By Pamela Burton
The Spanish athlete Paula Muntala Sanchez riding 10-year-old part-Arabian Echo Falls emerged victorious after the 120km Meydan FEI European Endurance Championship for Young Riders and Juniors in Portugal, leading the Spanish team to gold as well.
Held at the Rio Frio Equestrian Centre, 38 athletes aged between 14 and 21 from 11 countries left in a mass start at 06:30 on Saturday, 3 September. The competition circled in four loops of 40, 30, 30 and 20kms, with gates and veterinary inspection areas on each loop.
The young but seasoned, Sanchez, aged 21, completed the ride in 05:14:57 with an average speed of 22.86 kph riding though the heat of the day, which reached 30°C with 40% humidity.
The all-female Spanish team came into each vet gate within minutes of each other, pulsed down and left in the same way, and arrived at the finish just after Sanchez, placing 2nd - 5th individually in this order: Laura Fernandez Piña on Cadigaam, Bruna Pujols Aumatell on Lludriga De Masferrer, Raquel Costa Condina on Kalima Casanova and Naroa Calvo Ibáñez on Escarsi.
“The plan was to be strong with all the team from the beginning to ensure that at least one of our team members could be in the medals,” said Sanchez after the ride.
Although this did not happen to her, Sanchez stated what might have been the biggest challenge on the ride: “To lose a shoe is a problem because you lose time, and it is difficult to recover in such flat terrain as the one in Rio Frio. The biggest strength of my 10-year-old Appaloosa is in his character. He saves energy during the competition, which allows him to have a quick recovery at the end of each loop.”
When asked about her future endurance goals, Sanchez replied: “My goal is to improve my performance and hopefully to continue as a team member for Spain.”
Echo Falls is by the full Arabian stallion Tango D’Ayres by the legendary Persik out of the Appaloosa mare, Song of Wind.
Spanish cavalry led the way
Heading out in the first wave of the mass start, Spain’s Sanchez and her teammates blended like a grey cavalry into the low fog of early morning as they led the way for the first 40km loop.
The five athletes took possession of the race from the start, never leaving first position throughout, but knew they were being chased by France’s Henriette D Ursel on Wloszka Fontanel and Emma Frances on Quokin De PSA.
João Maria Moura riding Distinto for Portugal kept within five minutes of the first seven riders throughout the course and he was followed by Italy’s Costanza Laliscia on Rok and Camilla Coppini on Veinard Secondo. Great Britain’s hopes were dashed early on as they lost all three riders by vet gate two.
Besides host Portugal, athletes represented Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Spain.
Seven teams started and five teams completed. A course completion of 57% finished the last rider, Imke Lamsma from The Netherlands riding Sjacour in the ride time of 07:43:12 with an average speed of 15.54 kph.
The FEI European Endurance Championship for Young Riders and Juniors is an important foundation for future top Endurance riders. The last edition of this Championship was in 2014 in Verona, Italy. To compete, athletes must have successfully completed at least 3 CEI 2* events or higher.
Manuel Bandeira de Mello, FEI Endurance Director said of the competition: “It was a fantastic day of top quality sport. The Spanish team led the ride from the very beginning showing their supremacy, and the high skill of the athletes and the horses proved that even with a very technical track, a 57% completion rate could be achieved.”
Rui Amante, President of the Ground Jury in Rio Frio commented: “The venue is fantastic and the event went very smoothly. The most important aspect is that the fair play of the 37 competitors was truly amazing for Juniors and Young riders. I am very happy with the outcome of this event.”
Rio Frio - the venue
The trails of mostly sandy soil went through ancient cork oak forest, around thriving vineyards and between irrigated rice paddies, allowing for many natural water spots and easy access points for crews. The public could also view the athletes in viewing areas designated along the national roads. This route has been in use and tested since 2014. The Rio Frio Equestrian Centre is located on the southern bank of the Tagus Estuary, 30km from the Portuguese capital of Lisbon.
Results - top ten individuals
1. Paula Muntala Sanchez, Echo Falls (ESP) - finish time 05:14:57
2. Laura Fernandez Piña, Cadigaam (ESP) - finish time 05:14:58
3. Bruna Pujols Aumatell, Lludriga De Masferrer (ESP) - finish time 05:14:59
4. Raquel Costa Condina, Kalima Casanova (ESP) - finish time 05:15:00
5. Naroa Calvo Ibáñez, Escarsi (ESP) - finish time 05:15:05
6. Henriette, D Ursel, Wloszka Fontanel (FRA) - finish time 05:34:10
7. Emma Frances, Quokin De PSA (FRA) - finish time 05:34:11
8. Maria Moura João, Distinto (POR) - finish time 05:45:18
9. Constanza Laliscia, Rok (ITA) - finish time 06:08:32
10. Camilla Coppini, Veinard Secondo (ITA) - finish time 06:08:33
Results - top three teams
*Teams count the highest-placed three members for classification
1. Spain - finish time: 15:44:54
2. Italy - finish time: 19:04:10
3. Portugal - finish time: 19:40:47
*Also finished: Belgium (finish time 19:57:53) & Netherlands (finish time 20:42:03).