“He has almost too much talent for a rough sport like this,” mused France’s Tom Carlile, looking back at an up-and-down season with his much-admired Upsilon. Just hours later, that talent would come good at a pivotal moment.
Few could deny the Selle Francais stallion’s raw ability and charisma, but a spate of bad luck, starting in the latter half of the 2017 season, cast some doubts about Upsilon’s consistency. Those were cast aside this weekend, as the pair claimed a seemingly effortless win, for the second year running, in Barbury’s Event Rider Masters CIC3*.
So how did they do it? At face value, three ways:
- A “relaxed…maybe a bit too casual” dressage test, which scored a 24.9 and earned them the joint-lead, shared with Liz Halliday-Sharp and Fernhill By Night.
- A clear showjumping round over one of the most fiendishly difficult ERM showjumping tests yet, with the average round costing over 11 penalties, and plenty sailing past the 30 mark.
- A quick, confident charge across the country, adding just 1.2 time penalties to preclude another characteristic FOD, but good enough to take the win by a margin of nearly three points.
After Upsilon’s win in this class last year, it was a last-minute tactical manouevre to bring the horse back. A disappointing Arville had seen the pair come to grief in both jumping phases, before opting to retire on course and reroute.
“It was a superb win last year – all stats aside – and I felt that the horse really liked Barbury,” explained Carlile. “After Arville, I needed to get him confident and bring him somewhere he got a good feeling, with a clear course. Even though the course has been beefed up this year, it was still right. By the time he jumped fence five [the SAP Brush with Technology – a chunk brush fence with a sharp downhill incline on a curving line to a skinny arrowhead], it showed the mood he was in. If he was going to have any issues on course, we’d have seen it there.”
Upsilon, who has finished in the top five in fourteen of his seventeen international runs, made his squad debut for France at last year’s European Championships – but the week didn’t go to plan, and the then-nine-year-old was eliminated for accumulated refusals on cross country day.
“He had a severe bone oedema in his fetlock after the Europeans, and it really took until April to get him back to normal. His first competition back was at Houghton Hall CCI2*, and when he won that, I decided to enter him in Arville’s ERM. But our mistakes there just showed a lack of match practice – this is the only horse I have at this level, and when you have a yard full of youngsters and kick around at Novice, and only do a three-star every three months, it really shows.”
With injury rehabilitation came extra training considerations, as Carlile strategically rebuilt Upsilon’s bruised confidence following their trip to Strzegom. To do so, he enlisted the help of French team coach Thierry Touzaint.
“Thierry had us schooling lots of skinnies on a surface while I was bringing him back,” said Carlile. “He was really able to put his finger on what was going on. He’s been great to work with – he really appreciates the horse, and I think he quite likes me, too!”
Just over a year into their exciting partnership, Gemma Tattersall and Clive Smith’s Pamero 4 made a steady climb up the leaderboard to finish in second place, adding just 1.6 time penalties to their dressage score to finish on 28.8. This is the first podium appearance this season for last year’s series winner, and the eleven-year-old Hanoverian’s first international run since making his Badminton debut earlier this year, where he finished 22nd.
“At last! It’s taken a little while, but we’re back. He was mega today, I’m so happy with him,” beamed Tattersall. “He’s been feeling absolutely awesome, so I was feeling quietly confident coming here. Badminton did him the world of good – I rode him there with time faults very much in mind and didn’t try to make the time, and that approach has really brought him on. Here, I found that he didn’t empty on me.”
Pamero 4 has created something of a management quandary for Tattersall and her team, who have tried a plethora of tricks to try to get the poor-doer to eat and maintain condition. But, says Tattersall, he seems to have turned a corner since his spring four-star.
“He’s eaten all week here, and even ate his breakfast this morning, even though it’s cross-country day,” said Tattersall. “He lives out now – he and Arctic Soul go out next to each other on quite a steep hill, and it sounds mad, but I really think being on that hill has helped. He has to walk up and down it, which helps the fitness, he’s relaxed because he’s out, and he just eats grass all the time.”
It was another weekend on the podium for Arville leg winners Chris Burton and Polystar I, who recorded the only clear round inside the time across the country. The ‘fastest man in the world’ was full of praise for the thirteen-year-old Westphalian, who he produced to CIC3*, claiming the non-Masters CIC3* at Barbury in 2016 on the horse’s first attempt at the level. Despite this, Burton wasn’t interested in keeping the ride on the sales horse, and he passed the ride over to Irish show jumper David Simpson, who competed him in CSI2* and CSI4* classes throughout 2016. Then, in 2017, Trisha Rickards – perhaps best known for owning Jonelle Price‘s CCI4* winners Classic Moet and Faerie Dianimo – stepped in to secure the horse.
After taking 2017 out, Polystar has been back with a vengeance this year, and as the excitement unfolded in the ERM class, it looked as though he’d set an unmatchable precedent. In the end, they would finish third in the hotly-contested section.
“I’m really excited about Polystar, because he really feels like a cross-country horse now – he knows the job and he looks for the flags,” said Burton. “It was a privilege to be on a horse like that – everyone says I’m a fast rider, but it’s all about the horses. I’ve been lucky to sit on some incredible horses.”
With three top-ten ERM finishes under his belt so far this season, Polystar is proving a worthy purchase for Rickards: “he was bought to do the ERMs with, and what a horse he is for it,” said Burton.
Flora Harris and Bayano climbed four places to finish fourth, adding just 8.4 time penalties to their dressage score of 29.1, while Liz Halliday-Sharp and Fernhill By Night, joint leaders after the first phase, dropped to fifth after adding a pole and a handful of time faults.
“He just ran on a bit with me in the ring, so we had that pole – although I’d rather an enthusiastic pole than time penalties in there,” mused Halliday-Sharp.
The showjumping proved the most influential phase of the weekend, with only seven clear rounds out of 36 starters. The Barbury showjumping is always tricky – with its sharply-angled hill, it rides almost like a Derby course – but this year was particularly challenging, with a tight time of 84 seconds and a serious of variable distances that meant riders had to think on their feet at all times. Cricket scores abounded; Jonelle Price, Tom McEwen, Ginny Thompson and Louise Harwood each racked up more than 30 penalties over the poles, while a further eight competitors added more than 10.
Some of these took everyone by surprise, such as clear round machine Cillnabradden Evo, who, with rider Oliver Townend, had been sitting third after dressage. A totally uncharacteristic 20 showjumping penalties dropped them right out of contention, and they withdrew before cross country.
In fact, the field thinned considerably before the final phase began, and only 22 of an original 38 starters went forward to cross-country. High-profile withdrawals included Mark Todd, Sam Griffiths, William Fox-Pitt, Sarah Cohen and Blyth Tait, who opted to save their horses for another, perhaps less sweltering, day.
The cross country proved to be less influential than its predecessor, with six of the 22 starts picking up jumping penalties or failing to complete the course. One of these was Andrew Nicholson, the King of Barbury, who took a surprise tumble late on course from Swallow Springs. Elsewhere, time faults abounded as horses and riders criss-crossed the bowl in sweltering temperatures.
The final leaderboard shook up the current series standings – leader Laura Collett‘s ninth-place finish wasn’t quite enough to hold the top spot, and Chris Burton becomes the series leader going into the fifth leg at Jardy. Laura slips just one spot into second, while last year’s series winner, Gemma Tattersall, moves up into third place.
Nicola Wilson and Bulana claimed the win in the non-Masters CIC3*, heading a British top-three and enjoying a return to form after their Luhmuehlen campaign ended on course.
“It’s been a difficult spring,” she said. “Just as the weather started to improve and we could actually get out competing, I fell off and injured my knee. I tried really hard to get back in time for Luhmuehlen, but Bulana is a very sensitive horse, and I’m the one who does all the work with her at home, so it just didn’t work out.”
Wilson, who has been long-listed for the World Equestrian Games with Bulana, knew that a good result here would boost their chances of selection, but “I’m quite good at compartmentalising, so I don’t really think about the pressure. Instead, I just thought about what I needed to do in each phase, and did it. With cross country, my aim was to go out a little bit steady, and if she was polite, then she could run on a bit. And that’s what happened, so long may it continue – it’s a huge relief to be back.”
And so the sun set on another glorious Barbury, resplendent in its endless sunshine and open skies and REALLY BAD SUNBURNS. Stay safe out there, kids. Use suncream. Don’t be an idiot.
Lots of love,
Your faithful UK correspondent, currently drowning in a vat of aftersun, and whinging heavily.