Mondial du Lion – or the FEI WBFSH Eventing World Breeding Championship for Young Horses, to use its full and wildly uncatchy name — is, arguably, one of the most fascinating competitions of the season. Situated in the heart of the rural Loire Valley in central France, famed for its chateaux and plethora of studs, it’s a celebration of the best of event horse breeding, in all its forms.
The format of the competition is effectively two championship classes: the Six-Year-Old World Championship runs as a CCI2*-L, while the Seven-Year-Old World Championship is a CCI3*-L, and both classes benefit from striking, uniquely artistic courses designed by Frenchman Pierre Michelet, who is also responsible for many Senior championships and, of course, the CCI5* at Pau, which will take place this week. The courses run across the racetrack at Le Lion d’Angers, which is itself a wholly unique entity in its own right, featuring sharp terrain that’s well utilised in its many jumps racing meetings. Actually, we could describe this to you further, but sometimes, only video proof can do – so here’s a glimpse at what that racetrack looks like when its being used for its usual duties.
The sprawling, wooded estate of Le Lion also features heavily in both courses, which give a comprehensive education in a wide array of obstacle types, varying terrain, and, most pertinently, enormous atmosphere. This is often the first time horses of these age groups will have competed in anything more well-attended than a mostly empty field somewhere; here, though, they meet tens of thousands of hugely enthusiastic, very knowledgeable French spectators, who clamour at the ropes, which are strung close to the fences. By the time a horse completes their weekend, they’ve generally levelled up in maturity, gained a Masters degree in being an event horse, and, even if they’ve picked up penalties along the way or, in fact, failed to complete at all (notable Le Lion non-completors of the past include Daisy Dick’s Spring Along, who became a stalwart of the British team, and Nicola Wilson’s Opposition Buzz, widely heralded as one of the greatest cross-country horses of the modern age).
The six-year-old competition was the domain of the morning’s activities on each day of the Mondial, and frankly, these riders of baby-green youngsters will have been thrilled: the weather wasn’t kind to the competition this year, and each afternoon, the heavens opened, notably on Thursday, when the afternoon’s seven-year-old competition was punctuated by heavy rain, thunder, and lightning — a storm so bad that the arena disappeared under standing water and the cross-country course, too, was gifted several new, unplanned water complexes, raising concerns about whether the competition might have to be abandoned, as it was in 2012 when the Oudon river, which runs along the edge of the hippodrome, burst its banks.
So it was some blessing that, in the first batch of horses on the first day of dressage, the sun shone merrily away over British five-star winner Mollie Summerland and six-year-old Jardy CCIYH2*-S winner Mojo, who she rides for Ginnie Wellings, Jane Grover, and Oliver Wood. Thanks, in part, to the KWPN gelding’s breeding — he’s dressage bred, sired by Governor, a son of Totilas, and out of a Stedinger mare — and, of course, to Mollie’s famously finely-honed dressage riding, the pair soared into the lead on a score of 25.1. By the close of the first phase the next day, nobody had managed to usurp them, but they were in fine company in the press conference, with fellow Brits Izzy Taylor and Kitty King sitting second and third, respectively.
In his first-ever CCI2*-L cross-country test, too, Mojo shone. He and Mollie added nothing to their first-phase score to retain the overnight lead; Izzy and Kitty, for their part, managed the same feat, which meant that the two-phase podium was unshifted.
On the final day, though, everything changed. Le Lion, which — thankfully — installed a surface in its main arena a couple of years ago after a particularly swampy year, builds a tough showjumping track for the level, and that’s compounded by the atmosphere on the final day that even five-star riders often say is the biggest they’ve ever faced. It’s not just that every available seat is filled: people flock to fence lines, cram into hospitality tents, crowd onto balconies, and even scale walls to perch atop them and watch the jumping with an intensity that’s well beyond even that at pin-drop-quiet Badminton or chatty and cheery Kentucky. The tension is palpable, and if a horse knocks a fence, it breaks from dead silence to a crescendo of groans that cascades out into loud laughter and conversation and gasping recollection of how thrilling the whole moment was, which is, we reckon, probably exactly as fun as you’d expect it’d be when you’re on a wiggle-worm of a six-year-old who hasn’t yet quite figured out that he owns legs.
And, of course, they enter the arena to all this, too — especially if they have the terrible luck of coming in off the back of another competitor’s clear round. That’s exactly what Mollie and the sharp, sensitive Mojo rode into after a classy clear by Izzy and the British-bred Barrington Alice, and at first, Mojo’s focus was noticeably jarred; while Mollie did an admirable job of settling him and building his confidence throughout their round, he toppled two green rails with his hind legs, dropping the two-phase leaders down to ninth and giving Izzy the win.
The 2023 season has been something of a testament to British breeding: our Badminton champion and the European champion, Ros Canter’s Lordships Graffalo, is a product of the country’s burgeoning breeding programme, which has been on the up and up for the last few years; likewise, last week’s Maryland 5* winner, Austin O’Connor’s Colorado Blue, was bred in Britain. That’s just the tip of the very exciting iceberg for this year, and there’s still another CCI5* yet to come, but to have a British-bred Six-Year-Old World Champion, as we now do in Barrington Alice, is a huge boon.
“These six-year-olds come here and they’ve never seen anything like it, but by the end, all being well, they think they’re very clever,” smiles Izzy, who rides Barrington Alice for co-owner Johnny Hornby. “She’s a lovely horse with a very good brain, and she’s classy. I hope she’ll be a Senior championship horse; she handled this week impeccably in every phase, and was very professional. She was never going to touch a fence on the final day.”
Barrington Alice was bred by Susie Holroyd, also the breeder of Izzy’s former top-level mount Allercombe Ellie, and is sired by Zangersheide jumping sire Cevin Z and out of the full Thoroughbred Allercombe Mayday, by Kuwait Beach. The grey mare, who has finished in the top three in all her Novice and Intermediate runs, began her week on a 26.1, and added just 0.8 time in the final phase to secure the win.
“The course was, I thought, plenty tough enough for them,” says Izzy. “We were eased in with two overs and then it got technical, and the time was tight enough for the babies. They had to keep thinking and keep jumping — it was a good track, but it wasn’t easy.”
Kitty King and the very appealing British-bred Kantango (by Tangelo van de Zuuthoeve and out of Eclaire, a daughter of Winningmood — himself the sire of Kitty’s European silver medallist, Vendredi Biats) also had a rail, knocking them from that overnight third down to sixth, and opening the door for young Frenchman Stephane Landois to take the silver medal with the Selle Français Hermes Du Gevaudan, who climbed from first-phase sixth after adding nothing through the weekend to his dressage score of 27.7.
“I am very, very happy with this weekend,” says Stephane, reflecting on his week with the son of Quintus d’09. “My horse was very focused; wonderful until the end. I was keen to have a great competition for this first here, at the Mondial du Lion, and the objective is more than fulfilled because I am on the podium. It’s awesome! I am very satisfied with all the work I have done with this horse, with his progress and obviously it is a great satisfaction when you cross the finish line. Hermès is going to take a little vacation and then we will prepare for his 7-year-old season, hoping to come back here with him next year.”
New Zealand debuted a new star rider this weekend in Amanda Goldsbury, who’s based in Ireland and rides for Richard Sheane’s Cooley Farm enterprise. She expertly piloted the Zangersheide mare Cooley On Ice (Cicero Z x Dirties, by Diamant de Semilly) to a climb from first-phase fifth, on a 27.6, to a final bronze medal, adding nothing across the country and 1.2 time penalties in the showjumping.
“It’s my first time at Le Lion, so it was obviously a really exciting result for us,” says Amanda. “We’ve only had the mare since June and she’d never evented; she’s done four events before coming here, so she’s very, very inexperienced, but she’s amazing — she’s brave, careful, and a lot of fun to ride. Everything she’s been asked, she’s always delivered, so I think her future should be very exciting.”
Sweden’s Therese Viklund took fourth place with the Swedish Warmblood mare Sella (by Mr Van GJ 1324), while British-based Australian five-star competitor Isabel English piloted Cil Dara Bombay S (Balou du Rouet x Cil Dara Duchess, by Diarado) to fifth.
Our sole US competitor in this class, seventeen-year-old Quidley Kellerman and her Irish Sport Horse gelding, Blakeneys Cruise (FFS Correlli Bravo x Caoimhes Crusing, by Cruising) made good on a long-held dream, not just completing their Le Lion debut but doing so with a top twenty finish after executing a classy clear under pressure on the final day. They added just 1.2 time penalties to their first-phase score of 34.9 to take twentieth place — and now, Quidley’s preparing to stay at Kevin McNab’s UK base for 2024 with the aim of a return to Le Lion for the Seven-Year-Old Championship next year.
“He’s been so good; it’s just been so fun to be able to come and enjoy it,” says Quidley. “He really took the atmosphere on really well, and this whole season, he’s come along so much. This is really the finishing touch to see it all come together.”
The list of horses who’ve won Le Lion as both six- and seven-year-olds is a small and exclusive one — and one that French young horse mastermind Tom Carlile is well familiar with. He added another to the list this year, taking the Seven-Year-Old World Championship with last year’s Six-Year-Old winner, the Anglo-Arab mare Golden de Beliard – a daughter of his own former team mount, Upsilon, and out of Vieusinge du Maury, by Julienne.
“I still find it hard to believe it but I can only be happy,” says Tom, who began his week with the mare in fifth place on a 28.3, stepped up to third overnight after adding no penalties across the country, and then moved into the win in a moment of kismet with a faultless round on Sunday. “Golden’s progression is fantastic, and now, she goes a bit into the history of the World Cup — there aren’t many horses who have won two years in a row. I have known the mare since her debut; Golden’s mother is also the mother of Sirocco du Gers, who won here 10 years ago, in 2013, so she is an exceptional mother. The family is great, but this little mare is amazing. Yesterday she did a fantastic cross country. I’m a little emotional but I’m happy!”
Tom didn’t think that he’d be jumping for the win; when he executed his classy clear, he was still sitting third, and with strong competitors ahead of him in overnight leader Nicolas Touzaint, perhaps the most-medalled rider at this event, and Belgium’s Lara de Liedekerke-Meier, one of this season’s winningest riders, a significant podium jump seemed unlikely. But then Lara crossed the finish line a fraction of a second over the optimum time, adding 0.4 penalties to her tally, and Nicolas used up his rail in hand and then — groan-inducingly — tipped the last, and victory was Tom’s, by just a tenth of a penalty.
“I couldn’t really imagine that I was going to win – I was just concentrating on riding my horse and riding the course,” he says. “The horse warmed up well and was calm enough during the round, and so she jumped as we’d hoped, with a great attitude and energy. I was very happy that the sun was shining as we did our round, and I’m so happy to have come out on top. I’m very happy to now have won both editions of the Mondial with the mare. She’s had a really good season, and thankfully, she’s come out of this feeling well, so now she can have a rest and then we can consider her next steps. It’s still a young horse next year, but one that I really respect, so I want her to maintain the form in the next season. She has a lot of want to do everything I ask of her, and I really hope that that lasts and we can carry this year’s luck through. We’ve really taken the time to train her slowly and respect her, and so I don’t feel rushed or pressured to move her up the next goals.”
Belgium’s Lara de Liedekerke-Meier might be ruing that fraction of a second for a while, but she’ll still be thrilled to have maintained the second place she held all week with the exciting Kiarado d’Arville, a homebred by Diarado and out of Nooney Blue (by Jet Set du Rezidal), the mare with whom Lara stepped up from Young Riders to her first Senior Championships appearance.
“Well, I haven’t changed my chair! But I’m really happy,” laughs Lara, sitting once again on the left-hand side of the press conference. “The horse had a really good competition, though I do have a little bit of regret that I didn’t come first. He did a really good dressage, a really good cross-country, and he jumped fantastically on the final day. He’s a product of ours, so we’re really happy.”
Kiarado’s 0.4 on the final day, plus 2 time penalties on cross-country, are all he added to his first-phase score of 26 — and now, Lara plans to continue his education in much the same way she’s enacted it so far, with a major long-term goal on the horizon.
“Each year he’s moved up a level, so hopefully next year he can tackle his eight-year-old season in the same manner – but I feel absolutely no pressure for him to move up, either,” she says. “He’s a horse that I have in mind as a prospect for Los Angeles [in 2028], and so my priority is simply to keep producing him in all three phases.”
French Olympic medallist Astier Nicolas took advantage of the open door left by Nicolas Touzaint’s fall to seventh place, stepping up into bronze with from first-phase sixth by finishing on his dressage score of 28.7 with the Selle Français mare Gravure de la Mouline (Eldorado de Hus x Quandy de Hus Z, by Que Guapo).
“I’m very happy with Gravure, who is a bit of a local,” says Astier. “She was raised near Saumur [the home of the Cadre Noir, based in the same region as Le Lion] and I bought her here at Lion d’Angers when she was participating in the Espoirs du Complet [a competition and sale for three-year-olds at the show]. She is a very efficient mare, very competitive, who trains well, jumps well and is great on the cross. She always stood out a little from the crowd. Yesterday she behaved very well and was not disturbed by the public. The terrain was demanding, the course is very hilly and the ground was a bit heavy even though it was good, so seeing the dynamic horses and jumping with freshness today is satisfying. She had never run on heavy ground so last night, we weren’t sure what it would be like today on the bars. But she recovered well and I knew she had a good chance of being clear. She had a great run and I am very satisfied.”
Three US competitors began the week at Le Lion in this class, and two finished it: Hallie Coon was delighted with the performance of her inexperienced Lucky Fortuna (Cohinoor VDL x Fulavsca Fortuna), who finished 54th after a planned educational week saw him jump a sweet, steady clear across the country for 30.4 time penalties.
Chris Talley finished just below her in 55th with the Irish Sport Horse mare Loughtown Cici (CC Captain Cruise x Castlelawn Diamond Clover, by White Clover), who similarly jumped a steady clear on Saturday and had two rails down on Sunday in what was a formative, educational outing. His second ride, the Holekamp-Turner grant recipient Gina, jumped well on Saturday in tough conditions, but was unfortunately eliminated late on the course for having been deemed to be outside a flag on a corner. A frustrating result, undoubtedly, but one that won’t take away from the enormous education the talented mare received over the two days of her competition.
“A mixed bag of results yesterday here at Mondial du Lion, but to say these horses were anything less than incredible wouldn’t be fair because they both were unreal yesterday,” wrote Chris on his social media on Sunday. “Loughtown Cici ZA was an absolute legend. She made easy work of the cross country course, and felt like she was up for more. I’ll kick myself for not putting my foot on the gas a bit more but at the end of the day, she is home safe and sound and she showed everybody yesterday this is only just a stepping stone toward her very bright future.
“Gina was nothing short of brilliant yesterday. She got the unfortunate spot of going second to last after some 68 horses had run around on already tough ground after 2 days of heavy rain. She jumped beautifully around the course and really dug deep in the testing footing. As we neared the end of the course and a down hill slope to a sharp turn to a corner she slipped a bit but pricked her ears and locked onto the flags like the gutsy mare she is. She jumped the wide part of the corner taking the inside flag down. The ruling was we were outside the flag, and Gina and I were sadly eliminated. It’s easy to be disappointed, but again at the end of the day she came across the finish line safe and sound and to us that is what is most important. There is no doubt her day will come.
“I will never have enough words to thank Hannah and Joan for their unwavering support and for making this possible. Thank you to the Holekamp Turner Grant and the USEA for this opportunity. As they say, you are always learning and this week has certainly been full of learning opportunities and growth.”
That’s all — for now — from Le Lion d’Angers, but keep it locked on EN (and our Instagram account!) to get further looks at some of these very exciting young horses, and the beautiful courses they faced in France. For now, we’re heading a bit further south to get the Pau adventure started — so allons-y, baby!