Germany’s four team riders were all clear over the final jumping phase, winning team gold and taking the top two individual eventing medals at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Normandy.
The country now has a full set of titles: Olympic, European and now World team gold medals.
Sandra Auffarth, Michael Jung, Ingrid Klimke and Dirk Schrade – were flawless over the coloured poles and Auffarth, whose performance on the magnificent Opgun Louvo has been exemplary throughout the event, deservedly collected what looks like the first of many individual titles, with Michael Jung taking silver.
An electric atmosphere in the 21,000-seat arena fully justified the decision to transport the horses from the dressage and cross country venue into the d’Ornano Stadium in Caen as the capacity crowd got into the spirit of the occasion, sporting national flags, executing Mexican waves and cheering ecstatically.
Frederic Cottier’s jumping course provided the perfect finale; it was testing – there were a few refusals – but not at all punishing and horses were jumping well despite the testing conditions of the previous day’s cross country.
“It’s unbelievable that we are double world champions,” said the modest Auffarth. “When I first rode Opgun Louvo I didn’t think he was a future champion, but we have taken every level step by step and he’s been fantastic this weekend, really working hard.”
Auffarth and Opgun Louvo won individual bronze medal at the London 2012 Olympic Games and won silver at the European, so it was a dream come true for Auffarth to go one better.
Reigning World Champion Michael Jung had to relinquish his crown to his teammate but he didn’t go home empty handed, instead adding individual silver to his team gold on his brave little mare fisherRocana FST.
“Sandra has always been just under the top placings,” said Jung, for whom this was the first time since 2011 that he hadn’t stood on the top step of a championship podium. “She and her horse have a big partnership and their show jumping round was perfect so she really is the World Champion.
“She went across country last of all in the worst ground but she and her horse know each other so well.
“For me, it would have been great to come to a world championships on the same horse (La Biosthetique Sam) four years later, but I’m happy with silver because my mare did such a fantastic job. She’s a very clever horse.”
As at last year’s FEI European Championships, only William Fox-Pitt (GBR) and Chilli Morning, the cross country leaders, were able to halt German domination of the medals by taking individual bronze.
Although Britain’s team silver medal always looked secure, thanks to a great clear round from Zara Phillips and High Kingdom, the Germans’ brilliance pushed Fox-Pitt right to the wire and he had no leeway to win the individual title that so many people feel he deserves.
His charming stallion Chilli Morning was impeccably behaved, considering the deafening cheers for Auffarth that would have blown the roof off had the stadium had one, but he just caught the second fence with his front legs and, to muffled groans, that was the gold medal gone.
“Of course I’m frustrated, but I’m probably lucky not to have had two fences down,” Fox-Pitt said philosophically. “I’ve never ridden a stallion at any decent level before. He’s a real worker and trier, and he’s a rare commodity. I’m very proud of him and it’s great for his future as a sire.”
Phillips, who produced the only double clear of the British team in both the cross-country and show jumping phases, moved up from 15th to 11th. “It’s a great atmosphere and it’s all so close. Luckily my horse had been to London 2012 and had experienced a big atmosphere, so we just had to go out there and go clear. Today my horse has proved that he can cope with the big atmosphere and jump, and I am chuffed to bits with the him,” Phillips said.
“I was so excited getting back on the team after not riding for a bit,” she said, “being able to put a double clear in and go into a big atmosphere, it was great to prove that he can do it. I’m chuffed to bits with the horse and for the owner Trevor Hemmings, we couldn’t do it without our owners.
“Yesterday was a very difficult day for us all, this was for Harry, I’m just glad we could get some good performances in for him.”
Despite Harry Meade’s horse, Wild Lone, having collapsed and died at the end of the cross-country phase on Saturday, Meade stood on the podium alongside his teammates Fox-Pitt, Phillips and Tina Cook.
New Zealand’s Jonelle Price, whose cross-country round aboard Classic Moet had been the fastest of the day, made sure that she didn’t let a great placing slip from her grasp and she doggedly clung on to fourth despite dislodging the while rail at the ‘bogey’ upright over the watertray at fence 3.
Price almost provided a fairy tale finish for the New Zealand team, as the 33-year-old was a late call-up for the games after the withdrawal of Caroline Powell.
Price and Trisha Rickards’ Classic Moet were in fourth going into the all-important showjumping phase, and a dropped rail saw them finish on 56.5 penalty points.
“I came here hoping for a respectable performance .. and never dreamed she would finish fourth at the worlds. This is the highlight of my career,” Price said.
She fired a cheeky shot at the selectors who had initially named her as a reserve. “That’ll teach them for leaving me off!”
The cheer for Maxime Livio’s clear round aboard Qalao Des Mers could probably be heard in Paris as France’s best rider at the Games clocked a performance that left him in fifth on the individual leaderboard.
The show jumping proved to be a hugely influential phase. There were just 13 clear rounds from 60 starters and some riders suffered the ignominy of refusals in the electric atmosphere. Horseware Bushman, Ireland’s team horse piloted by Sam Watson’s, applied his brakes, as did Annie Clover, the individual ride of Britain’s Nicola Wilson, who plummeted from her 12th slot partly as a result.
Belgium’s leading lady Karin Donckers made no such mistakes and she finished in sixth with her imposing jumper Fletcha Van’t Verahof, a son of the reigning World Champion show jumper Vigo d’Arsouilles, who dislodged only the last oxer.
Peter Thomsen, an individual for Germany, finished seventh with Horseware’s Barny, just ahead of Boyd Martin, by far the best of a depleted US squad, with the former Ludwig Svennerstal ride Shamwari 4.
New Zealand’s Andrew Nicholson was the most high profile casualty among the top 10. His expensive three down on Nereo meant that he was forced to relinquish fifth place, dropping to ninth, while eight faults also proved expensive for Germany’s Andreas Ostholt and So Is Et, eventual 10th.
Nicholson put it down to the pressure he had applied to the Spanish-bred chestnut during the very relentless cross country phase on Saturday.
“We were five minutes from home and we had to slog through deep mud – that’s what probably made the difference today.”
He now shifts his focus to the Land Rover Burghley International Horse Trials which start on Wednesday in Britain.
Battle for team bronze
Meanwhile, an interesting battle had been developing for team bronze. The Australians held third place in the team competition after cross country but lost it with an unfortunate 24-fault round from Shane Rose and Taurus.
The French could have benefitted from this, but former World ChampionJean Teulere (Matelot du Grand Val) and Cedric Lyard (Cadeau du Roi) collected eight faults apiece. Sadly, Maxime Livio’s superb clear round on Qalao des Mers, which elevated him from eighth to fifth place individually, was not enough to rescue the home team’s medal chances.
Instead, the Netherlands team, which have been giving notice of deepening strength with their consistent results in the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup series, rode for their lives to be deserved recipients of team bronze, the country’s first ever medal at world championship level.
Elaine Pen and Vira have been one of the up-and-coming partnerships this year and they produced a beautiful clear round to rise seven places to 13th individually. Merel Bloom (Rumour Has It) was also clear in 26th place and the talented Tim Lips, who has long flown the Dutch flag in Eventing, finished in 18th place on Keyflow N.O.P.
Speaking on behalf of his team mates, British-based Andrew Heffernan, who retired Boleybawn Ace on the cross country, said: “This means more than you can possibly imagine. We came here with one goal, which was to qualify for Rio, and not only have we done that but we’ve had a fantastic experience. It’s our first world medal, so watch out the rest of the world!”
The top six nations – medallists Germany, Great Britain and the Netherlands, plus France, Australia and Ireland – secured qualification for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Lying 12th of 16 teams after two days of dressage, Ireland’s team of four, all riding Irish Sport Horses, excelled themselves on Saturday’s tough cross country course, and catapulted through the field to claim sixth place in the team rankings.
New Zealand’s hopes of a team medal came to an end when Mark Todd and Tim Price were both eliminated. Jock Paget retired early in the cross country, while individual Lucy Jackson was also eliminated. Jonelle Price rode as an individual.
Eric Duvander, Equestrian Sports New Zealand high performance coach and chef d’equipe at WEG, was ecstatic with Price’s efforts, saying she had proved Classic Moet was ready for success.
He was philosophical about the dent the cross country had made in the Kiwi efforts.
“The track was very well built and a proper WEG course, but the ground conditions were terrible,” said Duvander. “It was beyond what it should be. When you are at a championships, it shouldn’t be like that.”
The plan for New Zealand had always been to chase the win, and that meant sticking your neck out.
“All our riders went as hard as they could. Their attitudes are inspirational.”
About the winner
Sandra Auffarth, 27, is steeped in horsemanship, having competed in Jumping to a high level as well as Eventing. Her parents, Karl-Heinz and Barbel Auffarth, breed competition horses at their Stal Auffarth, which has been established for 30 years. Sandra is closely involved with the business and plans to take it over when her parents retire.
She has ridden the 12-year-old Opgun Louvo, a Normandy-bred Selle Francais by Shogoun ll, since he was five. They sprang to prominence at the 2011 FEI European Championships when they won team gold and individual silver and in 2012 they won Olympic team gold and individual bronze. The horse spent part of 2013 on the sidelines, but came back to claim victory at the Aachen CCIO3* this year.
Reporting: Kate Green, Diana Dobson.
Final Individual Results
1 Sandra Auffarth/Opgun Louvo (GER)* 35.2 + 16.8 + 0 = 52.0
2 Michael Jung/fischerRocana FST (GER)* 40.7 + 11.6 + 0 = 52.3
3 William Fox-Pitt/Chilli Morning (GBR)* 37.5 + 12.8 + 4 = 54.3
4 Jonelle Price/Classic Moet (NZL) 48.5 + 4.0 + 4 = 56.5
5 Maxime Livio/Qalao des Mers (FRA)* 45.3 + 13.2 + 0 = 58.5
6 Karin Donckers/Fletcha van’t Verahof (BEL)* 42.3 + 13.6 + 4 = 59.9
7 Peter Thomsen/Horseware’s Barney (GER) 46.3 + 14.0 + 0 = 60.3
8 Boyd Martin/Shamwari 4 (USA)* 46.3 + 13.6 + 4 = 63.9
9 Andrew Nicholson/Nereo (NZL)* 45.3 + 7.2 + 12 = 64.5
10 Andreas Ostholt/So Is Et (GER) 46.3 + 10.4 + 8 = 64.7
(* denotes team rider)
GOLD: Germany 177.9 (Sandra Auffarth/Opgun Louvo, 52.0; Michael Jung fischerRocana FST 52.3; Ingrid Klimke/FRH Escada JS, 73.6; (Dirk Schrade/Hop and Skip, 135.3)
SILVER: Great Britain 198.8 (William Fox-Pitt/Chilli Morning, 54.3; Zara Phillips/High Kingdom, 68.9; Kristina Cook/De Novo News, 75.6 (Harry Meade/Wild Lone)
BRONZE: Netherlands 246.8 (Elaine Pen/Vira, 72.3; Tim Lips/Keyflow N.O.P., 79.9; Merel Blom/Rumour Has It, 94.6 (Andrew Heffernan/Boleybawn Ace, RET XC)
4th: France, 251.5
5th: Australia, 262.5
6th: Ireland, 319.3