Team Germany won the last leg of the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping 2016 Europe Division 1 League on an afternoon of tension and thrills at Hickstead (GBR) today. And the result sent them rocketing up to third place in the final league standings, behind Ireland in runner-up spot and The Netherlands at the head of affairs.
However it was a day of very mixed fortunes for the league-winning Dutch who were not on a points-chasing exercise. Sharing the lead on a zero score with the Germans at the halfway stage they fell apart in round two and finished equal-seventh with Italy. The British lined up sixth on their home turf while Switzerland slotted into joint-fourth with the USA. Last year’s Furusiyya champions from Belgium managed to produce two double-clears but still had to settle for joint-runner-up spot with the Irish.
In the end the Germans finished with just a one-fence advantage, but the result was more convincing than that because anchor rider, Ludger Beerbaum, never had to jump a fence with Chiara all day. “I am not sure if I really deserved the win to be honest as I couldn’t go out there and prove it. Thanks to my three team-mates that looked really strong and safe today”, he said afterwards.
There’s always an element of unpredictability about competition at Hickstead as the massive arena and its big, bold fences can be intimidating to both horses and riders. Added to that is the undulating ground and a 4-metre-wide open water that is definitely not for the faint-hearted. But the Germans made it look easy in both rounds and the Dutch kept pace with them up to the halfway stage.
Course designer, Great Britain’s Kelvin Bywater, set a track that included three doubles but no triple combination. The two-stride Longines double at fence three caused few problems, but the one-stride double that followed claimed plenty of scalps as did the delicate vertical at fence five. The notorious Hickstead planks at six were next, followed by a water-tray oxer at seven, and then a 360-degree turn led to the line that included a white oxer at eight, the open water at nine and another one-stride double at fence 10 before the last line of a vertical to the Longines oxer.
Ludger Beerbaum had plenty of time to see it all play out, and said “it was a really well set Nations Cup in the end. The first round was straightforward, not too difficult with a good time allowed (87 seconds). But I guess we didn’t really see the “first” teams of the teams here because of Rio (Olympic Games) around the corner. So the course designer had a reason for setting it up this way. The second round was tougher and it was what differentiated the teams from each other in the end.”
There wasn’t a lot separating the eight nations at the halfway point, the Americans trailing the rest of the field with 12 faults on their account, while the Swiss carried eight and the Irish, Italians, Belgians and British were all just a single fence adrift of the leading Dutch and Germans.
The Americans rallied brilliantly with three clear rounds second time out and the Swiss added just four to complete on a total of 12. The double-clear round – one of five on the day – provided by Anthony Condon and the stallion Aristio underpinned the improvement for the Irish who ended up also adding just four more to their scoreline. The Italians however, on a high after their sensational victory in Dublin seven days ago, came crashing down when their star of the Irish fixture, Lorenzo de Luca, had to retire with Ensor de Litrange. The 12-year-old gelding who was double-clear to help secure that Dublin victory before going on to add the Dublin Grand Prix title lost his jump later on the track, and de Luca pulled him up after collecting 12 faults. That would be a problem, because all three of his team-mates collected eight faults each to send Italy plummeting down the leaderboard.
The Belgians meanwhile held firm despite a 10-fault effort from Catherine Van Roosbroeck whose mis-communication with Gautcho Da Quinta at the first element of the double at 10 led to a stop that had to be added to a pole off the oxer at seven. Niels Bruynseels (Cas de Liberte) and Karel Cox (Cor van de Waterhoeve) were both double-clear however, so only the single error from Olivier Philippaerts (H&M Challenge de Begijnakker Z) at the Hickstead planks had to be added to their tally.
Lost their grip
The British lost their grip with single errors for both Ben Maher (Diva ll) and Tim Stockdale (Fleur de L’Aube) and double-errors for Jessica Mendoza (Spirit T) and Scott Brash (Hello Guv’Nor) but the biggest surprise was the deterioration of the Dutch who went from zero to 28 faults with a series of expensive rounds. Pathfinder, Wout-Jan van der Schans, made it all the way to the final oxer before hitting that with Aquila SFN, but all of his three team-mates collected 12 faults each, and the open water played a major role. Johnny Pals’ Fernando took a long-distance dislike to it this time out and also hit the penultimate vertical, while Ruben Romp’s round with Audi’s Teavanta ll included a foot in the water and mistakes at the second element of the following double as well as the last fence. And then Jur Vrieling’s VDL Glasgow VH Merelsnest, who had put in a huge, spooky jump at the water first time out, threw in an objection at it this time, and although his Rio-bound rider got him over it at their second attempt, they also hit the first element of the double.
In comparison it was a breeze for the Germans, Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum’s fabulous grey, Fibonacci, soaring round the track with effortless ease both times out while Janne Friederike Mayer and her feisty gelding Goja, did likewise. Patrick Stuhlmeyer’s Lacan hit the oxer at seven, but that single fence on the floor would not send Ludger Beerbaum into the ring. The result was already in the bag, and it was Team Germany right on top.
Ludger Beerbaum said “we were under some pressure as we didn’t have such a great Nations Cup season before coming here. The other two results we had were average so it could have easily been that we would have missed out of the Final. When you see today’s performance, it is a really big relief to know we are going to Barcelona and we are all very happy and satisfied to have qualified.” The Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping Final in September is a big target for all the top horses and riders.
“We were on the borderline as far as qualifying for Barcelona was concerned so we needed a strong team here and we and came up with it!” said Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum who described jumping Fibonacci as “almost like you are flying over the fences!”
German Chef d’Equipe, Otto Becker, was a happy man this evening. “Yes it was fantastic for us today. I am very happy and pleased with my team. Meredith opened the door for us in in a difficult situation (as pathfinder), Janne with a double clear and Patrick with a clear in the first round. Ludger was disappointed in not being able to jump in the beginning but now he is happy! We were under pressure with points for the standings, but all the guys here really did the job and deserved the victory today” he said.
Photos: FEI/Sebastian Oakley