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Michael Jung is the Dressage Maestro of Event Rider Masters’ Finale

 

Lignières: leg six – the finale leg – of the 2019 Event Rider Masters series, got off to an incredibly exciting start as the first phase wrapped today. With fourteen of the eighteen competitors delivering a sub-30 score, the big question on everyone’s lips was this: just how low could they go? German superstar – and eventing legend – Michael Jung took it upon himself to find out.

Winning two previous Event Rider Masters legs is just one of the many highlights of the German superstar’s career. Dancing his way to a remarkable 21.7 with Wiesbaden winner Star Connection FRH, he made himself the hot favourite to take a third leg win this weekend.

“He was very nice to ride – he was very relaxed, but still with positive power,” says Michael of the eleven-year-old Hanoverian, with whom he helped the German team to the win at Aachen earlier this season.

Michael Jung and Star Connection. Photo courtesy of Event Rider Masters.

“I always have him in front of me, and so I can do as I wish,” he continues. “He’s a very easy horse; he’s a super character, and every day is nice with him – to train with him, to work with him in every discipline. He’s a beautiful horse.”

The assembled judges – Angela Tucker (GBR) at C, Nathalie Carrière (FRA) at M, and Andrew Bennie (NZL) at E – agreed, allowing him a margin of just over a second to take into tomorrow’s jumping phases.

Gemma Tattersall and Jalapeno III. Photo courtesy of Event Rider Masters.

Tight margins were the theme of the day as combination after combination delivered well below their predicted marks, pushing the dressage average of the field down into its lowest-ever territory. Second-placed Gemma Tattersall certainly contributed to the quality of the field, posting a 22.3 with fiery mare Jalapeno III, a new ride for her this year.

“I feel like we’re actually starting to get the hang of each other now,” she explains – and it certainly showed in the ring, where she was able to take calculated risks and push for extra marks in her medium and extended movements.

“We’ve been pushing for this score for a while now, but have made mistakes that have dropped us to 25 or 26. She’s been beautifully produced by [former rider, Belgian team member] Karin Donckers, so it’s just been about getting to know each other, to be honest.”

The showjumping phase, Gemma admits, is still “a work in progress –  but we’re getting the hang of it!” With a five-star debut with the horse on the horizon at Pau, Gemma confirms with a smile that she’s here to be competitive.

Sarah Cohen and Treason. Photo courtesy of Event Rider Masters.

So, too, is Sarah ‘Cutty’ Cohen who, with long-time partner Treason, is one of the ERM’s most familiar faces. Sitting in fifth on the 2019 series rankings Sarah, who finished third on 2017’s leaderboard, needed to produce her very best to gain valuable series points, and that’s exactly what she did. A precise, flowing test married calculation with exuberance, and Treason showed off all his gears to cruise to a score of 23 – the horse’s best-ever international mark.

“I thought, ‘well, it’s the last event of the year – we better give it our all!’,” laughs Sarah, who hopes to bring the seventeen-year-old gelding back for one more season of ERM legs.

“He was awesome in there – he’s Mr. Consistent,” she continues. “The little bit of atmosphere gives him a lift, so I just have to control the balance and control the power. He’s such a star and he looks so beautiful, thanks to [groom] Tammie. But there’s a lot to do tomorrow!”

Alex Bragg and Zagreb. Photo courtesy of Event Rider Masters.

The last combination of the day delivered a 24.5 and “a happy face, today” – and Alex Bragg and Zagreb will sit in fourth place overnight as we head into tomorrow’s jumping phases.

“The horse did great,” he beams. “He was a little bit sharp in the changes, which probably cost us a couple of marks, but I’m thrilled and happy going into the jumping phases. I love jumping here.”

The secret to Alex’s success in the ring, he confides, is a love for the performative aspect of the competition – and also a sincere belief in the system.

“You’ve got to believe in yourself, and believe you’re going to be on the podium,” he says. “Is it obvious I love it up there? I love all that bravado – it’s what I ride for. I won’t give up without trying.”

But although we saw some remarkable personal bests – including that of France’s Maxime Livio, who sits 5th on a mark of 25.1 with Api du Libaire in just their third month together – we also witnessed disappointment for some of the best in the field.

Tim Price and Ascona M were projected to lead this phase on a low-20s mark, but a disagreement in the rein-back caused the occasionally quirky mare’s tension levels to boil over, affecting her marks through the middle of the test. But some expert riding from the Kiwi, and the natural pizazz of the horse, salvaged enough marks to score a respectable 27.4 for sixth place.

“I’ve always said that she’s extreme, and she can be incredible,” says Tim, who comes to Lignières with designs on the leg, though not series, podium. “[Ascona M] is going to Pau in around three weeks, and so I think the fitness is there for her! She feels amazing, but keeping it all bottled up for a dressage test is difficult. I’m happy to claw that kind of score out of her – she’s very capable, and could be up there with Michi [Jung], but you’ve got so much to deal with in an event horse. They’ve got to be dynamic in so many ways.”

Chris Burton and Quality Purdey. Photo courtesy of Event Rider Masters.

Current series leader Chris Burton also faced disappointment in the ring when Quality Purdey, too, felt the effects of the atmosphere. After a costly mistake in the extended canter, she began to tighten up through her back, skipping through changes behind and disengaging throughout the canter work. Despite this, they managed to finish on a mark of 30, which sees them in 15th place overnight.

“These ERM guys must be putting the pressure on,” he quips, explaining: “she was quite good this morning, but then she got a bit tired and wouldn’t let go and just breathe. But hey – there’s still a lot more to come, and now we just have to keep doing our job. We need to keep all the fences up, stay between the flags, and try not to knock any pins.”

Gireg le Coz and Aisprit de la Loge. Photo courtesy of Event Rider Masters.

Chris’ five-mark margin in the series rankings may seem unassailable when you consider his expertise across the country, but he faces close and fierce competition from Jonelle Price and Gireg le Coz, his nearest rivals for series glory.

Though Jardy winner Gireg le Coz sits just five marks behind Chris, he and Aisprit de la Loge (29.3, 13th) weren’t quite able to stay ahead of Jonelle Price and Grovine de Reve, who posted a personal best of 28.5 for equal eighth. But that PB came despite some difficulty in the ring, which began before the bell rang and trickled into the start of the test, too.

“You mark these things yourself, really, and I didn’t have the best ride this morning – he was a cheeky brat, actually, but he put his best face on,” she explains with a laugh.

So where does today’s action put our series contenders? Well, if the competition were to finish on the leaderboard as it stands, it would be all change – Sarah Cohen would take the top spot for 2019, while Jonelle Price would finish second, and Chris Burton third. But this is the Event Rider Masters – and it’s never over ’til it’s over.

WHAT COMES NEXT?

The 2019 series finale continues tomorrow with the showjumping phase, which takes place in Lignières’ atmospheric main arena. With less than a pole separating our top five – and then just a pole covering sixth through sixteenth – the pressure will be dialled up to eleven.

After that, our competitors will head onto the tough cross-country course. With 34 efforts to cover in a 6:55 optimum time, the time is certainly gettable – but the dynamic track, which wends its way across the racecourse, doesn’t leave any margin for error. With dimensionally massive rider-frighteners intermingled with acute accuracy questions, it includes a variety of the toughest questions we’ve seen throughout the season.

Tomorrow’s competition will be broadcast live from 10.30 CET time/9.30 BST/4.30 a.m. EST, with cross-country to follow from 14.00 CET/13.00 BST/8.00 a.m. EST. For a full list of showjumping start times, click here, and to preview the cross-country course, click here.

You’ll be able to tune into the free live-stream throughout the action – just head to eventridermasters.tv or to the Event Rider Masters Facebook page to follow all the excitement.
GET INVOLVED
Want to take a deeper dive into the world of ERM? Make sure you download EquiRatings Stacks, the high-stakes prediction game that can win you an iPad. Want to get ahead of the competition? Head over to the Prediction Centre to see how your favourites stack up against the competition. Then, jump into the SAP Spectator Judging app to see how you fare against our experienced panel of judges and to gain valuable Fan League points.

France’s Gireg le Coz Scoops Surprise Victory at Event Rider Masters Jardy

Frenchman Gireg le Coz rode Aisprit de la Loge to the ERM Jardy win in just the horse’s second attempt at this level. They were the only combination to finish on their dressage score, which allowed them to climb from 11th place after the first phase into the top spot. Photo courtesy of Event Rider Masters.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that an Event Rider Masters leg, quietly referred to as a dressage competition, must surely be in want of some serious excitement on the second day – and Leg Four at Haras de Jardy certainly didn’t disappoint.

After a heated battle between the boards yesterday, the scores were at an all-time low — and with the top 20 competitors sitting within two rails of one another, there wasn’t going to be any margin for error as we headed into the showjumping and cross-country phases today.

Just eleven horse-and-rider combinations would produce clear rounds inside the time over the poles, sending some well-placed combinations tumbling down the leaderboard and opening the door for others to begin their ascent. Among those major movers was Germany’s Felix Etzel, who toppled two rails with Bandit 436 and dropped from fourth place to twentieth. New Zealand’s Jonelle Price, hot in pursuit of valuable series points, delivered a clear round just outside the optimum time to move from fourteenth to ninth with Grovine de Reve.

But at the conclusion of the influential showjumping phase, the top of the leaderboard remained untouched: France’s Lt. Col. Thibaut Vallette and his Olympic partner Qing du Briot ENE HN had added just 1.6 time penalties to their dressage score of 23.2, keeping them less than one second ahead of second-placed Gemma Tattersall and Quicklook V.

Thibaut Vallette and Qing du Briot ENE HN. Photo courtesy of Event Rider Masters.

But there’s no such thing as a certainty in eventing, and even less so in the fast-paced, high-tension tracks of the Event Rider Masters. Jardy’s course featured classic French design by Pierre Michelet — a true master of creating tough and technical tracks over flat landscapes, he created a veritable go-kart track with questions that didn’t relent until competitors had crossed the finish line.

Time would prove to be one of the most influential factors on the course, which saw 20 combinations come home clear but just two finish inside the optimum time.

Gireg le Coz and Aisprit de la Loge. Photo courtesy of Event Rider Masters.

One of those double-clear finishers was France’s Gireg le Coz, who rode his nine-year-old Selle Français gelding Aisprit de la Loge in just the horse’s second attempt at this level. They were the only combination to finish on their dressage score, which allowed them to climb from 11th place after the first phase to take the win.

“I can’t believe it,” says Gireg, who debuted the horse at the CCI4*-S level at the Arville leg of the 2019 Event Rider Masters series last month, finishing sixth. “My horse was amazing, from the dressage through to the end of the cross-country — he’s been so good. He’s only a nine-year-old, but he’s so honest.”

That honesty, and the horse’s careful production, allowed the pair to make light work of what could have been a sticky moment at the water: “I didn’t have the stride that I wanted, but he was very honest. He feels much more experienced now in jumping between the flags.”

Gireg takes home a cheque for €18,000 and collects valuable series points too – he now sits fourth in the 2019 rankings on 51 points. But will we see him at any more legs this year?

“Yes, I think so now,” he laughs.

Gemma Tattersall and Quicklook V. Photo courtesy of Event Rider Masters.

Just a tenth of a penalty precluded a win for 2017 ERM champion Gemma Tattersall and Quicklook V, who added 3.2 time penalties in a bold and determined trip across Michelet’s track.

“That [tenth of a penalty] will be my badly-ridden flying change,” laughs Gemma, who lost out on valuable marks in yesterday’s otherwise remarkable test when she earned fours for one of the changes. “She’s put in a great performance this weekend, and I’m so proud of her. There was a lot of determination [on course], to be honest. She gave me a bit of a heart attack near the end of the course – I lost my steering for some reason, but we managed to stay inside the flags!”

Felix Vogg and Colero. Photo courtesy of Event Rider Masters.

Event Rider Masters debutante Felix Vogg showed off his considerable experience, partnering his World Equestrian Games mount Colero to third place after a classy, quick round saw them add just four time penalties to their 25.8 dressage.

“I think I have a pretty good horse — it was his first outing again after a big event,” explains the Swiss rider, who has recently relocated back to Europe after a stint in the US. He and Colero finished sixth at this spring’s Land Rover Kentucky CCI5*, marking a successful end to their time abroad.

Nevertheless, says Felix, “I didn’t expect [this result] when I came here — there are so many good riders and good horses, so I’m very happy.”

Last year’s winner Alex Bragg delivered one of the two double-clears of the day to finish fourth, this time riding the exciting young up-and-comer Alcatraz.

“You need a good horse, a nippy horse, and they need to be really genuine,” he says of Michelet’s testing track, which saw experienced competitors, including Tim Priceand Sarah ‘Cutty’ Cohen, falter. “The strides get so big when the horses are going fast, but you’ve still got to be able to adjust when you come around the corner. I’m thrilled with Alcatraz; to very nearly finish on his dressage score, bar that single second in the showjumping, is a real personal best for him, and I’m thrilled to be back on the podium.”

The shock withdrawal of series leader Chris Burton left the door wide open for a new face at the top spot, and consummate competitor Jonelle Price duly stepped up to the plate. She finished sixth with Grovine de Reve, adding 0.8 time penalties in the showjumping and a further 2 across the country, but putting her in the lead for the series title by 7 points.

“I’m really pleased with the horse,” she says of the young star. “Obviously in a field as competitive as the one we’ve got today, every second counts. He had a little look at the first water and needed a little reminder, but he’s a very genuine horse and I’m really excited to see where our relationship will go.”

Chris Burton drops to third in the 2019 leaderboard, while fellow Aussie Bill Levettslips into second place after a ninth-place finish today with his ERM specialist Shannondale Titan.

Click here to view final results, and click here to view the rankings following Leg 4.

What comes next?

The fifth leg of the 2019 Event Rider Masters Series heads to Ireland for the first time, as we make our debut at Co. Cork’s stunning Millstreet International Horse Trials. Expect fierce competition and one of the toughest cross-country challenges of the season as a first-class field takes to the fairytale grounds of Drishane Castle in hot pursuit of a place on the podium.

With two legs left to go, it isn’t over ’til it’s over. We’ll be bringing you all the action as it happens on eventridermasters.tv. Don’t miss it.

Photo courtesy of Event Rider Masters.

Get involved!

Want to take a deeper dive into the world of ERM? Make sure you download EquiRatings Stacks, the high-stakes prediction game that can win you an iPad. Want to get ahead of the competition? Head over to the Prediction Centre to see how your favourites stack up against the competition. Then, jump into the SAP Spectator Judging app to see how you fare against our experienced panel of judges. Nail the predictions, win points, and earn fantastic prizes in our brand-new Fan League. Plus, don’t forget to check out — and donate to! — ERM’s 2019 charity, Hannah’s Willberry Wonder Pony.

This report is edited from a press release.