It has taken Belgium almost ten years to come back with a Young Riders' dressage team as strong as the one right now. Last year, Belgium won a bronze team medal at the 2003 European Young Riders Championships
; history was made again. In 1997 Belgium produced a similar performance at the CDIO-YR Hickstead. The 2003 Young Riders team has been with one rider. Delphine Meiresonne currently has no horse at her disposal and Julie de Deken made her transition from Junior to Young Riders successfully by claiming a spot in the team.
Chef d'Equipe Dominique Rimanque sent the complete Belgian A-team to Hagen to take up the battle with Holland and Germany, only Holland was not there and Germany did not have its European Championship's team entered. This gave the Belgian Young Riders almost free rein to cover the top of the leader board in Hagen.
Carmen de Bondt's student Arnaud Reper rode an impressive score in the team championship test. Aboard his Westfalian gelding Fortissimo (Florestan x Foxtrott), he scored 68.96% and placed second. In the kur to music, Reper rode with guts which was rewarded by the judges with a 70.475% and fifth place.
Reper and Volders were in the same league virtually riding mirror scores. In the team test Volders and her KWPN gelding Jakko (by Chronos/T) scored 68.59% and placed third. In the freestyle they got even better with a 71.625% mark and third place. Volders' freestyle is well choreographed with an absolutely beautiful canter reprise, but unfortunately the trot music is too techno for the horse and misfits the freestyle.
In the preliminary test Julie de Deken took a strong stand with 66.66% and a 5th place. De Deken has been riding Widor (Wanderbusch II x Pikor) for only a small year and recently switched trainers moving to Tineke Bartels' barn. The combinations had to experience so many new things this year; but continued to be an upper 60% scorer. In the team test, De Deken got 66.88%. Only in the freestyle, the had a little downfall with 63.50%. De Deken started her test with good concentration, but when they made their first small mistake, the duo was no longer and the same wavelength and made several mare canter work mistakes. "Widor had never been competed when we bought him," Julie's mother Brigitte De Deken said, "a four day show for him is still hard. Today he was very tired and Julie had difficulties keeping him on the aids. But they are both still young and there is plenty of time to learn."
Newcomer to the Belgian CDI team was Fanny Verliefden and her 8-year old Oldenburg stallion Rubel (by Rubinstein x Tin Rocco). Hagen was Verliefden's second CDI competition ever, but she earned the respect of the team and crowds by being a very decent debutante. In the preliminary test they scored 64.81% (14th) and in the team test 64.29% (12th). In the individual test the combination made a few mistakes in the canter work, making its score drop to 62.35% (7th), but nevertheless Rubel and Fanny piqued the interest of the international dressage world.
It also needs mentioning that Verliefden's (and Volders') trainer Wim Verwimp did great work coaching his two students through this event. He was there at the warm up giving the right comments to help his pupils in a positive way, and he was there next to the show ring, nodding occasionally to his students during the test in appreciation of their work.
It's very hard to tell which Belgian Young Rider is the best one at the moment. All of them perform so inconsistently well, that one can never tell who will be the leader of the pack. In Hagen, it were Van Campen, Reper and Volders who claimed top three places. Although no victory was granted the Belgians, they were the strongest team force at Kasselmann's.
"If this show was a CDIO-YR, we would definitely have won the gold," chef d'equipe Rimanque said.
Text and photos copyrighted Astrid Appels/Eurodressage