August 16 - Test events for next year's International Equestrian Federation (FEI) World Equestrian Games in Normandy got underway in the Basse-Normandie village of Santilly with the Endurance event today, won by Dubai's Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum and his 12-year-old gelding Nikos of the United Arab Emirates.
A total of 58 horses from 35 nations set out at 6.30am on the scenic four-loop 129.3 kilometres course designed by Frenchman Jean-Louis Leclerc, which incorporates beaches, hills and forests on its way through the Normandy countryside.
Bahrain's Raed Mahmood took the runners-up spot with Sandine Phoenix some three-and-a-half minutes behind Sheikh Hamdan, deputising for the injured Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa, and Oman's Ahmed Al Hamdani and Raffale de la Fageole took third.
Sheikh Hamdan, a 2010 World Equestrian Games team gold medallist enjoyed, navigating the course and believes that completing the test event will stand him in good stead for next year's World Equestrian Games.
"It was a very good course", he said following his win.
"It was technically challenging and needed an experienced rider who thinks, and that's what will be needed for next year too."
Today's endurance competition marks the beginning of a series of test events that will be staged by the Organising Committee in the build-up to next year's Games.
Eventing also started today with dressage, and will continue with the cross country at Haras du Pin tomorrow, while Driving takes centre stage at the Hippodrome in Caen next week.
"The test events are designed to test both the sport and the logistics and today has given us lots of valuable feedback", said Normandy 2014 chief executive Fabien Grobon.
"For endurance it is important to provide a good course that tests the horses and riders, but keeps the welfare of the horse to the fore.
"We know that there are some things that we will have to change for next year, but we will work closely with the FEI and the National Federations to make sure everything is right for 2014."
FEI endurance director Ian Williams added: "It was a very good test event and did exactly what a test event should do, which is to highlight some of the very good aspects of what will be in place for the 2014 Endurance event, as well as identify aspects that need some work.
"Overall it has been an extremely good day that was very much appreciated by everyone who has been here."
The 2014 FEI World Equestrian Games are due take place in Normandy from August 23 to September 7.
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