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Bundeschampionat 2015: Comparing German & U.S. Young Horse Programs

Maren Engelhardt attended this year's Bundeschampionat, the official National Championship of the German breed associations, with eight visitors from North America. She's very kindly written a detailed synopsis of the trip, and today we hear about the American impressions of BuCha. Many thanks to Maren for writing and to Stephan Bischoff for providing beautiful photos.

Black Rock H at BuCha. Photo by Stephan Bischoff. Black Rock H at BuCha. Photo by Stephan Bischoff.

What did the American visitors think of their trip to Bundeschampionat, better know as BuCha? I first asked Tim Holekamp a few questions since he was in the unique position to be an owner at this event (and trust me, the number of American-owned horses running in Warendorf can probably be counted on two hands!).

Maren: What did you think about this idea to listen to immediate translations of judges’ comments in both dressage and eventing?

Tim: “I wasn’t sure how it would work with a large group of strangers, but we did it this time with a dozen of us. I would have to say it was just remarkable. Discussions were open and frank. No one seemed shy about stating opinions or asking questions that were useful to all of us. The camaraderie that developed seemed almost too good to be true, but it was quite real.

“Thanks to Joe Dimmek, we had great audio equipment, and the DOKR gave us a complete tour of their facility, far beyond what an individual could privately arrange there. In summary, we could not be more happy and proud of what came from our little efforts.”

Maren: Are you heartbroken about the low scores your 6-year-old German-based stallion Glücksruf I received for his efforts there in eventing? (Glücksruf scored 6.9 and 6.8).

Tim: “Well, yes and no. I am a competitive sort of person. I do this to win, not to lose, nor even to be an also-ran. We knew that Glücksruf was significantly behind in his training for age, but when he scored a 9.0 at Hanover a month ago on a cross country test, we thought it just possible that he would be successful at the BuCha. I personally was VERY proud of his performances, and understand what knocked down his scores (rideability, which he excelled at in his stallion testings).

“Yet he galloped well, jumped every jump with ease, and has definitely improved his jumping style as he comes to more challenging jumps. The 6-year-old courses contained some two-star questions, in my opinion. He handled them quite well, except in a couple of situations, and even there, got the job done for sure. I still believe in his talent and so does Miriam Bray, his rider.

gluecksruf_stephan bischoff

Tim Holekamp’s Glücksruf. Photo by Stephan Bischoff.

Maren: How does what you saw at the BuCha relate to the USEA’s Young Event Horse program that you help lead?

Tim: “The main effect is to re-convince me that we are on the right track in this country, but need to improve our training of young horses and selection process of special talents among event horse prospects. The horses that come to the BuCha represent the pinnacle of a couple of thousand horses, so they are not at all the “average” 5- and 6-year-old eventers. To see what those top horses are capable of at age 5 and 6 is truly an eye-opener and resets my “eye” with regard to what we are seeking here.

“I think we have much to gain from the Germans, who are VERY generous in sharing their knowledge with us. This is one of the things I most love about our sport, an open and sharing attitude that appears to be worldwide. Of all the horse cultures I have observed, this is the best one for sure.

I next spoke to first-time visitors and event horse aficionados Matt Boyd and Ashley Giles of Peregrine Farm in Georgia. They also took a good number of the images of the course for the first part in this series.

Maren: How did you spend your days in Warendorf?

Ashley: “I was there not as a judge but as an enthusiast, competitor and breeder in the sport. I watched all of the horses competing in the finals in all three phases because I really wanted to be able to compare the quality of horses at this age with what we have in the States. I of course have not seen all of the horses in this age group in the United States, so I had to pull from what I have seen.”

Do as the Germans do! Ashley Giles shows how it's done at BuCha. Photo courtesy of Peregrine Farm.

Do as the Germans do! Ashley Giles shows how it’s done at BuCha. Photo courtesy of Peregrine Farm.

Maren: How do you think the two groups (US vs. Germany) compare?

Ashley: “The adjustability of the horses in these phases really stood out to me. It seemed to me that the horses that placed the best in the show jumping and cross country were good jumpers, but mostly they were very adjustable and ridable. They were able to move forward to the jumps when they needed to as well as adjust back when they needed to and do so without a lot of fuss and pulling.

“The cross country portion was especially eye opening because they were really asking these horses to gallop and to be able to jump out of that gallop. While not all of them did so successfully, a lot of them did so very well. The courses where very challenging. The technical questions definitely asked a lot of the horses, but the distances where set on a forward, confidence-boosting stride.”

Maren: What was your impression about the sport and its support in Germany now that you have toured the DOKR?

Matt: “Horse sports in Germany are a big deal (duh). There is an entire state-sponsored network of support dedicated to identifying talent (equine and human) and giving their top riders the tools to succeed. This includes things one might not initially consider, such as access to sports psychologists — resources devoted to improving the human side of the equation.

“Young horses are moved faster in Germany than in North America. I suspect this leads to some young horses being over-faced at times, but the sheer number of sport horses bred in the country makes attrition less of an issue, and the event and its qualification requirements tends to identify horses that are not only physically superior, but also have the mental attributes (toughness, resilience, etc.) to succeed at the upper levels.

“Virtually all of the horses were well-produced. Based upon the qualifying requirements, by the time they reach the championship there is not a bad one in the bunch. The level of overall training (not just by certain top-level riders) really stood out.”

Maren: In your opinion, what is the biggest difference in the competition comparing the two countries?

Matt: “The big difference between what we typically see in the U.S. was in the cross country phase. The horses are expected to go at 550 meters per minute and are penalized heavily if they do not make the time. The course is short — about three to four minutes — with about 23 fences (some with A, B, C and D elements).

“The horses make a twisting loop back and forth around a smallish cross country field — you can pretty much see everything. The 6-year-old cross country course had fences that would not have been out of place on a three-star course. The brush fences were particularly large, but none of the horses had too much trouble with them.”

Maren: You are an avid breeder and strive to produce upper-level event horses. Did you notice anything particular about the breeding of the German horses at this event?

Matt: “As for breeding, you had all types. I have not done any deep analysis, but many were crosses between jumper warmblood sires and half-Thoroughbred dams. There were multiple registries in the finals — Oldenburgers, Trakehners, Holsteiners, Hanoverians, Mecklenburgers, South German registries, etc. Only one was more than 75% Thoroughbred (Butts Azahar).

“I’ve been told by people who know that success in the Bundeschampionate does not directly relate to upper-level eventing success — the current Burghley champion did not fare particularly well here (but, on the other hand, horses like Windfall, Butts Avedon, and fischerRocana FST won it).

“With a short cross country course and big fences, a jumper-bred warmblood that is in reality too heavy to progress to a four-star can score really well. That said, there were a number of horses that would be viewed as among the very best of event prospects if they were in this country.”

FEH/YEH and USEF “R” eventing judge Lori Hoos was also along for the ride and shared some of her observations with me.

Maren: What impressed you the most about BuCha?

Lori: “The quality of both the horses and riders; the Pony Championships, which developed the new riders’ skills at such a young age; and the time and respect that was given to the group by officials and friends. I left inspired by what I saw and now have new ideas on how to raise the bar for our country.”

Sharon Burt had joined us from Orlando and was particularly interested in the dressage part of the BuCha.

Maren: What was your impression of BuCha having already been to so many events, stallion stations, approvals and more over the course of many years?

Sharon: “I think the main thing that struck me about BuCha was the depth of quality of the horses and ponies. Every one well conformed, with high expectations of training and behavior, some better than others but overall quality high,” Sharon said. “I enjoyed seeing all three disciplines in one venue, and it was good to see established criteria for all three and a reasonably clear career/training path expected for horses of that quality.”

I next spoke to Donna Richards, a rider from the U.S. along for the trip by pure (lucky) coincidence.

Maren: “What were your thoughts of the dressage judging, which you were especially interested in?

Donna: “There was this one situation that I keep coming back to in my mind. We were listening to your translation of Christoph Hess’ commentary. He has an amazing ability to critique and correct in a positive manner. I recall the first horse that came out entered the arena like a Hollywood movie star and was just outstanding. Unfortunately, the next horse came out having a very bad day, missed most of his lead changes and generally appeared confused.

“I would have likely left the arena in tears, not even wanting to hear what Christoph said. But he was sympathetic to her bad day and able to commend her on what was good, what could be improved  and what was just the result of a horse having a bad day — something we all experience at some point. I feel like the rider left the ring disappointed but not desolate.

“I also love how Christoph addressed the crowd when they didn’t like his comments about a particular horse’s walk. After showing their disagreement, he asked the crowd, ‘Did any of you see a collected walk? … No, I didn’t think so.’ He was correct, and I loved the admonishment!”

Maren: You were able to go on a cross country course walk with the course designer, Rüdiger Schwarz. What were your thoughts?

Donna: “The difficulties in designing six different courses on what I consider a very small area were many in my mind. But I actually ended up liking his courses better than any I’ve seen before. Viewing was exceptional and easily accessible for the spectators, which to me is a problem with most courses.

“But truly, the best part of his courses was understanding the care and thought he put into horse and rider safety, questions for the horse and rider that were fair and difficult, and allowing the horse to show his gaits, all while adhering to what the spirit of cross country is about.”

Maren: Any famous last words?

Donna: “From meeting the retired Olympic riders and judges to talking to the guy that helped me park at the event, from visiting the Olympic training facility to visiting the shops on the grounds, from seeing the turbines in the fields to the most beautiful horses anywhere, it was awesome,” Donna said.

Last but not least, I had some questions for Cheryl Holekamp, who set the whole trip in motion a year ago. Cheryl is not only an accomplished Grand Prix dressage rider but is also a USEF “R” judge for dressage and eventing.

Maren: You have raised and produced many outstanding youngsters, especially for the YEH program. What is your overall impression when you compare the two events?

Cheryl: “Attending the BuCha these last two years has broadened my perspective about the path of training in both dressage and eventing. Having bred and produced youngsters in the U.S. for young horse competitions in both disciplines, I can’t help but be impressed with the high expectations and the level of training of the BuCha participants.

“Of course, the horses that appear at the BuCha are undoubtedly the cream of the crop, the most physically and mentally talented, having made it through the rigorous qualifying process. However, the high expectations of the German young horses, especially the young event horses, would be said to be inappropriate/too difficult/overfacing by many in the U.S. For many horses that is probably true in both eventing and dressage.

“Yet, interestingly, all the horses we saw appeared to measure up to the expectation and were not over-faced by the questions. Many parts of the puzzle must come together to produce a young horse to qualify for the BuCha, physical and mental ability of the young horse and the rider and the training program being the most important.”

You can watch videos of this year’s BuCha finalists on the German Champions YouTube Channel. Click here if you missed the first part of this series on an introduction to BuCha and here to read the second part in the series about this year’s winning horses.

[BuCha 6-Year-Old Final Results]

[BuCha 5-Year-Old Final Results]

Bundeschampionat 2015: Meet the German Young Event Horse Champions

Maren Engelhardt attended this year's Bundeschampionat, the official National Championship of the German breed associations, with eight visitors from North America. She's very kindly written a detailed synopsis, and today we meet the winners of this year's German Young Horse Championships. Many thanks to Maren for writing and to Stephan Bischoff for providing beautiful photos.

Collnischken demonstrates his gallop at BuCha. Photo by Stephan Bischoff. Collnischken demonstrates his gallop at BuCha. Photo by Stephan Bischoff.

After the long introduction to the Bundeschampionat in the first part of this series, you may wonder when you’ll read about horses. You do now! The winner in the 5-year-old Young Event Horse class was the gelding Michel, a Hanoverian by Mighty Magic out of First Lady by Federweisser – Gardeoffizier, with 37.5% English Thoroughbred in first four generations, bred and owned by Helmut Böttcher, ridden by Stephanie Böhe.

The gelding won mostly because he was the most consistent of the lot — 8.5 in dressage, 8.7 in show jumping, 9.5 cross country (which counts double), which let him win with a comfortable lead on a total score of 36.2 points. The horse impressed with his fluid test, flawless jumping round and a very practical, economic way of galloping and jumping around the tough course Click here for video of Michel.

Black Rock H. Photo by Stephan Bischoff.

Black Rock H. Photo by Stephan Bischoff.

The silver medal was won by the stallion Black Rock H, a Westphalian by Black Jack out of Laroxa by Larome – Paradox I, with 12.5% English Thoroughbred in the first four generations, bred and owned by Hans Hoffrogge and ridden by Jens Hoffrogge. This stallion was an impressive horse by all accounts, maybe with a bit too much action in his monumental gaits, but with an exceptional jump both over stadium jumps and the cross country course and exemplary rideability. He scored 7.4 in dressage, 8.2 in stadium and 8.2 for his cross country round, finishing on 32.00 points. Click here for video of Black Rock H.

And the bronze medal went to Swedish rider Moa Kulla, who is stationed out of Peter Thomsen’s barn in Holstein, and the gelding Caramio, a Holsteiner by Canturo out of Krokus by Limbus – Caletto I, with 3.13% English Thoroughbred in his first four generations, but a noteworthy inbreeding to the Anglo-bred Cor de la Bryere, bred by Adelbert Sporn and owned by Hengststation Sollwitt GbR.

He received the same cross country score as Black Rock H, but came back from dressage with just 6.8 showing his true calling in the stadium round, which was good for 8.5. Again, he had a seemingly flawless cross country round, attacking the difficult course with the right mix of control, efficiency and energy. The judges made a special comment about his scope over jumps, which really made this course look small.

Zuckerpuppe. Photo by Stephan Bischoff.

Zuckerpuppe. Photo by Stephan Bischoff.

Interestingly, the horse that got us all the most excited in terms of pure run and jump quality for upper-level work retired on course after one refusal and the rider’s decision to call it a day. This was Zuckerpuppe (meaning “sugar doll”), a highly energetic dark bay Trakehner mare presented by Nina Schultes.

These two are still finding their groove, but the light-footedness, ease and speed with which this horse approached and cleared jumps was quite something. She had a distinctly different pedigree to most other horses in the finals, being by the Russian Thoroughbred Beg xx and more English and Arabian Thoroughbred in the background (62.5% direct blood in the first four generations). The difference in phenotype was striking. Click here for video of Zuckerpuppe.

In the 6-year-old division, the new Champion is Nobleman C, a Holsteiner by Nekton out of Odalis C by Candillo – Landgraf I, with 9.38% English Thoroughbred in the first 4 generations, bred and owned by Ursula Chojnacki and ridden by Moa Kulle again (this was clearly the year for Norway!).

Just like the 5-year-old winner, it was the consistency at a very high level that gave him the edge — dressage 8.5, stadium 8.8 and another whopping 9.5 for the exciting cross country round again produced a more than comfortable lead over the second placed horse. Nobleman C embodies the modern Holsteiner quite perfectly: He is a horse with good sport type and obvious athleticism that just impresses over jumps with power, scope and bascule without wasting too much time in the effort.

The silver medal in this division was won by the mare Victoria MB and once again Jens Hoffrogge, who is another rider that makes producing BuCha horses his business (successfully!). Victoria MB is a Westphalian by Vulkano out of Lalique by Lenz xx – Phoenix, with 28.13% English Thoroughbred in the first four generations, bred and owned by Maria Bruns.

Victoria MB was not only strikingly beautiful and a formidable jumper, but solved the questions on cross country with a certain level of finesse and quick thinking that really made her stand out. She scored 7.5 in dressage, 8.6 in stadium and 8.8 for her cross country round. Click here to watch video of Victoria MB.

Jogi. Photo by Maren Engelhardt.

Hulingshof’s Jogi. Photo by Maren Engelhardt.

The bronze medal went to the only non-bay horse in the standings, the grey gelding Hulingshof’s Jogi, an Oldenburg by Clinsmann out of Aegina xx by Goofalik xx – Lagunas xx, with 53.13% English Thoroughbred in the first four generations, bred and owned by Johannes Baumann) with Christin Tidow, who already produced this horse in the 5-year-old finals in 2014.

The routine and experience showed — this horse never set a foot wrong and is again an exceptional jumper that one can picture anywhere from here to Rolex. This pair received 7.7 in dressage, 8.4 in stadium and took home an 8.5 for the cross country round. Click here to watch video of Jogi.

And like before, this division also had examples of horses that anyone of us standing by would have snatched up in a second as a serious upper-level horse, but that didn’t have the best of weekends in Warendorf this time. Two black mares really impressed with outstanding gallop and jump: Butt’s Azahar, a Hanoverian by Chico’s Boy from the famous Butts lineage of eventing greats.

The dam here was by Heraldik xx – Sir Shostakovich xx – Star Regent xx, combining some of the best event horse sires in Europe of the past decades). Presented by Anna Siemer, the mare is bred and owned by Dr. Volker Steinkraus who keeps the Butts legacy alive. Click here for a video of Butt’s Azahar.

Betels Bella. Photo by Maren Engelhardt.

Betels Bella. Photo by Maren Engelhardt.

And the other striking horse was Betel’s Bella, a Mecklenburg by Betel xx – Lateiner, ridden by Andreas Brandt. Both mares placed in the finals, but didn’t medal. Click here for a video of Betel’s Bella.

You can watch more videos of this year’s BuCha finalists on the German Champions YouTube Channel. Stay tuned for part three in this series: American impressions of BuCha! Click here if you missed the first part of this series.

[BuCha 6-Year-Old Final Results]

[BuCha 5-Year-Old Final Results]

Bundeschampionat 2015: An Intro to Germany’s Young Horse Championships

Maren Engelhardt of Trakehners International attended this year's Bundeschampionat, the official National Championship of the German breed associations, with eight visitors from North America. She's very kindly written a detailed synopsis about the experience for EN, and we're excited to bring you this series on "BuCha" in three parts. First, we learn all about BuCha and its importance as Germany's Young Horse Championships. Many thanks to Maren for writing and to Stephan Bischoff for providing beautiful photos.

Gluecksruf at BuCha. Photo by Stephan Bischoff. Gluecksruf at BuCha. Photo by Stephan Bischoff.

I have been to the BuCha many times, but no year has been quite like this year! Eight visitors from North America made the trek to Warendorf to see the event for the first (or second) time, learn about the judging parameters, experience the thrill and just have a good time.

The idea to bring U.S. riders, breeders, judges and horse enthusiasts over to this event originates with Cheryl Holekamp, who saw the action briefly in 2014 and was dying to understand the judges’ comments, mostly in the dressage ring (we will forgive her for that).

We quickly decided that it would be a good idea to go together, abusing me as an interpreter and knowledge base on the ground, and what can I say … the group got bigger! After the 2015 USEA FEH/YEH Symposium in Ocala, at which I was a guest and showed a number of BuCha videos for analysis of cross country judging, others asked to join.

In the end we were a comfortable “first trial” group on a mission, comprised of avid breeders, eventers, judges and horsefolks, many of which agreed to be interviewed about their experience. One travel companion, Dr. Timothy Holekamp, had another agenda altogether — he is the owner of a young stallion in Germany that competed at the BuCha this year. So not only did we get to experience BuCha, we got the inside look of somebody who was biting his nails for two days hoping to make the finals!

Dr. Joe Dimmek, a former High Performance team rider for Germany and current international eventing judge, was incredibly helpful by finding us a mobile microphone and transmitter system, which allowed everybody to listen in on more or less simultaneous translations. As Cheryl had threatened before, I did spend considerable time alongside the dressage ring, but I have to say — it was worth every minute!

Joe Dimmek and his family were wonderful hosts for the weekend, and he also set up some special events for our group, like a personal tour of the DOKR (the German Olympic Committee for equestrian sports) and a meet and greet with Christoph Hess. So what is the attraction of this Bundeschampionat, an event most horse folks have heard about but very few outside of Germany have actually experienced?

Here is a detailed look at what this is all about. And before we get started, I want to thank my travel companions for a wonderful time, and their sharing of their thoughts and comments on the event, which you’ll find in the upcoming parts of this series.

Naughty Girl. Photo by Stephan Bischoff.

Naughty Girl at BuCha. Photo by Stephan Bischoff.

What is the Bundeschampionat?

The Bundeschampionat (BuCha in short) is the official National Championship of German breed associations. Only German-bred and registered horses and ponies can compete here, meaning a Hanoverian born in Denmark cannot compete, but a German-born Hanoverian with a fully approved KWPN parent can.

About 1,000 horses and ponies qualify for the BuCha each year and compete in dressage, show jumping, eventing, driving and riding horse classes (known in the U.S. as material class). Divisions are set up for 5 and 6-year-old old horses, and in the riding horse classes, 3 and 4-year-old olds compete in different divisions, further separated by gender (one class for mares and geldings, one for stallions). Repeat all of the above for ponies and you’ll get an idea of the scope of this competition: There is no other show like that on the planet.

Ingrid Klimke and FRH Escada JS. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Did you know FRH Escada JS is a BuCha graduate? Photo by Jenni Autry.

A brief history of the BuCha

The first BuCha was conducted in 1976 in Münster, and the first year that event horses took part was 1979. The very first champion ever crowned after a vigorous Intermediate level cross country run was the stallion Tümmler (a Trakehner by Heros out of Tuberose by Burnus AAH) with Martin Plewa riding.

And if there was any indication of what the BuCha would predict in terms of top quality performance horses and riders, this pair was a great first start. Tümmler sired four-star horses, Martin Plewa, a four-star rider, won team gold as the national coach of Germany at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.

Since then, many horses that stood at the top of their field at the Bundeschampionat have moved on to successful careers at the international stage, all the way to the World Equestrian Games and Olympics. The flip side is that the BuCha has also become a major marketing tool — just qualifying increases a horse’s value dramatically. However, not doing well can also have the opposite effect.

Often, big stallion stations or riders that make it their professional goal to develop horses specifically for this event stand in front despite maybe not having the best day of their lives. It is a show based mostly on judging and scores, not necessarily objective faults (like rails and time), so it comes with all the baggage attached.

Nevertheless, to see the current level of German horse breeding, this event is second to none and a must-see for horse lovers everywhere. Specifically in eventing, it is quite noteworthy to see that of the current 16 German High Performance team horses, no less than 11 went through the BuCha path.

That doesn’t mean that all good horses had to win here first — in fact, the current Burghley winner and multiple gold medalist La Biosthetique Sam FBW was not a horse the judges cared for much. However, he went through the program, and that is probably more of a path to success than anything else. Four-star winners fischerRocana FST, FRH Escada JS and Horseware Hale Bob are definitely great examples of young promising horses that went through BuCha and later turned out to be the real deal.

The Qualification System

Qualification events for the BuCha are held during the entire spring and early summer season in Germany beginning in late March and early April. The different disciplines require different qualification criteria. The only exceptions are all riding horse and pony classes. Here, the individual breed registries can nominate the best riding horses from their internal riding horse championships to represent the breed in Warendorf.

In eventing, 5-year-old horses have to score at least twice 80% or better at a BuCha qualifier in a Training level Young Event Horse class and score at least one 70% at a BuCha qualifier in a Preliminary Young Event Horse class. In addition, all 5-year-old horses that have their required scores from Young Event Horse classes must place in a regular open Training level event. The qualification has to be obtained at three different venues.

Six-year-old old horses have to score at least 80% or better twice at a BuCha qualifier in a Preliminary level Young Event Horse class. In addition, all 6-year-old horses that have their required scores from Young Event Horse classes must place in a regular open Preliminary level event or CIC*/CCI* with no more than 55 points from dressage, maximum 8 points from stadium and max 24 time faults cross country. Again, the qualification has to be obtained at three different venues.

The Judging System

Young Event Horse classes are cross country runs only, evaluated for jumping scope and technique, rideability (adjustability before and after jumps, approach to the jump, fluidity and rhythm of the entire run, etc.), gallop and faults (time and jump). The major focus of this system is to determine and judge whether the horses are on the right training path for a successful career as event horses, meaning the traditional training scale is just as important as a good jump or efficient gallop.

This is often overlooked by newcomers. The ideal is a fluid, harmonic and efficient cross country performance with a focus on the skill and characteristics of the horse, not the rider. Yet those cannot be seen entirely isolated from the rider’s presentation.

For rideability, jumping manner and ability to gallop, the judges use a score sheet from 10-0. From this score, the following penalties are deducted: first stop/refusal/runout is minus 0.5 points; second stop is minus 1 point. A second stop/refusal at the same jump sees 2 points deducted. Third stop automatically eliminates the pair. Every second over the optimum time is minus 0.1 points. If the rider/horse falls, the pair is eliminated. The same is true if the pair does not meet maximum time. Dangerous riding results in a deduction of 2.5 points.

Determining rideability

The horse should be presented in such a way that it can rhythmically approach all jumps. That rhythm should not be broken other than if required e.g. by changes in the terrain. It is absolutely paramount to keep the clock in focus — not making the time means not riding efficiently and is penalized not only by deducting points, but a lower overall score for rideability.

The horse needs to be easy to regulate and adjust as different efforts are cleared on the way. The maintenance of a forward momentum is important. The horse’s posture is also a focus — the nose should clearly be in front of the vertical at all times, the neck extended enough to allow for balance, and there should be a trusting, soft connection between the mouth and rider’s hands at all times.

Agility and maneuverability are also hallmark features of good rideability, meaning the rider can make adjustments to the course, the horse stays balanced and connected and is therefore efficient. This particular cross country course in Warendorf asks for a lot of the latter — it twists and turns many times, horses often cross their own path, jumps are mostly coming up very fast behind bend lines or curves, lie in shadow or are drops.

The criteria to judge jumping manner and style focus on the rhythmical, willing and efficient jumping over all obstacles with a clearly visible bascule, but no over-jumping. The jumping ability (in terms of height) is only looked at for the level the horse is competing at; in other words, nobody is predicting potential jumping ability at advanced levels in the future.

For horses, “adjustability” here is meant as the ability to help itself. It is no big deal if a couple of jumps are not ideal (too big, too close), but if a pattern of this emerges, it is penalized heavily. The right take-off point is very important. “Bascule” refers to the lengthening of the neck from the withers in combination with letting this movement develop across the entire topline and back.

The relatively low jumps in combination with the higher speed allow for some compromise in this regard. In fact, judges are deliberately not looking for the big scopey jumper that spends valuable seconds in the air at each jump. However, just as much as they like to see efficiency, a tight back or inelastic top line will be reason to lower the score.

The technique the horse displays will make sure of a secure landing and an efficient clearing of the obstacle. Hence, it is important to have good technique, especially in the front arm and shoulder.

Finally, the last big topic is gallop. Unlike in the U.S., where the Young Horse programs aim at predicting upper-level potential (including the gallop, of course), the BuCha judges are only judging what they see that day and don’t attempt to predict the future. Therefore, ground cover, balance, rhythm and economics of the gallop weigh the most.

It is important to keep in mind that speed alone is of no relevance — the time is to be made, but it is of no help to run faster than optimum time. Likewise, different anatomical characteristics like size do not necessarily define a good or bad gallop — short-strided horses can be highly effective and efficient and tire less quickly than long-strided horses.

On the flip side, the latter may be much faster than one would think just by watching their slower repetition. Light-footedness is also an important hallmark and a characteristic often pointed out by the judges; uphill tendency in the gallop would be just as well. Lastly, the judges always point out that the motor function is more important than absolute stride length.

Collnisckhen. Photo by Stephan Bischoff.

Collnisckhen at BuCha. Photo by Stephan Bischoff.

Path to the Finals in Warendorf

Those horses and riders that show up in Warendorf during the first week of September have four long, hard days ahead of them. To reach the finals on Sunday, which typically see 15 to 20 horses depending on the initial class size, all 5-year-old horses first run a Young Event Horse class at Training level, with the top 10 to 15 pairs automatically moving to the finals. Everybody else goes to consolidation rounds on Friday, at the same level, of which the top five horses move to finals.

The finalists then meet again on Saturday, for a First level dressage test and a 1.10-meter stadium round, again scored for rideability, jumping technique and scope, counting time and jump faults as regular show jumping rounds do. Qualification rounds for the 6-year-old horses are the same, but all at Preliminary level.

In the finals on Sunday, all 5-year-old horses have a clean slate cross country but bring their scores from dressage and stadium to the table. They count as single scores. The cross country finals then are at a higher level, the 5-year-old horses competing at Prelim, the 6-year-old horses at Intermediate, and cross country counts double compared to dressage and show jumping. In addition, the 6-year-olds have their dressage at Second level and jump as 1.15 to 2-meter course.

The BuCha is notorious for extreme difficulty — check out the photo gallery below to see some jumps and combinations, which easily make it into two-star competitions elsewhere. Another outstanding difficulty is the terrain — or better the lack of it. The course is short, very fast, with drops into shady areas, and with two sets of inclines containing jumps. Overall, some 25 efforts in the 6-year-old division are crammed into a tight, narrow space on a small green field.

Many of the 5-year-old finalists struggle with this added difficulty after such a harrowing week, and their lack of experience really shows here. In 2015, of the 20 horses in the finals, 10 did not finish because they had a refusal and the riders decided to try another day, retiring on course because horses were just confused.

There is always plenty of critique, especially after the 5-year-old round, and this year one of the loudest opponents was Elmar Lesch, without doubt one of Germany’s best young horse producers who knows what he is doing. After a less than ideal round with his first horse, he spared his second ride the trip altogether and withdrew before cross country.

Stay tuned for the next post in this series, which will take a detailed look at the competitors at BuCha and which horses ultimately took home the coveted top prize in the Young Event Horse 5- and 6-year-old finals.

Julia Krajewski Wins Action Packed Wiesbaden CIC3* in Germany

Julia Krajewski and Samourai du Thot. Photo by Lutz Kaiser/buschreiter.de. Julia Krajewski and Samourai du Thot. Photo by Lutz Kaiser/buschreiter.de.

Yes, I know … it’s a running gag by now to assume that Michael Jung wins everything. He doesn’t. But he still got oh so close. The city of Wiesbaden hosted its annual Whitsun Horse Show, a CDI, CSI, CIC and international vaulting competition (it would be way too boring otherwise) this past weekend.

Very rarely do you get to see world class riders from the three major disciplines battle it out. And the venue is indeed unique — it all happens in the middle of the city in the park of and right in front of Wiesbaden Castle.

This event has a limited number of open slots, and it is always a thrill to get in. In 2015, eight nations were represented, including Mexico and Japan. Of the 34 pairs that showed up for dressage, 28 finished the event (two horses were withdrawn before cross country, one rider eliminated due to omission of a jump on cross country, one horse retired on course at jump 12a and two horses eliminated on course not due to falls).

Ingrid Klimke and FRH Escada JS. Photo by Lutz Kaiser/buschreiter.de.

Ingrid Klimke and FRH Escada JS. Photo by Lutz Kaiser/buschreiter.de.

The dressage ring in Wiesbaden makes for some exciting viewing, both for horses and spectators. The backdrop of the castle is truly magnificent. Horses get to show off in an arena that appears tight and, like on cross country day, spectators are very close.

The cross country in Wiesbaden is a lovely stretch of rather flat land, but with many twists and turns, some open stretches for galloping and the interesting, if not distracting, optics of other horses coming back towards the start line — eventually you’ll come close to other horses running “against” you. Ride along the course with Michael Jung here.

Dressage seemed like a repetition of the Marbach CIC3* just a couple of weeks ago, with Pia Münker and her own homebred Louis M (by Lissabon out of Angelique M by Abanos) taking an early and very comfortable lead over the rest of the field with a whopping 26.3 points.

Louis M is an extravagant mover who is ridden very well, light in the contact, nicely forward and just oozing dressage talent and athleticism at the same time. Sadly though, Pia and her flashy chestnut had some serious issues during show jumping, adding 30 penalties to their otherwise spotless record.

Pia Münker and Louis M. Photo by Lutz Kaiser/buschreiter.de.

Pia Münker and Louis M. Photo by Lutz Kaiser/buschreiter.de.

Since nothing was to be gained from a fast round, Pia opted for a safe, confidence-giving ride cross country and added some 11 points to her record to finish 16th overall (67.5 points).

Second place after dressage went to Julia Krajewski, a young German rider, on the exceptional talent Samourai du Thot (by Milor Landais out of Melitos du Thot by Flipper d’Elle). The 9-year-old French gelding is one of the brightest talents in German eventing right now, and it should be interesting to watch this pair mature together.

Julia and her “Sam” (coincidence? I think not …) scored 34.2 in dressage, and all they had to do is remain fault-free until the end — which is exactly what they did. Just 3.2 penalties after cross country placed them first after the action was over, with a comfortable lead over second place finisher Michael Jung and his European Champion, the Baden-Württemberg bred Halunke FBW (by Heraldik xx out of Jolanda by Jugol). This proven pair started with 40.2 after dressage and just added two time penalties from cross country.

Interesting note on the side — only two horses in the field managed to run cross country in optimum time: Ingrid Klimke’s WEG Team Gold medalist FRH Escada JS (by Embassy I out of Lehnsherrin by Lehnsherr), who incidentally also took home the fourth place ribbon (did you know fourth place in Germany is blue?), and Freya Füllgraebe’s “old-timer” 18-year-old Oje Oje (by Ocos xx out of Diane by Diolen) — this pair won the U25 prize of the event.

Andreas Dibowski and Butt's Avedon. Photo by Lutz Kaiser/buschreiter.de.

Andreas Dibowski and Butt’s Avedon. Photo by Lutz Kaiser/buschreiter.de.

But to get back to the actual order — third place finisher was Andreas Dibowski with his long-term partner FRH Butts Avedon (by Heraldik xx out of Karina-Andora by Kronenkranich xx), the horse he planned to bring to Rolex, then decided to spare him the quarantine and is now aiming at Luhmühlen’s upcoming CCI4* instead.

They began the weekend on a 40.4 score after dressage and merely added 2.4 points after cross country. The top five placings were rounded off by German team anchor Peter Thomsen and his Holsteiner mare Horseware’s Cayenne (by Cardino out of Siringia by Sir Shostakovich xx) on a final score of 47.6.

Peter Thomsen and Horseware's Cayenne. Photo by Lutz Kaiser/buschreiter.de.

Peter Thomsen and Horseware’s Cayenne. Photo by Lutz Kaiser/buschreiter.de.

The highest placed foreign rider was Stefano Brecciaroli (ITA) with his Belgium-bred Apollo v.d. Wendi Kurt Hoeve (by Polidiktus van de Helle out of Naevship v.d. Wendi Kurt Hoeve by Township xx), who started out with 41.3, added four penalties in show jumping and came home with 4.8 points from cross country to finish on 50.1 points.

Other foreign riders took eighth, ninth and 11th place – in that order Sweden’s top rider Linda Algotsson with the home-bred Fairnet (Swedish warmblood by Feliciano out of Fairlisia by Dalby Jaguar xx), Elmo Jankari (FIN) with his WEG mount, the Oldenburg/Trakehner mare Duchesse Desiree (by Don Primero out of Arogna/T. by Noble Roi xx), and Austria’s Katrin Khoddam-Hazrati on the very interesting grey Irish gelding Kilnaboy Buffet (by French Buffet xx out of Cotton Foot by Tammouz xx).

Kilnaboy Buffet is interesting because this horse began his career as a show jumper and even represented his country at the FEI World Championships for Young Show Jumpers in Lanaken in Belgium only to switch disciplines and run the FEI World Championships of Young Event Horses in Lion d’Angers in France one year later!

The Klimke family bikes the cross country course. Photo by Lutz Kaiser/buschreiter.de.

The Klimke family bikes the cross country course. Photo by Lutz Kaiser/buschreiter.de.

As mentioned at the beginning, Wiesbaden’s show is also home to world-class dressage and show jumping during the same time the eventers battle it out in the spacious castle gardens. And so to those venturing into other sports, this was a firsthand opportunity to see Ingrid Klimke in the CDI Grand Prix on board her stunning black Dresden Mann — and yes, she can ride with the best out there!

Of course Michael “Zee Terminator” Jung didn’t just show in the CDI Small Tour (Prix. St Georges), but also appeared in the CSI 1.40, 1.45 and 1.50 meter show jumper classes, placing sixth in the first on board Captain Sparrow and riding the striking grey Sportsman S in the 1.45 meter class — a horse that was ridden noticeably more “forward” than many of his contestants and … well … won. The 1.50 meter class of course also saw Michael Jung in the money — this time with yet another “fischer” horse, the 9-year-old fischerTamarindo.

So, naturally, I was waiting for Michael Jung to show up in a leotard trying his hand in the vaulting competition as well, but I was disappointed …. but then, what would life be without something to look forward to? Certainly Luhmühlen on the horizon is going to test everybody, and the date is getting closer. Stay tuned!

[Wiesbaden Final Scores]

Everybody Shows Up at Marbach, Michael Jung Wins Anyway

Maren Engelhardt attended Marbach International Horse Trials in Germany this past weekend, where everybody showed up to compete but Michael Jung won anyway. No surprise there! Many thanks to Maren for submitting this report and to EN's good friends at buschreiter.de for the beautiful photos.

Michael Jung and Halunke FBW. Photo by Thomas Hartig/Marbach.

Michael Jung and Halunke FBW. Photo by Thomas Hartig/Marbach.

Traditionally, the spring season in Germany only really opens with the Marbach International Horse Trials, a venue that is just as breathtaking for horses (literally!) as it is for their human companions. Staged on the grounds of one of the oldest stud farms in the world, the Marbach State Stud (founded in 1514), horses and riders have to conquer a demanding cross that stretches across hills in this Swabian Alb location.

The main barn at Marbach. Photo copyright. Marbach - Hube.

The main barn at Marbach. Photo copyright. Marbach – Hube.

Since it is an early season event, jumps are very inviting while the galloping effort is quite significant. After the first course walk, course designer Gerd Haiber (GER) received praise from all sides for the extremely forward-thinking design that really invited horses to get confidence on the first big course of the year.

It may be noteworthy to mention that not a single pair in the three-star finished in optimum time — testament both to the demanding conditional effort on this course as well as the season opener character of the event.

Because of its design and perfect organization, Marbach attracts a large group of European top eventers every year, despite the fact it usually happens on the weekend of that other event in the UK called Badminton. And so in 2015, 48 pairs tackled the CIC3* (including the entire German high performance team with the exception of Ingrid Klimke and Bettina Hoy; they rode at that other event), 113 pairs ran the CIC* (which was divided into Junior/Young Riders and Seniors), and another 42 pairs entered the CCIP2* (for ponies).

Michael Jung and Halunk FBW. Photo courtesy of buschreiter.de

Michael Jung and Halunk FBW. Photo courtesy of buschreiter.de

And what can I say … the tale of these times seems to be that everybody shows up to ride and Michael Jung wins anyway. He nailed the CIC3* on his current European Champion Halunke FBW (by Heraldik xx out of Jolanda by Jugol) starting from second position after dressage (33.8), with 10 time faults from cross country and none from stadium for a total of 48.4. This year marks Halunke’s return to competition — he was not seen for the entire 2014 season. Great to have him back!

Sandra Auffarth and Ispo. Photo courtesy of buschreiter.de.

Sandra Auffarth and Ispo. Photo by Thomas Hartig/Marbach.

He was hunted by Sandra Auffarth on the late Ben Winter’s Ispo (by It’s me du Mesnil out of Peppermint Petty by Polydor). Ispo is still owned by Ben’s family and the German Equestrian Olympic Committee (DOKR) and was placed in Sandra’s care last year. The two had a formidable first outing just a few weeks ago and ran their first three-star together in Marbach. Sandra and Ispo started from third position after dressage (41.3), with time faults in cross country putting them on a 50.9 finish.

Dirk Schrade and Hop and Skip. Photo courtesy of buschreiter.de

Dirk Schrade and Hop and Skip. Photo courtesy of buschreiter.de

German Team rider Dirk Schrade and Hop and Skip (by Skippy Too out of La Sylphide by Catherston Dazzler) had the most impressive move up the ladder of them all, starting from 13th position after dressage (50.5) and ending on 52.1 with the fastest cross country time of the entire field.

Pia Münker and Louis M. Photo by Thomas Hartig/Marbach.

Pia Münker and Louis M. Photo by Thomas Hartig/Marbach.

Fourth place went to the unlucky Pia Münker, whose homebred Louis M (by Lissabon out of Angelique M by Abanos) won the dressage very convincingly (33.8) and remained in first place after cross country, but added one rail to his record. Since the first six places were all within one rail, this cost her victory on a final score of 52.2.

Overall, nine out of 48 competitors had fence penalties, with eight of those not seeing the finish line: Pawel Spisak (POL) withdrew his Banders before show jumping, and two pairs retired on cross country after refusals. An additional five pairs were eliminated cross country with two rider falls, once at fence 4 and another at fence 14. Both riders were uninjured.

The CIC* JUN/YR division had plenty of double clear cross country runs and ultimately saw Romina Engelberth (GER) as winner with the family-owned High Speedy (by High Spirits out of Rubina by Rebel Z III). The pair never once left first place (39.7 after dressage, finished on 43.7).

Second place went to Justine Bonnet (FRA) with Newton d’Hericourt (by Erimus Black Knight out of Green de la Loisne by Leopard du Castel), who too never left second place from the get-go (finished on 43.8). Germany’s Johanna Zantop and FBW Santana’s Boy (by Grafenstolz TSF out of Santana by Senna Z) followed in 3rd position on a final score of 52.1.

The CIC* Senior division was yet another Michael show — after dressage, he led with three horses in a row: fischerIncantas (by Ibisco out of o/o Ressina by Coriano), only 6 years old, left the arena with 33.2 after a very obedient, on the spot test. Second placed was Star Connection (by Chacco-Blue out of Sunside by Star Regent xx) with 34.1 after dressage, also his final score after show jumping.

And third after dressage was Michael Jung yet again with Star Fighter CR (by Sandro Hit out of Rosengarten by Rotspon) — not necessarily your typical eventing pedigree, but what does Michael care? The stallion added 1.6 time faults after cross country, which ultimately cost him his third position — and saved us all from a very boring prize giving ceremony!

Thankfully Sandra Auffarth’s exciting young talent Thalia l’Amaurial (by Parco out of Karissia l’Amaurial by Diamant de Semilly) was able to squeeze in with a 38.2 dressage score and just 0.8 time faults from cross country for a third place finish with 39.0. A nice move up in the ranking was provided by Belgium’s Karen Donckers and her lovely Quartz de la Ferme (by Flipper d’Elle out of Idole de la Ferme by Bout d’Zan II), who was 10th after dressage (42.5) and added nothing to his score for a fifth place finish.

The jump statistics for the CIC* divisions looks as this: 26 of 112 pairs incurred fence penalties; of those 26, 12 didn’t see the finish line. Four pairs retired on course, eight were eliminated after refusals or falls (one rider fall at fence 6a, another at fence 16 just one from the finish line, one at fence 13a, and one horse fall at fence 9a). No injuries were reported for neither horses nor riders.

Emma Brüssau and Rocky. Photo courtesy of buschreiter.de

Emma Brüssau and Rocky. Photo courtesy of buschreiter.de

In the pony division, which was run as a two-star, some jaw-dropping little creatures attacked the course and really wowed the crowds. Germany’s Emma Brüssau and her 17-year-old Rocky (by Oosteinds Ricky out of Nawarina by Nadler) moved up from second to first after a fast, secure cross country run, finishing on their dressage score of 43.3.

Melissa Prevost and Podeenagh Aluinn. Photo courtesy of buschreiter.de

Melissa Prevost and Podeenagh Aluinn. Photo courtesy of buschreiter.de

They were closely followed by France’s Melissa Prevost with Podeenagh Aluinn (by Go on du Vignault WB out of Aluinn SF by Maitre Pierre), who moved up from fifth place after dressage for a 45.0 finish. This distinctly international field with riders from seven nations then saw Rikke Nyboe Andersen (DEN) with Denver (by Desperado K out of Sandy by Brandy) in third position, with a big move up the ranks after dressage (13th) finishing on that dressage score (48.2).

The Team Cup was won by France. It is nothing short of inspiring to see the qualities of riding ponies (or horses just a bit too short!) during cross country, and Marbach is a prime location to witness some of the best Europe has to offer. In the statistics department, we saw 10 out of 42 competitors with fence penalties, translating to only three eliminations after refusals and two rider falls (again, no injuries were reported).

As a side note — the Club of German Event Riders, which was founded in 2010, hosted a seminar for emergency physicians, and that is more than just going over classroom material. The president of the club, Nicole Sollorz, took the 15 participants out on cross country for some hands-on training experience (No worries! Nobody was injured!). This is all in an effort to constantly improve safety in eventing, and the focus is on the specific requirements that the cross country environment presents.

All in all, this was a fun weekend to get everybody back on track with some season highlights this year coming up, including the European Championships and of course the big fall classics at the four-star level. The battle is on!

Marbach Links: Website, CIC3* ResultsCCIP2* Results, CIC* Senior Results, CIC* Junior Results