The small village of Kreuth is any horse person’s dream – a complete village based entirely around equestrian sport.
The venue is well established and has hosted Endurance, Eventing, Reining and Dressage International competitions, but this is the first time an FEI Championship has been hosted in Kreuth. The site, comprised of various arenas, cross country courses, a hotel and large airy barn for stabling, is nestled in the Bavarian countryside approximately two hours south of Munich (GER) on the south east edge of the Taubenbach Forest. It is a perfect venue for Endurance, with extensive vet-gate space, a flat grass trot-up area and ample parking for crew vehicles. The route is principally made up of gravel forest tracks.
Sixteen nations were entered for the FEI Open European Junior and Young Rider Championships with a total of 51 horse/rider combinations. Unfortunately three horses failed the pre-ride vetting, one horse each from Italy, Portugal and Hungary. The biggest impact of these vet-outs was for Hungary who had only brought three horses. The loss of their third horse would mean they would no longer be able to challenge for a team position and would now only field two individual riders. The usual European nations were out in force, although some with fewer riders than normal. Teams were entered from Belgium, the Czech Republic, Spain, Germany, Italy and Portugal. As this was an Open Championships there were some entries from further afield, namely Argentina, the United Arab Emirates and the USA, although none of these nations sent a team.
The Championship comprised of three loops; Yellow (40km), Red (30km) and Blue (20km) all with one central vet-gate. The Yellow loop was ridden first, followed by the Red (ridden twice) and then finally the Blue. The first riders into Vet-Gate 1 certainly lived up to initial expectations of a competitive ride, with the first seven riders coming in at more than 19kph. The sole entry from the UAE, Ahmed Ali al Sabri was holding first place with his mount Alizee de Marjolaine averaging 20.2kph with a two-minute lead over second place Miguel Borger Caeiro (POR). At this stage the French looked very strong,with all of their riders through the first vet-gate, five of which were in the top 12. Likewise Germany looked competitive holding fourth, fifth and sixth places, although their other riders were a long way down the list. It seemed that Belgium would do well with a good team tactic, all six of their riders competing together, occupying places 14th through to 19th. Following Italy’s loss of one rider prior to the start they were to lose another two riders at Vet -Gate1, shattering their hopes of a team placing. Austria’s team hopes also faded here when they lost one of their three riders.
With the arrival of the riders into the second vet gate came the arrival of rain and cooler temperatures. The front runners continued at a good speed, with the UAE still holding first position averaging 19.23kph. Sole British entry Beth Langley and her pony HS Ametista put in the fastest second loop at 19.6kph bumping her up into fourth position. Langley is experienced on the International scene and finished 13th in the World Championships in Balbona (HUN) last year. For Lea Vogler (FRA), now lying third, this ride was her debut at Championship level.
Al Sabri (UAE) was still in first position at the third vet-gate, but his lead slipped to just four seconds ahead of Lucie Marin (FRA) with her mount Lamiah el Oued. This experienced pair already have one gold medal under their belt (Gold in CH-Open-EU-JY-E in Oviedo, ESP in 2008), and they also just narrowly missed out on a podium position in the CH-M-JY-E in Babolna (HUN) last year. Belgium's Selena De Wasseige riding Kalah Grey (Silver, Oviedo, 2008), held third position at Vet-Gate 3. On the team front, France continued to dominate with four riders in the top six. Langley (GBR) and Borger Caeiro (POR) dropped to sixth and seventh respectively, but the competition was still tight with just three minutes between the top eight. With just 20km to go, it would take a steady nerve and competent rider to take this title.
Keeping true to form, the first horse to cross the line was Alizee de Marjolaine with rider Ahmed Ali al Sabri (UAE). This pair really pushed on the last loop and came in 40 seconds ahead of a racing finish for second place between two French riders. Following a very fast final loop speed of over 27kph this pair raced over the line with Championship debutant Laetitia Pegaz (Kouleur du Parc) just beating her very experienced compatriot Lisa Riou (Favela) who, incidently, is also long listed to represent France in the forthcoming Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. Fourth place was taken by Belgian rider Selena de Wasseige (Kalah Grey), just over a minute behind, and a further four minutes later came fifth placed Beth Langley (HS Ametista) from Great Britain.
France led the Team ranking from start to finish, not too much of a surprise with their consistently impressive performances on both the Junior/Young Rider and Senior International circuits, under the guidance of their inspirational Chef d’Equipe Jean-Louis Leclerc. Team Silver went to Belgium with Spain completing the podium in third position. All horses crossing the finish line successfully passed the vet with a high overall completion rate of over 60%.