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Hoekstra targets European glory

23rd December 2012, 09:46pm

Ben Maher: Crowned leading rider

Ben Maher: Crowned leading rider

Great Britain showjumping boss Rob Hoekstra has set his sights on European Championship success next year after masterminding Olympic gold medal glory at Greenwich Park.

The London International Horse Show drew to a close on Sunday night with Ben Maher - one of Hoekstra's Olympic champion team - being crowned leading rider after winning four classes on four different horses.

Although the Olympia Grand Prix finale could not provide a British winner a capacity crowd craved - Germany's Marcus Ehning took the £21,600 top prize on Sabrina 327 - British showjumping has rarely been in better shape after ending its 60-year wait for an Olympic title.

But Hoekstra is already focused on the Europeans in Denmark next August and competing strongly in what looks likely to be a revamped Nations Cup competition.

"I think we have a realistic chance of doing very well at the Europeans," said Hoekstra.

"Every time we go to a championship we go to win. Things worked out great for us in London, but we will have to prepare hard for the Europeans.

"To be introduced as Olympic champions is a nice pressure to have. It brings much more advantages than it does disadvantages.

"The expectation is good for the riders, the pressure on the whole is good, too. We work well under pressure. You get yourself on a roll, and hopefully we can keep that going."

Two of Britain's victorious team - Nick Skelton and Peter Charles - are aged 50-plus - and while both riders still have a huge role to play building towards Rio 2016, Hoekstra's accession plan is well under way.

"I see all the older riders as part of the plan for the future, but at the same time I have to introduce a younger generation of riders," he added.

"I hope Nick and Peter are there for Rio, and the Games after Rio, and I want to encourage the older generation of riders.

"If they are available, that would be fantastic, but if they are not available I have to ensure I have a team available to compete at that level.

"The talent pool is there, without any doubt. I have no worry about that at all.

"There is a new Nations Cup format for 2013, and if it all works out it could be very interesting. We will pick four Nations Cup events out of eight that will be our scoring Nations Cup competitions, so we have to ensure we have very strong teams at those four.

"But we will try to get invitations to all eight because I need to build a bigger team, I need to give younger riders and horses an opportunity to jump at Nations Cups.

"I am looking towards 2016, and I would definitely want to have two or three of the younger generation in the championship teams over that period of time, such as the 2015 Europeans.

"There are a number of riders I think can make that step, but the biggest challenge we've got is finding owners, and owners like we have now who who have said 'no' to selling horses.

"Without the horses we are not going to be able to compete with other nations. There is a huge enthusiasm among the owners we have, but I think potential new owners are looking at the sport in a different way now after we won the Olympic gold medal.

"A very big part of my job going forward will be owner development.

"We have the riders, the talent, but not necessarily with horses for a championship. That is something I am working very hard on to develop and encourage owners to invest in our future."

The Olympia Grand Prix went to Ehning after a nine horse jump-off, with Australian Edwina Tops-Alexander second and Switzerland's Janika Sprunger third. Michael Whitaker and Viking were the leading British combination in fifth.

The Snowman Stakes, an accumulator competition where riders score points for jumping each fence, was won by Frenchman Roger Yves Bost, with Guy Williams second and Maher third.

And Cheshire teenager Emily Ward completed a notable double when she landed the JJ Junior Jumping Stakes.

The 13-year-old became the youngest winner of the Team Murka and World Class Programme Under-23 British Championship earlier this week, and she delivered another outstanding performance.

Riding King Mac, Ward clocked a jump-off time of 25.48 seconds to triumph by almost two seconds from Jessica Mendoza and Tixylix, while Harry Charles - Peter Charles' son - finished third with Murka's Moneymaker III.

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