July 31, 2006 -- Eventing breaks new ground in Aachen this summer where, for the first time, the World Championships will be run without steeplechase at the FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG). This version of the sport, introduced at top international level shortly before the 2004 Olympic Games, dispenses with the two sections of roads and tracks and the steeplechase that traditionally preceded the cross-country.
It will also mark an important innovation for the famous Soers showground, long renowned as a centre of excellence for show jumping, dressage and driving. The organizers were faced with the massive undertaking of building from scratch a brand-new cross-country course. Fortunately, they had at their disposal a conveniently situated square kilometre of land adjacent to the main stadium on the Soerser Weg.
Germany's Rudiger Schwarz will design the 30-fence course, which will involve some 45 actual jumping efforts. The 56-year-old former international rider, winner of a world team silver medal back in 1982, is now a highly successful trainer of junior and young riders and, since 1998, has gained a reputation as an international course designer.
Schwarz has promised a true World Championship track that will test the best riders and horses, as well as offering slightly less technical but more time-consuming alternatives for the more cautious. It will include three water obstacles and several other technically difficult complexes as well as the usual smattering of straightforward "let-up" fences. The course will be 6,270 meters (3.9 miles) in length--slightly shorter than Badminton--and must be ridden at the same speed as Badminton (570 meters per minute). Riders incur time penalties 0.4 of a penalty added for every second they take over the optimum time.
WEG brings together the finest riders and horses from the world's most successful eventing nations--headed by the reigning champions Jean Teulere and Espoir de la Mare from France--as well as individuals from countries unable to muster a full team. A team comprises four members. The three best riders' final total scores count for the team classification for medals with the worst being discarded. In addition each nation may run two more individuals, giving a maximum of six riders/horses per nation. Team and individual riders compete at the same time.
Four continents will be represented, with 17 nations expected to field teams and another 10 running one or more individuals. A total of around 95 riders is expected.
Among nations fielding full teams will be the three "big guns" of the world stage, Australia, New Zealand and the United States, and the main European contenders, France, Germany and Great Britain.
The Americans are the current team title holders. The British have the best record at this level, with four team gold medals compared with America and New Zealand's two apiece. France, Ireland and Canada have each been champions on just one occasion.
The Germans will be hungry to make amends for their Athens Olympic Games debacle, when Bettina Hoy's last-day error (crossing the start-line twice in show jumping) cost her and her compatriots both individual and team gold medals.
The USA's most deadly weapon is, once again, the combination of Kim Severson and the British-bred Winsome Adante, three-time winners of the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, and team bronze and individual silver medalists at the Athens Olympic Games.
Australian Andrew Hoy, the 2006 winner of Rolex and Badminton, is riding better than ever. Hoy and his compatriots have won Olympic gold on three consecutive occasions (1992, 1996 and 2000) but the Aussies have yet to score at WEG.
The British, who have reigned supreme in Europe for many years will also be among the favorites despite the loss of Pippa Funnell. Her proposed ride Primmore's Pride, previous winner of Rolex, Badminton and Burghley, has been withdrawn with a suspected leg problem. Funnell has been replaced by championship debutante Sharon Hunt and Tankers Town, who ran well to finish sixth at Badminton this spring.
The British squad is a mix of the very experienced and total newcomers to championship riding. Mary King, 43, team gold medalist in The Hague in 1994, is the senior member. She rides Call Again Cavalier, the former mount of Caroline Pratt. William Fox-Pitt, the next most experienced, will be among the individual favorites with the part-Arab Tamarillo, winner of team gold and individual silver medals at last year's Europeans. New to the team are 24-year-old Oliver Townend (third at Badminton 2006) and Daisy Dick (11th in the Europeans 2005).
Among the countries unable to field whole teams, Finland probably has the best chance of success. Of the 100,000 Finns who ride, 93 percent are female, so it no surprise that their top eventer is a woman, the highly successful Piia Pantsu, with Ypaja Karuso. This pair won the bronze medal in Jerez in 2002.
Samantha Albert will be Jamaica's sole representative in the entire WEG, while Pepo Puch fills a similar role for Croatia. For the first time ever Belarus will be represented, with entries Iryna Lis and Svetlana Yevshchik.
The scoring system at the World Championships is the same as those for other international events. In the dressage test, each movement is marked out of 10 by each of the three judges. Perfect 10s are rare. Four lots of 10 more marks are also available for the quality of the horse's paces, his impulsion, attention and obedience and the rider's skill. The judges' marks are averaged and then converted to penalties.
On the cross-country a first refusal, run-out or circle at a fence incurs 20 penalties, a second at the same fence incurs 40 penalties, a third at the same fence results in elimination. An overall fourth refusal at any of the fences incurs elimination, as does the fall of a horse at an obstacle. If a rider falls, he is given 65 penalties and is allowed to remount, but a second rider fall results in elimination. The height of a cross-country fence may not exceed 1.20 meters (1.40 meters for a brush fence).
In the final day's show jumping four penalties are given for each fence knocked down and for a first refusal. A second refusal, jumping a fence in the wrong order or a horse-fall all incur elimination. A first rider fall incurs eight penalties, a second fall brings elimination. Exceeding the time allowed results in one penalty per second.
Visit EquiSearch.com for in-depth coverage by Nancy Jaffer of the 2006 WEG eventing competition August 24-27.