Philippe le Jeune Wins WEG Jumping Championship, Abdullah al Sharbatly Takes Silver as 1st Middle Eastern Medalist

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Philippe le Jeune of Belgium, 2010 world champion jumper rider. © 2010 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Philippe le Jeune of Belgium, 2010 world champion jumper rider. His horse, Vigo d'Arsouilles, is behind him. © 2010 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

LEXINGTON, Kentucky, Oct. 9–Belgium’s Philippe Le Jeune who admits he prefers horses to humans became the world champion jumper rider Saturday night in an exciting Final Four jumpoff in which Adbullah al Sharbatly won silver to become the first Middle Eastern finalist and medalist at the World Equestrian Games. Canada’s Eric Lamaze, the 2008 Olympic individual gold medalist, took the bronze.

Philippe was the only finalist to ride four clear rounds on the horses of the Top Four–his own Vigo d’Arsouilles, Abdullah’s Seldana di Campalto for Saudi Arabia, Hickstead, Eric Lamaze’s Olympic mount, and HH Rebozo ridden by Brazil’s Rodrigo Pessoa.

Abdullah’s surprising success on a horse he had owned for only six weeks before WEG and his engaging enthusiasm in the spotlight broadened the pinnacle of the sport to four continents for the first time: Asia, North America, South America and Europe. Although a newcomer to the highest levels of international jumping in Europe and North America, he and the 11-year-old KWPN mare were the only pair to go clear in all five rounds until the Final Four.

The Final Four contest under lights in the main stadium of the Kentucky Horse Park capped the jumping competition after the five rounds that whittled the field from 121 horse and rider combinations in one of the eight world championships that make up the World Games held once every four years and outside Europe for the first time. WEG began Sept. 25 and ends Sunday when the clock starts ticking down to the next Games in Normandy, France in 2014.

"Thank you, God," Abdullah al Sharbatly exclaims after his fourth round ride on HH Rebozo to win world championship silver medal. © 2010 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
"Thank you, God," Abdullah al Sharbatly exclaims after his fourth round ride on HH Rebozo to win world championship silver medal. © 2010 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

The 50 year old Philippe was not the favourite going into the competition.

But in the end the quiet horsemanship skills of a man whose life is totally devoted to his horses won the day.

“I had no difficult moments with any of them,” he said afterward reflecting on the rides on his rival’s mounts. “I decided to go their way and not to try and make them go my way, and it paid off.”

Al Sharbatly’s presence in the individual medal-decider took many by surprise. First into the ring, however. as the riders kicked off on their own horses, the 27-year-old rider gave her what seemed a nervous ride and the final two elements of the last fence on the track, the triple combination, hit the floor for eight faults. There was a gasp of surprise when Pessoa’s Rebozzo hit the vertical at fence three in an otherwise perfect tour of the eight-fence course, but both Le Jeune and his big, handsome stallion and Lamaze with Hickstead, kept a clean sheet in this first phase.

The Final Four challenge however is about taking on a course of fences with a horse you’ve never ridden, and it was Pessoa who was tested first.  Seldana di Campalto was extremely unimpressed by having to remain in the warm-up area while the class was ongoing, and her marish qualities became ever more apparent when she started lashing out as the Brazilian rider’s saddle was fitted.

Pessoa was unperturbed however, and, once aboard, produced a lovely clear to get right back in the game. Le Jeune and Rebozo and Lamaze and Vigo d’Arsouilles then both left all the fences intact.

But al Sharbatly’s three-minute warm-up with Hickstead had the spectators glued to their seats, the Saudi rider apparently struggling with both his steering and the horse’s balance.  But once in the ring the discord disappeared, and although Hickstead’s speed was near full tilt, they arrived home with nothing to add.

Le Jeune was clear again, this time with al Sharbatly’s mare, but Rebozo lowered the middle element of the combination for Lamaze and when the Saudi rider went clear with Vigo and Pessoa cruised home with Hickstead it was getting down to the wire.  Le Jeune was firmly in the lead on a zero score as the last rotation began and only a disaster now stood between him and gold.

When Lamaze and Seldana hit the first element of the triple, al Sharbatly stayed clear with Rebozo and Pessoa, surprisingly, left two on the floor with Vigo d’Arsouilles the stoic Belgian set off, last to go with Hickstead. The world title well within his sights.

The true horseman that he is, he just sat quietly and let Lamaze’s stallion show just what a great horse he is, still full of running after nine tough jumping rounds and happy to be part of another page of jumping history.

Eric Lamaze on Abdullah's horse, Seldana di Campalto, on which he dropped a rail. © 2010 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Eric Lamaze on Abdullah's horse, Seldana di Campalto, on which he dropped a rail. © 2010 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.co

Le Jeune talked about his life and the things that are important to him.

“When I was young my father taught us to love animals and I love them more than people. I have two sons and they are my flesh and blood and I love them greatly. They are the most important to me other than my horses. I feel for them, I love them and I always do my best for my horses. If they weren’t so big they would be living in my house!”

He said he competed in his first big international show in Rome in 1980 and that he has had “many ups and downs” as horses he produced were sold on for others to ride.

And he talked about his indebtedness to the owner of his gentlemanly stallion Vigo d’Arsouilles who had the opportunity to sell the horse for a lot of money but who kept him for Le Jeune to ride.

“I owe a lot to him and his family,” Le Jeune said.

The Belgian rider is intensely proud that Vigo is a son of the great breeding stallion Nabab de Reve with which the rider won world championship team bronze in Jerez, Spain eight years ago.

Al Sharbatly said “it is a great moment for me and my country to win the silver medal.  It is the first time in history that a rider from the Middle East has reached the top four in a World Championship.” In an extraordinary coincidence, all four horses are stabled within a 30-mile (50km) radius of each other in Belgium, Lamaze’s stallion sharing his time between Europe in the summer months and Florida in the winter.now

Rodrigo Pessoa on Vigo d'Arsouilles on which he compiled eight faults and out of the medals. © 2010 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.comt
Rodrigo Pessoa on Vigo d'Arsouilles on which he compiled eight faults and out of the medals. © 2010 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Rank Nation Rider / Own horse Total Score
1 BEL
P. Le Jeune /  Vigo d´Arsouilles 0,00
2 KSA
A. Al Sharbatly /  Seldana di Campalto 8,00
3 CAN
E. Lamaze /  Hickstead 9,00
4 BRA
R. Pessoa /  HH Rebozo 12,00

For round-by-round results click FinalFourResults