With an impressive win in Germany, the French show jumpers now challenge the United States in the Meydan FEI Nations Cup series.
The French Team’s confidence was high, and their horses jumped even higher during the Aachen CHIO, June 26-July 5, which featured the fifth stop on the Meydan FEI Nations Cup series, the Mercedes-Benz Prize.
With two consecutive league wins after victory in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, two weeks earlier, the French were the only riders to record a perfect score of zero for their team in Aachen, Germany. The German home team tied with the Netherlands for second place (4 faults), and the United States finished fourth with 5 faults.
France, with 31 points, is now pressuring the United States, the Meydan FEI Nations Cup series leaders, with 34 points.
French rider Kevin Staut noted: “We have a stronger team than ever now, and I think we can finish on top of the Meydan standings by the end of the series.”
In most Nations Cups, a five-fault total is a winning score. But on a night where five teams finished with a zero score after the first round, a single fault made all of the difference.
The U.S. team executed a nearly perfect performance, with beautiful double clears by Laura Kraut on Cedric and McLain Ward with Sapphire. Todd Minikus and Pavarotti faulted on the last oxer in the first round, then in an apparent attempt to clear the middle element of the triple at fence 10, they knocked over the first and last, becoming the drop score in both rounds.
Lauren Hough, the first to go, went clear in the first round, but she possibly turned too sharply over the vertical at fence 9 in the second round. There she picked up 4 faults, and 1 more for time left the team with a five-fault score on the board. After Minikus’ drop score, the pressure was on Kraut and Ward, who rose to the challenge like it was just another day.
Fantastic French Finish
It was the first Nations Cup victory for France in Aachen in 19 years, and they secured it early in the second round.
A cool second clear from 30-year-old Timothée Anciaume and Lamm De Fetan clinched it after fault-free performances from Pénélope Leprevost aboard Jubilee D’Ouilly and Roger-Yves Bost with Ideal De La Loge. Staut and Kraque Boom Bois Margot, the anchors, only needed to jump for their grand prix qualification.
Leprevost, who is shaping up to be a tough international competitor, experienced another “first” when she competed in Aachen.
“It was always a dream of mine to be here in Aachen,” she said. “Everyone told me that the atmosphere and the crowd were incredible, but you really have to be here and experience it to believe it.”
Another young newcomer to the French team, Anciaume, also made his Aachen debut. “It was such a pleasure to ride here. This arena with this public is amazing, and with this result—it’s just a dream come true,” he said. “I hope I can continue riding for the team.”
French Chef d’Equipe Laurent Elias was beaming after their victory.
“Our team is fantastic, and they really want to win. They are focused and cohesive as a team, and that’s our strong point,” he said. “This [Aachen] is a place that’s unique in the world; the most beautiful place for equitation that exists, and we are proud and happy to be a part of it.”
Attention On Footing And Format
For the first time, perhaps ever, footing was an issue at the revered and much respected Aachen venue.
Horses slipped on Tuesday, losing time, and worse. L.B. No Mercy slipped before the jump that became the last oxer of his career when he tore a tendon and limped painfully off the field, encouraged along by his owner and rider the Swiss champion, Christina Liebherr.
This tragedy had repercussions for the Swiss team as the footing exacerbated the 10-team format issue, having a direct effect on the problem of reserve rider allowances.
After the circumstances in Rotterdam (when Sweden was forced to compete with only three riders), the need for a reserve horse and rider is becoming more evident.
Liebherr was left to ride Robin Hood in the Nations Cup after he had spooked earlier at the water jump, and, as expected, he spooked at the water jump again, setting off a chain reaction that ended in 16 faults. Her teammates, all clear in the first round, must have felt her pain—no rider got out with fewer than 8 faults in the second round, leaving Switzerland in seventh place after the disastrous showing.
This situation shows just how fragile the teams are without a reserve, but after the chefs d’equipe meeting in Aachen, no progress was made on changing the format or resolving the issue. The closest possible date for a change would come in 2011, since the organizers are already working on 2010.
The priority for the teams, then, is to focus on getting a fifth rider accepted at the venues, which poses major problems for the organizers as they juggle lack of space, money, time and the fate of other riders who would have to be cut to allow for the reserve.
According to the Dutch chef d’equipe, Rob Ehrens: “It’s too bad to have these problems now, when there have been so many unbelievably positive changes made. All of the riders are so enthusiastic because of the increase in prize money; they really want to win.”
The venues have made improvements and are, for the most part, in great con-dition, but the chefs d’equipe have been against the new format since last year in La Baule, France, when it was first announced.
“George Morris said it best when he said, ‘First you have to talk about a new idea before you put it to work.’ But this time it was the inverse,” said Ehrens. “You can’t build a house for someone and then ask if this is what they wanted after you’ve finished. You end up spending time and energy changing things and rebuilding. But I hope this problem won’t overshadow all the positive changes that have been made.”
Frank Kemperman, the Aachen show organizer, was clearly upset and adamant about fixing the footing problem as best they could under the circumstances and investigating the cause so it never happens again.
“The ground was a little slippery the first day, so we put sand on it, and it’s OK we think. The riders are happy with the footing, but we have to find out what happened—it cannot be slippery on the first day in Aachen,” said Kemperman.
But complaints continued as the week progressed, even after the $487,687 Rolex Grand Prix Of Aachen on Sunday evening. Edwina Alexander, who finished second, said: “I slipped before the white oxer and had to make a slow second jump, so I lost a second there. I’d seen Philippe [Le Jeune] slip earlier, and so I took it slow on the next turn and maybe lost a second there. Maybe if the ground had been a bit stronger, it might have made a difference.”
Arno Gego, the famous German course designer, said that one possibility was a dog show that took place a few months earlier, when the grass was in the delicate stages of rooting. The groundskeeper had spoken to him after the dog show and was concerned because of the damage and the amount of urine on the ground from the thousands of dogs.
The type of grass hasn’t changed, and the lava sands are very neutral, so the amounts of urine at a critical growth period is a possible cause to consider for why the roots didn’t grow as deeply as they normally do by July.
“We have invested a lot in these grounds,” said Gego, “but it shows you must live with the ground. Tiny plants are like a beautiful lady; you can’t just be nice once or twice—you must be very, very careful with your new love—to be there; be present.”