Competition at its finest was the best way to describe the Spring Event at Tops International Arena, May 7-9 in Valkenswaard, The Netherlands.

Speed and handiness were the main ingredients of Saturday’s competitions. The main class, the 4* 1.50/1.55m against the clock, was won by top Belgian rider Jos Verlooy with the 12-year-old BWP mare Jacobien Dwerse Hagen. The 25-year-old from Grobbendonk was happy with the performance of Jacobien, “I am very happy, my horse did a great job. I had a plan and it went like I wanted.” He does admit that he was nervous when Marcus Ehning came into the ring. “You always get nervous when Marcus comes into the ring when you are leading. He came close, but today I was better,” he said afterwards. “My horse is naturally very fast and I think I gained time on the vertical towards the double, but I rode a good pace everywhere.”

German Marcus Ehning was second with Calanda and young Bryan Balsiger finished in third place with Dubai du Bois Pinchet for Switzerland.

Jeroen Dubbeldam and his Forever SFN rode a fluent, beautiful and clear round and then immediately after that a fast barrage ride in the 4* 1.45 m class. Jeroen took some risks here and there but they all worked out well. “Yesterday was more or less a warm-up with a very friendly-built course. Today it was a bit harder and more demanding and it was a ranking test. My horse felt very good, just like yesterday. I had seen Willem Greve riding and he took the lead. That put me on edge! My horse gave me a fantastic feeling and he cooperated very well.”

Jeroen likes the new format of a jump-off after a clear first round: “I must say I like it. All the adrenaline is still there from the first round. I would almost say that it is easier this way than a jump-off in the first round. You have to warm up the horses again then. I think it’s a good format and it’s better for the horses.”

Willem Greve and Highway M TN had to settle for second place and American Lucas Porter came third with Hope Street.

The highlight of the first Spring Event, the CSI4* Grand Prix, was held on Sunday afternoon and was a wonderful conclusion to a great weekend.

In the first round, 11 combinations managed to qualify for the jump-off., but it was Ben Maher (GBR) who rode a superb round with the KWPN mare Ginger Blue and crossed the finish line the fastest. The Swiss rider Bryan Balsiger was second riding AK’s Courage; Maikel van der Vleuten (NED) finished third with Beauville Z ‒ a great result considering it was Beauville’s first competition after a period of rest.

Maher was happy with his victory. “There was quite a big and rather tricky course with difficult distances. I often had to make an extra stride. Ginger Blue is very careful. She gave me a very good feeling in the first round and that gave me confidence for the jump-off. I did what I could and Ginger Blue is by nature a very fast horse. Everything went as it should. This is a nice boost for the coming season. It’s good to be back in Europe after spending a lot of time in America and great to be back in Valkenswaard. In the past, it hasn’t been the luckiest of places for me. Here on this new amazing grass arena, maybe things are changing for me.”

Belgian Wilm Vermeir became the winner of the 4* Table A direct on time with the nine-year-old KWPN mare Hotshot. He beat the 2017 European Champion, Peder Fredricson (SWE) who had saddled Thelma Hastak for this competition. Third place was for Dutchman Kevin Johcems with Egwel.

Julia Tops represented Canada with a number of horses in the 1* and 2* divisions including Glacier ZF (4th 1* 1.15m, 5th 1* 1.15m, 8th 1*1.10m) and Daham (8th 2* 1.35m) and India Blue ZF (5th 1* Grand Prix 1.35m).

In this Valkenswaard event, Canada’s Lexi Ray rode a pair of horses in the 1.40/1.45 divisions ‒ the BWP gelding Lukaku vd Bisshop, and Evita, a 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare previously owned/ridden by Thaisa Erwin (AUS) that she purchased in 2020.

The next event on the calendar at Tops International Arena is the exciting fourth leg of the LGCT and GCL Championships from 4-6 June.

Complete results here.

~ with files from Tops International Arena