Gold for Ingrid Klimke and Team GB – European Eventing Championship 2017
European Eventing Championship 2017. Top sport, great venue, beautiful horses, friendly people. But it went up and down in Poland. The hilly terrain in rural Strzegom mercilessly separated the wheat from the chaff. Extreme heights and deepest depths of riding experience in very fast succession for the team of the German eventing riders.
The countdown is on. Horse and rider are still walking quietly around the starting box. The start and finish of the cross-country course are lined by stubble fields gently arching towards the horizon. It rained last night. The morning of the cross-country day of the European Eventing Championship 2017 is slightly cloudy. Now the rider enters the starting box with her horse – concentrated facial expression, determined gaze. 3-2-1 Go.
First obstacle taken effortlessly, then a phase of gallopping, but already at the second jump the horse seems distracted by the surroundings. The rider reminds with the whip at the shoulder to keep the horse focused. The next fences. Hesitant arrival at the first one. The horse cannot jump the second fence. The first refusal. It is Bettina Hoy and Seigneur Medicott, who are far in the lead after a record breaking dressage test. But now with the refusal they have collected 20 points in this difficult fence combination. The rain at night made the ground a bit slippery. And so slippery the game goes on for the reigning German champions. On this day horse and rider do not really seem to agree.
Bettina Hoy and the Westphalian Seigneur Medicott presented a completely different picture two days earlier in the dressage: He danced, she smiled. Her performance was as brilliant as the many small glittering glass crystals on the rider’s helmet. The audience was very quiet. If a pin had fallen in the arena that day, it would have been heard. Some spectators smiled like the rider, some had tears of emotion in their eyes. For many of the riders starting here, dressage means a great effort. Most of them prefer to fly through the cross-country course. But Bettina Hoy and Seigneur Medicott made it look so easy, in absolute harmony. The last meters on the final line – gallopping. A perfect halt. World record.
For minutes Bettina Hoy embraced her horse before she left the arena waving happily. “A big thank you to my horse. It’s such a pleasure to ride Seigneur Medicott.” The spectators had just seen one of the most perfect dressage test in eventing history. The applause that accompanied the rider and the graceful Westphalian when leaving the arena was correspondingly great. Early on, Bettina Hoy was the second German rider after Julia Krajewski with Samourai du Thot. The record result of 24.6 could even not be beaten by the following German competitors, Ingrid Klimke and Michael Jung. But it was also their scores contributing to bring the German team into the lead after dressage and on top of that: a new team world record in modern eventing. Formerly known as Military, today the sport is internationally known as Eventing. It is the triathlon of equestrian sports. An eventing competition consists of the disciplines dressage, cross-country course and the final jumping over colourful poles. On the last day, the riders have to show their horses at the horse inspection, while judges and veterinarians check whether the animal partner is sound. All horses who have successfully passed the constitutional test are then allowed to compete in jumping.
Always stay on track
At the European Eventing Championship in Poland, the cross-country course of the German course designer Rüdiger Schwarz proved to be the element that should anticipate the decision between victory and defeat. Bettina Hoy before the XC day: “You really have to ride very accurately and always keep your line”. The riders described the 5.7 km long course as very challenging, with many serious questions, but fair. “A very serious course, this will not be a dressage competition. That’s for sure”, explained Oliver Townend. The leaderboard has been shaken up completley after this day of cross-country riding. For Bettina Hoy and Seigneur Medicott the journey over the hills of Strzegom ended very soon. After a few other dangerous situations the pair finally fell over the obstacle with the number 10. Bitter for the German rider. Luckily she and her horse remained unhurt.
Bettina Hoy, active at the European Championships in Poland in a double function as a team rider for Germany and as a trainer for the Netherlands, can look back on a riding career with the greatest successes, but also with hard strokes. Already in 1984 she won bronze at the Olympic Games with the team. She became European Champion in Burghley, England. In 2004 she appeared to play the tragic part at the Olympic Games in Athens, when she was deprived of individual gold and German team gold due to a formal mistake. The rider had unintentionally crossed the starting line twice before the start. The following year her horse Woodsides Ashby collapsed during the cross-country ride. He died of an aortic rupture. In 2008 she was denied the Olympic Games due to Ringwood Cockatoo being injured. The German team in Hong Kong, without Bettina Hoy’s participation, could retrieve double gold after the disgrace of Athens. And so quickly the dream of winning a gold medal again came up the day before, it was all over now. For the German team defending the title, Bettina Hoy’s elimination meant the loss of the leading position. Julia Krajewski’s score, which was burdened with 20 faults after her cross-country ride, could no longer be used as a strike result. The lead was literally slipping out of the hands of the defending champions. Germany won the European Championships three times in a row under the direction of the successful trainer team of Hans Melzer and Chris Bartle. The Englishman Bartle now has been training the eventing riders of Great Britain since the beginning of the year. In contrast to other nations, for example the French, who are also considered favourites before the XC-day, the British team showed almost perfect cross-country rides during the competition.
Ingrid Klimke knows it only too well. The loss of the favourite position. At the European Eventing Championship 2011 in Luhmühlen she was the clear favourite until the final jumping phase, when her horse Butts Abraxxas knocked down almost every pole. This May, she was initially in the leading position with Hale Bob at the eventing classic in Badminton, but the pair could not stand the pressure when jumping in the arena and slipped to ninth place on the final day. At this European Eventing Championship in Strzegom this should not happen to her again. In addition to defending the team’s title, Ingrid Klimke focused on winning the first individual gold medal of her riding career from the very beginning of the competition.
We had so much fun
And it went well, even very well. The sun laughed over Strzegom while Ingrid Klimke and Hale Bob jumped one fence after another – effortless. It looked like that horse and rider just having a lot of fun. The spectators could see it in the faces of both of them. “I was under a lot of pressure, but Bobby was so self-confident that I couldn’t help but smile,” said Ingrid Klimke. “We had so much fun.” The gelding galloped powerfully over the demanding course with a lot of difficult questions. As one of the last starters, Michael Jung and Rocana were on their way at a high speed and mastered all the difficulties with inimitable accuracy that the course designer had put in their way. Michael Jung crossed the finish line flawlessly and with the best time score. Nevertheless it was not enough to pass Ingrid Klimke.
At the end of the day the Germans passed the lead to the British team, Sweden made it to third place. The French team was passed down. It was even worse for the hosts – the Polish team, whose riders had to find themselves in the lower regions of the ranking anyway. But it was all worse. The horse Bob the Builder fell at a seemingly unspectacular obstacle in the stadium and had to put to sleep later. As the leading veterinarian announced after examining the gelding and viewing video footage, the horse of the young Polish rider Michal Knap fell before it touched the pole. He was immediately taken to an animal clinic for emergency care. The young rider, visibly devastated, was able to leave the stadium on his own feet. He remained physically unharmed. In the evening the sad certainty appeared that the horse could not be helped. The demolition of its leg was too complicated. The World Equestrian Federation FEI opens an investigation in such cases. Later during the autopsy, the horse’s bone density is also to be measured in order to detect the causes of a suspected fatigue fracture. The suspect communicated by the competition’s veterinarian was confirmed. The fatal horse accident overshadowed the otherwise so successful event in the small Lower Silesian community.
Sunday, 20 August 2017. The last day of the European Eventing Championships. Once again the remaining athletes in the competition had to set the focus on showing the best possible performance. The long-awaited first individual gold medal has come within reach: Ingrid Klimke and Hale Bob will start after dressage and cross-country as leaders of the individual classification ahead of Michael Jung and Rocana. And Hale Bob did his job very well. Ingrid Klimke puts Michael Jung – the “dominator” of eventing in second place. Michael Jung does not become European Champion for the fourth time in a row. Team Germany reached the silver podium. After Bettina Hoy’s elimination, it wasn’t enough to defend the title. It is the British team and their new coach Chris Bartle who had consistently shown solid performances in the last few days and who had been able to master the selective cross-country course of Strzegom. Sweden, is pleased to receive the bronze medal after an emotional ceremony for the European Champions.
Simply carry on
She’s been this close so many times. “You just have to keep going and after 20 years it will happen! I always want to be a team player, but that was my dream.” The 49 year old proved mental strength during the whole competition. Ingrid Klimke has now fulfilled her dream of an individual title. Hale Bob can do an excellent dressage, in the cross-country course the fast brown gelding always proves to be a reliable partner. Ingrid Klimke knows that the gelding can also jump accurately and high. Self-confident and with fun at work, she was able to enjoy every phase of the competition for winning the European title while remaining completely focused.
Time to set off. Bettina Hoy also takes her horse home on the truck and has her sights set on the next big goal. Next year the World Championships will take place in the United States. Knocking-off the dust on the trousers, back into the saddle. The next fence will be jumped.
Addendum: Since in Julia Krajewski’s Samourai du Thot it was found a substance that was classified as Prohibited Medication, the ranking has changed. After the German team lost the silver medal, the Swedish team is on silver rank and the bronze medal belongs to Italy.
The European Eventing Championship 2017 in Poland:
All images: (c) Simone Fust