Experienced Dutch drivers bid for hat-trick, with Belgian young guns hot on their heels 

Longines FEI European Championships 2017 - Driving Preview
15 Aug 2017

by Louise Parkes

If you want to showcase a sport you could hardly come up with a better scenario than bringing it to the streets of one of Europe’s most vibrant cities. It’s bound to be a crowd-stopper when the Marathon phase of Driving sees Four-in-Hand teams clatter through the heart of Gothenburg, Sweden on their way to the public park in Slottsskogen where the obstacles will be located during the Longines FEI European Championships 2017 next week.

And it promises to be a superb battle throughout the three days of competition as Dutch stars, and defending champions, Ijsbrand Chardon (56), Koos de Ronde (40) and Theo Timmerman (52) attempt to clinch their third successive European team title.

Their opponents from Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Sweden and Switzerland won’t be making it easy for them however, and there is tremendous excitement around the young Belgian side that will be fighting for a spot on the podium. Dries Degrieck (22), Edouard Simonet (27) and Glenn Geerts (28) represent a whole new generation making an impression on this equestrian discipline. And keep a close eye on Simonet.

A pupil of the sensational Australian Boyd Exell who is four-time World Champion and seven-time FEI World Cup™ Driving champion, he finished close behind the master at the major at Aachen, Germany last month, pinning Chardon, de Ronde and Timmerman into third, fourth and fifth. In fact most of the opponents he will face in Gothenburg trailed the young Belgian in that crucial test which decided the make-up of the German team for the European challenge. And 20th-place for 2015 individual European champion Michael Brauchle saw him lose his spot on the German side that will include Mareike Harm (31), Christoph Sandmann (50) and Georg von Stein (44).

It’s unusual to see a lady driver at the top end of this sport but, armed with the great team of horses she acquired when Belgium’s Felix Brasseur decided to retire, Harm is highly competitive. And they are a versatile bunch of equines because when they are not being driven, her team are regularly saddled up to compete in Dressage and Jumping.

Driving became the FEI’s fourth discipline in 1969 after a committee, supported by then FEI President HRH Prince Philip, created a set of rules. The first Four-in-Hand European Championships followed in 1971 in Budapest, Hungary and then came to Windsor (GBR) in 1973. A total of six FEI European Championships were staged until 1981 at Zug in Switzerland and Hungarian drivers dominated the individual standings in those early years, Imre Abonyi taking the individual title in 1971 and 1975, and Gyorgy Bardos scoring three-in-a-row from 1977 to 1981. Only Switzerland’s Auguste Dubey managed to break the Hungarian’s grip when coming out on top in Windsor in 1973 when the Swiss also took team gold.

Since the European Championships were renewed in recent years it has been the Dutch who have dominated, and it was the German side that took silver in Aachen two years ago ahead of Hungary who took bronze and Belgium very close behind in fourth place.

Hungary comes to these Championships with just a two-man team, father and son Jozsef Dobrovitz (49) and Jozsef Jr (25). Teams can consist of three drivers, but it is the best two scores that count toward the result, and another interesting duo are the Swiss representatives Jerome Voutaz (38) and Martin Wagner (61). Rising star Voutaz wowed the crowd with some thrilling performances during the FEI World Cup™ Driving Final 2017 at the Scandinavium Arena in Gothenburg in February, the man from Sembrancher showing tremendous sympathy, style and skill with his team of Freiberger horses. A car mechanic by trade, Voutaz isn’t typical in the Driving community but he gets great support from the breeders of his Freibergers, a breed also known as Franches-Montagnes, which come from the Jura region and whose characteristic calmness is key to their suitability for Four-in-Hand sport.

The Driving action begins at the Heden Arena in the city on Friday 25 August, with the thrilling marathon moving from there to Slottskogen City Park on Saturday 26 before the final Cones competition returns to Heden, where the medals will be decided on Sunday 28.

With 9 nations, 21 competitors and 100 horses chasing down those medals it’s going to be unmissable top-class sport.

To see the full list of definite entries, click here

Will it be success again for Dutch driver, Koos de Ronde's team as they attempt to clinch their third successive European team title at the Longines FEI European Championships 2017 in Gothenburg (SWE). (FEI / Christophe Taniere)

Will it be success again for Dutch driver, Koos de Ronde's team as they attempt to clinch their third successive European team title at the Longines FEI European Championships 2017 in Gothenburg (SWE). (FEI / Christophe Taniere)

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