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2017 saw another unforgettable year of four-in-hand driving, which was best highlighted by the magnificent marathon that took place through the streets of Gothenburg at the FEI European Championships™ in the summer.
2017 once again showed Boyd Exell to be a legend of the sport as he drove to his seventh FEI World Cup™ title. However, his protégé Edouard Simonet and 2017 FEI European Champion Ijsbrand Chardon continue to be hot on his ‘wheels’.
In Leipzig, the seventh and penultimate qualifying station of FEI World Cup™ Driving got the year’s action underway. Spectators were ‘rocking’ as brilliant Boyd won the first qualifier of 2017 - though it wasn’t without its challenges. Boyd found himself in the slightly unusual position of first to go in the drive off after having a costly ball down in the first round. The pressure was on.
In a thrilling, down-to-the-wire contest, Exell, Jérôme Voutaz and Chardon all went clear in the drive-off. However, it was the Aussie superstar who set the pace, with lightning speed and precision to win by a mere two tenths of a second, putting Voutaz (SUI) second and Ijsbrand Chardon (NED) third.
It was make-or-break time in early February as the final qualifier which took place in Bordeaux, with Exell securing another successive victory, fighting off tough competition from fellow driving veterans, Ijsbrand Chardon and Koos de Ronde.
The stage was set. Six of the world’s best four-in-hands headed to Gothenburg for the finale of the 16th season of FEI World Cup™ Driving.
Exell was clearly hungry to recapture the title he lost to Chardon in the 2016 final in Bordeaux, and drove away with his seventh FEI World Cup™ title. He was pushed to the end by Voutaz whose exceptional form secured silver, with De Ronde taking bronze. Title defender Ijsbrand Chardon suffered bad luck and could only muster fifth.
The international CAI3* action kicked off in Liseux, France with following international competitions being held in North America, Australia and all over Europe from Spain to Lithuania. Exell went on to win seven outdoor competitions in the 2017 season.
The prestigious CHIO Aachen got underway, a pivotal moment in the driving year as many drivers made their final bid for selection for the upcoming championships. Exell took top honours, with Simonet edging ever closer to his mentor, finishing second.
The CHIO, a selection event for the German national team, had huge ramifications for 2015 European Individual Champion Michael Brauchle, who, after finishing in 20th place, missed out on Team Germany, with Mareike Harm, Christoph Sandmann and Georg von Stein occupying the three available slots.
Two weeks prior to the FEI European Championships, Swede Johan Dengg suffered the misfortune of having two horses injured. British driver Wilf Bowman-Ripley lent Johan two of his horses allowing him the opportunity to compete at his home championships – testament to the camaraderie that exists within the Driving community.
Nine nations, 21 competitors and 100 horses arrived to compete in Driving in Gothenburg. The action kicked off with the first round Dressage test taking place in the Heden arena in front of packed crowds.
The Dutch team were hungry for their fourth successive team gold medal. Could Germany spoil the party with their secret weapon Exell in tow?
Spectators lined the streets of Gothenburg as teams made their way to the picturesque Slottskogen Park for one of the undeniable equestrian highlights of the year, the Driving marathon. Some 35,000 people eagerly awaited the drivers to witness them tackle the tricky, intense obstacle element of the marathon.
The cone competition concluded the championships. The Dutch took double gold with Ijsbrand Chardon crowned European champion, Edouard Simonet in silver and Sandmann in bronze. Gold definitely had a hint of orange as Chardon alongside Theo Timmerman and De Ronde rolled to team victory, with Germany second and the young Belgian team third.
November saw Exell set off for his eighth FEI World Cup™ title campaign, winning the Stuttgart opener five seconds ahead of his nearest competitor, Chardon.
Clearly on a roll, Boyd soon went on to win his second successive qualifier. He took top honours in Stockholm by beating home favourite Fredrik Persson into second with Simonet third.
De Ronde dominated the Budapest qualifier with Voutaz suffering early mistakes in the drive-off to finish second with Ijsbrand Chardon third.
Boyd secured a ninth consecutive win in Geneva. After appealing initial elimination, he took the title ahead of Von Stein and 24-year-old Bram Chardon.
A hair-raising qualifier in Olympia saw Ijsbrand Chardon cap off an incredible season, and a phenomenal year for the family concluded as his son, Bram, took his first FEI World Cup™ title in Mechelen at the end of the month.
Follow the action at FEI.tv as the season wraps up in Leipzig from January 18-21, before the FEI World Cup™ finals take place in Bordeaux from February 1-4.
Text by Hannah Eccles