Team Switzerland will lead the way when the FEI Jumping European Championship 2023 gets underway at San Siro racecourse in Milan, Italy tomorrow afternoon.
At this evening’s draw, conducted by Ground Jury President Harry Braspenning from The Netherlands and Event Director Laura Campopiano, the order-of-go for tomorrow’s opening competition was decided. And it will be Bryan Balsiger, a member of the gold-medal-winning Swiss side at the last Championship in Riesenbeck (GER) in 2021, who will be first to take on the 13-fence challenge set by top Italian course designer Uliano Vezzani.
After a weekend of storms and torrential rain the sun came out this afternoon, and it is forecast to continue to shine for the rest of the week as the 37th edition of the event that decides European champions plays itself out.
On current form the defending team champions from Switzerland look formidable. But lining up behind them when the action begins at 13.15 local time tomorrow are 14 other equally determined nations.
France was drawn second this evening ahead of The Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Hungary, Sweden, Great Britain, Germany, Denmark, Austria, Ireland and the hosts from Italy in that order. Full team details here.
Germany holds the record for the highest number of European Jumping titles, with 15 individual and seven team gold medals, and André Thieme posted that seventh individual victory two years ago with the brilliant mare DSP Chakaria. The pair will not be defending their title this week, but Switzerland’s Martin Fuchs and the 11-year-old Leone Jei who took individual silver on that occasion will be hoping to turn it into gold this time around.
Individual athletes have been entered by nine nations – Bulgaria (1), Greece (2), Israel (1), Liechtenstein (1), Macedonia (1), Slovakia (1), Turkey (2), Ukraine (2) and Norway, the latter initially entering a team but represented by just two individual riders – brother and sister Johan-Sebastian and Victoria Gulliksen – following the withdrawal of Cecilie Hatteland and Missy yesterday.
All 85 horses presented at this afternoon’s first Horse Inspection passed with flying colours. Amongst the many attention-seekers were the lively 11-year-old stallion Highway TN who will do battle with The Netherlands’ Willem Greve in the saddle, and Casquo Blue, the 13-year-old gelding who threw two massive bucks of delight during his trot-up with Great Britain’s Harry Charles.
Gerfried Puck’s handsome 10-year-old stallion didn’t make it easy for his Austrian rider either, prancing and dancing before he was given the nod. And Swedish superstar, world number one and reigning double world champion Henrik von Eckermann was dragged away at the end of their trot by his 10-year-old mare Iliana who is clearly very fresh and more than ready to go.
During the training session that followed Wilma Hellström’s feisty one-eyed wonder-mare, the 12-year-old Cicci BJN, was punching the air with both hind legs in her impatience to get on with the job. She won’t have long to wait tomorrow however because as Swedish team pathfinders this pair will be eighth to start in the field of 85 horse-and-rider combinations from 24 countries. Portugal is fielding a team of three so, although drawn sixth, their first athlete will compete in the second rider rotation.
Along with five other countries the Portuguese will be chasing one of the three qualifying spots for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games on offer to teams from FEI Olympic Qualifying Groups A/B this week. Also in the hunt are Austria, Denmark, Italy, Spain and Switzerland, and every one of those teams will be giving it their all in the quest for one of those Olympic tickets.
All team and individual riders will compete in tomorrow’s opening Table C Speed and Handiness class after which their scores will be converted into penalties. They all compete again in the first round of the second competition on Thursday, but only the top 10 teams and top 50 individuals go through to the second round on Friday when the team medals will be decided.
The top 25 go through to the first round of the individual final on Sunday, with the top 12 returning for a second round when the new FEI Jumping European individual champion will be crowned.