by Louise Parkes
Ireland’s Seamus Hughes-Kennedy wrote his name into the history-books of equestrian sport today when winning the inaugural FEI Pony Jumping Trophy™ Final at Mechelen in Belgium.
Riding the 12-year-old mare, Cuffesgrange Cavalidam, the 15-year-old schoolboy had to hold his nerve when in the lead and last to go of the top 10 who qualified for the deciding round.
“I tried to think of it as just another day in the ring but I couldn’t help but be nervous - this is unbelievable!” said the young man whose partnership with his pony however has already been marked by his seventh-place finish individually at this summer’s FEI European Pony Championships in Hungary. Runner-up was another of the strong Irish contingent, Abbie Sweetnam with Dynamite Spartacus, while Belgium’s Aaron Tijskens steered Superbre de Laloena into third.
The series is devised along the same lines as the FEI World Cup™ and this first Final more than lived up to expectations. The Irish took early command when team gold and European individual silver medallist, Kate Derwin (Cul Ban Mistress), topped Wednesday’s opener ahead of Hughes-Kennedy in second and Sweetnam in third. A win for Thibeau Spits and Cleostrade on Thursday however put this young Belgian on level pegging with Derwin, both going into today’s finale on a zero scoreline after results were converted into points.
From a start-list of 15, a tough and technical first-round track brought the cream to the very top today and with the only clear of the course it was Hughes-Kennedy who went out in front carrying just the four points he collected over the first two competitions. And when Spits disappeared from the reckoning with three fences on the floor and Derwin lost her grip with two mistakes then it was Sweetnam who was stalking her compatriot, just one point in arrears, while Tijskens was only another two points further adrift going into the second round.
It was gripping, and with no room for error after a clear from fourth-placed Derwin, the three ahead of her all coped with the incredible pressure to hold their places. You could hear a pin drop as, last to go, Hughes-Kennedy set off with his mare who is something of a phenomenon. Cuffesgrange Cavalidam, whose sire Luidam was competed by Irish international rider Billy Twomey, was found by Seamus’ mother Clare running rounda field as an unbroken 10-year-old. “She was still green enough this time last year when we did our first 1.30m competition in Millstreet and we haven’t really done a lot, the Spring Tour at home, the European Championships trials and then the Championships - she’s wonderful, she’s always trying to help me, she’s the pony of a lifetime!”, said Hughes-Kennedy today.
Talking about the concept of the FEI Pony Jumping Trophy series which has been staged alongside Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping qualifiers in Oslo (NOR), Herning (DEN), Verona (ITA), Lyon (FRA) and Stuttgart (GER) this season, the new champion said “it’s been brilliant. We learn so much from being around top riders and watching what they do. They talk to us and help us - it’s a great experience!”
FEI Jumping Director, John Roche, said today, “the FEI is happy and proud to give these young athletes a platform to show their talent and riding skills, especially with the Olympic Movement’s focus on the development of youth sport right now”. The FEI Pony Jumping Trophy™ Final will return to Mechelen again in 2018.
Result: 1, Cuffesgrange Cavalidam (Seamus Hughes-Kennedy) IRL 4/62.33; 2, Dynamite Spartacus (Abbie Sweetnam) IRL 5/64.12; 3, Superbre de Laloena (Aaron Tijskens) BEL 7/65.75.
Full result here