“I knew before I went in a fence down can happen so easily, but if I ride well and have a fault I can live with it,” said Sweden’s Henrik Von Eckermann.

His state of mind ahead of Sunday’s Agria FEI Individual World Jumping Championship in Herning, Denmark was one of cautious optimism. In the fickle sport of show jumping nothing is guaranteed. Not even with the horse who soared him to the top of the world rankings this past year, 12-year-old King Edward.

© FEI/Leanjo de Koster

So when the pieces come together it feels like magic

“I didn’t want to go in there and not go by my plan, so I stuck to it and it worked,” said von Eckermann.

The individual championship is a culmination of a rider’s score over the course of the week. The top-15 ranked riders then returned for the medal deciding World Jumping Championship Final Individual – Competition 3 on Sunday, which takes place over two rounds.

This means von Eckermann’s plan had to work not once, but twice.

With the stakes higher than ever, even the world No. 1 grapples with horse show nerves, especially heading into one of the biggest classes of his life.

“It’s always the same with me, two hours before I’m really nervous, can’t eat or anything, but when I get up on my horse that turns somehow into focus and concentration and just trying to do the best round for my horse,” said von Eckermann.

On Sunday, King Edward returned the favor.

https://youtu.be/wzBwcY44G68

The favorites from the start

Ironically, it was von Eckermann and King Edward who made competitors shake in their boots right out of the chute.

The BWP gelding is currently the No. 2 ranked horse in the world. His impeccable stats could assure success on paper. According to JUMPR App, King Edward has an 92% clear round and a 100% top ten finish rate in 12 rounds at 1.65m, the same height of Sunday’s individual final.

In Herning, they couldn’t have been in better form heading into the final class. On Friday, the pair made history for Sweden alongside Malin Baryard-Johnsson, Jens Fredricson and Peder Fredricson, when the team won their first FEI World Jumping Championship gold.

Von Eckermann’s respect for the unpredictability of the sport is sentiment echoed by Swedish Chef d’Equipe Henrik Ankarcrona. After winning their first Olympic Gold medal in Tokyo, the humble yet assured approach has showed in the results.

“We knew we had the capability, the power and skills to do it. But it’s one thing to say it and a different thing to make it come through,” said Ankarcrona after Friday’s team medal.

The rest of the field was riding for silver

Despite the pressure to live up to their only mounting expectations, von Eckermann and his equally professional equine have taken the challenges in stride. Course designer Louis Konickx (NED) has thrown them quite a few.

The first round gave into a sense false hope. Of the 21 athletes to test the course, 14 combinations jumped clean. The second round, however, was not light work. Ultimately, only four riders went double clear.

Konickx promised only one thing from his tracks in Herning; success wouldn’t come easily for anyone. So he was all the more impressed by King Edward’s demonstration of class.

“The first course was fluent and big enough but not too complicated. For the second round we built it up and it was more technical. The time [87 seconds] was short,” explained Konickx.

“It was great to see King Edward win, he was clear every day and he has so much scope. I think we have seen wonderful sport.”

The Swede is also appreciative of this exceptional moment in King Edwards career.

“[King Edward] has jumped so many clear rounds and done so many good things. It’s just a privilege to ride him. I knew Jérôme [Guery] was clear so I could have no mistakes…I had a really good feeling from the first round so that gave me confidence and the horse felt as fresh as he was the first day.”

©FEI/Leanjo de Koster

Jérôme [Guery] feels his silver medal belongs on his horse

So does his team.

Kiss and Cry with Alexander Oancea from Jerome Guery (BEL) riding Quel Homme de Hus winning the silver medal individual. ©FEI/Leanjo de Koster

The Belgian rider finished the second round in second position with his tried and true 16-year-old stallion Quel Homme de Hus. He’s come off a string of top results, including team bronze at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and silver at Aachen in the CSIO5* Mercedes-Benz Nations’ Cup. After Sunday’s result Guery is feeling overwhelmed with gratitude for Quel Homme de Hus.

“It’s like a victory for us. Not only for me but all my team and supporters, my owner, my country and of course for my horse. He deserves this medal. He’s been so good for the last three years and in Tokyo he was amazing,” said Guery.

“When I ride him well he always does the job, when you are here it’s not just because you are a good rider, it’s because you have a fantastic horse! I’m so lucky to have the chance to ride him.”

Maikel van der Vleuten (NED) had a ranking reprise

Maikel van der Vleuten lost his footing in the rankings after catching four-faults in Friday’s class. His seventh position changed to ninth. Going into Sunday’s final he needed two clear rounds to recover.

While some riders might have been rattled, imagining the podium was out of reach, van der Vleuten kept his vision straight. And, his horse, 12-year-old gelding Beauville Z N.O.P.

Maikel van der Vleuten NED on Beauville Z N.O.P. ©FEI / Richard Juilliart

“I tried to keep my focus. I knew Beauville was in the right shape to do it, and I tried to believe in it and follow my own plan. I knew I needed two clear rounds today, but King Edward is unbeatable at the moment, he’s on a whole other level and all credit to Henrik to make it come true and to Jerome too,” said van der Vleuten.

Jérôme Guery BEL Silver medal Henrik von Eckermann SWE Gold Medal and Maikel van der Vleuten NED Bronze medal
FEI / Richard Juilliart

A whole other level indeed. It doesn’t get much bigger than this.

Full results here.

Feature Image: ©FEI/Leanjo de Koster