Andy Kistler’s Swiss side produced a superb performance to win the sixth leg of the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping 2016 Europe Division 1 League at Falsterbo (SWE) last Friday.
Tied for the lead with the host nation and Brazil at the halfway stage, the winners were simply faultless while Sweden lined up second ahead of Brazil, Great Britain and The Netherlands in joint-third place. Ireland and Germany shared sixth spot while Czech Republic lined up last of the eight competing nations, and the latter now look set for relegation to Europe Division 2 at the end of the current season.
It was a fascinating competition, with 17 clears in the first round over the track created by Guilherme Jorge. “The horses jumped beautifully. Actually, there were so many clears in the first round that we had to make some adjustments for the second round and we could tell that the second round was a lot more challenging. Initially, I didn’t want to build a too-difficult course because the Olympic Games are just around the corner, but the horses were so good! We had a beautiful day of showjumping today and we can thank the horses and riders for it” said the man who will also design the courses for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games which are only a few short weeks away now.
The difference those changes made to the course during the interval between the two rounds turned out to be quite significant. Both the middle element of the Longines triple combination at fence eight and the final oxer were widened by 10 centimetres, but by far the biggest bogey of the day was the oxer at four which fell only once during round one. It was raised and widened for round two however, and, now standing 157cms high and 170cms wide, it put faults on the board for seven horse-and-rider combinations. The delicate 1.60m vertical that followed the wide open water also claimed a number of victims second time out, including three of the four members of the Czech team who finished a long way behind on a final tally of 30 faults.
However as so often happens in the sport of Nations Cup Jumping, there were some dramatic swings of fortune as the competition progressed. The Irish looked seriously compromised by a 13-fault first-round tally. But Robert Splaine’s team rallied brilliantly second time out when producing four perfect clears, and Anthony Condon produced one of the 11 double-clear performances of the day.
It looked like a very even contest as the second round began with the Brazilians, Swiss and Swedes all on a clean sheet. But luck really was not on Sweden’s side today, as pathfinder Malin Baryard-Johnsson looked set for a second clear only to pick up four faults under slightly strange circumstances. Her talented new mare, the 10 year old grey H&M Cue Channa, was cruising around the track once again until a nasty stumble pitched the rider forward on the landing side of the triple bar at fence 10. Only a competitor of her calibre could have made such an immediate recovery to clear the following vertical, but the last fence fell, and when team-mate Henrik von Eckermann’s Yajamila was one of those to hit the oxer at four, then Swedish chances were slipping away.
The Brazilians didn’t make a great start to the second round either when Rodrigo Pessoa’s Citizenguard Cadjanine Z hit fence four and the first element of the following Longines triple combination for eight faults, but Stephan de Freitas Barcha reined it back when producing a second classy clear from Landpeter do Feroleto. There was a lot hanging in the balance for the Brazilian contingent this afternoon as today’s competiion was the final observation trial before selection for the Olympic Games on their home turf and, following an equally impressive outing at the super-tough Europe Division 1 leg in La Baule (FRA) two months ago, 26-year-old de Freitas Barcha could hardly do any more to persuade George Morris and the rest of the Brazilian selectors of his worth to his side.
However when third-line rider, Paul Estermann, completed his second clear of the course the Swiss really piled on the pressure – Janika Sprunger’s fabulous double-clear from the elegant mare Bonne Chance was followed by the same from Werner Muff and Pollendr to guarantee a second-round finishing score that was still on zero. So when Brazil’s Doda de Miranda produced another clear from AD Cornetto K then it was hanging on a knife-edge – if Marlon Zanotelli could post another clear for Brazil then it would come down to a two-way jump-off against the Swiss.
Last man into the ring, the 27-year-old set off with Cash del Mar Z only to fall victim to the bogey oxer at four, and with further mistakes later on the track he decided to retire. It was all done and dusted and his side would have to settle for equal-third with the Dutch and British on a final tally of eight faults, while the Swedes were runners-up on a final total of just four.
Fourth-line Swiss rider, Romain Duguet, had a relatively light day when not required to compete in the first round and retiring after jumping just a few fences second time out. His team-mates had already done all the necessary heavy lifting. “I’m very tried, it’s been a long day for me, waiting and waiting….” he said with a laugh this evening having only popped six fences in round two just to be sure his horse, Quorida de Treho, would be ready if required for a jump-off. “Seriously, my team consists of fantastic riders, they are super!” Duguet added.
Hopes were high
Janika Sprunger admitted that Swiss hopes were high from the outset. “Of course we were hoping for this, but expecting a victory is one thing and making it happen is something else! There were so many good teams but we felt pretty confident today.” And it was a special afternoon for the 29-year-old – “this is my first Nations Cup victory ever, and I’m so happy to make it here in Falsterbo. This show is very special to me!” she said.
It was also a very important day for Paul Estermann, a man who has been at the heart of the Swiss team for a very long time. He has enjoyed tremendous success with the 14-year-old mare Castlefield Eclipse who helped take team bronze at last summer’s FEI European Championships in Aachen (GER) but they had a glitch with an uncharacteristic stop during the Furusiyya leg in Rotterdam (NED) two weeks ago and the 53-year-old rider felt he had something to prove today.
“I’m really happy because I made a big mistake in Rotterdam so it’s nice to come back on form before going to Aachen next week!” he said. “It was completely my fault in Rotterdam, we had a fault at the water, two fences before the line to the triple combination, and I was still thinking about that and I didn’t ride her down to the combination – completely my mistake!” he insisted. He is very much hoping to be in the Olympic selection when it is made. “The Swiss Federation will have a meeting after Falsterbo and again after Aachen. then we will know the five riders who will go to Rio”, Estermann explained.
For Swiss Chef d’Equipe, Andy Kistler, today’s result was the perfect one. “I’m very happy and proud of my team. It’s always nice to be here in Falsterbo. We always feel very welcome by the organising committee and the audience is fantastic. We now have enough points to secure our place in Division 1 for next year and that was one of our main objectives. We can now focus on finalising our preparations for the Olympic Games” he said.