6 years of World Cup in Casas Novas

horse riding | Dec 2023
Carlos Miguel
The Longines FEI Jumping World CupTM was born in 1979. The competition was created by the FEI with the intention of globalising the sport and becoming a cohesive factor for the major winter events in search of larger audiences. The new series initially consisted of several qualifying Grand Prix spread across 2 leagues, North America and Europe, and a grand final with the best that was celebrated in Gothenburg (Sweden) and won by Hugo Simon. 45 years later, the World Cup has been consolidated and has grown considerably in number of participants, leagues and venues to be considered a true Indoor World Championship that Spain joined in 1993 . Oviedo, Seville and Vigo led the way until Madrid took over in 2014. Two years later, Casas Novas, which had already been organising international competitions since 2000, became a permanent venue of the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup TM and in 2023 it will celebrate its 7th edition. A good time to review 6 years of emotions, show and sport at the highest level.

First edition

There were 40 contenders in the first Grand Prix of the Longines FEI Jumping World CupTM of Casas Novas, Caixabank trophy, and only seven of them managed to overcome all the difficulties of Santiago Varela’s course. Carlos López was the first to go in the jump-off with Admara, which had previously won a World Cup event in London with its previous rider, but with whom it struggled to connect. According to the Colombian rider, "when we bought it, we had doubts about if it would be strong enough to jump high, despite having won a lot with Emanuele Gaudiano. A lot of people weren't sure about it, but I knew how I had to work and what I needed to improve. It always jumped in 4th gear, a bit revved, and had to learn to jump in 5th. It took me more than 7 months to get along with the horse but it had it all: a lot of heart, great mental strength and a lot of speed". That day everything had flowed well between the rider and horse in the previous round, but it was still necessary to put the icing on the cake.And being first out in the jump-off was certainly not an advantage: "Admara was an ex tremely fast hor se and I could take whatever risks I wanted with it. If I had been last out I could have gone much faster but when you are the first to go you don’t have it clear about how much risk you can take. This is why I opted for an intermediate level: at the beginning I was more conservative and in the last part of the round I went for broke. When I finished I knew I had gone fast but probably not fast enough to win a World Cup Grand Prix." It didn't seem enough... but it was. No one managed to improve his time and Carlos López took the victory ahead of Jane Richard, Ludger Beerbaum and Henrick von Eckermann while Maikel van der Vleuten and the Spaniards Gerardo Menéndez and Sergio Álvarez Moya knocked down an obstacle. "I suffered a lot until the end but it was worth it," said the Colombian rider. "It was ver y exciting, it 's a fantastic memor y that will stay with me forever. At the end of the class I thought that more World Cups could be held in other Spanish venues because I won the 1st in Madrid and I won the 1st in A Coruña. In fact, I now live in Spain!"

Madrid - A Coruña connection

A Carlos López se le dan muy bien los concursos españoles. Y algo muy parecido puede decirse de otro de los vencedores en A Coruña: Maikel van der Vleuten. El neerlandés había ganado el Gran Premio Global Champions Tour de Madrid en 2014 tras haberse impuesto anteriormente en la Copa de S .M . el Rey en la misma pista del Club de Campo en la que fue 2o en 2019. Precisamente este mismo año, Maikel llegó a Casas Novas con Beauville Z, un prometedor 9 años que tuvo que enfrentarse en el desempate a nada menos que 12 rivales, lo que obligaba a asumir grandes riesgos si se quería ganar. De hecho, 9 de los 13 caballos que habían hecho 0 repitieron recorrido sin falta en un barrage que quedó para el recuerdo de todos los asistentes por su emoción y espectacularidad. “Fue una victoria fantástica –recuerda ahora Maikel van der Vleuten-, especialmente porque el caballo era propiedad de Marta (Ortega) y ganamos delante de ella. Fue uno de los mejores desempates que recuerdo con el caballo a pesar de que era aún muy joven. Desde que lo compré no ha parado de sorprenderme, siempre ha hecho todo lo que le hemos pedido. Lo que más me gusta de él es su actitud, su mentalidad luchadora y la velocidad que puede llegar a alcanzar. Creo que es un poco mejor en pistas grandes pero en indoor también es magnífico”. El ganador se impuso por 72 centésimas a Emanuele Gaudiano con el poderoso Chalou y por 78 a Pieter Clemens.

The winner in Spain repeats

Edwina Tops-Alexander, who won the LGCT Grand Prix of Madrid in 2023, is another rider very good at our country. This Australian lady has been one of the great stars of the Longines FE I Jumping World CupTM in A Coruña since she is the only one who has managed to win 2 editions out of the 6 that have been played so far. The first victory came in 2017, seven years after having won another World Cup Grand Prix held in our co u nt ry, i n V i go. B a c k i n G a l ici a, E dwi na competed in the most important class of the competition on California, a mare with whom she had won her last Grand Prix before giving birth in Paris, and which gave her her first Grand Prix after motherhood in A Coruña: "It was a very special triumph for me," says the Australian rider, "because it was my first victory after becoming a mother. My parents came from Australia to see me and my daughter Chloe was also there. The year before I had not been able to ride the World Cup in Casas Novas due to a mistake of mine since I did not finish the qualifying of the day before, I had just found out that I was pregnant and all that affected me a lot. Coming back a year later with my daughter and winning was very fulfilling to me."

A year later, in 2018, Tops-Alexander repeated success but in very different circumstances and with another much less experienced horse which was only 9 years old: "It was very unexpected. The week before I had won with California in Paris and I decided to leave it for a week off thinking about Prague. I didn't plan to ride the World Cup Grand Prix on Vinchester. It was a horse that had never jumped at that level, I took it for the other classes, but the day before it went so well that I said to myself: Why not? So I decided to compete, I thought I could ride the class but, of course, not that I could win it as it didn't have the experience for it. That's why it was also a very special victory."

Coming back and winning after becoming a mother

Edwina Tops-Alexander is one of the only two women having won the Longines FEI Jumping World CupTM in A Coruña. The other is Janne Friederike Meyer-Zimmermann. The two of them also have another link: both won the class after having become mothers that same year and both decided to return to competition much earlier than the established 6 months af ter giving birth even knowing that this meant losing their points in Rider’s Ranking. According to the German rider, "At that time, the points were not the most important thing for me but having the ability to decide for myself when I was fit to compete. It is an issue that goes beyond our sport and can be applied to all women. Until you have your child you don't know how your life is going to change, so when you are able to organize yourself and you see that you are in a position to return. I think it is very important that women, whether they are athletes or working mothers, can decide when to do it.That is why we have launched the EqualEquest initiative to help mothers "not only in the world of equestrianism" be able to return to work when they consider that they are ready. There cannot be a general rule for all cases because each case is different. Even if I lost all the points, I think I did the right thing." Edwina also believes she has done the right thing but recognizes that, unlike the German rider, the ranking for her was very important at that time: "I was in 13th place and I came back in 75th, so the comeback was hard. I admit that at that time I became obsessed with the ranking, my whole life revolved around the points I could get each week to recover positions. I had been in the top 10 for 10 years, I had done 45 competitions a year for the last 20 years and that was my priority. With COVID came a terribly hard time for everyone, but for me it was a stage of adjustment in which I saw that there were other priorities more important than competing every weekend. I used to really enjoy every victory with that pace of life but now I think I'm happier and I enjoy my sport more than before.
I've realised that there are other things in life that I also want to do and that I enjoy doing. I'm more with my family and I do things that I didn't do before. I 've learned a lot in this process, the ranking can drive you crazy and, probably, if you want to be in the top 10 it's almost necessary. This is a sport that doesn't allow you to stop, there is competition every weekend without a break, not like in most sports that stop at some point, the horses have to stay in shape and that demands a lot from you. Now I have my goals, I plan them but in a different way, more calmly and with Chloe more in mind." The truth is that both Edwina and Janne went back to competition very early after motherhood and successes did not take long to come for them again. The Australian rider admits that it didn't take her too long to return: "The main obstacle was mental, because you think you don't ride the same, but I made a great effort to stay in shape during pregnancy. I remember that the first day I rode again I took a few jumps to feel that everything was still the same and that I had not forgotten, that I still saw the distances well to reach the obstacles, and so it was. In a couple of days on horseback everything was back to normal. I only stopped for 5 months, 4 weeks after giving birth I was already riding, 3 weeks later I competed in my first 5* grand prix having a pole down and in December I won in Casas Novas." Janne delivered on January 31, 2022 and by mid-March she was already riding again. In April she won the 4* Grand Prix in Hagen, in June she won representing Germany in the Longines FEI Jumping Nations CupTM in Sopot riding two perfect rounds and in August she won the 4* Grand Prix in Munster: "Being a mother didn't make me stronger, but it cer tainly didn't weaken me. The stable had already achieved many successes before and there was a lot of work behind it with horses that had been with us for a long time and for which the break was very good to come back fresh and with enthusiasm" The results have been with the German rider since her return and that winning streak continued on what was her first visit to Casas Novas: "I was very surprised by the place, I was impressed by the facilities and by how beautiful the whole venue is and the incredible views it has. Even before I started I was very happy and I ended up even happier. I remember that the Grand Prix course was big but very well designed. The problem was not the course designed but how short the time was because the first ones to go out were very fast. With the worry of the clock, the riders who followed were forced to go at top speed and that made them knock down obstacles. There were only 2 free-penalty rounds. I was the second rider to enter the arena in the jump-off and when I saw that Harry Charles was fast and had no choice but to take risks, I forced in the final part and I took a chance because I knew that in the worst case I was finishing in second place." 35 hundredths of a second gave her first Longines FEI Jumping World CupTM to Janne Friederike Meyer- Zimmermann with Messi van't Ruytershof, a horse that does not fit the most suitable profile for indoor competition: "It's a very special horse, very clean, maybe it's not the most suitable for indoor competitions because it's very big, it doesn't feel very comfortable in small warm-up arenas, but in Casas Novas arena everything was very well organized and you could also warm up outside with peace of mind. Then, as soon as it starts jumping, everything is easy because it has strength and is clean."


The first one and the first time

The fact that a German rider won his first Longines FEI Jumping World CupTM Grand Prix in his first participation in Casas Novas already had an almost identical precedent the previous year, although with one more additional factor. Philipp Schulze Topphoff won the 2021 edition not only in his first appearance in A Coruña but also in his debut in this class and with an added complication: he was the first out not only in the jump-off (like Carlos López) but also in the previous round. "It's not the best position for the jump-off but I don't think it's so bad for the first round. I like to walk the course, make my plan and stick to it. Many times, when you see other riders going out before you you get doubts. Sometimes you end up changing your own plan... And it doesn't always go well." That day everything went well for this young rider, then only 23 years old, who had to fight at the clock with 6 other rivals who did clear rounds like him on the first round: "I started the jump-off very well, with a good pace. Then I lost some time but in the end I came back again. There were 2 riders who did better time than me, Jos Verlooy and Michael Pender, but I was lucky that they both had a fence down. I wanted to go fast but, above all, I wanted to do it well. It wasn't a per fect round but it was a good one.When I finished I thought I would claim 3rd or 4th, even 2nd, but I didn't think it was enough to win. When I got it, I couldn't believe it. It was my first World Cup competition and my first victory. It was totally unexpected, it took me several days to take it in." The 2021 edition was the first to be held after the COVID pandemic and was still held without audience. The atmosphere was not the usual or the desired but that did not detract even the slightest trace of excitement: "We were all very happy to be back riding and that joy was showed. It's clear that with an audience everything would have been very different, but as I had never won a class like this before, it's hard for me to imagine." Philipp won that Grand Prix aboard Concordess, the mare with which he was claimed European Young Riders Champion in 2019 and with which he had won his 1st Nations Cup with Germany in Budapest making two clear rounds: "She's a mare with an incredible personality. It's allowed me to do classes that I'd never done before and it gave me the most important victory of my career. When it's fit it’s able to jump anything, even if the rider isn't as good as it. Carlos López won in A Coruña after having triumphed in Madrid, something that also happened with Maikel van der Vleuten. The Dutchman is very good at our country as well as Edwina Tops-Alexander, who won in A Coruña after becoming a mother. Like Janne Friederike Meyer-Zimmermann, the German rider who won her 1st World Cup in her 1st participation in Casas Novas doing the same as happened the previous year with Philipp Schulze Tophoff, who had to come out first in the jump-off... as well as Carlos Lopez. The circle of coincidences seems closed but this year it will probably open again to add one more name to the list of winners of a competition that has come to Casas Novas to stay and that has brought to Galicia one of the highest level and most spectacular equestrian sports shows in the world. The Longines FEI Jumping World CupTM in A Coruña is turning 7 years... and there are many more to come. Let's keep enjoying!