Britain's golden girl seals European eventing champs

September 28, 2009

Kristina Cook, long renowned as one of the world's best horsewomen, at last won the major international title that has eluded her thus far in her career when she headed an all-conquering British team at the HSBC FEI European Eventing Championship in Fontainebleau in France at the weekend.

She has also set a new record, as the first mother to win an individual gold medal, and she now has the full set of individual European medals, having won silver in 1993 and bronze in 1997.

Team Great Britain, 2009 European Eventing Champions. From left to right: Oliver Townend, Nicola Wilson, individual gold medallist Kristina Cook, and William Fox-Pitt. © Kit Houghton/FEI
Britain easily won their 8th successive European team gold - their 21st since the European Championships started in 1953 - a task eased by the demise across country of the German team and also that of the French, whose silver medal evaporated when their cross-country hero Jean Teulere had to withdraw Espoir de la Mare before the final horse inspection.

Instead, Britain beat Italy, who were collecting their first silver medal, by a massive 93.2 penalties, and Belgium, who, in this extraordinary competition, were another 64.4 penalties behind them.

Piggy French, a last-minute substitute to the British squad after Mary King had to pull out, excelled herself in her first senior championship, producing one of only two clear Jumping rounds, to win the silver. Michael Jung, also making his senior team debut, salvaged German pride with individual bronze.

Nicolas Touzaint (FRA) had warned that Fontainbleau's jumping course is a major test, and so it proved. For a start, the arena is huge, and the sides were packed with excited crowds, but it is also unusual in that it is split level, with a sloping ramp dividing the arena in half laterally.

Riders were incurring cricket scores - such as Italian team member Stefano Brecciaroli who picked up 29 penalties on Oroton - and it wasn't until Ireland's Michael Ryan and Poland's Pawel Spisak produced 4-fault rounds that anyone began to believe that a reasonable round was possible, and at last the first clear came, from Swedish individual Malin Larsson on Piccadilly Z, who finished eventual 12th.

France's individual hopes lay with Didier Dhennin, a veteran of the last two Europeans with Ismene Du Temple, but he hit two rails to remain in 5th place.

Piggy French's clear put the pressure on William Fox-Pitt, who had been lying in individual bronze position on the French-bred Idalgo, a beautiful horse to watch but not the easiest to ride, and when he hit a fence, dropping to 4th, the pressure was off Michael Jung, who had been lying in silver.

He then faulted, slipping behind French, and obligingly giving Cook a 2-fence lead. A masterful horsewoman of the highest calibre, she had Miners Frolic beautifully balanced and only hit one fence, but the time was clocking up dangerously and she was shocked to look up at the leaderboard and see she had incurred a nerve-racking 4 time penalties, giving her a winning margin of just 0.3.

"It's one of the greatest days of my life and I can't believe it," Cook said. "But I also didn't realise that I was going so slowly, but fortunately I have a great partnership with my horse who tries so hard to leave the fences up."

British team manager Yogi Breisner said that last year the team was "perhaps lucky" to win the bronze. "This time we deserved to win the gold, and I am so proud of the British riders. And Piggy, she is something special. Show jumping is not that horse's best phase and she did a great job. It's fantastic to have done so incredibly well in such a tough competition."

Britain's invividual rider, Lucy Wiegersma, was 13th on Inigo Jones.

Silver medal winner Piggy French riding Some Day Soon. © Kit Houghton/FEI
The stats

3 horses withdrawn before the final horse inspection: Expo de Moulin, ridden by Arnaud Boiteau (FRA) and Espoir de la Mare (Jean Teulere, FRA) and Our Vintage (Constantin Van Rijckevorsel, BEL)

1 horse failed the final horse inspection, Flint Curtis, ridden by Oliver Townend (GBR)

44 horses started and finished the Jumping

4 teams completed

16 nations completed

Sanna Siltakorpi (FIN), 20, was the youngest rider, finishing 20th on Lucky Accord

Only 2 clear rounds

Italy have won two European bronze medals before, in 2001 and 2007

Belgium have won 2 bronze medals before, in 1999 and 2003

Britain has now won 18 individual European team gold medals

The winners

Gold: Kristina Cook (GBR), 39, has won medals at all levels for Great Britain, including at Junior and Young Rider level and has been a stalwart of the senior squad for 16 years. She made her senior squad debut in 1993, winning individual European silver on Song And Dance Man followed individual bronze in 1997 on General Jock. She has won World team gold in 1994 on General Jock, plus European team gold in 1995 (Midnight Blue) and 1999 (The Gangster) and finally made it onto an Olympic team last year, winning team and individual bronze medals on Miners Frolic. Kristina's father, Josh Gifford, is a champion racehorse trainer and her mother, Althea Roger-Smith, is a former show jumper. Kristina lives in Findon, West Sussex, with her husband, Philip, and two children, Isobel and Harry.

Miners Frolic is an 11-year-old thoroughbred by Miners Lamp, bred by Maurice Pinto and owned by Sarah Pelham and Nick Embiricos. The horse was sent to Kristina to sell as a four-year-old and was 6th at the third leg of the HSBC FEI Classics at Luhmuhlen this year.

Silver: Piggy French (real name Georgina) (GBR), 29, was national under-25 champion in 2000 and a Young Rider European team gold medallist in 2001. This is her debut on the senior squad. She lives in Leicestershire.

Some Day Soon is a 14-year-old bay gelding, an Irish Sport Horse by Kiltealy Spring, owned by Wally French, S Crane and J and M Midgley. He was 3rd at Bramham CCI**** (GBR) this year.

Bronze: Michael Jung, 27, has had an extraordinary season. He won the third leg of the HSBC FEI Classics at Luhmuhlen in June on his 4* debut and then, in August, the HSBC World Cup Eventing Final at Strzegom, Poland. He was Young Rider European Champion in 2003 and this is his senior team debut. Michael's family runs a riding school near Stuttgart in southern Germany.

La Biosthetique Sam, a nine-year-old by Stan The Man (same sire as the 2004 Olympic champion Shear L'Eau) out of a Heraldik mare, is owned with Sabine Kreuter and has won at all levels, including at Compiegne (FRA) CCI** in April.