German riders filled the top three places and its team won the Nations Cup for eventing at the Aachen World Equestrian Festival on Saturday.
Led by national coach Hans Melzer, Germany won with 129 penalties, ahead of Great Britain with 152.4, and France finished third with 164.6. New Zealand was close behind in fourth with 169.20, with Ireland fifth on 209.6
Sandra Auffarth and Opgun Louvo took home €31,000 as the individual winners of the DHL Prize, with Ingrid Klimke second on FRH Escada JS, and Michael Jung third on La Biosthetique-Sam FBW.
The cross-country was the final phase of the competition, and only the top three riders managed to jump clear and without time faults on the 3990m course.
First to cracking the seven minute time on Rüdiger Schwarz’s course was double Olympic gold medallist Michael Jung, 31, who crossed the line in 6 minutes and 57 seconds, moving up from fifth to third in the rankings on his 14-year-old Baden-Wurtemberg-bred gelding. Ingrid Klimke was even faster, clocking a time of 6 minutes and 53 seconds as she rode through the finish line in the Main Stadium amid the cheers of spectators. Then, Sandra Auffarth went one better, the 27-year-old clocking 6:52 on 12-year-old chestnut gelding Opgun Louvo.
Last year, Auffarth missed out on the victory because she was one second too slow. “Luckily we had a lot of tailwind, which was refreshing considering the weather,” she said.
“The atmosphere was great. It was really good fun. I was very concentrated during my ride and made fast progress. The conditions were much better than last year, when it was very wet,” said the rider, who won bronze at the London Olympics.
She had a small mishap before setting off on track: “I forget to set my watch when I set off, so I didn’t know how well I was in the time until I entered the stadium. Once I noticed, I was able to relax, take my time and really enjoy it. My horse had a super ride, he is very smart and helps you out. I can totally rely on him, I trust him completely.“
National coach Hans Melzer was delighted with the trifecta by his top riders. “As always it was great to be here in Aachen and this result gives us another boost of motivation. We hope to be able to call up such performances at the World Equestrian Games, too.”
Dirk Schrade provided excellent back-up in 10th place on the reliable Hop and Skip, and Peter Thomsen was also clear across country on Horseware’s Barney to take Germany up to third in the FEI Nations Cup Eventing standings at this halfway stage of the season, which is generating fierce competition between the 12 nations now competing in the series.
For Michael Jung Aachen was the ideal last test before WEG in France: “My horse galloped along beautifully and was easy to ride. He is in great physical condition, we have trained for courses that last up to 12 or 13 minutes.”
He thought the tight time was manageable: “One has to let the horses really gallop in between the obstacles. It’s difficult, but it is possible.”
Great Britain finished second with four cross-country clears and still holds the series lead as the only nation to have fielded a team at every competition this year. The squad has finished no lower than third this season and has a 10-point lead over the French, who finished third at Aachen with Maxime Livio (Qalao des Mers), their highest-placed rider in seventh.
Britain has had a policy of using younger riders for Nations Cup Eventing teams, but performance manager Yogi Breisner places great importance on Aachen as a selection trial and pulled out a senior quartet, of which Izzy Taylor finished best, in fourth, on Orlando, with 43.8 penalties.
William Fox-Pitt was ninth on his Normandy horse Chilli Morning and Piggy French 13th on Jakarta. Zara Phillips, the World Champion at Aachen in 2006, who has also been selected for Normandy was, surprisingly, the discard score on High Kingdom despite their assured Cross Country performance.
Phillips is working hard to get back on song after the birth of her daughter, Mia, in January. She said: “It’s hard, but lots of other ladies have done it. Our cross-country felt great, there’s just a bit of work to do on the dressage and jumping phases.”
Belgian rider Karin Donckers and Fletcha van ‘t Verahof were fifth with 48.0, and Andrew Nicholson was the best placed New Zealander, moving up from 16th place after the jumping to sixth on Nereo, on whom he won the event in 2010.
Tim Price and Wesko, who were in second place going into the final phase, retired at the 15th obstacle. Equestrian Sports New Zealand coach Erik Duvander said the plan for Wesko had always been to get the championship-like experience in the dressage and showjumping at Aachen, but the horse was not up to full fitness for the fast-tracked Aachen cross country.
Jonelle Price and Faerie Dianimo picked up time faults to finish 16th. It was a first for such a big atmosphere for the horse, who Duvander says is being “prepped for the next Olympics”.
Tim Price and his team horse, Ringwood Sky Boy picked up just a few time faults to finish 20th. Duvander was pleased to see the improvement in his showjumping. “He is a difficult horse to ride on a fast track like Aachen and better suited to to the more galloping like long-format four-star.”
The fourth member of the New Zealand team, Lucy Jackson and Willy Do, parted company at the corner in the water at fence 8b on the cross country but both are reported to be fine.
Overall, Duvander was very pleased with the outing by the Kiwis. “Aachen has done its job. It was a fantastic event like normal, but very hot,” he said.
There were 25 clear rounds over the masterful cross-country course. Fence 18, a spread on top of a mound, was taken out after Jayne Doherty’s (IRL) Ravenstar banked it and then fell.
Joseph Murphy (Electric Cruise), a member of the fifth-placed Irish team, Kevin McNab, riding Clifton Pinot for the seventh-placed Australian team, and Tim Lips (Concrex Oncarlos) for the Netherlands, eighth, all had run-outs at fence 15c, a skinny fence following a bank.
1 Germany, 129.0 penalties
Sandra Auffarth/Opgun Louvo, 33.8; Michael Jung/La Biosthetique Sam FBW 41.2; Dirk Schrade/Hop and Skip, 54.0; (Peter Thomsen/Horseware’s Barney, 57.6)
2 Great Britain, 152.4
Izzy Taylor/Orlando, 43.8; William Fox-Pitt/Chilli Morning, 52.4; Piggy French/Jakarta, 56.2; (Zara Phillips/High Kingdom, 70.8)
3 France, 164.6
Maxime Livio/Qalao des Mers, 50.0; Astier Nicolas/Piaf de b’Neville, 52.4; Thomas Carlile/Quiro Hoy, 62.2; (Pascal Leroy/Minos de Petra, 65.4)
4 New Zealand, 169.2
Andrew Nicholson/Nereo, 48.4; Jonelle Price/Faerie Dianimo, 58.0; Tim Price/Ringwood Sky Boy, 62.8; (Lucy Jackson/Willy Do, EL Cross Country)
5 Ireland, 209.6
Camilla Speirs/Portersize Just A Jiff, 61.8; Fraser Duffy/Primus 209, 70.8; Joseph Murphy/Electric Cruise, 77.0; (Jayne Doherty/Ravenstar, EL Cross Country)
6 Sweden, 213.4
Johan Lundin/Johnny Cash, 66.6; Niklas Lindbäck/Mister Pooh, 68.4; Malin Petersen/Sofarsogood, 78.4; (Ludwig Svennerstal/Alexander, WD before Dressage)
7 Australia, 215.4
Paul Tapner/Kilronan, 54.0; Andrew Hoy/Rutherglen, 57.6; Kevin McNab/Clifton Pinot, 103.8; (Christopher Burton/Graf Liberty, WD before Cross Country)
8 Netherlands, 245.4
Elaine Pen/Undercover, 113.6; Tim Lips/Concrex Oncarlos, 131.8 (Andrew Heffernan/Millthyme Corolla, EL Cross Country; Merel Blom/Rumour Has It, WD before Cross Country)
FEI Nations Cup Eventing Leaderboard (after 5 of 9 events)
1 Great Britain 45 points
2 France 35
3 Germany 31
4 Netherlands 20
5 New Zealand 18
6 Ireland 14
7 Italy 13
8 Denmark 7
9 Spain 6
10 Sweden 5
10 Poland 5
12 Australia 4