French riders were in flying form when claiming Team and Individual gold in both Jumping and Eventing, while Semmeike Rothenberger led Germany to a clean sweep of the Dressage medals at the FEI European Pony Championships 2014 which drew to a close at Millstreet in Ireland yesterday.
This was the first FEI Championship to visit the Emerald Isle for 25 years, and the host nation did themselves proud as they welcomed competitors to the 350-acre Green Glens equestrian complex which includes a 10-acre spread of all-weather arenas. The venue has been upgraded dramatically in recent years and London 2012 Olympic gold medallist, Peter Charles, whose son, Harry, represented Great Britain with distinction during the five-day fixture, joined the chorus of praise for the facilities and organisation.
The show-stealer however was the brand new cross-country course designed by Mike Etherington-Smith who got a standing ovation after a fantastic day of sport over the spectacular track at neighbouring Drishane Castle. Such was the feel-good factor at these Championships that not even a sound-failure issue during yesterday’s Dressage Freestyle could spoil the party, and Ireland is on a high with the news that the venue owners, the Duggan family, are now fully determined to submit a bid to stage the 2022 FEI World Equestrian Games™.
Rothenberger’s rampage began with the top score in the Dressage Team Championship which paved the path to gold, and she was well-supported by her team-mates as they registered a phenomenal 29th victory for Germany in these Championships.
Rothenberger posted 78.410 with the great 15-year-old stallion Deinhard B who has served her family so well down the years, and team pathfinder, Lea Luise Nehls who led the way at the halfway stage of the competition with the lovely 8-year-old stallion Dsp de Long on a mark of 73.769, provided the next best German result while Nadine Krause and Danilo posted 73.154. Maike Mende and Desert Rose produced the discount score, but when the one you don’t count is 71.949 then the team can be assured of a strong placing.
At last year’s Championships in Arezzo (ITA), Germany also claimed the team title, but Great Britain’s Phoebe Peters dominated both the Individual and Freestyle, and Peters and Sl Lucci sparkled again in this year’s Team event with a score of 76.950 which left them second individually. British newcomer, Alexandra Hellings, made a big impact with Der Kleine Lord when posting 73.564, and with 72.103 from Bethany-Rose Horobin and Gigolo and 71.692 from Rebecca Bell and Valido’s Sunshine the final tally of 222.257 left the British silver medallists just over three points behind the victorious German side and more than five ahead of the Dutch who took the bronze.
Lisanne Zoutendijk and Champ of Class who took Team and Freestyle silver as well as Individual bronze last year, posted 73.179 for The Netherlands, with Febe Van Zwambagt (Fs Coco Jambo) scoring 71.821, Joelle Peters (Haasendonck S Sultan) posting 71.667 and Demy Kurstjens (Kingsley Ciske) earning a mark of 71.308.
Rothenberger’s roll continued in the Individual Dressage Championship where the 14-year-old and her exceptional palomino charmed judges Victoire Mandl (AUT), Ulrike Nivelle (GER), Annette Fransen-Iacobaeus (SWE), Jo Graham (GBR) and Christoph Umbach (LUX) for the winning mark of 78.341. This young lady is no stranger to success having clinched Individual silver and Freestyle gold with Golden Girl two years ago, and Individual silver and Freestyle bronze with Deinhard B last summer. At her fourth consecutive FEI European Pony Championships however she really wanted to match the achievement her brother, Sonke, enjoyed with Deinhard at the 2008 Championships and she did just that when scooping the Individual title.
The Netherlands’ Zoutendijk slotted into silver medal spot with a more relaxed test from Champ of Class for a score of 74.976 and Britain’s Alexandra Hellings sprang a surprise when coasting into bronze when posting 74.756 with Der Kleine Lord. Last year’s Individual champion, Phoebe Peters, had to settle for tenth place this time around after a number of mistakes and it was Germany’s Nadine Krause and Danilo who just missed out on a podium placing when putting 73.951 on the board.
Peters pulled it right back in the Freestyle however when taking silver despite having to do her test in a downpour when the weather suddenly took a nasty turn. The rain-storm was short-lived but it also upset the sound equipment leading to some confusion and disruption of tests throughout the day, and fellow-Briton, Bethany-Rose Horobin, had to start her test three times.
Competitors remained stoic however and at the end of the day Deinhard B provided Rothenberger with her hat-trick with a great score of 79.975. The judges were not in full agreement, two putting the German duo at the top of the order and two others giving Zoutendijk and Champ of Class their nod of approval, but the Dutch girl had to settle for the bronze in the final analysis when awarded 77.850, while Peters’ 78.700 claimed silver.
“There were so many good competitors here that I was very surprised to take three gold medals!” said Rothenberger yesterday evening. “I took silver and bronze in 2013 but over the last year I think my pony (Deinhard B) and I have grown more together and it showed” she added.
Asked about the personality of her champion pony who is a year older than his rider she replied, “it depends on whether he like you or not! If you click with him he will do everything for you”.
Along with so many of the other young competitors, she really enjoyed her Irish experience. “Millstreet has been wonderful!” she said. “There is a huge area to ride in and everything has been organised very well. It has been great for the riders because everything was in place and we just had to concentrate on what we needed to do”. She now moves on to the German Dressage Championships where she will compete against more senior riders. “I’m also taking a horse there, she’s a Danish mare and I’m looking forward to riding her” said the multi-medalled rising star.
The dream weekend that would bring double-gold for French Eventing rider, Victor Levecque, began with the leading score of 29.40 after Friday’s Dressage phase which boosted his country to pole position in the Team rankings. There were clearly high expectations for the 16-year-old who lives in Riambouillet near Paris, as a huge crowd of supporters arrived ringside just before he entered the arena, and their cheers rang out when the mark he achieved with his 10-year-old pony, Qualitat des Bourdons, went up in lights. At any level of the sport a score of 29.40 in Dressage is always something special, and Ground Jury members James Rooney (IRL), Hanna Rogge (GER) and Anne-Marie Taylor (GBR) were in complete agreement.
The French team included three members of last year’s silver-medal-winning side, Levecque, Yfke Bourget (Djaipour) who posted 48.10 for the first phase and Marine Bolleret (Perle de Boisdelanoue) who scored 46.70. The fourth team member was Heloise Le Guern who kicked off with a Dressage mark of 52 with Qarisma de Boisdelanoue.
There was only five points separating the top three teams going into cross-country day however. The French topped the leaderboard with 124.20 while Germany was close behind with 127.70 and Italy was next on 128.80. The Etherington-Smith track took its toll and, despite elimination for a fall for Chelsea Pearce and Catherston Nutsafe, it was the British who rocketed up from overnight fourth to move into silver medal spot when Isabelle Upton, individually second with Alfie Xl after dressage, and team-mates Oliver Williams (Bobnamara) and Thomas Tulloch (Spirit lV) each added nothing to their scoresheets.
From 52 starters just nine failed to complete the course while 15 went clear over a track that even the experienced eventual individual champion described as “certainly not easy”. There were big crowds around the countryside as the action was played out, with Italy holding on to third spot despite elimination for Emma Pasqualini when Fine and Smart van de Langenheuvel threw in a stop at three different fences. Maria Sole Girardi stood firm on her Dressage mark of 41.30 with Loughtown Lass and Matteo Guiducci did likewise with Mon Nantano de Florys while Manfredi Fochi added just 7.60 time penalties with Soulbury Otters Star. The Germans lost their grip with single refusals for both Christina Schoniger (Napoli 48) and Celine Geissler (Heiligneberg’s Normandie) at the same fence.
Individual leader, Levecque, was not entirely without fault when collecting four for time, but he could well afford it when his three team-mates went absolutely clear, and yesterday morning the French went into the final Jumping phase with the bit well between their teeth and a 12-point lead over their nearest rivals, Great Britain, while the Italians were just over two points further adrift.
Levecque could see double-gold glittering in the distance as he set off over the coloured poles and, cool as a breeze, returned with a just a single time penalty to clinch it. He only had a fence in hand over Britain’s Isabelle Upton on the Individual leaderboard, but he said afterwards that he had total confidence in his pony and didn’t allow the pressure to get to him. Team-mate Bourget produced a brilliant result when adding nothing at all to her Dressage mark which eventually left her in seventh place in the Individual rankings while Bolleret added five faults in the Jumping ring and Le Guern added 13.
Without Pearce it was pressure all the way if the British were to hold onto their silver medal spot and they did so in style when Upton and Williams also completed on their Dressage scores while Tulloch collected just a single time penalty. And it was no easy ride either for the Italians with just three left in their side, Girardi cementing their bronze medal spot when posting another of those precious nothing-to-add scorelines while Guiducci added just three faults and Foschi added five.
Girardi’s result left her just off the winner’s podium in fourth place ahead of Guiducci in fifth while Germany’s Calvin Bockmann clinched Individual bronze when keeping a clean sheet from start to finish with Askaban B on a score of 41.30. Great Britain’s Upton, meanwhile, held firmly onto silver medal spot when foot-perfect all the way.
Individual champion, Levecque, has been riding Qualitat des Bourdons for the last five years and together they won the French Pony Championship last month before going into pre-Championship training with the rest of the French team.
Talking about his achievement, he said yesterday that he really enjoyed his cross-country ride. “The fences were very beautiful and my pony was perfect all the way around!” he pointed out.
Ground Jury member, Ireland’s James Rooney, talked about the success of the Eventing Championship. “Everyone is talking about the cross-country course, I’ve already described it as a “Badminton for ponies!” he said.
“It showed real flair and the attention to detail was superb. It was no walk-in-the-park for the riders, it was a real Championship course and completely brand new, with three really cleverly-designed water jumps. This was a classic Championship. The standard of competition was very high at the top end, and I gave the French Individual champion two 10s, including one for his riding. As for his pony - I think everyone would like to take that one home!” he concluded.
The Irish were sharing the lead with France on a zero score after the first Individual Jumping qualifier and Team ranking class on Thursday when just one fence separated the top four nations and Germany and Great Britain lay joint-third on four faults. The Swiss were another fence adrift, and 13 pony-and-rider combinations went clear over Mark McGowen’s course that included a number of impressive obstacles purchased from the London 2012 Olympic Games track.
There were only the same number of clears over the two rounds in the following day’s Nations Cup however, and with five of those registered by the French they finished the most convincing of Team champions.
Victoria Tachet (Rexter d’Or), Thomas Scalabre (Sligo de Mormal) and Nina Mallevaey (Rominet de Bruz) all kept a clean sheet on their first tour of the Nations Cup course so the single time fault from Ninon Castex (Quabar des Monceaux) didn’t matter. And when only another single time fault from Castex had to be taken into account in round two after more clears from Scalabre and Mallevaey their finishing total of one fault left France a full 15 faults ahead of the silver medallists from Ireland.
It was a real test of character for Ireland’s Sean Monaghan when collecting 12 faults in the Individual qualifier and another 14 in the first round of the Nations Cup with Attyrory Rebel. But the pair got their act together in the second round when going clear along with Grace McHugh and Cassandra van het Roelhof and 2013 Individual gold medallists Susan Fitzpatrick and Rock Dee Jay. Michael Pender and Doon Laddie added 12 faults to their opening Individual qualifier clear and the team total was 16 faults.
It came down to a jump-off between the British and Germans for bronze medal spot when tied on a score of 20, and it was the Germany’s Justine Tebbel (SG’s Miss California) Philip Schulze Topphoff (Mentos Junior 2), Enno Klaphake (Nikolina) and Lars Volmer (Carrick 13) who stepped onto the podium when eight seconds faster.
There were great celebrations in the French camp as this was their first FEI European Pony Jumping Team Championship victory since 1987 when they finished ahead of Great Britain and Ireland on home ground at Saumur.
French rider Nina Mallevaey led the Individual standings on the final morning with a zero score while compatriot Ninon Castex was next in line carrying just two, and it was heartache for Mallevaey when she collected a total of nine faults to drop right down the leaderboard to seventh place after two more tough rounds.
Belgium’s Arnaud Baublomme (Goliath van de Groenweg), Ireland’s Susan Fitzpatrick (Rock Dee Jay), Germany’s Lars Volmer (Carrick 13) and Great Britain’s Harry Charles (Aroldo) all jumped double-clear to maintain their four-fault results, but their four-way jump-off was for the silver and bronze as just one additional time penalty sealed the gold go to Castex.
And it was 15-year-old Gaublomme, who hails from Neeroteren, who came off best in the fierce battle for the silver medal when clear again in a time of 37.62 while Fitzpatrick took the bronze in 38.36 seconds.
At the packed post-competition press conference, Castex described how she had qualified for the final round at Arezzo last year only to be disappointed. This time the outcome was quite different and her remarkable performance which saw her jump five rounds without knocking a single pole could not be bettered. She had peaked at the right time having recently won the French Championship at La Mote Beuvron.