Under the fierce glare of the North Carolina sun, after a long week of jumping day after day, Simone Blum has made history. And not just your average history (if there is such a thing): she's changed the course of show jumping forever. At only 29-years-old, Simone - aboard her equine partner of four years, the fiery chestnut mare DSP Alice - just became the first female winner of the individual show jumping competition in the history of the World Equestrian Games, created in 1990; the second woman to ever top the podium in the World Championships which began in 1953, following in the footsteps of 1986's World Champion, the groundbreaking Gail Greenough of Canada. Gail still remains the first - and only - woman to win in the original format, but we’ve been waiting for this moment for 32 long years.
Simone Blum and DSP Alice.
"I'm just so grateful to be here," Simone says, gold medal hanging around her neck. "To me, it doesn't matter if it's man or woman, it's just amazing. It's perfect."
But in one of few international individual sports where men and women compete head to head on an even playing field, it does matter - especially when it comes to the young female riders who will follow her, rising through the ranks. She's proving that even a sport deeply entrenched in tradition can move forward, and perhaps help propel sport as a whole into a new era. Simone is spot on too, though: in the arena, she feels like an equal, because she is. Male or female, good riding is good riding, and the best rider deserves to win. That's what happened today, and man, she earned it. Not touching a single rail throughout the duration of competition on Alan Wade's huge, technical courses, she rode her heart out right up until the last oxer.
"To me, it doesn't matter if it's man or woman, it's just amazing. It's perfect." - Simone Blum
Seeing a woman wearing gold for the first time in 32 years isn't the only historic event that occurred today - this was the first World Equestrian Games since its inception in 1990 that did not incorporate the 'final four' format, where the top four riders would switch horses until all riders had competed on all qualifying horses. It's a major shift in the structure of the WEG, and garners both heated criticism and passionate support, dividing the equestrian community. While there are pros and cons to be said for both sides, one thing was evident with this year's format, and that's the important role that the partnership between horse and rider plays at this level of competition. In the case of Simone Blum, 'Alice' is her horse of a lifetime, and even though Simone holds the capability of effectively piloting a number of horses, there's something special about winning the World Championships with your best friend.
Simone Blum and DSP Alice.
"She's always fighting, she has the biggest heart," she says of the 11-year-old Deutsche Sporthorse mare. "She was jumping her heart out for me. I knew she could win the hearts of the world."
Steve Geurdat, today's bronze medal winner (alongside his Swiss teammate and close friend, Martin Fuchs, who fought to a well-earned silver medal placing) shares similar sentiments about his own leading lady, the ever-feisty, bold, and über-talented Bianca.
Steve Guerdat and Bianca.
"I'm so honored and blessed to share my life with an animal like this," he says of the 12-year-old Swedish Warmblood mare. "She's just perfect. I wanted the world to see how special she is."
When it comes to the format change, Steve is happy to stick with his beloved mare in the finals and recognizes the connection and bond that athletes form with their partners. "This sport is about the relationship between horse and rider, and so I think this format is right for where we're going [as a sport]."
"This sport is about the relationship between horse and rider..." - Steve Guerdat
The Swiss gentlemen, who are as close as brothers ("The Fuchs family, they treat me like their third son, like a member of the family," says Steve. "It makes [winning together] that much more special.") fought a battle to earn their metallic accoutrement, facing down tough competition from not only Simone, but also the likes of Italy's Lorenzo de Luca, Austrian Max Kühner, McLain Ward of the USA, and Carlos Enrique Lopez Lizarazo of Colombia (who made some history himself, narrowly making it into the top 25 after a scratch by Henrik von Eckermann, and climbing from 26th to 5th in just two rounds).
Martin Fuchs and Clooney 51.
"It was my first World Championship, so I'd say it didn't go too bad," says Martin with a laugh, looking back on his banner week aboard 12-year-old Westphalian gelding, Clooney 51. "I had a really good feeling with Clooney throughout the whole championship. Watching Simone, I, of course, was hoping she'd knock a rail! But she was so far from even touching a rail, and that's why she's the world champion."
This was not a fight that could easily be won - despite the various issues that faced the World Equestrian Games in Tryon, North Carolina, the sport itself was some of the best ever seen, and all riders seemed to agree that the course design was absolutely world-class.
"It was my first World Championship, so I'd say it didn't go too bad!" - Martin Fuchs
"I actually think [Alan Wade] deserves a medal too for what he's done this week," exclaims Steve Guerdat, with nothing but praise for the Irish course designer.
With the WEG coming to a close, there's still much to be discussed and analyzed about everything that happened here in Tryon, but one thing is clear: our sport made history this week, in more ways than one. The equestrian community is strong, and only growing stronger as we stand behind our riders who are pushing the boundaries and making waves. The show jumping athletes have their sights set on World Cups, Nations Cups, and the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, but for at least tonight, they'll have a chance to rest.
From left to right: Martin Fuchs (silver), Simone Blum (gold), Steve Guerdat (bronze)
Unless of course, you're the reigning World Champ, who is getting married in just four weeks to Hans Günter Goskowitz, who she credits with finding DSP Alice. "He's the most wonderful man in the world for me," she says. "It's because of him [finding Alice] that I'm standing here today."
But the true credit goes to Simone, and the partnership she's forged with the mare. "I grew together with Alice. I think hard work [truly] pays off - this week she's shown her talent, and I'm really proud."
Photos by Shannon Brinkman.
Written by Erin Lane
Erin Lane is the Director of Insider at NOËLLE FLOYD and a living definition of crazy horse girl. A lifelong hunter/jumper rider and avid polo player, Erin believes that equestrian education should be accessible to all riders and is on a mission to bring that to life through Insider. Shaped by the horse community, Erin wants to give back, build relationships connected by a passion for horses, and vibe with her fellow horse girls. You can pretty easily win her over with bay horses, weenie dogs, and wine in any form.