BRAM CHARDON © FEI/Martin Dokoupil
The thunder cracked and the lightning flashed, bringing a triumphant double championship to an end in Exloo. The Para Drivers had exited the arena in time to avoid the storm, but in scenes reminiscent of the prize giving at the FEI World Championships in Pratoni del Vivaro (ITA) last year, the Four-in-Hand medals were presented, and speeches made, during a deluge.
The Dutch crowd was thrilled to see their favourite Bram Chardon (NED) retain his European title, one he has now won three times consecutively. As overnight leader, he was last to drive the Cones, but kept his cool and produced a double clear when he needed it the most. That came just after his teammate Koos de Ronde guaranteed himself an individual medal after his double clear and sealed the sixth team gold for The Netherlands, aided by the iconic Ijsbrand Chardon.
“It’s great to win the European Championship in your home country for your home crowd. I was particularly happy with my Dressage score and to have my season’s best here – it was such a relief as I knew what my team could do, but to be able to show it here was perfect. In the Marathon, I knew I could not attack but had to be more defensive in my driving, which worked out and meant I could keep the quick guys behind me while also taking the lead. It was really tight between us as they were pushing and were very fast, which we expected, but my horses did enough to keep me in front. Today in the Cones, we knew that the routes were open and with so many double clears before me, it was tricky because with less than a cone between Michael Brauchle and me, I didn’t want to throw away my gold medal. But I still wanted to have a double clear and finish in style – which I did, and it was wonderful to do it in front of the public with such a great atmosphere here in Exloo!”
The margins were minimal between the top three drivers and the top two nations, as Germany’s Michael Brauchle dropped to bronze individually after a ball roll to enable Koos to jump up a place to silver. But Michael and his teammates Anna Sandmann and Mareike Harm had done enough over the four days of competition to seal their team silver. Double clears from Belgium’s Glenn Geerts, Dries Degrieck, and Tom Stokmans ensured they too had a place on the podium for the bronze.
The Cones proved to be less decisive than in other championships, but had to suit the horse fours and the Para Equestrians. The flowing course meant that there were 16 double clears in the horse fours, and the winner was Georg Von Stein (GER), with Jérôme Voutaz (SUI) second, and in third, Jiri Nesvacil Jnr. with the stunning grey Kladruber stallions.
Para Driving World Championships and Hand in Hand Trophy
The Para Drivers slotted into a later morning session after the lower order of horse fours placed 38 to 20 had driven. The route was the same, but the cones were narrowed and time allowed increased.
Enjoying the expertise of Bram as her trainer before and during the championship, the first title of the day went to reigning Grade I Para Driving World Champion Tracy Bowman (USA). She drove a flawless round with her pony Albrecht’s Hoeve’s Lars to win the phase and emphatically retain her crown. Together, she and Bram also won the Hand-in-Hand trophy and in the prize giving, Bram sat behind Tracy on the groom’s seat of the carriage to enter the arena.
Paying tribute for her success to the support she has received from the extended Chardon crew, who were recording the split times on the course to feed back to her, Tracy said, “This is the absolute fairytale and Lars is my unicorn! I think across all the equestrian sports, Lars is recognised for his quality and ability. Bram was amazing and gave me a fantastic gameplan – which worked.”
Patricia Großerichter (GER) was one of five Grade I athletes to produce a double clear, which helped clinch a silver medal, ahead of Australia’s Jodie Mckeone in bronze after her storming round for a win in the Marathon.
Alexandra Röder (GER) was untouchable in the Grade II class, leading in all three phases and taking gold for the first time since she won at Sandringham (GBR) in 2014. Silver and bronze went to the host nation’s Ingmar Veneman and Aad van Marwijk, both medallists at previous championships.
With the strong showing from the German ladies, who were joined on the national team by Para legend Heiner Lehrter, they were clear winners of the team gold for the fourth time. The silver went to the USA with Tracy joined by long term team members Bob Giles and Diane Kastama. They were only narrowly ahead of Great Britain by 0.74, who finished in bronze for the fifth time, helped by Deborah Daniel’s second placing in the Cones and strong performances by Mick Ward and Emily Ham.
During his closing ceremony speech, FEI Driving Committee Chair Karoly Fugli (HUN) paid tribute to the inclusivity of the championship and sport driving as a whole, citing the success of joining the Para Drivers with the Four-in-Hands. The organisers at Exloo were delighted with the support from the large crowds who were present throughout the event, especially the many families who came for the day to enjoy Saturday’s Marathon. Reflecting the international nature of the combined event, even more fans tuned in from all over the world to watch the live coverage of the action on FEI TV.
by Sarah Dance