T’was the year 1957 and the first of many European Jumping Championships was staged in the town of Rotterdam. While it was decided, on that occasion, that the very popular change of horse final formula would be applied, it soon became very clear that this would be a point of debate for many years to come. Indeed, many formulas, tested and tried, loved and despised, have been unleashed on the FEI European Championships during the past 50 years. However, after many trials and tribulations, it was the International Jumping Riders club that came up in 1979 with the present formula, that is, Table C and Nations Cup for the team honours, a two rounder added to the previous scores for the individual medals. And while it seems perfectly clear and straight-forward today, many a man was puzzled which led to heated debates and unprecedented experimentation – all for the good of the sport as we shall see…
The debut began with a little less than a bang, when only 8 riders showed up in Rotterdam in 1957. Hans Gunter Winkler (being the only notable top rider present) and Sonnenglanz emerged victorious while Halla remained on the bench as he did not want to have the mare ridden by the other finalists – highlighting the issue of the change of horse final. In 1958, however, without the change of horse final, 24 riders from 13 nations turned up. The tables turned again in 1959 at the 3rd European Jumping Championship held in Paris at the Parc des Princes when the controversial change of horse final was reinstated, although this did not seem to have any adverse effects on the turn out, with the exception of Raimondo d’Inzeo. The formula reverted again in 1961 in Aachen when Broome went on to win the first of three of European titles. London 1962 and 7 riders turned up for yet another formula… This trend was repeated in Rome in 1963 which was particularly marked by the absence of the d’Inzeos. Aachen secured the Championship again in 1965 and saw 21 riders from 12 nations and 30,000 spectators attend. Among the more bizarre, was 1966 in Lucerne when victory went to Nelson Pessoa on Huipil and Gran Geste, ahead of Frank Chapot on Good Twist and San Lucas and Hugo Arrambide on Chimbote, that is, a Brazilian, an American and an Argentinean ahead of all the Europeans.
It’s 1967, 10 years since the beginning of the Championships, and we’re back in Rotterdam to witness David Broome, now riding Mr Softee, win his second European title. Leaving little time for respite, he returned to the FEI European Championship with Mr Softee in 1969 in Hickstead and claimed his third and final European victory. The Championships ensued with Aachen in 1971 and Hickstead in 1973. Munich was then, for the first time, host to the 1975 European Championship, where only amateurs were allowed – but proved to be the catalyst for Alwin Schockemöhle, where victory was finally awarded to him after three European silver medals in 1965, 1969 and 1979 and a German press which questioned his ability to win a gold medal at all… Perseverance is the key. Lest we say the formulas were continually changing throughout this period, with the 1977 FEI European Championship in Vienna proving to be no exception. Nonetheless 1977 remained a year which can be remembered for the discrepancies inherent in the formula.
It was perhaps after the experience of 1977, that the movers and shakers, the International Jumping Riders Club, came up with the present day formula: three competitions, Table C, Nations Cup, two rounds A + B, with penalties to be added. Thus in 1979, Rotterdam was host to record numbers with 47 riders from 15 nations participating. Gerd Wiltfang, who had won the World title the previous year, now won the European Championship, ahead of Paul Schockemöhle on Deister and Hugo Simon on Gladstone. It was a year which saw a true assembly of great horses: Roman and Deister of Germany, Gladstone of Austria, Boomerang and Rockbarton of Ireland, Harley of Switzerland, Tigre and Coldstream of Great Britain, Galoubet and Flambeau of France and Jumbo Design of the Netherlands.
The Championships were back in Munich in 1981 and heralded the beginning of Paul Schockemöhle and Deister’s walk down victory lane. They were then back in fighting form at the 1983 European Championships at Hickstead to secure their second gold, while Switzerland won their first European title. As the French would have it (“on ne dit jamais deux sans trois”) Paul Schockemöhle appropriately returned with Deister in 1985 to the French sea resort town of Dinard in Brittany to claim their third victory – the only combination to have achieved a treble gold at the FEI European Championships.
St Gallen had the honours in 1987 followed by mainstay Rotterdam in 1989, which saw the winner of the 2006 FEI World Equestrian Games in Aachen, Jos Lansink claim third place with Felix. Six years after Dinard 1985, the European Championship returned to Brittany, this time to La Baule, on the southern side of the peninsula, while Eric Navet, the World champion from 1990, took the title on Quito de Baussy, ahead of Franke Sloothaak on Walzerkönig and Jos Lansink on Ergano. The Asturian town of Gijon hosted the 22nd edition of the European Championship in 1993, and it was back to St Gallen for the 1995 edition where heavy rainfalls led to the cancellation of the Table C competition thus leaving only the Nations Cup to decide for the team medals.
In a premonitory effort, Mannheim hosted the 1997 FEI European Championship 10 years ago, which saw the Swiss descend form their medal cloud. Indeed, from 1981 to 1995 they had been on a roll with three gold, two silver and three bronze medals, however, this time they would have to settle for sixth… Women claimed their rightful place in Jumping at the 1999 European Championship in Hickstead when for the first time a woman became European Champion, Alexandra Ledermann from France with Rocket M, and this amongst a very large number of participants, 64 riders, 21 nations and 14 fielded teams! Germany also won with a woman rider in the team, Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum, ahead of Switzerland and the Netherlands. Arnhem was next in 2001, but unfortunately the event is remembered more for the financial failure than the sport, which confirmed a strong Swedish presence in International Jumping. While in 2003, youth led the way with a young Christian Ahlmann on Coster leading a medal sweep by the Germans, ahead of Ludger Beerbaum and Marcus Ehning. Then there was the 2005 European Championship held in the fabulous setting of San Patrignano, a social mission fuelled by a diversified and successful economy. The origins of the community date back to 1978 when 20 volunteers helped Vincenzo Muccioli build what would become the San Patrignano community - today, the largest rehabilitation centre for drug addictions in Europe – and, as they have shown, a fantastic venue for top sporting events.
Which brings us back to here, the 2007 FEI European Jumping Championship in Mannheim… Soon to be another great milestone in the history of the FEI European Jumping Championships – 50 years in the making.
Enjoy the show.