Sabrina Arnold of Germany on Easy El Boheira won a thrilling ride in the final kilometers to win the individual gold medal at the FEI Endurance European Championship 2023 in Ermelo, the Netherlands.
María Álvarez Pontón of Spain and Bolchoi El Akim were the silver medal winners, a mere two seconds behind the winners, and Philippe Tomas of France and Biwaka De Chalendrat earned the individual bronze medal.
France captured team gold with four riders in the top 10. Spain, the defending champion, won the team silver medal. Germany sealed the team bronze. This event is the pinnacle of the season for European Endurance athletes, with many focusing their entire competitive season on it.
Sabrina and Easy El Boheira, a nine-year-old bay mare, maintained a steady pace throughout the day, at their own pace, quietly staying with the leaders. They left for the final loop in fourth place and then won in the thrilling ride against María and Bolchoi El Akim, a 12-year-old grey gelding. Both women are powerhouses in the sport of Endurance, with numerous wins and championship titles.
Meanwhile, France has consistently built a reputation for riding strategically and as a team. They won the silver at the FEI Endurance European Championships in 2021, also in Ermelo, and gold earlier this year in Butheeb (UAE) at the FEI Endurance World Championship. Three of their horse and athlete combinations from Butheeb were on the team in Ermelo.
“It was difficult, but it was our strategy to stay all together and have a safe ride with speed,” says Jean-Michel Grimal, France chef d’equipe. “I was very happy with my team; they did a very good job. Spain is very strong and have been leading this sport for 15 years now. I have respect for them, but we are very happy to be in front. We are the World Champions at the start of the year and European Champions now.”
Endurance is a distance equestrian sport that tests horses and athletes physically and mentally. It involves strategy and tactics, with the welfare of the horse coming first. The athletes and their horses train carefully for events such as the FEI Endurance European Championship with assistance from the Chef d’Equipe, team veterinarian, and farrier.
75 horse and athlete combinations started the event. The loop distances were 38 km, 22 km, 29 km, 20 km, 31 km, and 20 km, respectively, with mandatory rest periods after each loop.
The six tracks went through forests, past open pastures on tree-lined roads, and along beautiful heather-filled moors. Riders maintained a steady pace throughout the day, working with their horses to get through each phase of the competition, before increasing the pace on the final phase. Crew members met their horses and riders at various points throughout the course to offer additional cooling, and riders cheerfully greeted spectators as they passed by.
The last of the FEI Endurance main events for 2023 is the Pan American Championships for Seniors, Young Riders, and Juniors in Llay Llay, Chile in November. The Endurance calendar is still busy with rides until the end of the year, as horses and riders look ahead to the 2024 season, which includes the FEI Endurance World Championship in September 2024 in Monpazier, France.
by Stacey Stearns