There is equestrian action going on all over the globe! Here are just some of the recent highlights…
Despite being one man down (Bertram Allen), the Irish team of Shane Sweetnam, Denis Lynch and Cian O’Connor, triumphed in the Longines FEI European Championships in Gothenburg with three brilliant clear rounds, to the delight of chef d’equipe, Rodrigo Pessoa. Host nation Sweden took silver and Switzerland scooped the bronze.
Bertram had withdrawn after a fall from his grey stallion Hector van d’Abdijhoeve, but helped out on the sidelines and joined Rodrigo on the medal podium. It was only the second time that Ireland has won the title in the 60-year history of the Championships. Their previous success was at Arnhem in 2001.
Tension was at boiling point as the final action began, with the Swedes in pole position ahead of Switzerland while Ireland and Belgium were tied for bronze. But on a night when the going got tough, over a long and testing 14-fence track, the tough really got going and the boys in green were the only side to keep a clean sheet. The loss of Bertram and his brilliant Hector put them under extreme pressure, but as anchor rider Cian O’Connor (Good Luck) explained, they had no intention of giving up without a fight.
“We spoke with Rodrigo about it last night, we thought the lights might work to our advantage, be a bit spooky and might catch out some horses. Our three stallions are all very brave and scopey, and the lights nearly helped them. We were quietly confident that we could do the business, and obviously Shane (Chaqui Z) had a really tough job going first… I was outside warming up when Denis (All Star) jumped clear and I thought – I have to match that now! I don’t even remember the round, it was all kind of a blur. But I do remember going through the finish!”
The Swedes lost their grip on the lead when, despite just a single time fault from Henrik von Eckermann, Malin Baryard-Johnson retired and Douglas Lindelow’s nine faults were added, but Olympic individual silver medallist Peder Fredricson reined it back with another fabulous clear from H&M All In. Only Martin Fuchs kept a clean sheet for the Swiss, and they stayed behind the Swedes but ahead of the Belgians, who finished just off the podium.
Shane Sweetnam and Cian O’Connor are now lying third and fourth going into Sunday’s individual final, behind Martin Fuchs and Clooney, in second, and Swedish star Peder Fredricson, who tops the leaderboard.
Over in Ireland at Millstreet, Blyth Tait is third in the CCI3* after dressage and show jumping on Havanna van’t Castaneahof (usually ridden by Lizzie Green), and is also seventh on Darius. Kevin McNab leads the field on Casperelli. In the CIC3* there are no New Zealand riders but three NZ horses: Black Ink (previously ridden by Cam Robertson, now ridden by Adam Frew), Frog Rock (previously ridden by Annabel Wrigley, now ridden by Izzy Taylor) and Kaapachino (previously ridden by Jesse Campbell, now being ridden by Ben Hobday). The horses are 26th, 31st and 36th after dressage and show jumping. Izzy Taylor leads on Be Touchable, with Jonty Evans second on Cooley Rorkes Drift.
In the CCI2*, James Avery has the lead on Zazu and in the CIC2* Jesse Campbell has the lead on Amsterdam 21! Blyth is 11th on Dasset Courage and 25th on Leo Distinction.
Up in Scotland at beautiful Blair Castle, dressage has been completed in the CCI3* class. Kirsty Johnston tops the leaderboard on a score of 46.2 with WTTL Opposition Sky Law. Mark Todd and Obos Colombus are sitting handy in fifth place.
Sir Mark is also in a good spot in the CIC3* class on McLaren; the pair are lying 10th.
Caroline Powell is just ahead of him, in seventh place on Up Up and Away, and is also 13th on On the Brash. The class is led by Matthew Heath on Cooley Lord Lux.
Caroline is still sharing the lead on Stracathro Solitary Mistral with Elisabeth Halliday-Sharp (Gorsehill Cooley) in the CCI1*, with both being awarded a score of 40.3. The field is huge – just over 100 entrants – so, well done Caroline!
The ERM class starts on Saturday with Sir Mark and Tim Price both competing. Sir Mark holds third place on the ERM leaderboard with 69 points. This weekend he rides Kiltubrid Rhapsody who he finished fourth with at Leg 5. He has reversed his 2016 series form this year, securing top ten finishes in three legs, including third place in Leg 3. The FEI’s Rider of the 20th Century is renowned for delivering under pressure, and if he secures a spot on the podium he could leap up the leaderboard and set up a scintillating series finale.
Ever competitive, Sir Mark is going to give it his all. “I’m here to do the best I can, and if that means winning this ERM leg, then that’s great. Last year I was disappointed that I didn’t feature in the series and it’s been a huge relief that this year has been much more successful. I would be delighted to win this weekend with Kiltubrid Rhapsody but with the level of competition that the ERM series produces it’s not going to be easy”.
With 21 four-horse carriages going head-to-head during three days of high-octane action in the heart of Gothenburg (SWE), the spectators are in for a treat as the Longines FEI European Driving Championships 2017 get underway tomorrow morning.
The field includes a very strong Dutch team as well as rising star Edouard Simonet (BEL), who finished just 13 points behind the sport’s four-time world champion Boyd Exell (AUS) at last month’s FEI World Cup™ in Aachen.
The city setting has already drawn plenty of praise, with Dutch driver Theo Timmerman marvelling at the “selfies and movies” being taken of him as he drove his team of horses through the traffic to the dressage arena.
“This is my focus point, the whole season has been aimed to here. Not one show I’ve driven in have I had the same horses, it was just to select them for this moment,” said Theo who was a member of the gold medal Dutch team at both the 2014 WEG and 2016 World Championship.
He is in no mood to let that dominance slip. “The strongest point for our team is that all three of us are all-rounders, we are good in dressage, the cones and marathon. Most of the teams have maybe one all-rounder and two good in the marathon or dressage,” he said.
With Koos de Ronde, 2017’s FEI World Cup bronze medallist, and ljsbrand Chardon, the 2016 World Championship silver medallist, completing the Dutch trio, they will certainly be tough to beat for both team and individual honours.
However, the Germans have a not-so-secret weapon on their side.”We did a training camp on my farm on Monday and Tuesday with Boyd Exell,” says German team member Mareike Harm. “It was pretty cool to get tips off him – at the last World Cup he won dressage, marathon and cones, which is unbelievable!”
Boyd’s assistance has spread further even than that, as two of his horses will be competing in Georg Von Stein’s team for Germany. “We tried it out two or three times and straight away they worked well together. Hopefully it helps,” said the world number one.
Boyd’s real protégé, however, is the 27-year-old Belgian, Edouard Simonet, who is many people’s favourite for individual gold. Edouard went to work for the Australian as a groom seven years ago, and says, “He has taught me a lot, I am still learning every day. Now the Germans have him as a trainer they will probably perform better in dressage, but maybe it gives them a bit of extra pressure. The Dutch are always strong, but everyone is coming closer behind. We are young and strong and we want to move forward.”
The Belgians certainly do have youth on their side, which is rare in a sport that demands experience. Glenn Geerts, 28, and 22-year-old Dries Degrieck are Edouard’s team-mates.
Others to watch out for include Hungary’s József Dobrovitz, whose son joins him in the team, and Jérôme Voutaz (SUI), the car mechanic who finished second in the FEI World Cup Final in February.
With Saturday’s marathon thundering through the city streets and into Slottsskogen, the Central Park of Gothenburg, and the cones wrapping things up on Sunday it is, as Theo Timmerman said, “going to be special”