Articles Written 1,102
Article Views 2,829,820

Tilly Berendt

Achievements

Become an Eventing Nation Blogger

About Tilly Berendt

Latest Articles Written

Prolific British Medallist Miners Frolic Dies Age 24

Tina Cook and Miners Frolic at Badminton. Photo by Jenni Autry.

We’re sad to report that the great Thoroughbred Miners Frolic, who partnered Great Britain’s Tina Cook at two Olympics, has died at the age of 24. Miners Frolic, known as Henry at home, was retired early in 2014 after suffering a heart fibrillation on a hack, and subsequently enjoyed eight years of rest and relaxation at the home of Sarah Pelham, who co-owned him alongside Nicholas and Valda Embiricos. He particularly enjoyed spending time with his companion, Sarah’s grandson’s pony Jolly.

Tina’s journey with the great gelding (Miners Lamp x Mighty Frolic, by Oats) was punctuated with extraordinary highs and dramatic comebacks: they contested both the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2012 London Olympics, winning individual and team bronze in 2008 and team silver in 2012, when they finished sixth individually. They also represented Great Britain at the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Kentucky, taking team gold and individual 29th place, and at the Europeans in 2009 and 2013, taking double gold medals at the former to become the European Champions. The pair also finished sixth on Henry’s CCI5* debut at Luhmühlen in 2009 and nabbed a top twenty at Badminton in 2013, his final season — though it was that most iconic of British events that was very nearly the site of a much sadder end for the horse. In 2011, he was withdrawn before his dressage test due to an insect bite on his withers, which swelled sufficiently that he couldn’t wear a saddle — and in the weeks that followed, it would take a complicated turn for the worse, leading to admission to Arundel Equine Hospital in late June for a nasty bout of enterocolitis and endotoxemia, effectively a life-threatening bacterial infection and inflammation of the colon that’s generally linked to an adverse reaction to antibiotics. Henry survived as a result of round-the-clock care by the veterinary staff, but for several achingly long days, his recovery seemed unlikely.

All’s well that ends well, though, and one of Henry’s most covetable characteristics was his gritty tenacity, whether facing down a life-threatening illness or a tough cross-country course. In 2012, he returned to competition and to the Olympic stage, representing the home nation at the London Olympics in front of his enthusiastic fan base. His 2013 season was also a great success, with that top-twenty Badminton result, another successful European Championships appearance, and a top-five finish at CHIO Aachen, too – and although he’d been aiming for selection at the 2014 World Equestrian Games, his sudden retirement at the start of that year meant that he went out on a high, with the 2013 European Championships as his last FEI outing.

“Miners Frolic was as close to the ideal type of event horse that you would wish for,” said then-chef d’equipe Yogi Breisner upon the announcement of Henry’s retirement. “Very few horses make it to Olympic Games yet he made it to two, winning medals for Britain at both. His Olympic achievements combined with his European Individual gold puts him among the hall of fame of top event horses ever. He has been fantastic for the British team in contributing to several big successes in his career. He was a wonderful individual and a lovely horse to be around.”
Indeed, his record speaks for itself: in 18 of his 37 FEI starts, he finished in the top ten, and was the Reserve Seven-Year-Old World Champion at Le Lion d’Angers in 2005 — notably, the heyday when Thoroughbreds were still eligible to compete. He was a stalwart of the circuit and the British team at a time when success for the squad felt much less certain than it does now, but it’s hard to imagine an era in which the classic, consistent Henry wouldn’t flourish. Though he quickly flunked out of his intended career as a racehorse, he certainly landed in the right family early on: Tina’s late father, Josh Gifford, was an exceptional racehorse trainer, and her brother, Nick, is very successful in his own right, and there’s a real sense of collaboration in their Findon, West Sussex family base. Though Henry’s breeder Maurice Pinto had sent the 17hh five-year-old to Nick, he was quickly repurposed and passed along to Tina to see if there might be something special there — and astutely so. When Nicholas and Valda Embiricos came in as part-owners, there was a real sense of a cyclical fairytale playing out — they’d also owned Aldaniti, the extraordinary 1981 Grand National winner who partnered Bob Champion, newly recovered from cancer, to victory. Aldaniti was trained by Josh Gifford, and though Josh’s passing in early 2012 shook the bedrock of Tina’s life, the interwoven links between her horse of a lifetime and the people connected to him kept his indefatigable spirit alive as she and Henry tackled the Olympics that year.
Our thoughts are with Tina, Henry’s owners Sarah, Nick, and Valda, long-time groom Rachel Tolley, and all of this special horse’s connections.

 

 

It’s Been Pure Fun: Celebrating SAP Hale Bob OLD’s Exceptional Career

Ingrid Klimke and SAP Hale Bob OLD win CHIO Aachen in 2019. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

In what has been an enormous week for top-level retirements, with Cooley Master ClassVandiver, and Qing du Briot among those stepping back from the limelight, the end of eighteen-year-old SAP Hale Bob OLD‘s extraordinary career feels particularly poignant in its magnitude. The Oldenburg gelding (Helikon XX x Goldige, by Noble Champion), who was bred by Dr Rolf Lueck, had been on a trajectory towards another German team appearance this year at the World Equestrian Games, but was pulled up midway around the course at Pratoni’s test event CCIO4*-S earlier this month with a tendon injury.

Though it’s desperately sad not to see ‘Bobby’ bow out with another medal to his name, his achievements have been so far beyond the scale of many of his compatriots that we could wax lyrical about them endlessly – and our own image archives are so well-stocked with images of the big man doing his thing that we wanted to take a closer look back at his exceptional successes with Ingrid in the irons.

Bobby came to Ingrid’s stable as a five-year-old, having previously contested some showjumping classes — but it was his sire line, rather than any natural ‘wow’ factor, that really drew the rider’s attention. His sire, the Thoroughbred Helikon, was also the sire of Ingrid’s — and latterly, William Fox-Pitt’s — previous mount Seacookie, and at just shy of 72% blood, Bobby was bred to the hilt for the sport. To ensure an innate sure-footedness across the country, Ingrid first focused on hunting the young horse, then turned her attentions to the German young horse classes, or Bundeschampionat, which he contested with both Ingrid and her former partner, Andreas Busacker. Though he wasn’t a particularly easy horse in the beginning, and Ingrid considered selling him on, she quickly realised that the key to getting the best out of him was to connect with him on an interpersonal level — and soon, their famous friendship blossomed.

“Bobby is not a spectacular mover and he had a very poor Thoroughbred trot when I got him at the age of five. Bobby is a horse that showed his qualities later in his life. He has so much stamina, he is such a fighter, so fast and so bold, and so good in cross country,” said Ingrid to The Horse. “Now his dressage has really developed. Every year he is getting a little bit better and his jumping is neat. I think he has all the talent he needs.”

 

 

Ingrid Klimke and then-Horseware Hale Bob. Photo by Julia Rau.

Though we often look back at Bobby’s career as being part of many of Ingrid’s own extraordinary milestones, he actually also played a part in another major German rider’s competitive education, too: early on in his international career, he partnered 2021 Boekelo winner and 2020 Le Lion d’Angers winner Sophie Leube around her first FEI event, helping to lay a foundation for the rider that has become, in the decade since, a promising trajectory to a potential first senior championship appearance this year.

Just three years after that, Bobby and Ingrid would hit their first milestone, winning the CCI5* at Pau in 2014 — Ingrid’s first victory at the level. They would follow that up with several ‘nearly’ moments at five-star — they were second at Badminton in 2015, and ninth in 2017 after a freak stop in the showjumping scuppered their chances of victory — but that early Pau win was far from their zenith as a partnership.

 

Ingrid Klimke and Horseware Hale Bob at Badminton 2015. Photo by Nico Morgan.

There are few horses as prolific as Bobby, who boasts 70 FEI starts on his record and among those, 19 wins and 52 top-ten finishes. Most notable, perhaps, has been their consistent success as members of the German team: they’ve twice been European Champions, winning individual gold in 2017 at Strzegom and 2019 at Luhmühlen, and helping the German team to gold in 2019 and 2015 at Blair Castle. They finished fifth individually at Blair, and again at last year’s European Championships at Avenches, where they took home a team silver medal.

In 2018, they sat in second place following the dressage at the World Equestrian Games, and moved up into first after a tough day of cross-country — but it wasn’t to be, and the final showjumping fell agonisingly late after they’d jumped it, pushing them into individual bronze position. They’ve got an Olympics under their belt, too, and though that was a trickier week for them, they still contributed to Germany’s team silver medal, finishing 16th individually. Their shot at a second attempt, at last year’s Tokyo Olympics, was put on the back burner after Ingrid herself picked up an injury earlier in the year and was sidelined for the Games.

Ingrid Klimke and Horseware Hale Bob OLD at Luhmühlen. Photo by Libby Law Photography.

 

Though the title of German National Champions evaded them, Ingrid and Bobby consistently ended up on the podium of the CCI4*-S class at Luhmühlen, and they enjoyed great success at arguably the world’s greatest horse show, winning the CHIO Aachen CCI4*-S in both 2017 and 2019, and finishing second there in 2015.

Bobby’s FEI record reads like a pony-mad girl’s dream come true, but for Ingrid, and for those of us who had the sheer joy and privilege of following his career, he was more than a purveyor of world-class results — he was, as Ingrid always beamed during post-ride debriefs, his rider’s very best friend, and always, consistently, just the most fun horse to pilot. We can believe it, too: one look at his pricked ears and sky-high knees proved that he was as hungry for the flags as Ingrid and, had he not been derailed by this unfortunate injury, we’d no doubt have seen him fighting for another individual medal at this September’s World Equestrian Games.

While we won’t have the honour of doing so, we suspect that such a great horse will get his final moment in the spotlight with a formal retirement ceremony — once, of course, he’s had the time to recover fully under the careful auspices of Ingrid’s home team and veterinarian Dr Ingrid Hornig. Until then, he’s in the very best of care, and will enjoy a long and happy retirement in the field once his injury has sufficiently stabilised. In honour of everything he’s brought to eventing, we’ve pulled some of our favourite archive images to share with you — and to Bobby, we thank you for your great contribution to the sport. Thanks for the memories, old boy.

Ingrid Klimke and SAP Hale Bob OLD. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“He’s Been a Very Dear Friend”: Double Kentucky Winner Cooley Master Class Retires at 17

Oliver Townend and Cooley Master Class. Photo by Shelby Allen.

World Number One Oliver Townend has announced the retirement of seventeen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding Cooley Master Class (Ramiro B x The Swallow, by Master Imp), with whom he won the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event in both 2018 and 2019.

“Very emotional to announce the retirement of Cooley Master Class today. We bought him as a 4 year old and he has for the last 13 years been a fantastic competition partner but moreover a very dear friend,” wrote Oliver in a statement on his social media pages. “His competition highlights include back-to-back Kentucky 5* wins, 2nd at Maryland 5*, team silver at the European Championships and 16 international top 10 placings. He’s now 17 years old and although still fit and well, we’ve always said it’s important that he retires from competition on his own terms and we feel that the time has come.”

Oliver Townend and Cooley Master Class, winners of the 2019 Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

The gelding, who is owned by Angela Hislop, has been with Oliver throughout his international career, which began auspiciously in May of 2012 with a second-place finish in the CCI2*-L at Ireland’s now-defunct Tattersalls Three-Day Event. Bred by County Wicklow’s John Hagan, he began his early education in the showjumping ring, contesting four-year-old classes under the saddle of Ireland’s Cathal McMunn before spending his five-year-old season with Steven Smith. From there, he was sourced by Richard Sheane of Cooley Farm, who set about placing him with the right rider for the job ahead — and Sheane’s savviness in pairing him with Oliver would yield the Cooley empire its first five-star victory a handful of years later.

Oliver Townend and Cooley Master Class. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

Though the gelding has been prolific in his career accomplishments, he’s done so with a remarkably limited number of runs: at seventeen, he retires with just 29 FEI starts under his belt, and would often come out for just a couple of major outings per year, as part of Oliver and his team’s ongoing efforts to manage a number of ‘niggles’. In those 29 starts, he notched up an impressive 15 top five finishes, with two wins at Kentucky, a second place finish at the inaugural Maryland CCI5* last year, and a team silver and individual ninth place at the 2019 European Championships among the highlights of his career.

Oliver Townend and Cooley Master Class. Photo by Abby Powell.

Now, Cooley will step back from competition and enjoy a ‘second career’ as a hacking mount.

“Cooley is a huge character and has always made sure to be a yard favourite, so he will retire to a hacking lifestyle where he’ll continue to be treated and looked after like the king he is,” says Oliver. “I could not be more grateful to have had the honour of partnering Cooley for all these years. He’s achieved more than we could have dreamt of and we’ve literally travelled the world together with memories that’ll last a lifetime! Huge thanks to Angela Hislop, who has co-owned him with me, and who’s just down the road from his retirement home to make sure he stays spoilt rotten! Thanks for everything Cooley, and happy retirement!”

Tuesday News & Notes from Legends Horse Feeds

 

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Ingrid Klimke (@ingridklimke)

Though the subsequent announcement of SAP Hale Bob OLD‘s retirement comes as no surprise after his tendon injury at Pratoni, it’s still a huge moment for eventing — particularly as he’d have headed to Italy this September as one of the hot favourites to take a gold medal with Ingrid Klimke aboard. More importantly, though, he’s been such a cultural rallying point for fans of the sport, who’ve so enjoyed following his adventures with Ingrid and his team, and we’ll miss seeing his happy face out and about at events across Europe. We’ll be looking back at his career highlights this week but in the meantime, thank you, Bobby. You’ve been a real once-in-a-generation sort of horse.

Events Opening This Weekend: Woodloch Stable Young Event Horse QualifierGenesee Valley Hunt H.T.Round Top H.T.Huntington Farm H.T.The Maryland International + Horse TrialsSummer Coconino HT and Western Underground, Inc. TR,N,BN 3 Day Event

Events Closing This Weekend: Cobblestone Farms H.T. IGolden Spike H.T.River Glen June H.T.Queeny Park H.T.Middleburg H.T., Unionville H.T.Aspen Farm H.T.

Tuesday News & Notes from Around the World:

Planning a trip out in the trailer to get some schooling in ahead of your next event? It doesn’t have to feel like a big deal, and you can absolutely keep the whole experience a low-pressure one — with a bit of planning ahead. [Get ready to rock and roll(tops)]

I happily embrace slob life at the barn – or at the very least, I’m terrified of colourful clothing, so I stick to my navy, tan, and black outfits. But a lot of the people who also keep their horses at my yard are a bit younger than me and absolutely committed to getting the latest matchy-matchy set – much to the detriment of their bank accounts, and often, their self-esteem if they feel like they aren’t keeping up with the trends. [Here’s why none of it actually matters]

In a groundbreaking idea I’m absolutely going to steal, Icelandic office workers are calling on the services of freelance horses to craft their out-of-office replies. Absolutely none of this makes any sense, and I’m pretty sure it’s a fever dream I’m having right now, but I’m very into it. [Hwldlfhjsdlr to you too, sir]

With the hottest months fast approaching — and the most intense segment of the season coming with them — do you know how to spot the signs of exhaustion in your horse? And perhaps more importantly, do you know how to tackle it when it happens? [Brush up on your knowledge]

Listen to This: Catch up with what’s been going on in this year’s US eventing season — plus updates on the road to Pratoni — with the latest USEA Podcast.

Video Break:

Take a ride around Britain’s BE100 (Training) championship track at Badminton:

Monday News & Notes from FutureTrack

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Avery Klunick (@aveklondike_eventing)

What’s life actually like behind the scenes at Badminton? Avery Klunick, who’s a five-star eventer in her own right, documented the experience while helping Tamie Smith make her week a seriously successful one. Dream team vibes.

National Holiday: It’s World Turtle Day. Big up the turtles, I guess.

US Weekend Action:

Chattahoochee Hills H.T. / USEA Intercollegiate Championships (Fairburn, Ga.): [Website] [Results]

Fair Hill International H.T. (Elkton, Md.): [Website] [Results]

Hunt Club Farms H.T. (Berryville, Va.): [Website] [Results]

Otter Creek Spring H.T. (Wheeler, Wi.): [Website] [Results]

Spring Gulch H.T. (Littleton, Co.): [Website] [Results]

UK Weekend Results:

Fairfax & Favor Rockingham International: [Results]

Somerford Park (1): [Results]

Tweseldown (2): [Results]

Warwick Hall (1): [Results]

Global Eventing Round-up:

It’s been a big weekend for South American eventers, with FEI events in Chile, Argentina, Colombia, and Ecuador hosting levels up to CCI3*-L as they continue to develop pathways for their up-and-coming riders. Meanwhile, three European events slotted into the fixtures list for the weekend: Great Britain’s Rockingham Castle was joined by Austria’s Ried am Riederberg, which ran a CCI2*-S and CCI3*-S, and Spanish event Arenas de San Pedro, which hosted the same classes plus an additional CCI2*-L and pony two-star.

The Antipodeans had just one event on their radar over the weekend: Naracoorte in South Australia, which had a full roster of short format classes from two-star to four-star. Sarah Clark was victorious in the feature CCI4*-S riding her longtime partner LV Balou Jeanz, while Kirilee Hosier and AEA Flynn took top honours in the CCI3*-S. The CCI2*-S went the way of Chelsea Clarke, who rode Highfield Chiquita’s Chico to the win, climbing from second place after the first phase.

Your Monday Reading List:

One of the great success stories of the Pratoni test event was Beat Sax. At the age of 62, he made his Swiss team debut — which came after 45 years of eventing as a ‘200% amateur’. Even sweeter? The team won. [This is what dreams are made of]

I often feel that eventing’s greatest fundamental failing is its emphasis on toughness. When we prioritise being tough over all else, we learn to swallow our pain and ignore the warning signs, both mental and physical, of something more insidious. Writer Emma Friedman shares her own experience of pushing through after a fall — and why we shouldn’t be so quick to get back in the saddle. [Taking a step back isn’t a sign of weakness]

When we’re young, we think of ourselves as infallible in a lot of ways. And major health interventions such as hip replacements? Well, they’re just for old people, right? Not so much, as university hunter-jumper rider Rhian Murphy discovered when her hip started falling apart in her early teens. [Don’t worry, this has a happy ending]

While there are few things more frustrating than rejigging your horse’s bitting systems, it might be time. A recent study in Finland showed that the vast majority of horses are being ridden in poorly-fitting bits, which can have major consequences. [Time to conduct some routine checks]

The FutureTrack Follow:

Two things I love come together in one account here: horsey grooming tips, secrets, and life hacks — and an achingly cool goth gal at the helm of it all. Niki Baxter of Baxter Equine Services will make your horse look ten times better at competitions this year with her demos and advice, guaranteed.

Morning Viewing:

Give team chasing a go with British eventer Ashley Harrison:

Reporter’s Notebook: Pratoni Pulls it Out of the Bag

Christoffer Forsberg and Con Classic 2 tackle the first water. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It’s been a scant few days since my plane from Italy touched back down at London’s Gatwick Airport, but I’m still in denial: without a scrap of exaggeration, I’d give just about anything to head straight back to Pratoni del Vivaro, where the vibe and attitude is as sunny as the weather (and that’s pretty damn sunny, as my odd collection of tanlines will confirm). The CCIO4*-S Nations Cup also acted as a test event for this September’s World Championships, giving us all a valuable chance to check out the place and figure out what to expect when the big week rolls around — and as I continue to sift through all my many notes and interview recordings to bring you other people’s perspectives on the place, I wanted to take a moment to share some of my own thoughts: thoughts on the hills, thoughts on the road systems, and thoughts on all those Pietros.

Spain’s Eduardo via Dufresne and Maribera Pomes 15.6 cross the country at Pratoni. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

On the worthy challenge for the world’s best — and those on their way up

I’d guessed, as I glanced out the window of my EasyJet flight with a space gin in hand, that Pratoni might be a hilly event: as we coasted through our descent into the heart of Italy’s Lazio region, a great swathe of undulations unfurled below us. But as I’d never been to Pratoni, nor seen much in the way of footage from previous events there, I wasn’t prepared for just how unique the terrain at the event would be. Pratoni del Vivaro sits in an area of protected parkland, all of which used to be part of a chain of volcanos in the area some millions of years ago. The lingering effects of this make it an event like no other, and one that feels uniquely horse friendly: yes, there are relentless rolling hills through the crater, but there’s also extraordinary volcanic ash sand, which has a very different molecular make-up to other types of sand and soil, and simply cannot clump together on a molecular level. This means that it remains consistent, whether there’s a prolonged dry period (very likely) or heavy rain (less so). It won’t become mud, it drains spectacularly so doesn’t tend to give a ‘greasy’ feel on the hills, and it remains springy and almost loamy even when very arid. (Unrelated, but still fascinating, is that the curious science of these ‘ex-volcanoes’ actually has some effect on magnetic fields, too, and there’s a hill very near the event in which gravity is counteracted and rolling objects head upwards. It’s also easier to walk up this hill than down it — though I don’t suspect the same can be said for the hills at the event itself.)

My role as a journalist for the week at Pratoni was simple: get to know the venue, and as many of the secrets of those hills as possible, ahead of the World Eventing Champs this autumn. Preparations for a Championship aren’t always straightforward, and as we saw when Tryon took over the hosting role back in 2018, sometimes they can feel outright chaotic, but I was pleasantly surprised by Pratoni. Beyond some minor logistical tweaks, which are so small and uninteresting that they don’t even warrant me writing about for fear of boring you all to death, everything’s coming along swimmingly: no, they’re not trying to build a number of luxury resorts on site, nor are they constructing five-star restaurants within the premises, but in all ways, Pratoni is prioritising the horses to great effect. The central ‘hub’ of the event — the stables, grazing, arenas, and ‘back of house’ rider and official areas are all very close together, and it was easy enough to watch a test, nip up to the rider restaurant to grab a gelato and a bottle of water, and then head back down to the arena having only missed part of the next. Though the spectator area was mostly still being built and mapped out while I was on site, the country fair, VIP pavilion, and public bars and restaurants are similarly brilliantly located and will hone their focus on local produce and artisans, which will be a real treat for visitors. They’ll also enjoy how accessible the viewing is out on course; there’s a hill you can stand on that gave me a view of seven different combinations, plus a further six single fences, and I could happily have stayed there all day — but when I did meander away to get closer to some fences, I was delighted to find a big screen down at the water complex that allowed spectators to watch all the action unfold. It’s a small touch to implement, but one that does make a huge difference to the experience of watching a competition.

For me, the most important thing to keep in mind when assessing a venue ahead of a Championship is how it contributes to a fair challenge that gives the very best in the world something to sink their teeth into, while also offering useful educational opportunities for those horses and riders who are just stepping into the big leagues. Of course, the majority of the credit must go to course designer Giuseppe della Chiesa, but what a playground he’s got here. While Pratoni’s defining characteristic is its hills, it does also boast several flat loops, which Giuseppe has placed the tail end of his course over; this allows him to test stamina over the terrain in the first two-thirds of the course, but to ease off of tired horses and let them get home happily in the last third. His use of angled brushes and accuracy questions in these final couple of minutes mean that we should still see plenty of influence and drive-bys, but hopefully very few ugly scenes. I also appreciate the way he’s designed long routes: they’re not big looping circles through combinations, which can disrupt the rhythm and lead to ‘picky’ efforts — instead, they’re certainly very slow routes, but set out to ensure that the horse flows through and gains confidence from doing so.

The time will certainly be a factor, and good galloping horses who are real stayers will come into their own here. The clever decision to put the final phase on grass, too, means that this shouldn’t end up being a dressage competition — the gentle undulations of the jumping arena, combined with the aftereffects of the previous day’s exertions and the challenging track designed by Grand Prix showjumping designer Uliano Vezziani, who has been so influential in bringing grass arenas back to top-level jumping, will mean that the competition will surely come down to the wire in September. And that’s what we need: an event that isn’t a walkover even for the very best horses and riders, but also gives developing eventing nations a chance to grow and learn through the week. Pratoni feels like a treasure trove of competitive and educational opportunities, and I’m excited to see how it plays out when we get to the real deal.

The Swiss team returns for a second victory in Pratoni. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

On the Swiss team, who just keep getting better and better

The greatest success story of the test event was the Swiss team, who have always had the potential to be excellent but are finally taking the bit between their teeth and riding aggressively, rather than playing it safe and relying on other teams’ mistakes to get themselves a placing. That’s due, in large part, to the help of Andrew Nicholson, who was drafted in to help them with their cross-country riding in the lead-up to the 2019 European Championships. He’s still in the role now, and when you watch him at work, it’s hardly a surprise he’s stuck around — he’s a natural coach and takes real pride and joy in helping to produce his riders to chase down results. The pride he felt on Saturday, when five of the seven clears inside the time were delivered by Swiss riders, will have been enormous — and probably bigger, even, than their eventual win of the Nations Cup leg, which was hard fought until the very end. They’re starting their season on a serious high, and that’s a great place to begin their pathway to Pratoni. Their main goal there is to produce a result good enough to earn them a qualification for the Paris Olympics, but every time I see them — and I’ve been watching them closely for several years — they get better and better. They’re very nearly at the point where they can start thinking realistically about chasing down medals.

Robin Godel, who won the test event, continues to be absolutely world class — I faintly remember describing him as a ‘continental Andrew Nicholson’ for his natural instincts and horsemanship about four years ago, and his union with the man himself has brought him to a whole new level. He’s got ice in his veins and doesn’t seem to feel pressure at all, but watching him across the country is a masterclass in innate focus and balance. I’ve been backing him and Ireland’s Cathal Daniels as the two best cross-country riders of their generation for a long time, and my resolve on that front has only been bolstered by his exceptional performances here. I’m rooting for him to have a good stab at an individual medal this September, which would help to shift some of Switzerland’s keen interest in showjumping over to eventing.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Eventing Nation (@goeventing)

Beat Sax offered the feel-good story of the week when, at the age of 62, he made his team debut, contributing to that big Swiss win with his only horse, Secret IV. This debut came after over four decades of competing, proving that dreams don’t give up as long as you keep on fighting for them — and everyone I spoke to told me with enormous fondness that he’d been a real lynchpin for team spirit. That can never be underestimated: we saw last season how good the US team can be when it’s cohesive and collaborative, as it was at Aachen and Boekelo, and so having a team member like Beat, who not only delivered the goods on Saturday, but also keeps everyone in the winning frame of mind, is crucial.

On the other end of the age spectrum, 22-year-old Nadja Minder was impressive on both her horses, and was the only rider to bring two horses home clear and inside the time on Saturday. (She also told me I was cool at one point, but she’s young and her judgment calls will improve over time.) Like Beat, she brought a palpably sunny energy to the team, and I never saw her without a smile on her face all week — but in the saddle, she’s laser-focused and will absolutely be a rider to keep a close eye on over the next few years. It’s no surprise at all that Andrew’s having a jolly time coaching these guys, because they’ve all got everything it takes and the right attitudes, too.

Pietro Sandei and Rubis du Prere. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

On the proliferation of Pietros 

“I have a riddle for you to solve while you’re in Rome,” Swedish rider Christoffer Forsberg sagely messaged me at the close of the competition. “What is the name of the rock upon which the Catholic Church was built?”

“Oppression, probably,” I replied, before delivering my final answer: Pietro — the Italian version of Peter, one of Jesus’s apostles, and Petra, the rock upon which he built his first church.

Pietro could feasibly be the answer to just about any question asked about, or during, the test event and indeed, when I put up a question box on the EN Instagram story, one of you even asked why there are so many of them. At Pratoni, you could use it as some sort of bird call: stand in the middle of the lorry park and shout ‘Pietro’ and about ten men would probably come running. One time at Luhmühlen, consummate Italian dreamboat Pietro Roman told me that the ratio of Pietros in eventing is actually extraordinarily high as it’s not as common a name as you might expect in Italy. I don’t think I believe him.

An Italian traffic jam as someone spots a friend and stops for a chat. It’s fine, we’ll just hang out here.

On embracing my inner Alberto Ascari (reluctantly)

Pratoni has an extraordinarily rich history that dates back to the 1960 Rome Olympics — which also must be roughly the last time anyone bothered to pave the roads. Driving in the area around the event is an extreme sport in and of itself, with extraordinary gradients and hairpin bends that you have to navigate, a touch sweatily, in first gear, and a ‘Hail Mary and sod the rest’ attitude shown by the locals that adds just a touch of zest to every experience. Spotted someone they want a chat with on a roundabout? No bother — an Italian will simply stop with no warning and have a chat. Going 70kph in a 30? The Italian behind you will drive so close behind you that you’ll suspect his Fiat is programmed to operate like a Labrador, getting a good sniff of your rear end before roaring past you at a speed that would make even a German on the autobahn wince. I’ve been back in England for 24 hours and have already had to rein in my newfound Italian spirit, which has seen me do THAT very Italian all-purpose hand gesture and loudly call someone an idiot out of my open car window several times. Whoops.

The views are phenomenal — the whole town of Rocca di Papa and its offshoots sit on a vantage point high enough to see practically all of central Italy, but god forbid you get distracted while winding up or down the pseudo-mountain, because there’s not much in the way of guardrails to stop you from plummeting to an admittedly very scenic death. There’s also, for some reason, always Italians just wandering willy-nilly in the roads, so you have to approach all those bends with caution, because even if there’s an available sidewalk, they love to just meander up the middle of the lane and seduce their own demise. And don’t get me started on the one-way systems: Google Maps will lie to you, and dare you to do potentially terribly dangerous and illegal things, but as it turns out, even the people familiar with the roads are slinging back a limoncello and doing it too. Welcome to Pratoni, where the rules mean nothing and the points don’t matter (unless they’re earned while on a horse).

To be honest, you’re not actually much better off on foot, as I discovered while trying to work out crosswalks in Italy. In the UK, the system is pretty simple — if you so much as glance at the crosswalk, all the traffic in the vicinity comes to a juddering halt and everyone tuts while you do an apologetic little jig-jog across the road, waving your gratitude with one of those uncomfortable little smiles that just makes your lips disappear. In Italy, that little jig-jog becomes an all-out panicky sprint as you realise that the oncoming traffic simply is not stopping. The next time you come to a crosswalk, you’ll act more cautiously and wait for the road to clear, and then all the drivers will shout at you for being an idiot and not understanding that you have the right of way. It’s an emotional rollercoaster, frankly. On the plus side, everything around here is impressively cheap, so you can calm your nerves with a couple of litres of wine without having to break a banknote.

On falling in love (with horses)

One of the greatest joys of travelling abroad for events is getting the chance to spot horses I’ve not seen before, and meet riders I haven’t yet encountered. It’s why I love covering the Six and Seven-Year-Old World Championships at Le Lion d’Angers so much, but a CCI4*-S always throws up a good field full of newbies to my personal radar — and this week was no different. There were a few horses I really loved watching, and whose careers I’ll be following with interest.

Emiliano Portale opens up Aracne dell’Esercito Italiano’s extraordinary stride while crossing Pratoni’s terrain. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The foremost of those was Aracne dell’Esercito Italiano, ridden by Emiliano Portale for the home side. The ten-year-old Italian Sport Horse stallion, who was actually bred by the Italian army, finished just outside the top twenty and second in the Italian National Championship, and although his first phase performance was hampered by some tempestuous moments, he shone in the jumping phases. It was during cross-country that I fell irreversibly in love: his natural gallop is extraordinary and looks tailor-made for Pratoni’s relentless hills, and it’s paired with a phenomenal jump that helped him to deliver one of just seven faultless showjumping rounds, too. A glance back at his record previously shows that he can easily go sub-30 when he doesn’t get starstruck in the main arena, and he’s been consistently quick and reliable across the country, with five international wins already in his short career.

“This is what it’s all about for the fans,” said Sam Watson with a grin as he patiently listened to me wax lyrical about the horse on Saturday evening. “The smile on your face while you’re talking about him tells me everything.”

He’s spot on, too: while there’s always plenty of hype built around the sport’s big names, I think a lot of the fun comes from spotting something that’s not in the spotlight and cheering it all the way to the finish. I’m not sure I’ve ever taken so many photos of a horse simply galloping from one fence to another, but Aracne warranted it, and in total fangirl fashion, I had to track Emiliano down as he packed up his lorry, simply to tell him how much I adored his horse. I’d love to see him make a return to Pratoni this September but whatever happens, he’s just writing the first chapters of his upper-level career, and he looks set to be a seriously exciting horse for the Italian front. For now, I’ll be content with scribbling his name in (admittedly very large) hearts on the cover of my notebooks. He is high-speed poetry in motion.

Aminda Ingulfsson and Joystick. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Another horse of the week for me was Joystick, who was best of the third-placed Swedish front, finishing eleventh with Aminda Ingulfson. Aminda made her own four-star debut at the end of 2019, and this was just her second Nations Cup appearance, but as chef d’equipe Fred Bergendorff told me on Sunday, she’s a real fighter and exactly the kind of person he wants on the squad. I got to know her over a jolly dinner at the event, so was always going to follow her rounds with interest, but even with unbiased eyes her team ride — one of two horses she had at Pratoni — really caught my eye. He was reasonably quick across the country and jumped a faultless showjumping round, but what really won me over was how much fun he looked to be having as approached every fence. He absolutely radiated joy in his work (fittingly, given his name), and he was so obviously game and genuine, with a super connection to his rider. Some days it’s fun to deep-dive into performance analysis; other days, all I want to do is sit back and enjoy watching the horses who look for the flags and delight in digging deep. He’s absolutely one of those cool characters.

Eduardo via Dufresne and Maribera Pomes 15.6. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

So many of the Spanish team’s horses’ names read like microwave models (“the Taraje CP 21.10 comes with five heat settings, and can defrost a chicken in ten minutes!”), but there’s some real talent in their oddly-monikered line-up. Eduardo via Dufresne had a bit of a seat-of-the-pants round across the country with Maribera Pomes 15.6, and they were one of rather a lot of combinations to pick up a drive-by at the first combination, but the game, gutsy little nine-year-old ticked so many boxes for me: she’s an Anglo-Arab, which has always been enormously appealing, and she’s got all the scope, talent, and quirks inherent to the breed. She looks the very picture of ‘try’ and certainly found her way out of some tight spots on Saturday. Produced sympathetically at these top levels, she should make a really cool, successful little horse.

Newly relocated Kiwi Amanda Pottinger was a real one-to-watch with her top horse, Just Kidding, at Badminton — but Pratoni proved that she’s got a very good double-hander at the upper levels. Good Timing might have been making his four-star debut in Italy, but he tackled both courses with a maturity well beyond his years, adding neither jumping nor time on Saturday and tipping just one rail on Sunday for a spot in the top twenty. His flatwork isn’t where his stablemate’s is yet, but it’ll get there — and in her short tenure in Europe so far, Amanda has proven she’s an exemplary producer of event horses. I’ll be excited to watch her develop her string in her time here.

A very keen Equistros Siena Just Do It heads out of the start box with Ingrid Klimke after nailng the first-phase lead. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It wasn’t to be for the Germans this week as a team, but individually, they had some exciting moments: I confess I’ve never wholly backed Ingrid Klimke‘s Equistros Siena Just Do It, because her very obvious talent has always come paired with a tendency towards tempestuousness that I wasn’t sure she’d get past. But Ingrid certainly knows better than me, and whatever she’s been doing over the winter with Siena has paid dividends. The mare looked at her best in all three phases, with a will to win that I hadn’t previously seen in her. In a tricky week for Ingrid, that three-phase performance will have meant an awful lot.

Germany’s Sophie Leube and J’Adore Moi. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Elsewhere in the German line-up, Sophie Leube and J’Adore Moi continue to be one of my favourite upper-level partnerships, and I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am to see them among the entries for Luhmühlen CCI5* next month, which will be their debut at the level. Though they weren’t in the upper echelons of the leaderboard this week with their ten time penalties across the country, this extraordinarily attractive mare has all the goods, looks like an oil painting, and moves for a ten when she can settle into her work, and I truly believe Sophie is one of the most underrated riders in Europe at the moment, despite winning Boekelo last year with this horse and taking a Le Lion win the season prior with Sweetwaters Ziethen TSF. I’d put money on her winning a medal of some sort with J’Adore Moi in the next couple of years.

Finally, an honourable mention must go to the ride of Spain’s Paula Urquiza Domingo. ‘Hand Solo del Amor‘ must be the only event horse in history to have a name that so blatantly references a very specific type of self-care.

Pratoni 2022 Test Event: Website, Live Scoring, Live StreamEntries, EN’s Coverage, EN’s Twitter, EN’s Instagram

Friday Video from SmartPak: Snippets from Saumur

In the midst of all the high-profile events we’ve been on the ground at over the past few weeks, there have been some other significant international fixtures running concurrently — such as Saumur, which hosted classes up to CCI4*-L in France the week prior to Badminton. Didn’t manage to fit a bit of French eventing stalking into your busy viewing schedule? Soak up the vibes in less than the time it takes to down a glass of wine with this montage of clips.


Ramping back up into full work for the spring? SmartPak has everything you need to make the transition back to show season. Click here for more.

Wednesday Video from Kentucky Performance Products: Go Eventing in Ireland with Joseph Murphy

As someone who’s competed in the USA and UK, and travels around to cover the sport in other countries, too, I always find it really interesting to see the difference in the lower-to-mid levels, whether they’re being tackled by amateur riders or being used to produce young horses. Every country has a different overall ethos for these levels and how technically demanding they can be, and every country also has its own unique terrain to take into account. That’s why I was fascinated to dive into Irish eventer Joseph Murphy‘s recent helmet cam from Glenpatrick Eventing, where he piloted six-year-old My Foxhall Kit in an educational early run at EI110 (US Preliminary or BE Novice), finishing second. Check out his video and let us know — does eventing in Ireland appeal to you?

Elevate®

Performance horses are susceptible to exercise-induced muscle damage. Vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant, limits the damage caused by everyday oxidative stress. It maintains healthy muscle and nerve functions, and supports a strong immune system in horses of all ages.

Elevate was developed to provide a highly bioavailable source of natural vitamin E (d-alpha-tocopheryl acetate) to horses.

Check out this KPP article: Vitamin E and the Performance Horse – A Winning Combination.

The horse that matters to you matters to us®. KPPusa.com

Event Horse Owners’ Association Launches League for British-Based Competitors

The EHOA League aims to rewards horses for consistency across the 2022 season. Pictured are prolific upper-level pair Simon Grieve and Mr Fahrenheit III. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Eventing is a tough sport no matter which way you look at it, and financially, it can be particularly galling if you’ve put the time and effort into producing a winning upper-level performance and still find yourself counting the pennies to truck home again. The lack of financial reward is also one of the reasons many riders find it tough to attract and retain owners. That’s why the creation of incentivised leagues is so important to the culture of our sport, and why we were particularly excited to hear the news that the Event Horse Owners’ Association was launching their own for this season.

The league focuses its attentions on horses competing at the four-star level, and uses its own unique points system, created in conjunction with the data whizz-kids at EquiRatings. Points can be earned at any CCI4*-S or CCI4*-L competitions on British soil for finishing in the top 15 at CCI4*-S or top 25 at CCI4*-L, and can be lost for cross-country jumping errors across the season, too, with an aim of rewarding consistency across the year.

Here’s how the points system breaks down:

  • 25pts for winning a CCI4*-L, reducing by 1pt per place to all top 25 finishers
  • 15pts for winning a CCI4*-S, reducing by 1pt per place to all top 15 finishers
  • -5pts for 20 to less than 40 jumping penalties on cross-country
  • -10pts for 40 or more jumping penalties on cross-country
  • -15pts for failing to finish the cross-country phase

A horse’s four best points values will be added together to get their year-end ranking, but all negative points accrued across the year will then be subtracted. If two horses are tied at the top in the year-rankings, the horse with the highest-value individual finishing score will take the win (for example, if horse A and horse B are tied on 73 points, but horse A has a CCI4*-L win worth 25 points, and horse B’s best result is a third-place finish in a CCI4*-L, worth 23 points, horse A will take the league). If their best result shares an equal points value, the winner will be decided by which had the lower finishing score in their highest value result — for example, if horse A and horse B both have a CCI4*-L win, but horse A finished on a score of 32.5 and horse B finished on a score of 28, horse B will take the league.

Points will be counted from last week’s Chatsworth International onwards, and in order to be eligible, at least one of the horse’s owners must join the EHOA before August 1, 2022. The 2022 league has a prize pot of £20,000, which will be divided between the winner, who will receive a minimum of £15,000, the runner-up, and a special prize winner for the best horse ridden by a rider aged 28 or younger.

To check out the EHOA, become a member, or find out more about the league, click here.

Tuesday News & Notes from Legends Horse Feeds

While we were away sunning ourselves in Italy, back in Englansd, the Chatsworth International Horse Trials finally returned to the calendar for the first time since 2019. It’s brilliant to see this iconic fixture back, particularly as its four-star course is one of the true tests of the level — but even better is spotting this super photo gallery from Hannah Cole, who spotted Ros Canter’s longtime groom Sarah Charnley out on a horse herself. We love seeing our sport’s supergrooms nailing their own competitive goals.

Events Opening This Weekend: Essex H.T.Chattahoochee Hills H.T.Summer Coconino H.T. I,

Events Closing This Weekend: Flora Lea Farm YEH and Mini EventCarriage House Farm Combined TestGenesee Valley Riding & Driving Club Spring H.T.Poplar Place June H.T.Ocala Summer H.T. IMCTA H.T. at Shawan DownsGMHA June H.T.The Spring Event at ArcherIEA Horse Trials

News & Notes from Around the World:

When we seek out viewpoints different from our own, it’s important that we keep intersectionality in mind. Coined as a way to distinguish between multifaceted feminist struggles, ‘intersectionality’ refers to the cross-section of prejudices a person might have to live through — for example, a Black woman will likely have to deal with racial prejudice as well as misogyny, which a white woman is less likely to have experienced. One intersectional viewpoint we’ve not seen much of in the amplification of diverse voices is that of a Black woman with a disability — but this piece on para rider Tegan Vincent-Cooke changes that. [Hear her perspective]

Every barn has one — the person who’s habitually late to pay their board, leaving the owner and manager in the lurch as a result. But legally, what can a barn’s owners actually do about it, and how should they implement the consequences? And, if you hit a rocky patch, how much trouble can you expect to get in for late payment? [Seriously, just pay your bills]

In a sad change to the USEA calendar, California’s Copper Meadows will be no more. You can read more about it in the event organisers’ statement. [Thanks for the memories]

Video Break:

Revisit Kentucky’s first phase with Elisa Wallace and Let It Be Lee:

Who Jumped it Best: Pratoni Test Event Edition

The CCIO4*-S FEI Nations Cup and World Championships test event at Italy’s Pratoni del Vivaro is a very big deal and we should take it all very seriously indeed…but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to dive straight into one of our favourite games here at EN.

Italy’s Elisa Vincenti and Herminia jump the oxer at nine. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Our ‘Who Jumped it Best’ question today is fence nine on the course, which ran over the venue’s extraordinary and unique hills. Though this simple, MIMed timber spread caused no issues through the day, it certainly commanded respect: competitors, who had begun their course on a long uphill pull to fence 7AB, which was situated at the crest of a hill, then coasted back down the hill to a large rolltop at eight and then down to this oxer, which was on nearly flat ground but under one of the few trees on course. That meant horses had to assess the dappled light, while riders had to take responsibility and use the fence to rebalance the canter ahead of the coffin combination they’d tackle next.

And so, armed with a bit of context, we turn the judgment call over to you. Take a look at a selection of the week’s competitors and then scroll down to decide who had the jump of the day.

Switzerland’s Robin Godel and Grandeur de Lully CH. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

France’s Nicolas Touzaint and Absolut Gold HDC. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Italy’s Federico Sacchetti and GRC Shiraz. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Italy’s Fabio Fani Ciotti and Suttoco Georg. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Sweden’s Sofia Sjoborg and Bryjamolga van het Marienshof Z .Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Italy’s Emiliano Portale and Aracne dell’Esercito Italiano. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Brazil’s Carlos Parro and Goliath. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Germany’s Andreas Dibowski and FRH Corrida. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Pratoni 2022 Test Event: Website, Live Scoring, Live StreamEntries, EN’s Coverage, EN’s Twitter, EN’s Instagram

Monday News & Notes from FutureTrack

 

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Eventing Nation (@goeventing)

I’m still shoulders-deep in writing all sorts of fascinating Pratoni content for you all from my dreamy trip to Italy, but I wanted to make the time, and the space, to highlight one story in particular that stood out to me — that of 62-year-old Beat Sax who, after over forty years of eventing, finally got to make his team debut for Switzerland in the Nations Cup competition, riding his only horse, Secret IV. That the Swiss ultimately won the competition is the cherry on top of the cake — I don’t think I saw anyone happier to realise a dream this week than Beat, who was also a galvanising force in the team’s cohesive spirit, too. There’s a forty year age gap between him and his teammate Nadja Minder, and that, to me, is one of the things that makes eventing truly brilliant.

National Holiday: It’s National Mimosa Day. I celebrate this daily, but okay.

US Weekend Action:

Tryon International Spring Three-Day Event (Mill Spring, Nc.): [Website] [Results]

Galway Downs Spring H.T. (Temecula, Ca.): [Website] [Results]

Hitching Post Farm H.T. (South Royalton, Vt.): [Website] [Results]

Majestic Oaks Ocala H.T. (Ocala, Fl.): [Website] [Results]

Spokane Sport Horse Spring H.T. (Spokane, Wa.): [Website] [Results]

Texas Rose Horse Park H.T. (Tyler, Tx.): [Website] [Results]

Unionville May H.T. (Unionvilla, Pa.): [Website] [Results]

WindRidge Farm Spring H.T. (Mooresboro, Nc.): [Website] [Results]

Winona H.T. (Hanoverton, Oh.): [Website] [Results]

UK Weekend Action:

Chatsworth International: [Results]

Floors Castle International: [Results]

Aston-le-Walls (2): [Results]

Firle: [Results]

Llanymynech: [Results]

Mendip Plains: [Results]

Global Eventing Coverage:

FEI Nations Cup CCIO4*-S/WEG Test Event (Pratoni del Vivaro, Italy): [Website] [Results] [EN’s Coverage]

Your Monday Reading List:

So much of modern-day horse care and conditioning feels like it comes down to arbitrary barometers passed along over generations. In a bid to bring science and subjectivity into the equation, though, researchers in Australia are working on developing a microchip that charts body temperature, helping caregivers better manage the critical cool down period after strenuous exercise. [Is it getting hot in here?]

The use of CBD products has skyrocketed around the world. But can it help your horse, or is it just another snake oil fad? [Pass us the sticky icky icky]

Ever wondered what it might be like to abandon your normal life in the US and hurl yourself headlong into UK eventing culture? The answer is ‘wet, mostly’, if you ask me, but rider and writer Lindsey Colburn has much more interesting insights for you in her latest blog. [It’s been a rollercoaster]

 

The FutureTrack Follow:

If you’re a fan of eventing art, you’ll be as enchanted by Daniel Crane’s work as I am — particularly his atmospheric paintings of the Badminton trot-up and stables. Bliss.

Morning Viewing:

Want to cling on to Pratoni’s sunshine and good vibes a little longer? Yeah, me too. Crack open a Peroni and rewatch all the test event action here:

Switzerland Sweeps the Board in Pratoni Test Event Finale

Robin Godel and Grandeur de Lully CH secure their first four-star victory at Pratoni. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Every part of this week’s World Championships test event at Pratoni del Vivaro has been a fact-finding mission, and today’s showjumping was certainly no different: this is an eventing course design debut for Uliano Vezziani, whose remit is ordinarily CSI5* showjumping, and who designs courses for the Global Champions league and World Cups among his accomplishments. He is, perhaps, perfectly suited for this role, though: he’s pushed for the re-introduction of grass arenas at major Italian showjumping venues, which allowed him to take a considered, clever approach to his job today, which he will reprise in September.

Of the 46 starters, just 16 produced clear rounds in the final phase, and 14 of those finished inside the 93 seconds allowed — a mere 30.4% of the entire field. This is actually a touch higher than Pratoni’s usual rate of attrition at this level, but certainly proved that the showjumping here can be plenty influential. This is in part because of the clever decision not to use one of the surfaced arenas for the final phase but rather, to make use of a spacious and gently undulating grass arena next to the dressage arena. Surrounded on two sides by grandstands and with plentiful viewing space on the hill on the arena’s far side, it made for an exciting spot for spectators — and also challenged riders to make savvy decisions with the plentiful space and fluctuations in their approaches.

Robin Godel proves his class once again with his biggest career win so far. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Ultimately, it would be cross-country leaders Robin Godel and Grandeur de Lully CH who triumphed, delivering an impeccable clear just over half a second over the time allowed to secure the win — and to tip the balance in the team competition, too, which hung on a knife’s edge throughout the afternoon’s final rounds.

“It’s very wonderful for us — it’s a good beginning of the season, and it’s a place that’s been great for us as a team,” says Robin. “To have Andrew Nicholson has really helped us — we really see the difference with him. Today I didn’t feel a lot of pressure; of course, I was very focused, but not a lot of pressure. It was good pressure.”

Ingrid Klimke‘s Equistros Siena Just Do It had dropped out of the lead into overnight third yesterday, but a fault-free round today pushed them back up into second and showed a real progression for the ten-year-old Westfalian, whose talent had previously often been overshadowed by tempestuous exuberance. Her much-improved 22.7 on the flat, which beat out stablemate SAP Hale Bob OLD in the first phase, her 5.2 time penalties yesterday, and her faultless round today make her a very exciting prospect for Ingrid’s championship aims.

Tim Price and Falco take fourth place. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

France’s Nicolas Touzaint, who became the European Champion here in 2007, made the most of his knowledge and positive experience of the venue to finish third with Absolut Gold HDC, who climbed from first-phase twelfth place, adding just 0.8 time penalties to his dressage score of 28.6 and producing a foot-perfect round today. Last year’s Pau victors Tim Price and Falco took fourth after finishing less than half a second over the allowed time, while 22-year-old Swiss rider Nadja Minder continued to make an enormously positive impression, taking fifth on team horse Toblerone.

Mélody Johner and Toubleu du Rueire take a spot in the top ten with one of two faultless double-clears. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Just two horse-and-rider pairs finished on their dressage scores: Switzerland’s Mélody Johner and Toubleu du Rueire took eighth place on 35.4, while Swedish pathfinders Malin Josefsson and Golden Midnight ended up twelfth on 37.9.

The individual top ten in Pratoni’s CCIO4*-S test event.

The Swiss team returns for a second victory in Pratoni. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The team competition came down to the wire, largely because of the final phase’s order of go: individual representatives went first, followed by team riders in reverse order of merit. While France had led by just a tenth of a penalty after yesterday’s cross-country, second-placed Switzerland’s margin to catch them up widened after Beat Sax and Secret IV knocked three rails, putting them into the drop score spot. While that didn’t give France, who’d added four penalty’s in Christopher Six‘s round with Totem de Brecey, a rail in hand, Nadja Minder‘s knocked pole at fence eight with Toblerone gave them another 3.4 penalties to play with — and with just one French rider, and one Swiss rider, left to go, the tension in the stands was palpable.

But Maxime Livio‘s surprise two rails with his European Championships ride Api du Libaire put Switzerland into the top spot, and after Robin Godel pulled off the goods, they secured the team win — as well as the individual — by more than a rail over France. It’s an excellent start to the Nations Cup series for the Swiss, but more importantly, it’s an interesting exercise in comparison: Switzerland won the Nations Cup here in 2019, but did so in a much different style. There, they played it safe, delivering slow, steady rounds and allowing other teams to knock themselves out of contention on cross-country day with mistakes on course. This time, though, they were prepared to take calculated, educated risks and ride much more aggressively, which resulted in four out of four Swiss team riders, plus one individual, coming home clear inside the time over yesterday’s cross-country course.

This can be attributed in large part to the help of Andrew Nicholson, who began helping the Swiss team with their cross-country training and performances in the lead-up to the 2019 European Championships, but he’s quick — and rightly so — to point out that the riders have always had the ability.

“They’re nice people to work with, because they try very, very hard and they listen to everything you say — which makes it a little bit more pressure when you see them leave the startbox, because you know they’re going to ride the lines you’ve told them,” says Andrew with a laugh. “You have to really hope that that works, and trust that they’ll do it. I was very proud of them yesterday, and to see them in the jumping today, I think they’re unbelievable.”

No man is an island, not even Andrew Nicholson: his role in the Swiss camp is as part of a bigger machine that’s become more cohesive over the past couple of years, and he’s also encouraged his riders to work together and learn from each other’s successes and mistakes to fast-track their journey to serious competitive results.

“We’ve got a very good crew — the dressage coach and the jumping coaches. We don’t have a lot of people on the edges, but the ones we have are tops. When you can train them, and there’s groups of riders together, you can encourage them to watch each other and feed off each other. Then, when they get to the big competitions, like this team competition, they can remember what the other riders did wrong in training that could help them on the day — you can say one simple thing that they’ve been told in training, and it can really help. It’s that sort of team that you want to make a difference with, and at the end of the day, what makes a good team result is three good individual results.”

Aminda Ingulfson and Joystick are best of the Swedish team in eleventh. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The French continue to look very strong ahead of September’s World Championships, while Sweden’s ongoing quest to build team mileage and move from consistent Nations Cup performers to world-stage contenders continues on apace: the three team riders whose scores were counted finished in eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth, with team debutant Aminda Ingulfson best of the bunch on Joystick. Swedish riders also delivered the two fastest clears of the day, with Malin Josefsson and Golden Midnight the fastest and Aminda and Joystick the second fastest — but their third place saw them slightly off the pace on the score board with a margin of 14.5 penalties between them and France.

“In the dressage we didn’t get the points that we wanted because we didn’t deserve more, basically, but I think that we made it happen,” says Swedish chef d’equipe Fred Bergendorff. “We started too far behind from the beginning, but even so, they’re working well. I’d like to get better than where we are at the moment; we’re too far behind, and when you have the very best horses in the world here in September, everything will be a little bit sharper and to climb like we did today might not happen in the same way. We have to start in a better point.”

Now that we find ourselves on the back end of the pandemic, though, and with travel restrictions lifted, Fred and his team — who are based across the UK, Sweden, and Germany, are finding it slightly easier to gain that sort of cohesion that’s been helping the Swiss so much. Their lack of proximity, though, remains one of their primary challenges to overcome en route to domination on the world stage, but Fred is optimistic: “We have a bit of a limited budget, so we can’t travel around [for training] that much with the riders, but as a coaching team we want to be better, and as riders they want to be better. Sometimes you have horses that are a bit more difficult in the dressage, and sometimes you have riders that find it a bit harder than the cross-country, and that’s sort of how it goes at the moment, but it is on the way up, I do know that. We’ve got exciting young horses and exciting riders, too — like Sofia Sjoborg, who we had as an individual at the Europeans and who went to Badminton last week [before coming here], and Aminda Ingulfson, who hasn’t been at this level very long. She’s a real fighter, and we have a few of these riders for whom just being on the team isn’t good enough. That’s exactly how I want it.”

The final team standings in Pratoni’s test event and Nations Cup.

Susanna Bordone becomes Italy’s National Champion with Imperial van de Holtakkers. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Both the Italian National Championships and the Italian Armed Forces National Championships also took place throughout this week’s CCIO4*-S, though there was significant crossover between the entrants — whose sporting efforts are funded, in large part, by their participation in the Forces — and the eventual winner of both was the same: Susanna Bordone and Imperial van de Holtakkers knocked one rail  after having climbed from eighth place in the first phase to second place after cross-country, ultimately usurping two-phase leaders Pietro Grandis and Scuderia 1918 Future when the latter tipped three rails, slipping to third place.

Emiliano Portale’s old-fashioned galloping machine Aracne dell’Esercito Italiano impresses in the jumping phases for second place in the Italian National Championship. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Second place — and the only clear in this line-up — went to Emiliano Portale and the impressive young stallion Aracne dell’Esercito Italiano, who was ninth at the start of the competition after a mercurial dressage performance earned them a 35.9. They climbed to fourth place yesterday, picking up 7.6 time penalties despite the horse’s exceptional gallop, and their clear inside the time today allowed them to finish in fine style.

Stay tuned for plenty more from Pratoni’s test event, including analysis, the secrets of the hills as told by designer Giuseppe della Chiesa, chats with chef d’equipes and North American representatives, and plenty more. Go Eventing.

The final leaderboard in the Italian National Championship.

Pratoni 2022 Test Event: Website, Live Scoring, Live StreamEntries, EN’s Coverage, EN’s Twitter, EN’s Instagram

Pratoni Cross-Country Gallery and Update: Swiss Impress in Nations Cup; France Takes Over Leading Spot

Switzerland’s Robin Godel leads overnight with Grandeur de Lully CH after an excellent day for the Swiss team. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Though we’re on site at Pratoni with September at the forefront of our minds, today’s cross-country competition does also serve as an important leg in the 2022 Nations Cup series — and one in which Germany, who held the lead after dressage, now find themselves at the bottom of the pack after a tough day that saw team member Anna Siemer unseated from FRH Butts Avondale and Ingrid Klimke retire on course with SAP Hale Bob OLD. That allowed France, who had been sitting second after dressage, to move up to the top spot with three out of their four riders coming home clear and close to the optimum time. The Swiss team, who have been on an extraordinary upswing since the appointment of Andrew Nicholson as their cross-country coach and advisor, step up from third to second with all four of their team riders romping home clear and inside the time. Sweden, who are at their best in Nations Cups and are the reigning series champions, made a big leap from eighth to third, with all four riders home clear and pathfinder Malin Josefsson delivering the first clear inside the time of the day with Golden Midnight. She was one of just two non-Swiss riders to come home inside the time all day: the other was New Zealand’s rising star Amanda Pottinger with Good Timing, while 22-year-old Nadja Minder managed the feat on both her horses, contributing to an excellent day all round for the Swiss front.

The team standings after cross-country.

Switzerland sits top of the charts in the individual standings, after Robin Godel‘s masterful clear inside the time with European Championships ride Grandeur de Lully CH allowed him to stay on his first-phase score of 26 and climb from fifth place, benefitting from a small number of time faults and on-course issues for several of those ahead of him, including overnight leaders Ingrid Klimke and Equistros Siena Just Do It, who slipped to third place overnight after adding 5.2 time penalties. Just ahead of them is France’s Maxime Livio with his own Europeans mount, the leggy grey Api du Libaire, who moved up a placing after adding just two time penalties to his first-phase score of 25.4. Nadja Minder sits fourth, having climbed ten places with her team mount Toblerone after a penalty-free round, and also moved up 21 places to eighth with her individual ride, Aquila B, who also added nothing. France’s Nicolas Touzaint, who became European Champion here in 2007, rounds out the top five with Absolut Gold HDC.

The individual top ten after cross-country day at Pratoni.

The Italian National Championships leaderboard also saw a shake-up, with just nine of the 14 starters completing, and five doing so sans jumping penalties. Pietro Grandis, who has recently set up his own yard after several years as second rider for Michael Jung, remains atop the leaderboard after adding 3.2 time penalties with Scuderia 1918 Future, while Susanna Bordone was fastest of the Italians, moving up from eighth to second after coming home just two seconds over the optimum time with the experienced Imperial van de HoltakkersPietro Sandei and his stalwart Rubis du Prere step up from 12th to third with an efficient clear, and Emiliano Portale overcame a tempestuous dressage test with Aracne dell’Esercito Italiano, whose extraordinary gallop made him one of the most fun horses to watch over the hilly track and helped him climb from ninth to fourth. Rounding out the top five is Federico Sacchetti, who piloted the nine-year-old GRC Shiraz to just 1.2 time penalties and a big climb from fourteenth place.

The overnight leaderboard in the Italian national championships.

Want a closer look at how the course rode, and what that might mean for this September’s World Championships? We’ve taken a closer look — with the help of Irish Olympian Sam Watson — in our end-of-day analysis, and we’ll be bringing you plenty of insight from designer Giuseppe della Chiesa tomorrow. Just here to look at horses jumping fences? We’ve got you sorted there, too. Go Eventing.

“He’s Kept a Few Things Up His Sleeve”: Takeaways from Pratoni’s Test Event Cross-Country

Italy’s Pietro Grandis jumps the single oxer at 9 with Scuderia 1918 Future. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

While this week’s CCIO4*-S at Italy’s Pratoni del Vivaro is an important competition in its own right as an early leg of 2022’s FEI Nations Cup series (and, not insignificantly, the Italian National Championships), many of those on the ground are on site with another mission in mind: to suss out the venue, and its unique challenges and assetts, ahead of this September’s World Eventing Championships. That’s certainly been our modus operandi this week, and though today’s 6:14 cross-country challenge was rather a different story to the circa-10 minute track we can expect to see in September, it gave us a great insight into course designer Giuseppe della Chiesa‘s philosophies, what we can expect from his championship track, and the kind of horse who might excel over such a course.

Being able to balance the gallop, and moderate energy use, down hills is crucial for an economic round at Pratoni. Emiliano Portale heads down to fence 8 with Aracne della’Esercita Italiano. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

After popping fence 8, the downhill slope continues…

…and once again, Emiliano demonstrates an excellent gallop for negotiating the question asked by the terrain here.

The first, and most significant, takeaway here is that Pratoni has terrain that’s not really comparable to any other major event. Its rolling hills provide almost constant undulations, with both long pulls uphill and testing downhill runs alongside small mounds and dips that offer interesting opportunities to maximise the challenge of a question through clever fence placement. And certainly, Guiseppe has been clever: the coffin complex at 10 and 11ABC featured a dip down to the ditch and a rise up out of it, which rode well through today but was generously spaced. Likewise, the water complex had a number of mounds and declines that mean that set stride patterns become irrelevant, and riders have to ride what’s underneath them, whether it’s a bounding leap down a slope or a shuffling, conservative step.

But while he’s maximised the terrain, he’s also been thoughtful about its effect on horses, and from fence 22 to the final jump at 28, every question was set on flat ground. They still exerted influence: his used of angled brushes at the penultimate fence saw a few glance out to the side, as did the corner-to-skinny table line at 23 and 24, but the overall effect wasn’t one that looked to punish a horse who’d begun to fatigue.

The ground absolutely helps in this effort. Pratoni was, many eons ago, a volcanic area, and so the footing feels almost custom-made for eventing: it’s a mix of volcanic sand and ash, and while it looks hard and dry on screen because of the dust it kicks up, it’s actually rather peat-y underfoot, which makes for quick going that tends to be fairly easy on horses.

Pratoni, which has been the host of eventing at the 1960 Olympics, the 1995 and 2007 European Championships, and the 1998 World Equestrian Games, isn’t actually an enormous venue, as you can see from the aerial view on the course map:

The course map for this week’s test event cross-country.

At 3350 meters, this week’s short-format track already uses up a fair amount of the available land, but Giuseppe has some interesting areas available for development ahead of the World Championships, which is set at a minimum distance of 5600m up to a maximum 5800m — shorter still than most CCI4*-L courses, but built at a technicality and dimensions that sit somewhere between four- and five-star. At the back end of the course, shown on the top right of the map, there’s plenty of room to add an extra loop utilising further, reasonably flat ground behind the water complex, and we’ll also see the inclusion of the ‘Pratoni slide’, a steep, ramped downhill slope that is situated just left of where the start box was today. The slide has been used regularly throughout Pratoni’s rich history, and its inclusion in this September’s World Championships opens up another loop of useful ground to play with early on in the course.

Though the courses will differ in length and, no doubt, technical difficulty, it’s still a useful exercise to analyse how today’s track worked, because it served as a chance for Giuseppe to see what works as much as it was a chance for national federations and riders to get a sense of the venue. We saw 63 starters leave the box, with 37 producing clear rounds — a 58.7% clear rate. 13 didn’t complete the course, giving us a 79.3% clear rate, suggesting that the influence was much more heavily weighted towards run-outs than falls. Seven partnerships delivered clear rounds inside the optimum time of 6:14 (and five of those were Swiss, in a real coup for Switzerland’s cross-country coach, Andrew Nicholson), and many of the penalties picked up on course were well spread among the combinations.

One question did exert considerable influence: the first combination, a double of brushes at the top of a hill and under cover of the trees at 7ABC caused 15 refusals, 13 of which came as horses skimmed by the second element, two rider falls, and two subsequent retirements. This came after six straightforward ‘flyer’ fences, most of which were on an uphill pull, and though the skinny wishing well on a turn up the hill at 6 walked as though it might require some significant set-up, which would likely have helped the navigation through the tricky combination, it actually largely rode very similarly to the simple fences before it.

The influential first combination at 7AB.

After an uphill pull to 7ABC, there was a downhill run to a sizeable rolltop at 8, which saw just one refusal through the day and tested riders’ ability to rebalance the stride length after having opened it up the hills and adjusted for the combination. The coffin complex at 10 and 11AB, which consisted of an upright rail at 10, a sharp slope down to the small ditch at 11A, and an uphill run to the wedge at 11B rode very well through the day, with just one rider fall and a refusal at the ditch. This was the first time we saw Giuseppe ask riders to ride the stride pattern that they found on landing, a question we saw return in the clever undulations at the water complex, in which horses might shuffle or bound down declines, nullifying any strict adherence to riding a certain number of strides. The emphasis, instead, became commitment to the line and to riding the rhythm as it presented itself, supporting the horse as needed to give them the balance and the power to clear each element.

Tim Price and Falco jump fence 14AB, a skinny in the water complex’s first loop. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The first loop through the water complex caused a small handful of issues: no horses faulted at 13, a rolltop on dry land, and just one glanced off the skinny in the water at 14AB, while four horses ran into problems at 14C, a wide brush corner in the water, and one was deemed to have missed a flag here. None, though, picked up penalties in the second loop through the water, which asked them to run downhill to a rolltop on dry land, travel down a short, steep slope into the water, splash through and then jump a skinny on an island within the complex.

When fences are followed by a sudden dip or rise in terrain on the approach to the next element, some horses will bound through the line, as Mélody Johner’s Toubleu du Rueire demonstrates at the second loop through the water…

…while others tackle it in a shorter, more conservative stride pattern, like Sara Algotsson-Ostholt’s Chicuelo. Photos by Tilly Berendt.

After that, very little went awry on course: two horses picked up penalties at the capacious open ditch at 15, one faulted at 26, the second of two open oxers on a related distance, and one ran out at 27A, the first of two angled brush fences at the final combination.

“I think the horses that people trusted to see out the distance went out of the start box good and sharp, and they didn’t waste time — and then they could just about hold it and get home inside the time,” says Irish Olympian Sam Watson, who was one of several riders to attend the event unmounted. “You probably had to be really working and chasing it a bit in the middle, where it was a little bit more intense, but that’s partly due to the short format; the obstacles per meter are not going to be as intense over a long-format track. But I think Giuseppe will design it similarly: he’ll give you a bit of a run to get going, and a bit of a run to get home, but it’ll probably be quite intense in the middle again like this course. What it did show is that if you had a horse that set off a little bit slowly, they were only going to lose time in the middle. That was good to see, because we want the cross-country to be impactful.”

Spain’s Antonio Cejudo Caro pops the first element of the coffin complex with Duque HSM…

…the ditch at 11AB…

…and the skinny element at 11C. Photos by Tilly Berendt.

Though the influence of the first combination was attributed to a number of factors — interplay of light and shadow, and perceived lack of a preparatory fence among them — Sam’s estimation of the course as a whole is that it was roundly a success.

“His first combination did catch people. I think he showed with his spreading of the penalties and his ability to catch out a couple of the decent [horse and rider] combinations that he’s a clever course designer. He’s thinking about what he’s doing, and he knows where to place a fence, and yet I think what’s important for a championship is that it looked nice and it flowed well. They travelled well on the ground — you can see the volcanic dust kicking up off it, which means that there’s just a bit of give going on there. The horses like travelling on it.”

The bulk of the course’s intensity came from the first combination at 7ABC down to the corner to table question at 23 and 24: in the section of course between those two points, there were plenty of hills and undulations to deal with, plus the coffin complex, two loops through the water, single questions cleverly situated on cambers or rolling ground that required a change in approach, and a large semicircle that encompassed the open ditch, a big stick pile, and an airy trakehner before another pull up hill. As a result, many riders looked to second guess their ride through the second of the water questions, in which they tackled that sharp downhill slope.

“The last water was such a nice fence in that you’re saying ‘roll on’ — but the amount of people who went to their hand a little bit makes you wonder if, having gone through the intense bit and the rollercoaster of the first water and then coming back up the hill, the horse just needs a bit of reassurance,” Sakm says. “Those are the things that you always have to have such an open mind about when you’re riding a course — you need to keep your instincts sharp. There’ll be fences you’re prepared to sit up for, but when you’re riding that piece of ground, you know that the horse has seen it early, he knows where he’s going and what he’s being asked to do, and you don’t need to take back — you can keep on coming. He’s in a good balance and he’s seen it, whereas at other fences you might think you need to keep them together a little bit more.”

Maxime Livio and Api du Libaire navigate the steady pull up to fence 18. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Today’s ratio of time-catchers — seven of the 63 starters, or 11.1% — is probably a strong indicator of what we can expect come September, by Sam’s reckoning: “When going to ten minutes, the intensity reduces — which does make it easier to get the time. But he’s going to throw in a significant hill, and then you’ll have the fitness aspect. You’d hope that championship horses aren’t going to get tired over good ground at ten minutes; the top horses shouldn’t. I think the time we’ve seen today will be quite reflective of what we see on the day, and that’s not dissimilar to Tokyo: it’s very gettable, but a couple of the French combinations picked up a few seconds, and a couple of the Kiwis, and while they weren’t maybe going all out, they weren’t hanging about either. It hangs on the edge — ‘super easy’ or ‘super gettable’ isn’t a fair assessment, but I do think it’ll be the type of championships in which we’ll see ten or slightly more will be getting the time. Some people only want to see two or three, but the problem with designing for that is that you’ll see horses struggling to get home.”

Overall, there was a positive overall feeling about the day’s sport, and Sam agrees: “I still think Giuseppe’s kept a few things up his sleeve, but I don’t think he’ll have seen anything today that’ll make him think ‘I was too easy’, or ‘I was too tough’. I think he’s got it spot-on, and I think he’ll feel like he’s done a good day’s work today.”

Pratoni 2022 Test Event: Website, Live Scoring, Live StreamEntries, EN’s Coverage, EN’s Twitter, EN’s Instagram

“Pratoni in a Word? It’s Like a Magic Carpet”: Catching Up With Ground Jury President Peter Gray

Italy’s Marco Cappai produces his test in front of the ground jury. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

One of the curiosities of this week’s test event at Pratoni is its ground jury appointments: though almost all the officials who’ll run the show when the World Championships rolls around in September are the being put through their paces this week, the ground jury for this test event will differ from the final line-up come WEG week. This is down to a procedural change that was enacted during last year’s Olympic cycle — now, the announced trio can’t be employed in full at an event in the lead-up to the championship.

But there is one man who will cross over between the two events: Canada’s Peter Gray, who helms this week’s team as president of the ground jury. This weekend, he’s joined by Mariana Sciocchetti Campello (ITA) as well as Laure Eslan (FRA). In September, we’ll see him return as a member of the ground jury once again, where he’ll be joined by president Christina Klingspor (SWE) and fellow member Christian Steiner (AUT). EN caught up with him to find out what his role as a ground jury member comprises, how he’s contributing to the development of this year’s World Championships, and what we might expect in September.

This is a return visit to Pratoni for Peter, who was part of the FEI Risk Management Committee years previously — a key milestone in one of his many roles in eventing, which has included acting as Canada’s National Safety Officer. Now, three years after earning his five-star judging licence, he returns in a different role, but one that arguably has just as much influence on the shape the final competition takes. The honour of being selected from the large list of qualified ground jury members certainly isn’t lost on him.

“I come to the role in a unique situation, in that I was an international competitor first, and then I became and international coach and trainer, and now I’m an international dressage rider — so that keeps me sharp for this phase,” Peter explains. “But I’ve also been on organising committees for competitions, so I kind of tick a lot of boxes, but I wonder how I got selected! I’m one of 150 who could be chosen, so I’m very honoured and very excited to be here.”

There’s no nomination process for being selected to judge at a championship — rather, it’s a call-up, as Peter explains: “They look at your track record, and probably ask around and check results from where you’ve been judging, and make sure you know what you’re doing. Every three or four years you’re meant to do a course, and when I was promoted to the five-star three years ago, at that time they said I was the sort of person they want to promote — I don’t know what they say, but I was happy to fit that, and here I am!”

Sara Algotsson-Ostholt rides Chicuelo as part of the Swedish team at Pratoni’s test event. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The role of the ground jury is vast: not only are they the judges for the first phase, they also have the final call on whether horses are accepted into the competition and passed into the final phase, and they have to sign off the cross-country course as fit for purpose, too — though this part, Peter explains, has become less pressurised as the standard of design has continued on an upswing, replete with continued improvements where safety measures are concerned.

“In the past, the role of ground jury was more important for walking the cross country, because it has to be approved by us and we have to, as horsemen, give our stamp of approval of whether the course designer has been fair with the questions he’s asked or if he’s overdone anything,” says Peter. “Sometimes it’s a good check for the course designers, but with the top ones — and we have one of the top ones here — it’s just a formality. They do such a great job.”

Arguably the most intense part of the job is judging the dressage phase, particularly as the standard of performances in this phase continues to rise at a remarkable rate. For Peter, it’s crucial to engage in ‘blind’ judging — disregarding the renown of the rider in front of him and focusing instead on what they present on the day. Because he doesn’t judge in Europe as often as many other ground jury representatives, he’s able to make the best use of a degree of separation from those riders who put in world-beating performances day in and day out — and from those who are just starting to put their names on the map.

“I think I may have raised a few eyebrows yesterday because I judged what I saw,” he explains. “I’m not influenced by their results, or what they’ve done in the past. I don’t judge them a lot, and I think that’s a good thing because I can try to judge what I see with fresh eyes every time.”

It’s just as important to Peter to judge a rider such as Ingrid Klimke with the same exact parameters as one of the younger, less well-known riders he’s seen in the dressage ring this week, because even the slightest bias or lapse in concentration can make an enormous impact on the final results.

“Every phase is so influential now, and the dressage is no longer as influential as it perhaps has been, but these days everything is so competitive — a flying change in the first phase or a time penalty in showjumping can make the difference between winning and losing. I would say I’m one of those people who takes my judging as a real challenge; every time I’m in the box I’m trying to do the very best I can for every rider that comes down the centerline — this morning, I said to my scribe, ‘this could be the winner’, and I was just thinking out loud, but every time someone comes down, I’ve got to be ready in case it is.”

Though he’ll return in September as a member of the ground jury, this week we’re seeing him sitting at C as the president — but what, if anything, is the difference between the roles?

“Well, you have to really remember your test, because you’re the one to ring the bell if they go wrong,” he says with a laugh. “So you have to pay attention. But honestly, it’s really the captain of the team — it’s not a person who has more influence than the others, because we all act as a team, even though the president does have the deciding vote on anything, be it course approval, horses in the horse inspection, and so on. That all ultimately comes down to the presidential vote.”

France’s Nicolas Touzaint, who became the European champion at Pratoni in 2007, returns with Absolute Gold HDC. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Because of the collaborative nature of the role, Peter has sought out opportunities to touch base with his September cohorts.

“I’ve worked with Kiki [Christina Klingspor, president of September’s ground jury] quite a bit in America, and I introduced myself to Christian Steiner, who was in Kentucky at the five-star. I was president of the four-star, so we had dinner. It’s nice to have met him and formed that working relationship,” he says. He’ll get another chance to work with Kiki prior to the World Championships: the pair will both be in situ on the ground jury at Aachen in July, which will act as an important selection trial for many federations. Because of his unique crossover between the test event and the World Championships, though, he’s a major conduit for feedback that will help make this September’s competition the best it possibly can be: “Certainly, it’s all very much in my mind about what’s going to happen in September, and I’m making notes on small things that could be improved, but the list really is small. It’s just hard to imagine how the infrastructure will expand as we go to many more horses and many more people — it’ll be five times as big.”

So far, though, so good: Peter is full of praise for Pratoni as a venue, a common feeling in the ranks on site here in Italy.

“Certainly I’m appreciating the integral parts of the competition that the horses are going through, and I think one thing that stands out is for horses and owners and riders, it’s a very friendly place to be. I think the horses have a really nice feel here; they all seem to be in a good place to be mentally — and how could they not? It seems like a very peaceful part of the world,” he says. “I’m particularly impressed with the course designer, Giuseppe della Chiesa. I haven’t seen any of his courses before, but he’s used the long routes in a very horse-friendly way. Instead of spinning them around in circles and making the long route actually exhausting for a potentially tired horse, he’s done a really good job of making them time-consuming but keeping a lovely flow and making it a very positive experience for the horses. I’m very impressed with that. For those that think it might have a little bit of a straightforward look, I think the terrain at the beginning and some of the questions have challenges that aren’t apparent right away. I think he’s got it bang on, I really do.”

Though this week’s competition is held at CCI4*-S, and thus employs a shorter route than September’s long-format Championships, it’s also a great opportunity for everyone on site to familiarise themselves with Pratoni’s uniquely rolling hills, which create a terrain and stamina challenge that’s above and beyond most events on the FEI calendar.

“I suspect the hills are going to be a real factor come September, though that may not be so apparent this weekend,” says Peter. “I think where some of the more warmblood horses will get away with it this weekend, come September, you’ll want to have your galloper with good endurance. I think also, related to that, something that won’t be completely fatigued on the final day for the jumping. You need a horse that can make the time but still come out fresh the next day. It’ll be a challenge for the selection.”

But while descriptions of the hills and reports of long patches of prolonged sunshine might make Pratoni sound like an event that’ll be hard on horses, it’s also blessed by its location: the ground here remains consistent regardless of how dry or wet the weather is, because it’s composed of volcanic sand – and on a molecular level, it doesn’t clump, become boggy, or harden. The footing feels surprisingly springy underfoot, though Peter puts this better than we can.

“Let me give you a word to describe the ground here: it’s like a magic carpet,” he says with a smile. Roll on Pratoni 2.0, then.

Pratoni 2022 Test Event: Website, Live Scoring, Live StreamEntries, EN’s Coverage, EN’s Twitter, EN’s Instagram

Saturday Video from SmartPak: Watch Along with Pratoni’s Test Event Cross-Country

Though today’s CCI4*-S track will be a very different length and test to this September’s World Championships course, the test event and Nations Cup at Pratoni offers riders, chef d’equipes and spectators alike a valuable opportunity to get a taste of the Italian venue — and its unique terrain — before the main event rolls around later on this year. We’re delighted to see the FEI offering the entirety of the competition’s live-stream for free via their YouTube channel, and with some of the best in the world heading out of the start box today — including Ingrid Klimke, who sits first and second after dressage, both of the Prices, and Olympic bronze medallist Andrew Hoy — it promises to be a fascinating, and truly exciting, day of sport. Pour yourself an Aperol Spritz and tune in: the action begins at 10.30 a.m. local time/9.30 a.m. BST/4.30 a.m. EST.

Go Eventing!

Ramping back up into full work for the spring? SmartPak has everything you need to make the transition back to show season. Click here for more.

Pratoni 2022 Test Event: Website, Live Scoring, Live StreamEntries, EN’s Coverage, EN’s Twitter, EN’s Instagram

Reporter’s Notebook: With Badminton in the Rearview, What Can We Learn?

The three-year wait for another crack at Badminton Horse Trials felt like it took about a decade — but on the other hand, driving back into those hallowed grounds and stepping into its stone stableyard felt so like a homecoming that it was almost as though we’d never left. And what a week it gave us: a hugely popular win, some extraordinary displays of horsemanship and classic cross-country riding, and a packed-out Saturday that proved that eventing certainly isn’t breathing its last just yet.

So much of the week felt like an enormous success, but it would be remiss of us not to treat any major event as an opportunity for reflection and refinement for the future — and to that end, here are some of the things I’ve been ruminating on in the days since. Much of this is opinion, and wholly subjective, but as always, we’d like to keep the dialogue an open one here at EN, and welcome further discussion in the comments.

Laura Collett realises a dream — and cements herself as the sport’s poster girl — at Badminton. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

A pony novel victory proves it doesn’t happen by magic

Badminton, like the Grand National in jumps racing, always seems to deliver a fairytale result: in its last few iterations alone, we’ve had a Grand Slam winner in Michael Jung, a win on the 37th attempt for post-injury Andrew Nicholson, and first five-star victories aboard unconventional, incredibly gutsy little mares for Jonelle Price and Piggy March. This year, Laura Collett went into the event as the statistical favourite, but that doesn’t make her pillar-to-post victory any less of a pony novel come to life.

I’m always cautious about leading a story with details of a rider’s previous injuries, because our sport’s emphasis on toughness has ramifications: when we value toughness as a quality above all others, there’s a very real risk that equestrians will feel pressurised to swallow down their pain and battle through it stoically, and whether that’s physical pain or mental health issues, avoiding the hard truth for fear of looking weak does circle back around eventually.

For this reason, I chose to focus my attentions in my final report on Laura’s faith and tenacity in producing a horse who, by dint of his exceptional talent, had to make all his necessary green errors in the spotlight. But Laura’s journey back from a horrific accident in 2013 does warrant inclusion in our coverage of her, not least because she’s been so open in explaining how she had to take steps back and work sensibly through her recovery.

Though her fall in a one-day at Tweseldown left her with a laundry list of injuries, including a punctured lung, a lacerated liver, kidney damage, broken ribs, and necessitated several resuscitations and an emergency tracheotomy, it was the loss of vision in her right eye, which came about after a tiny fragment of her shoulder bone travelled through her bloodstream and damaged her optic nerve, which would have taken the largest toll on her return to the top of the sport. In the aftermath of her recovery, she spent plenty of time jumping just those horses she could most rely on, practicing the basics and learning how to see a stride all over again without the benefit of depth perception.

For Laura, leaving the start box with the knowledge of Nicola Wilson’s fall earlier in the day would have been an enormous exercise in compartmentalisation, because the worst thing anyone can do is ride afraid: defensive riding so often becomes backwards riding, which saps momentum and can lead to catastrophic mistakes. Laura, like all the rest of us, will undoubtedly have been hugely concerned for her compatriot, who she’s ridden alongside at events for years and who is such a cherished part of our community for her easy smile and ready kindness.

But when Laura left the start box, it was a masterclass in focus; she looked at every point as though the only thing on her mind was the next stride, the next fence, and the next minute marker. That focus — and the effort she’s put in in the gym and riding racehorses — paid dividends when London 52 hung a leg jumping into the Quarry at fence 4A, twisting dramatically in the air and looking, for one aching moment, as though he might come down. A moment like that, particularly early on in the course, is a test of resolve as much as it is of riding skill, and Laura never faltered: her eyes were up, her attention was wholly on her line and the next fence, and as a result, her horse was able to regain his balance without Laura losing hers, which saved the day.

That Laura has become an expert in shutting out the noise and focusing on her job is no surprise, when you consider what she’s overcome on her path to the top. Not only did she have to battle through the aftermath of her fall, she also made her first forays into Senior competition off the back of a hugely successful career in the youth divisions, which comes with the weight of public expectation. She then had the same sort of pressure in a slightly different way when the prodigal London 52 made such a strong start to his four-star career, then had a summer full of learning experiences while the eventing world looked on.

But beyond that, she’s also had to face horrific public scrutiny when her connection to the racing world meant that the Gold Cup winner Kauto Star joined her string in his ‘retirement’. Racing’s viewers are largely very different from those who follow eventing, and they’re louder in their pushback, too — you only have to hop on Twitter after a reasonably big race to spot thousands of tweets haranguing jockeys and trainers, often paired with threats and extraordinary personal remarks. Throughout her partnership with Kauto Star, who she was training for the dressage ring, Laura was on the receiving end of this kind of negativity, and when the gelding died at the age of 15 following an accident in the field, the pushback quadrupled and expanded into death threats and a rumour mill that worked overtime, crafting false stories about the circumstances of the horse’s passing.

It would be enough to make most people want to delete social media forever, step away from horses, and go find another way to fill one’s time, but Laura pushed through what must have been one of the hardest periods in her life and has come out the other side a bastion of mental strength. No one should have to go through what she has, but it makes every good thing that happens to her feel that much more deserved, and she’s continued to be hugely generous with the public, using her social media to let fans get closer to her, her horses, and the work she does to be as good as she is.

She may have spent her youth dreaming of being Pippa Funnell winning at Badminton, but now, she’s the person that young riders watching on will dream of being. Six years to the day after London 52 arrived on her yard, she became the Badminton champion, wearing the same back number that Lucinda Green wore when she won her first Badminton. It feels a bit like kismet, and we’re lucky to have her as a role model for the next generation.

Oliver Townend and Swallow Springs. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Every event is an opportunity for improvement

I think we all felt a little rusty in our various roles at Badminton, even with two years of other events behind us -– I certainly felt like I’d picked up a frustrating amount of time faults through the week, and at 11pm in the media centre each night, I wondered how on earth I’d finished by 7 and still had time for a quick outfit change before the cocktail party in previous years. But there were a couple of notable incidents on Saturday that really brought to light how finely tuned our systems need to be to ensure that judgment calls are quick, fair, and made with the welfare of the horse at the forefront.

The first, and most obvious, of those is the visually horrifying fall that France’s Maxime Livio took at the final fence, in front of a grandstand packed with people. I don’t think there was a soul among us who didn’t think we’d just watched a horse die as Vitorio du Montet crumpled on landing, made a fitful attempt to rise, and then lay still on the ground. The cheer when he finally rose, a good fifteen minutes later, was among the loudest of the day, and he was escorted from the arena with his tearful groom lavishing him with kisses, while Maxime -– a very good horseman in his own right -– followed on, looking stricken by what could have been.

I hadn’t seen the pair’s previous fences, nor their entry into the arena, so was relying on the word of others to patch the situation together until I could rewatch the available footage later on. When I did, I saw a rider trying to nurse his tired horse the last number of meters home. Was this the right call? In hindsight, no –- but a rider’s brain works very differently when riding across the country at this level than it does in a less pressurised situation, and when the end is so close, it’s easy to see why a rider might take their foot off the gas and just try to get there. We’ve seen it happen previously without a horse fall, and so without any negative press, but it’s a stark reminder of our own responsibilities when it goes wrong.

I’d like to see stewards and fence judges who are prepared to make the call themselves, from a non-adrenalised place, and stick to their resolve. While it’s not at all an easy job, it is a very important one to get right — and though making the decision isn’t as objective as, say, spotting blood and penalising it, it would be worthwhile to ensure that there’s a set of standards that those important folks on the ground can adhere to when analysing whether to make a call. This, perhaps, could include creating an ‘evaluation point’, perhaps at the final or penultimate minute marker, or the nearest available stopping point, wherein they can decide whether the horse looks capable of completing the course safely, or whether it appears to be on the brink of exhaustion. It’ll never be an easy call, and no doubt any such decision will be met with pushback, but if it stops us from seeing another similar and avoidable incident — and eases the risk on even just one horse — it’ll be worthwhile.

Earlier in the day, there was some confusion regarding scoring, which was no doubt hindered in part by the crashing fall of Nicola Wilson, which rightly deployed most of the stewards, technical delegates, and resources to the scene in order to ensure she was appropriately removed from harm and stabilised. Furthermore, they needed to make the call to remove the fence that had caused the fall, which isn’t an easy call to make and requires some fairly extensive deliberation.

All this, though, meant that Oliver Townend and Swallow Springs were held on course for half an hour without any word as to their scoring at fence 4C, the brush element of the Quarry, where they’d had a very near miss and certainly looked to have flouted the contentious flag rule. They were ultimately restarted, allowed to finish the course, and subsequently eliminated –- though this, as it transpired, was an elimination for a perceived horse fall, not for falling foul of the flags. Upon an appeal, the decision was swiftly reversed: the horse’s shoulders hadn’t touched the ground, and the flag situation was deemed acceptable, but if it hadn’t been, it would have been a really tricky situation: allowing a horse to continue on over a course of this intensity for effectively no functional reason is a welfare concern.

Further to that, the incident proved that even with its most recent rewrites, the flag rule is still causing confusion: Oliver’s horse demonstrably passed through the flag with both shoulders, but the hind end scrambled along the side of the fence after having taken a great leap about a stride out and putting back down before reaching the jump itself. The flag rule currently works in favour of a horse whose hind end has cleared the height of the solid part of the fence, which Swallow Springs absolutely did, but perhaps further clarity in the wording is required so that the hind end effort has to happen over, or alongside, the fence itself, rather than a stride or half-stride outside in the actual jumpable realm of the fence.

I have, of course, the utmost respect for the officials on the ground at these big events, who have a multifaceted, intense, and often enormously subjective job on their hands, and ultimately, I know we’re all on the same page where emphasising welfare — and those all-important optics — are concerned. With Badminton behind us, though, I wonder if it’s time to tighten the parameters of judging. There’ll never be total objectivity, but when it pertains to safety, we need to minimise subjectivity as much as possible.

It’s all about the horses, at the end of the day. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

And relax…

One of the most fascinating takeaways of the week was how many elite-level riders have made a conscious decision to back off their horses’ schooling regime. Laura Collett told us that she didn’t school at all at Badminton ahead of her dressage test, choosing instead to focus on hacking, lunging, and pole work, which kept her horse relaxed and happy ahead of his impressive test.

Ros Canter, too, has scaled back the workload of her World Champion, Allstar B, who now spends most of his time out hacking and will only school during those hacking sessions. Ros told us she’d found out an enormous amount about her longtime partner through this regime change, and the difference showed in how he worked, too –- he’s come out this season looking fresh and obviously relishing his work at the ripe age of seventeen. This emphasis on doing a bit less was repeated in different ways by a number of riders through the week, and I’ve heard it from several of the riders I’ve chatted to at Pratoni this week, too.

It feels, in a way, like a natural progression of the pandemic: for two years, the ‘goal’ events have been limited, and so there’s been so much time to work on the marginal gains in the ring at home, particularly in 2020. The line between putting in the hours required and overtraining is very fine, though, and horses can suffer burnout just as people can. We’ve come to a bit of a universal reckoning with ourselves in terms of how much we pile on our own plates, and often, it feels like the ‘boss babe’ burnout culture is on its way out, well beyond the scope of the equestrian industry. It’s interesting — and heartening — to see it reach our little world, too, and I think all of us could learn a lot from the riders who are brave enough to trust in the foundations they’ve laid and take a major step back. At the end of the day, a horse-first approach can never go too far wrong.

Ariel Grald and Leamore Master Plan. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

Striking the balance in course design

Captain Mark Phillips made a salient point in his column in Horse&Hound this week: one of the great wonders of eventing,’ he wrote, ‘is that its courses are so different.’ Badminton and Burghley are often roundly praised for being the most ‘proper’ of the seven five-star events in the world, though it’s not a designation I’m wholly in agreement with.

Each event has its own flavour, and its own challenge: Burghley is dimensionally enormous, with tough terrain that suits a blood horse with endless gallop; Luhmühlen is smaller — though it wasn’t always — but delivers an optical challenge through its winding forested lanes that makes it immensely difficult to find the right rhythm and catch the time. Pau, with its twisty track and achingly skinny narrow fences, is a real test of line and control, while Kentucky plays with technicality in a clever way, interspersing fiddly lines with long gallops that dare you to let your horse switch his brain off. Maryland, as a new event, is still finding its identity and Adelaide, which is a city event with an often relatively inexperienced field, serves rather a different purpose, but each is its own unique entity.

Badminton sits in a sweet spot that veers towards the Burghley trend in some ways, though historically it hasn’t been a site blessed with much terrain. This year, Eric veered away from the colt pond –- or ‘Guiseppe’s pond’ –- area of the course and worked on further developing the Vicarage ditch line, finding sneaky little mounds and hills that he could site his fences on to up the ante around the course. That Vicarage ditch area, which effectively stretched from the broken bridge at 13 to the solar panels at 24ABCD, walked and rode quite similarly to Pierre Michelet’s Pau tracks: you needed to come into the heart of the questions already up on the clock, because those middle minutes would be slow ones, punctuated by an almost constant set-up and without any chance to simply run and jump and cover the ground at upwards of 700mpm. Elsewhere on course, Eric allowed for those kinds of questions, using max-dimension fences to get horses well up in the air.

One thing I heard and saw repeated often through the week was delight, largely from social media commentors, that Eric hadn’t relied on skinnies and a glut of accuracy questions to add influence to his course. This is hardly a new line of conversation: every time I publish course previews, I see a handful of people – or more – in the comments, despairing at what they perceive as the overuse of these fences and the loss of ‘real’ cross-country courses.

But herein lies the course designer’s conundrum. Use skinnies and technical lines and you’re accused of creating a go-kart track that tricks horses; use big fences and natural terrain and you’re more likely to see very tired horses at the end of the course. Following Badminton’s cross-country, many commenters complained that they had seen too many horse falls and not enough of the ‘right’ kind of penalties — that is, run-outs, refusals, and harmless rider falls. Indeed, Badminton’s 62.5% clear rate and 74% completion rate was significantly higher than in previous years, while its horse fall rate — 9% — was on a par with tough 2014 and 2017.

We saw a lot of horses on the floor on Saturday –- more than you, I, or Eric Winter would have liked –- and whether that’s a result of a lack of preparation, a course that overwrought tired or horses, or simply bad luck or rider error, is by the by. The crux of the matter is this: skinnies largely exert influence through run-outs, and big, straightforward fences exert influence through falls, at worst, or through time lost in the set-up, at best. Of course, that’s an enormous oversimplification –- course design, particularly at the top levels, is far more technical and complex than simply sticking some fences in a field and deliberating over whether to shave a few feet off their width -– and credit must be given to Eric for a track that hit the mark in a lot of ways.

But following any major competition, we all must learn something useful that helps to hone the themes for next time, though I suspect Eric will be scratching his head trying to find something more technically complex to do with the Vicarage ditch area of the course. The answer, insofar as I can see it, is to look at those fences that caused horse falls — almost all of which came at the tail end of the course — and replace them with questions such as shoulder brushes, which will open the door for safe influence. The leaderboard can still be changed dramatically on cross-country day by a late 20 penalties — we don’t need to see a potentially catastrophic fall for that to happen, and I hope we see a ratio shift between run-outs and refusals vs horse falls next year.

Bubby Upton pilots Cola III around Thoresby’s new spring CCI4*-S fixture. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Is it time to beef up our spring events?

Let’s talk about preparedness for a moment, because this year’s Badminton was unique in that respect. Though we have had plenty of good eventing throughout the pandemic, helped along by the heroic efforts of ‘pop-up’ fixtures such as Bicton’s Bramham and Burghley replacements, we haven’t really seen anything quite like this since Burghley in 2019. The five-stars that have run have been a very different kind -– dimensionally smaller, more technical, or simply not as intense, while our championships are run at least half a level below five-star anyway. That meant that the jumps at Badminton really did look colossal, and it meant that horses and riders alike had to work jolly hard to get their eye in to jump them.

To that end, we really need to take a closer look at our spring season of prep events in the UK. The last time Badminton ran we still had the CCI4*-S fixture at Belton, which was traditionally the season opener for the level and neatly interspersed good galloping stretches with big, wide jumps and just the right amount of technical questions. A good run there often meant that riders could nurse their horses through the rest of their lead-up, without feeling like they’d be forced to get in a late run at Burnham Market, where the tricky Norfolk ground can really drill horses’ legs in a dry spring.

This year’s inaugural replacement fixture at Thoresby Park brought many things to like to the table: it was quite technical from early on in the course, which was a useful exercise for many fresh horses, and its atmosphere, layout, and rather exciting country manor made it a wonderful spot for spectators. It’s slightly more limited on space than Belton, and so it’s important that we all keep our expectations realistic, but I do hope we see it return next year with a slightly new-look course that takes into account how much horses and riders need to knock the rust off over some really dimensionally imposing jumps. Otherwise, Badminton starts to look like very hard work indeed, and I’m not sure that’s the straight path to safety.

We also need to be conscious of the difference between being qualified and being ready for the step up to five-star, though I was continually impressed by the efforts of debutants through the week: 20-year-old Alice Casburn, who stepped up to five-star at Pau last year, looked a picture all week, and I thought Libby Seed did a superb job piloting her first-timer, Heartbreaker Star Quality, around a tough track for a move-up. Ros Canter delivered a masterclass in piloting a first-time five-star horse with second-placed Lordships Graffalo, and we all fell a little bit in love with Ugo Provasi’s tiny, gutsy Shadd’OC, whose little legs found very French forward distances through all the lines.

But that doesn’t negate the need for a sensible look at the events riders use for qualifications. The more seasoned top-level riders know that they need to target bigger four-star tracks, such as Bramham or last year’s pop-up CCI4*-L at Bicton, in order to adequately prepare for this level, but it’s all too easy to fall into an easy qualification route — and a rider who qualified at, say, Burnham Market’s pop-up CCI4*-L in 2020 would have been in for a shock when tackling a subsequent move-up. In my head, I’ve begun to classify four-stars as ‘A-grade’ — the Bramhams, for example, which are top-end four-stars that would be a great assessment of ability ahead of a five-star — and ‘B-grade’, which are slightly softer and ideal for early, educational runs. I wonder if the time has come for such a system to be considered on the qualification pathway.

The mixed zone in action. Photo courtesy of Catherine Austen.

The magic of the mixed zone

I’ve never felt competitive as a journalist, perhaps to my own detriment — I’m always very keen to improve upon my own previous work, and I try to make every day a learning opportunity in some capacity, but I’ve never felt that being a successful equestrian journalist means bumping off the competition in any way. There’s room for everyone at the table, and I hope that anyone who has any interest in equestrian media feels they’re welcome to come and join our little family — whether they’re a journalist, a photographer, a podcaster, a broadcaster, or however they choose to document the sport, we can only benefit from further exposure and, most crucially, different perspectives.

A lot of the time, equestrian journalism is an oddly solitary activity: most events don’t have a mixed zone area, wherein riders are ferried to chat to journalists en masse after their rides, so we’re usually left to our own devices to grab them after they dismount, or track them down in the lorry park (my own personal hell, for what it’s worth, is when a rider texts me that their lorry is ‘the grey one’, and I then accidentally stumble into 35 grey lorries before finding the right one).

Through the pandemic, social distancing made mixed zones a relic of the past, and so returning to one at Badminton was a tonic — not just because it’s considerably easier for us all when the riders are brought to us, but because our work starts to feel collaborative in a unique way. We’re all part of the same conversation, and working with the same quotes, and one of my favourite parts of a big event like Badminton is taking the time on the Monday after to read, watch, and listen to, all the different angles that my colleagues have chosen to tell the same story. The creativity and breadth of knowledge and experience is always inspiring, and there’s nothing that beats the laughs we have while crammed together in a tent, providing our own commentary for what we see on screen and swapping facts and intel about horses and riders. I think it’s been hard for us all to relight our fire after a couple of tricky years, but I’ve come out of Badminton a bit battered, a bit bruised, but newly reinvigorated for getting to work alongside the people I admire so much each day. So thanks for that, chaps.

Badminton Links: WebsiteEN’s Ultimate Guide, The Form GuideCourse PreviewEN’s CoverageEN’s Twitter, EN’s Instagram

Previewing Pratoni: Your First Look at the Dressage Set-Up

New Zealand’s Tim Price and Falco, winners of last year’s Pau CCI5*, deliver their first-phase performance. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It’s tricky, sometimes, to remember that this week isn’t just about scoping out the facilities and set-up for this September’s World Championships in Pratoni, south-east of Rome — it’s also a busy Nations Cup CCIO4*-S. Today, the nine teams came forward to produce their dressage tests, giving us all a chance to see the first of the week’s competition locations in action.

Though many of the officials this week are the same ones who’ll fill those roles come September, including Technical Delegate Marcin Konarski, Chief Steward Nicki Kelly, cross-country course designer Guiseppe della Chiesa and showjumping designer Uliano Vezzani, as well as a full roster of assistant stewards, there’s one pertinent difference in the line-up: the ground jury. This week, we’ve got a ground jury that’s made up of president Peter Gray (CAN) and members Marina Sciocchetti (ITA) and Laure Eslan (FRA), but in September, we’ll see Christina Klingspor (SWE) step into the president role at C, joined by Peter Gray (CAN) and Christian Steiner (AUT). That’s part and parcel of a reasonably new FEI ruling: in order to avoid other events bringing in the championship ground jury as a draw for competitors, thus limiting the available workload for other ground jury representatives, a championship ground jury cannot work together in the period between their selection and the championship itself.

That is, of course, far from the only difference between the two events: this week’s competition is a CCI4*-S, though will feature the showjumping on the final day as in a long-format competition. That means that the dressage test is different — this week, we’re using CCI4* B, while September’s competition will use the CCI5* B test that we saw at both Kentucky and Badminton — as are both the cross-country and showjumping challenges. We’ll be taking a closer look at this week’s course — and finding out from designer Giuseppe what we can expect to change this September, wherein the course will be significantly longer and at championship level, which is effectively a ‘four and a half star’ track — and we’ll be looking at a bigger showjumping course on grass at the World Championships, too.

But first of all, let’s focus on the dressage: while it may not be the same test, nor the same full ground jury, today’s Nations Cup face-off has been a great opportunity to test out the 100x62m surfaced main arena, called the Merano arena. Situated in a beautiful sun trap and surrounded by the Roman hills so characteristic of Pratoni, it’s already a stunning spot to watch a day’s sport unfold — even without the extensive grandstands, VIP spectator area, and arena fencing we can expect to see when we return. It’s also a super chance for the nine assembled teams to practice some team tactics, particularly as there’s no rule to say that a horse that’s done the test event is ineligible for the World Championships. Perhaps unsurprisingly, that’s meant that the German team pathfinder and reigning Pratoni CCI4*-S champion, Ingrid Klimke, has taken an easy day one lead on 24.8 with her superb SAP Hale Bob OLD, a horse we could well see repeat the feat in September.

Though world-beaters Great Britain are conspicuous in their absence, as is the USA, we’re seeing many other nations bring forward some serious heavy-hitters – Germany, who currently lead the way after the culmination of the team tests, is filled with names who will certainly be aiming for the WEG, with Andreas Dibowski and FRH CorridaAnna Siemer and FRH Butts Avondale, and Boekelo winners Sophie Leube and J’Adore Moi joining Ingrid on the team. With three of the four team riders sitting in the top ten after this first phase, it looks like the country is well on track to aim for a return to former glories come September, particularly as Olympic gold medallist Julia Krajewski and Michael Jung aren’t here this week.

Here’s a look at how the leaderboards stand after the first, team-oriented day of dressage:

The individual leaderboard at the end of day one.

The Nations Cup team standings after the first phase of dressage.

So what have we learned so far? Mostly that even in its semi-constructed state, there’s plenty for fit, sharp competition horses to spook at — and even with a different ground jury, the standards here are high. The dressage arena is well-placed in close proximity to the stabling, and the ten-minute ring and warm-up arena sit opposite the competition arena, which can make for quite a busy environment if you happen to be sitting on an unfocused horse, as it’ll be able to see other horses working in and team representatives bustling around. This will be helped somewhat by the construction of an arena fence — this week, the arena is simply roped — and as I write, a number of other sand schooling arenas are being built further away from the main arena, which will help to reduce horse traffic in the championship itself. There’ll also be a large grandstand along one long side of this main arena, while the grass showjumping arena next to it will be hemmed in on three sides by grandstands.

For now, here’s a visual look at the action in the Merano arena — we’ll be back with plenty more info from the ground here at Pratoni, including visitor guides, advice on ticketing, a look at the final layout for the site in September, and much, much more. Until then: vai a fare eventi!

Pratoni 2022 Test Event: Website, Live Scoring, Live Stream, Entries, EN’s Coverage, EN’s Twitter, EN’s Instagram

 

Wednesday Video from Kentucky Performance Products: Yep, We’re Still Obsessing Over Badminton

Okay, okay, I might be at Pratoni and well into the throes of the WEG test event (and all its uniformed eye candy), but I left a little part of my heart behind in Gloucestershire, and I know I’m not the only one. Reliving all the emotions of the final day has certainly been made easier with this super round-up video from Horse&Hound, helmed by the excellent Lucy Elder. Yes, I’ve cried all over again watching Laura Collett’s shaky-voiced interview just after her round and no, I’m not at all embarrassed to admit that on the internet. Just 51 weeks ’til the next one!

Elevate®

Performance horses are susceptible to exercise-induced muscle damage. Vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant, limits the damage caused by everyday oxidative stress. It maintains healthy muscle and nerve functions, and supports a strong immune system in horses of all ages.

Elevate was developed to provide a highly bioavailable source of natural vitamin E (d-alpha-tocopheryl acetate) to horses.

Check out this KPP article: Vitamin E and the Performance Horse – A Winning Combination.

The horse that matters to you matters to us®. KPPusa.com

A Peek at Pratoni: Go Behind the Scenes at the First Horse Inspection

Austria’s Harald Ambros dons his finest lederhosen. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Talk about the whirlwind of the eventing season: after the last two weeks of five-star double-headers at Kentucky and Badminton, we’ve nipped straight down to Italy for the test event for the Pratoni World Championships this September. Though the Championships will be a long-format competition as usual, with CCI5* dressage and showjumping and a ‘four-and-a-half star’ cross-country, this week’s test event is a CCIO4*-S, and is being used to fine-tune the infrastructure, the course, and the set-up ahead of the real deal in a few months. With 12 nations competing, plus further national representatives here on the ground, it’s certainly being taken very seriously, and it’s offering us all a unique opportunity to get to know this beautiful, hilly venue.

I’m not going to be covering this week’s competition in quite the same in-depth manner you’re used to, though rest assured, there’ll be plenty of updates from the event itself, which is also a Nations Cup leg and the Italian National Championships. Instead, my aim on the ground here in Italy is to get a sense of what we can all expect come September: the terrain, the theme of the course design, the measures in place to deal with the (considerable) heat, how different nations are preparing, and how you can make the most of your trip as a spectator. I’ll also be chatting to some up-and-coming riders from a variety of nations so we can follow along with their own respective journeys to — hopefully — their big WEG call-up in a few months’ time. But despite that, I couldn’t resist going to this afternoon’s horse inspection, which is held in a bit of a basin between the schooling arenas and the main arena. The verdict so far? It’s very, very hot, and there are a lot of seriously fresh horses here — but they’ll need to be, because this venue is all about the hills.

Here’s a little peak at what went down in that first horse inspection, which saw all competitors accepted into the competition and just one pair — Sweden’s Malin Josefsson and Golden Midnight — held. You can check out the full entry list here. You’ll also be able to take a closer look at the venue on our Instagram, where we’re storying the experience here all week — and we’d love to know your burning questions about Pratoni, too.

Pratoni 2022 Test Event: Website, Live Scoring, Entries, EN’s Coverage, EN’s Twitter, EN’s Instagram

Tuesday News & Notes from Legends Horse Feeds

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Catherine Austen (@austencatherine)

I feel like I’ve just about recovered from Badminton, wherein a tight-knit group of us slightly bonkers equestrian media folks kept the press centre security chaps in business until the wee hours of the morning most nights. (It’s good timing, too, as I’m just packing up my cameras to catch a flight to Rome in a couple of hours, from where I’ll be going on to the WEG test event in Pratoni!) There have been little glimpses of normality over the past couple of years — last year’s European Championships felt very nearly there, as did Pau and Le Lion with the return of their enthusiastic crowds. But nothing’s felt quite as in-your-face real as Badminton did, with its sell-out crowds, its sea of hugs and tears, and with the elbow-to-elbow scrum of the mixed zone for media and athletes. I hugged just about everyone I encountered, for good measure — social distancing be damned. It’s time to get back to swapping our germs merrily and generously.

Events Opening Today: Loudoun Hunt Pony Club Summer H.T.Horse Park of New Jersey H.T. IStable View Summer H.T.Midsouth Pony Club H.T.Inavale Farm HTValinor Farm H.T.

Events Closing Today: Spring Coconino H.T.Flora Lea Spring H.T.Willow Draw Charity ShowMystic Valley Hunt Club H.T.The Spring Event at WoodsideMay-Daze at the Park H.T.Equestrians’ Institute H.T.VHT International & H.T.Mill Creek Pony Club Horse Trial

News & Notes from Around the World:

“One of the wonders of eventing is the different character of the cross-country courses around the world.” Captain Mark Phillips’s latest column for H&H dives into the differences between the two, recaps a dramatic renewal of Badminton, and recounts what riders got right — and what they got wrong — at the event. [He just has a lot of feelings, okay]

Ever wondered what it’s like to train with the pros in the heart of Ocala’s horse country? Writer Justine Griffin headed to the sunshine state to find out for herself. [Here’s what she learned]

There wasn’t just drama on the cross-country course at Badminton — it all kicked off in the trade-stands, too. Someone has stolen a hare statue worth £19,000, in what must be the most complicated horse show robbery since that time someone nicked a gold toilet from Blenheim. [Is that a rabbit in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?]

In a rather more grim bit of news, it turns out that the donkey skin trade is doing roaring business. A new report has revealed an extensive organised crime network devoted to trafficking the skins globally, and apparently, nearly 5 million donkeys are falling victim to the trade every year. [This isn’t nice reading, but it’s important reading]

Listen to This: One of Badminton’s great success stories was that of Tamie Smith, who overcame a tough Kentucky to deliver three impeccable phases with Mai Baum, including arguably the most stylish showjumping round of the day on Sunday. Get to know her a little bit better in this episode of the Eventing Podcast.

Video Break:

Meet Fiona Kashel, who made her Badminton debut last week with Creevagh Silver de Haar:

“I Thought I’d Wake Up and It Would All Have Been a Dream”: Laura Collett Sets Record Badminton Victory

A childhood dream come true: Laura Collett wins Badminton. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

“I literally didn’t sleep last night because I thought I’d wake up and it would all have been a dream — and now I don’t want to sleep for a week,” laughs a breathless Laura Collett, just moments after cantering out of the arena on the wave of tumultuous cheers that followed her foot-perfect clear round with London 52. Though the rider had entered the arena with a healthy buffer of five penalties in hand over her closest competitor, she never looked close to needing them, and the pair ultimately added just 0.4 time to finish on 21.4 — the lowest-ever finishing score at Badminton.

But although their round looked wholly polished and — dare we say it? — easy to the outside eye, Laura was quick to give all the credit to the thirteen-year-old Holsteiner (Landos x Quinar Z), who easily hunted through the distances when Laura couldn’t spot them.

“I could not see anything and he just went higher and higher and higher,” she says. “Piggy said to me earlier in the stables, ‘look, you wouldn’t swap your horse for any other horse in the field, would you?’ and I said ‘no, but I’d swap the rider!'”

Course designer Kelvin Bywater had built a course for today’s finale that many riders dubbed the toughest they’d seen at this event: though it didn’t have a treble combination, it did feature a back-to-back double of doubles at 6AB and 7AB, and a number of very big, very square oxers that felt much closer to the maximum dimensions than previous fences on Badminton’s final day ever have. It certainly caused its fair share of issues, too: just six riders delivered clears in this morning’s session, which was made up of the 36 competitors outside of the top twenty, and just one — Felicity Collins with RSH Contend OR — did so without adding time penalties. Even more nerve-wrackingly, many recorded faults at the first fence, which came up fast out of the corner and didn’t inspire many particularly elegant efforts. By the time we’d reached the thick of the top twenty, wherein just seven pairs jumped clear, Laura was rather hoping for a bit more than a five-penalty buffer.

“I was thinking I would actually rather Ros had a fence down so I’d have two fences in hand, but that’s just greedy,” she laughs. “It’s not often you get to go into the lead at Badminton with a fence in hand, and at the end of the day, the horse is phenomenal. He just jumped better and better and better, and so I remember that I was sat on an unbelievable jumper. He showed that today.”

 

London 52 produces the goods in his characteristic consistency to lead from pillar to post with Laura Collett. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

 

Laura and Dan, who led this week from start to finish, have felt almost unconquerable over the last couple of years: they won Boekelo in 2019, followed it up with a first five-star victory at Pau in 2020, and then helped the British team to gold at Tokyo last year, to say nothing of the four-star shorts they’ve left quaking in their dust along the way. But it wasn’t all that long ago at all that London 52 had no shortage of detractors, who felt that after green wobbles at Bramham, followed by a run-out while leading at Aachen and a fall in the final water at the European Champs, all in 2019, the horse may not truly be up to the job after all. For Laura, it was an uphill battle to combat the extraordinary pressure of expectation — expectation that she’d get him to come right, but also plenty of expectation that it might never happen at all — but she never lost her faith in the gelding, who had only begun his eventing career just a couple of years prior.

The turning point came, quite pertinently, at Boekelo in 2019, where the pair won the CCIO4*-L in front of one of eventing’s most notoriously boisterous crowds. Laura knew she needed to find a way to end the gelding’s tricky season on a confidence-boosting high, and remembered how much he’d enjoyed his experience there the year prior, when he finished second on his CCI4*-L debut. Returning to the loud, crowded, and jolly venue he’d felt so comfortable at, and a course he knew he could eat up, felt like the magic button — and it was. After his win there, he returned to England a changed man, arriving for his 2020 season with a healthy dose of arrogance that allowed him the self-belief to begin fighting for the tough stuff. Since then, it’s been up, up, and up some more — and this week’s sell-out crowds helped to set the perfect stage to pick him up and let him believe he’s the very best horse in the world. For Laura, that’s always been a given.

“He is just exceptional, and he’s truly shown the world everything that I’ve always believed of him. It’s a long distant memory, all those ups and downs in 2019, but it’s all been worth it,” she says. “I’ve had a whirlwind eighteen months, from him winning my first five-star in 2020 to him going to Tokyo and winning an Olympic gold medal to coming here and winning my first Badminton. There are no words; he’s the horse of a lifetime.”

There’s no doubt at all that tough, gutsy Laura, with her ineffable dedication to her horse and her triumphs against adversity, is the pony novel hero a million young riders have been dreaming of — and she knows all too well how looking up to those icons of the sport can fuel the adventure of a lifetime.

“It’s 100% a childhood dream — I remember coming here on my auntie’s shoulders to watch cross-country,” she says. “I remember dreaming of being Pippa Funnell winning at Badminton — and I can’t believe I’m now me winning at Badminton.”

Ros Canter and Lordships Graffalo begin their pathway to a championship debut that feels inevitable. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Though her first jumping round of the afternoon with her World Champion Allstar B didn’t go quite to plan, Ros Canter put her three rails behind her to return to the ring fresh and focused with the rising ten-year-old Lordships Graffalo, who was jumping for a chance at a podium placing after Oliver Townend knocked a rail while jumping out of order with Ballaghmor Class. And in today’s challenge, he did what he’s done throughout his five-star debut this week: he looked around, sized up the occasion, and rose to it. His clear round ensured the pair would finish on their dressage score of 26, earning them second place and confirming the young horse’s position as one of Great Britain’s most exciting Paris prospects.

“He’s an amazing horse, and I’ve always thought that of him, but at the start of the week I wondered if it was the right decision to even bring him here,” says Ros, who moved the gelding up to four-star at the tail end of 2020 and recorded wins in CCI4*-S classes at Aston-le-Walls and Blair Castle, plus second place finishes in CCI4*-L classes at Bicton and Blenheim within the last year. Still, the rider initially felt that this enormous step up — and ‘Walter’s’ first introduction to significant crowds — might all overface him.

“On Tuesday I went for a hack and his eyes were everywhere; he’d never seen anything like this before, but he settled into it and I really think he’s had a wonderful week. He’s very laid-back and he’s enjoyed every part of it, including the prizegiving. I think he’s really rather pleased with himself!”

Oliver Townend and Swallow Springs take third place. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

“I keep knocking at the door — this is the third time at Badminton on the bounce that we’ve had two in the top six,” says Oliver Townend, who finished third with Swallow Springs and fifth with Kentucky and Burghley winner Ballaghmor Class after taking a rail with each. “The consistency is there, so I’ll just keep turning up and hopefully I’ll get a turn again soon. The horses are very professional, special horses.”

This makes a seventh five-star run for Ballaghmor Class, who has never finished below fifth place at the level and very nearly won in 2019, ultimately losing by one time penalty in the final phase that year — but it was the turn of his new stablemate, the former Andrew Nicholson ride Swallow Springs, to take the spotlight out of Oliver’s line-up. Their podium placing came after a tricky cross-country round yesterday, in which they very nearly fell at the C element of the Quarry early on course, were held for half an hour, and then completed inside the time before being retroactively eliminated for the near-miss. An appeal saw the decision quickly reversed and their placing reinstated, and the gelding looked no worse for wear in today’s horse inspection or final phase.

“Andrew’s obviously done a great job producing the horse,” says Oliver, “but when you ride Andrew Nicolson’s horses, sometimes they make you look like Andrew Nicholson! Especially after coming out of the Quarry — I’m now the new Mr Stickability! But he’s a good horse and a professional, and I’ve been riding on and off for Andrew for twenty years now — I used to ride Mr Smiffy at home. We’ve known each other a long time, and he’s done an amazing job producing this horse.”

Piggy March finds another level of depth to Vanir Kamira’s extraordinary well of try in her return to Badminton. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Though one rail fell in her round, you might have thought Piggy March had won Badminton for the second time in a row with 2019 champion Vanir Kamira, purely based on the buoyant joy that radiated off her as she crossed the finish.

“It’s probably the best she’s ever jumped, even though there was a pole,” she says. “I’m just over the moon; I felt like I left quite a lot out there yesterday. I was down on the clock for three minutes and I felt like I rode very hard for the majority of the course, and she left her heart out there — she gave everything. So I was just a little bit worried today, and I don’t want to expect things of her, because of what she’s done for me and her age.”

Though many riders might have been disheartened by feeling their horse flop over a small warm-up fence, which Vanir Kamira did while preparing for today’s round, the stumbling effort actually proved a great sharpener ahead of their performance in the ring.

“It was the best thing that she did,” says Piggy, “but then she went in there and [jumped like that]. That’s sort of been her character — just when you think there’s absolutely no way, she just has something in her that tells me to do one straightaway, and says ‘I’m here, mum, I’m here with you.’ It’s just brilliant, and it’s just so nice to come away from the week with such a special buzz.”

The pair finished fourth, adding their rail today and just 0.4 time yesterday to their first-phase score of 25.7 to finish a steady climb that saw them move up a spot with each phase. Even with the finale of a five-star to contend with, Piggy’s thoughts were never far from her great friend Nicola Wilson, who is reportedly in stable condition and conscious after a crashing fall on yesterday’s course: “She’s a great girl, a great competitor, a great friend, and we just want her back as soon as possible. Our thoughts are with her.”

David Doel earns a much-deserved moment in the spotlight with Galileo Nieuwmoed. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

When we walked the Badminton course a number of weeks ago with designer Eric Winter, he told EN that his aim had been to build a track that would make it worthwhile to tack up for cross-country even if you were still, say, way down the leaderboard in 60th position after dressage. It certainly seems that showjumping designer Kelvin Bywater was reading from the same hymnbook, because the influence of today’s track allowed three riders who were well down in the mid- to bottom-half of the pack after dressage to continue their climb into the top ten by the end of the week.

Topmost of those was Great Britain’s David Doel, a rider who has often flown under the radar despite an impressive track record of positive production at the top level over the last couple of years. In 2021, he campaigned a quite extraordinary five horses at the level: three went to Luhmühlen, where he was an excellent pathfinder, and then brought forward two different ones at Bicton’s pop-up CCI5*, before finishing the year with two horses at CCI5*. We’re a bit spoiled in this country with our glut of high-profile riders with expansive strings, but for an up-and-coming rider to build a line-up of that sort of depth truly is a feat of some magnitude.

One of those 2021 five-star runners is the eleven-year-old Galileo Nieuwmoed, who debuted at Bicton but rerouted to Pau after an unlucky stumble in the water there. At Pau, they fared considerably better, finishing fifteenth after a sparkling clear round inside the time, but missing their chance at a top-ten finish after toppling two rails on the final day. Here, though, they finally settled the score for the better, and their clear round today — plus just 1.2 time penalties yesterday — allowed them to climb from 32nd after dressage to a final sixth place. That this was his first-ever Badminton makes the moment that much the sweeter.

“He’s been fantastic, and the help and support we’ve had all week has been unreal,” says David, who also won the Laurence Rook Trophy for being the best British first-timer. “It’s a hell of a buzz — we made a couple of mistakes at Pau last year, but we came out here and rectified it in the showjumping this week, so it’s an absolute proper buzz.”

Kitty King and Vendredi Biats confirm their place in the top ten with a clear and time penalties. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Kitty King matched her best-ever Badminton result — a seventh place finish here in 2005 with Five Boys — after jumping clear with 1.2 time penalties aboard Vendredi Biats, who looks much matured since his prior run here in 2019. That year, he failed to complete after depositing his rider at the bottom of the Normandy Bank; this year, he’s so wholly committed to seeking out fences that he nearly locked onto the ropes in addition to the actual jumps on course.

Today, he didn’t look much less fresh than he had yesterday, but his scope and power ensured the big, square fences remained firmly in their cups.

“He jumped really well, but he was a little bit spooky on some of the landings — he kept hearing the cameras and kind of jinked away from me a few times,” says Kitty. “I probably didn’t give him the easiest ride around; I got a little bit add-y, but he didn’t give me the easiest ride yesterday, so I’d say we’re even!”

The 80 seconds of allowed time proved tight throughout the day, with five riders in the top ten alone picking up time penalties, but although Kitty’s 1.2 time penalties didn’t lose her any ground on the leaderboard, she was frustrated to have had them at all: “I’m just a bit annoyed with myself, because I rode a little bit backward down some of the lines and that’s where I got time faults from, which is annoying because he didn’t deserve them.”

Austin O’Connor and Colorado Blue make themselves a very attractive prospect for a follow-up appearance on the Irish team. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Austin O’Connor proved he’s sitting on a real hot commodity for the Irish squad, finishing eighth with the Jaguar Mail gelding Colorado Blue after adding just 0.4 time penalties today to their first-phase score of 36.3. Their two fast, confident, and tidy jumping phases allowed them to make an extraordinary climb from 58th through the weekend. Their performances served as confirmation that their Tokyo result, where they finished 13th and best of the Irish after getting a last-minute call-up from the reserve position.

“I think I thought I was coming down to the Vicarage Vee at fence four but other than that, I think it was pretty good,” he says with a laugh. “He’s a jumper, and he’s improving, and as we saw yesterday, all the good horses get their jockeys out of trouble now and then, and we owe them a lot.”

Tamie Smith and Mai Baum are textbook over Badminton’s beefiest showjumping track. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Best of the exciting US front was Tamie Smith, who delivered the goods across the phases with Mai Baum: they sat in fifth place after dressage on their 25.3, then dipped down to fifteenth yesterday after an exceptionally stylish round nevertheless saw them add 11.2 time penalties. Her proclivity for preserving her horse over the tough track, where she opted to stick to her planned stride patterns so as not to overdraw from her horse’s energy and effort banks, paid dividends today, though — the sixteen-year-old gelding looked as though he’d come out fresh at a jumper show, and gave onlookers perhaps their only stress-free viewing experience of the day with his perfect, easy form. That was enough to put the pressure on all those who followed, and as round after round racked up faults, Tamie steadily made her way back into the top ten to ultimately take ninth place.

“He’s always on springs, and while you never know what they’re going to do after a big track like yesterday’s, he definitely was today,” she says. “The crowd just lifted him and boinged him up over those jumps.”

The result wasn’t just further evidence that the pair are leading the charge in the US’s global offence — it was also a much-needed triumph over the dark cloud that had dogged her since last week’s five-star fixture, where her ride, Fleeceworks Royal, pulled up on course with a significant injury.

“I came from a Kentucky that was quite emotional — having Fleeceworks Royal start out having an unbelievable round and then just feeling her not right and pulling up,” she says. “I’ve had her since she was three and have produced her myself, and as everyone in this sport knows, it takes a lifetime to get them there. And so I was feeling very deflated and I just felt so bad for her owner, her breeders, and all the people around her — and then you’ve just got to put that all behind you to come here, not knowing what to expect but knowing he’s capable of performing unbelievably.”

Have the pair booked their ticket to Pratoni? Only time will tell, but it’s hard to imagine how they could possibly be overlooked at this stage. For now, though, Tamie’s living in the moment — and it’s one she’s dreamed of for a very long time.

“It was just more magical than I can explain,” she says. “My best friend texted me before the dressage and I was quite emotional, because we grew up watching VHS tapes of Badminton, so to finally get here and have that kind of performance is a dream come true.”

Richard Jones celebrates an exuberant clear with Alfies Clover. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Richard Jones rounded out the top ten after a tidy clear with his stalwart Alfies Clover, who has been a seriously useful partner for him over the years: they’ve previously finished seventh at both Bramham and Burghley, and their 2.8 time penalties yesterday and 0.8 today allowed them a weekend climb from 58th to tenth place.

“He jumped fantastic — we haven’t done a lot of shows in the spring, so I think a big occasion like that, suddenly he was jumping out of his skin,” he says.

Here’s a closer look at those climbs and score breakdowns in our final leaderboard, and you can check out the results in full here. Until next time: Go Eventing.

The final top ten at Badminton 2022.

Badminton Links: WebsiteEntriesLive Stream, Live Scores, Ride TimesEN’s Ultimate Guide, The Form GuideCourse PreviewEN’s CoverageEN’s Twitter, EN’s Instagram