Israel Lopez clinches victory in FEI Jumping World Challenge Final 2023!

8 October 2023

In a thrilling display of equestrian excellence, Israel Lopez of Puerto Rico emerged as the triumphant winner of the FEI Jumping World Challenge 2023, held at the Ranch Equestrian Centre in Polokwane, South Africa. Competing alongside the locally-bred Irish event horse Rivervales Rebel’s Destiny, Lopez showcased exceptional skill and determination, securing victory as the sole competitor to maintain a flawless performance throughout all three rounds of the final.

Lopez’s Flawless Performance Shines Bright

Thursday’s rounds saw Lopez qualify in fifth place for Saturday’s final, but he felt his bond with his ride for the week get better with every day.  This was evident by a brief instant in the jump-off where Lopez momentarily lost sight of his track: “I had my first round in mind and I got a little bit lost, but then I figured it out and got him [Rivervales Rebel’s Destiny] under me again, and he really helped me out at that fence!”

Lopez’s plan for the jump-off was to just establish a rhythm and a pace and stay committed to put pressure on Latour, who was riding second. The plan worked perfectly, pressuring the previous winner of this series to chase his time – and hopefully a second victory – inadvertently taking two poles, despite having a fractionally faster time.

Lopez’s Triumph: A Beacon of Hope for Puerto Rican Equestrian Sport

This is Lopez’s first win in the Jumping World Challenge, after having taken the silver in both 2001 and 2002, and he emphasised how a win like this is exceptionally positive not only for the sport in Puerto Rico, but for the children and the development of smaller countries under the equestrian umbrella.

A Celebration of Global Equestrian Unity

The event showcased international camaraderie, with riders from diverse backgrounds and nations coming together to compete. Valerio Baruzzo of Argentina, who secured the third position, highlighted the significance of such competitions, stating, “This competition is a huge opportunity to compete globally, meeting other passionate people from this sport, and getting to know other places and cultures doing what we all love.” There were 18 competitors from twelve countries, men and women, from ages 16 to 53, speaking to the wonderful equality that equestrian sport offers athletes, spectators, and sponsors.

Empowering Young Talent: Learning Through Experience

The competition served as a valuable learning opportunity, especially for young athletes, with over half of the class being under the age of twenty. Despite the competitive atmosphere, the event fostered a spirit of learning and growth.

South African rider Mikaela Martin, the youngest rider of the week, reflected on her experience, saying, “It has been such an incredible opportunity to be here, and a great learning opportunity. I pride myself on my ‘big match temperament’ but the pressure of a big event like this really shows up what I still have to learn, where one moment of doubt resulted in an unnecessary pole on a super horse.”

FEI Solidarity: Bridging Gaps, Creating Opportunities

This competition is run under the Solidarity arm of FEI, offering athletes who are unable to participate in international competitions the opportunity to compete internationally. By qualifying competitors in their own countries, and then bringing them together in a central location to compete on borrowed local horses, makes international experience more accessible to the smaller nations under FEI.

This creates a bridge between the National and first International  level of competition, helping national federations to develop various disciplines in their country; FEI World Challenges exist in Jumping, Dressage, Eventing, Vaulting, Driving and Para Dressage.

Praise for Host Venue: The Ranch 

The Ranch Equestrian Centre, nestled in the picturesque bushveld of Polokwane, South Africa, served as an exceptional and uniquely African host for this prestigious international event. The venue’s top-notch equestrian facilities and convenient stabling ensured a memorable and enjoyable experience for all participants.

Future Prospects for South African Equestrian Sport

Mark White, President of SA Showjumping, expressed gratitude to the owners who borrowed quality horses for the event, as horse selector Barry Taylor said, “This event will only be as good as the horses we find.” White also expressed hope that the event’s success would pave the way for more global competitions in South Africa, showcasing the nation’s growth in equestrian excellence.

Article: Hoofpick Life
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