Philippe Le Jeune and Vigo d'Arsouilles. © Kit Houghton/FEI
Commentary on Philippe Le Jeune's win
Philippe Le Jeune interview
In the final standings, Le Jeune earned the title of World Champion with zero faults, Saudi Arabia's Abdullah Al Sharbatly took the silver with eight faults and Eric Lamaze of Canada earned bronze with nine faults. Rodrigo Pessoa, the 2004 Olympic Champion, finished fourth with 12 faults.
In the end the quiet horsemanship skills of a man whose life is totally devoted to his horses won the day. It has been said that the best thing you can do on a strange horse is as little as possible, and his ability to allow four of the greatest jumpers in the world to do what they do best, with minimal interference, clinched the supreme accolade.
"I had no difficult moments with any of them," said Le Jeune, 50. "I decided to go their way and not to try and make them go my way, and it paid off. "I wasn't going to try to ride like Eric or Rodrigo. I have my own way of riding, but the other three were blood horses, more blood horses than Vigo."
Le Jeune has ridden in three previous World Equestrian Games and was on the bronze-medal Belgian team in 2002 aboard Nabab de Reve, the sire of Vigo D'Arsouilles. He is the second consecutive world champion from Belgium - Jos Lansink, who rode on the Belgian team here, earned gold four years ago in Aachen (Germany).
Le Jeune said he always takes the time to pat each horse and try to get to know it before he rides it - which is something he did tonight with each of his mounts.
"When I was a young boy, my father taught me to love animals," he said. "I love animals more than people. My life is dedicated to my horses. I have two sons - they are my flesh and my blood - but the rest I dedicate all my life for the horses. I prefer to have fun with the horses at home; competition I really like, but the first thing for me is to get on the horses, feel them and love them."
Talking about his career he said he competed in his first big international show in Rome in 1980 and that he has had "many ups and downs" as horses he produced were sold on for others to ride.
And he talked about his indebtedness to the owner of his gentlemanly stallion Vigo d'Arsouilles who had the opportunity to sell the horse for a lot of money but who kept him for Le Jeune to ride - "I owe a lot to him and his family," Le Jeune said. The Belgian rider is intensely proud that Vigo is a son of the great breeding stallion Nabab de Reve with which the rider won world championship team bronze in Jerez, Spain eight years ago.
In the Final Four, each rider has three minutes to warm up with each horse and can jump two jumps. Each horse was accompanied to the ring by the groom, chef d'equipe and trainer.
In an extraordinary co-incidence, all four horses competing tonight are stabled within a 50-kilometre radius of each other in Belgium, Lamaze's stallion sharing his time between Europe in the summer months and Florida, USA in the winter.
It was Pessoa who was tested first. Abdullah Al Sharbatly's horse Seldana di Campalto was extremely unimpressed by having to remain in the warm-up area while the class was ongoing, and her marish qualities became ever more apparent when she started lashing out as the Brazilian rider's saddle was fitted.
Pessoa was unperturbed, and once aboard, produced a lovely clear to get right back in the game. "She was tense at the beginning but she got better and better every time she jumped," Pessoa said. "She is a mare with a lot of blood and earlier on she didn't understand what was going on.
"I think in the beginning the horses are a little bit surprised," said Pessoa. "They are not used to that - and standing there and all the people and everything."
Al Sharbatly, 28, and Pessoa, 37, picked up faults in the first round on their own mounts. But Al Sharbatly, who had two rails aboard his Seldana Di Campalto, didn't earn a single fault on the other horses. Pessoa picked up 4 faults aboard his HH Rebozo and then another 8 aboard Vigo D'Arsouilles. Lamaze was clear until he added a rail and 1 time fault aboard HH Rebozo and then another rail aboard Seldana Di Campalto.
Al Sharbatly, the youngest competitor in the Rolex Top Four, was the only competitor to start tonight's competition without knocking down a single rail during the competition. He was also by far the least experienced of the group and is proud to have won the Middle East's first medal at a World Equestrian Games.
His three-minute warm-up with Hickstead had the spectators glued to their seats, the Saudi rider apparently struggling with both his steering and the horse's balance. But once in the ring the discord disappeared, and although Hickstead's speed was near full tilt, they arrived home with nothing to add.
"It was a great moment for me and for my country that I win a silver medal, because it's the first time in history that someone from the Middle East can reach the top four in the world championship," he said. "It's a great thing for my country, and I'm so proud and so happy."
Best horse honours tonight went to Canada's Hickstead. The 14-year-old stallion was the only horse to complete the course four times with no faults at all.
"I think we already knew Hickstead was the best horse before today," said Lamaze. "Now these three other riders know it for themselves.
"There is a lot of jumping at the World Championships, and there are so many great horses and riders that did not have the opportunity to be a part of the final four," said Lamaze, 42, who was competing in his fifth consecutive World Equestrian Games. "I am so happy to have come this far and get a medal. I feel very lucky to end up with the bronze."
Despite competing with a broken foot, Lamaze felt it did not hinder him on Saturday night, saying, "I tape it tight to stop it from moving, but it did not effect my performance."