All the thrills of Europe
November is one of the busiest months for equestrian events and competitions in Europe, and TANIA HAPPUTZ was there to capture it all.
Whether you are a rider or simply passionate about horses, equestrian events in Europe offer an unforgettable experience. November’s indoor shows are just as impressive as their summer open air counterparts, and are unsurpassed in their atmosphere and excitement.
I spent three weeks visiting four horse events in Portugal, Italy, Germany and the Czech Republic. They were all vastly different, but all offered high calibre competition and entertainment.
My first stop was Golega in Portugal. Normally a sleepy town, every November Golega transforms into a mega horse hub thanks to the arrival of the National Horse Fair. Nothing prepared me for the spectacle, not to mention the mouthwatering aroma of roasting chestnuts and the constant smoky atmosphere. I expected to see the Portuguese equivalent of signs such as ‘To the show’ or ‘Car parking this way’, but no, there was nothing! Not even a sign to tell me where the fair was. It was crazy to see people parking wherever they could fit their cars along the side of the road.
Golega’s town square is converted into an arena, with displays running over ten days and often until 3:00am. This was where all the main action was, with a variety of classes including working equitation, breeds, and some dressage too. An outside track is created (known as the manga) where people ride their horses and drive carriages. Most riders are colourfully attired in beautiful Portuguese traditional costumes, which, by the way, do not include a helmet. Health and safety go out the window here and young children of all ages can often be seen riding large horses – and very impressively too!
People and horses come to the fair from all over Portugal, and this year British dressage star Carl Hester made an appearance. Clearly impressed, he commented that it was one of the most amazing equestrian spectacles he’d ever seen, adding: “If you ever get a chance to attend, I’d highly recommend it.’’
After Portugal it was time to travel to Italy’s historic Verona, which hosts the Fieracavalli, a horse fair unique to the town. It is the much-anticipated event on the Italian equestrian calendar and includes twelve pavilions of all things equestrian, including the Verona World Cup show jumping.
And directed by Antonio Giarola, the Gala show is not to be missed. Showcasing the talents of many national and internationally recognised equestrian performance artists, including Santi Serra Camps, Clemence Faivre, Giuseppe Cimarosa, Giulia Giona, it was a spectacular display of horsemanship at its best.
Fieracavalli is like Equitana but on steroids! Attracting over 140,000 spectators over the four days, it was simply mind blowing. Each area hosted different themes: from Iberian breeds, diverse riding styles including trick and Roman riding, to dressage, Western, liberty work, Arabian horses and the World Cup jumping arena. The Italian breeds, including the Murgese and Maremmano, were allocated their own arena. The local Maremmano are the traditional mount of the Maremma cattle men and are also ridden by the Italian mounted police.
Anyone who loves to shop would have been in heaven at Fieracavalli, with handmade leather boots, sparkly helmets, and supple leather jackets. When you needed to refuel, the food on offer was typically and deliciously Italian with arancini balls, pizza, calzone, prosciutto paninis, cannoli and other delectable treats.
The FEI Verona World Cup arena hosted a top field, and I could hear the crowd oohing and aahing each time a rider went clear. Many of the top riders were competing, including World No.1 Sweden’s Henrik von Eckermann, and homegrown local crowd favourite Lorenzo de Luca, who won and placed in a few of the jumping classes much to the crowd’s delight. Our own Edwina Tops-Alexander competed on two of her horses, Toulini Olympic and Corellies de Miles, but unfortunately, she had some rails down leaving her out of the winner’s circle. The Longines FEI Jumping World Cup at Verona, presented by Scuderia 1918, was won by Great Britain’s Ben Maher on his horse Dallas Vegas Batilly.
After Verona I enjoyed a spot of sightseeing in Milan with a day trip to Lake Como and Bellagio, which included a sightseeing day on the Bernina Express to St Moritz. Such a breathtaking journey at this time of year, with snow on the mountains and the autumn leaves still on trees creating a stunning backdrop.
My next stop was the German Masters held in Stuttgart over five days with four World Cup events in dressage, driving, show jumping and pony jumping.
Australian driving champion Boyd Exell is a regular here. He had already won at Stuttgart eight times previously, and true to form, he won the World Cup Driving again this year against tough competition. Boyd has certainly earned his nickname this season as the Master of Faster, and I couldn’t help but feel for Luc, Boyd’s new backstep, who copped plenty of mud going through the water obstacle!
The FEI Grand Prix Dressage Freestyle was impressive with twenty riders from over eleven countries competing. Crowd favourite Germany’s Isabell Werth riding Emilio won the World Cup on a final score of 86.88. Australia’s Lyndal Oatley, aboard Elvive, competed in the CDI4* Grand Prix freestyle and rode some lovely tests with a score of 70.34 earning her a top ten placing. The combination was also placed 11th in the German Master’s Grand Prix Special on a score of 67.95.
The FEI World Cup show jumping was still hotly contested, despite many of the world’s best heading to the Global finals in Prague. Kevin Staut of France won the World Cup show jumping final, and young British rider Harry Charles had a good show winning many of his classes as well as finishing runner up in the World Cup.
As with most European events, the entertainment is phenomenal. Stuttgart was no exception with renowned Frenchman Jean-Francois Pignon performing with his free horses in the intermission. I had seen him before at CHIO Aachen and always love his performances.
Next stop? The Czech Republic for the last part of my journey and to see the Longines Global Champions Show Jumping Playoffs final held in Prague over four days at the O2 arena. The contenders who have earned their Golden Ticket to the event were winners of each CSI5 Longines Grand Prix from the 2023 season, or the runners up if the winner was already qualified for the GC Playoffs LGCT Super Grand Prix.
The CSI5 Longines 1.65m competition with a purse of €1.26 million (that’s a tad over $2 million Australian) was held over two rounds. It was a tough track with tight turns which took plenty by surprise. Jessica Springsteen’s mum Patty was seen in the grandstands cheering her daughter on in the finals.
Australian rider Edwina Tops-Alexander won her golden ticket in Madrid in May this year on her horse Fellow Castlefield and finished in 8th position in the final. After a tough contest, Frenchman Julien Epaillard on Dubai Du Cedre became the winner of the LGCT Super Grand Prix.
The CSI5 Longines Super Global Teams final was super electrifying and tense to watch. The 1.60m final worth €6.5 million (just shy of $11 million Australian) was tightly contested. Reisenbeck International won and team members Eoin McMahon with Mila, Christian Kukuk on Checker, and Philipp Weishaput with Zineday did the double, claimed the season Championship title, and were crowned winners of the GCL Super Cup – leaving Valkenswaard United’s Marcus Ehning with Stargold, Gilles Thomas on Luna van het Dennehof, and John Whitaker with Equine America Unick Du Francport in 2nd place for the second year running. The Paris Panthers were not far behind in 3rd place.
After a three week whirlwind of excitement, colour and spectacle, Prague was the perfect finale for my European sojourn.
If this article has given you the travel bug, visit Snaffle Travel to see what adventures Tania has planned for 2024.