The 10 highest ranked teams in the world, plus the host nation, took to the arena at Al Forsan International Sports Resort in Abu Dhabi, UAE, for the inaugural Longines League of Nations on Sunday.
With eight spots at the Final in Barcelona, Spain in play and four qualifiers in the season, the battle for points began in the land of year-round sunshine.
The new League follows the traditional Nations Cup format of four riders with one drop score in Round 1. In Round 2, the stakes and pressure go up as only three riders, chosen by the chef d’equipe, return and all scores count toward the team total.
Ireland led the field after the first round as the only nation to finish on a score of zero. In their wake were Sweden and Germany with 4 points apiece. Switzerland and Brazil each had 8 points, followed by the UAE on 11 and Great Britain and the USA on 12.
With the top 8 teams advancing to the second round, The Netherlands, France, and Belgium didn’t make the cut. Whomp, whomp.
In Round 2, lead rider Richard Howley kept Ireland’s hopes alive with a brilliant double clear on Equine America Consulent de Prelet Z. But the title slipped from their grasp when Michael Pender and HHS Calais added eight to the team total in the next rotation. Four more faults from Mark McAuley and GRS Lady Amaro, the final pair in the ring, ultimately slotted the Irish into second on a total of 12.
Germany, meanwhile, returned stronger in the second half.
Making their first 5-star appearance since the European Championship last year, Christian Kukuk and Mumbai improved their 4 fault first round score to jump clear. Teammate Jörne Sprehe and “the best horse ever!” Sprehe Hot Easy delivered a double clear, one of only four on the day.
Four penalties from David Will and My Prins van Dorperheide put the Germans on 8 overall and atop the podium. All four team members had at least one clear round.
Chef d’equipe Otto Becker was thrilled with his team’s “super start to the season.”
“I’m happy and proud,” said Becker, noting that Ahlmann was the natural choice to leave out of Round 2, as it was Blueberry’s first 1.60-metre course. “All four did great.”
“I feel very happy,” said Kukuk. “I had a good feeling. I was very excited for the second round. He showed all his potential.”
David Will said he was “thrilled with the whole team” and singled out Sprehe for her “exceptionally good” performance. “I thought overall my horse was class.”
Sweden tied on penalties (20) with Brazil but was faster overall on the clock to finish third.
World no. 1 Henrik von Eckermann (SWE) on Iliana and wife Janika Sprunger (SUI) on Orelie both delivered a double clears over Santiago Varela Ullastres challenging course.
The Longines League of Nations moves to Ocala, Florida in the United States next month, followed by two subsequent legs at St. Gallen (SUI) and Rotterdam (NED) in April. Eight teams will ultimately qualify for the Final in Barcelona.