British riders dominated the podium at the FEI European Pony Championships 2013 in Arezzo, Italy where Phoebe Peters created a sensation when storming to victory in both Individual and Freestyle Dressage, and Yasmin Ingham secured double-gold in Eventing. Germany topped the team events in Dressage and Jumping, while Susan Fitzpatrick clinched the Individual Jumping title for Ireland.
A total of 159 competitors from 17 nations lined out, and the flags of Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Great Britain, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Russia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland adorned the showgrounds. Temperatures soared throughout the week, but ponies and riders coped admirably under the Tuscan sun.
Arezzo Equestrian Centre has long been a favourite with senior jumping riders throughout the spring season as horses are prepared for their tough summer schedule during the hugely popular Toscana tournament. In a, literally, ground-breaking move however, the venue expanded its potential with the creation of a brand new cross-country course for this year’s European Pony fixture. Designed by Italy’s Francesco Finocchiaro the 24-fence track stretched into the surrounding countryside before returning to a dramatic finish within the famous Boccaccio arena. Italy’s Pier Francesco Bazzocchi designed the tracks for the Jumping Championships, and the quality of competition in all three disciplines was nothing short of spectacular.
Germany took the team title for the 23rd time in the 27-year history of the Dressage Championships which were first staged at San Remo, Italy in 1986. The Netherlands claimed silver medal spot and the British stood on the third step of the podium. Britain’s Peters gave warning of what was to come when producing the highest score of the entire competition with SL Lucci who achieved a mark of 77.795.
Germany already held the lead at the halfway stage thanks to excellent rides for Nadine Krauss (Danilo) who scored 75.692 and Sophie Kampmann (Voyager) who earned a mark of 75.513 on the first day. And although Semmieke Rothenberger and the great Deinhard B didn’t show their usual brilliance when scoring 71.846 the following morning, the German side still had the gold in their grasp before last-line rider, Hannah Cichos, extended their margin of advantage over their Dutch rivals with 74.590 from Equestricons Lord Champion.
The German total came to 225.795, with the Dutch combined score 221.513 while the British posted 219.667. Fourth place went to Denmark (212.33) with France in fifth (204.000) and Belgium in sixth place (203.700). A total of 13 teams competed, with the British returning to the medal podium for the first time in six years.
After the team medal ceremony, Ground Jury member, Freddy Leyman from Belgium, couldn’t disguise his delight with the level of sport. “We are seeing all of the riders producing very high-quality performances. The standard just gets better and better every year and there are so many top combinations. It’s different for the judges than it was five years ago. Now it is a bigger challenge for us because the difference between the riders is in every little detail” he said. And there was a great deal more excitement to come.
Peters sensationally clinched Individual gold two days later. She threw down the gauntlet with another fabulous test that oozed confidence, grace, lightness and accuracy for a score of 79.049. Four of the five judges put her in first place with a winning margin of just over half a percentage point ahead of Rothenberger in silver with 78.463, while The Netherlands‘ Lisanne Zoutendijk continued to impress when clinching bronze with Champ of Class scoring 77.317.
British Chef d’Equipe, Liz Mills, said “we were all hoping for good things here because they (Peters and SL Lucci) have been so very, very consistent. They won at Saumur and Compiegne - and at Vidauban they won six tests. In total they have won 11 out of 15 competitions in the last while. They are a fantastic partnership!” she pointed out.
Peters has been riding SL Lucci for two years and was on last year’s British team at the European Championships in Fontainebleau. Under the tutelage of Peter Storr, her partnership with her gelding has gone from strength to strength. Asked how she felt about her incredible victory, the 14-year-old rider said modestly “I’m really pleased. Every time I ask, Lucci gives me 110 percent, and he tries so hard for me”. She was particularly pleased with “the simple changes, he’s very strong at that, and today they pulled the score up again”. She says she is inspired by her trainer and by the stunning Olympic performances of the British senior team. “Charlotte (Dujardin) and Carl (Hester) have paved the way for us all now!” she pointed out.
While she was waiting to go into the medal ceremony, her pony was standing sleepily, probably wondering if there might be a few extra carrots in his feed that night. “He’s always like this” Peters said, “but when he goes into the arena he really lights up, that’s one of the great things about him. He’s the best, he amazes me, and there were things I could have done much better today so we can do even better again!” she added.
And she was right about that too. When it came to the Freestyle the pair were in a class of their own, placing particular emphasis on their exceptional symmetry in canter-work. The entire test had a sense of calm cooperation, and as they marched up the centre line it was clear they were about to create another sensation. The spectators gasped when a score of 84.000 went up on the scoreboard - that was always going to be near-impossible to beat.
And so it proved. With just four left to go, Germany’s Sophie Kampmann and Voyager earned a mark of 77.875 before Zoutendijk and Champ of Class took their turn. And, as Dutch Chef d’Equipe Tineke Bartels commented afterwards, “Champ of Class was even more fit than yesterday. His test was more fresh and he rode more uphill, and his attitude was very nice”. The Dutch partnership was rewarded with a great mark of 80.775 for silver medal spot while Germany’s Rothenberger and Deinhard B posted 80.625 for bronze medal position. Peters’ double gold was all the more remarkable for the fact that British riders had never previously taken any individual medal at the FEI European Pony Championships.
Ground Jury member, Susanne Baarup from Denmark, said the judges were all in agreement about the top three riders, and echoed the sentiments of so many of those who witnessed this amazing week of pony dressage. “The standard is getting so high, we just don’t know where it will end!” she said.
In a spectacular battle that went right down to the wire, Germany emerged to claim the Jumping Team title ahead of Great Britain in silver and Ireland in bronze medal position. At the halfway stage it seemed the defending champions from Britain had it all sewn up with the only zero score, but France, Ireland and Germany were all lying just a fence behind and, in the end, three second-round clears from Germany sealed it.
The French lost out in dramatic style when last-line rider, Megane Moissonnier’s stallion Jimmerdor de Florys, stopped twice for a heart-breaking elimination that opened the door for the Irish. This was the sixth time for Germany to take Team Jumping gold. Their last victory was at Bishop Burton in Great Britain in 2010 and their first was back in 1989 at Millstreet in Ireland where Marcus Ehning, now one of the most famous names in the sport, was a member of the winning side.
The British began to look vulnerable when pathfinders Amy Inglis and Lea du Genier hit the middle of the triple combination at fence eight, but Emily Ward steadied the ship when following with a concentrated clear from King Mac. However when Faye Adams’ chestnut mare, the 14-year-old Some Like it Hot, put a foot in the water the picture began to change again. By then the Irish looked well out of it following a double-error from opener Tim McDonagh with Imagine If One and four faults apiece for Matt Garrigan (Future Interest) and Killian Norris (Javes Alun).
In contrast, only the opening German partnership of Philipp Schulze Tophoff (Mentos Junior 2) made a second-round error while team-mates Enno Klaphake (Pepper Ann), Justin Tebbel (Okehurst Little Bow Wow) and Lara Volmer (Carrick 13) jumped superb clear rounds to pile the pressure on the French and British in the battle for the gold. Tressy Muhr had opened the French second-round effort with three fences down with Qredo des Islots, but Jean Zhemal (Nymphe du Sud) and Ninon Castex (Quabar des Monceaux) were foot-perfect so, if Moissonnier could follow suit, then they would be on level-pegging with the Germans and perhaps the British. But there was a groan of horror when the French rider’s pony decided he had enough, first stopping at the vertical at fence three and then again at the oxer at fence five to bring their day to an end. France would now have to count those 12 faults from Muhr, and suddenly the Irish were back in the game because their final partnership of Susan Fitzpatrick and Rock Dee Jay produced a brilliant clear to leave them on a total of 12.
It was now all up to 2012 Individual Champion, Mille Allen from Great Britain. If she could return without penalty then one of the two four-faults on her team’s score-sheet could be dropped and they would go into a jump-off for gold against Germany. But, as Chef d’Equipe Katrina Moore said afterwards,”the water played a big part in the British result”, and it wasn’t a good one as the judge’s flag was raised yet again.
There were a lot of wet Germans in the aftermath, Chef d’Equipe Peter Teeuwen first to be unceremoniously deposited in the lake in the Baccocchi Arena before his riders joined him. They all arrived into the post-competition press conference looking a little less than pristine but with big smiles on their faces. “I’m very proud of my riders and my ponies” the winning team manager said. “We didn’t start so well in the first round but in the afternoon we were better and we really fought for the gold”. British Chef d’Equipe, Katrina Moore, said “we always knew the Germans would be hard to beat so we were not surprised by how strong they were”. Looking forward she added, “now we have four riders in the top 12 going into the Individual Final and we are very hopeful about that”.
And what a thriller the Individual final was, with Ireland’s Susan Fitzpatrick emerging to take the gold and a five-way jump-off for silver and bronze. Denmark’s Jessica Toelstang held the lead going into the final day with a zero score followed by Ninon Castex from France (Quaber des Monceaux) carrying just a single penalty, while the eventual gold and silver medallists were amongst the group of eight pony-and-rider combinations who had four penalty points each at this stage. Castex took over the lead when clear in the opening round while Toelstang left a pole on the floor and so was sharing silver medal spot with Fitzpatrick and Allen as round two began, and another five riders were now tied for bronze on eight faults.
It was Fitzpatrick’s double-clear that clinched it for the 14-year-old from Country Kilkenny. Allen hit the oxer at fence four second time out, while there was a gasp when Toelstang and her 16-year-old mare lowered the second fence moving both of these riders onto an eight-fault tally. And there was heart-break for Castex who had already left a fence on the floor before her stallion got into a muddle in the triple combination and stopped at the last element. She circled and finished, but with nine faults on the board all her dreams of Championship glory had slipped away.
With the Irish girl now confirmed in gold medal spot, the five-way jump-off for the remaining medals began with a four-fault round from German team gold medallist Lars Volmer and his fabulous grey stallion Carrick 13. There were three of the British silver medal winning team still in contention, and Amy Inglis was first of these to go against the clock, but the middle part of the double fell for four faults. Team-mate Emily Ward was next in with King Mac and produced the first clear in 33.52, but Allen and Song Girl shaved just under a second off that with a superb run in 32.91 that clinched silver while Toelstang and her mare, Nikolina, breezed home in 33.28 for the bronze.
Fitzpatrick, only the fifth Irish rider to take the coveted Individual Jumping title, thanked her trainer, Denis Flannelly, and all her back-up team. She admitted she had gold in her sights coming to these championship with the 11-year-old gelding son of Arko lll, Rock Dee Jay, who twice earned team silver for Ireland with Max O’Reilly-Hyland in the saddle. “I did hope for gold, but it’s hard to believe I actually got it!”, the Irish girl said afterwards.
In bronze medal position going into the final jumping phase of the Eventing Championship, all four British team members went clear to finish on their dressage scores and snatch victory from the French who had to settle for silver, while the defending champions from Ireland rose from fourth place to clinch the bronze.
Yasmin Ingham was crowned Individual champion when, lying third going into the final day, the two riders ahead of her both faltered. The Italian team slipped from the reckoning when two of their riders collected penalties, and eight faults proved particularly costly for Matteo Guidici (Mon Nantano de Florys) who dropped from silver medal position to finish ninth individually for the host nation. It was also a desperately frustrating day for Victor Levecque from France whose stunning dressage and cross-country performances seemed to have set him up for the individual title, only to be denied by a stop and a fence down on the final afternoon. However the strength of the lead he had established in the Dressage arena was underpinned by the fact that he was still able to finish in individual bronze medal spot. Meanwhile a clear with Perle de Boisdelanouse clinched individual silver for his team-mate Marine Bolleret who was hovering just outside the medal zone in fourth as the final phase began.
On cross-country day, all four of the leading nations maintained their Dressage positions. The French had just a 1.70 point advantage over Italy in second place with Great Britain just over four points further adrift being closely stalked by the Irish. The Germans were lying fifth as the day began, but their chances were dashed when Anna Kamieth retired with Mr Harvey after a stop at the third element of the Roller Coaster combination at fence 11 and Julian Wipperman was eliminated for a fall from Chessy at the Steeplechase fence at eight.
The Roller Coaster, which followed the Water Splash at 10, produced some interesting moments as the slope on the landing side of the first element seemed to take some ponies by surprise, and the nearby Hill and Boat water complex also proved influential, with refusals for three different riders at the first element. However it was the brush corner at 20, located in the Boccacci Arena and jumped on a bending line following the previous drop into water, that racked up the most penalties. From the starting field of 49, there were seven cross-country eliminations while a total of 41 completed, and 27 added nothing to their Dressage scores.
Just 1.80 faults separated the top two teams in the final analysis, while the Irish finished six points further adrift. Ingham (Craig Mor Tom), Rose Nesbitt (Carrowmore Gemstone), Libby Seed (Mr Vick) and Charlotte Bacon (Three Wells Breeze) completed with a tally of 142.20 to take gold for Britain, while the French side of Bolleret and Levecque along with Yfke Bourget (Daijpour) and Marie Gagneux (Plume de Virey) posted 144.00 for silver. Ireland’s Shannon Nelson (Millridge Buachaill Bui), Lucy Latta (Nono), Donnacha O’Brian (Ice Cool Bailey) and Nessa Briody (Rathnaleen Dark Secret) registered 150.90 to push the host nation off the medal podium by a margin of just 2.80 penalty points. The relieved Irish Chef d’Equipe, Sue Shortt, said she was glad that her side had not lost out on the medals by such a narrow margin. “I couldn’t have faced going home if we had been beaten by 0.7 percent!” she pointed out. Ireland’s Nelson finished individually fourth.
British Chef d’Equipe Sarah Hancox said, “we brought a very talented squad of six girls who have bonded into a great team. They all achieved personal bests in dressage and they all finished on their dressage scores”. French Chef d’Equipe, Emmanuel Quittet, held a protective arm around Levecque during the final post-competition press conference. “I’m feeling very sad for him” Quittet said, “but I’m happy for the result in the end”.
Italy’s Katherine Lucheschi, a member of the Ground Jury for Eventing, praised the organisation of the entire FEI European Pony Championship fixture at Arezzo, and the flexibility and ingenuity shown by the team who made it all happen. “When we came here on Tuesday we were amazed by the wonderful facilities. They had never held a three-day-event here in Arezzo, but Francesco Finocchiaro and his assistant Gianni Gusci Renzetti have done an amazing job building the cross-country course from scratch, and the whole week has been a wonderful experience and a great success”.
FEI European Pony Team Dressage Championship: GOLD - Germany 225.795: Danilo (Nadine Krauss) 75.692, Voyager (Sohie Kampmann) 75.513, Deinhard B (Semmieke Rothenberger) 71.846, Equestricons Lord Champion (Hannah Cichos) 74.590; SILVER - Netherlands 221.513: Hassendonck S Sultan (Joelie Peters) 71.487, Champ of Class (Lisanne Zoutendijk) 75.821, Kingsley Ciske (Demy Kurstjens) 71.974, Dr Watson (Febe van Zwambagt) 73.718; BRONZE - Great Britain 219.667: Valido’s Sunshine (Rebecca Bell) 66.128, Holsteins Derwisch (Rose Hugh-Smith) 67.795, Dynasty (Erin Williams) 74.077, SL Lucci (Phoebe Peters) 77.795.
FEI European Pony Individual Dressage Championship: GOLD - SL Lucci (Phoebe Peters) GBR 79.049; SILVER - Deinhard B (Semmieke Rothenberger) GER 78.463; BRONZE - Champ of Class (Lisanne Zoutendijk) NED 77.317.
FEI European Pony Freestyle Championship: GOLD - SL Lucci (Phoebe Peters) GBR 84.000; SILVER - Champ of Class (Lisanne Zoutendijk) NED 80.778; BRONZE - Deinhard B (Semmieke Rothenberger) GER 80.625.
FEI European Pony Team Jumping Championship: GOLD - Germany 4 faults: Mentos Junior (Philipp Schulze Topphoff) 8/4, Pepper Ann (Enno Klaphake) 0/0, Okehurst Little Bow Wow (Justine Tebbel) 4/0, Carrick 13 (Lars Volmer) 0/0; SILVER - Great Britain 8 faults: Lea du Genier (Amy Inglis) 0/4, King Mac (Emily Ward) 4/0, Some Like it Hot (Faye Adams) 0/4, Song Girl (Millie Allen) 0/4; BRONZE - Ireland 12 faults: Imagine If One (Tim MacDonagh) 0/8, Future Interest (Matt Garrigan) 4/4, Javas Alun (Killian Norris) 0/4, Rock Dee Jay (Susan Fitzpatrick) 4/0.
FEI European Pony Individual Jumping Championship: GOLD - Rock Dee Jay (Susan Fitzpatrick) IRL 4; SILVER - Song Girl (Millie Allen) GBR 8/0 32.91; BRONZE - Nikolina (Jessica Toelstang) DEN 8/0 33.28.
FEI European Pony Eventing Team Championship: GOLD - Great Britain 142.20: Craig Mor Tom (Yasmin Ingham) 44, Carrowmore Gemstone (Rose Nesbitt) 48.00, Mr Vick (Libby Seed) 49.20, Three Wells Breeze (Charlotte Bacon) 60.80; SILVER - France 144.00: Perle du Boisdelanoue (Marine Bolleret) 45.20, Qualitat des Bourdons (Victor Levecque) 45.70, Djaipour (Yfke Bourget) 53.10, Plume de Virey (Marie Gagneux) 73.00; BRONZE - Ireland 150.90: Millridge Buachaill Bui (Shannon Nelson) 47.30, Nono (Lucy Latta) 47.50, Ice Cool Bailey (Donnacha O’Brian) 56.10, Rathnaleen Dark Secret (Nessa Briody) 77.80.
FEI European Pony Eventing Individual Championship: GOLD - Craig Mor Tom (Yasmin Ingham) GBR 44.00; SILVER - Perle du Boisdelanoue (Marine Bolleret) FRA 45.20; BRONZE - Qualitat des Bourdons (Victor Levecque) FRA 45.70.