Roger Yves Bost became only the fifth French rider to claim Individual European gold when galloping to victory in the PSI FEI European Jumping Individual Championship final at Herning in Denmark. Great Britain’s Ben Maher went into the final competition with the narrowest of leads, but a fence down in this afternoon’s opening round saw him having to settle for silver ahead of team-mate Scott Brash who rose from overnight tenth place to take bronze when producing the only double-clear performance of the day.
Bost follows in famous footsteps, as the list of previous French champions is an impressive one. Pierre Durand and the legendary Jappeloup first topped the podium for France at St Gallen, Switzerland in 1987, Eric Navet reigned supreme on home turf at La Baule, France in 1991, Alexandra Ledermann and Rochet M – the first woman ever to take the title – topped the line-up in Hickstead, Great Britain in 1999 and Kevin Staut and Kraque Boom were winners in Windsor, Great Britain in 2009.
Lived up to Expectations
The Individual Final more than lived up to expectations, with course-designer, Frank Rothenberger, setting two more super-tough tests. The first-round track was serious from the outset, and there were plenty of splashes in the open water at fence three which proved more difficult when approached, as it was earlier in the week, from left to right. A roll-back from the following oxer at four to the vertical at five led, on a left-hand bend, to an oxer at six with its narrow black planks, but it was the latter part of the track that proved most influential. The triple combination of oxer, vertical, oxer at fence seven looked uncomplicated without any filling material, and the middle element was the tallest at 1.55m. But riders who faltered in any way at this one very often found themselves on a difficult distance to the following water-tray vertical. Many went on four strides here rather than taking the option of five, but in both cases caution was required.
Having tackled that question it was then on to the narrow orange wall at nine which stood a massive 1.65m tall, before galloping down to the 1.55m drunken oxer that stretched them out with a 1.90m spread. Just two fences left to go, and the test was still relentless, as the penultimate 1.55m oxer was followed by a very difficult double of verticals. The choice here was to approach on a normal six strides or chip in one more to get horses a little higher at the opening element. The two-stride distance between the two elements was very tight, and of the 25 horse-and-rider combinations who went through to this final day, 15 of them hit at least one element of this.
Italy’s Luca Moneta was first to go and was clear with Neptune Brecourt until lowering the very last. He was so quick in achieving his four-fault result however that Rothenberger and the Ground Jury decided to reduce the time-allowed by a significant five seconds, from 80 to 75. As the course designer admitted afterwards, “maybe that was two seconds too much”. Only two riders managed to come home with a completely clean sheet, and the eventual champion wasn’t one of them as Bost and Castle Forbes Myrtille Paulois picked up a single time fault in one of their trademark thrilling tours of the track.
The first of the clear rounds came from Brash and his London 2012 Olympic team gold medal winning ride Hello Sanctos who made the whole thing look very easy, but with a little luck on their side as they survived a little tap at the second element of the final double, with the top pole rolling forward and then gently back into position. That was always going to be a critical round, and when The Netherlands’ Jur Vrieling and VDL Bubalu put a foot in the water, hit the final element of the triple combination and dropped both elements of the final double and Frenchman Patrice Delaveau steered Orient Express home with eight additional penalties collected at the open water and the middle of the triple combination the British rider was rocketing up the order.
Another Spectacular Exhibition
Switzerland’s Jessica Sprunger and Palloubet D’Halong put in another spectacular exhibition but fell foul of the front element of the last, while Olympic individual champion, Steve Guerdat, was faultless with Nino des Buissonnets to put pressure on the remaining five. All jumping in order of merit and with less than a fence between them, none could afford the slightest mistake. So when Germany’s Ludger Beerbaum and Chiara hit the second element of the final double and fellow-countryman Daniel Deusser’s Cornet D’Amour hit the water-tray vertical at eight the tension was rising by the minute. Like so many others, defending Individual champion, Sweden’s Rolf-Goran Bengtsson, was clear to the very last with Casall Ask. “On that last line he came back to me great, and I felt I did not want to do too much, but we had faults anyway” he said afterwards.
Bost’s single time penalty moved him onto a scoreline of just 1.58 penalty points, so nothing but a clear would keep Britain’s Ben Maher out in front. It wasn’t the dreaded final double that penalised him however. It was his run from the narrow wall to the drunken oxer. Moving his mare up a gear to ensure his time was good he arrived on a long stride, and as Cella became airborne it was clear she wouldn’t leave the fence intact. “It was a silly fence to have down, but it was wide and it was there to be jumped – she was little careful and I was maybe a little too far away” the British rider said afterwards.
The new second-round track looked less complicated, but the ten fences would take their toll, particularly the final triple combination. Only 19 returned to do battle in this round, and nine of them ran into trouble here including Switzerland’s Guerdat whose chances were completely dashed when Nino stopped at the second element and then hit it at his second attempt.
There were four clears this time out, the first registered by Frenchman Aymeric de Ponnat and Armitages Boy. They were lying well down the order in 16th place and it promoted them all the way up to 11th in the final analysis.
Now lying fifth, Brash really piled the pressure on those ahead of him with another amazing tour of the track, with Hello Sanctos looking as fresh as he did when the jumping action began five days ago. Bengtsson hit the same second element of the triple combination that put paid to Guerdat’s chances just a few minutes later, but Maher wasn’t giving up without a fight and, despite a loud rattle at the oxer at five, the mare returned another fabulous foot-perfect run to throw down the gauntlet. Bost could afford a time-fault or two, but a pole down would hand the gold medal back to his British rival. It was all down to this one last effort.
And the man they call Bosty grabbed both the opportunity, and the mare who perfectly matches her rider’s unorthodox style, with both hands, steering her through the course and arriving to the last line without incident. As he headed for the triple combination there was an intake of breath around the stadium, but there was no need to worry. The 13-year-old mare who he calls “my Princess” or “my Poupee” (my doll) was never going to let him down. The roar from the crowd said it all as one of the most popular competitors in the sport had the gold in his grasp.
First Individual Medal
“This is my first Senior Individual gold medal, I have some Team Championship medals, but never an Individual one!” he said excitedly afterwards. Talking about his great mare he said, “she was very relaxed here, she didn’t want to touch one fence” and when asked about if her feisty temperament makes her difficult to ride, he replied, “no, she’s not so difficult – I can manage, this is my job!”
Silver medallist Maher was very happy with his result. “Cella was amazing today, We had a great second round and I put as much pressure as I could on Roger today but he did too good a job!” he said. The British rider described his mare as “more of a machine than a horse! She can be temperamental sometimes but this is her first Championship and I couldn’t be more happy. I was concerned that she might get tired, but she jumped very well in the last round. There has been a lot for her to learn from these Championships and I’ve a lot of people to thank including her owner Jane Clark and the British Equestrian Federation for their fantastic support”.
Jane Clark may not yet know of her horse’s fantastic result today because the American horse-owner is currently holidaying in the wilds of Alaska and has been difficult to contact. Maher eventually got through to her to tell her about Cella’s Team gold medal winning performance on Thursday, but he said today that it could take some time to let her know what happened today.
Came Across Their Horses
The gold and silver medallists talked about how they each came across the horses that earned them medals this afternoon. Bost explained, ““I was already riding some of Lady Forbes’ young horses when she asked me to ride Myrtille Paulois” while Maher said, “I had a meeting with Jane Clark towards the end of the last year because she was looking for a rider for her horses and it was lucky for me that I was the one she chose. I now have her fantastic string to add to the horses I already had in my stable”
There was plenty of friendly banter between the medal-winners at the post-competition press conference. Maher pointed out that “Roger (Roger Yves Bost) said on Tuesday (after the opening speed competition) “if I lost a few kilos I could have caught you” – so I wonder what diet he’s been on for the last few days!” He congratulated the Frenchman – “Roger rode the round of a lifetime today and he’s the well-deserved winner” Maher said.
Today’s new champion is 20 years older than 27-year-old Brash who said this evening “the beauty of our sport is that hopefully we will still be riding past Bosty’s age. Michel Robert for example looks fit and young and rides as good as ever. I’m looking forward to a long career and I’m looking forward to sitting here one day in Bosty’s seat!”
Knows More Than Most
One man who knows more than most about the joy of wearing an individual European gold medal around his neck is Germany’s Paul Schockemohle, triple-champion with the great Deister at Munich (GER) in 1981, Hickstead (GBR) in 1983 and Dinard (FRA) in 1985. He continues to be a major influence in the sport, and took up title sponsorship of the PSI FEI European Jumping Championship in Herning. He said today “my expectations were not so high but there has been a super atmosphere and everything at the show was good. Frank (Frank Rothenberger, course designer) did a good job and the riders did a good job too.”
He pointed out the vital role of those who support the sport through horse-ownership. He said that at these Championships “three owners who are a very, very long time in the sport have been rewarded – Lady Georgina Forbes (Castle Forbes Myrtille Paulois) who sponsored Jessica Kuerten before and now sponsors Bosty, and Jane Clark (Cella) who 35 years ago bought a horse from me! And Phil Harris (Hello Sanctos) who also sponsored David Broome. These are three owners who bought into the sport and stayed in the sport, and I want to congratulate them and their riders”.
FEI Secretary General, Ingmar de Vos concluded the press conference, saying “on behalf of the FEI I would like to congratulate the riders and also the Organising Committee and the Danish Equestrian Federation for wonderful Championships and a very high-class venue. This stadium is fantastic for our sport and I’d like to say a special thanks to Jens Trabjerg (Event President) and Bo Kristoffersen (Sport Director). It has been a pleasure for the FEI to work with such a professional team. Thanks to ECCO and to Paul Schockemohle’s PSI for their support – but of course these Championships are not over yet and we are looking forward to another great day tomorrow”.
Tomorrow brings the Blue Hors Dressage Individual Freestyle that brings the ECCO FEI European Championships to a close.
Today however the glory belongs to a much-admired Frenchman who never hides his great fondness for his horses. “There are days like this in which nothing bad can happen and everything goes just right” he said, “but this was really Myrtille’s day. I took the week class by class, course by course without watching what the other riders were doing. I really tried to do my best. I have been riding Myrtille now for two years and it hasn’t always been easy. This arena suited her because it is like an indoor arena so she was more focussed and concentrated on what she was doing. The first thing I thought when we crossed the finish line today was how much I love my princess!” said the new champion.
Result, PSI FEI European Jumping Individual Championship 2013 – here