SOME 456 athletes and 375 horses will compete at the ECCO FEI World Championships in Herning, Denmark over the next 10 days. Competition kicks off tomorrow (Saturday) with the Blue Hors FEI World Dressage team championship Grand Prix.
Some 200,000 spectators are expected to visit the venue over the duration of the championship. Ireland has sent a team in dressage, para dressage and jumping.
The first dressage rider down the centre line for Ireland tomorrow at 10.45am (Irish time) is 26-year-old Alex Baker who is among three of the four riders to make her championship debut in the Stutteri Ask Stadium which can hold 10,000 spectators. Also riding in the first day of the team competition is Kildare-based Sorrell Klatzko (at 4.37pm) who also makes her championship debut. Abigail Lyle and the two-time Olympian Anna Merveldt will ride on Sunday.
Speaking from Herning after riding in the arena familiarisation on Friday morning, Klatzko said the championship has already been a “huge learning curve and such an amazing experience”.
“Three of us are so new to this level and as well as it being my first big experience, my horse [Turbo] is only nine, he is one of the youngest horses here. Then Anna [Merveldt] has so much experience and has been so generous with her insights and help,” Sorrell explained, adding: “I feel like I am at the start of something really exciting with dressage in Ireland. It just shows the strength and depth we are starting to get, we are starting to show we have the quality to be good championship horses, it is all coming together.
“We had the team dinner last night and [Horse Sport Ireland chairman] Joe Reynolds was a great help with putting our mind at ease. He has so much experience at these events so it was a big deal for us, he told us to take the most we can from it, learn what you can, and that there was no pressure on us.”
The experienced non-travelling reserve, Dane Rawlins, is also onsite to lend his support to the team. “Dane is an incredible gentleman and is here helping everybody. It is never easy, everyone is here to get a place on the team and when you are the person not on the team, yet to be so helpful to everyone else is really lovely and important. There is a really great team spirit.”
Alex Baker and Dutchman at the FEI World Championships in Herning \ Tomas Holcbecher
Klatzko said the facilities at the venue are “tip top” with huge stables, a wellness centre for both horses and riders, a huge team of volunteers and amazing surfaces. Even a storm on Thursday did not affect any facilities or arena surfaces.
The grooms are housed in caravans by the stables and are really well looked after with good food in a dedicated grooms restaurant.
“The riders have fantastic food too, it is all lovely healthy, fresh athlete food; our hotel is about a four minute drive and we have a great shuttle service, a proper VIP service. The hotel our team is in, it really feels like we are at a sporting event, with gyms and a pool. I get this vibe that we are sporting athletes, not just riders, this is a real athlete’s venue.”
After the arena familiarisation, Klatzko reported Turbo was in great form and loving the experience. Asked about her expectations for her test, she said: “I would love to try get a personal best, over 68%, I would really love that. Overall I would love to come out feeling like he listened to me, I rode him well, we grew through the test and we were confident; that is any riders dream.
“I am going in with positive attitude, I want to make sure we enjoy the moment and experience it together as a team, it is just me and him in there. I want to do him proud, I want to do myself proud and I want to do Ireland proud.”
Lyle rides at 11.50pm on Sunday and Merveldt at 4.46pm. Team medals will be decided after all four riders from each team have performed their Grand Prix test, with the three best scores counting. The top 30 combinations from the Grand Prix will qualify for the Grand Prix Special on Monday, August 8th. Then, the top 15 from the Special qualify for the Freestyle to Music, which takes place on Wednesday, August 10th.
The para dressage and jumping horses are beginning to arrive to the venue with their competitions kicking off on Wednesday.
You can watch all the action live on Clip My Horse (subscription).