Austrian rider Gerfried Puck was competing at the 2023 European Showjumping Championships at the San Siro racecourse in Milan, Italy (30 August-3 September), 14 years after his last championship appearance in Windsor, England, in 2009.
On Friday (1 September) the 50-year-old helped the Austrian team to a historic bronze medal in the team final – the country’s first team showjumping medal at the European Showjumping Championships.
But his return to the championship stage wasn’t without mishap as he had to make a last-minute bridle change on his powerful stallion Equitron Naxcel V on the opening day after being told he’d fallen foul of a new FEI rule, just seconds before entering the ring.
“My horse is really sensitive in the mouth – we want to protect him, so we use some tape on the bit that’s very soft,” explained Gerfried, who was put in a similar position to Great Britain’s Jodie Hall-McAteer at the Longines Global Champions Tour in London last month. “But the FEI changed the rules a few weeks ago and when I had the final boot check they saw the tape and said that was no longer allowed.
“So we had to quickly change the whole bridle before I went in – that’s why I was three horses late. They changed the rules so many times and now we have to change which bridle we use once again.”
European Showjumping Championships: an Olympic berth
However, after that initial mishap, Gerfried and his Austrian team-mates secured a place in Friday’s team final, bidding for one of three qualification slots at the 2024 Paris Olympics, which they duly secured with their tremendous bronze medal-winning performance.
“I think will have quite a strong team for next year’s Olympics and we might make a big surprise,” says the Austria-based rider.
“I only ever wanted to go to a championship when I had the right horse, a horse I felt could jump it easy. Otherwise it’s not nice for the horse. That’s why I waited so long [14 years] to do another championship. Now I have a horse that finds it easy, he’s shown that here.
“I haven’t had a horse to jump this really big stuff – I’ve had horses to jump four-stars and some World Cups, but not championships. But with Equitron Naxcel we are really happy – this is his first championship, but we bred him ourselves, so we’ve had him since a baby, and that’s very special.
“He’s also a really good breeding stallion – we have some nice offspring from him who are six years old. He just doesn’t want to make a mistake.
“So we had one goal this week – to qualify for the Olympics.”
High spirits at the vet-check
The Balou Du Rouet stallion’s high-spirited antics in the first vet-check at this year’s European Showjumping Championships had everyone talking – he just loves a crowd, explained Gerfried.
“Yes he’s really powerful – he was a bit crazy in the vet check because everyone was looking at him and that’s what he loves,” he said. “But for the owner and breeder’s family, this is the first time they’ve come to see him at a show. My wife is riding, my son is riding, it’s a total family production.”
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