There’s one thing that’s absolutely undeniable about Laura Collett: she’s tough as nails. She proved it six years ago, when she was back on a horse just six days after emerging from a weeklong induced coma following a crashing fall at a one-day event. She proved it when she lost the ride on one of her top horses the same year, and she’s proven it time and time again since then in ways both large and small. This week is just another showcase of her resilience, albeit in a psychological way – she brings her current top horse London 52 to Aachen following a disastrous Bramham, and she’s been riding at her very best since touching down at the German event.
It’s all too easy to write a combination out after a week like Bramham. After all, it was new territory for the eleven-year-old gelding – although he’d notched up an incredibly consistent record at CCI4*-S, it was to be his first attempt at a CCI4*-L. His first-phase score of 31.7 was disappointing, after a long string of scores in the 20s, and he was ultimately retired on course after a shock refusal at the influential coffin. Had he reached his limit?
“To be honest, it was me,” says Laura. “I wasn’t riding, really. He needs help – he’s still young, but I was riding him there like he was too good, and I should just leave him alone. I didn’t want to mess it up, and in doing so, I messed it up.
“It was really difficult because he’d had really good results, but I felt like there was something missing in his rounds, and I just couldn’t put my finger on it. It took it going really wrong for me to kind of pull myself together and remember that I have to ride them. I went through slightly the same phase with Mr Bass; I’m so lucky that these horses are so unbelievable, but it’s difficult when they’re so high-profile. You spend so much time trying not to mess up that you can get a bit defensive.”
A pep talk from one of eventing’s most legendary fairy godmothers helped to shift Laura’s mindset in the hours after the retirement.
“Pippa Funnell came up to me after my round, and I had a serious meltdown to her. She said, ‘I totally get it’, and she told me that I need to remember that the reason they’ve got here, and why they’re as good as they are, is because I’ve ridden them. So she said to go back to it – to take away everything that everyone said and just go back to riding by feel. That was a real lightbulb moment for me, because I was so busy trying to ride like people were telling me to, rather than just riding. She’s been amazing. It was easy to talk to her, because I knew she knew, and I knew she got it – I was finding it difficult to talk to anyone else because they’d just turn around and say, ‘but the results are really good!’ Yeah, but something doesn’t feel right. She’s been there. But she’s like, my absolute hero, and there I am sobbing on her shoulder! She didn’t need to; she didn’t need to come to my lorry, but the link was Zanie [King, Laura’s head girl, who used to work for Pippa].”
Since then, Laura has been hard at work to get London 52 back to his formidable best.
“I had a serious kick up the arse from [dressage trainer] Ian Woodhead on Monday and that worked,” she says, referring to the horse’s personal best score of 22.9 this morning. “I’ve always said, too, that if he ever has a rail then that’s my fault – he was strong in there, but he’s still so careful. Tomorrow, I’ll just need to ride properly! I know I’ve ticked every box, and mentally, he’s put Bramham behind him – now I need to do the same, learn from it, and move on.”
Though Laura had every faith in the horse, she never quite dared to imagine that they’d lead the way going into the final phase. But after Ingrid Klimke and Michael Jung pulled a rail each, that’s exactly where she found herself.
“The plan was to jump a clear round – I never thought that he would have rails,” she says. “It’s a nice position to be in, but equally it’s a lot of pressure. But he’s here to put things right from Bramham, and so far, he’s done that.”
World Number One Tim Price moves from fourth to second with his Luhmühlen winner Wesko, who returned to competition last season after an extensive period of time off. Since then he’s been on flying form, winning an ERM leg at Arville and finishing in the top ten in two others. The sixteen-year-old Dutch Warmblood has been in the top five in two five-stars beyond his win, and as one of the most experienced horses in the field – partnered with a very on-form Tim – he’ll be a horse to keep a very close eye on tomorrow.
Just thirteen of the 43 competitors managed to finish clear and inside the time over the tough course in Aachen’s cavernous main arena, and there were certainly some high-profile victims to its questions. Dressage leaders Ingrid Klimke and SAP Hale Bob OLD knocked the penultimate fence, losing the top spot but only slipping as far as third. It’s amazing what a 20.7 dressage score will do for you, folks.
Michael Jung and fischerChipmunk FRH also tipped a single rail, moving them from second to fourth overnight in what will likely be the horse’s final run before a potential call-up for the European Championships next month.
The exceptionally experienced Colani Sunrise produced a clear round, but stopped the clock a second over the time, for German individual rider Kai Rüder. This makes it his best Aachen showjumping round yet – in two previous appearances he’s jumped clear, but added two or three seconds.
Also riding as an individual, Dirk Schrade produced yet another clear round for the home nation. He rode the eleven-year-old Unteam de la Cense, who was third in the German National Championship CCI4*-S at Luhmühlen last month.
He may have dropped down two places on Chipmunk, but it certainly wasn’t a wasted day at the office for Michael Jung, who snuck two spots up the leaderboard with his team mount, the eleven-year-old Star Connection. They jumped a quick clear early in the class, helping to protect the home nation’s claim to the title.
Jonelle Price added her own Luhmühlen winner to the top ten, jumping clear on Faerie Dianimo to climb three places into eighth. Despite her somewhat unconventional jumping style – she tends to jump higher to compensate for her reaching front end – the mare didn’t come close to any of the fences, giving the Price family another chance to dominate a prestigious leaderboard.
A single rail dropped Chris Burton and Polystar I out of the top ten – they’d been seventh after the first phase, but now sit in thirteenth overnight. But a classy clear moved his other ride, the thirteen-year-old Oldenburg mare Quality Purdey, from fourteenth to ninth. The mare finished second in this competition last year, and though there’s still plenty of ground to make up, she’s certainly off to a promising start.
Australia’s Andrew Hoy and Vassily de Lassos stepped up eight places to round out the top ten, with the ten-year-old son of Jaguar Mail showing his enormous scope and acrobatic bascule throughout the course.
It’s been an evening of ups and downs for the US team. Caroline Martin and the inexperienced but talented Islandwood Captain Jack produced one of the small handful of double-clear rounds, moving them from 40th position up to 26th overnight.
Liz Halliday-Sharp and Deniro Z had an unfortunate pair of rails, slipping from their spot in the top ten to overnight 23rd, while Phillip Dutton and the ordinarily consistent Z pulled three to drop nine places. They’ll go into cross-country in 37th place.
Germany remains in the lead in the team competition on an aggregate score of 80.5, with New Zealand stepping up to second place on 83.1. They swap places with Great Britain, now third on 87.2, while the US team drops into seventh on 115.60.
The cross-country finale begins tomorrow at 9.30 a.m./8.30 a.m. BST/3.30 a.m. EST, and as usual, will be available to stream on ClipMyHorse.tv. You can also follow the riders live with analytics company SAP‘s trackers.
Until then – go Laura, and Go Eventing!