All horses passed the first veterinary inspection on Monday ahead of today’s opening competition in the PSI FEI European Jumping Championships at Herning in Denmark.
Both Olympic champion, Steve Guerdat, and Dutch star Jeroen Dubbeldam had to endure a tense wait when their horses were amongst the few sent to the holding box for re-examination.
Guerdat’s London 2012 Olympic gold medal winning ride, Nino des Buissonnets, and Dubbeldam’s mare Utascha SFN each got the green light from the veterinary commission led by Hans Schougaard on re-inspection. A total of 92 athletes from 22 countries will contest the Jumping medals at this week’s ECCO FEI European Championships which, for the first time, bring together the three disciplines of Jumping, Dressage and Para-Dressage.
As usual some of the jumping horses were on springs, and the Italians had extra encouragement from an enthusiastic terrier who accompanied them as they trotted up in front of the veterinary panel. It was a cool and windy afternoon, and Norway’s Victoria Gulliksen found herself being towed by her chestnut gelding, Urval, while Switzerland’s Janika Sprunger also had some difficulty pulling up a very fresh Palloubet d’Halong. Some of the mares were in particularly sharp form, and a very bossy Gotha FRH proved more than a handful for Sweden’s Henrik von Eckermann, but she passed the inspection with flying colours and, no doubt, her rider will be back in charge today.
Fellow-Swede and defending Individual champion, Rolf-Goran Bengtsson, was his usual cool self, and his bay stallion Casall Ask powered his way to approval. As the first-ever Swedish winner of the European title when coming out on top in Madrid, Spain two years ago he has the weight of expectation sitting on his shoulders as the action gets under way this week.
He said he’s put a lot of thought into getting the balance right for his 14-year-old stallion in the lead-up to the event. “It’s important not to do too little, and not to do too much – we finished our plan three weeks ago and he is feeling really good,” Bengtsson said.
Germany defends the team title, and despite the fact that the squad has undergone several late changes they have such strength in depth that they are still likely to be the ones to beat. The withdrawal of Philipp Weishaupt and Monte Bellini brought Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum and Bella Donna into the side but the American-born German rider suffered a back injury while competing in the Grand Prix at Dublin Horse Show last week so Marcus Ehning and Plot Blue have been called in to replace them. German riders will be chasing their eighth team gold in the 54-year history of the FEI European Jumping Championships.
Sweden’s Patrik Kittel withdrew his top ride, Watermill Scandic, from the Blue Hors FEI European Dressage Championship on Monday due to injury. The horse on whom he won bronze in Rotterdam two years ago was exercised happily in the morning but was later found to be unsound in his right foreleg. Following an ultra-sound scan it was decided the stallion should not compete and as a result. Toy Story is travelling by road to replace him.
It is a big blow to the Swedish side, but Chef d’Equipe, Bo Jena, said: “I immediately thought about Toy Story as our reserve and the decision was taken to transport him from Germany as soon as possible.” The horse is expected to arrive in good time for the First Horse Inspection at 9.30am on Tuesday. “Patrick took the situation professionally,” Jena said. “These things happen with horses, there is never any guarantee but now he needs to rethink his strategy on how to work with Toy Story,” he added.
Today also brings the First Horse Inspection for the JYSK FEI European Para-Dressage Championship. While the Jumping and Dressage action will be played out in the 10,000-seater MCH Arena, which is normally home to Danish Superleague soccer team FC Midtjylland, the Para-Dressage competitors will compete in the nearby JYSK Arena.
Danish Para-Dressage star Stinne Kaastrup was the centre of attention on Monday, and the 18-year-old who took team and individual silver along with Freestyle gold in Grade 1b at the 2011 Europeans in Moorsele, Belgium, talked about her prospects with her new horse, Steffi Graf. She lost her brilliant little New Forest pony, Labbenhus Snovs, last summer and struggled with a replacement horse that was 1.60cm tall.
But her new ride, Steffi Graf, is “about 157cm and she’s lovely because she just wants to please me,” Kaastrup explained.
“When I ride her I get the same feeling that I had with Snovs. She’s not the most flashy but she has a good walk and she really wants to learn.” Kaastrup knows that after just four months together there may be some unrealistic expectations of what they can achieve this week. “But I don’t feel under pressure, I feel people will take that into account. We’ll do what we can do for now, and that will be good enough,” she said.
The Para-Dressage First Horse Inspection will take place today at 13.00 while the opening Speed leg of the PSI FEI European Jumping Championship gets the real business under way at 16.45 local time.