Slick, quick cross-country performances gave France the winning edge in the opening leg of the FEI Eventing Nations Cup™, which took place in the beautiful Italian setting of Montelibretti this week. Five nations came forward but it was France who took a decisive victory over Italy, Switzerland, Spain and Australia. They finished on an overall team score of 122.70 ahead of home nation Italy on 144.50 while Team Switzerland wound up in close third on a score of 145.30.

Benjamin Massie led his team to victory with the impressive French-bred gelding, Figaro Fonroy. He finished in first place overall in this CCIO4*-S competition on a score of 39.40 but only narrowly beat his teammate Maxime Livio into second who had a score of 39.60. Livio was riding his seasoned campaigner Vegas des Boursons, another French-bred gelding who was the fastest horse around the cross-country course and the only one to finish without time penalties in this phase.

This is no doubt testament to a strong and long-standing partnership with his talented rider who is ranked 8th in the FEI Eventing World Athlete Rankings and also trains the Thailand Eventing team. Livio and Massie were ably assisted by Luc Chateau who was the only French athlete to jump a double clear with horse Ego Des Cabanes and Mathieu Chombert with Big Boss Melo.

Massie was delighted with his young horse and summed up the cross-country phase: “I think we all agree that the course was tough enough for the beginning of the season. It was not so twisty and quite fast. The ground was really nice but technically speaking it was tough for the first of the season.”

Chateau was in agreement that the team behind Montelibretti had struck the perfect balance. “I think Montelibretti is a good place for competition. We have a good cross-country on beautiful grass and the weather was very good all week- it was perfect.”

Thirty-six-year-old Livio has this year’s Paris Olympics firmly in his plan this season and was full of praise for the Nations Cup Series both for the teams and as an individual.

“I think it is a really important circuit because it’s very helpful for all the nations to prepare new teams and try some combinations. For us it is a super nice week because we are competing together as a team and representing our nation is always a pleasure. For sure there are some riders preparing for the Olympics among us and I think all of us will go to another Nations Cup during the season,” he said.

The rookie of the team was Chombert who picked an unlucky 20 penalties on the early part of the course but then set the record straight with one of the few clear in the final Jumping phase. “For me and my horse, it was the first Nations Cup. I was the novice of the team but my horse had a good weekend. Normally, I can be better on the cross-country, but today he was really fresh and confident in the Jumping. I am really happy. Normally I can do better but the other guys on the team were really strong and it was a great result.”

The Italian quartet delighted their home crowd and received the biggest cheer of the day with their overall runner-up spot. With all four athletes jumping clear cross-country rounds, the nation is showing depth and strength at this level. Italy received the very last Olympic team qualification from their consistency in the FEI Eventing Nations CupTM Series last year and they will have a number of combinations to choose from.

The second leg of the FEI Eventing Nations Cup™ moves to Chatsworth (GBR), which runs from May 17-190, 2024.