Irish show jumping eyes are smiling

A great win for Ireland in the latest round of the Nations Cup show jumping. What a shame there is only one place for an Irish rider to participate in the Olympic Games - they are certainly on form.

Podium Ireland Winners Pic Katja Stuppia
Ireland’s winners (Image: Katja Stuppia)

Irish riders gave their chef d’equipe, Robert Splaine, an extra reason to celebrate his birthday today when, in a gripping competition, they won the fourth leg of the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping 2016 Europe Division 1 leg at St Gallen, Switzerland.

As so often happens at this Swiss fixture, the weather played its part, with heavy rain piling extra pressure on the riders in the closing stages. But the Irish stood firm, producing three fabulous second-round clears to add nothing to their first-round score of eight faults, while Greg Broderick once again confirmed the pure talent of his 10-year-old gelding, MHS Going Global, by producing one of four double-clears.

Sweden, France, USA and Germany shared second place with 12 faults on the board, while the hosts lined up sixth ahead of last year’s series champions from Belgium in seventh and Czech Republic in eighth and last place. In their first season in Division 1 the Czech side are already visibly improving, and the performance of 19-year-old Anna Kellnerova, who had just a single fence down in each round on her debut at this level of the sport with her nine-year-old stallion, Classic, augurs well for the future.

A tough first round

Swiss course designer, Gerard Lachat, set them a strong 12-fence track that only six horse-and-rider combinations managed to leave intact first time out. The impressive German foursome of Ludger Beerbaum (Casello), Janne Friederike Mayer (Goja), Marcus Ehning (Pret a Tout) and Hans-Dieter Dreher (Cool and Easy) held the lead on a four-fault tally at the halfway stage, but the Americans, the Irish and the Swiss were in hot pursuit, just a fence behind, while France and Sweden were next in line, tied on 12 faults.

The Swedes and the Swiss were a man down second time out, when both Rolf-Goran Bengtsson (Unita ASK) and Martin Fuchs (Clooney) were disqualified by the Ground Jury after leaving the arena in round one. Sweden’s joint-second-place finish was therefore all the more creditable as the remaining three riders had to hold their nerve.

Plenty of tall verticals, an open water 4.1m wide, and a difficult penultimate oxer where the front plank regularly hit the floor ensured plenty to think about, and there were multiple errors at the 1.60m that followed the water as well as at the next water-tray oxer at fence six. The Longines triple combination at fence seven proved relatively trouble-free until Ireland’s Bertram Allen got into a muddle here with Molly Malone who couldn’t find her stride after landing over the first element, and sliced through the oxer in the middle before stopping at the third element.

Typically stoic, the 20-year-old Bertram, who has taken the sport by storm over the last two years, brought the mare back to get it perfectly right at his second attempt, and in round two made it all look elementary. “It was just one of those things”, he said afterwards.

Steve Guerdat riding Bianca for Switzerland Pic Katja Stuppia
Steve Guerdat riding Bianca for Switzerland (Image: Katja Stuppia)

Swedes shine through

As the second round played itself out, the French and Swedes stood their ground. Swedish chef d’equipe, Sylve Soderstrand, has been given a big boost over the last few weeks with the emergence of two fantastic partnerships in Peder Fredricson with H&M All In and Malin Baryard-Johnsson with Cue Channa. But it was Helena Persson’s gutsy last-to-go run with Bonzai, who had two fences down in round one, that was the clincher when they stayed fault-free to ensure a zero second-round result for their side.

America’s Lauren Hough and Ohlala were also double-clear while Lucy Davis and Barron left all the poles up at their second attempt. But when Margie Engle’s Royce kicked out the oxer at fence eight and Todd Minikus fell victim to the penultimate white oxer as a thunderstorm crashied overhead, they had to to join Sweden and France on a final tally of 12.

Ireland’s Denis Lynch and All Star had a pole down in each round, but second-line rider Greg Broderick went double-clear with MHS Going Global, and when Allen and Molly Malone were foot-perfect at their second attempt, Cian O’Connor and Good Luck needed to do likewise to keep the pressure on the leading Germans. Good Luck had lowered the second element of the double at fence 10 in round one, but this time around there was no mistake, and that left the last rider, Germany’s Hans-Dieter Dreher, really feeling the heat.

His team-mates, Ludger Beerbaum and Janne Friederike Meyer, both collected four faults at their second attempts, so even though Marcus Ehning had soared effortlessly around the course for his second clear of the day, Hans-Dieter could not afford a mistake if he was to clinch it for his country. So, when the second fence fell, he held up his hand and retired.

More than one reason to win

The deal was done, it would be an historic Irish victory: the first in 13 years. And, for Robert Splaine’s men, there was a whole lot more hanging in the balance: they were battling for a sole individual qualifying spot for the Rio Olympics.

“There was a lot of pressure due to the announcement of that spot for Rio next week, but these guys are all top professionals, and they could take it!” said Robert Splaine later, adding that he had felt quietly confident of the victory. “It doesn’t surprise me, we expected a good result with these great riders, although you have to keep your feet on the ground; this sport is tough and you can be up or down in a heartbeat!”.

Robert himself has enjoyed some great moments at St Gallen. He was member of the last Irish team to win at the Swiss venue (2003). “It was a three-rounder and I went against Markus Fuchs in a jump-off, riding Coolcorran Cool Diamond and we also won the Grand Prix at the same show that year – we were made of hardy stuff in those days!”

Fault-free afternoon

Greg Broderick was delighted with his fault-free afternoon. “My horse is a Nations Cup specialist and he was in great form here, everything was right” he said. “Of course we were a bit worried about the rain; he [MHS Going Global] would definitely prefer the top of the ground, but so would 99 per cent of show jumping horses. It takes a bit to adjust to it when the ground changes, but he’s such a talented horse he just jumps within himself and makes it easy.”

Greg is all the more pleased because he has been out of action following surgery for a groin injury, and his preparation for St Gallen was short. “We did a two-star in France last week, my horse has all the scope in the world and he’s brave and fit – he’s a proper championship horse,” he said.

Reflecting on his team’s performance, Robert Splaine concluded, “A win at St Gallen historically doesn’t come with an easy tag on it. It has always been a top show and a tough show, run by great people, but it’s not for the fainthearted. My guys were great and the team spirit is fantastic!”

Greg Broderick reminded everyone his horse jumped the only double-clear in St Gallen last year. “I don’t go to a lot of five-star shows unless I’m well mounted, I produce a lot of young horses in Ireland because the only way to survive is to sell good young horses, and that’s where Lee Kruger, [Canadian owner of MHS Going Global] comes in. I’m very grateful to her for keeping this horse for me, and for Ireland; he’s one of the best horses in the world!”

Cian O'Connor riding Good Luck for Ireland (winners) Pic Katja Stuppia
Cian O’Connor and Good Luck (Image: Katja Stuppia)

Cian O’Connor was thrilled with his horse, the Belgian stallion Good Luck. “My horse has been very consistent over the last year. Everyone was trying so hard, and everyone was aiming for the big day today. My ethos is to aim for Nations Cups, there are so many other things going on that you don’t always get riders saving horses for Nations Cups. Good Luck was brilliant last year at the two majors – the European Championships and the Furusiyya Final. The second round of the Furusiyya Final we jumped clear over the biggest track of the entire year! It’s a crying shame we don’t have a team at the Olympics this summer but today we proved we are a great team on the world stage!”

The next leg of the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping Europe Division 1 League will take place in Rotterdam (NED) on Friday 24 June.

Result: 

1.    Ireland 8 faults: All Star (Denis Lynch) 4/4, MHS Going Global (Greg Broderick) 0/0, Molly Malone (Bertram Allen) 10/0, Good Luck (Cian O’Connor) 4/0.

2.    USA 12 faults: Ohlala (Lauren Hough) 0/0, Barron (Lucy Davis) 4/0, Royce (Margie Engle) 8/4, Babalou (Todd Minikus) 4/4.

2.    Germany 12 faults: Casello (Ludger Bierbaum) 4/4, Goja (Janne Friederike Meyer) 12/4, Pret a Tout (Marcus Ehning) 0/0, Cool and Easy (Hans-Dieter Dreher) 0/Ret.

2.     Sweden 12 faults: H&M All In (Peder Fredricson) 0/0, H&M Cue Channa (Malin Baryard-Johnsson) 4/0, Unita ASK (Rolf-Goran Bengtsson) Disq/Disq, Bonzai (Helena Persson) 8/0.

2.    France 12 faults: Saxo de la Cour (Cedric Angor) 4/0, Cannavaro (Fabrice Dumartin) 12/0, Kiamon (Timothee Anciaume) 4/4, Quod Coeur de la Loge (Roger Yves Bost) 4/0.

6.    Switzerland 20 faults: Clooney (Martin Fuchs) Disq/Disq, Bianca (Steve Guerdat) 4/4, Lord Pepsi (Paul Estermann) 4/4, Quorida de Treho (Romain Duguet) 0/4.

7.    Belgium 28 faults: H&M Zilverstar T (Nicola Philippaerts) 4/4, Caracas (Jos Verlooy) 4/0, Sea Coast Pebbles Z (Gudrun Patteet) 12/27, H&M Cabrio van de Heffinck (Olivier Philippaerts) 8/8.

8.    Czech Republic 38 faults: Caleri ll (Suzana Zelinkova) 8/5, Classic (Anna Kellnerova) 4/4, Charly Brown (Emma Augier de Moussac) 8/9, Acovaro (Ales Opatrny) 16/Ret.

Standings in Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping 2016 Europe Division 1 League after fourth leg at St Gallen (SUI):

1.    France                –    165

2.    Netherlands            –    160

3.    Great Britain            –    155

4.    Germany            –    135

5.    Belgium            –    100

5.    Ireland                –    100

7.    Sweden            –     75

8.    Switzerland            –     55

9.    Italy                –     47.5

10.    Czech Republic        –     45