Sometimes, as a championship approaches, you get a feeling that it’s just not going to go your way. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who felt it just before lift-off in Gothenburg.
Pictures of Carl being treated by paramedics — for what luckily turned out only to be his “selective hearing” in need of a syringe — were followed by Gareth’s horse Don Carissimo going lame at the vet inspection; this meant we were down to a three-man team. And we’d already substituted Emile’s first-choice ride, Weekend Fun, for his less experienced Lollipop 126 due to injury.
But once a championship is underway, the only thing that matters is what is delivered on the field of play. As pathfinder, Emile did a truly first-rate job with Elena Knyaginicheva’s Lollipop and raised our hopes when he laid down over 72%. Spenny and Jen Goodman’s talented Supernova II were on their way to nailing a mega score when it all went wrong in the first canter pirouette.
This movement turned out to be the pair’s nemesis as they hit similar problems at the same point in the grand prix special. Barney’s (Jane de la Mare’s Nip Tuck) Gothenburg preparation has also been less than ideal, but yet again Carl used his skill and craftsmanship to hang on to high scores. It was always unrealistic to expect Barney to compete with the horsepower that eventually landed the individual medals, but for Carl to end up so close to the podium was an incredible feat of horsemanship. If there was a medal solely for the most consistent high-scoring canter work then Carl and Barney would be World — let alone European — champions!
And that’s another reason for Team GBR to be ever thankful to this combination, as without that exceptional work we would have been even further down the team rankings.
The events in Gothenburg mean that our continuous seven-year run of medals has now been interrupted. Luckily these championships are of stand-alone significance, but from next year things start to get serious in terms of knock-on repercussions.
At both the World Equestrian Games (WEG) and the 2019 Europeans, the pressure will be on to qualify for the 2020 Olympics, and the ever-strengthening US team need to be factored in, plus unused horsepower and other top riders absent in Gothenburg.
In spite of mutterings earlier in the year that we should use this championship for our up-and-coming combinations, in the end the selectors chose to send our strongest team. I know people will attribute this year’s lack of a medal to the retirement of Valegro. While this may be accurate in part, it’s not the whole story.
During my time as World Class performance manager between 2009 and 2012, we sent medal-winning teams out using a total of nine or 10 different championship horses.
Looking forward, Tokyo will provide not only a climate which will challenge our older or more fragile horses, but other issues too. In terms of our younger equine Olympic prospects, the clock is already ticking.
And next year we could do with getting Olympic qualification under our belt at WEG so we have breathing space to use the 2019 Europeans to test or develop any unproven combinations.
In the race for Olympic medals, it is not only high-scoring combinations we are going to need to identify, but also breadth in terms of squad numbers too. The Olympic countdown has begun.
Ref Horse & Hound; 31 August 2017