To take the gold medal on home territory made it doubly sweet.
The first-round course, designed by Bernardo Costa Cabral of Portugal, sent a larger number of riders than usual into the jump off. Whitaker’s ride was a textbook demonstration on the tight indoor track, his stallion practically pirouetting to change direction between obstacles.
The British rider was left to bite his nails while his competitors tried to best his time of 37.02 seconds. Cox’s time came close at 37.21, and whilst world No.4 Marcus Ehning of Germany had a faster time at 36.03 seconds, he had a pole down, which added 4 penalty seconds to his time.
In the end, Whitaker’s time held the top slot, and Cox would have to settle for second. Laura Kraut, riding last in the jump off, made a valiant effort at beating them both, but at 37.70 seconds ended up in the bronze podium position.
Exell and Weber set the pace
Seven Driving teams competed in Leg 7 of 9 for FEI Driving World Cup™ qualifying points to participate in the Finals in Bordeaux in February. With music pumping up the already enthusiastic crowd, and the horses keen to attack, it became clear the compact, festively decorated holiday course would make each Driving team’s navigator and backstepper indispensable.
After a super fast first round in which American Chester Weber and Australia’s Boyd Exell had the only clear rounds, it was Glenn Geerts, Koos De Ronde, and Boyd Exell who headed to the drive off, based on time and penalties.
Up first, Glenn Geerts’ team had a bad fall coming out of the wooden bridge, with one of his horses slipping and becoming trapped under the others whilst still clipped into his harness and tack. Fortunately, other drivers and veterinary staff rushed into the arena to help release the horse, which was able to walk away from the scene, a testament to the family support in the Driving circuit despite their stiff competition in the ring.
Koos De Ronde, former world champion and Team silver medalist at the recent FEI World Equestrian Games™, turned in a time of 121.91, with 4 penalty points, for a total of 125.91 seconds, nearly three seconds faster than his first round through the course.