Championship debutante strikes gold for Britain at FEI CH/J/YR European Jumping Championships

  • Great Britain brings home an impressive medal haul of five from the FEI CH/J/YR European Jumping Championships in Vilamoura, Portugal, including Ava Vernon’s hard-fought individual crown

    CHAMPIONSHIP debutante Ava Vernon celebrated her 18th birthday a week early with individual gold at the FEI CH/J/YR European Jumping Championships on Jolie Fleur Van De Noordheuvel.

    The top two held gold and silver from the start, Ava in silver 0.04 penalty points behind Ireland’s Tom Wachman on HH Fireball with Olli Fletcher sixth on Hello William. However, all three returned four faults in round A over a tough 1.40m track, Ava clipping an early vertical while Olli struggled to contain William after the water, hitting the following oxer.

    Jumping clears, Belgian siblings Tristan and Aurelia Guisson moved up to third and fourth just 0.01 penalties behind Ava. Only 0.25 points separated the top four. It was all to play for in a high-octane final.

    Olli jumped clear for sixth and the pressure intensified as both Belgian riders posted clears. But Ava rose above it, coming home with a cheer-rousing clear on the Cassini II 12-year-old Jolie Fleur.

    A nail-biting two minutes ensued as nothing less than a clear was required and Tom looked confident until the penultimate fence. The top plank crashed down along with his medal dreams and he finished fifth.

    “It’s my first ever championship and I came out here hoping to bring back a team medal and ‘Cookie’ was jumping out of her skin which gave me confidence,” said Ava.

    “I tried to ride consistently and chef Tony Newbery helped a lot with confidence as my trainer Holly Smith could only be on the sidelines [as she prepares for the Olympics] but I’m good at coping with pressure and can hold my nerve,” added Ava, who also benefited from Michael Whitaker’s warm-up advice. “He helped me on the last day and we warmed up slightly differently for the last round with fewer fences and a couple of tall verticals.”

    Jack Whitaker was on top form in Vilamoura

    Cool consistency also paid off for Michael’s son Jack Whitaker, who won silver in the young rider championship. He and Scenletha sat in tenth after day one, but collected four faults in the second leg – his only mistake in five rounds – which dropped them to 13th. But a clear on day three shot Jack back up to second, although only 3.38 penalty points split the top six.

    In the final decider, Belgium’s Emilie Conter’s first clear on Balento CS moved her up to third with another clear guaranteeing a medal to pressurise the final two riders.

    Jack appeared so chilled he may well have been popping round a newcomers, but Scenletha celebrated the required clear with an elated buck through the finish. The pair took silver as Germany’s Matthis Westendarp also came through clear on Stalido to claim gold.

    “I get nervous as I enter the ring because I want to win, but as soon as I jump the first fence it’s forgotten and I focus. All the pressure I put on myself – I want to do the best I can,” said Jack, who praised Scenletha, jointly owned with John Evans of ESM Equestrian.

    “She has been fantastic for me for the last two years, she deserved a medal and jumped great all week. It was a great atmosphere with the team all behind me. Bernardo [Costa Cabral, course-designer] was very clever; he didn’t get so many clears and fences fell all over, you had to ride the whole course.”

    Britain’s children-on-horses medal hopes lay with Tabitha Kyle, equal first on zero with eight others on the final day, but eight faults in round one put Desterly out of contention and they withdrew. Hungary’s Gyula Szuhai Jr took gold in a five-way decider on Perthy Jackson.

    Medal haul for teams

    GREAT BRITAIN started spectacularly in the young rider teams to head 16 teams on day one, aided by Jodie Hall-McAteer winning the speed class on Kimosa Van Het Kritrahof. But 12 faults on day two dropped Britain to fourth a fraction behind Germany, with Spain also a threat.

    Ireland meanwhile added only five faults to their score of 10.56 to climb from fourth to second and two points within leaders Belgium.

    Hickstead-based Jack Ryan kept Ireland in the hunt with a clear and four on BBS McGregor, but Sean Monaghan added eight to his one time fault on Dalvaro 2. Harry Allen made his only mistake with four faults on Guinness and Jason Foley returned two four-fault rounds on Clyde VA to maintain their silver position. And while Belgium added eight faults in the final round, they remained ahead in gold.

    For Britain, led by Tony Newbery, it was down to the final rider. Jodie’s Kimosa crucially lost form to finish on 16 and 12. Lily Attwood boosted chances with a clear but Karibou Horta posted eight second time out. Sienna Charles improved on eight faults for four with Ornellaia.

    A medal laid heavily on Jack Whitaker’s 19-year-old shoulders. A clear was vital, one mistake meant fifth. But Jack is a chip off the Whitaker block and he aced it, delivering a foot-perfect clear on the 11-year-old Scenletha for bronze.

    In the 20-team junior championships, Britain remained steadfastly third throughout to take bronze. Pathfinder Ava Vernon was the team hero with Jolie Fleur Van De Noordheuvel, boosting Britain’s chances with three clears and easily negotiating the final day’s 13-fence 1.40m track.

    Amelie Gachoud’s The Precious One returned 12 and eight after an initial clear while, clear on day one, Claudia Moore posted two five-fault rounds on Hardesther.

    It was down to Olli Fletcher, 18, on Hello William. Their only mistake was tapping out a vertical on day two and a clear was critical with France just 1.48 points behind. He skilfully delivered, dismissing pressure to jump clear and secure the bronze.

    The children-on-horses squad claimed team bronze but it went to the wire. Six of 19 teams posted initial zero scores, including Britain, but day two went awry and 11 faults dropped them to seventh. There was a lot of work to do.

    “In a team talk we agreed three clears could earn a medal and they came out and delivered,” said chef d’Equipe Clare Whitaker.

    Pathfinder and 2019 team bronze medallist Tabitha Kyle played a pivotal role to maintain her immaculate clear round record on Desterly. Emily Fisher repeated her six faults with Heerdestar, while Madison Seedhouse improved on eight faults with a crucial clear on Emara Giguellerie Z, pulling Britain up to fourth two faults ahead of Ireland.

    It all hinged on the final riders. Noora von Bulow jumped the round of her life on Lucky Lisa, bettering her five faults to jump clear.

    Belgium finished on a four-fault total to land another gold medal. A final clear for Italy could have forced a jump-off but four faults dropped them to silver. Britain’s medal hopes pinned on France’s final rider – less than two faults earned bronze, anything more lost a podium place.

    The pressure on Lana Messina and Quactus Du Leon was enormous, and when they hit a rail, it was all over – Britain claimed bronze.

    Ireland finished equal fourth with France two faults behind Britain, their best rider Katie Nallon on one fault with Javas True Colours.

    This report will also be available to read in H&H magazine, on sale Thursday 29 July

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