Dhe international show jumping is in turmoil – again. This time the question is how the rules of the traditional Nations Cups, in which the best riders and horses of a country compete against each other in teams, should look like in the future. This form of competition has been around for more than a hundred years.
So far, the riding has been in a proven format: the teams entitled to start each compete with four rider-horse pairs in a first round. The top eight teams advance to the second round. In both rounds, the three best results of each quartet count, so there is a discarded result. The team with the fewest penalty points wins. A proven, understandable system.
No “attractive” images
But the World Equestrian Federation FEI now sees the time to change its own official Nations Cup series, to make it “more attractive for athletes, tournament organizers, sponsors, media and fans”. The new “League of Nations” is to become more international from 2024 and take place on several continents.
Ten teams – still with four pairs – are to compete in the first round. In the second round only three couples per nation should start – no more discarded results, every ride counts. At the Olympic Games in Tokyo, the three-man format was used for the first time. This is where the weaknesses of the system became apparent: without a discarded result, the three remaining couples had to complete the course “whatever the hell”, if one dropped out, the team burst.
The weaker teams in particular produced images that were anything but “attractive”, especially not for the horses. Many riders and trainers are therefore not happy about the FEI plans, including national trainer Otto Becker and Marcus Ehning, who is one of the most experienced German show jumpers. “The system with four pairs twice is much better,” says Ehning, “it’s a classic.” Steve Guerdat, Olympic champion from 2012, asked the question in the Swiss specialist magazine “Pferdewoche”: “Why should you change something that has worked for years ?
At the CHIO Aachen you can regularly see how well the “old” system works. There you can afford to stick to the tried and tested four-way format. The Aachen Nations Cup has existed since 1929. Like the tournaments in Rome and Calgary, it has a different sponsor than the FEI Nations Cups and is therefore not part of the official series. Year after year, the CHIO proves that it doesn’t have to be to be “attractive”. As expected, around 40,000 visitors will come to the large stadium again this Thursday (8.15 p.m. on WDR) to watch the team competition.
With bike and coffee to the square
On Wednesday, national coach Otto Becker nominated his team of four: Jana Wargers with Limbridge, Hans-Dieter Dreher with Elysium, Mario Stevens with Starissa – and Marcus Ehning with Stargold as the final couple. If the CHIO Aachen is the constant of the Nations Cups, then it is Marcus Ehning in the German team. In June he became German champion for the second time – 21 years after winning the first title.
The 49-year-old rides the route from the hotel to the Aachen tournament grounds in a relaxed manner, one hand on the handlebars and a coffee mug in the other. He knows the Soers inside and out. “20 times sure”, he has already started in Aachen, he won the prestigious Grand Prix in 2006 and 2018. He can hardly remember a year without the CHIO.
Otto Becker has to choose four from the five nominees who will actually ride in the evening. The national coach will probably not be able to avoid Ehning: “Marcus plays a very important role in the team,” he says. “The younger ones follow him and benefit from his experience. That’s very valuable.” Ehning and his top horse Stargold are in good spirits and recently finished third in the Stockholm Grand Prix.
Also part of the German quartet in Aachen is Jana Wargers, who competed there for the first time in the Nations Cup with her horse Limbridge in 2022 – and promptly won. “Pure emotions” were what the 31-year-old says. “Moments that will always be remembered.” Shortly thereafter she made her World Cup debut – in a team with Marcus Ehning, whom she describes as a role model.
“I admire his riding style,” says Jana Wargers, and she’s not the only one. Marcus Ehning doesn’t make a big deal out of the role assigned to him: “If you’ve been there for so long and you’re a team player like me, then that’s what happens.” Nevertheless, he’s happy, although he doesn’t want to “let it get that close to me”. . “I don’t like to talk about myself.” His successes speak for themselves.