FEI Nations Cup Jumping Final: Underdogs UAE win the Challenge Cup

Today’s LONGINES FEI Nations Cup Final Challenge Cup was proof that when it comes to horses, nothing is predictable. From Thursday’s first round qualifier, where the United Arab Emirates finished second last on the leaderboard, to Friday’s Challenge Cup where they came out top (with nothing but time faults on the scoreboard), it was a complete turnaround for the team who made their Nations Cup Final debut in Barcelona this year.

Stepping Up a Level

Speaking to Chef d’Equipe Karl Schneider during the course walk, he noted how proud they were to compete in the Nations Cup Final for the first time this year, but that it was a big step up for them – having only competed at mainly 2* and 3* shows historically.

©FEI /Liz Gregg/ Libby Law Photography

What they lack in experience they make up for in dedication – the team have been working hard to prepare for this final, moving the horses over to Europe in late April/early May and competing in some lower level shows throughout the year to acclimate the horses prior to the Nations Cup Final.

When asked his thoughts on the course just before the competition kicked off, Karl stated “it’s a lot to jump, especially for us – we don’t have the experience of that level”, and “I think for the good teams, for the top riders of that level – the Brazilians, and the UK, they’re going to make it easy, the Irish boys I think for them it’s not a big deal, but for us it’s quite big”.

It wasn’t long before he was eating his words, as Team UAE were the only team to leave every pole up, only adding time faults to finish on three penalties – topping the leaderboard with six penalties in hand.

©FEI /Liz Gregg/ Libby Law Photography

 

Changing Strategy

The impact jumping as part of a team can have really shows in the UAE’s performance over the last two days, as a simple switch in rider order showed significant changes in results across the two competitions. Shk. Majid Al Qassimi was the lead rider for UAE in the first round qualifier, having been the team’s “leading man” all season – however the horse was off form after travelling, and posted an unusually poor round, which shook the rest of the riders and had a domino effect, leaving the team on a disappointing 34 penalties. In Karl’s words, the team thought “If Majid cannot do it, how can we do it”.

So a switch was made – Abdullah Mohd Al Marri would jump first, and he instilled confidence in the rest of the team leaving all the poles up, adding just two time faults to his score. Abdullah Humaid Al Muhairi then posted one of only two zero fault rounds of the evening, followed by Mohammed Ghanem Al Hajri who finished with just one time fault.

©FEI /Liz Gregg/ Libby Law Photography

With a maximum potential team total of three, and the closest team (Ireland) on four faults, UAE had already won, and so Shk. Majid Al Qassimi, who was not sure if his horse was well enough to jump, was told he did not have to enter the ring. The impact a strong team spirit can have on results once again shone through, as Shk. Majid noted that the team really came through for him when he needed them most.

While the UAE did not have the experience of the other nations going in tonight, they did have one advantage – they jump under floodlights all the time. With it being so hot in the Emirates, they often have to jump at night – while many European shows tend to be hosted during the day.

©FEI /Liz Gregg/ Libby Law Photography

The Remaining Six

Second to UAE, finishing on nine penalties, were Team Ireland. Denis Lynch and All Star 5 had two poles down and a time penalty, making him the discard score, and so Ireland carried Bertram Allen’s four and Shane Sweetnam’s five penalties. Shane Breen posted the only other zero fault round of the day on Laith.

Spain were looking set to finish bottom of the leaderboard again, until New Zealand, Great Britain and Italy’s anchor riders all posted drop-score rounds to see Spain climb three places to fourth position. Brazil finished third, Great Britain finished fifth, New Zealand (the other debutantes at this year’s Nations Cup Final) finished sixth, while Italy finished bottom of the leaderboard on 26 penalties.

If tonight’s nail-biting action is anything to go by, tonight’s final – which sees Canada, Netherlands, USA, France, Germany, Belgium, Sweden and Switzerland battle it out for the €1.25M prize fund – will be just as riveting.

Text by Natalie O’Keeffe

Images ©FEI /Liz Gregg/ Libby Law Photography

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