Lexington, Ky.—Oct. 9
As finals go, they don’t get much more exciting.
The WEG Final Four ended up with Belgian rider Philippe Le Jeune earning show jumping individual gold by jumping faultless rounds on his and three other horses. Hickstead earned the Best Horse title tonight at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.
While Le Jeune’s riding both on his own horse, Vigo d’Arsouilles, and the three others was truly brilliant, it was his obvious appreciation for the horses that captured the crowd’s heart. After he’d ridden Hickstead to his final clear round, clinching gold, he leaned down and gave the horse a big kiss on the neck and lots of pats.
Le Jeune also helped the Belgian team claim the bronze earlier in the week. The 50-year-old rider is a quiet, reserved man, but he obviously loves his horses.
“When I was young, my father taught me to love animals. I like competing, but I really prefer to just have fun with my horses at home,” Le Jeune said. “Someone once asked me what I’d wish for if I could have anything, and I said, ‘I’d like to have my horses talk, and tell me that they’re happy to be with me.’”
The start list promised a good class, with riders from four different continents and four very different horses, and it didn’t disappoint. Rails kept falling and making things interesting. Saudi Arabian rider Abdullah Al Sharbatly took the silver medal, and Eric Lamaze of Canada claimed bronze. Rodrigo Pessoa, the individual gold medalist at the 1998 WEG, was fourth and out of the medals.
The riders all started by jumping one round on their own horses, and that round proved decisive. Al Sharbatly got off on the wrong foot when he had two rails in the triple combination with Seldana di Campalto.
“She’s a bit spooky, and she saw a shadow,” Al Sharbatly said. “I was a bit disappointed, but then I said, ‘What happened, happened. Now go on with it.’ “
He carried on and jumped clean rounds on all three of the other horses, the first of which was Hickstead. The spectators were all eager to see the round, since Hickstead is a fireball of a jumper. While Al Sharbatly definitely got Hickstead a bit more excited and eager to go than his usual, he also was able to get him to the jumps well enough to jump clean.
Saudi fans in the stands stomped their feet, cheered and sang as Al Sharbatly rode his way to silver. It’s the first WEG medal for the Saudi team, which is aiming big guns for the 2012 Olympic Games.
Pessoa had a light rub that resulted in 4 faults on his HH Rebozo, and then he jumped clean on Seldana and Hickstead. He looked to be giving Le Jeune a real run for the gold medal until he pulled two rails on Le Jeune’s Vigo in his final go.
Like Le Jeune, Lamaze was clear on his own horse. He also jumped clean on Vigo, but then he ran into trouble with Pessoa’s Rebozo in the triple combination and had a rail and a time fault. In his final ride of the night, he had one rail and a time fault on Seldana, which dropped him to the bronze medal.
News and Notes
• Le Jeune’s Vigo d’Arsouilles is the son of Le Jeune’s ride for the team bronze at the 1998 WEG, Nabab de Reve. Vigo d’Arsouilles, 12, has already stood at stud for years, and U.S. fans might know his son Tortola, ridden by Laura Kraut.
• Even though the Final Four riders were from four different continents, they are all based out of Belgium. In fact, they’ll all be returning to stables within a 30-mile radius of Brussels.
• The Saudi Arabian show jumping team will spend the next two years based in Belgium, training with Stanny van Paesschen with the goal of winning a medal in the 2012 London Olympic Games.
See the Oct. 22 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse magazine for all the news about WEG show jumping. And check out the Nov. 5 issue, our WEG Analysis Issue, for in-depth stories about the WEG performances and what they say about the U.S. programs.