It all came down to speed and Team France held their cool in a fiercely fought contest at Peelbergen (NED), for the third leg of the Longines EEF Series. The result was decided by a jump-off with Team Argentina, where 32 year old Maelle Martin blazed to glory with a fast clear round, beating Matias Albarrachin’s clear round for Argentina by more than a second.
French Chef d’Equipe Edouard Couperie summed up their performance. “First of all, we came here to qualify for the semi- final in Deauville. We chose a team with quite good experience because it was a really important show for us and we know there are some really strong teams competing with us, and some teams able to compete 5* so that’s why we did our best with good riders.”
Eleven teams came forward to jump Bart Vonck’s fair but challenging track. It was Spain and the host nation, The Netherlands who wound up in third and fourth respectively, in this CSIO3* competition, which produced another thrilling afternoon of jumping action. This popular competition consisted of a number of jumping superstars, including World Champion and current Longines FEI Number One, Henrik von Eckermann, and Olympic riders from many nations competing alongside the stars of tomorrow.
Maelle Martin was chosen to jump-off for France on account of her success a year ago when she helped France to win in similar circumstances in Uggerhalne. Speaking after her winning performance on her 12 year old chestnut mare Bise des Bardellieres, Martin said: “The first rider goes clear so my main goal was to go faster, and it was our day. When we go second it’s easier, I had to give it my all. I’ve ridden her for three years now, and the more she jumps the better she jumps. So in the jump-off she gave everything she had, she’s amazing, always fast, always tries to be clear”
After the first round Spain, France and Argentina were out in front, with zero faults achieved by their top three scores. All four of the Spanish riders jumped an impressive first round clear which gave them an early lead. Although there was quite some juggling of the order in the second round, with Spain eventually settling for third. After the last three riders for both Team France and Argentina posted superb clear rounds, both nations were on zero. This meant one rider from each team were required to jump off for the title.
Whilst most regions have two qualifiers, Peelbergen was the only Region West qualifier, which resulted in automatic qualification to the semi-finals, for the top 5 eligible nations.
Competing for these places were Belgium, Spain, France, Great Britain, Ireland and Portugal. The British quartet were the only team not to qualify amongst this group. They were fielding a very young team of riders, all under the age of 22 years old and after Lily Atwood was eliminated twice at the water, this put extra pressure on her three teammates. Sisters Sienna and Scarlett Charles jumped confident clear rounds in the first round but none of the riders were able to go clear in the second round.
Time did not prove much of a problem throughout the class, but there were jumping faults peppered around the course, with the latter part proving more demanding, particularly the final line of fences. The imposing Longines treble placed as the penultimate challenge took some jumping, as did the final plank fence which was both upright and up-to-height.
Course Designer Vonck- who heralds from Belgium, summed up the course and the entries list. “I think there were very good riders here in the class. We have six countries that can qualify and only the top five go through, so there is a very good level of rider. I think we got a good start on the course. We have a difficult line to finish, triple bar on 10, then a line to the triple combination- vertical, vertical, oxer, so they have to be careful at the entrance then four strides to the plank, very delicate so they have to be careful and keep the horse in a rhythm.”
Aalborg in Denmark is the next Longines EEF Series event on the cards, which takes place on 26 May and is a qualifier for the North Region. The semi-final for West and North Regions will take place on 23rd June, in the picturesque equine hub of Deauville, which is as well known for its horse racing as it is for equestrian sport. The final of this popular series will play out in Warsaw, Poland in September, and will include the top ten teams qualified throughout the Series.