With excellent sporting facilities ensuring high-quality competition, and with a total of 48 dressage ponies, 46 eventers, 49 show jumpers, and 39/33 competitors in the CSIP Small/Large Tour (a total of 215 ponies of all disciplines), the European Championships at Moorsele in Belgium drew the best competitors from countries ranging from Turkey to Norway and – of course – Ireland.
Twenty purebred Connemara ponies accounted for a huge 9.3% the competitors present (up from 16 in 2008, and 14 in 2007) and there were another 14 partbreds (18 in 2008) – taking the total Connemara influence up to nearly 16 % of all competitors. Sadly there are still quite a number of ponies competing registered with the Irish Horse Board or with no breeding details given, so the total might even be higher up.
Of the twenty purebreds, eleven were reputedly bred in Ireland, the remainder bred in France where the Connemara Pony also has an excellent reputation as a competition pony. Nine nations had Connemara purebreds flying their flags: France foremost with a total of five ponies competing in all disciplines, with Ireland in second place with four competitors in show jumping and eventing, and another one each from countries such as Poland, Luxemburg, Norway and Switzerland. It clearly shows that there is not just a big demand for good ponies in general, but that the Connemara breed has established itself at the top in the eyes of the international market.
The German Dressage team secured an expected gold medal, followed by a very close result from Team Netherlands. Highlight of the day was Soenke Rothenberger (GER) on his stallion Deinhard B with a sensational score of 75,056 %. The Bronze Medal went to Denmark. Team Sweden came in at sixth place with Verdi, a roan stallion, the best performer – he is a partbred whose dam is by Lofty Roderic, the senior stallion (now retired) at Nina and Anders Gustafson’s well known Lofty Stud in Sweden. Team France had Italic des Landes in their team, a bay purebred Connemara pony stallion from such stock as River des Landes and Robber Boy S604, reaching 7th place with their team. Italic has also competed at the Europeans the two previous years. Most unusual for the day was the noise from the sky divers, practising at a school next door and above, but it seemed to bother humans more than ponies!
Eventing Dressage came up with extraordinary results from the Connemara Pony point of view, with partbreds Trewithian Bracken (by Ashfield Mac Talla ECPSS72) ridden by Sophie Martin (GBR) taking second place, and Ice Cool Bailey ridden by Ireland’s Joseph O’Brien securing third place ahead of 2008 double gold medallist Nina Stegemann (GER) with Mr. Hale Bob. Joseph O’Brien, the son of world famous racehorse trainer Aidan O’Brien, was the second last to go and did a splendid test. The previous year Ice Cool Bailey competed with Gina Ruck for Team Great Britain and took Team Silver and came into 4th place individually. First place went to German riding pony Dorina with Jule Wewer. Best purebred was Isbiratel de Conquet from France by Abbeyleix Fionn S810, coming in at 21st place.
Individual dressage gold found a great home with Antoinette Te Riele (NED) with the just 7-y-o Golden Girl, who produced a splendid round scoring 74,0 %, ahead of her cousin Sönke Rothenberger (GER) with Deinhard B who took silver and Katharina Weychert (GER) on Golden Derano C taking bronze, all ponies being German riding ponies. Good news for Connemara’s from the show jumping however: Team Denmark took gold with a total of 8p. and Connemara Pony Murphy’s Flight added just one pole, ridden by Christiane Tetzlaff. The two previous years, Murphy’s Flight was on the Irish team, ridden by Shane Connell, member of the 2007 bronze medal team. Ireland took Silver with 12p. and had two Connemaras competing with Sillogue Darkie G3-3906, ridden by Michael Duffy, and Ballyowen Maybelle Molly M1-16356 ridden by Kelly Allen, both scoring one pole. With a total of 16 p. Germany finished with a bronze. While Darkie (Ard Talisman S897 and Grange Sand Sparrow S589 in his pedigree) competed in Freudenberg 2007 with Jessica Burke before – a bronze medal winning team – it was the just 7-y-o Molly’s (Monaghanstown Fred S922 and Callowfeenish Mairtin S846) first appearance at the Europeans after a marvellous season at home. Both ponies are great ambassadors of the breed and paraded at Clifden Show in a special display, much admired by the huge crowd. And a receipe for Team Gold! The new Danish Coach sent the riders off to relax in front of a movie between the two rounds…
At this point, the ranking for the individual final had Murphy’s Flight, Sillogue Darkie and Ballyowen Maybelle Molly all in second place after Jessica Vinther Jensen from Denmark on her star pony Nikolina.
Eventing Cross-Country met with the National Cross-Country and the final day of the Europeans was postponed to Monday. The course itself did not present problems but was not asking too much cleverness of the ponies either – good going for most competitors in what were again excellent conditions. The leading Jule Wewer (GER) with Dorina kept her dressage result, as did Joseph O’Brien (IRL) on Ice Cool Bailey with Nina Stegemann (GER) riding Mr. Hale Bob moving up one position each. A bad day for Trewithian Bracken, who had two refusals and went down to 38th place, while Isbiratel de Conquet improved to 13th place.
After the Cross-Country, Team Belgium claimed the leading dressage score of 139 p., ahead of Germany’s four clear rounds scoring 141p. Team Great Britain with Trewithian Bracken went from 141 p. after dressage to 3rd place scoring 147.40 p. Team France was in 5th place, Team Ireland came 7th.
The CSIP tests were well supported by Connemara ponies: I’x de l’Aulne by Dexter Leam Pondi IS 15 (now retired) competed with a new rider for Sweden in the Large Tour, as did Lydia d’Airolle by Sultan of Scarpe who came 3rd for Switzerland in her best result, and Lancelot des Mares by Ronan de la Dive, a partbred, stood to win the Final CSIP Large Tour for France. Atlantic Lady M10965 by Cloonisle Cashel S980 came third for Denmark in the Small Tour Final.
Eventing Show Jumping became rather dramatic when – in reverse order – both Nina Stegemann (GER, third last to go) and Joseph O’Brien (IRL, second last to go) knocked the very last fence. The Gold medal eventually went to Jule Wewer (GER) and Dorina, Pieter Kenis (BEL) and Rocky took Silver and Joseph O’Brien with Ice Cool Bailey took the bronze. What a tremendous achievement! In the team results, Germany took Gold with 145 p., Silver went to Great Britain with 155.4 p. and Bronze to Belgium with 171 p.
The Dressage Freestyle competition, a new and most interesting event for the best 15 dressage ponies, proved Antoinette Te Riele (NED) and Golden Girl were in excellent form, taking another Gold with 75,9 p. Silver was awarded to Katharina Weychert (GER) with Golden Derano C and Bronze going to the mere 13-y-o Dana van Lierop (NED) with Equestricons Lord Champion, all of them giving splendid rides to the music. Amazingly enough Verdi, the just 8-y-o stallion from Sweden, finished in 7th place awarded to a very “going” display.
Show Jumping Individual finals was ridden in two rounds with Christiane Tetzlaff (DEN) and Murphy’s Flight and Kelly Allen (IRL) on Ballyowen Maybelle Molly having a final jump-off for the gold and silver medals. The two Connemara ponies did great rounds again, but at the very last fence of the show the second starter Murphy’s Flight had a refusal – Gold went to Kellie Allen, Silver to Christiane Tetzlaff and Bronze was taken by Chad Fellows (GBR) with Snatch. Sillogue Darkie finished in 7th place, in 19th place was Idefix du Villon, a French purebred from Quignon du Parc and Urrachree Breeze S436, competing for Luxemburg for the second year.
It was very nice to see so many well-known and new pony faces in the Europeans and it is always interesting to trace their breeding – if the information is available. The Championships are surely a highlight during the season, usually held by the end of July. The next host will be Great Britain and it would be nice to meet some more Connemara Pony enthousiasts there.
2009 Europeans was a huge success for the Connemara Pony breed – being the strongest native pony breed, making a huge appearance with the partbreds, counting three individual medals as well as four ponies in the team medals – this must be the best result ever! So far there were just two Golds: Ashfield Bobby Sparrow S444 (IRL) in Show Jumping and Linå Vesterskovs Cecil (DEN) in Dressage, and it was good to hear that Molly went to a new competition home in Belgium. Maybe we will see her – and you – in Bishop Burton this year?