While the New Zealand riders didn’t make it on to the podium in Barcelona, the way they performed was a great step up in their preparation for the World Equestrian Games next year. Both Daniel Meech and Richard Gardner achieved their FEI WEG Certificate of Capability, making them now eligible for WEG selection.
It was history in the making when the United Arab Emirates crushed their considerably more experienced opponents to win the Challenge Cup. They had finished 14th out of the 15 participating nations in yesterday’s first qualifier, with a total of 34 faults, so looked right out of contention going into this competition reserved for the seven teams that didn’t make the cut for the series title-decider.
Tonight, however, they did not touch a pole, and came out on top without having to call up their fourth team member. Their three time faults left them six faults clear of the recently-crowned European champions from Ireland, with Brazil third on 11.
The Arabs had the worst of the draw, and Abdullah Mohammed Al Marri was the first rider to take on Santiago Varela’s 13-fence course. With his mare, Sama Dubai FBH, he made it look easy, picking up just two time faults. Abdullah Humaid Al Muhairi and Cha Cha Cha posted an extraordinary clear, which was followed by Mohammed Ghanem Al Hajri and Pour le Poussage with clean jumping and a single time fault. There was a look of near-disbelief on many UAE supporter’s faces when they realised that, even without the help of anchorman Sheikh Majid Al Qassimi and Celtion, they had it all wrapped up.
Delighted UAE Chef d’Equipe, Karl Schneider, reckoned it was their poor start yesterday that spurred his side to success tonight.
“Sheikh Majid is normally our best rider, but yesterday [in the series qualifier] he was our first to go and he didn’t have a good time; maybe his horse didn’t travel well, but anyway I think that shocked all the other boys, and that’s why they didn’t ride well. So, we changed the team order for today and put him in last, and I was only joking when I said that maybe he might not have to jump tonight!”
This result is no fluke, however; according to Abdullah Mohammed Al Marri, it’s the result of years of effort. “We’ve been working really hard setting the basis for the sport in our country, and for the first time we had more than four riders to choose from for a Nations Cup, which was brilliant, and we chose the four that were in form – thankfully we did well!”
Abdullah Humaid Al Muhairi is based in France where he works as a policeman and has been training with America’s Alice Debany Clero for the last 12 years.
The other three riders are based in Karl Schneider’s stable in Bonn, Germany. “They were all the summer with me, so Abdullah came to join us, and the boys got a bit of experience of being together and it worked really well.”
The New Zealanders should be well chuffed with their horses, especially given the little experience most have had at this level. It was Samantha McIntosh’s turn to be the best performed, with just one rail down and one time fault on Check In 2.
Daniel Meech looked all quality on his young mare, Fine, with just one down and two time faults.
Richard Gardner’s Calisto 5 put a foot in the water and had the next fence down, plus one time fault, but Richard, too, should be very pleased with their work. They have not competed at this level before, so it was a huge step up – and let’s hope they continue to improve.
While Bruce Goodin and Centina 10 were the most experienced of the team, it wasn’t their weekend. Centina just didn’t seem into it, and after striking a bit of trouble in the combination, Bruce made the right decision, jumped another easy fence and retired.
The course was challenging and only two riders went clear inside the time. Nobody who had a clear round from the first day’s competition was able to back that up in the second competition, so the generous bonus for a double clear will rest with those riders in the final on Saturday night.