The low number of finishers in the endurance competition at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Normandy proved recent changes to veterinary protocols for endurance horses had worked, FEI Endurance Chairman Brian Sheahan said after the event.
Sheahan said the event was deserving of the title of World Championship, after a c combination of changeable weather and footing conditions, plus stringent veterinary procedures whittled the field down to 38 finishers.
“There has been a great deal of sportsmanship and co-operation with riders. It’s been a world-class event that I am proud to be associated with,” he said.
“This was a World Equestrian Games and the course was extremely technical and extremely challenging. The weather made it even tougher and the vets were extremely careful to ensure that the horses were protected at all times, meaning that the number of finishers was unexpectedly low for a championship.”
A spectacular mass of 174 riders representing a record 47 nations set off in a damp, muddy dawn, but midday sun turning the slippery ground to a holding consistency, and the Ground Jury, which had already removed the minimum speed of 15 kilometres per hour for the first two loops, then reduced the minimum speed to 14kph for loops three to five to allow horses to take their time on the course.
In another change to the format, this year there were five loops (of 37.9 kilometres, 35.8km, 32.8km, 33.1km and 20.4km) instead of six. Riders had to cope with ever-changing terrain, including wet sand on the second 35.8km loop which attracted crowds of spectators as horses traversed the beautiful bay of Mont St Michel.
The UAE team set the early pace and dominated the first two loops, but by the end of the third loop only eventual winner Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum and the quality Australian-bred bay mare Yamamah (formerly Kurrajong Concorde), winner of the Open European title last year with Sheikh Rashid Dalmook al Maktoum, was left in the competition.
The duo, who won the 120km CEI at Windsor (GBR) in May, had the course to themselves for much of the day and returned home to massive cheers from a hugely supportive crowd.
Sheikh Hamdan and Yamamah, which means “little dove” in Arabic, led from the start to finish to win the individual gold medal, taking over the world title from his father, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
European Champion Jaume Punti Dachs (ESP) finished fifth on Novisaad d’Aqui and led home his jubilant compatriots Jordi Arboix Santacreu, sixth on Mystair des Aubus, and Cervera Sanchez-Arnedo (Strawblade, 22nd) to take team gold.
There was much national excitement when the home side, France, took silver, with Jean-Philippe Frances (Secret de Mon), Franck Laousse (Niky de la Fontaine) and Nicolas Ballarin (Lemir de Gargassan) finishing eighth, 11th and 12th respectively.
The Swiss trio of Barbara Lissarrague on Preume de Paute, fourth individually, Sonja Fritschi (Okkarina d’Alsace) and Andrea Amacher (Rustik d’Alsace) claimed team bronze.
The Netherlands’ Marijke Visser (NED) was visibly thrilled with second place and an individual silver medal with the UAE-owned grey gelding Laiza de Jalima. Qatari rider Abdulrahman Saad AS Al Sulaiteen and Koheilan Kincso also finished strongly to take bronze ahead of Swiss rider Barbara Lissarrague on Preume de Paute.
Last year’s world number one in Endurance, Sabrina Arnold (GER), withdrew Saltan during the first loop and the defending World Equestrian Games champion, Spain’s Maria Alvarez Ponton, had a fall with Qualif du Poncelet on the third loop.
Isha Judd (URG) suffered a broken femur in a fall and Alberto Morales Morales (CRC) was taken to hospital complaining of neck pain after the first loop.
Tragically, the Costa Rican horse Dorado, ridden by Claudio Romero Chacon, died instantly of a head injury after striking a tree at the side of the track in a forested area on the first loop, shortly after 8.30am. The rider was in a serious but stable condition after undergoing surgery for fractures and internal injuries.
“Our thoughts are with Claudia Chacon Romero, who is currently recovering in hospital post-surgery, and the connections of Dorado, who sadly died in a tragic accident today,” Sheahan said. “Our hearts go out to them.”
There were no other serious injuries to any horses.
The medal ceremony will take place at 3pm on Friday during the break in the Grand Prix Freestyle Dressage in the d’Ornano Stadium in Caen.