Four previous winners are among the 61 starters at the HSBC FEI European Eventing Championships in the unique seaside setting of Malmö, Sweden, this weekend.
This is the first time since the biennial championships began 60 years ago that it has been held in Sweden.
A total of 61 combinations representing 15 nations will start the competition; 10 nations are fielding teams and, as host nation, Sweden will have six individual riders in addition to a team of four.
Competitors range from veterans such as William Fox-Pitt (GBR) and Kristina Cook (GBR), who both made their European Championship debuts 20 years ago in 1993, to 21-year-old Althea Bleekman, who competes for the Netherlands for the first time, having switched from British to Dutch nationality.
Four former individual champions are competing: Great Britain’s Pippa Funnell (1999 and 2001), France’s Nicholas Touzaint (2003 and 2007), Kristina Cook (2009) and Germany’s defending champion, Michael Jung (2011), who will ride fourth for his team on the nine-year-old Halunke FBW.
Kristina Cook’s Miners Frolic, a 15-year-old Thoroughbred gelding, has the distinction of being easily the most medalled horse in the field. The son of Miners Lamp holds dual Olympic bronze medals (from 2008) as well as dual European gold (2009), World team gold (2010) and Olympic team silver (2012).
The first horse inspection was held on Wednesday afternoon in bright sunshine in front of the Ground Jury of President Marilyn Payne (USA), Christina Klingspor (SWE) and Christian Landolt (SUI).
The only cloud on proceedings was the disappointment for young British rider Tom McEwen, who was to make his senior championship debut but whose horse, Diesel, did not pass the horse inspection. British Chef d’Equipe Yogi Breisner said Diesel was sore in the back after the trip over, but that “it is absolutely nothing serious”.
Three other horses were sent to the holding box but were accepted: Nemetis de Laiou, ridden by Lionel Guyon for France; Tubber Rebel (Dag Albert, SWE) and Nodin d’Orval (Stefano Fioravanti, ITA).
The Germans, drawn first to go in the team competition, announced their team order as Dirk Schrade on Hop and Skip, followed by Ingrid Klimke on the nine-year-old FRH Escada JS, Andreas Dibowski (FRH Butts Avedon) and reigning Olympic, World and European Champion Michael Jung as anchorman on Halunke FBW.
All four horses are new to championship level, but this is unlikely to be a handicap to the reigning Olympic and European Champions – Hop and Skip has CCI4* form and Escada and Halunke have both won CIC3*s.
France, silver medalists on German soil in 2011, has named Karim Florent Laghouag as pathfinder with Punch de l’Esques. Astier Nicolas goes second with Piaf de b’Neville, followed by Donatien Schauly on Seculaire, and finally Nicolas Touzaint with Lesbos.
Great Britain, which won eight consecutive European team gold medals between 1995 and 2009, and took bronze in Luhmühlen two years ago, fields a mix of old and new. Their pathfinder is Pippa Funnell, making her first British team appearance since the Athens Olympic Games in 2004 and selected with team newcomer Mirage d’Elle.
She is reunited with her old friends Kristina Cook and William Fox-Pitt (Chilli Morning) – the three have been team-mates since Junior days – plus Lucy Wiegersma, who makes her senior team debut on Simon Porloe, fourth in the CIC3* at Malmö in 2011. Izzy Taylor will compete KBIS Briarlands Matilda as an individual.
Sweden, which won European team gold 20 years ago in Achselschwang (GER), fields Frida Andersen (Herta), Nicholas Lindback (Mister Pooh), Olympic silver medalist Sara Algotsson-Ostholt on Reality 39 and Ludwig Svennerstal on Shamwari 4.
The championships take place, like the London Olympic Games last year, in a public park, and the amount of work that has been done on the cross-country footing cannot be underestimated.
“The organisers deserve huge credit for the amount of work they have achieved in such a short time,” said Technical Delegate Patricia Clifton (GBR). “The going is perfect. In fact the whole event is so well-presented, which is a remarkable effort when you consider that they’ve really only had about two weeks’ access to the site, much of which is still open to the public.”
The contest begins at 10.02am on Thursday when Dirk Schrade and Hop and Skip open proceedings in the dressage arena. The final 29 riders will perform their dressage tests on Friday, led by Sweden’s Malin Petersen and Sofarsogood.