The Swiss team of Pius Schwizer, Romain Duguet, Paul Estermann and Steve Guerdat swept to victory at the opening leg of the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup Jumping Europe Division 1 league in Lummen, Belgium, on Friday.
The defending champions from France very nearly pushed them to a third-round jump-off against the clock, but a last-to-go error from Penelope Leprevost saw her side having to settle for runner-up spot, while Ireland and Belgium rallied brilliantly in the second round to share third place in the final analysis.
The Dutch team were contesting the lead with a zero score at the halfway stage, but their effort collapsed in round two so they finished fifth ahead of the Spanish who had mixed fortunes on the day. And Sweden lined up seventh ahead of the British side who finished last of the eight competing nations.
The Belgian venue, which is home to brothers Pete and Luke Postelmans, is new to the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup Jumping Europe Division 1 circuit this year and has a few surprises of its own. The big grass arena provides a very natural environment with its permanent derby fences, trees and wide open spaces, but for some horses coming out of the long winter indoor season it can prove a little overwhelming. Concentration can prove difficult, especially for younger horses, and part of the challenge was to keep all that in check.
But for the Swiss it was all a breeze. Their victory achieved without ever having to call out their fourth-line rider, Olympic champion Steve Guerdat, who watched from the sidelines as his team-mates were foot-perfect from start to finish.
The 12-fence course designed by Italy’s Uliano Vezzani came in for high praise from the winning side. “Horses are inclined to be a little different in the second round and are getting tired at the end and that makes it difficult, but we had enough clear rounds and no dramas today,” said winning team member Schwizer.
Only four riders exceeded the time-allowed of 81 seconds and there were seven double-clear performances, three of which were produced by the Swiss.
By the halfway stage it had already come down to a three-way battle between the Swiss, French and Dutch, all on a zero score. Sweden and Belgium carried eight faults into round two while the Irish carried 12, but Spanish chances seemed to be dashed with 15 on the board while the British already trailed the field with 16.
It all fell apart for the joint-leaders from The Netherlands when Robert Vos’s Interline H temporarily refused to take on the triple combination before finally posting a 12-fault score.
So now it became a French/Swiss tussle, and the French began to lose their grip when Kevin Staut’s Reveur de Hurtebise HDC landed on the back pole of the oxer at fence three in an otherwise clean run. The next two out were fault-free which meant that if last-line rider, Leprevost, could leave all the poles in place then there would be a third-round showdown. The French rider’s grey horse made it all the way to the skinny vertical at fence 10 before lowering that for four faults which was still plenty good enough for second place behind the all-conquering Swiss.
It was the ideal result for Swiss Chef d’Equipe, Andy Kistler. “Our plan is to try to get as many points as possible in the early competitions of Europe Division 1 because our aim is the World Equestrian Games in Normandy and we want to create a rest period in our programme in the lead up to the Games. We do the qualifiers at Lummen (BEL), La Baule (FRA), St Gallen (SUI) and then Rotterdam (NED),” he said, indicating the four rounds at which his country will be chasing those all-important qualifying points for the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup Jumping Final which will take place in Barcelona, Spain in October.
Each nation has just four chances to make the cut from the eight-leg series, so each of the designated points-gathering competitions are crucial to every side.
Five teams were chasing points including the French who are just 10 points in arrears going into their home event where they are certain to want to dislodge their near neighbours from the top of the league table.
1. Switzerland 0 faults: Toulago (Pius Schwizer) 0/0, Quorida de Treho (Romain Duguet) 0/0, Castlefield Eclipse (Paul Estermann) 0/0, Nasa (Steve Guerdat) DNS/DNS.
2. France 4 faults: Reveur de hurtebise HDC (Kevin Staut) 0/4, Armitages Boy (Aymeric de Ponnat) 0/0, Quartz Rouge (Jerome Hurel) 4/0, Dame Blanche van Arenberg (Penelope Leprevost) 0/4.
3. Belgium 12 faults: Candy (Pieter Devos) 8/0, Cortez (Nicola Philippaerts) 8/4, Domino (Jos Verlooy) 0/4, Sea Coast Forlap DC (Gregory Wathelet) 0/0.
3. Ireland 12 faults: Caribo (Thomas Ryan) 4/4, Molly Malone (Bertram Allen) 4/0, Isco de Amoranda (Mark McAuley) 18/0, Diaghilev (Billy Twomey) 4/0.
5. The Netherlands 16 faults: Lord Sandro DDH (Bart Bles) 0/4, Interline H (Robert Vos) 4/12, Vignet (Johnny Pals) 0/8, VDL Bubalu (Jur Vrieling) 0/4.
6. Spain 19 faults: Baldo DS (manuel Anon) Elim/18, Darius 2 (Manuel Fernandez Saro) 15/4, Rockfeller de Pleville Bois mar (Eduardo Alvarez Aznar) 0/0, Zipper (Sergio Moya) 0/0.
7. Sweden 21 faults: H&M Cash In (Peder Fredricson) 4/8, Titan (Emma Emanuelson) 4/8, Gotha FRH (Henrik von Eckermann) 4/4, Casall Ask (Rolf-Goran Bengtsson) 0/1.
8. Great Britain 33 faults: Zaire (Guy Williams) 8/0, Catwalk (Robert Whitaker) 4/9, Fandango (William Whitaker) 4/8, Billy Congo (William Funnell) 8/11.
Standings after the first leg:
1. Switzerland - 100
2. France - 90
3. Belgium - 75
4. Spain - 55
5. Sweden - 50