A lot has changed since the Netherlands was relegated from her usual team silver position to fourth both at the 2002 World Games in Spain and last year’s European Championships.
The new chef d’equipe, Bert Rutten, is confident that the reigning Olympic Champion Anky van Grunsven (pictured) and the 10-year-old Hanoverian gelding Salinero are fit and ready, despite the fact that they missed last year’s Europeans as well as the recent Dutch championships through minor injuries.
“Salinero is an absolute top horse and he proved himself at this year’s World Cup final [and again in Aachen]. He was up against all the leading Germans, apart from European Champions Ulla Salzgeber and Rusty, and they didn’t stand a chance,” says Bert.
Even without her number one ride, Anky finished second at the Dutch championships on the 12-year-old stallion Gestion Krack C, behind her pupil Edward Gal on Gestion Lingh.
Bert describes the new Dutch champion as his “secret weapon”. Edward and Lingh have made a meteoric rise from equal 28th at last year’s Europeans to second in the grand prix freestyle at this year’s World Cup final on a score of more than 80%.
Edward, 34, says: “The Europeans were too much and a little too early — we only rode our first international grand prix in January last year.”
Edward started riding aged 14, giving up show jumping when he made the move up from ponies and his horse didn’t want to jump. The 11-year-old stallion by Flemmingh was bought as a four-year-old.
“In the stable, he’s so easy to handle that you don’t notice he’s a stallion. When you’re riding him, he is there for you,” says Edward.
Antoinette Falandt has also ridden Jarwo, her 13-year-old KWPN gelding by Ferro, since the horse was a four-year-old. They, too, were competing at their first international championships during last year’s Euros and became the highest-scoring Dutch combination with more than 70% in each test.
Bert describes the 29-year-old, who is trained by Coby van Baalen and has come up through the young rider ranks, as “a steady team member”.
Former top German young rider Sven Rothenberger may not have been on the team for seven years, but he has no shortage of experience, with individual bronze and team silver medals from the 1996 Atlanta Olympics among his collection of trophies.
Sven took over Barclay II, the former ride of Germany’s Hubertus Schmidt, last August after a four-year break from riding. During this time, he set up a real estate company, now listed on the stock exchange, with his father and holds the position of CEO.
He rides the 12-year-old Hanoverian gelding, a full-brother to Brentina, before work and is trained by his wife, Gonnelien, a member of the silver medal team in Atlanta.
Commenting on the new combination, which finished third at the Dutch championships, Bert says: “The partnership is growing and they are going for it.”
If the Dutch riders can maintain the form they showed in Aachen, the invincible German team may not be able to rest on its rather large pile of laurels quite so easily this year.