The Dressage, Para-Dressage, Reining, Endurance and Eventing horses have headed for home, and now it is the turn of the Jumping, Vaulting and Driving horses at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Normandy.
The jumping riders and their horses had the opportunity to take in the sights and sounds of the d’Ornano Stadium during Monday’s training session. It was a great deal more silent than on Sunday afternoon when the roars of the crowd celebrated a brilliant double-victory for Germany in team and individual eventing.
The Olympic and European champions from Great Britain, who had the team title firmly in their sights, have suffered a major setback with the news that world number 3, Ben Maher, has withdrawn due to injury to his chosen ride, the mare Cella. But the British still have a very strong hand, with world number 1 Scott Brash riding Hello Sanctos, Joe Clee partnering Utamaro d’Ecaussines, Spencer Roe with Wonder Why and Michael Whitaker with Viking V flying the flag.
The Belgian team has also had to adjust their line-up with Jos Lansink’s horse, Ensor de Litrange, withdrawn before the first horse inspection. This led to a last-minute call-up for Jos Verlooy and Domino, who were so impressive at last summer’s ECCO FEI European Championships in Herning (DEN) and who were members of the winning team at CHIO Aachen in July.
There has also been a re-jig in the Qatari squad. Bassem Hassan Mohammed will ride Eurocommerce California, the horse initially listed to Sheikh Ali bin Khalid Al Thani. Mohammed’s original ride, Primeval Dejavu, has been withdrawn and Sheikh Al Thani will now ride Vienna Olympic.
Riders from 54 countries will battle it out for the jumping medals and 35 nations will be represented in the team competition. The first horse, Vaillant with Finland’s Jessica Timgren, will enter the arena at 9.10am on Tuesday morning for the first competition, which counts for both team and individual rankings. There’s a four-second penalty for every fence down in this speed competition. Athlete’s results are converted into penalty points which are carried into another two rounds of jumping on Wednesday and Thursday before the team medals are awarded and the five nations that will be heading for Rio 2016 Olympic Games are confirmed.
Norway based Bruce Goodin is New Zealand’s only representative, and while a veteran of four Olympic Games, he will make his WEG debut on his 11-year-old mare Centina 10 (owned by Glen and Kartni Neilsen).
Goodin says Centina is a naturally fast and quick horse, but in the opening speed competition he will be looking to post a good score rather than go out for the win. “We are aiming for that top four, and there is a lot of jumping to be done between now and then,” Goodin said.
“She’s jumped in a few indoor events, but not big stadiums like that,” said Goodin. “She feels good and ready to get out there and compete.”
Course designer for the jumping is Frederick Cottier of France.
It’s a rest day for the jumpers on Friday, and the top 30 then go through to Saturday’s qualifier for the individual top-four Final which brings the Games 2014 to a close on Sunday afternoon. Only one of the individual medallists from the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games 2010 in Kentucky returns to defend his title – Canada’s Eric Lamaze, who took bronze four years ago.
Above, Official Sponsor Land Rover catches up with the defending champion Joanne Eccles, sister Hannah and British team-mate Lucy Phillips.
It’s going to be a busy four days of competition, starting with the Compulsory Tests on Tuesday, Freestyle tests on Wednesday, Technical Tests and the first Freestyle Pas-de-Deux on Thursday and the drama-filled Finals for all four events on Friday.
In the battle for the Female honours, Great Britain’s Joanne Eccles can expect a strong challenge from Italy’s Anna Cavallaro, who successfully defended her FEI World Cup Vaulting title this year, while in the Pas-de-Deux the Austrian duo of Jasmin Lindner and Lukas Wacha may prove hard to beat.
As well as being an Individual female champion Joanne also competes with her sister Hannah in the Pas De Deux on horse WH Bentley.
A total of 35 female and 18 male individuals will take part, and the 12 top teams qualify for the Freestyle Final.
The presence of the host nation’s male Vaulting super-stars, World and FEI World Cup Vaulting Champion Nicolas Andreani, and European champion Jacques Ferarri, is set to draw huge, enthusiastic crowds throughout the week, and particularly for Friday’s closing stages.
Normandy also marks the first time that New Zealand has sent a vaulting team to a WEG, and team manager Lyn McIntyre says it has been a huge effort by a lot of people to get the eight vaulters – including two reserves – ranging in age from 11 through to 21 years old, and two trainers to France.
“This has been six years in the making so we are very excited to be here,” she said. “This is a wonderful opportunity for these athletes.”
The campaign to compete at WEG has cost around $80,000 and McIntyre says New Zealand’s wider equine industry contributed to making it happen. They haven’t quite raised the full amount, but there are still initiatives under way at home. The team has even received donations from other vaulting nations. “The vaulting fraternity is very much a family,” she said.
It is not the first Games for their 17-year-old Dutch-bred horse Ikarus, who is owned in Germany by Karin Kiontke and Antonia Schubert; he was reserve for the USA at another WEG. Ikarus breezed through Monday’s vet inspection, and team members got their first look at their competition arena.
There are four sets of medals up for grabs in Vaulting. There is a record entry of 179 athletes from 22 countries with 17 nations represented by squads.
The horse inspection for Driving takes place at 10.30am on Wednesday and the action gets under way with dressage on Thursday and Friday. The marathon takes place on Saturday and obstacles on Sunday, and every phase will be staged at the La Prairie Racecourse.
A total of 46 four-in-hand drivers from 17 nations will take part, including world champion and title defender Boyd Exell from Australia. The host nation of France will be represented by eight competitors – three team members and five individuals – and a total of 14 nations will vie for the team medals, including the defending champions from The Netherlands.
At 22, Hungary’s József Dobrovitz junior is the youngest driver while Carlo Mascheroni (ITA) is, at 74, the oldest athlete of the entire Games.
Course Designer is the USA’s Richard Nicoll and while Boyd Exell looks the man to beat, he will be coming up against the toughest of opposition as US driver Chester Weber looks a serious threat following victories at the key international events at Windsor (GBR), Saumur (FRA) and Aachen (GER). The 2012 silver medallist also won the test event at Caen in 2013, leaving nothing to chance.
Additional reporting: Diana Dobson