Fontainebleau 2018 was the fourth consecutive year I’ve been involved in the youth European Championships. And this was the best yet.
The courses by designer Grégory Bodo were brilliant. He cleverly used undulations in the grass arena with sand footing to really test horses and riders, and bring out their best.
Peter Murphy, father of team member Robert, pointed out that not only are such arenas more interesting to watch than all-weather arenas with perfectly flat surfaces, but at the top end of the sport they’re having to build bigger, wider and more difficult courses to get a result. Peter added that before long, there will be a swing back to the Fontainebleau-type arena — and he makes a solid point.
What also made these championships stand out was the professionalism and team spirit of the British riders in the junior (under-18) and young rider (under-21) categories. Maybe it was because the squads comprised competitors whose parents are, or were, top pro riders who understand the work ethic needed to succeed.
Regular readers will know I don’t always agree with British Showjumping (BS) policy, but here they got it spot on. Anna Garside was top-class as BS coordinator, and with horses jumping in 30-34°C of stifling heat, team vet Mark Sinnott was on hand 24/7.
There was a British ringside hospitality tent organised by BS. We all chipped in for the food and drink but, importantly, it provided a base for the teams and supporters to watch from and discuss tactics. Camaraderie was further boosted because all the riders contributed to the team scores and medals won.
Congratulations to Harry Charles, who rode superbly to become young rider European champion. It won’t be long before he’s on five-star Nations Cup teams. As for my own boys Will and Olli, I was very proud of them. For Will to bring home a team gold from his first championship was fantastic; his brave, scopey horse Persimmon must be the first to win medals in eventing and showjumping.
I’m sure there were some who thought Olli, at 15, was too young to be in the under-18s, but chef d’equipe Tony Newbery had faith in him. And I have to say Olli’s second round in the team competition, when we’d slipped out of a medal position and he went clear to help claim silver, was one of the best under pressure I’ve ever seen him ride. Then to jump the only double clear to win individual silver exceeded all our expectations.
I’ve been asked what a parent can say when their child goes into the ring in a situation like that. “Don’t do anything differently just because it’s a championship. Focus and play your normal game,” is what I say.
Tony Newbery and his wife Fiona were fantastic with their support for all the riders. Tony’s track record is unbelievable in the medal haul of the last two years. Can he keep it up for next year? It’s a tall order, so for now we’ll all just enjoy the moment.
The Irish proved to be a real force to be reckoned with under the captaincy of ex-international rider James Kernan. And it was through the Irish contingent that I got my best-ever job offer.
Remarking how well my two boys had ridden, one of their number called across: “We reckon if you can sire riders like that, you should stand at stud at Coolmore!” Paradise…
Ref Horse & Hound: 26 July 2018