Host nation France stormed to team gold at the FEI World Endurance Championships for Young Riders and Juniors 2013 in Tarbes at the weekend (27 July), with 14-year-old Khalifa Ali Khalfan Al Jahouri (UAE) and Niac Armor clinching the individual title.
Riders, horses and crews from 28 nations were tested in hot and humid conditions at the venue in the foothills of the Pyrenees, close to the world-famous pilgrimage site of Lourdes, where July temperatures are usually a moderate 24ºC. On the day of this year's Championships, they peaked at 34ºC - just four degrees below the highest recorded temperature in Tarbes, but thanks to good horse management and sensible riding there was close to a 60% completion rate.
Combinations from all continents
With each continent of the world represented in the quality field, there was no knowing who would finally clinch the sought after podium positions, when the 86 combinations crossed the start line at 6.30 on Saturday morning.
The track was made up of four loops with a wide variety of terrain and many challenges, all made even tougher by the soaring temperatures and humidity. On the 36.6 kilometre first loop, riders took advantage of the rolling track and cooler conditions to cover it at a good speed. Less than 3.5 minutes separated the top 30 horses at Vet Gate 1, with all athletes arriving within 30 minutes of the leaders.
The UAE made their intentions for the day clear with their five riders in the top six, and the UAE's Khalifa Ali Khalfan al Jahouri headed into the second 30.5km loop in the lead having covered the initial stage at 19.58kph. But with a much tougher stage ahead of him, it remained to be seen if he could hold onto the advantage.
As the temperatures continued to rise, and on a hilly, stony track, 11 combinations failed to qualify for the third stage. The UAE continued to dominate, looking equally strong in the team competition, but with a number of other nations hot on their heels the competition was far from over.
Loop 3 was considered the toughest of the day, measuring 32.1km, and in soaring temperatures (34ºC) and high humidity. The arrival into Vet Gate 3 saw a change in the leader. Quick presentation times were so influential throughout the day, and a speedy time here ensured that the sole Australian representatives, Erin Krahnen and Emily Jones TE, were first out on to the last loop, if only by a couple of seconds.
The experienced 10-year-old grey mare, inched into the lead with just 21.1km to go on the final loop. Emily Jones TE is more often seen competing with Alexandra Toft (AUS) and the pair successfully completed last year's Senior World Championships in Euston Park (GBR).
Unfortunately for Toft, she had to withdraw her own mount from this year's Championships prior to the event due to lameness and could only watch from the sidelines as her compatriot left on the final stage to battle for gold.
Final loop decider
The final loop was certainly competitive, with a front group of UAE horses setting a cracking pace. At this stage they still held top position in the team competition and, it seemed, were in line to take the individual honours too. Their dream however was not to be, however, when only one combination of the leading group passed the final vetting. Al Jahouri (UAE), who had been in the front running with Niac Armor from the very beginning, clinched the title, following in the footsteps of his father, Ali Khalfan Al Jahouri (UAE), who took victory in the Open European Championships in Florac (FRA) in 2011.
It must have felt like a home-coming for the winning horse, the talented grey mare Niac Armor, which started its international career in France some years ago.
The silver and bronze were still up for grabs and crowds waited excitedly at the finish line to see who would be claiming the next on the podium. The Dutch combination of Marijke Visser and her wonderfully consistent 10-year-old gelding Eomer took silver following a storming final loop at 23.4kph. This incredible pair finished 17th in the World Championships in Abu Dhabi (UAE) in 2011 and stepped up to fourth in last year's European Championships in Mont-le-Soie (BEL). With the 2013
medal now in the bag, and with one year left as a Young Rider, she must be wondering if that elusive gold medal is on the cards next year when the European Championships moves to Italy.
The final step on the podium was taken by Krahnen (AUS), whose mount Emily Jones TE also took the coveted Best Condition title. The pair held onto third despite Oriana Ricca (URU) with Talita Kumi 50 and Kelsey Russell (USA) on My Wild Irish Gold closing in on the final stages but ultimately, Ricca and Russell had to settle for fourth and fifth.
Déjà-vu for teams
The team competition was, as always, hotly fought and in the end saw a replica of the 2010 European Championship podium, with France scooping team gold yet again, followed some distance behind by Belgium (silver) and Spain (bronze).
The 2013 edition of the FEI World Endurance Championships for Young Riders and Juniors saw the initiation of a new formula for the team competition. All Nations can now enter five athletes without the need to declare a team. The top three positions from the five count for the team score - but now medals are only medals are awarded to the three athletes whose scores have contributed to the final result.
It was a family affair for the home squad, as Roman and Morgane Lafaure came across the line in sixth and seventh, followed closely in ninth by compatriot Robin Cornely, ensuring that France remained supreme, and now holds both the European and World titles. Their total time of just 19:44:49 put them almost one hour ahead of Belgians (Olivia Antoine, Louna Schuiten and Raphael Van Cauter), who finished just 10 minutes ahead of bronze medallists Spain (Agda Muixi Crusellas, Cristina Yebra Altimiras and Yvette Pi Masnou).
FEI Endurance Director Ian Williams praised the management of the horses throughout the day and was very pleased with the level of the competition: "This Championship was technically challenging, both in terms of the track and the weather conditions we were faced with, but it was a real privilege to see the youth of our sport caring for their horses so well and producing such great results".
FEI World Endurance Championships for Young Riders and Juniors 2013 - Teams:
GOLD – France, 19:44:49 - Petra Cabirat (Roman Lafaure); Rhial Cabirat (Morgane Lafaure); Rusty James (Robin Cornely); SILVER – Belgium, 20:40:22 - Wigor ZA (Olivia Antoine), Nasrik de Rendpeine (Louna Schuiten), Okba de Chaussy (Raphael Van Cauter);
BRONZE – Spain, 20:50:32 - Oursai de Oassa (Agda Muixi Crusellas), Calzadilla (Cristina Yebra Altimiras), Pink Floid (Yvette Pi Masnou).
FEI World Endurance Championships for Young Riders and Juniors 2013 - Individuals:
GOLD - Niac Armor (Khalifa Ali Khalfan Al Jahouri) UAE, 06:00:34;
SILVER – Eomer (Marijke Visser) NED, 06:13:05;
BRONZE - Emily Jones TE (Erin Krahnen) AUS, 06:21:10.
Full results on http://endurance-timing.net/