Belgians score first win in Nations Cup at Rome

Belgian team member Niels Bruynseels and  Pommeau du Heup.
Belgian team member Niels Bruynseels and Pommeau du Heup. © Stefano Secchi / FEI

The city of Rome has witnessed many historic moments, and Saturday was another as a Belgian team consisting of a veteran and three super-talented young riders broke the mould to win the latest Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup Jumping qualifier.

Belgium had never before headed the Nations Cup line-up at Piazza di Siena during the 82-year history of this great horse show, so it was a proud moment for the side led by Chef d’Equipe Kurt Gravemeier, and for the most senior member of the side, 50-year-old Ludo Philippaerts who experienced a disastrous second round but watched his 20-year-old son, Nicola, clinch it for his country.

The Italian fixture is celebrating its 82nd anniversary this year and is dedicated to two great legends of the sport, brothers Piero and Raimondo d’Inzeo, who both passed away within the last year. From this year forward, CSIO Rome at Piazza di Siena will be carry the sub-title The D’Inzeo Brothers’ Masters.

Belgium's Constant van Paeschen and Citizenguard Toscan de Sainte.
Belgium’s Constant van Paeschen and Citizenguard Toscan de Sainte. © Stefano Secchi / FEI

And it was a day that Constant van Paesschen will never forget, as he celebrated his Nations Cup debut by joining team-mate Niels Bruynseels to produce one of four double-clear rounds, in the the third leg of the Europe Division 1 series.

As Ludo Philippaerts explained, Belgian expectations were not too high before the competition began. “When I saw the startlist I thought it was going to be a very difficult day for us – a great German and Dutch team, the best of the English and we are bringing three  very young riders, some of them for their very first Nations Cup!”

But they flew their country’s flag with all the passion that makes this sport so popular around the globe, pinning a strong team from The Netherlands into second place by a one-fault margin while Germany had to settle for third.  

The British looked like the hottest ticket in town with the two leading riders on the Longines rankings, Scott Brash and Ben Maher, each competing their top horses and joined by Michael Whitaker and the recently on-form Joe Clee. But Clee had a very difficult day and it fell apart for them in the second round to leave them in fourth place. Last year’s Rome winners from Ukraine finished fifth while there was a shock result for France when slotting into sixth. Their chances disappeared in the opening round, and there was simply no way back.  Qatar slotted into seventh spot while the host nation of Italy finished last of the eight competing nations.

Any course created by Italian course designer Uliano Vezzani is to be respected, and the expression on the faces on the riders after the course walk already told a story. Vezzani has a unique ability to keep it simple, yet to test the best and come out with the right result, and he stretched them over enormous oxers and then asked them to be balanced and in control at massive uprights.

“It’s a brilliant track,” said London 2013 Olympic team gold medallist Peter Charles who would watch the competition from the sidelines. “Uliano has built it big but it’s a really fair course because the size of the arena gives them plenty of room to get themselves right for the fences. They just have to jump them!” 

In the end it was all down to Ludo’s son Nicola, and he went into the ring for the last time with a fence in hand.  When the vertical after the triple combination hit the floor you could hear a pin drop as he rode the rest of the track, rattling the oxer at fence 10 but leaving it up and clearing the final two fences to clinch it.

Ludo was rightly proud of his 20-year-old son. “I thought of the Nations Cup in Aachen (GER) last year where we could have won. I was last into the ring that day and I had one down so we finished second, but I thought today – my son can do it!  Even when he had that fence down he held on and he rode so well!” he said.

It seemed to be the start of a whole new era for Belgian jumping.  The maturity shown by 30-year-old Niels Bruynseels and the 20-year-olds Constant Van Paesschen and Nicola Philippaerts certainly seem to augur well for the future.  They came up against the giants of the sport and defeated them all.

The Belgian team enjoyed their first victory in Rome when winning the third leg of the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup Jumping Europe Division 1 league.  Pictured on the podium are: (L-R) Ludo Philippaerts, Nicola Philippaerts, Niels Bruynseels and Constant van Paesschen. At front, from left, is Belgian Chef d’Equipe Kurt Gravemeier, Dr Adil Nofal, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Ambassador to Italy and Mrs Eleonora di Giuseppe, Coordinator CSIO Rome.
The Belgian team on the podium: (L-R) Ludo Philippaerts, Nicola Philippaerts, Niels Bruynseels and Constant van Paesschen. At front, from left, is Belgian Chef d’Equipe Kurt Gravemeier, Dr Adil Nofal, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Ambassador to Italy and Eleonora di Giuseppe, Coordinator CSIO Rome. © Stefano Secchi / FEI

Chef d’Equipe Kurt Gravemeier said: “I couldn’t have been happier today. Rome is a classic horse show, and this win is extra special because it is the first time for Belgium to win the Nations Cup here. And I can tell you what I’m thinking – Belgium will come back in future years with this young team, and we will win many more times here in Rome!”

When Gravemeier was asked if he would opt for a full team of young riders for the forthcoming Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Normandy this summer, he replied: “I’m not saying we won’t be sending older riders but we have a lot of great young riders in Belgium right now.  t the European Championships last year we had Jos Verlooy and he rode at La Baule last week with eight faults and a clear. He is also just 20 years old.  I hope we have enough horses because it we do, then in Belgium we can look forward to a fantastic future!”

The result leaves Belgium still holding second place on the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup Jumping Europe Division 1 leaderboard behind the defending champions from France.  But that is only because the winners were not chasing points at the event.  They still have two more point-gathering opportunities, the first at St Gallen in Switzerland next Friday and then at Hickstead in Great Britain at the end of July.  The French have only one more chance to forge further ahead, at Rotterdam (NED) in June.  It is still wide open for the qualifying places from this league for the much-anticipated final in October.


1.    Belgium 8 faults: Challenge V. Beginakker (Ludo Philippaerts) 4/24, Pommeau du Heup (Niels Bruynseels) 0/0, Citizenguard Toscan de Sainte (Constant van Paesschen) 0/0, Forever D Arco Ter Linden (Nicola Philippaerts) 4/4.

2.    Netherlands 9 faults: Zenith SFN (Jeroen Dubbeldam) 4/0, VDL Groep Verdi Nop (Maikel van der Vleuten) 4/0, VDL Bubalu (Jur Vrieling) 1/9, Glock’s London (Gerco Schroder) 0/4.

3.    Germany 12 faults: Fyloe V. Claessenhof (Daniel Deusser) 4/16, Liberty Son (Marco Kutscher) 0/4, Embassy ll (Hans-Dieter Dreher) 4/4, Chiara (Ludger Beerbaum) 0/0.

4.    Great Britain 20 faults: Cella (Ben Maher) 0/4, Diablesse de Muze (Joe Clee) 20/17, Viking (Michael Whitaker) 0/8, Hello Sanctos (Scott Brash) 0/8.

5.    Ukraine 23 faults: Vivant (Cassio Rivetti) 4/8, Light on Old (Ulrich Kirchhoff) 13/6, Chadino (Ferenc Szentirmai) 8/0, Charlie (Katharina Offel) 5/0.

6.    France 25 faults: Flora de Mariposa (Penelope Leprevost) 0/0, For Joy van’T Zorgvliet HDC (Kevin Staut) 12/4, Qlassic Bois Margot (Simon Delestre) 9/4, Orient Express HDC (Patrice Delaveau) 8/12.

7.    Qatar 26 faults: Come Soon (Faleh Suwead Al Ajami) 8/4, Vienna Olympic (Ali Bin Khalid Al Thani) 4/8, Castiglione L (Mubarak Yousuf A Al Rumaihi) 8/4, Primeval Dejavu (Bassem Hassan Mohammed) 1/5.

8.    Italy 36 faults: Elky van het Indihof (Lorenzo de Luca) 8/8, Banca Popolare Bari Cassandra (Francesco Franco) 11/Ret, Loro Piana Canada (Filippo Moyersoen) 8/0, Cocoshynsky (Emanuele Gaudiano) 8/4.

Standings in Europe Division 1 series after Round 3:
1.    France        –    245.00
2.    Belgium        –    165.00
3.    Switzerland        –    150.00
4.    Spain            –    112.50
5.    Netherlands        –      90.00
6.    Germany        –      80.00
7.    Ireland        –      75.00
8.    Great Britain    –      70.00
9.    Ukraine        –      60.00
10.    Sweden        –      50.00

Louise Parkes

Louise Parkes is an equestrian journalist based in Ireland. She has covered international equestrian sport for the last 16 years on behalf of the FEI and is a familiar face at all major events. » Read Louise's profile

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