Team Great Britain. (FEI/Libby Law)
It was all about the British once more when the FEI Eventing European Championship 2023 drew to a close at Haras du Pin, France. At the last edition in Avenches (SUI) two years ago, they swept all before them, and again now they took not only the team title, but team-members Ros Canter (Lordships Graffalo) and Kitty King (Vendredi Biats) clinched individual gold and silver ahead of Germany’s Sandra Auffarth in bronze.
The team ranking established after a thrilling cross-country phase remained the same, with Germany standing on the second step of the podium ahead of the hosts from France during the medal ceremony.
In the final analysis, the British score of 103.9 left them well clear of their German rivals, who completed with 131.2, while the French took bronze on a score of 134.2. German chances had been compromised by the loss of their star performer Michael Jung, who was eliminated for an unlucky fall just a few fences from home with Fischerchipmunk FRH.
Team Ireland finished fourth, with Switzerland, Sweden, Belgium, and The Netherlands completing the line-up. A total of 56 combinations started in dressage on Thursday, but that was narrowed down to just 37 in the deciding jumping phase. For Belgium and The Netherlands, there was plenty to celebrate as they picked up the two qualifying spots on offer for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.
This was Great Britain’s 24th team and 20th individual title in the 70-year history of this Championship.
The French team kept the pressure on Germany with clear rounds from both Karim Florent Laghouag (Triton Fontaine) and Nicolas Touzaint (Absolut Gold HDC), but Stephane Landois (Ride for Thais Chaman D) lost his grip on overnight individual fourth place with a fence down, and Gaspard Maksud (Zaragoza) also left one on the floor. With the German team reduced to just three, they had plenty to contend with, but while Malin Hansen-Hotopp (Carlitos Quidditch K) had a fence error and some additional time faults, both Christopher Wahler (Carjatan S) and Sandra Auffarth (Viamant du Matz) were foot-perfect over the track designed by Quentin Perney, which consisted of 12 fences and 15 jumping efforts.
Lying sixth in the individual rankings at the start of the day, that clear would promote Wahler to individual fourth place behind team-mate Auffarth, and ahead of the two French clear-round jumpers, Touzaint, who slotted into fifth, and Landois, who finished sixth.
Britain’s Kitty King had no room for a fence error if she was to hold Auffarth at bay for the silver medal as she went into the ring to jump the penultimate round of this Championship, but when she added only 1.2 time faults to her scoreline, she was secure for the second step of the individual podium. Then all eyes turned to Canter and Lordships Graffalo, the horse she calls Walter.
When dressage leader Jung went out of contention, she rose to pole position and she had more than two fences in hand as she set off. The first element of the double at fence four hit the floor, but she still completed with a 6.7 fault advantage over King to take the individual honours and to put the icing on the British team cake.
Talking about how she handled the weight of expectation, Canter said, “I had to keep in my own bubble a little bit, remind myself who I’m sat on and just try and do the best job I could in that situation.”
The team success means even more to her than her individual achievement. “For me the team always comes first, it’s what I do it for, it’s what I dream of doing!
“For me the team always comes first; it’s what I do it for; it’s what I dream of doing. Our family are sporty all-rounders and it’s always been about riding for Great Britain. After (winning) Badminton, that was such a massive box ticked for me and I didn’t think it could get much better! I’ve got Walter to thank for it all; he’s just unbelievable!” added the 37-year-old, who took team and individual gold at the world championship in 2018 and European team Gold in both 2017 and 2021.
Like Canter, King was on the winning British side at the 2021 European Championship, but she said she wasn’t expecting to feature so prominently this time around.
“I thought I’d be coming out here just to put a score on the board and be a good pathfinder, and that it would be up to the rest with their amazing horses. So to come home with a medal of any colour is a huge honour and achievement and I’m very, very proud of my horse! I’m delighted with silver – and Ros definitely deserves the gold!” she pointed out.
Germany’s Auffarth was quite happy with her individual bronze, but even happier that her team managed to take silver after losing their star player in Michael Jung. She said her chestnut gelding Viamant was a bit fired up by the enthusiastic crowd, but it also made him jump even better. “I’m very proud of him, and proud of my team and all the work we put in at our training camps.”
At the post-competition press conference, her Chef d’Equipe, Jens Adolphsen, said, “After Tokyo, everyone said the Brits are favourites for the next 50 years! But then it changed (when the German team won gold at the last year’s world championship) and now I hope it changes again!”
Paris 2024 is now in full focus for all the nations, and the relief for Belgium and The Netherlands with confirmation of their participation was enormous. It was particularly emotional for Dutch team member and coach, Andrew Heffernan.
“I had 20 years of competing and then I got the job as coach, because we needed to qualify for Paris, and with the support of all my riders, I came out of retirement and rode on the team. And thank God it has worked out – now I’m going straight back into retirement because the pressure this week from my perspective doing both jobs has been huge. This was what we needed to achieve, and we’ve done it!” he said, attempting to control an ocean of happy tears.
There was a question about gender balance in equestrian sport from the floor of the press conference, and FEI President and IOC member Ingmar de Vos, who had earlier thanked the show organisers, officials, and volunteers for making this FEI Eventing European Championship such a special occasion, pointed out that “we are the absolute champions of gender diversity because everyone has a chance in our sport!”
Indeed, everyone has a chance, but they’ll all be out to beat the British next summer, so when Ros Canter was asked if she expects to be the Paris 2024 Olympic champion, she replied, “The simple answer is: I hope so!”
For now, she can bask in the light of European golden glory.
by Louise Parkes