There is nothing like the friendly, eager Gothenburg audience, which filled the 12,000-seat Scandinavium arena to the rafters.
Throughout the four days of FEI World Cup™ competition, which put a thrilling cap on the annual Gothenburg Horse Show, the spectators cheered and clapped for every single ride.
There was unsurpassed love, however, for the Swedish athletes: Jumping athletes Irma Karlsson, Henrik von Eckermann and Peder Fredricson, who won the bronze medal, and Dressage riders Tinne Vilhelmson Silfvén and Patrik Kittel, both of whom wowed the crowd with their Freestyle programmes.
Silfvén topping the leaderboard at halftime and Kittel bringing the audience to their feet with his final Guns ’N’ Roses salute.
3. There were a few lessons learned!
Even those pairs who had a tough go of it received grateful applause, when some of the world’s best struggled to execute at their usual top level.
Switzerland’s Beat Mändli, thought to be a contender for the championship, was eliminated in Jumping during the very first ride on Day 1.
Likewise jumpers Ludger Beerbaum of Germany, Lorenzo De Luca of Italy, Kevin Staut of France, last year’s silver medallist Devin Ryan of the USA, and the 2018 third-place finisher Henrik von Eckermann all elected to retire or found themselves nudged out of the final round.
Even defending champion American Beezie Madden wound up in sixth place - quite respectable but not her dream of a back-to-back victories.
Swiss rider Martin Fuchs, who snagged the silver medal in Jumping showed what stick-to-it-iveness can do for a rider.
Fuchs has been quietly racking up points since finishing fourth in the Finals two years ago. No longer content to be left off the podium, Fuchs has become a rider to count on, frequently turning in clear rides time after time.
In Dressage the USA’s Laura Graves had to settle for a silver medal to Werth’s gold for the third year in a row.
“I’m always a bridesmaid, never a bride,” she laughed, acknowledging the fractions of points that separate the podium spots.
Laura is another lesson in the power of persistence, however, and she is already focused on how she is going to snatch the title from her rival next year in Las Vegas.
Even those riders who are deemed perfect have their flaws.
“I was this close to a perfect ride,” confessed Isabell Werth, holding her fingers millimetres apart. “Then I was too arrogant in my one tempis. I felt so safe. It was a little mistake, but…”
Even though she ultimately received the highest marks, at the time, a bobble in her changes could have cost Werth the title. It’s wise for riders on their way up to heed her advice about never feeling overly confident until the scores are posted.
Germany’s Helen Langehanenberg, who took the bronze medal in Dressage, showed what giving a performance for fun and for partnership with the horse can do.
“I went in and said ‘Just enjoy.’ Do it with Damsey, and do it for us. When we enjoy it, the audience enjoys it, and hopefully the judges as well. That’s the best we can do, and it worked!”
4. 2019 produced some real magical moments!
There were almost too many memorable moments at this year’s FEI World Cup™ to name.
The American jumpers had a stellar run, with three team members in addition to Madden making it into the final round: Kelli Cruciotti, Georgina Bloomberg and Eve Jobs, who at only 20 years of age was the youngest participant in the competition and did admirably in her first Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Final.
The depth of the Belgian field, three of whom were on the winning Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ team last year, cannot be counted out for future events, especially with an Olympic year approaching in 2020.
Although Peter Devos was eliminated in Day 2, after finishing in second place on the first day of competition, countrymen Niels Bruynseels, Olivier Philippaerts, and Francois Mathy Jr. carried on to jump their way to the very last round, with Bruynseels and Philippaerts finishing fifth and seventh, respectively.
The jumpers from Poland were another exciting surprise.
Both Wojciech Wojcianiec and Jaroslaw Skrzycznski continued all the way to the last round on Sunday, with the latter making it into the jump off on Day 2, where he secured one of only a few double clears that day.
The Jumping world is certain to see more of these athletes in international competition over the coming years.
Another duo to watch out for is Dressage rider Judy Reynolds of Ireland and her gorgeous mount Vancouver K, known as “JP” and renowned for his occasional flights of nerves and wiggly nose in the ring.
The 37-year-old from Kilteer has become a pioneer for Irish Dressage, finishing fourth at the Omaha World Cup™ in 2017. This year, she led the field until nearly the first half of the Freestyle event, finishing with a score of 79.350 percent, demonstrating what a steady hand and determination can do for a horse that tends to run hot.
5. The world is catching up!
Saturday’s Dressage competition saw some new faces, one of the most wonderful aspects of the FEI World Cup™ and its truly international makeup.
The audience in Gothenburg was treated to two days of exemplary Dressage from Tanya Seymour of the Republic of South Africa, Olga Safronova of Belarus, Yvonne Losos de Muñiz of the Dominican Republic, and Regina Isachkina of Russia, who showed tremendous improvement over the two days of riding and will surely be a force to be reckoned with in upcoming European events.
In the Jumping ring, riders came from far and wide to put their talents forward, including Abdel Saïd of Egypt, who won the Arab League to qualify and had a terrific performance, Khaled Abdulrahman Almobty of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Kullo Kender of Estonia, Rodrigo Carrasco of Chile, Abdullah Humaid Al Muhairi of the United Arab Emirates, Lisa Williams of the Republic of South Africa, Luiz Felipe Pimenta Alves of Brazil, and Shino Hirota of Japan.
Hirota, riding in her first FEI World Cup™, quickly became a favourite with all, with her game cheerfulness and friendly skewbald gelding Life Is Beautiful, who remarkably had a previous career as a Swedish Driving horse before being discovered by Hirota and her husband, Olympic equestrian Ryuma.
6. We may have seen some champions of the future!
The FEI World Cup™ is an ideal place to catch up-and-comers as they climb the competition ladder. This year’s event was no exception, with some young Dressage stars added to the firmament.
Morgan Barbançon, competing for France, rides with a maturity far beyond her years. Her Freestyle performance with Sir Donnerhall II scored a very nice 75.350 percent, as she gave a programme that played to her horse’s strength.
Daniel Bachmann Andersen of Denmark is another Dressage rider with a big future. Coming within inches of the podium in fourth place, his stunning, consistent Freestyle on Blue Hors Zack, who is blind in one eye, showed how he has been steadily improving this season, winning two qualifying legs to punch a ticket to Gothenburg.
Let’s not leave Eduardo Alvarez Aznar out of the new contenders. In the Jumping competition, the young Spaniard was in the lead heading into Day 3 on zero penalty points and made it into the top eight in the final round to finish in eighth place.
Spain may just see a Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ title come home with Alvarez Aznar one day soon.