40 grand prix wins to her record. Needless to say, she is not short on credentials. Time out to raise her children and develop a new string of internationally capable mounts meant that Robitaille kept her competition goals close to the U.S. for several seasons, but this year, she is more than ready to put her Team USA pinque coat back on.
Prior to the start of the 2017 Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida, Robitaille sat down with Michelle Grubb, who for the past year has been helping to guide her comeback, and outlined the process of returning to center stage for Team USA. Their focus: to put together the most constructive and beneficial season possible. “We sat down and went over the game plan for WEF, and we decided on what classes we would compete in and when,” said Robitaille.
With a string of five horses that vary in level, Robitaille’s most seasoned partner is the 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding Ace (Berlin x Irco Polo). She began riding him just over 12 months ago, and jumped on the World Cup qualifying circuit as well as during the two, CSIO4* weeks in Florida over the winter. Together, they’ve had multiple top 10 finishes at competitions across North America.
“I have a ton of confidence in how good of a horse he is, and he’s really special,” said Robitaille. “I’ve had him for a year now and I feel like that’s a great amount of time to really get to know his ins and outs, especially with a horse who is already established at that level.”
After her selection to represent the USA at Coapexpan, her team narrowed down its final plans ahead of flying to Mexico. One more jump school, some flat work and a leg stretch are ahead for Ace before he flies to Mexico with the rest of the Team USA horses. Robitaille herself will make a quick trip to Virginia to spend time with her two young children before her big week in Mexico begins.
Robitaille hasn’t competed outside of the USA or Canada since 2012. But thanks to her deep confidence in her horse, she isn’t concerned about the pressure of stepping up for her country.
“Every time I go to compete, I know that I’m as prepared as I can be and I really do my best and put in 100 percent of an effort,” said Robitaille.” Whether it’s a team competition or the $1 Million class at Saugerties, I’ve had lots of experience preparing for important classes, and I’m confident in my preparation.”
In previous Nations Cup appearances, Robitaille was often the first rider in the order of go, and although she is the most experienced member of this year’s team (which would suggest that she’d be taking the position of anchor) Robitaille confesses that she hasn’t given the order of go much thought, and is prepared to take on any position.
The CSIO4* Coapexpan at Club Hipico in Xalapa, Mexico begins on May 4.