Rivalries brewing as Driving stars ready to put on a show of horsepower in city setting

With 21 four-horse carriages going head-to-head during three days of high-octane action in the heart of Gothenburg (SWE), the watching world is in for a treat as the Longines FEI European Driving Championships 2017 get underway tomorrow morning.

From a blisteringly strong Dutch team, featuring the 2016 World Championship individual silver and bronze medallists and who are chasing a record fourth successive European team crown, to rising star Edouard Simonet (BEL), who finished just 13 points behind the sport’s four-time world champion Boyd Exell (AUS) at last month’s FEI World Cup™ event in Aachen, the great and the good are ready to put on a show.

The city setting has already drawn plenty of praise with Theo Timmerman (NED), 2014 FEI World Equestrian Games™ bronze medallist, marvelling at the “selfies and movies” being taken of him as he drove his team of horses through the traffic to the dressage arena.

“This is my focus point, the whole season has been aimed to here. Not one show I’ve driven in have I had the same horses, it was just to select them for this moment.”
Theo Timmerman, member of the gold medal Dutch team at both the 2014 WEG and 2016 World Championship

He is in no mood to let that dominance slip. “The strongest point for our team is that all three of us are all-rounders, we are good in dressage, the cones and marathon. Most of the teams have maybe one all-rounder and two good in the marathon or dressage,” he said.

With Koos de Ronde, the 2017 FEI World Cup™ Final bronze medallist, and ljsbrand Chardon, the 2016 World Championship silver medallist, completing the Dutch trio, they will certainly be tough to beat for both team and individual honours.

As in all sports, however, Timmerman made the point to “never underestimate the Germans”. Dressage kicks proceedings off in the Heden Arena tomorrow and the Germans have a not-so-secret weapon.

“We did a training camp on my farm on Monday and Tuesday with Boyd Exell. We did a lot of dressage training. It was pretty cool to get tips off him. At the last World Cup he won dressage, marathon and cones, which is unbelievable.”
German team member Mareike Harm

Exell’s assistance has spread further even than that. Georg Von Stein (GER), ranked sixth in the current FEI World Cup™ standings, has drafted two of the Australian’s horses into his team.

“We tried it out two or three times and straight away they worked well together, hopefully it helps,” said the world number one.

The man’s protégé, 27-year-old Simonet, is many people’s favourite for individual gold. The Belgian went to work for Exell as a groom seven years ago.

“He has taught me a lot, I am still learning every day. Now the Germans have him as a trainer probably they will perform better in dressage, but maybe it gives them a bit of extra pressure. The Dutch are always strong but everyone is coming closer behind. We are young and strong and we want to move forward.”
Belgian rising star Edouard Simonet

The Belgians certainly do have youth on their side, often a rare commodity in a sport that demands experience. Glenn Geerts, 28, and 22-year-old Dries Degrieck join Simonet.

“We are all mates together,” Degreick said. “The (team) gold will be difficult but if everything falls the right way it may be possible.”

Others to watch out for include Hungary’s József Dobrovitz, whose son joins him in the team, and Jérôme Voutaz (SUI), the car mechanic who finished second in the FEI World Cup™ Final in February.

With Saturday’s marathon thundering through the city streets and into Slottsskogen, the Central Park of Gothenburg, and the cones wrapping things up on Sunday it is, as Timmerman said, “going to be special”.