A new era for team showjumping kicks off in style

  • A new era for team showjumping, and plenty of British and Irish success is involved in this week’s international showjumping news round-up.

    Germany made history as the first winners of the brand new Longines League of Nations, with the new format making for compelling viewing.

    In a competition that remained fierce to the end, with team fortunes oscillating dramatically, the Germans snatched victory at the 11th hour, relegating long-time leaders Ireland into second, with Sweden staying strong for third.

    Spaniard Santiago Varela is such a well-respected course-designer, who excels at these team competitions. Even his first, seemingly innocuous, fence caused problems, with huge questions coming at a double of 1.60m verticals after the open water, while the treble combination to a dog-leg final line also proved trappy.

    The excitement started building in the traditional four-riders-per-team format in round one and Ireland proved why they came into this series as the world’s top ranked nation, topping the leaderboard thanks to clears from Richard Howley (Equine America Consulent Du Prelet Z), Michael Pender (HHS Calais) and Mark McAuley (GRS Lady Amaro), with Denis Lynch’s four-fault round on new ride Cordial discarded. Sweden and Germany were hot on their heels, but only three fences separated the top eight teams who qualified for round two from the 11 starters.

    Confident clears from Joe Stockdale (Ebanking) and Jack Whitaker (Equine America Q Paravatti N) helped Great Britain claw their way back into contention alongside 12-fault rounds from Donald Whitaker (Millfield Collette) and Skye Higgin (Djordania Du Tillard) and the team’s total of 12 faults was enough to progress. But there were shock departures for three of the strongest countries on paper – Belgium, the Netherlands and France.

    Then came crunch time, as we moved into the new three-rider-per-team format for round two, jumped in reverse order of merit. Every fault would tally up and the pressure was immense for the riders, but it translated into an enthralling spectacle, resulting in a perfectly scripted ding-dong between Germany and Ireland.

    Jörne Sprehe put in a second impeccable performance for Germany, on Sprehe Hot Easy, and it all came down to Ireland’s final rider Mark McAuley, who could force a jump-off with a second clear on the Irish-bred chestnut daughter of Amaretto D’Arco, who had jumped faultlessly in round one. However, there was heartbreak when the mare winged the water, causing her to fault, like so many, at the following vertical, dropping the Irish side into the runner-up spot with a 12-fault total.

    “I’m thrilled with the whole team,” said German team rider David Will.

    Ireland’s chef d’equipe Michael Blake reflected that they “could have snatched it” at half-time.

    “But if you told me this morning we were going to be second, against the strong teams that were there, I would have been happy overall. In the end it didn’t go our way, but that’s the sport,” he said.

    Richard Howley added, “This puts us in a great position moving forward; today was top-level sport, a difficult course with very strong teams here, so I think it was a great result. If we had one fence less we were in a jump-off for first place so we weren’t far away!”

    Sweden joined them on the podium having chased the top two nations all the way, with the highlight an intuitive double clear from world number one Henrik von Eckermann on the spring-heeled 11-year-old Cardento mare Iliana. Brazil, Switzerland and USA were their closest pursuers, with Great Britain finishing seventh.

    Britain’s pathfinder, 24-year-old Joe Stockdale, who was suffering from flu, was left shaking his head after toppling the vertical after the water on 10-year-old stallion Ebanking (Etoulon x VDL Sheraton), but it was another polished round from this exciting combination.

    “I couldn’t be happier with how he jumped, he was incredible,” said Joe. “The great thing about Ebanking is I know where he’s at most of the time so being pathfinder I can trust how he’s going to react to certain courses, and he warmed up so well I felt confident going in. It was a tough course, the double after the water is really tall and doesn’t really fill up the background – it’s a gappy fence.”

    French-based Skye Higgin was facing one of the biggest tests of her career in her first five-star and added another 12 faults before Jack Whitaker and Equine America Q Paravatti N fell foul, like so many others, of the double after the water. The penultimate fence also fell, leaving Great Britain on a score of 36, just ahead of UAE, led by chef d’equipe William Funnell, in eighth.

    “The format was very exciting, it wasn’t over till the last horse jumped,” said British chef d’equipe Di Lampard. “I’m pleased with our young group of riders, who have all been based out in the UAE for the tour. It was a tough five-star, they all found it difficult. But it was a great experience for them all and an exciting start to the season.”

    Olivier Perreau and Bresil De Carnaval Santa Rosa  in the 1.45m speed class, chased home by Joe Stockdale, who was thrilled with the continued return of championship mare Equine America Cacharel, who was on the sidelines for the second half of 2023.

    Irish team hero Richard Howley also followed up on his grand prix win at the CSI2* Kelsall Hall in Cheshire with nine-year-old Zodiak Du Boisson Z (VDL Zirocco Blue x Dutch Capitol Z) by clinching victory in the opening day’s 1.50m jump-off class.

    New format

    “There’s a lot more to take into account”

    A new era of team jumping kicked off in Abu Dhabi with the top 10 ranked countries competing in the new-look 2024 Longines League of Nations series. A radical new format has been introduced with round one as before with four riders per team and a drop score coming into play, but with the big change coming in for round two, in which the chef d’equipe nominates just three riders to jump again, with all scores counting.

    Although we saw teams fortunes fluctuating as faults stacked up, there were no bad rounds, and instead of waiting to see which round would prove the drop score, team tallies were clear from start to finish. With real-time oscillations, the excitement remained sky-high.

    The downside is, of course, the potential for riders leaving demoralised with every fault proving so critical. So what is the verdict? Such a radical departure from the traditional Nations Cup may not appeal to all, but it certainly seems to have hit the mark so far.

    “It’s interesting – there’s a lot more to take into account,” said Joe Stockdale. Mohammed Al Nakhi, director of the showjumping committee added, “It kept us all on the edge of our seats until the very end.”

    Sunshine Tour

    Scott Brash has been in top form in Spain, winning the CSI4* grand prix with Hello Valentino at the end of week one of the Andalucia Sunshine Tour on 11 February.

    Scott and Lady Pauline Harris and Lady Pauline Kirkham’s 10-year-old came out on top of 49 starters in the 1.55m class, and nine who jumped clear in the first round.

    “He jumped great,” said Scott. “I’ve struggled a little with the rideability, but he has a lot of quality in his jumping and I’ve been working on the rideability here at the Sunshine Tour. I wouldn’t say it was perfect yet, but he jumped a super round to win.

    “I’m trying to encourage him and give him confidence; I want him to be a five-star grand prix horse and the facilities here are excellent to work towards that – the horse can gain a lot of experience on many different tracks and in all kinds of circumstances; grass, sand, sun and rain.”

    Sameh El Dahan scored victory in the CSI4* 1.50m grand prix with Joanne Sloan-Allen’s home-bred WKD Aimez Moi, just ahead of Ireland’s Bertram Allen with Castigo De Amor.

    Nicole Lockhead Anderson picked up a win in last Thursday’s (8 February) four-star 1.50m class, with Tom Williams and Emily Sage’s I Am A Harley. She also took Saturday’s (10 February) 1.45m two-phase class with Emily Sage’s eight-year-old mare Vogue TW.

    Elsewhere in Europe, Graham Gillespie and Veneno won a CSI2* 1.45m class at Azelhof Jumping, Belgium, and Lily Attwood won a 1.45m gold grand prix qualifier on her own and her mother Emmy Freeman Attwood’s Karibou Horta, at the Spring MET Tour II in Oliva Nova, Spain.

    Harry Charles and Stall Zet’s Bandit came third in the silver grand prix.

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