Germans lead European eventing champs

September 25, 2009

The German squad has begun the HSBC FEI European Eventing Championships at Fontainebleau as they mean to go on, with three riders in the top four and a healthy 14-point lead over defending champions Great Britain after the first day of dressage.

Frank Ostholt and Air Jordan, leaders after the first day of dressage.

Dirk Shrade riding Gadget de la Cere are in second place.

William Fox-Pitt and Idalgo are in third.
© Kit Houghton/FEI

Home side France is in bronze position, thanks to an excellent performance from their second team rider, Eric Vigeanel on the 19-year-old Coronado Prior, who is lying indivually 6th. "My horse is like a good wine - he improves with age," joked Vigeanel.

And Belgium is lying fourth, with the promise of a good test to come today from anchorwoman Karin Donckers on the graceful Gazelle de la Brasserie.

In the current individual standings, Frank Ostholt, second to go for the German team on the 14-year-old Hannoverian gelding Air Jordan, has a 0.4 lead over individual rider Dirk Schrade on Gadget de la Cere, and team rookie Michael Jung, their trailblazer, is in equal 4th place on his 4* winner La Biosthetique Sam, also the HSBC FEI World Cup Eventing Champion.

Ostholt was very pleased with his dressage. "Air Jordan is an old horse who knows the job. When you walk him around on a long rein outside the arena he is very relaxed, but when he comes into the arena he becomes quite ambitious and you have to ride him carefully because he can become excited. He is my horse of a lifetime - I have been on the German squad seven times (since 1993), and six of those occasions was with him, he said.

"We are World and Olympic Champions but somehow the European title has evaded us over the last few years," said Ostholt, noting that Germany's last European team gold medal was, astonishingly, as far back as Kiev (USSR) in 1973. "We hope to put that right this weekend!"

William Fox-Pitt, second to go for Great Britain, interrupted German domination with a beautiful test on the long-legged French-bred chestnut Idalgo, who was produced by Nicolas Touzaint.

"If Idalgo was a human, he would be a troublesome child," Fox-Pitt said. "His dressage was much better than at Badminton (where he was 2nd) and to be just 2 points behind Air Jordan feels like a miracle."

And British individual Lucy Wiegersma lies in equal 4th place on Woodfalls Inigo Jones, a rising star who was 5th at the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event in April. "He was very suspicious of the arena and seemed to think there was a ghost hiding behind every flowerpot," said Wiegersma. "It was a big step up for him and I'm thrilled, because I think there is a lot more to come."

Germany should consolidate their lead tomorrow, when Ingrid Klimke and Andreas Dibowski perform their tests, and Britain has Olympic bronze medallist Kristina Cook and dual 4* winner Oliver Townend to come, while great excitement will surround the team debut of Italian rider Roberto Rotatori following his brilliant 4th place at on his 4* debut at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials in May.

However, all riders acknowledge that Pierre Michelet's cross-country course could completely change the order. "It is a real championship course," said Frank Ostholt. "There's a lot to jump, it's very technical and you need to remain very focused."

Fox-Pitt reckoned there were difficult fences throughout the course, "and places to make a mistake. It's a track which requires forward riding. I'm not sure that the turning will suit Idalgo, and I will have to help him, but he jumped around Les Etoiles de Pau last year beautifully, so that has given me confidence about Monsieur Michelet's courses."

The stats

65 riders have started the competition from 18 nations, with 8 nations forming teams

The ground jury is Michel Asseray (FRA), David Lee (IRL) and Anne Mette Binder (DEN)

Technical delegate is Tom Ryckewaert (BEL)