Great Britain secured team gold, while Germany's Freya Fullgraebe took the individual title at the the FEI European Young Riders Eventing Championship 2011 which was staged against the spectacular backdrop of Blair Castle in Scotland (GBR) over the weekend.
The British record in these Championships in more than impressive, with six team titles in the last seven years and joint-victory with Germany in 2010. This time around it came down to an exciting climax on the final afternoon when they held off a strong challenge from the Irish who had to settle for silver, while Germany took bronze.
Fullgraebe's individual success was well-deserved as she was the only competitor, from 57 starters, to finish on her dressage score.
A total of eight nations lined out in the Team Championship and seven fielded full teams including the host country, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, France and Poland while Russia sent out just three riders. Russia's team chances were dashed when Elizabeta Radionova and Rafiner were eliminated.
The cross-country course proved influential as expected, with 10 eliminations and only four horse-and-rider partnerships returning within the time allowed. The arrowhead at 9c proved the most influential fence on Roland Alexander's track.
The Irish were already holding silver medal position going into Sunday's jumping finale, while the French were lying third. But the French were down to just three team-members after a cross-county fall for Simon Cibot (Mache de la Barre) at the gate at fence eight, and when Estaban Nedelec withdrew Matin du Neipo on the final morning it was all over for them.
The German team was reduced to three when Ben Leuwer and Cappuccino went out of contention on cross-country day. But Franca Ludeke (Parlando) and Jana Weyers (Lardina) each only had a single error in the jumping arena and Fullgraebe kept a clean sheet with Oje Oje, so their combined score of 188.4 clinched bronze by a 12 point margin over the Italian side of Stefano Fioravanti (Nodin D'Orval), Carola Brighenti (Road Runner), Pietro Sandei (Mouse) and Eleonora Boschi (Hotchkiss McManus).
It was the performances of brothers David and Peter Hannigan that claimed silver for the Irish, 18 year old David rising from seventh place after dressage to take individual bronze with Red Baron, a former ride of 2006 World Champion Zara Phillips, and 21 year old Peter making an even more meteoric rise from 16th up to fifth with First Mate in the final analysis. Melanie Young, niece of the late Capt David Foster who was one of the great stars of Irish eventing, was 11th after dressage but with 16.4 cross-country time faults and eight more in the final jumping phase she dropped to 18th with Riverstown Express while Alex Donohoe and Ardfry Baringa finished in 36th. The combined Irish score of 178.9 left them less than ten penalty points behind the British gold medallists and the result was decided in a tense battle on the final afternoon.
Ireland's David Hannigan jumped clear while brother, Peter, left just one pole on the floor and Melanie Young had two down. Britain's Willa Newton and Neelix and Tom McEwen riding Private Rudolf were both foot-perfect however, and although Wills Oakden (Button Clover) picked up 12 faults and Dani Evans (Uchin) added six more to her tally it was the British at the top of the podium once again.
Evans got off to the perfect start when leading after dressage with a great mark of 41.2. In second was Sweden's Ludwig Svennerstal with Shamwari while Romane Yacovleff and Jazz D'Alroben from France held third ahead of Germany's Sophie Grieger. Evans lost her grip however with a stop at 23b, the final combination fence on the cross-country track, while Svennerstal and Grieger suffered a similar fate and just 8.4 time penalties proved costly for Yacovleff. So it was French team-mate, 19 year old Esteban Nedelec, who held the lead on the final morning and that made the withdrawal of his horse, Matin du Neipo, all the more disappointing and left the door wide open for Fullgraebe who had improved from eighth after the opening phase to runner-up spot when adding nothing to her score over the fixed fences.
She went into the final day in pole position ahead of Britain's Willa Newton and Neelix who had added just 2.4 cross-country time penalties to their dressage mark while Ireland's David Hannigan was lying third after collecting just 2.8. There was less than a fence between the top three, but they all held their nerve to return clear. Gold medallist Fullgraebe, who hails from Dusseldorf, has a long-term relationship with her 14 year old gelding Oje Oje. "I trust him completely" she said afterwards. "He loves cross-country and the time was no problem for him as he’s very fast."
Silver medallist Newton said she had a great cross-country ride but that her horse, Neelix, was "a little bit strong on the hills, which was where the time-faults came in". And bronze medallist Hannigan was simply delighted - "we put in a lot of work getting our horses extra fit because we knew the course and terrain would be tough, but I never expected to get an individual medal!’ he said.
Team Championship: GOLD - Great Britain 169.2 - Neelix (Willa Newton) 48.4, Private Rudolf (Tom mcEwen)54.7, Button Clover (Wills Oakden) 66.1, Uchin (Dani Evans) 90.0: SILVER - Ireland 178.9 - Red Baron (David Hannigan) 49.5, First Mate (Peter Hannigan) 55.7, Riverstown Express (Melanie Young) 73.7, Ardfry Baringa (Alex Donohoe) 94.9; BRONZE - Germany 188.4 - Oje Oje (Freya Fullgraebe) 47.1, Parlando (Franca Ludeke) 67.7, Lardina (Jana Weyers) 73.6, Cappuccino (Ben Leuwer) 1000.0.
Individual Championship: GOLD - Oje Oje (Freya Fullgraebe) GER 47.1; SILVER - Neelix (Willa Newton) 48.4; BRONZE - Red Baron (David Hannigan) IRL 49.5.
Photo Caption: Germany's Freya Fullgraebe and Oje Oje claimed individual gold at the FEI European Young Riders Eventing Championship at Blair Castle (GBR). Photo: FEI/John Grassick.