At the 2023 European Junior Riders Championships in Kronberg, Germany took the lead role in a team championship competition of operatic proportion, with dramatic twists and turns which resulted in four teams on the podium. Austrian and Denmark ended up with silver despite scoring a different end result. A strong performing Great Britain got lucky in the process and captured bronze.
The team competition in Kronberg will certainly go down in the history books for its unusual course of action and it brought back traumatic memories of the medal ceremony at the 2011 European Pony Championships in Poland, where Denmark and Great Britain tied for bronze and were celebrated on the podium. Afterwards the scoring office realized it made a calculation mistake and Britain lost its medal, with the kids, in tears, having to return their medal to the show organizer.
The 2023 European Junior Riders Championships returned to Ann-Kathrin Linsenhof's beautiful yard Schafhof in the hilly outskirts of Frankfurt after thirteen years. The former German Olympic team rider was the hostess extraordinaire of the 2010 European Junior/Young Riders Championships and assisted by her stepson Matthias Rath she pulled out all the stops this year to make the event a memorable one.
With 70 riders and 15 teams competing in the team championship test, the programme was action packed with the class split up over two days, starting on Wednesday 19 July 2023 and coming to a conclusion on Thursday 20 July. After the medal ceremony a Nations' evening was held in the Schafhof courtyard with each country providing typical food, snacks and drinks from their country, while each team performed a dance on stage and had the crowd on their feet, clapping, celebrating and partying.
The German juniors set the tone on day one with two of its team members capturing a provisional first and second place. Lana Pinou Baumgurtel scored 73.394% aboard the 9-year old Emma (by Escolar x Laurentianer), while team newcomer Josephine Ruppert was first to go on Wednesday and received a personal best score of 73.242% aboard the 10-year old Bavarian bred Bella Donna (by Belissimo M x Dimaggio).
Rose Oatley topped that up on Thursday after receiving the high score of the day in the team test - 74,424% - from the panel of judges. She immediately promoted herself as hot favourite for individual gold in the next few days. Rose is the 2021 European Pony Champion and transitioned to juniors in 2022. She was member of the gold medal winning team at the 2022 Euros in Hartpury (aboard stallion Veneno HC) and this year she is betting on the 8-year old Oldenburg mare Sommernacht (by Rocco Granata x San Remo), the 2020 Bundeschampion which her mom Kristy and grandmother Rosalind acquired in February 2021.
Oatley was able to extract the high scores from judges thank to her mare's three powerful basic gaits. The trot work is very ground covering and bouncy, in canter she makes long strides with much airtime and the extended walk has tons of overstep, clarity in the rhythm and proper relaxation. There still were a few niggly imperfections in the execution of the movements, which did not seem to weigh that much with the judges. The trot extensions were floaty but one would like to see more back usage and regularity in them, the half pass right did not have sufficient crossing behind, one walk pirouette lacked activity and two flying changes had issues (on crooked; one short).
Judges Hans Voser, Marietta Almasy, Alice Schwab, Agnieszka Majewska, and Katrina Wüst scored her between 73.030% and 75.758%. Three had her first; one second and one judge placed her sixth. Her score of 74.424% contributed the biggest chunk to the winning team total of 221.060 points. There was no doubt that the German juniors brought their A-game to Kronberg and secured Germany's 32nd gold medal in the history of these Championships (Est. in 1973).
Germany's drop score was was 73.152% (!!) ridden by 2022 European Junior Champion Allegra Schmitz-Morkramer on the 11-year old Libertad (by Londontime x San Remo). Her gorgeous black stallion showed great flying changes and painted a very steady picture, but the walk was not too strong and there was an issue in the reinback as well as in the second trot extension.
Denmark and Great Britain Neck to Neck
Three teams were breathing down each other's neck for the next two podium places and in the end they all mounted the podium after a deus ex machina intervention. Austria, Denmark and Great Britain ended up with a team total of 214 points, with only the numbers behind the comma making the difference in ranking... sort of.
For a long time the race appeared to be between Denmark and Great Britain. The Danish top score came on day one and was ridden by Annabelle Rehn aboard the 11-year old Danish bred Vestervangs Garson (by De Noir x Ragazzo). After her very forward, high speed test, 73.212% flashed on the board. The result put her fourth in the team test. Thursday's Danish riders Sophia Obel Jorgensen nor Johanne Kofod Jensen could not improve that result. Obel was last year's European Championship kur gold medal winner but her horse Brilliant tragically died from a colic attack. The young professional bought a new horse, Zouzo, but it was on stable Foldager's 7-year old Danish bred Askari Pilekaer (by Apache x Florestan) that she was selected on the team with. The combination is very new, and the horse young, and this showed. The horse was often uneven in the trot rhythm, becoming passagey or short -long in the extensions and he needs to improve on his straightness (the hindquarters comes the right). The bay gelding is certainly very expressive and Obel makes a nice combination with him, but it all looked green. The highlight was the uphill extended trot. They got a generous score of 71.879% with 70.758% as low score and 73.333% as high score. They ranked 9th.
Johanne Kofod Jensen and her 15-year old Frida Gold (by Fidertanz x De Niro) placed 26th with 69.152%. The bay mare stood out with a very nice extended walk, but had a few bobbles in the trot extension and shoulder in left. Their score was the third result for Denmark and brought its team total to 214.243 points, which looked like silver.
Great Britain made a strong impression this year at the Euros with all four of its riders scoring over 70%. The team high score came was 72.030% which Myles Graham achieved aboard the 16-year old AES registered Nibeley Union Hit, (by Nibeley Union Jack x Sandro Hit). He was last to go for his team and excelled in riding a very well put together test. Union Hit is not the biggest, flashiest mover in the parade of six (and seven)-digit euro horses here in Kronberg, but became an example of what good riding can do. Their halt for rein back was top, the extended walk did not have the greatest overstep but the rhythm was clear and the horse properly relaxed, and the changes were fluent. A double break into canter after the walk pirouettes affected the score. The judges were quite divided on his test with 70.000 as low score and 74.848% as high score.
Two Lusitano bred Massa horses contributed to the second and third score for Great Britain. Team new comer, 14-year old Isla Sully rode a 71.121% on Wednesday aboard Vagabond de Massa (by Rieto x Xaqiero) while Mette Dahl and her newly acquired Caporal de Massa (by Rieto x Xagiero) earned 70.879%. The grey is a wonderful mover and showed plenty of quality in trot but could improve with a bit more swing in the back. The first two flying changes were lovely, the left walk pirouette very small, but the extended canter was hectic. Plenty of room for improvement in the next few days.
Great Britain totalled 2144.030 points which put them in bronze medal position
A Plot Twist Involving Austria
And then came the plot twist which involved Austria.
Let's first review the rides. Austria's top score was delivered by Florentina Jöbstl who took over the ride on her brother Paul's medal winning young riders horse, Bodyguard (by Burlington x Pik L). The 14-year old Hanoverian stallion is drop dead gorgeous: expressive face, big neck, well proportioned body and he has three lovely gaits. Florentina hurries him a bit more than Paul, with an abrupt halt for rein back, but the medium walk was fantastic and the tempi changes expressive and uphill, though the second one a bit tense. They finished seventh with 72.636%.
Katharine Zajic was Austria's strongest scoring rider on Wednesday, posting a personal best score of 70.030% aboard the 12-year old Hanoverian Fidelio (by Floriscount x Lauries Crusador xx).
Florentina's twin sister Fanny Jöbstl improved the team result with a 71.803% aboard the 11-year old Oldenburg mare Simsalabim (by Sean Connery x Donnerball). Her test became the pivotal point in the team medal drama that ensued after her ride. Fanny and Simsalabim showed lovely trot work with the mare having made great progress in her training and musculature. The flying changes were good, the rein back a bit short. Fanny rode two left walk pirouettes, but this error in course had gone unnoticed by the judge at C (Austrian Alice Schwab), who is the sole judge with the power to ring the bell. The other judges indicated on their scoring iPads that there was an error (they have a system to ring a bell internally between the judges' boxes) but this had gone unnoticed.
As soon as Fanny's test finished, judge Hans Voser jumped out of his box and converged with the other judges about the problem. To the spectators it was rather unclear what had been decided as the rider never got the chance to correct/repeat the movement. What was going to be done with her score? The Technical Delegate (Mariette Withages) met with the Judging Supervisory Panel member present in Kronberg (David Hunt), as well as with non-officiating judge Evi Eisenhardt. They decided to change the score for that missed movement to five times a 1. However a little while later, these 1s were removed and 6.5 as well as four 7s appeared on Fanny's score sheet with a deduction for 1 error of course in the end. This brought Fanny's score to 71.803% and put Austria's team total to 214.469 points, good for bronze and pushing Great Britain off the podium. But that's not what happened...
Medals by Agreement
Austria's team score of 214.469 points did not appear on the scoring website well after the class had finished and the arena was already prepared for the team medal ceremony. Both Austria and Great Britain were in uncertainty whether they had won a medal or not and the tension was palpable. The Austrian federation had officially lodged a protest and the British team captain was biting her nails hoping for the best result.
At European Youth Championships one JSP member is in attendance, but only to assess the scoring and to review the results with the judges afterwards from an educational viewpoint. He does not hold the power to change scores at the event. The Austrian chef d'equipe, Diana Wunschek, and her federation therefore lodged a complaint and after a long discussion between the judges, TD, the JSP member and the show organizer (Matthias Rath), right after the class finished, an agreement was reached not the put any country at a disadvantage due to this human error (missing the error of course) and hand out four team medals, giving Austria and Denmark both silver despite unequal team scores. An unprecedented move.
All members of the medal winning teams were happy, of course, and the prize giving was a joyous occasion, but the decision making felt rushed, with no proper consultation of the FEI legel department, and one truly wonders if this was in compliance with FEI Rules. The European Youth Championships are an international sports competition and not kindergarten where everyone's a winner and gets a ribbon for making an effort.
At the press conference, judge Katrina Wüst stated, "we all make mistakes. It's a human mistake that can always happen. We didn't ring the bell so we have to give the rider the benefit of the doubt. She couldn't repeat the movement, so we only deducted the error." Wüst confirmed that all five judges did award a score to the wrong walk pirouette (the 6.5 and 7s) and these original results were therefore kept.
If this happened at a senior European Championship at Grand Prix level, would a different decision have made?
What Does the FEI have to Say?
The four medal podium in Kronberg required a certain suspension of disbelief to understand the decision making which seemingly left no-one unhappy.
Eurodressage contacted the FEI on the matter for clarification and received this reply:
“The Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) is aware of the concerns raised regarding the FEI Dressage European Championship for Juniors & Children 2023 held in Kronberg (GER).
FEI Officials on-site play a critical role in the conduct of events, and they are entrusted with the responsibility of officiating and making decisions pertaining to the competition. The matter at stake is a field of play matter and the FEI Headquarters has no authority to change the results or to intervene.
Regarding the issue of awarding 2 team silver medals to teams with differing results, the FEI acknowledges that this action is not in accordance with the FEI Rules.
We wish to emphasize that the FEI Rules and Regulations have to be applied and complied with by all FEI Officials. We expect that these rules are applied diligently and uniformly, ensuring a fair playing field for all participants.
The FEI will conduct a thorough review of all available facts, evidence, and reports related to the matter. We will liaise with the relevant Officials to address this matter”
To be continued....
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Eurodressage Coverage of the 2023 European Children / Junior Riders Championships