Who will reign supreme at Alltech World Equestrian Games in Normandy?

Edwina with Cevo Itot du Chateau at the 2012 Olympic Games in London
Edwina with Cevo Itot du Chateau at the 2012 Olympic Games in London
Edwina with Cevo Itot du Chateau at the 2012 Olympic Games in London

Please note: Ben Maher and Abdullah Al Sharbatly have withdrawn from competition and will not be attending the World Equestrian Games.

By Equestrian Australia

With Olympic and European gold already in the bag, the British will be bidding for a clean sweep of team Championship titles when Jumping gets underway at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2014 in Normandy, France in some days’ time. But while their side boasts both the Longines world number one rider, Scott Brash, and number three Ben Maher (Note: Maher has withdrawn from competition), they face a super-tough battle to achieve their objective and book their place in Rio 2016 for the defence of their Olympic title.

The history books show that the previous British success was all the way back at the inaugural World Championships in Aachen, Germany in 1978, as both France and Germany have been crowned champions on three occasions in the intervening period, while the USA and The Netherlands came out on top in 1986 and 2006 respectively. A total of 17 individual World Championships have been staged since 1953, but the team Championships were only introduced in 1978 so the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2014 edition presents just the ninth team title decider.

Since the seven FEI disciplines were merged into the FEI World Equestrian Games™ in 1990, the Germans have been the dominant force in Jumping, with wins at The Hague (NED) in 1994, Rome (ITA) in 1998 and Kentucky (USA) in 2010, while the French reigned supreme at Stockholm (SWE) in 1990 and again at Jerez (ESP) in 2002.

Colossal change

These two powerhouses will, no doubt, be major players again this time around, but the sport has undergone colossal change in recent years, as underlined by Saudi Arabia’s bronze-medal-winning performance at the London 2012 Olympic Games where The Netherlands filled silver medal spot.

It was Saudi Arabia’s Abdullah Al Sharbatly’s Individual silver medal at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ in Kentucky, USA two years earlier that heralded the arrival of a whole new wave of competitors and nations into the top level of the sport, and that phenomenon has continued unabated ever since. The hugely successful Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping series has helped to further develop teams at all levels, and a massive 35 countries will be pinning their hopes and dreams on their national sides when the action begins at the D’Ornano Stadium in Caen on 2 September.

Record entry

The Jumping championships take place over six days, and the 2014 edition of the FEI World Equestrian Games™ has attracted a record entry with competitors from 54 nations taking part. Representatives from 19 National Federations will compete as Individuals, and a total of 158 horse-and-rider combinations will start in the first competition, a significant increase on the previous record of 120 from 41 countries that started in Lexington (USA) four years ago.

It all begins with the first round of the team event, a speed competition in which there is a four-second penalty for every fence down, after which rider’s results are calculated into penalties. These penalties are carried into another two rounds of jumping over a further two days before the team medals will be awarded and the five nations that will be heading for Rio 2016 are confirmed.

Following a rest day, the top-30 riders then go through to the qualifier for the Individual top-four Final which brings the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2014 to a close the following afternoon.

The top-four clash is an enormous test as riders swap horses, and the 2010 champion, Belgium’s Philippe Le Jeune, epitomised the quality and scope of riding talent required to claim this most coveted honour. He made the cut through superb results with his lovely stallion Vigo d’Arsouilles, and then the 50-year-old horseman demonstrated the experience of a lifetime with masterful performances on the mounts of his rivals – the great Hickstead ridden by Canada’s Eric Lamaze, Sharbatly’s Seldana di Campalto and HH Rebozo ridden by Brazil’s Rodrigo Pessoa. Le Jeune will not be defending his individual title in Normandy.

Looking strong

While the British team looks strong, it took a jump-off to separate them from the silver-medal-winning Dutch side at the London 2012 Olympic Games and they are very unlikely to get an easy ride this time around either. The Germans are defending champions and have enormous strength in depth, with Marcus Ehning the only remaining member of the foursome that clinched victory in Kentucky four years ago.

The Netherlands, France and the Swedish side that clinched bronze at last summer’s Europeans along with the Americans, who have been winning all before them in recent weeks, will also be serious forces to be reckoned with as they target that same title along with a host of others.

Every FEI World Championship has provided its surprises and stars, and the Individual Roll of Honour is a glorious one, beginning with Spain’s Francisco “Paco” Goyoaga and Quorum who pipped Germany’s Fritz Thiedemann and Diamant 61 years ago in Paris. German legend Hans Gunter Winkler was back-to-back champion in 1954 and 1955 while the late, great Raimondo D’Inzeo from Italy followed suit in 1956 and 1960. Pierre Jonqueres d’Oriola from France (1966), Great Britain’s David Broome (1970), Germany’s Hartwig Steenken (1974), Gerd Wiltfang (1978) and Norbert Koof (1982), stood on the top step of the podium before the one and only lady champion carved her name into the history books.

Canada’s Gail Greenough and Mr T pinned America’s Conrad Holmfeld and Abdullah into silver medal spot at Aachen in 1986, while Great Britain’s Nick Skelton took bronze with Apollo.

Ladies returned to the podium

It would be another 16 years, following wins for Eric Navet from France (1990), Germany’s Franke Sloothaak (1994), Brazil’s Rodrigo Pessoa (1998) and Ireland’s Dermott Lennon (2002) before the ladies returned to the podium when America’s Beezie Madden and Germany’s Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum took silver and bronze behind 2006 champion Jos Lansink from Belgium.

Britain’s Brash and Maher look major contenders for individual honors this time around, but no-one can discount the world number two, Germany’s Ludger Beerbaum, whose extraordinary list of successes includes medals in 1990, 1994, 1998 and 2006. And just a quick glance at the current Longines world rankings suggests there will be plenty of French interest despite the unfortunate absence of 2013 FEI European Champion Roger-Yves Bost whose horse, Castle Forbes Myrtille Paulois, is out of action.

French riders Kevin Staut (6th in the rankings), Patrice Delaveau (7th) and Penelope Leprevost (9th) are serious contenders at any time, and with Beerbaum joined by Marcus Ehning (4th) and Daniel Deusser (8th) for Germany, and America’s Kent Farrington (5th), McLain Ward and Beezie Madden (12th and 13th) it’s looking like a battle of the aces when the Jumping Championships get the second week of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2104 in Normandy off to a flying start.