“He’s really such a wonderful horse,” says Ingrid Klimke, a broad smile lighting up her face as she talks about longtime partner SAP Hale Bob OLD. There’s no denying the veracity of her claim, either – the fifteen-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Helikon xx Goldige) has had a remarkable career thus far. He’s the reigning European Champion, after all, but to focus on that would be to barely scrape the tip of an iceberg big enough to sink a fair few ships. He’s been a five-star champion, at Pau in 2014, and a Badminton runner-up in 2015. He’s an Olympian, a veteran of the World Equestrian Games, and thrice the Reserve National Champion, and in 28 runs at the four- and five-star levels, he’s finished in the top ten 21 times. In short, he’s a national hero – and when he makes his way into a stadium like Aachen’s, his very presence is a spectacle. When he performs like he did today, producing a score of 20.7 and taking the lead in the CCIO4*-S, it’s nothing short of magical.
“He loves the crowds – he grows when he sees them,” Ingrid says. It’s a good thing, too – with the enormous atmosphere and reverberating sound, we’ve seen otherwise relaxed horses bubble over as a result of the crowd’s applause at the end of the test. But when Ingrid and Bobby entered the arena, they were met a roar – and Bobby, true to form, pricked his ears and strode boldly into it.
“I think he’s very proud of himself, he likes to come in and say that he’s the biggest horse,” laughs Ingrid, who is making her sixteenth appearance at the venue this week. Although her score is remarkable by any standard, it’s also a venue PB for the enormously experienced German rider, and one of two results today to move into the top ten best-ever tests at Aachen.
So what makes a test that good? Well, good old-fashioned accuracy certainly comes into it, and with his wealth of experience and his rider’s impeccable dressage pedigree, Bobby isn’t lacking that.
“He knows these tests inside out by now – he knows that he sets himself up for the next movement and where it will come, so I’m able to just enjoy myself in there,” explains Ingrid. “I can sit and think about things like, ‘am I sitting straight? Are my hands even?’ He’s always 100% with me.'”
Accuracy and extra polish become two essential points in a triad completed by a little something special – sheer fun and joy in the job. We can’t all be rockstars in the ring, but one thing was plainly apparent in Ingrid’s performance today: if you can enjoy the process and own the electricity, you might just stumble upon the music in the movements.
21.5 might not have been quite low enough for the lead, but Michael Jung and fischerChipmunk FRH still join Ingrid in reshaping the landscape of the all-time top ten here at Aachen. Though it rarely comes as much of a surprise to see either Ze Terminator or Chipmunk atop a dressage leaderboard, this is still very much a partnership in its fledgling stages. Produced by fellow German dynamo Julia Krajewski, the eleven-year-old Hanoverian changed hands over the winter, prompting a tumult of public discussion about whether the horse would continue on his exceptional career trajectory when piloted by another rider for the first time.
Today’s test – their most public and prestigious as a pair – certainly seems to indicate so. But as Michael explains, it’s not always as simple as hopping on a proven performer and hitting the buttons.
“He’s a super quality horse and has been very well ridden, and he’s very clever, too. But in the beginning, we had a few misunderstandings, because every rider, no matter how good they are, gives a few different signals and at slightly different times,” he says. “So this is what we have to learn together. I have to learn most how best to prepare him, and how to create the right warm up, and he has to learn to be ridden by me, too. It just takes some time, but he’s an amazing horse, and it’s great that we’ve been able to keep him in Germany.”
Michael has two rides in this class – Chipmunk, who has been tipped as his choice for the Europeans, comes forward as an individual competitor, while stablemate Star Connection, sitting in joint eleventh place on a score of 26.9, is part of the formidable German team.
“We are working to find a solution [for the Europeans] together,” says Michael of the decision. “I will try to win for Star Connection too, and of course for the team, but this means that with Chipmunk, I can decide what he needs. If it’s better for him to go fast, I will, and if I think I would go slow for a few fences and give him a bit more time, then that’s okay too. This will probably be his last competition before the Championships, so it’s better to learn what we need to.”
Though they’re inarguably exceptional horses and very capable jumpers, both Hale Bob and Chipmunk carry a question mark with them into the showjumping phase. The former memorably – and heartbreakingly – lost out on the Badminton win in 2017 after an uncharacteristic stop and subsequent rails, and in his most recent run at Wiesbaden, he toppled three poles – considerably higher than his usual one or none. The latter, for his part, has been as capable of a two-pole round as a clear, but knocked four in his most recent outing with Michael.
“He’s a very good jumper, but he’s just sometimes a little bit too forward, and then he can get tense and spooky,” he explains. “Obviously in the showjumping it’s everything coming up very quickly anyway. But this is part of forming that partnership – we learn together how to make the right warm-up and preparation, and then he can start to give that same great feeling that he gives me at home.”
Laura Collett and her ten-year-old prodigy London 52 showed off their best work between the boards, scoring 22.9 to sit third after this phase. This is a best-ever international score for the pair, who come here after an extraordinarily exciting spring season was somewhat blemished by an out-of-character performance at Bramham in the horse’s first long-format four-star. Last year’s Blenheim eight- and nine-year-old CCI4*-S winner, though, has amassed a remarkable record in his three-and-a-bit years of eventing – a very good finish here is absolutely not out of his grasp.
Dutch national champions Tim Lips and Bayro sit in fourth place on 23.2, while Tim Price and his 2015 Luhmühlen winner Wesko hold onto fifth on 23.8 – a best-ever international test in the World Number One’s enviable career.
Liz Halliday-Sharp and Deniro Z lead the way for Team USA in eighth place on a 26.5, after producing a mature and polished test – “the changes were clean, just a little bit scruffy,” laughs Liz, who has been working tirelessly with top dressage trainer Pammy Hutton to master her horse’s weak spot and push his scores towards the low-20s marks they’ll become.
Phillip Dutton and Z occupy 29th position on a score of 32.8 after moments of tension in the walk pulled their mark down, while Caroline Martin and Islandwood Captain Jack lie 40th on 36.3 in their Aachen debut.
“He’s getting way better – physically, it’s hard for him,” she says of the rangy ten-year-old. “Erik Duvander has worked really hard with us since January; he’s a very weak horse because he’s so young and so big, so holding himself is difficult. But he’s very sweet, and he tries so hard, and he’s able to cope with the atmosphere, too – it doesn’t affect him at all.”
Islandwood Captain Jack may be young, but he’s holding onto an exciting advantage in the next phase – he spent the winter jumping 1.40m classes, including a Grand Prix at Wellington’s Winter Equestrian Festival.
“He’s also the strongest cross-country horse I’ve ever had, in a mental capacity,” says Caroline. “He’ll never be a Danger Mouse in the first phase, but I hope he’ll be a Badminton or Burghley horse.”
Germany heads the team competition on a score of 75.7, while Great Britain sits just behind on 78.8. New Zealand rounds out the top three on 79.1, while Team USA are fifth with 95.6. There’s no room for anyone to get comfortable, certainly: this evening’s showjumping competition moves our field into the colossal main stadium, and with only a pole between the top five and two between the top 21, we could be about to see a significant reshuffle. And a fun fact for you to take into your afternoon of live-streaming? EquiRatings provides us with this snippet: nobody has ever gone on to win this class after knocking a rail.
It all kicks off at 5.45 p.m./4.45 p.m. BST/11.45 a.m. EST – we’ll see you on the other side.