Somehow, Luhmühlen week is already upon us again, and Germany’s showpiece event brings with it two hugely competitive classes: the CCI5*, one of just two in continental Europe, and the packed CCI4*-S, which also incorporates the German National Championships.
Journalism is all about impartiality, but here at EN, we also occasionally like to indulge in a little bit of pure pony-loving madness — so here’s our picks of some of our favourite horses in each class and why we’re so excited to see them. It’s non-exhaustive, and we’re almost guaranteed to have missed someone you love, but that’s the beauty of subjectivity — so please, join in the discussion and share your favourites in the comments. Life’s too short not to fangirl over great horses, right?
Sophie Leube’s 2021 Boekelo CCIO4*-L winner is elegant, typey, and looks like a Munnings painting come to life — and she and her German jockey, who cut her teeth in the industry as an apprentice for Ingrid Klimke, are a real force to be reckoned with. Together, they’ve also finished eighth at Aachen, where they led the dressage, and tenth in the CCI4*-S here, as well as a number of other very good placings at three and four-star level. This is their five-star debut, so of course there’s only so much predicting anyone can do, but we’ve been given no reason to suspect they can’t pull out a top ten finish and make themselves very, very attractive indeed to the German team selectors. We’re calling it now: Sophie will be an individual medallist at a championship within the next couple of years. Watch them closely this week.
Though the Lithuanian eventing contingent might not have made it onto your radar yet, they should do. Aistis Vitkauskas, who’s based in Denmark, is a serious producer of young eventers and show jumpers and the crown jewel of his stable, Commander VG, is a seriously appealing horse. He made his five-star debut as just a nine-year-old at Pau in 2020, jumping a very quick clear across the country. His inexperience caught up with him on the final day with a real cricket score in the showjumping, but since then, he’s only gained in strength, and he was eleventh on his second time at the level, which was a run here last year. He then went on to the European Championships at Avenches, finishing 25th with three solid phases, and he was eighth in a CCI4*-L at Sopot in Poland last month, too. His dressage scores stop him from being a real threat to the leaders at the moment: he can score in the mid-30s, but he can also score in the 40s, though he is still just eleven, so there’s plenty of time to iron out the little niggles. Across the country, though, he’s as genuine, straight, and reliable as they come, and a joy to watch in action. The goodness really just shines through with this chap — and at that Pau debut, we saw it in action in other ways, too: Aistis’s very young daughter took him for pony rides after schooling sessions, wearing her bright pink helmet and whooping with happiness, and we could have sworn we saw Commander smile along with her.
Another eleven-year-old in the field is Tom McEwen’s Houghton CCIO4*-S winner Bob Chaplin, who former rider Paul Tapner once described as ‘practically perfect’. This is a real contender for the dressage lead, as his naturally extravagant movement has finally been matched with sufficient physical strength and balance to deliver correct tests that judges really want to throw the marks at, as we saw when he earned a 25.4 at Houghton a few weeks ago. He was second at Burnham Market CCI4*-S this spring, too, and ninth at Blenheim CCI4*-L last year, so he’s certainly on a competitive streak at the moment — but really, he’s always been a competitive character. Back when he was under Paul’s stewardship, we saw him win the silver medal in the Six-Year-Old World Championship in 2017. This is his five-star debut, but there’s also every chance he could add himself to the elite list of horses who’ve won on their first run at the level.
SRS Kan Do
‘George’ is an interesting horse from a number of angles, not least because he’s owned by Downton Abbey actor Michael C. Fox and we still can’t figure out whether he’d be an upstairs or downstairs character if he was a human. Even better, though, is his partnership with the truly delightful Kylie Roddy, who took over the ride when Michael, who competed the gelding at the lower levels, had to focus more of his time and attention on his flourishing career. Kylie and George, who reminds us a bit of a classic, clever fox hunter, made their five-star debut together at Pau last year, finishing in a very good eleventh place, and they were excellent at Badminton, too, scoring a 29.4 and looking super classy on course until well past the halfway point, when the horse lost his front shoes and Kylie made the sensible — but heartbreaking — decision to put her hand up. This reroute sees them come back to the top having lost absolutely no confidence from their experience, and they should put themselves well in the hunt. We’re calling a top ten finish for the dazzling duo.
LEB Lias Jewel
This 12-year-old mare has an extraordinary FEI record under Ireland’s Cathal Daniels: in 26 starts, she’s finished in the top ten 20 times. That’s included ninth place on her five-star debut here last year, when she finished on her dressage score of 38.1 — quite high for her, though she’s generally a bit off the pace in this phase in the low-to-mid 30s — and eighth at Blenheim CCI4*-L in 2019. She’s placed so many times at four-star that it must be getting quite boring for them both, really, and she also represented Ireland in last year’s European Championships, though we did see her have a very rare 20 penalties there. Cathal is one of the most competitive riders in the world, and this little mare is full of gumption — enough to overcome a dressage score that isn’t quite up there with the big guns yet. That’ll stand in her way of a win this week, but don’t count them out of a competitive placing.
Former Luhmühlen champ Tim Price has two very interesting debutants in this week’s five-star — Spartaco, whose record has been a bit up and down but has some very exciting results in there, and Tokyo ride Vitali, who Tim inherited from fellow Kiwi James Avery in early 2021, after the gelding had had a couple of years out. They promptly won Strzegom CCI4*-L, the gelding’s debut at the level, just a couple of weeks after joining forces, and they were sixth in this class last year, securing their place at the Olympics. It went a bit pear-shaped on the final day there, with three poles falling, but they returned to international competition at Houghton CCIO4*-S a few weeks ago to take the dressage lead on 21.2 and hold it with an excellent clear jumping round before withdrawing. There’s a very strong chance that this is your dressage leader this week, and he’s a real weapon across the country — and time will tell if the Sunday goes to plan. If it does, he’ll give stablemate Falco a real run for his money as the selection for the World Championships draws ever closer.
It would be remiss of us not to mention a former Luhmühlen champion in the field, and 17-year-old Faerie Dianimo is just that: she and Jonelle Price won here in 2018, just weeks after Jonelle took the Badminton title with stablemate Classic Moet and established the Prices as the family of the year. (Or the decade, frankly.) They’ve competed at the Olympics, too, finishing in the top twenty at Rio in 2016, and they were tenth at Pau the following year. In 2019, they were eighth at Aachen CCIO4*-S, and then it gets a bit topsy-turvy: Jonelle put her hand up at Burghley in 2019 after knocking a safety device, and then at Pau the following year, they withdrew after dressage. They came here last year, but had a really unlucky fall when the mare pecked on landing after a straightforward single table. Their prep run at Millstreet CCI4*-S last week saw them finish seventh with a steady round and a 37.1 dressage, but they can certainly go sub-30 and made a real habit of it in the mare’s heyday. They won’t be the favourites on stats, but don’t count them out: Jonelle is savvy and wouldn’t travel a horse to a five-star if she didn’t have good reason to.
Liz Halliday-Sharp’s great grey makes the long journey over the pond off the back of a very exciting result indeed: the pair won the very tough CCI4*-S at Kentucky in April, adding just 4 cross-country time penalties to their 25.7 dressage. They’re always well in the hunt at four-stars in the States, and the gelding is reliable across the country and only getting better.
This will be his third five-star — the now-eleven year old debuted at Kentucky last year, picking up an educational 20 penalties, and then jumped clear around Pau in October to finish just outside the top twenty as a result of his uncharacteristic three rails. Every time he comes out, he seems to improve enormously, and we’ll be looking to ‘Monster’ and Liz to put up a serious fight for the US this week, helped along by fellow competitors Lauren Nicholson and Vermiculus and Matt Flynn and Wizzerd. They should be well up there from the first phase, and Liz will go out full of fight to stay at the business end of the leaderboard.
None of us can stop talking about Switzerland this year, but Felix Vogg is a man who’s been pulling out super results for the nation long before the hype began. He and his Tokyo mount Colero finished sixth at the Kentucky CCI5* back in 2019, when Felix was based in the US, and they’ve got a serious list of four-star placings in Europe since then, too. They finished in the top twenty at Tokyo despite picking up eleven penalties for activating a MIMclip, and they come here off the back of a win in the CCI4*-S at Poland’s Baborowko International. They should start the week well, as they’re very good on the flat, and cross-country will be an exciting watch — they’re reliable and very, very quick. They’re prone to a rail or two, but if they can keep them all up, they could really cause a stir.
Spanish competitor Esteban Benitez Valle has two horses in this class, and there’s certainly a compelling argument for choosing nine-year-old Utrera AA, who’s an exceptional jumper and seriously swift across the country, in our list. But the heart wants what it wants, and our hearts are owned wholly and completely by Milana 23, the tiny, feisty, strong-willed little firecracker that Esteban has been piloting since 2016. She’s got as much scope as she has attitude, and she has plenty of that — so if you’re a fan of gutsy, exceptional gals, you’ll adore her as much as we do. She won’t challenge the leaders on the flat, because although she’s an exceptional mover and can do all the movements, she’s also prone to expensive tension in this phase. But watch her out on cross-country, and then over the poles on Sunday, and you’ll find her love for the game totally contagious. At eighteen years old, she’s one of the week’s ‘senior citizens’ — but more fool you if you try to tell her that. She’s finished eleventh here in a four-star before — though the October fixture, not the summer one — and should put up a jolly fight this week.
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This 12-year-old Irish Sport Horse did the rounds before landing with German up-and-comer Jérôme Robiné (yeah, he is German, even with a name like that): he was initially produced by Neil Morrison and Catherine Robinson of Ireland, before a good stint with Mexico’s Anibal Garrido Viveros, who gave him plenty of continental milage. Jerome took on the ride in 2020, and in their 12 FEI runs together, they’ve finished in the top ten eight times, including all three of their runs this season.
They’ve proven they can go sub-30 at four-star, though they more regularly do it at three-star, and they’re still gaining mileage at this level — but they’re quick and really fun to watch across the country and they’re good over the poles, too. This will be their first time in this class, but they shone under pressure at Aachen last year for 21st place and they’ve been seventh in the CCI3*-L at this venue before, finishing on their 34.5 dressage.
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Dark Desire GS
13-year-old Dark Desire GS and her 23-year-old rider, Germany’s Emma Brüssau, made major headlines in 2019 when they became the Young Rider European Champions at Maarsbergen. That victory certainly didn’t come out of thin air, though — the year prior, they won individual silver, and since stepping up to four-star, they’ve been finding their feet and throwing out some super results, including a win in a CCI4*-S at Renswoude in the Netherlands. Their partnership is well-established: since Emma took over the ride from Andreas Brandt in 2015, they’ve had 41 FEI starts, finishing in the top 15 in 27 of them.
This will be the pair’s second time competing in this class, which incorporates the German National Championship; last year, they finished just outside the top thirty after a respectable 32.3 dressage, just 2 time penalties across the country, and a tough three rails. It’s the final phase that has proved the trickiest part of their step up to four-star, but they’re a super pair to keep an eye on and Emma, who trains with Olympic gold medallist Julia Krajewski, is a real star in Germany’s ‘next generation’ talent pool.
Chin Tonic HS
Arguably one of the most exciting up-and-comers in the US scene at the moment, Chin Tonic HS is making his first competition trip abroad a bit of a homecoming one, as he was bred and sourced here in Germany as a two-year-old. He’s been part of Will’s string since he was five and now, at the age of ten, he’s got five four-star starts under his belt, with two wins, a third place, and a fifth place finish among them. His most recent run at Kentucky’s CCI4*-S (or five-star short, as everyone’s dubbed it) was a bit more of a fact-finding run, but he’ll have taken a lot from it and now, he comes to Luhmühlen to embark on the Master’s degree bit of his ongoing education.
European eventing fans might have some questions about his name and providence, because it’s very similar to ChinTonic 3, Julia Krajewski’s seven-year-old full brother to fischerChipmunk FRH, who was fifth in the Six-Year-Old World Championship. We’d argue both offer up the same excitement levels — and Will’s edition looks set to put up a serious three-phase fight in this week’s CCI4*-S, which is packed to the hilt with continental talent.
We first encountered Aminda Ingulfson’s clever, jolly Joystick when the pair came forward as part of the Swedish team at the Pratoni Nations Cup last month, which also served as the test event for the World Championships later on this year. Though both are still gaining experience at the upper levels, they’re a very cool pair to keep an eye on, particularly across the country: true to his name, 14-year-old Joystick tackles tough tracks with a big smile on his face, and Aminda is a real fighter, as described by Swedish chef d’equipe Fred Bergendorff. We saw their hard work, and all that contagious joy in their work, pay off when they took a win in the CCI4*-S at Strzegom this spring, and they were eleventh at Pratoni — but they also have Luhmühlen form behind them, with a thirteenth-place finish in a CCI3*-S at the venue back in March. Though the first phase is still a work in progress, they’ll put themselves close enough to climb on a low 30s mark, and we can’t wait to watch them do so in the hot CCI4*-S this week. Another good result under their belt could see them line themselves up for consideration for a championship debut.
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This is still a very, very new partnership, but Bubby Upton is one of Britain’s finest young talents and Clever Louis, who won the Blenheim eight- and nine-year-old CCI4*-S under Chris Burton in 2019, is an exceptional horse. Originally produced by Germany’s Ben Leuwer, he spent the latter part of the 2019 season with Burto, finished with a second place at Boekelo, missed 2020, and then had a couple of reasonably unremarkable runs in CCI4*-S classes in 2021 before his rider stepped back from eventing. Bubby’s been putting in the hours at home getting to know him, and though their one FEI run — the CCI4*-S at Chatsworth — was steady and uncompetitive, he’s an enormously talented addition to her string. This will still be a formative run, but they could just swoop their way into a competitive placing. Even if they don’t, though, it’ll be brilliant fun to watch them get to know one another in real time. The same can be said for her other Burto ride, Jefferson 18, who’s also in this class and also very, very exciting.
Sweet Hooney isn’t just any homebred — she’s out of Lara de Liedekerke-Meier’s Nooney Blue, with whom the Belgian Olympian stepped up from the Young Rider ranks to the World Equestrian Games early in her career. Hooney is just nine, and still finding her feet at this level, but she’s got plenty of talent and she’s also just an adorable sort of mare, who can often be seen cuddling Lara’s kids between phases. Their seventh place finish in the CCI4*-S at Kronenburg this spring was an exciting teaser about what might be to come this year, and they jumped clear around this class last year in the mare’s debut at the level. They were sixth in the Six-Year-Old World Championships in 2019, and Lara thinks a lot of her family pet — this week, we’re looking forward to seeing how far she’s come on in a year.