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Le Lion Show Jumping: The Young, The Restless, and the History-Making

“He’s just tried really, really hard, and I always said to the owner that he’s as good as Zidante, who was third when he was six, so he’s gone even better,” said a tearful Kitty King after securing the Six-Year-Old World Championship with Cristal Fontaine (Chef Rouge x Nous Avons Gagne, by Griot de Mara). Three phenomenal performances across the phases saw them finish on their dressage score of 25.4, moving from third and clinching the coveted title for the Selle Français gelding, owned by Alex Wakeley.

Kitty King records an emotional win in the six-year-old World Championship with the French-bred Cristal Fontaine. Photo by EquusPix.

“I’m just chuffed to bits with him. Millie [Dumas] and Liz [Halliday-Sharp] are on really good jumpers, and I know what their English form is like, so I was just delighted at the thought of finishing third on our dressage score. I wasn’t even watching! I’m just so pleased for my team at home, and my sponsors, and my owners, especially.”

Kitty King and Cristal Fontane enjoy their victory lap. Photo by EquusPix.

It was to be a British one-two as Piggy French and Emerald Jonny (Waldo Van Dungen x Z Royalty Van De Heernis, by Rubels), owned by Piggy’s partner Tom March, finished in second on their dressage score of 25.8.

“I’m so thrilled with him; he’s a great little horse, a fun horse, and he loves galloping and jumping,” said Piggy. “It’s the first time he’s showjumped after the cross country, so you never know whether they’ll be a bit tired or go flat, but he tried really hard. I’m very pleased; it’s very exciting! He’s quite a show-off, as a character, so I think he rises to it — he loves people watching him.”

Unfortunately it wasn’t to be for US representative Liz Halliday-Sharp and her precociously talented Cooley Moonshine. Billy just tipped a rail and, despite enjoying a three-mark lead after a remarkable 22.4 dressage and a double-clear cross-country trip, he wasn’t quite buffered against the advances of his closest competitors. They dropped two places to finish third, and the best of our North American representatives this week.

“Of course I’m devastated not to win, and he’s such a brilliant horse,” said Liz. “At the end of the day, the ground’s very different in there than it is [in the warm-up]; he’s such a careful jumper, and I think he just had a young horse mistake. I could feel him trying to figure the ground out early on, he was like, ‘oh, this isn’t quite what I thought,’ and he just didn’t quite get himself back quick enough like he normally would. After that, he was trying so hard — he just didn’t want to get near anything.”

Liz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Moonshine finish third and best of the North American contingent. Photo by EquusPix.

“I’m still absolutely thrilled with him. He’s just a baby — I’m proud to be on the podium and so proud of what he’s achieved this week. He’s come out as fresh as anything today; he didn’t notice the crowds, and he just went out and did his job. He had a green moment, but I couldn’t ask for anything more from him — he’s going to be a superstar.”

Liz plans to aim for a return trip to the Loire with Billy in 2019: “He’s really grown as a horse here, and he’s the right sort of horse for Le Lion, so hopefully we can come back and have a real fight for the seven-year-old champs next year.”

Rebecca Howard and Trebor for Canada. Photo by EquusPix.

A rail and three time penalties precluded an FOD for Canada’s Rebecca Howard on the first of her two horses, Irish-bred Trebor (Mighty Magic x Trevilder, by Fleetwater Opposition). They finished in 18th place on a score of 35.3, while second ride Cooley Convinced (Diarado x BLM Clover Diamond, by Clover Echo), also owned by Kelly McCarthy-Maine, finished 29th on a score of 56.4, pulling five rails and adding five time penalties.

Mexico’s Pedro Gutierrez enjoyed a fantastic week with his own California Mail (Quite Easy x Varnalisa Mail, by Kalaska de Semilly), adding just two rails to their dressage score of 39.4 to finish on 47.4 and in 24th place. Pedro’s completion — and, indeed, entry — of the event is a little bit of eventing history; he and his mare are the first competitors to represent Mexico at the Young Horse World Championships. Pedro sees this as a positive step for the profile of the sport in his home country, and we can’t help but agree.

Pedro Gutierrez and California Mail tackle the final phase. Photo by EquusPix.

“I have seen through the years that almost every upper-level top horse has done Le Lion d’Angers,” he explained. His own mount Unanume du Loir, too, had completed the competition, finishing 24th with French rider Jean Marc Favereau in 2015, and thus a seed was sown: Pedro would produce a talented youngster with the goal of competing in the prestigious event.

“I put a plan together to compete there and learn inside-out how things worked. I bought two two-year-olds from their breeder, Bernard le Courtois from Haras de Brullemail, and kept them in France in training at Ecurie Lepertusa.”

Pedro Gutierrez and California Mail. Photo by EquusPix.

The horses went on to do the age classes as four-, five-, and six-year-olds with Nicolas Pertusa in the saddle, and Pedro started to make the journey over to France in the summer to compete them both under the tutelage of Samantha Leper. They earned their qualifying results for Le Lion at Haras du Pin CIC1*, at which California Mail finished 29th, and Pedro decided that she would be his ride for the championships.

“I did Waregem CIC1* to improve our bonding under stressful competition conditions,” he said. “I believe the French eventing Classic cycle is the best tool to develop young horses in competition, and being able to compete at Le Lion is the ultimate test for that system. It’s the first time a Mexican has competed there, and hopefully in the future we’ll be able to bring more Mexican-owned young horses. This has been an outstanding year for Mexican eventing, after winning team gold and individual gold and silver medals in the Central American and Caribbean Games in Colombia, as well as having Daniela Moguel riding Cecelia in Tryon as the first Mexican to compete at the World Equestrian Games, finishing in 42nd. Now we can add my result at Le Lion.”

“The competition is extremely well organised, in a perfect venue for the sport, with challenging but fair courses to test the horses under challenging conditions. Using the longest distances with the minimum jumping efforts in the cross country gives the horses the chance to learn to gallop and ‘cool down’ their brains after jump complexes. At Le Lion, you truly learn if you have a true potential championship horse.”

Pedro Gutierrez and California Mail serve up a double-clear and a little bit of Le Lion history, too. Photo by EquusPix.

Emerald Jonny, Cooley Moonshine, and Universal Cooley also helped the Irish Sport Horse studbook to another win in the breeding prize, finishing on a collective score of 79.5 and edging the Studbook Français du Cheval Selle Français into second place. Third went to the Koninklijk Warmbloed Paardenstamboek Nederland (KWPN), the Dutch warmblood studbook.

Our friends at the Eventing Podcast have been crunching the numbers and looking at the influence of the Young Horse World Championships, which historically has a reasonably uninfluential cross-country. If you’d like to delve further into what they discovered, check our their new pod, The Z Line: An Alternative Scoring System for the Sport of Eventing.

The top ten six-year-olds of 2018.

The seven-year-old class was enormously closely contested and, after the surprise elimination of leaders Michael Jung and Choclat in yesterday’s competition, the door was wide open.

Three horses ended their competition early: French riders Arnaud Boiteau and Amaury Choplain withdrew their mounts Bogosse du Levant and Beaune d’Epte, as did Germany’s Anna Siemer with Capoliveri. This left a hugely competitive field of 56 primed and ready to tackle a tough course in an even tougher atmosphere.

Ingrid Klimke’s Asha P takes the seven-year-old title. Photo by EquusPix.

Last year, the showjumping was enormously influential in this class, and today’s competition proved that the course was as testing as ever. Only thirteen combinations would produce a clear round, allowing for no mistakes at the top of the leaderboard. The pressure was most certainly on.

Germany’s Ingrid Klimke is no stranger to pressure — after all, she’s our reigning European Champion and the reserve World Champion, and after a pole cost her the latter title in Tryon, she wasn’t likely to let it happen again today. Her exceptional Brandenburg mare Asha P (Askari 173 x Hera, by Heraldik) looked cut from the same cloth, delivering a quick and catlike clear to secure the title of Seven-Year-Old World Champion.

“She’s never been in a stadium with so many people, but she was totally with me and jumped bold and beautiful — it was so much fun,” said Ingrid. “It’s an atmosphere that’s really the top of the world. The older I get, the more I really love bringing up young horses, and I’ve had this one since she was five, so I’m so proud — she learned so much here this weekend and I can really look forward for next year.”

Ingrid Klimke and Asha P. Photo by EquusPix.

Young British talent Tom Jackson had spent the week inching his way up the leaderboard, and he ultimately finished second in this class on his dressage score of 27.8. Riding Patricia Davenport, Milly Simmie, and Sarah Webb’s Capels Hollow Drift (Shannondale Sarco x Lucky Crest, by Lucky Gift), he climbed from an initial 7th after dressage.

“I’m delighted with the horse; he’s been tremendous all year, and what a way to cap off the year for him,” said Tom of the Georgie Strang-produced youngster on whom he took the ride this season.

“She produced him beautifully, and I’ve been able to get on him and just enjoy all the work that she’s done. I’m really excited about his future now.”

Home hero Astier Nicolas, who won this class last year with Alertamalib’or, delivered the best result for the host country, finishing third with the Selle Français stallion Babylon de Gamma (Milord Carthago x Sunshine Des Ka, by Happy Vergoignan HN). They finished on their dressage score of 29.4 to climb from 11th after dressage and fifth after cross country, to the delight of the jam-packed stadium.

Nicola Wilson and JL Dublin. Photo by EquusPix.

Belgium’s Karin Donckers and the Belgian stallion Leipheimer Van’t Verahof (Vigo d’Arsouilles x Southern Queen, by South Gale) had been tied with Astier after the first phase, slipping just behind him in the rankings for being a touch further from the optimum time in yesterday’s cross country. Today, they produced a double-clear to finish on the same score, 29.4, and take fourth place.

Nicola Wilson‘s JL Dublin (Diarado x Zarinna, by Cantano) had looked another strong shout for a British victory, and the pair went into the ring today in second position. But it wasn’t to be: a single rail tumbled and they dropped to fifth, finishing on a score of 29.6.

Liz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Quicksilver. Photo by EquusPix.

French four-star winner Maxime Livio and Billy Elmy (Qif Elmy x Kenza de Cartigny, by Dandy de Surcy) enjoyed the fruits of their labours throughout the week, moving from 20th after the first phase to a final sixth due to their FOD of 30.7. In seventh, Liz Halliday-Sharp enjoyed yet another top-ten finish, this time riding six-year-old graduate Cooley Quicksilver (Womanizer x Kylemore Crystal, by Creggan Diamond) for the United States. They, too, finished on their dressage score of 31.1, moving from an initial 24th place.

Doug Payne and Quantum Leap. Photo by EquusPix.

Doug Payne and Quantum Leap finished in 29th place after climbing a whopping thirty places through the course of the week. Their two rails precluded them from a top twenty placing and they finished on 44.5, having added nothing in yesterday’s cross country test.

The top ten at the conclusion of the seven-year-old championship.

That’s it for (equine) Toddlers & Tiaras 2018 — EN, and many of this week’s competitors, head to the south of France next for the northern hemisphere’s final CCI4* of the year. We’ll see you in Pau!

Le Lion d’Angers links: Website, CCIYH* Entries, CCIYH** Entries, CCIYH* Live Scores, CCIYH** Live Scores, EN’s Coverage, Live Stream

Le Lion Cross Country Day: USA! USA! USA!

One for the big tracks: Liz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Moonshine lead going into the final phase at the six-year-old World Championships. Photo by EquusPix.

US representative Liz Halliday-Sharp remains atop the six-year-old leaderboard at Le Lion with Cooley Moonshine after a jam-packed day of cross country action. They added nothing to their impressive dressage score of 22.4, coming in 13 seconds below the optimum time of 8:56 to edge out the encroaching competition.

“He’s an unbelievable horse — he’s so talented and he finds this all so easy, which is kind of scary,” laughed Liz. “He came out today like a fire-breathing dragon; he was very strong, actually, and he is a strong horse, but he was definitely pulling my arms out, wanting to get on with the job. I had a couple fences where maybe I’d have liked to have been a little bit more attractive, but he wants to do it so much and he’s so brave. He was pulling me through the finish, so for his first long format, that’s exciting for the future — I maybe just need a few more brakes so we can agree on things a bit more!”

The child prodigy in action: Liz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Moonshine. Photo by EquusPix.

In a top ten that remained virtually unchanged British riders took three of the top five spots, with Millie Dumas and Universal Cooley maintaining their hold on second place.

“I’m delighted with her today; she gave me a fantastic ride,” said a delighted Millie. “She was a little bit green and spooky to start with, but by the time I got halfway round, she was really super, really brave, and finished full of running. To start with she was a bit wobbly, looking at the crowds instead of the fences, so I had to give her a little reminder — after that she was great. She’ll have learned a lot, for sure.”

Millie Dumas and Universal Cooley. Photo by EquusPix.

Kitty King and the stunning grey Selle Français Cristal Fontaine also held onto their post-dressage placing, staying in third overnight.

Kitty King and Cristal Fontaine. Photo by EquusPix.

“He gave me a fantastic ride — we had great fun and the ground was brilliant, and they’re beautiful jumps to jump,” said Kitty. “He was a little bit surprised by all the crowds to start with, so he was sort of cantering along with his ears really pricked and his eyes really wide. He was a bit shocked, but then he settled and got used to everyone and gave me a really nice, grown-up ride and finished really well. I was delighted with the way he jumped off the house with the big drop [near the end of the course], because you never quite know how a baby will cope with that, but he jumped off really bravely. Fingers crossed he can be as good tomorrow!”

Rebecca Howard and Trebor, owned by Canadian eventer Kelly McCarthy-Maine, make their move towards the top ten. Photo by EquusPix.

A fast clear moved Rebecca Howard and Trebor one place up to 12th overnight, while second ride Cooley Convinced moved up two places after her double clear. Mexico’s very first representative at Le Lion, Pedro Gutierrez‘s California Mail looked capable and confident throughout her round, adding nothing to her dressage score and moving up to 32nd place from 39th.

Pedro Gutierrez and California Mail serve up a double-clear and a little bit of Le Lion history, too. Photo by EquusPix.

The second US representatives, Tiana Coudray and Happenstance, were one of two combinations who failed to complete the course — they took a tumble at fence 12 and walked home.

39 out of 41 starters completed the six-year-old CCI1* course, with five of the 39 finishers picking up cross country jumping penalties. Twenty-seven pairs produced double-clears.

The top ten in the six-year-old World Championships after the cross country phase.

Germany’s Ingrid Klimke moved up a place into the lead in the seven-year-old class after delivering a confident clear round with the Brandenburg mare Asha P, coming home ten seconds under the optimum time of 9:14.

“I’m very happy, because Asha did such a wonderful job,” said Ingrid after her round. “She was fast, she was bold — the one hesitation was jumping down the house. She was a little bit frightened at first, but then she did it, and we took the straight line so she showed all her quality.”

Ingrid Klimke’s Asha P steps into the lead after a bold round. Photo by EquusPix.

Ingrid, who considers the exciting young mare one of her future superstars, was delighted to further her education at the French venue: “It was pure fun and she learned so much, because the course is fantastic. You have so many different combinations where you learn so much about them and they can gain a lot of mileage.

“She wasn’t taking any interest of the crowd, but it was nice that you sometimes heard someone calling ‘Ingrid!’ and they were clapping, so you thought, ‘here we are! Nearly at a big championship!’ so it should encourage her to become a star one day. I think she’s my future top horse.”

Ingrid Klimke and Asha P. Photo by EquusPix.

Of course, a clear round within the time on its own was never going to be enough to allow Ingrid and Asha to lead going into the final phase — overnight leaders Michael Jung and Choclat would have to make a mistake in order for that to happen. To everyone’s surprise, they did just that. The maestro of modern eventing and his talented youngster began the course brilliantly, with the gelding easily finding his optimal cruising speed and making economical use of his naturally sweeping stride. But then, at fence eight — an innocuous brush fence named the Burghley Fence — the horse appeared to second-guess his stride and he never quite got out of his own way. He caught a front leg on the fence and the pair were pitched over the top. Both got up immediately and walked away.

They weren’t the only high-profile non-completion: Le Lion resident Tom Carlile and the Selle Français mare Birmane were also victims of the Big E, further blotting Tom’s impressive record of FODs at this venue. Theirs was a rider, rather than horse, fall, and it came at fence 21, just two fences from home. Again, this happened at one of the less obviously challenging fences on course – having jumped the enormous drop and angled hedges at 19 and 20, the corner at 21 must seem rather like a speedbump on the way home. But this is eventing, and predictable it ain’t, so when Birmane twisted in the air and knocked the flag with her knee, Thomas was sent tumbling. Like Michael, he was up immediately and looked no worse for wear, while Birmane made a beeline for her gathered fans and rather charmingly evaded capture for a while. The seemingly straightforward corner went on to be responsible for three falls throughout the day.

Nicola Wilson and JL Dublin. Photo by EquusPix.

Nicola Wilson and JL Dublin moved up into second place overnight, adding nothing to their dressage score and coming in twenty seconds under the optimum time.

“I couldn’t have been prouder of him,” enthused Nicola. “From the first fence to the last fence he just gave me the most superb ride, and I think I was just there to make sure we got the numbers in the right order, to be honest! I was amazed, because this is the biggest occasion that he’s ever seen, and he just stayed focused the whole time. He was just an absolute pleasure to ride — and what a beautiful, beautiful course to ride around, with the crowd cheering you on the whole time. The support out there, even for foreign riders, was much appreciated.”

Nicola Wilson and JL Dublin. Photo by EquusPix.

The British contingent made an impressive impact on the top of the leaderboard: Tom Jackson, who heads to Pau next week with two horses, piloted Capels Hollow Drift to a double-clear and overnight third, while Sarah Bullimore and Corouet, a son of her four-star mare Lily Corinne and graduate of the six-year-old class here last year, moved into fourth. Behind them, French eventing’s answer to Noah Centineo, Astier Nicolas, sits in fifth with Babylon de Gamma. This is probably still enough to make the French cry. We appreciate that.

Liz Halliday-Sharp puts the pedal to the metal on her second ride of the day to sit just outside the top ten. Photo by EquusPix.

Liz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Quicksilver climbed twelve places to sit twelfth overnight after adding nothing to their dressage score, while Doug Payne and Quantum Leap, too, delivered a sterling double-clear to climb from 59th to 31st going into the final phase.

Doug Payne and Quantum Leap make an enormous jump, both down this colossal drop and up the leaderboard. Photo by EquusPix.

Ten of the 69 starters failed to complete, while 18 of the 59 finishers picked up cross country jumping penalties. The most influential part of the course was fence 19AB and 20, the colossal drop to two angled hedges, where we saw twelve faulters, including four 50s for missed flags. Ireland’s Michael Ryan picked up 50s on both of his horses, collecting them at 19B, the first hedge, on Briarhill Marco and 20, the second, on Barnahown Corn Hill.

Laura Collett‘s British Young Horse Reserve Champion Calmaro was another faulter on course, picking up a green runout and 20 penalties at the narrow final element of 10ABC, while Izzy Taylor and 2017 six-year-old World Champion Monkeying Around ran into problems at the end of the course. The horse appeared to gain in strength after jumping through the drop and hedges, flipping his head on the way to the corner at 21, giving him no opportunity to see the fence and resulting in a 20 penalty blot on their record.

“I was a bit disappointed to have 20 penalties, but he’s inexperienced and with everything — the slight undulations in the ground, and the crowds — his brain couldn’t quite keep up with his legs,” said Laura of her ride on Calmaro. “It wasn’t a naughty 20, it was just a green, baby mistake, but he’s a very exciting horse for the future. It’s the first cross country penalty he’s had; obviously now’s not really the best time to have it, but it’s all a learning curve at this age and we have to keep looking ahead to the future.”

Of her problem on course with the obviously talented Monkeying Around, Izzy said: “Of course it’s hugely disappointing — he won here as a six-year-old and I came back hoping to either win again or come very close. But they’re all still young horses here, and he very much remembered the excitement and the atmosphere of the place from last year, and it made him a bit nervous. He was looking about at all the crowds and he just got distracted — now we’ve got to go home and do some homework. He’s still a very good horse and he’ll come out of it a good horse.”

The final horse inspection will take place tomorrow morning at 8.30am local time, with the six-year-olds trotting up first. We’ll be bringing you all the news and some beautiful photos from our friends at EquusPix — stay tuned, and in the meantime, GO LIZ AND BILLY and Go Eventing!

The top ten going into the final phase in the seven-year-old World Championship.

Le Lion d’Angers links: Website, CCIYH* Entries, CCIYH** Entries, CCIYH* Live Scores, CCIYH** Live Scores, EN’s Coverage, Live Stream

Friday Video from World Equestrian Brands: THAT Le Lion Test!

 

We’re halfway through the World Championships for Small and Reckless Ones (um, six- and seven-year-olds) at Le Lion d’Angers, and we’re almost embarrassingly gleeful to see our very own Liz Halliday-Sharp atop the six-year-old leaderboard with the divine Cooley Moonshine. They posted a serious personal best of 22.4 to take the lead yesterday, and not only has no one passed them today, they’ve even managed to reign supreme with the best dressage score of the whole competition. Yes, that’s right, it was 2.6 whole marks better than the God of Germany and All Nations.

So what made the test so special (besides a 10 for the cession å la jambe gauche, obviously)? Check it out for yourself, and let me just gently remind you once again that this is a six-year-old. Six! Every six-year-old I’ve ever sat on has been as into eating mud as I was at the same age. We can’t all be child prodigies.

Le Lion: One Step Closer to an American World Champion, Plus Course Preview

Michael Jung and the wunderkind Choclat storm into the lead at Le Lion. Photo by EquusPix.

Welcome to episode two of (Equine) Toddlers and Tiaras, the smash hit show in which the eventing world’s most precociously talented youngsters endure long hours with the Glam Squad, some serious dance routines, and snack-based bribery on their quest to become the Ultimate Supreme Best Prancing Toddler. Or something like that, anyway.

You want the fun facts? We got the fun facts.

Need an episode one recap? When we last saw you, we were halfway through the dressage, and found ourselves in a very fortuitous position indeed — US representative Liz Halliday-Sharp lead the six-year-old class with Cooley Moonshine on a remarkable score of 22.4, while Ingrid Klimke and Asha P held the seven-year-old lead on 25.3. With some seriously exciting entrants in the ring today, we were left on one heck of a cliffhanger.

Nah, who are we kidding? Nobody was ever going to usurp Liz and Billy, who stay firmly atop the six-year-old leaderboard as we look ahead to tomorrow’s cross country. We had a little look at their test sheet, and were delighted to spot that they also earned themselves a coveted 10 for their, um, cession å la jambe gauche, which sounds delicious.

Liz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Moonshine deliver their best. Photo by EquusPix.

British rider Millie Dumas remains in second place aboard Universal Cooley, giving the Cooley brand a jolly good show thus far, while Kitty King moved into third place aboard Cristal Fontaine (Chef Rouge x Nous Avons Gagne, by Griot de Mara), who relied on more than just his passing resemblance to Kitty’s superstar Vendredi Biats to earn his score of 25.4. Behind him sits Piggy French‘s Emerald Jonny and Chris Burton‘s Coup de Coeur Dudevin (Top Gun Sexily x Tiebreak Combehory, by Leprince des Bois) in equal fourth on 25.8.

Cooley Convinced sits just outside the top twenty with rider Rebecca Howard. Photo by EquusPix.

Canada’s Rebecca Howard performed her second test of the class today, posting a 31.4 with Cooley Convinced (Diarado x BLM Clover Diamond, by Clover Echo) to sit in 21st place going into tomorrow’s cross country. ‘Dora’ joins stablemate Trebor, who scored a 28.3 to kick yesterday’s competition off, and lies 13th overnight.

Tiana Coudray and Happenstance. Photo by EquusPix.

Tiana Coudray and Happenstance (Quality Time x unknown by Germus R) also performed this morning, delivering a 35.6 to sit 34th at this early stage. The first combination to represent Mexico at Le Lion also made their way into the main arena – Pedro Gutierrez and California Mail (Quite Easy x Varnalisa Mail, by Kalaska de Semilly) scored 39.4 and hold 39th place.

The top ten in the six-year-olds’ championship after dressage.

The new leader of the seven-year-old class shunted yesterday’s leaders Ingrid Klimke and Asha P into second by just 0.3 of a penalty, and really, it was always going to happen, wasn’t it? After all, new leader  — and last in the ring — Choclat (Contendro I x Etienne, by Espri), ridden by Michael Jung, gave us one of the lowest-ever finishing scores in an international event last season, when he won Strzegom’s CCI1* on a final score of 15.2.

Every time I have to type that I die a little inside, so have this restorative GIF and let’s keep one another close, my fellow 30s-scoring peasantfolk.

He’s never quite reached those dizzying heights since, though he hasn’t really had to in order to be a very reliable first-phase performer and, nearly ten points over that Strzegom score with today’s 25, he proved that. (Though, we hasten to add, he didn’t get any 10s, with jambe or otherwise.) The secret? Total consistency through the test, which is just what got Michael’s recently retired legend La Biosthetique Sam FBW his great scores throughout the years, too. Interestingly, none of the three judges — Gerd Kuest, Eric Lieby, and Robert Stevenson — had the talented Hanoverian in first place. Instead, Gerd Kuest scored Ingrid and Asha P the highest, Eric Lieby’s pick was Nicola Wilson‘s JL Dublin, in third, and Robert Stevenson favoured Jesse Campbell and the Jonty Evans-produced Gambesie, who lie 6th on 27.6.

Michael Jung and the wunderkind Choclat storm into the lead at Le Lion. Photo by EquusPix.

Last year’s six-year-old World Champion Monkeying Around (Bertoli W x Donnee, by Donnerhall) has all the right breeding to excel in this phase, and he didn’t disappoint today. He scored a 26.1 with rider Izzy Taylor, moving him into equal fourth place overnight to tie with Laura Collett and Calmaro.

Britain’s Tom Jackson piloted the Irish Sport Horse mare Capels Hollow Drift (Shannondale Sarco St Ghyvan x Lucky Crest, by Lucky Gift) to a score of 27.8 and 7th place, while Le Lion resident Tom Carlile proved that Selle Français Birmane, third in last year’s six-year-old championship, is the real deal, posting a 28.1 and taking 8th overnight.

Cooley Quicksilver makes a return trip to Le Lion. Photo by EquusPix.

Liz Halliday-Sharp returned to the arena today, this time riding Cooley Quicksilver (Womanizer x Kylemore Crystal, by Creggan Diamond), with whom she completed last year’s six-year-old championship. The rangy, extravagant-moving gelding didn’t quite live up to the standards set by his stablemate the day prior, but posted a nevertheless respectable score of 31.1, which sees them occupy 24th place ahead of tomorrow’s cross country.

Doug Payne and Quantum Leap make strides on their quest to improve the young horse’s education. Photo by EquusPix.

Fellow countryman Doug Payne dipped lower in the incredibly tightly-bunched standings, delivering a 36.5 with Quantum Leap (Quite Capitol x Report to Sloopy, by Corporate Report) to sit in 59th place overnight.

The top ten seven-year-olds after dressage.

So what’s next?

The action-packed cross country phase kicks off tomorrow morning at 10.00am local time/4.00am EST, with the six-year-old CCI1* first and the seven-year-old CCI2* commenced at 12.45pm local time/6.45am EST. You’ll be able to watch all of the action unfold via the free livestream.

Le Lion’s cross country is always breathtaking viewing, not just because of the sheer quality of the young horses in the classes — above and beyond that, it’s one of the most stunningly built courses the sport has to offer, with jumps including an enormous violin in the woods, dragons, giant snails, a sprawling chessboard, and so, so much more, all nestled within the glorious grounds of a quintessentially French manor house. To get a sneak of what’s to come, check out this teaser video:

French eventing fans are some of the best in the world, too — despite the fact that the competition is ‘only’ a CCI1* and CCI2*, they flock to every available inch of roping around the course, absolutely breathless with delight to be able to enjoy a day of world-class equestrianism in the autumn sunshine. That’s one of the most educational parts of the whole competition — can these talented youngsters cope with the unflinching adoration and celebratory whoops of a buzzing, vibrant crowd?

Our North American contingent (and CCI2* leader Michael Jung) will ride at the following times:

  • Rebecca Howard and Trebor: 10.00am local time/4.00am EST
  • Liz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Moonshine: 10.45am local time/4.45am EST
  • Pedro Gutierrez and California Mail: 11.06am local time/5.06am EST
  • Tiana Coudray and Happenstance: 11.15am local time/5.15am EST
  • Rebecca Howard and Cooley Convinced: 12.00pm local time/6.00am EST
  • Liz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Quicksilver: 3.19pm local time/9.19am EST
  • Doug Payne and Quantum Leap: 3.33pm local time/9.33am EST
  • Michael Jung and Choclat: 4.43pm local time/10.43am EST

Crack on, small but talented ones.

We’ll be back in action tomorrow with all the news from cross-country day — in the meantime, Go Eventing! (And go pageant babies, we guess.)

Le Lion d’Angers links: Website, CCIYH* Entries, CCIYH** Entries, CCIYH* Live Scores, CCIYH** Live Scores, EN’s Coverage, Cross Country Live Stream

Liz Halliday-Sharp Takes Decisive Le Lion Lead

Liz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Moonshine leave nothing on the table at Le Lion d’Angers. Photo by EquusPix.

Both the six- and seven-year-old World Championships got well underway today at central France’s Le Lion d’Angers, and US representative Liz Halliday-Sharp, who splits her time between East Sussex in the UK and Ocala, left nothing to chance with her six-year-old entry Cooley Moonshine.

We always expected a nice test out of Billy, who Liz has been quietly confident about since she took on the Richard Sheane sourced youngster, but in the moment, he delivered a remarkable personal best. His international average is 27.7, but despite the inescapable atmosphere of Le Lion – or, perhaps, because of it – he dug extra deep and produced a 22.4, taking not only the lead in the CCIYH*, but also boasting the best score of the day across both classes.

“He was very professional in there today,” says Liz. “He had a little mistake coming out of the walk, but that’s just because he always wants to get on with the job, so he wanted to canter. But he’s a funny thing – he’s always so brave and keen, and I don’t think he even noticed the atmosphere.”

Cooley Moonshine delivers his best performance yet for Liz Halliday-Sharp. Photo by EquusPix.

The 16.2hh son of Cobra began his eventing career last year, winning on his British Eventing debut in Firle’s BE100 (Training level) class. This year, he’s enjoyed an astonishing season: he won his first event of the year, obviously found he rather liked the fuss and extra polo mints, and went on to win his next four competitions, including his first one-star at Brightling Park. He broke his win streak – barely – by finished second in his next CIC1*, this time back at Firle, but he was back on form with a win at his third at last month’s South of England CIC1*. He was fifth in the British Young Horse Championships CIC1* at Osberton earlier this month, and his trip to Le Lion sees him tackle his very first CCI competition.

But for all his talent, he hasn’t necessarily been the easiest horse to figure out.

“I bought him originally as a sales horse, and when I got him home I thought, ‘this one’s special.’ But he was very strong and quite hard to manage cross country, and there was a stage where we thought, ‘oh god, are we going to be able to crack this?'”

Your EN correspondent’s face when Liz’s score was posted. Also possibly Billy’s face when he gets to go cross country.

With some ingenuity – and the addition of a hackabit to his jumping wardrobe – Liz and her team figured out how to work with Billy, and he came back out for his 2018 season stronger, more mature, and ready to chase the results. The dressage took, perhaps, slightly longer – he is, explains Liz, a naturally a bit tricky in his mouth, and historically struggled to accept the contact. A last-minute change of bit yesterday seems to have finally ticked that box and the horse, who is getting stronger and more mature in his body day by day, easily outpaced his competition in the ring today, making positive headway on his long-anticipated trip to France.

“Not every horse is a Le Lion horse – it’s a huge atmosphere in every phase, but I’ve thought since last year that it would be right for him. He’s so brave, and I never thought he’d care about it. It’s nice to have gotten that right. We’re so excited about him, and really proud of him,” says a delighted Liz, who makes a second trip down the centreline tomorrow in the seven-year-old class with Cooley Quicksilver.

Millie Dumas and Universal Cooley (VDL Arkansas x Dysart Lilly, by Maltstriker) posted a very competitive 23.3 to slip into second place at the halfway point of the six-year-olds’ dressage, while fellow Brit Piggy French took third overnight on 25.8 with Emerald Jonny (Waldo Van Dungen x Z Royalty Van De Heernis, by Rubels), owned by her partner Tom March. This means that the top three in the class overnight are Irish Sport Horses – a great start for the studbook, which won the breeding award here last year.

Michael Jung and Wild Wave take fourth overnight. Photo by EquusPix.

There was an unsurprising German invasion on the leaderboard in the form of fourth-placed Michael Jung, riding his own Wild Wave (Water Dance XX x Uquina), who scored a 26.0, closely followed by Vanessa Bölting and Ready To Go W (Rock Forever x Weingold GD, by Weinberg) on a 27.1 and Sandra Auffarth and Gentleman FRH (Grey Top x Franziska, by Fabriano), who posted a 27.6.

Rebecca Howard and Trebor sit in the top ten after the first day of dressage. Photo by EquusPix.

Canada’s Rebecca Howard started the day’s proceedings with Kelly McCarthy-Maine‘s Trebor (Mighty Magic x Trevilder, by Fleetwater Opposition), but despite a slightly unfavourable draw, they delivered a good score of 28.3 to sit in eighth place after the first day of dressage. Rebecca took the ride on the six-year-old this year, taking the reins from Dutch venter Andrew Heffernan, and though his scores have fluctuated, he’s proven to be very capable in this phase, dipping as low as 22.3 in a Novice (Preliminary) run at Aston-le-Walls in August.

Rebecca Howard and Trebor, the first of her two rides at Le Lion. Photo by EquusPix.

In an enormous surprise to absolutely no one, Ingrid Klimke leads the seven-year-old class overnight on Asha P (Askari 173 x Hera, by Heraldik XX) after delivering a 25.3 with the Brandenburg mare. So far they’ve won three out of nine internationals together – a CIC1* at Kreuth, Jardy’s CCI1*, and LuhmĂŒhlen CIC2* earlier this summer. They were also second at Renswoude CIC2* and fourth at Strzegom CIC2*, and so it’s easy to see why Ingrid rates the well-travelled youngster – a full sister to 2012 vice Bundeschampionat DSP Araldik – as an exciting up-and-comer in her string.

Nicola Wilson and JL Dublin (Diarado x Zarinna, by Cantano) moved into second place on a score of 25.6, while Laura Collett‘s reserve British seven-year-old champion Calmaro sits comfortably in third on 26.1. New Zealand’s Jesse Campbell holds fourth place overnight on the talented Dutch gelding Gambesie (Zambesi x Verrona, by Harcos), who was formerly piloted by Jonty Evans.

We’ve got five more North American combinations on the main stage tomorrow – keep it locked onto EN for all your equine Toddlers & Tiaras news. Ciao for now!

Le Lion d’Angers links: Website, CCIYH* Entries, CCIYH** Entries, CCIYH* Live Scores, CCIYH** Live Scores, EN’s Coverage, Cross Country Live Stream

Le Lion First Horse Inspection: All Pass, Seven North American Combinations to Compete

Liz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Quicksilver at Le Lion in 2017. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It’s a busy week for North American riders: not only is Fair Hill taking over our airwaves and our (almost) undivided attention, we’ve also got some strong representation at the World Championships for Young Horses at Le Lion d’Anger. Comprising a CCI1* for six-year-olds and a CCI2* for seven-year-olds, the Loire valley competition is enormously prestigious, with its graduates going on to success at the upper echelons of the sport.

The competition got off to a flying start today with the first horse inspection, which saw 110 horses brought before the ground jury of Jutta Koivula (FIN), Alain James (FRA), and Anne Marie Taylor (GBR) for the CCI1* and Eric Lieby (FRA), Gerd Kuest (GER), and Robert Stevenson (USA) for the CCI2*.

Rebecca Howard with Cooley Convinced and Trebor. Photo by Kelly McCarthy-Maine.

All those presented were passed, and will take to the atmospheric dressage arena over the next two days. Our pathfinder is Canada’s Rebecca Howard, who heads up the six-year-old class on Trebor (Mighty Magic X Trevilder, by Fleetwater Opposition) and closes it on season debutante Cooley Convinced (Diarado X BLM Clover Diamond, by Clover Echo), both owned by fellow Canadian and eventer Kelly McCarthy-Maine.

Rebecca Howard and Trebor, pathfinders in the CCI1*. Photo by Kelly McCarthy Maine.

Trebor, known as ‘Minty’ at home, won the Burghley Young Event Horse final as a four-year-old, and was purchased by Rebecca in late 2017 from his producer, Andrew Heffernan, who competes for the Netherlands and rides Gideon in the seven-year-old class this week.

Joining Rebecca in the six-year-old class are UK-based American Tiana Coudray and Happenstance (Quality Time X Mermus R), who produced an impressive top-ten finish in the CCIYH1* at Tattersalls earlier this year, and Liz Halliday-Sharp, who brings forward the impressive Cooley Moonshine (Cobra X Kilpatrick Duchess, by Kings Master). The latest in an enviable string of young talent sourced from Richard Sheane’s Cooley enterprise, Cooley Moonshine has already won two CIC1* classes this year, at Brightling Park and the South of England Horse Trials.

Pedro Gutierrez started his week by making a little bit of history – he and his own California Mail (Quite Easy X Varnalisa Mail, by Kalaska de Semilly) are Mexico’s first-ever representatives at this competition.

There’s stiff competition in the seven-year-old championship, with 69 total entries and a formidable line-up. The U.S. is ably represented once again by Liz Halliday-Sharp, who will pilot Cooley Quicksilver (Womanizer X Kylemore Crystal, by Creggan Diamond), a graduate of last year’s six-year-old competition. The Irish Sport Horse, owned by the Monster Syndicate, started his season off with an impressive win in the CCI2* in Ocala.

Second in that class was the US’ other horse in this class. Doug Payne and Quantum Leap (Quite Capitol X Report to Sloopy, by Corporate Report) made their way over to France on the Holekamp/Turner Grant, awarded to the winner of the USEA Young Event Horse five-year-old championship.

Elsewhere in the class, Laura Collett and her British Young Horse Championships runner-up Calmaro add considerable strength to a formidable British campaign headed up by last year’s six-year-old championship winner, Monkeying Around, ridden by Izzy Taylor.

Izzy Taylor and Monkeying Around clinch the 2017
six-year-old World Championship at Le Lion d’Angers. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

France’s Tom Carlile enjoys the home advantage of being based at Le Lion d’Angers, and he has a remarkable record here, too — he had clocked up eight consecutive FODs at the event, a record which was broken last year when he collected a surprise 20 aboard Atos Barbotiere in the seven-year-old class. This year, he rides the talented Birmane, who finished third in the six-year-old class in 2017.

Perhaps the most accomplished entrant in the CCI2* is Choclat, ridden by Michael Jung. In his second CCI1* last year, he produced one of the lowest-ever finishing scores at an international event — an astonishing 15.2. Not too shabby, when your score is smaller than your horse’s height. Since then, he’s never quite managed to match that incredible effort, but he’s racked up plenty of experience and a plethora of good results, both with Michi and with Italian eventer Pietro Grandis. He’ll be exciting to watch this weekend.

If you’re an FEItv subscriber, you’ll be able to follow along with the action live — here are the dressage times for our North American contingent:

THURSDAY

  • Rebecca Howard (CAN) and Trebor: 9.00am local time/3.00am EST
  • Liz Halliday-Sharp (USA) and Cooley Moonshine: 11.05am local time/5.05am EST

FRIDAY

  • Pedro Gutierrez (MEX) and California Mail: 9.07am local time/3.07am EST
  • Tiana Coudray (USA) and Happenstance: 9.28am local time/3.28am EST
  • Rebecca Howard (CAN) and Cooley Convinced: 11.33am local time/5.33am EST
  • Liz Halliday-Sharp (USA) and Cooley Quicksilver: 2.13pm local time/8.13am EST
  • Doug Payne (USA) and Quantum Leap: 2.41pm local time/8.41pm EST

Le Lion d’Angers links: Website, CCIYH* Entries, CCIYH** Entries, CCIYH* Live Scores, CCIYH** Live Scores, EN’s Coverage, Cross Country Live Stream

Friday Video and UK Notes from World Equestrian Brands: A Horse of a Different Colour

The equestrian community exemplified. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

One of the best things about working in the horse industry is the people in it. Okay, okay, hear me out here — I know we’re all absolutely bonkers, and we drive one another mad, and we all need an astonishing amount of gin to tolerate each other sometimes, but we’re all here for the same reason. We just, well, bloody love ponies. And that deep-seated love is the driving force behind the life choices that see us all merrily spending our time in the freezing cold, the pouring rain, and the odd relentless heatwave, all because our charges need us.

When it comes to those who have chosen a career in the equestrian industry, or some derivative of it, I always find it fascinating to learn why they chose the route they did, and the path they took to get there. For example, I met someone the other day whose eleven-year-old sister has decided that she wants to go into equine dentistry when she grows up. Unbelievably specific, not at all glamorous, but so necessary — I definitely was not a similarly sensible eleven-year-old. Either way, I love talking to grooms, riders, massage therapists, photographers, whatever equally, because the driving force is always the same.

My best friend, Freya, is a brilliant example of a seriously left-field show of passion, and it all started in a delightfully normal way — after university, where we met, she sacked off her plans to become a French teacher and moved in with me, spending a year indulging her lifelong love for horses by working on a couple of seriously busy producing and hunting yards. But she wasn’t sure that being a career groom was the right path for her, and so she took herself off (to a sailboat in Greece, natch) to figure out what, exactly, the right path was.

When she figured it out, she surprised everyone around her — she was going to become a zookeeper. Anyway, to cut a long and marvellous story short, she made it happen for herself, despite a wildly unsuitable degree and no previous experience wrestling lions, or whatever zookeepers do. She took everything she’d learned throughout her horsey life and transferred it over to exotic hoof stock, and now, she’s an absolutely brilliant and astute keeper of rhinos, giraffes, various exciting deer species with increasingly hilarious and spindly legs, and much more.

Pictured: the best ears we’ve ever seen. Photo by Freya Bellew.

What has this got to do with anything? Well, today, folks, you get a brief but brilliant Friday video, courtesy of Zookeeper Freya’s exceptional career choices. Say a big hello to the as-yet-unnamed brand new Grevy’s zebra foal born last night at Marwell Zoo — suggestions for names are welcomed and will be passed along, so get commenting!

UK Weekend Preview:

Friday Video: A Horse of a Different Colour

Welcome to Hampshire’s Marwell Zoo, where keepers were greeted this morning by something better than a cup of coffee in the mess room – instead, they met the long-awaited foal of Grevy’s zebra Imogen for the first time.

A matchy-matchy aficionado’s dream. Photo by Freya Bellew.

Okay, so it may never event (though we’d love to see a stripey take on Badminton’s BE90 Championship), but lil’ knock-knees here is all you need to see you into a very merry weekend. Even better, its birth is the latest in a series of coups for Marwell’s team, who work tirelessly on the conservation of the endangered Grevy’s zebra in northern Kenya, and who manage the European studbook for this fascinating species, too. You can follow their work — and all their updates on this gorgeous bubba — on their Facebook page.

The End of an Era: Badminton Horse Trials Loses Title Sponsorship

2018 Badminton winners Jonelle Price and Classic Moet make light work of the iconic Mitsubishi L200s at the lake. Photo by Kit Houghton/Mitsubishi Motors.

The 2019 iteration of Badminton Horse Trials will be its last in partnership with longtime title sponsors Mitsubishi Motors, who will have supported the Gloucestershire fixture for a record-breaking 28 years. This year’s competition boasted an unparalleled spectator footfall of 185,000, the summit of what has been a year-on-year climb in ticket sales.

“We have had an outstanding collaboration with the Badminton Horse Trials, and it has played an important part in raising the profile of our brand and our vehicles over the years,” says Rob Lindley, Managing Director at Mitsubishi Motors. The brand was awarded the Animal Health Trust’s Eventing Award in 2011 in recognition of its contribution not just to Badminton, but to the sport at large, too.

“It is always sad when a very successful partnership comes to an end, and especially when, over the years, event and sponsor have developed a genuine friendship,” says Badminton’s Event Director Hugh Thomas. “However, when one door closes, another one opens, and it will be exciting to see where that leads.”

Pippa Funnell takes her second consecutive Badminton title — and the Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing — in 2003. Photo by Kit Houghton/Mitsubishi Motors.

The long-time partnership has enjoyed a number of highlights, including Michael Jung‘s Rolex Grand Slam win in its 25th anniversary year, consecutive wins in 2002 and 2003 and the first ever Grand Slam for Pippa Funnell, and Mark Todd‘s 1996 victory with Bertie Blunt, a year after riding most of the iconic course with one stirrup.

The news of this dissolution comes just over a year after Kentucky’s CCI4* announced that it had lost its title sponsor, Rolex. Shortly thereafter, the competition was adopted and rechristened by current title sponsors Land Rover, who also fly their flag at Burghley Horse Trials.

Mary King and King William were the first winners of Badminton under its Mitsubishi Motors title sponsorship in 1992. Photo by Kit Houghton/Mitsubishi Motors.

2019 will also see Badminton celebrate its 70th anniversary. The feature event was first held in 1949, offering British riders the chance to train for major championships. It was inspired by the 1948 Olympics, which hosted Britain’s first-ever three-day event, held at Tweseldown Racecourse in Hampshire. Now, it not only hosts one of the world’s foremost CCI4* competitions, it’s also the home of the Mitsubishi Motors Cup, colloquially known as ‘Badminton grassroots,’ which presents the country’s toughest challenge for BE90 (Novice) and BE100 (Training level) competitors.

The conclusion of Mitsubishi’s partnership with Badminton will mean that the grassroots championship also loses its title sponsorship but, says Amanda Gibson, Mitsubishi’s PR Manager, “it has grown enormously in stature and popularity in recent years, so we hope to see it continue and flourish.”

“Badminton 2019 will be as prestigious as ever, and we wish the event the greatest success for the future,” says Lindley. The Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials will take place from May 1–5, 2019, with the Mitsubishi Motors Cup preceding the CCI4* competition.

Friday Video and UK Notes from World Equestrian Brands: The (Hilarious) Truth about Life with Horses

In memory of, um, sunnier times. Photo by Pontus Hugosson.

Guys. It’s happened. We’ve run out of opening dates and ballot dates. I’m distraught. I’ve clipped (and am now eating freshly shaved hair for every meal; delish), I’ve started mentally calculating what I’ll spend that extra tenner out of each shoeing session on, and I’ve bought some hilariously garish patent spur straps for my inevitable winter foray into actual dressage with actual dressage people. We’ve come to the bitter end.

But it’s not all bad – I’ve discovered the actual gem that is Pontus Hugosson, who has been serving up some steaming hot takes on life in the horse world. Need a laugh between all the tears? You’ll find it below. Ludwig, you’ve got some competition as EN’s top Swede. Send us some Swedish Fish and we’ll reconsider.

UK Weekend Preview

Friday Video: Pontus Hugosson Serves up Some Swedish Equestrian Realness

I mean, I genuinely feel targeted by most of these. You know you’ve been there (especially when it involves dumping a man in favour of your horse. #YOLO.)

Friday Video and UK Notes from World Equestrian Brands: Eventing Goes Mainstream

It’s coming.

What is actually happening? A couple of weeks ago I was still planning in late-evening rides to escape the heat; now, I’m suddenly wearing so many coats I can’t actually use my arms, and I’ve replaced all food with mouthfuls of horse hair. It’s officially #THATTIMEOFYEAR again, folks, and I’m not very happy about it. We’ve got four weeks left of the eventing season here in the UK, and I plan to eke out every last drop of excitement from all of them. Even if that means standing in a field for hours, watching a BE100 and weeping. No shame in my game.

UK Weekend Preview:

Events Opening this Weekend:

Nothing. There is nothing left this season that isn’t already open for entries. This is a horrifying thought. All that looms ahead of us is…dressage. And showjumping. Dust off your diamantes, chums. It’s all about to get weird.

Events Balloting this Weekend:

  • 28th: Norton Disney (2) – BE80-N, with BE100RF – [Enter] Lincolnshire (October 19-21)

Friday Video: Eventing Goes Mainstream

I know that this is the second consecutive Friday on which I’m delivering you a Ros Canter video, but I’m not even a little bit ready to stop celebrating our fabulous World Champion yet. Even better, this week’s video sees the tiny triumph head to BBC headquarters, where she was welcomed onto the popular BBC Breakfast programme. I know we all want to see more of our sport on mainstream media, so we owe it to ourselves to like and share these clips like mad when we do get them — with any luck, it’ll lead to more coverage of what is, as we all know, the best and most compelling sport in the world. Anyway, this time around, enjoy a dolled-up Ros being her unassuming and delightful self, and doing her bit for the sport we all love so much. You go, Ros Canter.

 

 

William Fox-Pitt Elected to FEI Athletes’ Committee

William Fox-Pitt and Bay My Hero. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Great Britain’s William Fox-Pitt has been elected to the FEI Athletes’ Committee, which brings together a representative from each of the sanctioned disciplines. The role of these athletes is to “provide a voice to the athlete community within the global FEI decision-making process,” as well as serve on their discipline’s technical committee, over the course of a four-year non-renewable term.

The committee was introduced in 2014, with Daisy Berkeley acting as the first eventing representative. Elections were held online from the 29th of July until the 23rd of September, and 52 athletes from 26 countries put in a bid for the spot that Fox-Pitt would ultimately claim. Promisingly, there was a 100% increase in voter participation and a 160% increase in flag representation in the second iteration of these elections.

“The athletes’ viewpoint is central to the global decision making process,” said FEI Secretary General Sabrina Ibåñez. “This is a committee made up of athletes and voted for by athletes. The calibre and experience of the newly elected Athletes’ Committee is impressive and will ensure that the global athletes’ community has its say and actively contributes to the development of equestrian sport. I also want to take this opportunity to thank the outgoing Athletes’ Committee members for their tremendous work and support these past four years.”

William Fox-Pitt and Oratorio II. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Fox-Pitt is, perhaps, an obvious choice to represent his fellow eventers: he’s acted as rider representative innumerable times at three-day events, and has never shied away from speaking up in the face of adversity. With a degree in French — the official language of the FEI — and a continued competitive interest that’s paired with a smaller string of horses, there’s no time like the present for him to step into such a role.

In his letter of motivation for election, Fox-Pitt said, “I have been involved in the sport at a high level for many years and have seen it evolve over the decades. I understand the challenges that all equestrian sport — and especially eventing — faces in the coming years in order to develop and grow. I care passionately about eventing and want to see it continue to grow into a truly global sport that is appealing to new audiences, whilst maintaining its integrity, horsemanship and values.”

“Throughout my career I have developed a healthy relationship with those involved in the sport from a wide range of nations, both established and emerging, and in both hemispheres. […] I therefore believe I would be able to provide input that is broad in view and representative of the global rider base. I will be committed to working closely with riders of all nationalities, representing their voices over my own. Most of all, I want to see a cohesive and active relationship between riders and the FEI, and I feel that I would be well-placed to work positively with the eventing committee so that together we can serve the sport that we love.”

The complete list of elected athletes is as follows:

  • Jumping: Cian O’Connor (IRL)
  • Dressage: Beatriz Ferrer-Salat (ESP)
  • Eventing: William Fox-Pitt (GBR)
  • Para-Dressage: Angelika Trabert (GER)
  • Endurance: Tarek Taher (KSA)
  • Vaulting: Kristina Boe (GER)
  • Reining: Francesca Sternberg (GBR)

Further information on the Athletes’ Committee and the elections is available here.

Friday Video and UK Notes from World Equestrian Brands: Meet Ros Canter, Our New World Champion

You did it, Ros! Photo by Leslie Wylie.

We’ve all had nearly a week to recover from the excitement of the WEG eventing, but I know I’m not alone in periodically getting hit by the warm-and-fuzzies all over again — Ros Canter’s face when she realised she was World Champion! The Irish team’s long-awaited podium finish! The hugs, the tears, the horses who made it all happen! Dickie Waygood quietly murmuring ‘BOOM’ at his tiny protege, which isn’t a euphemism, but I appreciate that it sounds a bit like one. I’m a bit of an emotional wreck about eventing at the best of times but honestly, blub city over here.

Like the rest of the EN team, I’ve been enjoying watching some of the other disciplines this week, from cavorting-in-style (um, vaulting) to the seriously exciting showjumping. Mainly, if I’m honest, because I am OBSESSED with Danielle Goldstein‘s hair. She is an actual bird of paradise, and her feisty chestnut mare Lizziemary is game and gutsy and I. Am. Here. For. It.

UK Weekend Preview

Events Opening this Weekend

  • 21st: Aston-le-Walls (5) – BE80N – [Enter] Northamptonshire (October 26-27)
  • 21st: Horseheath (3) – BE80-BE105 – [Enter] Cambridgeshire (October 27-28)

Events Balloting this Weekend

  • 22nd: Broadway (2) – BE80-N – [Enter] Worcestershire (October 13-14)

Friday Video: Go Behind-the-Scenes with Ros Canter

Softly-spoken, fiercely determined, and possessing an enormous work ethic that belies her tiny stature, World Champion Ros Canter is a new name to many eventing fans. But the 32-year-old, who has been, perhaps, Great Britain’s best-kept-secret, isn’t lacking in experience or time spent logging essential riding and competing hours. Take a look into life behind the scenes with Ros, her trainer and owner of Allstar B Caroline Moore, and the team behind them, and enjoy a snippet of what goes into producing the performance of a lifetime in this video from Team GB Equestrian. We’re willing to bet you’re going to love Ros, with her endless gratitude, graceful riding, and unabashed love for her horse, as much as we do.

Blenheim CCI3*: Bella Innes Ker Lands the Biggest Win of her Career

Bella Innes Ker and Carolyn. Photo by Katie Neat Photography.

“I said that I was speechless yesterday, but today really is a complete dream come true,” said a delighted Bella Innes Ker in the collecting ring as all around her, the frantic scurry of prizegiving prep whirled around her. A moment later, runner-up William Fox-Pitt appeared and threw an arm around her.

“Absolutely brilliant, wasn’t she — and she’s only 24!”

As quickly as he’d appeared he was gone again, swallowed up by the hubbub, but the smile on Bella’s face was even bigger than it had been before. And who can blame her? Her victory in Blenheim’s CCI3* wasn’t just the biggest of her career — her previous best was fourth in last month’s Blair Castle CIC3* — it was also an incredible victory in its own right, with a colossal field of 101 horse-and-rider combinations vying for the title at the UK’s foremost autumn event.

Young guns blazing: Bella Innes Ker and Carolyn take the Blenheim CCI3*. Photo by Katie Neat Photography.

To win is one thing, but to lead from start to finish is another beast entirely, and that’s exactly what Bella and Carolyn, owned by Bella’s mother, the Duchess of Roxburghe, did. Together, they posted a 24.4 dressage — a personal best at the three-star level, and equal to their personal best across all levels — proving that their upswing in scores this season has been no fluke.

Bella Innes Ker and Carolyn. Photo by Adam Fanthorpe.

The ‘dressage diva’, known at home as Princess, might have all the sparkle (and occasional sass) of royalty, but the young rider and her horse have grown up together over their seven year partnership, and Bella has learned the ins-and-outs of the fourteen-year-old Carolyn.

“Sometimes it’s her way or the highway, but I’ve learned how to do things her way. If I please her and do it by her system, then she’s great,” she said.

A dream come true: Bella Innes Ker and Carolyn hold the lead in the CCI3*. Photo by Adam Fanthorpe.

Saturday was always going to be a big test over David Evans‘ huge track, but for Bella and Carolyn, who had never yet made the time in a CCI, the pressure was on to maintain their lead. They did exactly that, romping home exactly on the optimum time to lead without a pole to spare on the final day.

Though some had lamented the fact that the cross-country phase had been perhaps less influential than in previous years, Di Boddy‘s showjumping test more than made up for it. The time was tight and the fences were up-to-height, with related distances and combinations that didn’t allow for a moment of lost focus. As the poles started to tumble, Bella suddenly found herself with a fence in hand as she entered the ring.

As it turned out, she’d need it — the pair added four penalties but, as they landed over the last, the pin-drop-quiet crowd erupted and Bella’s elation was writ large in a beaming grin and a celebratory fist-pump. They’d done it.

“I’m thrilled for the whole team,” she said, extricating herself from a mass of well-wishers. “Carolyn has done her best all week, and has outdone every expectation, and I knew I just had to keep my cool in there. She’s one in a million, she really is — she’s a wonder horse. She’s a quirky little thing, and I’ve probably fallen off her more times that not, so it’s amazing to do this together after the journey we’ve had.”

Bella Innes-Ker and Carolyn. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Bella admitted that she’d taken a moment to dream earlier in the week, when she spotted one of the prizes on offer for the eventual winner.

“I looked at the winners’ rug on Thursday and wondered if I’d ever get my hands on it,” she said. “Now it’s mine!”

It was a fitting end to Bella’s time in the UK — she heads to Ireland to start a new job on an eventing yard this autumn. But there was one person missing when her big moment came: “The one person I’m gutted for is Gill Buckley, who’s been with me for nine years, but couldn’t be here as she had a baby last week.”

With a CCI3* victory under her belt and the blank slate of a new home and new job awaiting her, what’s next for Bella?

“We’re going to regroup and maybe think about Badminton in the spring — it’s scary to even say it!” she laughed.

William Fox-Pitt and Oratorio rise to the top. Photo by Katie Neat Photography.

“It was all very jolly, wasn’t it — it was my lucky day!” said William Fox-Pitt, who finished second on Oratorio. They added nothing to their dressage score of 28.7 to climb from an initial fifth place, and the tricky but talented young horse proved what he was made of throughout the week.

“I certainly came here hopeful of being up there, especially after he showed us at Bramham that he’s competitive, but when it’s a competitive field full of top four-star horses like Ceylor LAN and Zagreb, you sort of think the writing’s on the wall.”

Although their first-phase mark wasn’t quite what William had hoped for, the takeaways for the horse’s ongoing education were exactly what he’d hoped they would be.

“I was a bit disappointed after dressage — he can be quite flash, but it was just a bit lacking,” he said. But on the cross-country course? “He’s absolutely blood, and he doesn’t know the meaning of ‘hard’ in any phase, on any day, ever. It’s exhausting at my age — I’m quite looking forward to the day when he says, ‘right, okay, let’s go onto the bridle a bit now!’ At my age, I quite like them to purr around a bit, but he’s a double handful. Sometimes the ‘woah’ can take 25 strides!”

William Fox-Pitt and Oratorio. Photo by Katie Neat Photography.

Brimming with an enthusiasm only matched by his undeniable scope and talent, Oratorio finished Saturday’s test looking as well as he’d started, and he didn’t disappoint on the final day, either.

“He’s come out so well — dare I say, he’s a tough old chap. He doesn’t jump like [his sire, four-star winner] Oslo, but he gallops better. He’s got that go in him, and he’s a bit of a fighter, but when you go in before Pippa and Oliver, you don’t expect to climb — you just hope not to fall down the leaderboard.”

A Badminton campaign could be next on the cards for Oratorio, who will be aimed either at the spring feature or at LuhmĂŒhlen for his debut.

“We’ll work this winter on a bit of control and beauty. He’s never sorry or fragile — he’s just class, although the showjumping has always been his weaker link. I said to his owners that a clear round would come, he just won’t purr.”

Alex Bragg and Zagreb complete a successful post-Burghley campaign. Photo by Katie Neat Photography.

Alex Bragg and Zagreb posted a pleasing result in their Burghley reroute, finishing on their dressage score of 29.6 and rising from 9th to 3rd place.

“The aim was to come in the top three, but I didn’t think we’d done enough on the first day,” admitted Alex. “I think the time being tight in the showjumping made up for the cross country, though.”

The fourteen-year-old gelding is well-established at the top levels now, but after an early fall at Burghley, Alex was doubly pleased with how Zagreb, known at home as Rhett, went.

“He’s feeling so well being here — he was jumping around in the trot-up and very lively in the dressage, and for a fourteen-year-old horse to feel that well is something special.”

Alex Bragg produces the results on up-and-comer Barrichello, who he took over this spring. Photo by Katie Neat Photography.

Alex also finished ninth with new ride Barrichello, owned by Sarah Hughes. They rose from 17th after the dressage, cementing a developing partnership throughout the week and adding just two time penalties in the final phase to their 30.9 dressage score.

“I’m really pleased with him. He really showed his class, and those clear rounds are what it’s all about.”

Fourth place went to Selina Milnes, whose long-strided, plucky Iron IV had captured everyone’s attention the day before. They finished on their dressage score of 30.2.

“It’s all just gone to plan, to be honest — I’d have liked to get into the top ten, but I honestly didn’t think we’d be this high up!”

Kitty King and Vendredi Biats. Photo by Katie Neat Photography.

Kitty King‘s week might have ended early with her Olympic mount Ceylor L A N, who refused at the B element of fence four on Saturday and was retired, but redemption came in the form of a fifth-place finish with Vendredi Biats, who picked up 20 penalties here in 2017. Below them, Pippa Funnell and MGH Grafton Street relinquished their grasp on second place with a single pole that saw them finish sixth, and seventh place went to Emily Philp and Camembert, who recorded their 21st consecutive clear round over the poles in an international competition and rounded out a fantastic autumn campaign, which also saw them finish on the podium in Blair Castle’s ERM finale.

Emily Philp and Camembert prove their worth once again. Photo by Katie Neat Photography.

Franky Reid-Warrilow, a former winner of the Mark Todd Bridging the Gap scholarship, which helps talented riders transition from the young rider programme into senior competition, finished 8th with Dolley Whisper after a steady climb from 20th in the first phase. Australia’s Amanda Ross and her Koko Popping Candy rounded out the top ten and made the only non-British appearance in the upper echelons of the class — an exciting finish to the competition for the pair who travelled over as first reserves for Australia’s WEG team.

And that’s a wrap on what has been one heck of a week for eventing fans the world over — I’m off to  rewatch the final five minutes of the WEG showjumping on an endless loop while quietly and happily sobbing into a bucket of gin (no tonic, in true Tryon fashion). Catch you all at the next one — in the meantime, Go Eventing!

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Balancing the Lows with the Highs: Laura Collett and London 52 Take Blenheim CIC3*

Laura Collett and London 52 take top honours in the eight- and nine-year-old CIC3*. Photo by Katie Neat Photography.

It’s been one hell of a season for Laura Collett, and in more ways than one: second in the Event Rider Masters series standings, a win at Houghton CICO3*, third at Haras du Pin CICO3*, and second at LuhmĂŒhlen’s CCI4* with Mr Bass, and top 10 placings at ERM legs at Chatsworth, Arville, Barbury and Blair makes for an enviable list of accomplishments by anyone’s standards. But when the World Equestrian Games team was announced last month, she and Mr Bass hadn’t made the cut, and the disappointment was staggering for Laura.

It’s a funny old sport, this, with its endless peaks and troughs, emotional buoyancy tempered by occasional skids along rock bottom. Had Laura gone to WEG, she may well have produced one of the phenomenal efforts we saw from the team yesterday. She may have finished well in the hunt for a medal, sitting out Sunday in anticipation of the biggest moment of her career thus far. Or, it could have gone the other way — perhaps, despite a brilliant form line, she might have had the sort of wobble that pushed the likes of Julia Krajewski, Sandra Auffarth and Boyd Martin out of contention. The what-ifs are endless, tantalising and damning, but one thing’s for certain: if Laura Collett had gone to Tryon, she wouldn’t have won at Blenheim.

Laura Collett and London 52. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The eight- and nine-year-old CIC3* at the SsangYong Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials is one of the most coveted CIC titles in the world. It’s bold, it’s beautifully presented, and its statistics are astonishing: since its inception in 2009, its victors have gone on to win four CCI4*s, often in the very next year.  To win here is to begin to feel very safe in the knowledge that the young talent you’re sitting on is going to be something very, very special.

Laura Collett and London 52 take top honours in the Blenheim eight- and nine-year-old CIC3*. Photo by Katie Neat Photography.

London 52, owned by Laura, Karen Bartlett and Keith Scott, has certainly been special so far. He stepped up to three-star at the beginning of the 2018 after several very good results at two-star in 2017, including second place finishes at both Ballindenisk and Millstreet. In May of this year he had never even run at Advanced; in the months since he’s finished second in the Event Rider Masters CIC3* at Arville, 11th in the Jardy leg, and 8th in the series finale at Blair, despite testing conditions and a technical course that proved testing for more mature horses. Today, he added just 0.4 time penalties to his dressage score of 27.5 to take the win.

“It’s scary how easy he finds everything,” said a delighted — and slightly breathless — Laura. “He’s pure class, and he always has been. He’s been a bit tricky in his brain, but that’s just because he’s so talented — he stepped up the levels so quickly that he never really had much time to think about it.”

Laura found the nine-year-old by Landos when she went to Peter Thompson’s yard to look for a cheap resale project. Instead, she found the 16.3hh London 52, who bowled her over with his obvious talent. The then-seven-year-old had never evented, but had experience showjumping at the 1.30m level. In mid-2016, he made his eventing debut, and the quick ascent up the levels began.

“It’s yet another young horse I don’t want to get rid of — I’ve got no business brain in me, but I love to find the good ones,” she laughed. That formidable talent — and its accompanying quirks — took some time to hone, but Laura has evidently found the key to getting the best out of ‘Dan’.

“Now, when I say ‘go’, he says ‘okay’, rather than doubting me. He’s not that blood, but he really covers the ground — sometimes he scares me with how quick he’s able to gallop. I have to shorten him and set him up more, and give him that extra time to assess the situation, but he just finds it all so easy. The scary thing is how much more there is to come from him.”

The win is doubly special because Karen Bartlett has been an integral part of the Blenheim steering committee for many years, though has never had a horse run in the competition herself. All being well, Dan will now head to Boekelo for next month’s CCI3*.

Laura Collett and Dacapo finish third in the CIC3*. Photo by Katie Neat Photography.

Laura also finished third on Diana Chappell’s Dacapo, who led after yesterday’s showjumping but added 3.2 time today to slip out of the top position. The Diarado-sired nine-year-old is quite a different ride to his victorious stablemate, but he, too, proved that his debut season at the level has been a productive one.

“He’s as honest as the day is long — as long as he can see the flags then he takes no setting up,” said Laura. “He takes longer than London 52 to get to that top gear, but once he’s there, you can keep motoring.”

Dacapo will finish his season now, as, explains Laura, he requires far more fitness work than his winning stablemate, but his early season plans are yet to be confirmed.

Izzy Taylor climbs with Springpower. Photo by Katie Neat Photography.

Time proved a far more influential factor in today’s CIC3* cross country than it had in the CCI3*: where 20 pairs managed to come home clear inside the time yesterday, just one managed it today. That was Izzy Taylor, whose reputation for blazing speed and efficient riding precedes her, and today, we saw her produce the goods on a relatively new face in her string. Springpower, who moved to Izzy’s yard in the latter half of the 2017 season, is “nearly pure blood, with a bit of pony back there somewhere, too — so he’s fast, he’s cheeky, he’s fun, and he reads a fence like a pony does.”

“He’s quick and he travels across the ground very well,” said Izzy. “I’ve had him just over a year, and he’s very much become my horse now.”

The Irish-bred nine-year-old (Power Blade x April Imperator) made his CIC3* debut in this class last year with Izzy, finishing 7th and best of the eight-year-olds. Since then, he’s undergone a learning curve at three-star, with a slow early run at Belton and a CCI3* debut at Bramham in June. A dressage score of 28.7 put them well into the hunt going into the beefy cross-country phase, but it was there that an unravelling occurred: an inexplicable and uncharacteristic horse fall saw them eliminated, and left Izzy puzzling over what had gone wrong.

“It was a bit of an unfortunate fall. He just didn’t quite get his landing gear down — I watched and watched the video, but could never really figure it out.”

Izzy opted not to run the horse thereafter due to the hard ground at the height of the summer season: “but that’s not to say we didn’t do our homework, and I wasn’t worried coming here.”

Any worries would have been unwarranted: Springpower motored confidently across the ground today, cruising across the finish with thirteen seconds to spare and looking as though he’d been Izzy’s ride all along. It was enough to see them finish second on their dressage score of 29.5 — a climb of ten places from the first phase and the only FOD of the class.

Izzy, who also finished 13th with eight-year-old Direct Cassino, runner up at last year’s seven-year-old World Championships, was full of praise for David Evans‘ course, which had to both challenge and nurture a plethora of precociously talented up-and-comers.

“It’s a hard class to build for,” she said. “David always does a good job of using the ground to make us all pay a bit more attention. My eight-year-old was given confidence and finished feeling really well, while the nine-year-old was able to come out and feel more mature and competitive, so it worked for both.”

Richard Jones followed up a career high at Burghley, where he finished 7th, by adding just 0.4 time penalties to his dressage score of 31.7 and finishing 4th with Kilballyboy Bob. The nine-year-old is a half-brother to Burghley mount Alfies Clover — they’re both by the American Thoroughbred Tajraasi — and they share a few pertinent similarities.

“They’re both fast, although this one’s faster,” said Richard of the Sean Beston-bred gelding. “They’re class horses and they want to do the job.”

Richard first saw Kilballyboy Bob as a four-year-old, but turned him down as he thought he’d be too small: “He was gorgeous, though, and I ended up getting him as a just-broke five-year-old. He’s very game and just wants to do his job, so he’s been super easy to train.”

Despite this, Richard had his misgivings about fence 6AB, the Ariat Dew Pond. Contrary to the main, long water obstacle at 11, the Dew Pond featured just a small splash of water, framed by a hanging rail on the entry side and a house at the exit point.

“He used to be a bit ‘watery’, so I thought that would be a real test, more so than the lake, because horses often don’t really like or read those little puddles.”

It proved to be no issue, and, in fact, Kilballyboy Bob caught sight of the crowds bunched around the string and went up a gear.

“He got a bit lit up and little bit on my hand, so I probably lost some time there,” said Richard, ruing the lone second that precluded an FOD.

Vittoria Panizzon and Super Cillious overcome a minor mishap to finish 5th. Photo by Katie Neat Photography.

Italy’s Vittoria Panizzon and the British-bred Super Cillious came in five seconds over the optimum time and climbed from 8th to 5th place. This is a second appearance at the level for the nine-year-old (Deans San Ciro Hit x Lady Priscilla), who made his debut at Arville in June but clocked up twenty penalties on course. Today he proved that he’d learned from his experience, but Vittoria’s week wasn’t without its hurdles.

“He had a sore toe on Friday, and I was off competing my youngsters at a one-day event, so my team and the farrier on site worked incredibly hard poulticing and icing him while I was away,” she explained. “He came out yesterday and felt absolutely fine, and then show jumped brilliantly, but I didn’t really get into my rhythm until the second part of the course today because I wanted to make sure he was okay. Otherwise, we should have been inside the time — he has a very good gallop stride and is good up hills, too. But then, my whole season has been a bit like that — good results on the surface, but quite a lot of paddling to make it happen, really.”

Vittoria has produced the horse from a four-year-old, and the qualities that helped him come second in 2013’s four-year-old Championships at Osberton have, she says, been present all along.

“He’s always been very genuine, very straight, and has always looked to stay between the flags. His balance has sometimes been a bit wobbly, but if you can get his head pointed at the flags, he’ll look to go between them. He’s more of a blood type to ride than he actually is on paper, and he’s always tried hard — he can just get a bit cheeky in the dressage, but he’s got enough charm that the judges seem to like him.”

New Zealand’s James Avery adds another promising result to Vitali’s resume. Photo by Katie Neat Photography.

Dressage leaders James Avery and Vitali were looking for redemption today after a dropped rein led to a dropped rail in yesterday’s showjumping, knocking them to 7th place. They got it, but only just: a classy clear round with just 2.4 time penalties allowed them to climb a placing and finish 6th, another promising result for the eight-year-old in his first three-star. Last year, he finished in the same position in the World Championships for seven-year-olds, having led the dressage and cross-country, and the confidence with which the Holsteiner gelding tackled his first CIC3* — and, in fact, his first Advanced dimension track — bodes well for the future.

“I’m really pleased. We went out and rode it exactly how I had walked it,” said James, who rides for New Zealand. “There were a few places where he was a bit strong, and I had to take more pulls than I would have liked, but he’s very straight and bold and stays between the flags.”

Pippa Funnell and Maybach record a top ten finish. Photo by Katie Neat Photography.

Time penalties saw Pippa Funnell and Maybach slip from 3rd to 7th, while new mother Zara Tindall piloted Class Affair to 8th, from 21st after the first phase. Laura Ritchie-Bland‘s Shadow Evergreen made the most impressive leap up the leaderboard, though — they were 39th after dressage, but a clear show jumping round and just two time penalties across the country saw them finish 9th overall, just above Ben Hobday and his 2017 Le Lion mount Shadow Man II.
The CCI3* wrapped this afternoon with an incredibly tense showjumping phase — we’ll be bringing you the full report soon. In the meantime, go Laura, go London, and Go Eventing!

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Saturday at Blenheim: A Long, Slow Pull and a Leaderboard Romance

The Old Guard and the New Head CCI3*

“There’s a first time for everything, isn’t there!” laughed a delighted Bella Innes Ker as she and her longtime partner Carolyn romped home inside the time around Blenheim’s CCI3* to retain the lead — the first time the pair has made the time in a CCI.

A dream come true: Bella Innes Ker and Carolyn hold the lead in the CCI3*. Photo by Adam Fanthorpe.

“It’s a dream come true, especially when you’re in that position,” she said. “I’m slightly beyond words! I was very lucky out there to be on such an awesome horse, and it was a bold, attacking sort of course, which is right up my street.”

David Evans‘ course proved to be much less influential than we’ve seen it in previous years, and 20 of the 95 starters managed to come home clear within the time. Still, it was, as Bella says, big and bold, and required a positive approach to get the job done and to maintain a workable pace on the long, slow pull up its steady inclines.

“We got into the rhythm very early on, and it all came up so nicely,” she explained. “She can be quite heady and strong, but we know each other inside out, so I knew I had to keep my hands down and, as Chris Bartle says, just trust the system. I owe a huge amount of credit to Chris — he’s worked with me to be brave and to stop interfering and checking, which helped us get the time today and will help us in the future, too.”

Pippa Funnell, who remained in second place with MGH Grafton Street, agreed with Bella’s analysis of the course.

“If you go out there and you’re not thinking about getting the time, it doesn’t put you in the right frame of mind,” she said. “You need to ride forward to make these courses ride well at three-days.”

Pippa made the executive decision to cut down on her string of horses this spring, and now campaigns a select group. The change of pace was spearheaded by the sale of Sandman 7 to young rider Yasmin Ingham, a choice that Pippa said was “one of the hardest decisions to make. But now I’ve got this really classy bunch of horses I can focus on, and I’m enjoying it a bit more, so I’m very happy.”

Two years after his Blenheim debut, the Padraig McCarthy-sourced MGH Grafton Street showed his maturity when he and Pippa had a minor blip on course.

“He felt great. He really helped me out at 11 [a wide oxer hedge followed by a timber parallel] — he jumped the hedge lovely, and I thought, ‘right — I’m not going to take a pull back here, I’ll just sit up’, and then he sort of chipped in and put down again, but he really took care of me. I had to hold my mouth and just trust him.”

Oliver Townend brings forward a new star in Ulises. Photo by Katie Neat Photography.

A double-clear saw fourth-placed Ulises move up a placing with Oliver Townend, and though the Chatsworth CIC3* has flown under the radar in Oliver’s formidable string of top-level contenders, it was easy to see why Oliver had him on the list as one of his potential Burghley mounts.

“He’s very fast and has endless gallop, like [half-brother] Armada,” said Oliver. “He made it feel very easy; he could have gone round twice. If he comes out of this well, he’ll be ready to step up to CCI4* next spring.”

Any comparison to the great Armada is one that oughtn’t be ignored: Oliver finished second at Badminton in 2014 on the horse, who amassed an incredible number of enviable results at the upper levels with both him and former rider Andrew Nicholson.

William Fox-Pitt and Oratorio. Photo by Katie Neat Photography.

William Fox-Pitt was another British rider to move up a notch on the leaderboard, as he and Oratorio made light work of the course, in a season that’s proving to be the making of the tricky horse. William, who first competed at Blenheim in 1990, joked that it was nice to have his ‘old mate’ Pippa Funnell to keep him company in a class full of young faces.

“Isn’t that romantic — Pippa and I right up there on the leaderboard! Most of the field wasn’t even born when I first rode here — I felt like the schoolmaster at the riders’ briefing, I didn’t know anyone’s names or faces! I’m missing so many of my mates here,” he laughed.

Oratorio is brimming with talent, but the nine-year-old, who is one of the four offspring of William’s Pau winner Oslo and out of a friend’s racing mare, doesn’t come without his quirks.

“He’s absolutely blood, and he doesn’t know the meaning of ‘hard’ in any phase, on any day, ever. It’s exhausting at my age — I’m quite looking forward to the day when he says, ‘right, okay, let’s go onto the bridle a bit now!’ At my age, I quite like them to purr around a bit, but he’s a double handful. Sometimes the ‘woah’ can take 25 strides!”

Oratorio went clear inside the time at Bramham’s CCI3* too, finishing eleventh there after knocking two rails on the final day.

“He’s potentially a four-star horse next year, now. In the old days, I’d have taken him to Kentucky without a doubt, but then, the funding was in place and the GB machine was a different beast. Now, there’s no way we could do it ourselves with our own funding. On a day like today, he’d eat Badminton up, so we won’t count it out.”

William had had his doubts about the firm going on arrival at the event, but he praised the ministrations of the team on site for making the going considerably more rideable. Thus, “it was easy — but today was a bit easy, wasn’t it?”

Amanda Ross and Koko Popping Candy. Photo by Katie Neat Photography.

Australia’s Amanda Ross moved up to fifth place — and finished the day as the only non-Brit in the top 10 — with a fast clear round aboard her ex-racehorse Koko Popping Candy. The pair were first reserves for the Australian team at WEG, and had planned to mount a British campaign in 2019, when their plans suddenly changed.

“Her owners and I were looking to come over next year with four or five horses for a big campaign — I didn’t want to come just for pre-WEG training if I was going to have to leave those horses behind, but then the selectors called and asked me to get on a plane,” explained Amanda. Although they didn’t get the final call-up, Amanda and the mare, known as Zazzie, were able to benefit from all the team’s training sessions with Gareth Hughes and Nelson Pessoa.

“She spent 40 hours travelling from door to door, and she got off the plane feeling like she’d been plugged into a USB port the entire time,” laughed Amanda. “So we were really able to enjoy those training sessions, and we got a lot out of them, so to aim here was a great alternative.”

Amanda first came over to the UK when she was 19, and admits that a visit to Badminton was “the straw that broke the camel’s back — I saw so much in terms of how things should be done.” In 1998 she was shortlisted for the WEG, and in 2000 she represented Australia at the Sydney Olympics, but a big European campaign is the missing piece in the puzzle. Zazzie will be aimed at a LuhmĂŒhlen entry for her first four-star, while Amanda hopes to run the gamut of UK events, including the Event Rider Masters series, in her season here next year. Used to the hard, dry ground of Australia’s eventing circuit, Amanda and her plucky Thoroughbred played to their strengths today.

“William [Fox-Pitt] said to me earlier in the week that the ground is the hardest he’d ever seen — I said, it’s great, I don’t want it any deeper than this!”

Kitty King had a day of mixed fortunes: she finished double-clear with Vendredi Biats, who had a run-out last year, and moved up to sixth place, but the experienced Ceylor L A N ran out at the influential corner at 4B, and she opted to retire.

Alex Bragg and Zagreb. Photo by Katie Neat Photography.

Her fellow countryman Alex Bragg must have found himself in similar mixed spirits: his CIC3* mount, Shannondale Percy, dropped from 2nd to 17th after knocking two rails, but both his CCI3* mounts produced double-clears. This moved Burghley re-router Zagreb from 9th to 7th place, and new ride Barrichello, formerly piloted by William Fox-Pitt and Caroline March, from 17th to 10th.

“It’s nice to be sat on a four-star horse going around a three star, but after Burghley I nevertheless had to keep my wits about me and think about rhythm, line, and balance,” said Alex. After an early tumble on Burghley’s course, Zagreb had a few days’ rest, followed by some physio treatment and plenty of stretching work — the result of which, laughed Alex, meant that the rangy gelding “felt like a seven-year-old at the first horse inspection — he was very fresh!”

Alex, who considers himself ‘a cross country rider, sitting on a cross country horse,’ rued the fact that the time wasn’t as influential as it could have been.

“Seven or eight seconds off the optimum time would have made it more influential; it’s not changed the top of the leaderboard much, which is a bit of a shame. But it’s a nice, inviting, solid track.”

Alex Bragg produces the results on up-and-comer Barrichello, who he took over this spring. Photo by Katie Neat Photography.

The nine-year-old Barrichello impressed not only the crowds, but Alex, too: “He did a fantastic job, and really flew around inside the time. I’m really proud of him; this is a step up in terms of atmosphere and the amount of people around. Coming into the long water at the lake feels like something from a film, and I think everyone enjoys that.”

But Barrichello’s cross country wasn’t without incident.

“There was a swan in the water, guarding the bridge like a Jack Russell guarding a driveway — it looked really tough until it saw Barrichello’s big feet storming at him, and then he thought better of it!”

“Everyone wants him”: Selina Milne’s Iron IV proves to be the horse of everyone’s dreams. Photo by Katie Neat Photography.

Selina Milnes jumped into the top 10, moving up from 12th to 8th after a seriously classy round with Iron IV that had everyone — commentators included — discussing how on earth they might be able to sneak a ride on the long-strided horse.

“He’s not that blood, so we’ve done loads of millwork to get him fit enough to come here,” explained Selina. Her hard work has paid off: Iron IV had barely broken into a sweat and, as he cantered home, he looked as though he was just setting off. This isn’t just down to careful fitness work; his success today comes down to tactical management throughout the season, too.

“I run him slowly at one-day events, because he has such a long stride to work with. Here, I was adamant that I wouldn’t take a pull, because he only gets stronger if I do. I rode him this morning properly so that I could just do a five minute warm-up this afternoon — he tends to half run his race before he even goes if I try to do him normally, as he gets so buzzy when the tannoys are going. It’s something we’ve worked on — I’ve put up flags in the arena at home to try to get him to stay calm, and it’s making a difference.”

Selina sourced the horse from Ireland’s Richard Sheane, head of the Cooley enterprise, but she wasn’t convinced by him on first viewing.

“I didn’t even ride him because I had a couple of broken ribs, and when I watched him go, I thought he was just a bit slow looking. But I’m quite a forward rider, and everyone insisted that I’d make him fast.”

Emily Philp and Camembert make a habit out of double clears. Photo by Katie Neat Photography.

Emily Philp and Camembert were incredibly impressive at Blair, where they made a surprise appearance on the Event Rider Masters podium, and they proved today that it was no fluke: another double-clear sees them in 9th after a seven place climb. Something to mull over? Blair’s three-star marked their 20th consecutive clear showjumping round at an international. They will be formidable tomorrow.

A Coup for Collett in the CIC3*

Laura Collett and Dacapo. Photo by Katie Neat Photography.

Saturday morning at the SsangYong Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials saw the eight- and nine-year-olds tackle a formidable showjumping course set by Di Boddy, and if anyone thought they were in for an easy ride, they were swiftly proven wrong. A treble combination, approached on a curving line, saw perhaps the most action of the morning: many, having made a big adjustment for the first fence, came to grief at the second, and with a tightly-bunched set of scores, a pole here saw claims to the leaderboard tumble. Near the end of the course, too, a long and meandering turn back to the final couple of fences led more than one horse to fall asleep at the wheel, only to scatter a pole when presented with yet another obstacle.

James Avery and Vitali: a lost lead, but an impressive impression. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Overnight leaders James Avery and Vitali were the most high-profile pair to fault at the treble, and their four faults and two time penalties leaves them seventh on a score of 30.2 as they look towards tomorrow’s cross country.

But for all that, the young horse, who has historically become distracted in an atmospheric showjumping arena, looked focused and professional in his trip around the arena, and it was in fact a dropped rein that led to the pole: “If I’d been able to ride him at the fence as I’d planned to, he wouldn’t have had it down,” said James.

James Avery and Vitali: polished and professional despite a minor mishap. Photo by Katie Neat Photography.

Though Vitali is tackling his first competition at the level, and in fact has yet to run at Advanced, he’s an exceptional cross-country horse. In eight international runs, he’s only ever faulted once in the phase, in his first one-star last year. Since then, he’s been clear every time, never adding more than 1.6 time penalties at two-star. He’ll be an interesting horse to keep an eye on tomorrow — there’s a lot to be said for the psychological effect of being able to head into the toughest phase without the pressure of the lead.

Laura Collett and Dacapo move into the lead in the CIC3*. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

That honour goes instead to Laura Collett, who produced clear rounds on both Dacapo and London 52, who moved from 4th and 5th place to 1st and 2nd, respectively. Both horses have begun to accumulate valuable experience at this level: Dacapo finished 6th in Houghton’s CICO3* in May and 9th in his ERM debut at Barbury in July, while London 52 has three ERM results to his name. He was 2nd in the tough class at Arville, while Jardy saw him in 11th place, and he powered through the heavy rain at Blair for 8th. Today’s CCI cross country taught us one thing: the time won’t be influential unless the horses and riders don’t make it, so Laura will have to draw on that experience against the clock to maintain her position and cruise home.

Pippa Funnell and Maybach sit in third going into Sunday’s cross country. Photo by Katie Neat Photography.

Pippa Funnell and Maybach, and Katherine Coleman and Monte Classico each produced clears as well, with Pippa rising three places to sit third, and a delighted Katherine rising from eighth to fourth. Monte Classico had to step up to the big leagues in a major way this spring: his first three-star was also his first team appearance, as he helped the U.S. team to second place in the Houghton CICO3* Nations Cup competition.

Katherine Coleman and Monte Classico make a move up the leaderboard. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Katherine has planned his entire season with this class in mind, and like Laura, she’ll need to accept nothing less than a double clear tomorrow.

Izzy Taylor and Springpower jump a double clear to sit in sixth place. Photo by Katie Neat Photography.

We’ll be bringing you all the action from the fast and furious cross country phase tomorrow, so stay tuned!

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Friday Video and UK Notes from World Equestrian Brands: Behind the Scenes at Blenheim

What a week to be an eventing fan! The EN team is at large on both sides of the pond, with the dream team in situ in Tryon, bringing you absolutely everything you need to know — and some things you didn’t even know you needed to know! — from the World Equestrian Games, while I’m holding down the fort at Blenheim, keeping my eyes peeled for an early look at next year’s Badminton winner. If ever there was a weekend to just shut yourself off from the world, pour the morning wine, and surround yourself with live streams, this is absolutely it.

If you’re very good at multitasking, you might also be out competing, or preparing to make your final entries of the season. If so, check out our guide to this weekend’s events and opening dates — and, as always, Go Eventing!

UK Weekend Preview:

Events Opening this Weekend:

  • Norton Disney (2) – BE80-N, with BE100RF – [Enter] Lincolnshire (October 19-21)

Events Balloting this Weekend:

  • 14th: Weston Park (2) – BE80-N, with BE90RF and BE100RF – [Enter] Shropshire (October 6-7)
  • 15th: Askham Bryan College – BE80-N – [Enter] Yorkshire (October 6-7)

Friday Video: Your backstage pass to Blenheim

Always wanted to snoop through the high-security stabling at a world-class event? Now’s your chance, thanks to intrepid presenter Spencer Sturmey (no, not Stanley Tucci, although we’d consider casting him in the film). Join him as he meets #supergroom Frankie Murrell, head girl to Pippa Funnell, and find out what life is really like behind the barricades…


Blenheim Friday: Leaders Prove Unassailable as Pretenders Encroach

Sometimes dressage days feel relaxed and leisurely; just one seven-minute test after another, the faint strains of Dua Lipa less pumping, more weakly trickling out of the smattering of speakers. When dressage consists of two days, two three-stars, and just shy of 180 tests, it can feel more like a marathon sprint. The sensory overload is replete with an autumnal chill, a draping of fallen leaves, and the inexorable thrill of watching some of the world’s best horses at work. Somewhere in the distance, the ghost of Churchill prowls, looking stern and ending wars, maybe. Maybe not. Either way, there’s no better place in the United Kingdom to usher in a new chapter. Today, that’s exactly what we saw for one major four-star contender and an Olympian on the comeback trail.

King Moves in on the Kingdom of Ker

Though the top two spots on the leaderboard remained unchanged after yesterday’s dressage, with Bella Innes Ker and Carolyn heading the class, Kitty King produced the goods with her Rio Olympics mount Ceylor L A N. The 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood, known at home as Sprout, has had a quiet couple of years since his trip to Brazil, but has since re-established himself at the very top of the sport, taking fourth place at LuhmĂŒhlen CCI4* in June and ninth at Hartpury CIC3* last month. There, he posted an incredible 22.3 in this phase. Today, he earned a 27 in a class that Kitty remarked was quite harshly marked.

Kitty King and Ceylor L A N. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“I’m really pleased with him,” said Kitty. “He’s obviously quite established at this level, but we just made a silly mistake in the second change — he just got a bit ahead of me, because sometimes he thinks he knows what he’s doing better than I do! He did some really nice, positive work, but I was pleased with my horse yesterday and ended up disappointed with his score, so you never quite know.”

Kitty King and Vendredi Biats in yesterday’s dressage. Photo by William Carey Photography.

Kitty and her first ride, Vendredi Biats, currently sit in 9th place on yesterday’s mark of 29.6. The talented grey incurred 20 penalties on course last year at the highly influential coffin, and Kitty hopes to put those demons to bed this time around. But, she acknowledges, she’ll have a big task ahead of her: “There are plenty of places to have run-outs. It’s not that different to last year’s course, but it asks plenty of questions. The corner at 4 will come up fast if horses are running a bit keen, and then there’s another corner not too far along. The coffin caused carnage last year, and it’s not been changed much this year, so that could be interesting. I thought he might have changed it a bit more — that’ll definitely be a test!”

World number one Oliver Townend and up-and-comer Ulises produced a consistent and precise test to score 28, leaving them in fourth place overnight. The Spanish-bred horse might not be in Oliver’s first string, but he’s no new face at the level: he was previously campaigned by Andrew Nicholson, who debuted him at three-star in 2015, and who sent the horse to Oliver as part of a mass exodus following the major accident at Gatcombe that left him fighting to sustain his career. Though he didn’t have any international runs last year, he’s produced the goods on three occasions this season, with top ten placings at all of his three-star runs, including a win at Chatsworth CIC3* in May.

Former Junior team bronze medallist Richard Coney made a surprise entry onto the leaderboard with Kananaskis, who delivered a 28.7 to sit in equal fifth position with William Fox-Pitt and Oratorio. Richard and Kananaskis have amassed an impressive string of international results this season, never placing below 6th and adding just 9.2 time penalties across all four competitions. The pair finished seventh at last year’s Junior European Championships and thirteenth the year before. This is a CCI3* debut for both horse and rider, so we’ll be watching them closely across tomorrow’s cross country phase to see what they’re made of. We quietly suspect it might be rather a lot.

Alex Bragg and the experienced Zagreb. Photo by Katie Neat Photography.

Despite an error of course, Will Rawlin and VIP Vinnie sit in 7th place overnight on a score of 29.3, while Alex Bragg and Zagreb round out the top ten after rerouting from an early tumble at Burghley.

“He felt great, although he always seems to get electric in that arena,” says Alex. “I think it’s because the arena itself is so far from the stands, and so sometimes they go in and seem to lose themselves in all that space, like they’re still working in the training area. Then, suddenly they realise where they are and they light up, which can be tricky to manage. There was a microphone at H, and he spotted it and spooked just as we were going into our walk transition, so that was a bit tricky too, as I then had to release the reins and trust that he would walk on nicely. We got away with that, but then some of the tension crept in when I picked him back up for the collected walk, so we dropped a few marks there. Without the mistakes, I think we’d have been around the 26 mark, but in a way, the dressage isn’t that different from the showjumping — you’re either clear, or you have errors. We didn’t manage a clear round today, but we’re still there or thereabouts.”

CIC3* Gives Alex a Reason to Brag

Nobody could usurp James Avery and Vitali‘s claim to the throne in the eight- and nine-year-old class, but Alex Bragg came closest, posting a 26.4 for second place with Shannondale Percy, with whom he’s been quietly developing a new partnership.

Alex Bragg and Shannondale Percy. Photo by Katie Neat Photography.

“It’s been a really interesting season with this horse, because we’ve still been trying to progress him through the grades while I try to develop a partnership with him at the same time,” he explains. “We ran him gently at some early three-stars, where he jumped super, and it gave him an idea of the expectations of him coming into the autumn. We reaped the benefits of that approach today. We were hoping for a sub-30 score, but if things go your way and all the pieces fall into place, you can really get the marks that reflect the level you’re working at at home. He remained rideable today, which meant that we didn’t throw any marks out; if you make sure you’re not throwing anything away and you remain consistent, you suddenly find yourself in a very competitive position, and that’s what happened today. It’s brilliant to be here at this point in the competition.”

Laura Collett and London 52. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Laura Schroter and Willem Van Wup slipped into third place on 27.1, while Laura Collett‘s Blair ERM mount London 52 tailed yesterday’s mount Dacapo to take fifth place.

“London 52 is still green, but he tries so hard all the time,” says Laura. “Both of them are exciting horses, but this class wasn’t a definite plan for their autumn — we had it penciled in, but neither of them had done an Advanced this spring, so it was a big step up to look ahead to. It’s just so nice for Karen [Bartlett, London 52’s owner] as she’s been working at Blenheim for about 15 years, but she’s never had a horse here — so to finally have one, and for it to be one that’s so special, is very cool.”

“Just Wow”: a Sneak Peek at the Cross Country

We’d hate to be accused of being shallow, but David Evans really does build and dress a beautiful course. Blenheim is as much a feast for the eyes as it is a serious test of boldness and accuracy, and creatively nestled as it is within the grounds of Winston Churchill’s former estate, it’s a season highlight for riders, owners and spectators alike. Australia’s Amanda Ross has put together a preview of the course with some of her own notes about how to ride the combinations — click here to take a look around the tough CCI3* track. This weekend’s competition will be live-streamed; you can follow along with both days of cross country action here.

Blenheim Palace: Website, Start Times & Scoring, EN’s Coverage, EN’s Twitter, EN’s Instagram

Thursday at Blenheim: The Incredible Influence of Age Classes

Bella Innes Ker and Carolyn. Photo by Adam Fanthorpe.

CCI3*: Good Times Never Seemed So Good for Bella Innes Ker

It was another show of consistency between the boards for Bella Innes Ker and her 14-year-old Hanoverian Carolyn today as they posted a 24.4 to lead the CCI3* at Blenheim overnight. They come to Blenheim off the back of a fourth place finish in Blair Castle’s CIC3* and, having finished 15th here last year, they’ve got their sights set on bigger things this time around.

“She’s on amazing form,” says Bella. “She’s a smart dressage diva on the best of days, so it’s nice when you can go in there and get a goodie. It can be hard when you’re on a great dressage horse, because sometimes you expect a result and don’t quite match it, but I’m delighted that it all worked out today.”

Bella Innes Ker and Carolyn. Photo by William Carey Photography.

This is a longtime partnership for Bella and the mare, who is owned by Bella’s mother, the Duchess of Roxburghe.

“We call Carolyn ‘Princess’ at home — sometimes it’s her way or the highway, but I’ve learned how to do things her way. If I please her and do it by her system, then she’s great.”

Pippa Funnell and MGH Grafton Street produced yet another impressive test, posting a 26.7 to sit second overnight. The 10-year-old gelding, who was sourced and produced by Ireland’s Padraig McCarthy, hasn’t been the most straightforward of Pippa’s rides, but he’s an undeniable talent: He finished fifth in this class last year, adding nothing in the second phase, and he’s a graduate of the eight- and nine-year-old class, too, finishing 18th in 2016. This season, he’s had two clear CIC3* runs — at Chatsworth and Hartpury — but has had problems on the cross country course at three of his international runs. This is a course that the horse has proven form over, though, and Pippa will likely push for a confident clear round to end his 2018 campaign on.

Holding third place on 29.4 is new kid on the block Amanda Ross, who has made the journey over to the UK from her native Australia with Koko Popping Candy. Amanda, who competed at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, isn’t short of experience, and she and the ex-racehorse have clocked up an impressive resume on their home turf. In their last nine internationals, they’ve never been out of the top five, and they’ve completed each of their seventeen starts without any cross country jumping penalties bar an 11 penalty blot for activating a frangible pin last season. This is the pair’s first international outside of Australia.

Kitty King and Vendredi Biats were reliable as ever in this phase, scoring 29.6 to slot in at fourth place on the tightly-bunched leaderboard. Last year, they faulted at the incredibly influential 18th fence on course, but they’ve posted top five finishes in Chatsworth’s CIC3* and Bramham’s CCI3* this season. They come to Blenheim off the back of a forgettable Hartpury — they picked up 20 penalties and dropped to 63rd there — but the eye-catching Selle Français has proven time and time again that on his day, he’s remarkable: he’s been in the top 10 in 15 of his 21 internationals.

Pats all around: Hamilton 24 makes Plan B a top option for Josefa Sommer. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Josefa Sommer and Hamilton 24 made a positive early impression in what has generally been considered a harsh-marking day, posting a score of 29.7 to take fifth place overnight.

“He was good, and very relaxed, which is good for him — in Aachen, he was very nervous,” says Josefa of the 16-year-old Hanoverian. The pair were first reserves for Germany’s formidable WEG team, and though the disappointment of not making the trip to Tryon stung initially, Josefa’s outlook quickly changed on arriving at Blenheim with her homebred gelding.

“I’ve never been here before, and wow! I hacked out this morning and I just couldn’t believe it, it is so beautiful, just wow. The course is big, and it’s so beautiful — I think it will really suit him, and I can’t wait to go out there.”

Josefa and Hamilton have an impressive form line — they haven’t been seen out of the top 20 in an international since mid-2016, which was the last time they had a cross country jumping penalty, too. Since then, they’ve logged 16 of their 67 international starts, and Josefa, whose father Joachim rode Hamilton’s dam, Fiorella, will be a rider to keep an eye on this weekend.

CIC3*: From Le Lion to the Main Stage

We talk a lot about the career importance of a good result in Blenheim’s eight- and nine-year-0ld CIC3* — after all, previous winners have included 2017 victor Cooley Lands, who represents Australia this week at the WEG with Chris Burton. Further back, the winners’ list is a veritable who’s-who of top-level talent: Andrew Nicholson‘s Quimbo won in 2012 and went on to take top honours at Kentucky the following spring, William Fox-Pitt‘s Oslo took the title in 2011 and then won his four-star debut at Pau a month later, and Mark Todd‘s NZB Land Vision was victorious in 2010, clinching Badminton the next season. Jonelle Price‘s LuhmĂŒhlen winner Faerie Dianimo was a winner here too, rising to the top of the leaderboard in 2014. Since its inception in 2009, the class has been eventing’s Magic Eight Ball, predicting with almost frightening accuracy which young horses will go on to make big waves.

But when looking at what is essentially an age class, it’s just as valuable to look back as it is to look forward. As in every other year, many of this year’s competitors are graduates of the Young Horse World Championships at Le Lion d’Angers, which hosts a CCI1* for six-year-olds and a CCI2* for seven-year-olds. Following on from British Eventing’s four- and five-year-old national classes, you can start to neatly sew a piece of string through the form of these talented horses and, insomuch as you can predict anything in eventing, you can get a pretty good idea of the cream of the crop.

James Avery and Vitali lead the way in the CIC3*. Photo courtesy of Uptown Eventing/SsangYong Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials.

Today’s leader is one such horse. New Zealand’s James Avery piloted Vitali around last year’s seven-year-old World Championships, leading the dressage on a score of 28. This was the horse’s first CCI2*, but despite Le Lion’s intense atmosphere, he jumped a stunning double-clear around Pierre Michelet’s inventive track, adding just 1.6 time penalties to hold onto his lead. On an incredibly influential Sunday, we saw him lose the title with two poles — but his show jumping form, which was chequered throughout his seven-year-0ld year, has been considerably better this season. Today, he posted an impressive 24.2 — a personal best for the horse at any international level — to lead the CIC3* by three marks.

Blenheim is a level debut for Vitali, who was formerly piloted by Jock Paget, whose Hungerford yard, horses and major sponsors were passed over to James when Jock relocated back to New Zealand. This season, they’ve completed four clear Intermediate runs, won the CIC2* at Rockingham International, and place seventh at Tattersalls’ CCI2*, but interestingly, Vitali is yet to run at Advanced — he ran Aston’s eight- and nine-year-old Advanced as a combined test. But don’t go scrambling for your rule books — he is, in fact, qualified for CIC3*, which only requires qualifying results at Intermediate and CIC2*. Baffling? Yes, but endlessly muddling FEI rules aside, that’s no good reason to discount this pair.

“I’m really pleased with him; he was pretty focused and he enjoys his job, so I was able to go in the ring and do what we’ve been practising at home, which is always a good feeling. He’s been going really well, so I’d hoped we could produce a test that reflected that,” says James.

Despite Vitali’s inexperience at the level, James remains confident about the mammoth task ahead: “He’s a good cross country horse, so I haven’t been too worried about that bit. He went well at Tattersalls, and from that I learned that he needs to have two steady runs before a big event, because he just loves it so much. He loves his job and loves working, but he can be cheeky — he likes to make sure you’re switched on, and he can be quiet as anything one second, and the next second he makes you work for it.”

Since losing the seven-year-old title in the final phase, Vitali’s showjumping record has been on the up and up — this season, he’s recorded more clears than otherwise, though an atmospheric arena like Blenheim’s could still be a factor in his success here.

“He’s not had a lot of experience jumping in a big atmosphere, so sometimes he goes in and gets a bit distracted by things. That’s what got him at Le Lion. But you can’t protect him — you have to dare him a bit more, and ride him like a jumper. The more you dare him, the harder he tries.”

Laura Collett and Dacapo sit second in the CIC3*. Photo by William Carey Photography.

Laura Collett currently sits in second place on 27.2, despite an error of course in her test with Dacapo. The nine-year-old gelding has only had seven international starts, but he’s racked up considerable experience in those starts: he was sixth in Houghton’s CICO3* in May and came ninth in his Event Rider Masters debut at Barbury. His score today is a personal best; he’s consistently a point or two above this, but Laura has developed something of a reputation for eking out the best in her horses in this phase.

In third place, Pippa Funnell made a second appearance on a leaderboard today, posting a 27.7 with Maybach in his second appearance at the level. Pippa took over the ride last season from Sweden’s Hedvig Wik, and has since produced some promising results with him, including second in the CCI2* at Tattersalls.

“He’s everything I’ve ever wanted in a horse,” said Ben Hobday after his third-place finish at Blair CIC3* with Shadow Man, and the dream certainly didn’t die today: the pair scored 28.1 to sit fourth. Shadow Man is another Le Lion graduate — he finished 10th last year, and has since made his first team appearance, coming 16th in the Nations Cup at The Plains.

Monte Classico shows his talent with Katherine Coleman. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Five marks behind James and Vitali there’s a three-way tie for fifth place: Millie Dumas and Fabien, Italy’s Vittoria Panizzon and Super Cillious, and sole US representative Katherine Coleman and Monte Classico all scored 29.2 to share the spot after the first day of dressage.

For Katherine and her talented nine-year-old, this class has been a season-long target. The pair was given the call-up for the second-placed US team at Houghton’s Nations Cup in May — there, they added just 1.6 time penalties across the country and 2 time penalties in the showjumping to their dressage score of 33, despite the fact that it was the horse’s first run at the level. But it’s been the first phase that has historically precluded them from earning higher placings — the German sport horse, who Katherine sourced from Bettina Hoy, tends to be a mid-30s scorer.

Katherine Coleman and Monte Classico. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“I’m really excited about his test, because I feel like that’s actually where we’re at and really was the best we could do,” says Katherine. “He’s a little bit green in his changes, but he did them both today and got an 8 for one of them, so I’m thrilled. What’s so exciting is that there’s so much more to come – this is just barely scratching the surface. He’s such an amazing horse, and I’m so lucky to have him. I’m excited to hopefully do him a little bit of justice this weekend.”

We’ll be back with loads more dressage action from Blenheim tomorrow: stay tuned!

Blenheim Palace: Website, Start Times & Scoring, EN’s Coverage, EN’s Twitter, EN’s Instagram

Blenheim: The Dancing Shoes Come Out for the First Horse Inspection

“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall,” said Jordan in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and look, we’ll be honest with you — we don’t often relate to much in Gatsby, but that’s one line that hits home this week.

There’s something extra special about the SsangYong Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials. Held each year as the aftershocks of Burghley start to ebb away, it could get lost in a funny sort of end-of-season ennui, but each year, it heralds the start of autumn with a bang. You can always rely on Blenheim for a few things: sudden, crisp mornings and evenings, where the air smells faintly of log fires and the novelty value of digging out a proper jacket is still fresh, and new, and not at all soul-destroying. A feeling of real English luxury, too — the proper kind, in which chaise longues are populated by bevies of terriers, and wellies might be accepted in the ballroom with a bit of a wink at the Duchess, and the former seat of Winston Churchill looms over everything, golden and spectral and splendid. Most importantly of all, you can rely on Blenheim to deliver two enormous, exciting three-stars.

The World Equestrian Games might be in full swing across the pond, but it would be remiss to forget about Oxfordshire’s crown jewel — after all, its prestigious CIC3* for eight- and nine-year-olds has historically been a barometer of world-beating talent. Look to Tryon, and you’ll see Cooley Lands, competing under the Australian flag with Chris Burton — look back to Blenheim and you’ll see his victory in this class here just last season. This year, 78 horses come forward to prove to the world that they, too, could be the next big thing.

Kitty King’s Ceylor LAN is one of the many major names contesting the CCI3* this year – and can we all just take a second to admire how perfect he is? Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The CCI3*, too, is colossal — both in fence dimensions and in class size. 101 combinations from twelve nations presented to the ground jury this afternoon at the first horse inspection. This year, the trot-up took place on the Palace’s south lawn — an atmospheric first.

A handful of combinations were asked to re-present. Johnny Cash II, presented by Johan Lundin, was the first of these — he was asked to trot twice before being sent to the holding box, but subsequently passed. The Swedish rider will compete two horses in the CCI class — his other ride, Mind Me, was also accepted.

Edouard Chauvet is one of a serious contingent of French competitors here this weekend, and his Vesubio was also asked to trot twice, though was accepted straight away thereafter. Great Britain’s Francis Whittington had to re-present his experienced Hasty Imp, and will also go forward to the first phase.

Taking ridiculous photos at a trot-up is getting to be something of a habit, and, in Harry Meade‘s absence, Will Rawlin kindly offered himself up as EN’s victim this time. We’d like to know what he’s feeding VIP Vinnie, and if we might also be able to have some.

Will Furlong and best turned-out winner Cooley Zest. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Will Furlong‘s Cooley Zest was awarded the prize for the best turned-out horse, while HiHo Silver named David Britnell and Eilidh-Jane Costello as their best-dressed gent and lady.

Eilidh-Jane Costello and Westmur Quality. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

David Britnell and Continuity. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Both the CCI3* and the CIC3* begin in earnest tomorrow, with some top combinations on show, including Kitty King and Vendredi Biats, Pippa Funnell and MGH Grafton Street, Carlos Parro and Summon Up The Blood, and Camilla Kruger and Biarritz II performing their tests in the CCI3*. In the CIC3*, we’ll be watching Izzy Taylor and her seven-year-old reserve World Champion Direct Cassino, James Avery‘s Vitali, who led the same class until the final phase, Katherine Coleman‘s impressive Monte Classico, and Laura Collett‘s Dacapo. Ben Hobday brings forward Shadow Man II, who narrowly missed out on a win in Blair Castle’s CIC3* last month — as Ben told us then, he’s hungry for a three-star win. We could see him pulling out the big guns this week.

As always, keep it locked on to EN for all your Blenheim (okay, okay, and WEG) news as it happens — it’s going to be a spectacular week to be an eventing fan.

Blenheim Palace: Website, Start Times & Scoring, EN’s Coverage, EN’s Twitter, EN’s Instagram

Reporter’s Notebook: Beyond the Burghley Headlines

It’s been a week since the exciting finale of the 2018 Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials, but it’s not been far from my mind since its conclusion — after all, reporters, riders, grooms and supporters alike immerse ourselves into what is effectively a bubble for the week at these major events, and finding ourselves back on terra firma, with all the mundanity that comes with it, can be a jarring transition.

Tim Price and Varenna Allen, owner of Ringwood Sky Boy, quietly celebrate their horse’s success before the world joins in at the prizegiving. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

I’m guilty of writing the occasional emotionally-charged event report — and I’m sure there are those who would argue that what I produce isn’t the real deal, the classic reporting of someone with the rock-solid willpower needed to turn off the superlatives and stick to cold, hard facts. But that’s fine — from where I stand, part of what makes eventing so special is the stuff that deviates from data on a page, whether that’s the raw emotions that abound at a competition, the internal and external battles fought to get there, or the performances that crest the waves of probability and send the stats into a tailspin.

And that, too.

EN’s own Jenni Autry put it best, and most succinctly, when she tweeted that you can’t quantify the will to win. Because who, really, was putting their money on Tim and Oz to lift the Burghley trophy?

I’ve been crossing my fingers for a big win for Tim all season, and was characteristically shouty and unabashed in voicing my support for him through the week — but had I been backed into a corner and asked to put my money where my mouth was, I admit I would have faltered. We know so much more than we ever have about the statistics of the sport, largely thanks to the tireless efforts of EquiRatings, who have somehow managed to make this sort of thing fun and captivating. We’re able to analyse form and probability so easily now, and when you see showjumping form like Oz’s, you begin to prepare yourself for disappointment.

“The joke’s on all of you. Every. Last. One.” Ringwood Sky Boy, or Oz, after his superb cross-country round. Photo by Peter Nixon.

But we did that at Badminton too, didn’t we — after all, Classic Moet hadn’t had a clear showjumping round in an international in four years then. It just wasn’t going to happen. Except that it did, and did again, and somehow, the numbers, the predictions, and the statistics were cast aside in favour of that irrepressible bit of magic that can’t be quantified in any way — that sparkling something that makes this sport equally special and damning.

Putting a Price on love

I wrote at length about the power of love in my final report from Burghley, so I won’t rehash it too much here — suffice it to say that Tim and Jonelle have created the sort of power couple dynamic that most Netflix original series can only dream of. Only one couple prior to them has done a four-star double in a year — that was Burghley course designer Captain Mark Phillips and his then-wife, Princess Anne, who won Badminton and the European Championships at Burghley, respectively, in 1971.

These little moments of synchronicity weave multiple narratives together and can almost make you believe in fate. Want another one? Ringwood Sky Boy’s ownership is split a few ways – though he’s primarily owned by Varenna Allen, and Tim himself retains a small share, it was by selling a leg to Robert Taylor a few years ago that Tim was able to buy an engagement ring for Jonelle. Nope, get out of my way, guys — I’m calling dibs on writing the novelisation of this one.

Lucy Miles videos as Tim Price leads the victory lap around Burghley’s main arena. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

As an aside — we rightly hail Tim and Jonelle for their incredible results this season, but it would be amiss not to mention their head girl, Lucy Miles, who is the lynchpin in a programme that’s consistently producing phenomenal results at the top level. Getting one horse to the final day of a four-star is difficult enough — to captain a ship that ferries three to a win in one season is mind-boggling. Her horses have recorded five international wins, thirteen national victories, and two flights to the World Equestrian Games so far in 2018. We need to celebrate the astonishing amount of hard work and dedication that makes these things happen (and maybe not put grooms in a tent — here’s looking at you, Tryon).

A coup for the Captain

We spend so much time — athletes, journalists, and clued-up eventing fans alike — speaking up when someone gets it wrong. Often, that someone is a fellow rider. Frequently, it’s an organiser or course designer. Should we keep quiet for the sake of keeping the peace? Not always — after all, by voicing our convictions, eventing’s inner sanctum has created a catalyst of change that has propelled safety and sports technology far further than we could ever have foreseen.

But we owe it to the sport to shout just as loudly when people get it right — and oh boy, did they ever get it right at Burghley. I’ve worn a number of hats in this industry — not least that of lifelong eventing enthusiast; the sort of, well, nerd that watched and rewatched and slowed down and analysed a single combination on course long before it was ever my job to do so — and I will happily climb aboard the well-worn soapbox to declare my uninhibited adoration for this year’s course.

So what did course designer Captain Mark Phillips and co. get so right? A lot of things — some down to forward thinking and meticulous planning, others down to a little sprinkle of jolly good luck (thanks, Eventing Jesus, your contribution to the weather and the ground’s moisture levels were much appreciated).

Andrew Nicholson, a man who has ridden more cross country rounds than most of us have had hot dinners, and who has never shied away from speaking his mind, put it best when he asked us in the mixed zone if anyone through the day had picked up 50 penalties for missing a flag.

“I bet they haven’t,” he said, without missing a beat. “Mark has got the measure of this flag rule. It was clear to the horses the whole way around where the flags were. They either jumped or they didn’t.”

He praised effusively, too, the scope for adaptability the course provided, citing examples — such as the Trout Hatchery — where you could change your mind about your route part of the way through without adding on 20 penalties. What he loved, he told us, was that there were no hidden traps to catch the riders and their horses out.

Harry Meade and Away Cruising jump the egg boxes at Clarence Court, the final combination on course. Photo by Peter Nixon.

This has never been a safe sport, and until the IOC forces a rule change that sees us strapped into harnesses and boinging around on trampolines with hobby horses between our legs, it never will be — not totally, anyway. When it comes to course design at the top levels, there are so many fine lines to negotiate that it must feel a bit like that classic diamond-heist trope — can you cross from the doorway to the gem without touching any of the criss-crossing laser wires? Can you cope with the fallout if the lace of your shoes breaks one of those laser beams, and a competitor is hurt, or worse?

What Phillips got right in his Burghley design was, as Andrew pointed out, a test that didn’t trick or trap horses. It didn’t encourage riders to take unnecessary risks to avoid clocking up 20 penalties — instead, they could see a safe path out of each question and reroute, rather than trying to stuff their horses over fences on a half-stride or an uncomfortable line.

The aftermath. Photo by Peter Nixon.

Sure, it was still a fiendishly difficult track, and it certainly separated the wheat from the chaff, but it worked in an almost miraculous harmony with this year’s dressage-sans-multiplier to create an enormous stamina test in which seconds in either direction could send you soaring or tumbling on the leaderboard. We saw a 66% completion rate, a 55% clear rate, and just a 6% double-clear rate on Saturday, with nobody faulting in the latter, single-fence heavy part of the course. Add to that the most perfect ground you could ask for — thanks to sunny days, dewy nights, and an endlessly dedicated team working tirelessly behind the scenes — and you create the sort of four-star we’ve all been sitting on our hands for for so long. You know what’s (absolutely miles) better than free wine and cupcakes at the evening press conference? Free wine and cupcakes that you can enjoy without a statement landing on your table about an injury to horse or rider. What was, perhaps, most heartening of all was that less than an hour after the conclusion of the cross-country phase, the Captain had already analysed and critiqued his own track, and was perfectly willing to declare where he had gone wrong — the Clarence Court combination at 21 didn’t see any faulters, but, he told us, it could have done, and will be changed for next year.

Oliver Townend and MHS King Joules jump the Gurkha Kuhkri fence that later dislodged Mark Todd and Kiltubrid Rhapsody. Photo by Peter Nixon.

One of the most important aspects of a successful competition is its watchability, too, and in particular, its ability to draw in casual or uninitiated spectators. On a personal level, we all felt our hearts break all over again for Mark Todd, who, for the second consecutive year, fell on cross-country while leading after dressage. But he was unhurt, Kiltubrid Rhapsody was unhurt, and, two fences earlier, he’d given us one of those heart-stopping and fist-clenching thrills-and-spills saves that ends up defining the sport in three minute video edits for years to come. If we take our own long-standing affiliations with the sport out of the equation, how does that serve the weekend’s television coverage? Spectacularly well, I should think — you might struggle to get your non-horsey partner, for example, to sit and watch a day of cross-country, but imagine how he or she might react if they turned over onto the BBC’s red button coverage, saw Toddy and Raps somehow get the job done at the Leaf Pit, discover from the commentator that they’re not just leading, but that Toddy is a veritable legend of the sport — then, two fences later, that legend comes unstuck. It’s fast, it’s furious, and the two leaders are very soon to start — suddenly, you’ve hooked another casual viewer, who might even tune in the next day.

Oh, and those eagle-eyed fans among you might have noticed something serendipitous — the optimum time was 11 minutes, 11 seconds. I know I made a wish.

All hail the Sons of Courage

The celebrations must have been rife at Ireland’s Kedrah House Stud, where the late stallion Courage II stands (in semen stock, if not in body), quietly asserting his continuing dominion over the eventing world. There are certain bloodlines we all pledge fealty to — one American trainer and former Olympian I know adores the talent and quirky nature of a Master Imp baby, while several friends swear by a bit of Jumbo to add quality to a blood horse. Me? Find me something sired by the late Holsteiner Courage II (Capitol x Cor De La Bryere), and I’ll be a very happy girl indeed.

Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Courage II not only sired winner and runner-up Ringwood Sky Boy and Ballaghmor Class, he’s also responsible for Jonty Evans‘ Cooley Rorkes Drift and Yoshi Oiwa‘s WEG mount The Duke of Cavan. Elsewhere in the Burghley field, he sired Proud Courage, the mount of Nicholas Lucey. While he doesn’t stamp particularly consistently in terms of looks — would you have guessed that Oz and Thomas were half-brothers? — he does pass on an almost preternatural ability to think on the job, jump from just about anywhere, and dig endlessly deep. The 1990-vintage stallion passed away a few years ago, but there are still a few straws left of his own particular love potion no. 9, if that’s the sort of impromptu purchase you’re into.

More characters than a Jilly Cooper novel

One of the most difficult things about reporting on a major event is balancing the need to tell the main story — who conquered, who crumbled, who did something so truly remarkable as to change the course of the entire competition — with the endless desire to delve into the incredible stories of fortitude and tenacity that some of the other riders are sitting on. And believe me — you don’t get to four-star without tallying up some pretty remarkable stories along the way.

There was, of course, the irrepressible Julie Tew, whose story I was able to tell when she delivered a brilliant dressage test with Simply Sox and strode into her rightful place on the leaderboard. Unfortunately, their weekend would end early — Julie opted to withdraw before the final horse inspection after delivering a clear round on Saturday that had a mixed zone full of hardened media types surreptitiously dabbing at our eyes — but for me, and for many others, Julie’s is the stand-out story of the week, the one so purely and simply Burghley that Joules ought to think about printing her face on their commemorative scarves next year.

Julie Tew and Simply Sox defy the odds on day one. Photo by Peter Nixon/Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials.

Eighteen years ago, Julie was diagnosed with a tumour on her spine and told that the best-case scenario she could hope for was to walk with a stick, but certainly not to ride again. Despite this, she pushed through and continued to campaign a string of horses. Five years ago, following a sudden recurrence of debilitating pain and depression, she sought the help of a psychiatrist, who referred her to a neurologist.

“The neurologist took one look at me and said, ‘you’ve got 90% nerve damage in both your legs, and you really shouldn’t ride again,'” explained Julie, who, despite doctor’s orders, ‘fought immensely’ to keep doing what she loves. Now, she’s cut back on her string and manages her fitness levels carefully — the more exercise she does, the more pain she’s in, and so, she joked, she made it to Burghley on the back of months spent snacking on her sofa.

Her horse, too, has had his share of setbacks: he tore a ligament when he tripped on the horse walker, and injured himself in myriad ways in the field. Now, he has chronic arthritis in both hind fetlocks, presenting a further challenge to his already complicated management regime. But Julie and her team, through endless tenacity, and an enviable inability to take no for an answer, not only got the horse to Burghley, but got him round clear, too. They might not be our winners — hell, they’re not even on our short list of completions — but their story of grit, guts and glory is quintessential Burghley, and we’ll be following them closely (with our cheerleading pom-poms only just concealed behind our backs).

Richard Jones and Alfies Clover produce a career best. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Richard Jones and Alfies Clover produced the best result of Richard’s career, climbing from 33rd place after dressage to finish seventh in the competition. Last year at Bramham’s CCI3*, the pair looked set to achieve their best result yet, when a freak accident ended their week early: Richard slipped as he stepped out of his lorry’s living and, catching his wedding ring on the door as he tried to hang on, ended up losing his finger. He rode around Burghley last year with Alfies Clover, despite being in constant pain and lacking a huge amount of strength in his left arm, but this year, he’s put it all to bed, finishing seventh at both Bramham and Burghley. Also worth mentioning? There’s a serious back-catalogue of songs about him. Sort of.

“Pass me a bottle, Richard Jones.”

There were new faces, too, who made an impact — Burghley first-timer Camille Lejeune (not a girl, just French) was one of those huge characters who bowls into a room and leaves everyone grinning. At every juncture of the competition he would happily effuse, “it is a dream of a kid, no?” about his Burghley experience, and his incredibly Gallic, expressive face and smiling ease in front of a swarm of journalists was admirable. He and Tahina des Isles were the first combination to manage a clear round over Richard Jeffrey‘s seriously influential showjumping track, and once they did it — as cool and casual as you can imagine — everyone else started to see that it was possible. It’s always a fascinating domino effect to watch; over and over, in so many ways, we see the Bannister effect trickle through eventing. Anyway, more importantly, Camille and his plucky mare finished 16th and left us beaming in their wake.

The name’s Glynn. Ciaran Glynn. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Ireland’s Ciaran Glynn took home the prize for best first-timer, riding the talented Irish mare November Night to 14th place. The mare is named for the November night on which she was bought at the Goresbridge sales — “quite a drunken one,” recalled Ciaran with a laugh. The mare has an enormous amount of jump in her, and more than one person has WhatsApped me asking me to photoshop Ciaran as James Bond, so for both reasons, keep an eye on this pair.

Esib Power and Soladoun make nothing of Burghley’s stamina test. Photo by Peter Nixon.

Esib Power‘s Soladoun was one of my stand-out horses of the weekend. The four-star first-timer was successful on the racetrack, and it absolutely showed as he produced the fastest round of the day on Saturday. He romped home eight seconds inside the optimum time, pulling up fresh as a daisy and looking rather bemused about why he’d had to stop at all. It’s been a while since we’ve seen Esib at this level, but it’s not for lack of talent — the tough-as-nails Irish rider also showjumps at the top level, contesting classes like the Hickstead Derby. Instead, it’s a lack of horsepower that’s kept her out of the spotlight — but with an impressive climb from 37th to ninth place, and the opportunity to base herself in the thick of it all at partner Oliver Townend‘s Gadlas Farm, hopefully we’ll see some more equine talent go her way. This season, we’ve seen her take over the ride on Oliver’s four-star partner Samuel Thomas II, too — and no doubt, with an extra horse or two to allow her to mount a committed campaign, she’ll be riding with Tokyo in her sights.

Pick your poison: a liberal top-up from Lucinda Green, or a healthy pour from former England player David Flatman. Photo courtesy of Pol Roger.

Party predictions

For the second year in a row, Pol Roger hosted their Bits v Balls charity shindig on Friday night, in their teepee-esque Lodge alongside the collecting ring. In aid of the My Name’5 Doddie foundation, which funds research on Motor Neurone Disease, the evening pits eventers against rugby players, ably compered by TV presenter Clare Balding and helped along by innumerable bottles of the bubbly stuff.

Interestingly, one of last year’s eventers was Oliver Townend, who won the squat challenge and went on to win Burghley. This year, Tim Price and Harry Meade went head-to-head in a plank challenge, tying for the win as they hit three minutes on the trot. Tim, for his part, went on to win the competition, while Harry produced what must be one of the best rounds of his career the next day, ultimately finishing sixth. We don’t want to say that Pol Roger picks the winners, per se, but if once is a fluke and twice is a coincidence, we’ll be keenly anticipating next year’s Bits v Balls to see if we can pin down an early winner once again. (Also because very, very good champagne tastes best when accompanied by the acting prowess of a Price, of course.)

Getting the fashion fix

Anyone who knows me even a little bit knows that I’m not really equestrian journalism’s “fashion person.” I appreciate a bit of effort, I like to dress up for a cocktail party, and I enjoy seeing what everyone wears at the trot-up, but I can’t abide the endless stream of articles that flood social media in the lead-up to a major event, all of which focus entirely on what to wear (and all offering the exact same advice). Look, it’s a nice, horsey day out; the odds are high that the weather will fluctuate between all four established seasons and probably a couple that only currently exist at the far reaches of our solar system, and really, no one cares what you wear to spectate. As long as you don’t fall victim to #jodhpurwatch, obviously.

But for all that — and for my endless griping — I do pay attention to what goes on at the horse inspections, and something caught my eye this year at both of them. The perennial and ever-popular Fairfax and Favor boots, ordinarily adorned with tassels to match an outfit, or to nod to the wearer’s cross country colours, were overwhelmingly going pink.

Lydia Hannon goes pink for British Cancer Care at the first horse inspection. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Now, if there’s one thing the eventing community is marvellous at, it’s making charity a fun and easy thing to fit into our busy and broke lives. We saw it earlier in the summer, when #weargreenforJonty wristbands could be spotted on every arm in the country, raising money for the David Foster Injured Riders’ Fund, and we’ve seen it sitting in the window of every single horsebox in Britain, in the form of a bescarfed Willberry Wonder Pony. This time, the beneficiary of choice was breast cancer awareness, and Fairfax and Favor, who officially launch the pink tassels in October, have been quietly making an enormous financial impact.

Since their first year supporting the charity, the British fashion house has raised a huge amount of money for British Cancer Care, which works to support breast cancer patients and their families. This makes the company one of the leading commercial donors to the charity — not too shabby, for a brand in only its fifth year of life and competing against huge corporate entities.

A new way to wear tassels, demonstrated by this errant rodent. A Chinchfluencer, if you will.

Chinch demanded that I outfit him with his own set of tassels (unfortunately the shoes didn’t quite run small enough) — you can get your own next month through the Fairfax and Favor website. 100% of proceeds go to the charity, giving us yet another reason to feel seriously warm and fuzzy about the power for positive change our eventing family demonstrates.

Team GB chef d’equipe Chris Bartle had made one “pull my finger” joke too many. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

A stiff upper lip

One of the hottest topics of conversation was the British WEG team selection, which was notable in its exclusion of World Number One Oliver Townend. Oliver, who led the first day of dressage but couldn’t attend the evening’s press conference, was ably represented by Team GB chef d’equipe Dickie Waygood. Poor Dickie. He must have known he’d walked into the snake pit. But the former Riding Master of the Household Cavalry is well-versed in the art of keeping mum, and he handled the question with aplomb. So does Dickie know why Oliver was left off the team?

Waygood for President 2020?

I could keep rambling on all night about all my wayward opinions and happy little memories of this year’s Burghley, but the world keeps turning, and the eventing world keeps moving, and it’s on to WEG and Blenheim next — thanks for indulging me in one last stroll down (recent) memory lane. Until next time, chums.

Burghley Links: Website, Entries, Timetable, Start Times & Live Scoring, Live Stream, EN’s Coverage, EN’s Twitter, EN’s Instagram, Form Guide

Friday Video and UK Notes from World Equestrian Brands: Ride Around Burghley with Tim Price

Even with the WEG looming over the horizon (a bit like the eponymous twister in the 1990s cinematic classic of the same name), it’s just impossible to shake off the mantle of a jolly good Burghley.

Diving into WEG like…

It’s not the Burghley Blues, exactly — it’s just that the Lincolnshire event, with its end-of-school vibes, its golden-era feel, and its endless top-ups of bubbly sort of wraps you in a shroud of merriment that makes it hard to step away from Stamford and re-enter the real world. Golden era to golden arches (on the motorway home at 1am), four-star horsepower to fifteen-year-old Peugeot horsepower … you get my drift. I’ll be bringing you my reporter’s notebook this weekend, full of all the best bits that didn’t make the reports, but in the meantime, I’ve got something even better (or at least, vastly more educational) to share with you. But first: the UK diary dates you need for the weekend ahead.

UK Weekend Preview:

West Wilts (3): [Website] [Ride Times]

Gatcombe International (2): [Website] [Ride Times] [Cross Country Videos]

Frickley Park (2): [Website] [Ride Times] [Live Scores]

Frenchfield (2): [Website] [Ride Times]

Burnham Market (2): [Website] [Ride Times]

Events Opening this Weekend:

7th: Bovington (2) – BE80-N, with 90RF – [Enter] Dorset (October 13-14)

7th: Oasby (2) – BE90-I – [Enter] Lincolnshire (October 13-14)

8th: Broadway (2) – BE80-N, with 100RF – [Enter] Worcestershire (October 13-14)

Events Closing this Weekend:

8th: Bishop Burton (2) – BE90-N – [Enter] East Yorkshire (September 29-30)

8th: Little Downham (3) – BE80-A, with BE90RF and BE100RF – [Enter] Cambridgeshire (September 29 – October 1)

Tim Price and Ringwood Sky Boy. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Friday Video: Ride Along with Burghley Winner Tim Price

Have you ever wondered what, exactly, goes into producing a foot-perfect round over an enormous CCI4* track? After all, it’s not just going fast and jumping big — there are an almost endless variety of factors to take into account, and there’s plenty of strategy involved, too.

Fortunately for us, sports technology is evolving, giving us more of a chance than ever before to break down the remarkable athletic achievements of both horses and riders at the very top of their game. Leading analytics company SAP has teamed up with Burghley winner Tim Price to bring you a video of his winning Burghley round aboard Ringwood Sky Boy that’s equal parts external footage, first-person views, up-to-the-second numerical data, and, best of all, running commentary from the man himself.

What makes this video so impressive isn’t just the ease with which Tim and Oz scale the colossal fences — although that is suitably mind-boggling, too — it’s the sheer amount of data we’re giving at any given point in time. Keep an eye on the left hand side to see the blistering speeds that the pair reached, particularly up the long and taxing Winners’ Avenue, and how changing gears for different combinations affects their speed accuracy and their ability to hit the minute markers. The future is a-comin’, folks, and it’s being carried in on the backs of companies like SAP, who marry the best of equestrian sport with quantifiable data and technology. Give them a like on Facebook to keep up to date with all of their projects.

Thanks for the Happy Times: Sam Griffiths’ Superstar Retires

Happy Times says goodbye to his happy hunting ground at Burghley. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Amidst the high excitement and guts-and-glory savoir faire of Burghley’s final day, there was also a poignant moment: we said goodbye to Sam Griffiths‘ long-time partner Happy Times, who cantered into the main arena one last time, ears aloft to the cheering crowds at his favourite event.

Happy Times (Heraldik x Hauptstutbuch Mandy, by Maraschino) has clocked up a remarkable string of achievements in his long and storied career, including eleven starts at CCI4* and coveted spots on the Australian team at the London 2012 Olympics and the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Kentucky.

Happy Times bows out at Burghley, alongside Sam Griffiths and former head girl Imogen Mercer. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Owned by Sam, Dinah Posford, and Juliet Donald, ‘Happy’ made an auspicious debut into the public’s attention in 2006 with his first major competitive appearance. This was at the Young Horse World Championships at Le Lion d’Angers, where he contested the seven-year-old CCIYH2*, finishing fourth and completing on his dressage score of 44.4 [29.6 revised]. The next year he would step up to three-star, gaining experiencing and demonstrating a remarkable upward curve in his performance, and culminating in a win at Saumur CCI3* in the midst of the 2008 season.

And from there? Well, there was no stopping him: he made the step up to four-star in 2009, finishing third at both Badminton and Burghley, making the time but rubbing a pole at the latter and adding just 0.8 time penalties across the country to his dressage score at the former.

The following year, he won early-season CIC3* classes at Belton and Chatsworth, cementing his place on the Australian team for that autumn’s Kentucky WEG where, unfortunately, their competition would come to an early end on the cross country course. Sam and Happy regrouped, came back out for the 2011 eventing season, and cruised around Badminton yet again, finishing fourth on their dressage score. If once is a fluke and twice is coincidence, three outings at four-star with barely anything — if anything at all — added to their dressage score proved that Sam’s remarkable Oldenburg was, in fact, the real deal.

Sam Griffiths and Happy Times at Burghley 2013.

They would finish 16th at Burghley in 2011 before heading to the London Olympics in 2012 — another Championship event that didn’t go quite to plan for the four-star specialist. They rerouted to the next month’s Burghley, finishing an easy ninth, and following it up with 15th and 12th at Badminton and Burghley, respectively, in 2013.

Sam Griffiths and Happy Times at Burghley’s Discovery Valley in 2014. Photo by Kate Samuels.

In 2014, they would add another third-place finish at Burghley to their impressive resume. Over the next couple of years they would complete yet another Burghley, as well as clocking up respectable finishes at Blenheim, Barbury, and Belton.

In 2017 Sam suffered a crack in his neck that was discovered after Burghley, and while he opted to take a few months’ break from riding to allow it to heal, he felt that he couldn’t let Happy, then 18-years-old, stand by and lose out on a season. Instead, he drafted in fellow Australian and close friend Shane Rose, who had based himself at Sam’s Symphony Farm in Dorset for the season. Ineligible for the competition’s Event Rider Masters leg by dint of their new partnership, they instead aimed for The Festival of British Eventing’s hotly-contested Advanced section, which they won easily. This season, Happy was lightly campaigned at ERM legs by Sam, enjoying a pressure-free final season on which to end his impressive career.

One last time for Happy Times: Sam Griffiths’ longtime partner enters the main arena at Burghley. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“I’d always planned for this to be his last season, but it wasn’t until my showjumping trainer Ros Morgan suggested Burghley that the idea to do it there came about. She pointed out that it would be a great send off, and it’s true – he competed there seven times and was always a Burghley horse; he always came into his best in the autumn,” says Sam.

Happy, who still looks and feels much younger than his nineteen years, is looking ahead to an active retirement – he’ll be making his show-ring debut in the in-hand and veteran showing classes with Mouse Berry, who groomed for the pair at the London 2012 Olympics, and who’s based just ten minutes from Sam’s Dorset base.

Happy Times completes a final lap of Burghley’s main arena. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

For Sam, riding into the main arena at Burghley was the perfect way to tie his long partnership up with a neat bow.

“I loved him from the moment I saw him,” says Sam, who was contacted by friend and dealer Ruth Wollerton about a young horse he ‘had to see’. “He was just so athletic – you could hardly hear him as he was trotting around the arena. He was always a bit of a star, but he was notoriously hard to train for the showjumping – he was terrified of poles, and would leap over them in the beginning when I tried to do polework with him. But when he came into the ring he really relaxed into it, and he was won of the only horses to jump a double-clear on the final day at Burghley one year. He loved the crowds, and to me he was the perfect event horse: he could move, he could jump, he was always so sound, and he had a great brain.”

Sam Griffiths and Happy Times at the 2016 Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials. Photo by Nico Morgan.

Sam and Happy were joined in the main arena by former head girl Imogen Mercer, who worked for Sam from 2011, just after leaving school, until 2017, and enjoyed forays to many major events with her charge.

“It was a very special day — to be honest, I wasn’t expecting to go into the main arena,” says Imogen. “For me, it was mainly a day for Sam and Happy’s owners, Juliet and Dinah, to celebrate the journey that they’d been on with him, and it was great that they could do that and parade him around one of the events that he’s done the best at in his career.”

“I went to my first Badminton with Happy Times and Paulank Brockagh in 2013, and I was very fortunate to be there at the time when both horses were at the top of their career.” Imogen looks back on Happy and Sam’s third-place finish at Burghley in 2014, upon returning from the Normany WEG with Paulank Brockagh, as a particularly special point in her career. “The Sunday was an amazing day; he’d just gone so, so well all week, and it was amazing to be in the main arena at the prize giving, and to experience that camaraderie between the riders and the grooms. Burghley is just such an amazing event because it’s still got so much hype about it but it’s very friendly, and it’s towards the end of the year so it’s a little bit more relaxed, but it’s still a four-star.”

When you’re working alongside a horse who has made such an event his dominion, a place like Burghley becomes even more special — and it was clear, from the enthusiastic cheering of the gathered crowds that Happy had earned his place in the annals of Burghley history.

“It’s sad to retire him, but I’m just glad I could give him a fitting send-off,” says Sam. “He did so much for me; he was the first horse to really put me on the map and I still love riding him now.”

Team EN wishes Happy a long and, well, happy retirement. Thanks for the memories, old boy.

Sam and his evergreen Happy Times. Credit Griffiths Eventing Team.

 

Big, Bold and Boozy: The Best of Burghley Social Media

Hands up if you’re feeling the post-Burghley blues, in which real life seems to pale in comparison to fence-hopping, celeb-spotting, vitamin D-topping glorious Stamford and its microcosmic eventing mecca. Yeah, us too — in fact, it’s only an endless stream of social media (okay, and the thought of WEG and Blenheim next week!) that’s keeping us from Bridget Jones-ing our lives away.

Mostly.

In an effort to keep you all away from the liquid joy — your body is a temple, after all — we’ve compiled some of our favourite social media moments from last week’s competition. Nostalgia mode: activated.

Now, you might think of four-star eventers as one-trick ponies (see what we did there?), but several of them demonstrated some remarkable hidden talents through the week. For example:

Exhibit A: Andrew Nicholson, news hound

Exhibit B: Tim Price, “drawer”

Exhibit C: Harry Meade, Strictly Come Dancing’s 2019 winner

Exhibit D: Lucinda Green, supergroom

There were some seriously caption-contest worthy moments, too:

Eventing fans and riders alike did a marvellous job of demonstrating the sheer scale of the pants-wettingly gigantic fences the competitors had to tackle on Saturday. Sure, sometimes the very best make these things look small, but we beg to differ…

The Morgan’s on the Picnic table #burghleyhorsetrials #Family

A post shared by Alex (@alexander100594) on

#burghleyhorsetrials #bigfence #colouredcob

A post shared by Liz Carduss-taylor (@cardusstaylor) on

There was frivolous photoshopping. Your hard-working UK correspondent is easily led astray by a bottle of wine and a bad idea.

 

There was plenty to do for animals of all shapes and sizes, too — including small, grey, badly-behaved rodents.

There was the very best house porn of all in the form of Burghley House, which basked in a perpetual golden glow and kept a close eye on proceedings — as well as hosting the most exclusive party of the autumn, of course.

Glad Rags on…..

A post shared by Ciaran Glynn (@ciaranglynn1) on

🔗

A post shared by Emma Hobday (@emmahobday1) on

Many people will argue that fashion is just as important as function at an event like Burghley. We couldn’t agree more — but put your white jeans and feathered fedoras away, because there were some rather more unique options on show throughout the week…

Okay, okay, this hasn’t worked at all — we’re even desperate to go back to Stamford now. So we’ll leave you with this: Burghley’s own delightful little wrap-up video. All the best bits in under a minute. We’ll meet you at the booze cabinet.

Burghley Links: Website, Entries, Timetable, Start Times & Live Scoring, Live Stream, EN’s Coverage, EN’s Twitter, EN’s Instagram, Form Guide