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FEI Top League kicks off in La Baule

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

The overall winning French team of the Top League 2010. Photo by Tony Parkes/FEI.

The Top League kicks off in La Baule this weekend and several of the best riders on the Rolex world ranking will be present.

Belgium has their comeback in the Top League and will be in La Baule with their bronze-team from Kentucky, which includes Jos Lansink, Dirk Demeersman, Philippe Le Jeune and Judy-Ann Melchior as well as Jérôme Guery. In an an interview with WoSJ earlier this year Belgian rider Niels Bruynseels explained that the Belgian team has their focus on staying in the league as they already qualified for the Olympics in Kentucky. There is a good chance they’ll make it too as they have severeal good horses and riders to choose from as well as a good team captain in Philippe Guerdat.

The French are represented with some of their best riders; Pénélope Leprevost, Kevin Staut, Simon Delestre, Michel Robert and Olivier Guillon will all try to keep on to last year’s title. It will be interesting to follow the successful team and find out how it works out with Henk Nooren as both their coach and trainer; earlier this year Nooren pointed out that one of the main goals for the team for 2011 is to hold on to the Top League.

Eric van der Vleuten and VDL Groep Utascha will be fighting for the Dutch team this season. Photo by Jenny Abrahamsson. The Dutch team is a good one as well, with Marc Houtzager, Eric van der Vleuten, Vincent Voorn, Albert Zoer and Jur Vrieling. Holland had some problems last year due to lack of horses, but this year they should be able to give the other teams some serious competition with several top riders and horses to choose from. According to the team’s coach Rob Ehrens believes that qualification for the Olympics is more important than a top performance in the Top League this year.

Then there is the one team you should never underestimate; Germany. At La Baule they are represented by Philipp Weishaupt, Carsten-Otto Nagel, Marcus Ehning, Heico Schmidt and Thomas Muhlbauer. The same goes for the American team with Rich Fellers, Ashley Bond, Margie Engle, Charlie Jayne and Christine McCrea presently in Europe.

Great Britain had some ups and downs in last years Top League. They have some good riders at start in La Baule though, with Nick Skelton, William Funnell, Robert Smith, David Mc Pherson and Peter Charles.

Ireland is missing two of their potentially best riders as the series kick off. Jessica Kürten lost her best rides in January when her former sponsor, Lady Georgiana Forbes, decided to end their contract. Denis Lynch – currently number four on the world ranking – left the Irish team in January, and still has not come to any known agreement with Horse Sport Ireland on rejoining the team. They still have Billy Twomey though - number seven on the world ranking and the winner from last weekend’s Global Champions Tour in Valencia. Together with him are Cian O’Connor who has shown great form over the winter, as well as Shane Carey, Cameron Hanley and Shane Sweetnam.

Emilie Martinsen will be one of Denmark's strongest team candidates this year. Photo by Jenny Abrahamsson. An interesting team to follow will be Denmark. The team has their debut in the big league, and is represented by the new Danish champion from last weekend Thomas Sandgaard, last year’s winner of the Danish championship Emilie Martinsen as well as Torben Frandsen, Henrik Gundersen and Tina Lund.

WoSJ made an article on the Danish team in January – where we talked to Bo Kristoffersen who runs a training stable with Rolf-Göran Bengtsson, and one of Denmarks potential Top League riders, Andreas Schou – on their chances to make it in the league. Schou then stated that “there is no secret that we lack top horses compared to other nations in the series. In Denmark we have some really good younger horses that are likely to compete at top international level in two or three year’s time. So in the perfect world we should have gotten this opportunity three years from now.” He also explained he was convinced that their participation in the Top League would give the riders and horses the experience they need for the future, and that this will help them raise the level of Danish showjumping.

You can read the full article here

There is no doubt that this year's Top League will be tough – especially for the smaller teams. Horse and rider combinations needs to be selected and used carefully, as there are limits to how many shows each horse can take at this level. In addition the European Championships will be held in September, and the event should be an important goal for most riders as well as the last chance to qualify for next year’s Olympics in London.

You’ll find the full riders acceptance for La Baule here

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