A bright new face lit up the sport of show jumping today when Swedish newcomer, Stephanie Holmén (27), simply out-rode many of the best in the world to win the eleventh leg of the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping 2017/2018 Western European League in Zurich, Switzerland. Partnering the beautifully-bred Flip’s Little Sparrow, she led the rest a merry dance when throwing down a super-fast target-time in the 14-horse jump-off against the clock that had spectators gripping their seats to the very end.

Swiss riders wore armbands in memory of their respected colleague, Willi Melliger, who passed away recently, so when the host nation’s Pius Schwizer (55) slotted into second with About a Dream ahead of Frenchman Kevin Staut (37) in third with Silver Deux de Virton it seemed a fitting result. But today was all about one lady who showed the rest a clean pair of heels.

Holmén, who has been based with individual Olympic silver and European gold medallist Peder Fredricson at his Grevlunda Stables in the south of Sweden for the last four years was hooked up with the 12-year-old mare last June and, in only the second World Cup qualifier of her career, she put herself firmly on the sporting map with the ride of her life. Her boss was on hand to give her some instructions today, and she made good use of them.

“Peder told me to go outside my comfort zone, to be faster than I’m used to, and to take the turns tighter, especially the inside turn after the white vertical. I watched him competing her for many years and I never thought she’d jump with me like she did with him, but he believed in us. This was like the perfect jump-off round, and I think it was Sparrow’s gift to me because it was my birthday yesterday,” said Holmén.

Having set the pace when second to go however she then had the agonising wait as the sport’s best took on her target-time of 38.79 seconds. “At first I thought for sure they are going to beat me and the longer it went on it was harder and harder, this was the worst part of my day! With only two riders left I was so happy to be in the top three, and when there was only the last rider (Belgium’s Jerome Guery) who I know is really fast I was thinking how so many times at home in Sweden I have been in the lead and the last rider has been faster. This is just too good to be true,” she added.

Second-placed Schwizer, who posted a time of 39.90 seconds, has been twice-winner of the Longines qualifier in Zurich in recent years but was happy with runner-up spot today with his nine-year-old mare. And Staut, who crossed the line in 40.72, said he was satisfied with third. “Silver is improving a lot but is not a really fast horse”, he pointed out. And he was full of praise for today’s winner. “Stephanie was fantastic. It’s great to see new faces in our sport and it’s also great to be part of the last edition here in Zurich,” he said.

Indeed, after 30 years on the calendar, Zurich is saying farewell this evening. FEI Director of Jumping, John Roche, thanked the show organisers for the major contribution the event has made down the years. “You were the first OC to combine top-class sport with entertainment, a concept that has been copied by many others around the world,” he said.

With just two qualifiers remaining ahead of the Longines 2018 Final in Paris (FRA) in April, the Western European League now moves on to Bordeaux (FRA) next week with Staut still holding court at the head of the leaderboard with a massive 77 points. He also intends competing at the last leg in Gothenburg (SWE) later in February where Holmén will be hoping to spring yet another surprise.

Watch jump-off highlights here.

Get full results here.