It was a clear-cut victory for The Netherlands on a thrilling night of sport at the 2017 Longines FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping Final at the Real Club de Polo in Barcelona, Spain. On Saturday, September 30, the competition started nearly two hours behind schedule due to a fused floodlight. The delay failed to hinder The Netherlands from coming out on top, and they finished the night on just a single time fault.
“In Spain everything is always later,” joked Harrie Smolders, who clinched the team victory for The Netherlands with a clear jumping round aboard Don VHP Z. “They start later in the morning, and they finish later in the evening – we wanted to win anyway!”
The new champions pinned Team USA into the runner-up spot, while Belgium, who also finished on a four-fault scoreline, lined up in 3rd when combined times were taken into account.
Another masterful course designed by Spain’s Santiago Varela ensured that it came down to the last-line riders to decide the result of this 2017 title-decider. Jur Vrieling of The Netherlands set the stage with an impressive run aboard VDL Glasgow V. Merelsnest. Next in the order was teammate Michel Hendrix and Baileys, who went just over the time-allowed of 81 seconds. Third-line rider Marc Houtzager post a single four fault error aboard Sterrehof’s Calimero, which served as the dropped score on the leaderboard. It was a cliff-hanger until anchor rider Smolders sealed the deal with a textbook round.
“Barcelona is wonderful and the Nations Cup Final is always thrilling. [From the first day] it’s very difficult; you start with 15 countries and separating the teams is very hard,” said Rob Ehrens, Chef d’Equipe of The Netherlands. “We saw that in what happened to Ireland who were the gold medal winners at Gothenburg (Longines FEI European Championships staged in August), but that is the jumping sport and that is what makes it exciting!”
Ehrens was delighted with the performances of all his team members and their horses.
“Jur [Vrieling] is experienced but Glasgow is quite green. This year [marks] his first time in a championship and he was extremely good this week. That’s a horse for me to keep over the winter season because I think this should be a combination for the World Equestrian Games next year. Michel Hendrix is an up-and-coming rider, very talented, he produced this horse himself. And Harrie is in brilliant form this year, he’s in the flow! I’m very happy for him and also for the country. He is a top jockey and an unbelievably good team player” he said.
Smolders was delighted to bring it home for The Netherlands, but admitted that it took a bit of an effort.
“I felt [Don VHP] started to get a little tired and that I had to carry him around a bit in the second round today, but he gave everything. He gets a rest now that he really deserves. I’m super confident this season because he jumps clear after clear, but still you have to do it, and it was a big track today, a big challenge, the time was really tight so I couldn’t afford to leave it somewhere. I had to be really on it, but my horse was incredible!” he said.
Ehrens has proved to be an exceptional team manager, leading the Dutch to a series of brilliant results in recent years and now adding the Longines FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping 2017 title to his long list of spectacular achievements. With typical humor, however, he noted that tonight’s success has little to do with him, and it all came down to his team.
“The only thing I have to do is tell them what time to get out of bed, what time to get into bed and what time to walk the course. I have an easy job and I’m a happy coach!”
In producing clear rounds on both Thursday and Saturday night, riders Lauren Hough and Mclain Ward of the USA, Belgium’s Gregory Wathelet, Jur Vrieling and Harrie Smolders of The Netherlands, and Canada’s Eric Lamaze will share the €100,000 bonus.
“[Ohlala] been amazing this week, I’m so proud of her double clear,” said Hough, who helped secure 2nd place for the USA. “There was a lot of waiting obviously, and being the first rider I think I got on three times to do that round. Under the circumstances I’m absolutely thrilled and so proud to be part of such an extraordinary team. Everyone performed brilliantly. Both Laura and Beezie are on younger horses, but they are incredible riders and they kinda held their horse’s hand and we are thrilled with the result today.”
The full results can be viewed here.
All photos ©Thomas Reiner Photography