Horses and riders are settling in at the Real Club de Polo in Barcelona, Spain, ahead of this weekend’s inaugural Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup Jumping Final.
It has been an extraordinary year since the Saudi Equestrian Fund gave their backing to the new-format series, which has opened up the sport on a global scale. Nations that previously could only watch from the sidelines are now fully embraced, and this week’s line-up includes countries taking a big step-up in competitive level, but gaining valuable experience, exposure and opportunity like never before.
Real Club de Polo provides the perfect venue for the 18 nations taking part, and the Organising Committee have left no stone unturned in their efforts to ensure athletes, both equine and human, have everything they need.
Riders from Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, France, Great Britain, Ireland, Japan, Netherlands, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, and the USA are taking part.
“The Organising Committee has gone out of its way to ensure the best possible facilities for this event, including changing the footing in the main arena from grass to sand. They have provided optimal conditions for all competitors, and it’s no surprise that they have applied to stage the Furusiyya Final again in 2014,” said FEI Director of Jumping, John Roche.
This is not the first time the Real Club de Polo main arena has been transformed. When the Olympic Games came to Barcelona in 1992 it was the venue for jumping, and the grass was replaced by a sand arena on that occasion, too. It was returned to a grass surface once again after the Games, but with unpredictable weather conditions and the demands of the modern sport, a decision was taken to provide a top-class all-weather ring for this year’s final.
The work began four months ago, and with meticulous attention to detail the end result is impressive. Riders will have the chance to try it out in this evening’s warm-up class, and the expectation is that it will more than meet with their approval.
The horses are already enjoying the Spanish sunshine, with temperatures in the region of 26 degrees, and riders are taking advantage of the all-weather canter-track that surrounds the massive polo field located near the stable area. Despite lying in the very heart of the beautiful Spanish city, the Polo Club grounds are spacious and open, giving horses a sense of freedom they don’t always enjoy as they tour the world plying their trade. There were many top jumping horses enjoying a nice loping canter on the all-weather track today ahead of the bigger questions they will be asked later in the week.
The layout of the entire facility is designed for the horse’s benefit, and CSIO Barcelona is a fixture with a very long tradition. It celebrates its 102nd anniversary this year, and is the oldest international sporting event staged in Spain. It also has a very strong following, so big crowds are expected to fill the stadium seats as the week progresses.
The draw for order-of-go will take place on Thursday night, and the first of the three Final competitions will be held on Friday. Only the top eight teams will go through to Sunday’s finale with the remaining 10 teams competing in Saturday’s Team Consolation competition.
There’s no mistaking the enthusiasm of the world’s leading riders for this new Nations Cup concept which, while still in its infancy, has captured their imagination and ensured their support. Dutchman Jeroen Dubbeldam, individual gold medallist at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia said: “to be honest it feels like a World Championship walking around here today, we have so many of the best riders in the world!”. He said the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup concept is “a fantastic system, a fantastic idea and interesting in so many ways. Like any other sport we can’t stay the same, we have to have these kind of Finals with big money and then everyone begins to talk about it and it grows.”
CSIO 5* Barcelona offers a massive prize-fund of €2.3m, with €2m of that allocated to the Furusiyya FEI Nations CupJumping Final.