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Aachen Dressage: A Match Race Between Sophie Leube and Tamie Smith

Sophie Leube rockets to a last-minute lead with Jadore Moi. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“She was quite wild when she was young — her name was Crocodile because she was always biting and kicking and a bit like a mare,” laughs a teary and beaming Sophie Leube. But along the way, something has evidently clicked into place for Jadore Moi, the eleven-year-old Brandenburg mare with whom she leads CHIO Aachen CCIO4*-S at the culmination of the dressage phase. These days, Sophie tells us, “she’s quite hot but still listening — not super crazy!”, and today, she was able to channel her considerable pizzazz into a four-star personal best of 24.5, allowing the Germans to snatch the merest of leads in the last session of the day.

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

“I wasn’t expecting a score like that at all,” says Sophie, who made her own way into the global spotlight last season when she piloted the Trakehner stallion Sweetwaters Ziethen TSF to victory in the Seven-Year-Old World Championship at Le Lion d’Angers. But although she’s evidently a dab hand at sympathetically producing young horses, and possesses a quiet, effective riding style that’s not dissimilar to that of her mentor Ingrid Klimke, 34-year-old Sophie is still a relatively fresh face on the German circuit — and Jadore Moi is her first upper-level mount. (Not wholly relevant but still interesting is that a 24-year-old Sophie did her first-ever FEI competition aboard none other than SAP Hale Bob OLD, then in the early stages of his own career. They grow up so fast.) Together, Sophie and Jadore Moi’s marks have tipped as low as 22 at three-star, and they’ve been consistently improving at four-star, too: they’ve gone from scoring around the 29–31 mark to dipping down to 25.1 in their last run at Arville CCI4*-S, finally hitting top form at the long-awaited return of Germany’s crown jewel equestrian fixture.

“We both got better and better this year in the dressage,” says Sophie. “She gets more relaxed and more concentrated with every competition, but with this atmosphere I thought she could be a bit too excited! But she was listening so well, and I could ride her the same way as I could at home.”

This year, the eventing dressage has moved from its former location in one of the stadiums to the springy, grassy driving area, which has presented its own unique set of challenges — though it feels quite and separate from the hustle and bustle of the show, it backs onto the cavernous main arena, which means that last night’s arena familiarisation was punctuated by sporadic cheers and applause for the crowds who’d gathered to watch the showjumping Nations Cup class. Throughout the day, we’ve seen a number of horses bubble over with tension, either because they’ve felt uncomfortable in the midst of this unfamiliar oasis of quiet — or because they’re waiting for a nearby roar that isn’t going to come. But Jadore Moi “always wants to do her best,” smiles Sophie, and despite the difficult atmosphere, that truly showed today.

Tamie Smith and Mai Baum add an extra stamp to their passport after a jet-setting summer. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Of course, a victory for one camp always means a sigh of frustration for another — though Team USA still has plenty of fight left in their ranks. That Tamie Smith and Mai Baum, who has been based in Germany since returning from reserve duties in Tokyo, took the lead earlier surprised nobody, and though they’ve been relegated to second place ahead of this evening’s showjumping, it’s by the merest of margins: they sit seven-tenths of a penalty behind Sophie on a 25.2, which means that the leader will have a solitary time penalty in hand over the poles.

We’re used to seeing 15-year-old German Sport Horse Mai Baum do an exceptional test: he’s posted a 20.4 at CCI4*-S this year, and a 21.8 at Kentucky this spring. Aachen’s dressage judges might not have given any free marks out today, but ‘Lexus’ made the best of the test — and the unique footing.

“The horses don’t move the same on grass, and the arena is very different than any other part [of the venue],” explains Tamie. “It’s squishier and slippier, and I knew that, so I put in a bigger stud than I would have — but I probably could have gone even bigger!”

Mai Baum gets a well-earned fuss after his test, which sees him go into this evening’s showjumping in second place. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Though their test was nearly foot-perfect — other than a minor mistake in the first flying change — there were rather more interpretive dance moves from Lexus in the warm-up ring. But, Tamie explains, that’s just part of the process of getting great work out of the striking gelding.

“I think that’s one of the things that we, as event riders, don’t really address in the warm-up,” she says. “You’ve got to get through that stuff — it’s easy to just ride them carefully so that nothing like that happens, but then you don’t really get them through. There’s some horses you can’t do that with, but I know him so well. He just could be that percentage point better, but he’ll be like, ‘no, I don’t want to work that hard!’, so I’ve got to kick him a little bit here and there. But then you get the right feeling and then it’s all good. It’s like he’s peaked at just right time.”

Tamie opted to minimise her warm-up time to try to coax the best out of the gelding — a not unwise move, considering the difference between the feeling of the footing in the warm-up as opposed to the ring itself.

“Every event is managed differently, and you pray that you can get the formula right. I didn’t do much warm-up, which is a little bit of a risky thing because he can be a bit — like at Arville, he bolted in the canter depart, so when I was getting ready to canter I was like, ‘don’t bolt!!!’ I’m just super thrilled with him — he couldn’t have been better. He was so with me the whole time.”

Gireg Le Coz shines aboard the impressive Aisprit de la Loge. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Like Tamie, France’s Gireg Le Coz opted to shorten his warm-up with his 2019 Jardy Event Rider Masters winner Aisprit de la Loge. This paid dividends for the eleven-year-old Selle Français, who earned a four-star personal best of 28.1.

“I’m very happy, and I was even a bit emotional when I saw the board,” says Gireg with a smile. “He was very good, and it was his best test ever, so this was a good day to do it! I changed my warm-up to make it quicker and shorter, and that worked really well — he was really with me. He’s a very good horse and a very good mover, but it’s about having him relaxed and focused, which he was today. When the warm-up gets too long, he just gets a bit tense and it gets too much for him.”

Instead of overworking him before the test, Gireg opted to do a longer schooling session this morning, focusing on stretching the gelding, and then brought him back out for a lightning-fast ‘proper’ warm-up before his test. The resultant lack of tension showed particularly in his improved immobility in the three halts in the test.

“He always does a good test, but sometimes I lose marks in the halts and reinback, but today I didn’t lose any points anywhere, so I’m very happy,” says Gireg.

Laura Collett and Mr Bass sit fourth going into showjumping. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It’s been a good day in the office so far for recent Olympic gold medallist Laura Collett, who sits fourth with Mr Bass on a 28.2 and seventh on Dacapo on  29.1.

“I was really pleased with Mr Bass; he did a really nice test, and stayed with me and tried really hard,” she says. “For a horse who finds it difficult, I was pleased with him.”

Though the high of Olympic glory hasn’t quite sunk in yet, Laura — who also has a ride in tomorrow night’s novelty Ride and Drive class — isn’t taking anything for granted as she takes on Aachen again after leading going into the final phase two years ago.

“It’s just amazing to be here — Aachen is unbelievable, and to be able to be here with two horses [in the four-star] is incredible,” she says. “It’s still hard to believe Tokyo happened, but each horse is different, and I’m focusing on these two horses this week. [London 52] was in Tokyo, and that was his job, and now it’s about these two, who’ll hopefully go to Pau — so it’s just another day in the office, really!”

Will Coleman and Off The Record hold a close 11th place after dressage. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Though the top two placings are in a league of their own, from a single pole covers third place to fifteenth — and Will Coleman and Off The Record sit in a very close eleventh place on 29.7 as we go into showjumping.

“There’s more in there, hopefully,” he says. “He’s a funny horse, but we like him a lot — he tries very hard, in his own way. For me, today, I just wanted to ride for a clean test and give him a confidence-building experience, and I think we did that. As he grows in confidence, I think he’ll give us more, but you can’t go faster than they let you.”

Ariel Grald and Leamore Master Plan. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

With such tightly-packed scores, there’s still plenty to play for out there, and that’ll be a welcome bit of knowledge to some of our riders, whose horses entered the arena in various versions of ‘party mode’ today: Ariel Grald‘s Leamore Master Plan, who finished third at Luhmühlen CCI5* earlier this year, looked much improved in his physical strength but suffered from tension in the ring, posting a 34.8 for 28th.

Lauren Nicholson and Vermiculus. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Lauren Nicholson‘s Vermiculus, on the other hand, looked to be having rather too much fun entirely, and his impressive moments were punctuated by some amateur dramatics in the changes, putting them on a 35.6 for 31st. Finally, Sydney Elliott cheerfully accepted some greenness from the good-looking QC Diamantaire — the pair, who are enjoying their first trip abroad, go into showjumping in 38th place on a 39.4.

Sydney Elliott and QC Diamantaire. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

There’s no rest for the wicked here at Aachen, and we’re heading straight on into the showjumping phase now — but keep it locked on EN for more updates, image galleries, and much more from our US team here this evening!

The top ten after dressage in the CHIO Aachen CCIO4*-S.

CHIO Aachen CCIO4*-S: [Website] [Schedule and Scoring] [Entries] [Live Stream] [EN’s Coverage]

Tuesday News & Notes from Legends Horse Feed

It’s CHIO Aachen week, and horses and riders from all over the world are heading to the north of Germany to battle it out across the disciplines for some of equestrian sport’s most coveted titles. We’ll be there to bring you all the action from the eventing (and beyond!) — and after two years without this incredible show, we’re just about ready to cry with delight over the thought of the free mojitos in the Champions’ Circle. Make sure you’re following us on Instagram if you want the full behind-the-scenes experience! 

National Holiday: It’s National…Ants on a Log Day? These are just random words being plucked out of a hat at this point, I think.

Events Opening Today: FEH & YEH Last Chance Qualifier & West Coast ChampionshipsChattahoochee Hills H.T.The VHT International & H.T.Course Brook Farm Fall H.T.

Events Closing Today: Moqui Meadows H.T.Maryland 5 Star at Fair HillFleur de Leap H.T.Willow Draw Charity ShowMiddle Tennessee Pony Club H.T.Sundance Farm H.T.Jump Start H.T.The Maryland Horse Trials at Loch Moy FarmSpokane Sport Horse Seventh Annual Fall H.T.Larkin Hill H.T.

Hot on EN: We’re a month away from the inaugural Maryland Five-Star — and the entry list is looking tasty on closing day. Check it out here.

News & Notes from Around the World:

We all like to set big, lofty goals, whether that’s in competition or in training. But so often, success comes down to the little details — and those, rather annoyingly, are the things that are easiest to skip. Dressage rider Lauren Sprieser reminds us all of five teensy-weensy things we’ve probably neglected that could make a huge difference. [5 Things You’re Definitely Not Doing Often Enough]

No matter the scale of the setback, an injury that sidelines you can make you feel like you’ve lost a part of yourself. But if you’re lucky, you can find it again at the barn, as Gabrielle Gallant did. [After the Fall: A Comeback Story]

We’re heading swiftly towards the October 4th deadline for the 2022 Worth the Trust Scholarship. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a super fund that gives $4,000 to an amateur rider, allowing them to pursue training and competitive goals. It also encourages volunteering within our sport, which is always a great bonus. [Deadline for 2022 Worth the Trust Scholarship is Approaching!]

It was all happening over the weekend at England’s Cornbury House International. Read Horse&Hound‘s wrap-up of the stories of the week to catch up on this classy new event. [Cornbury House Horse Trials: a first-time international winner, plus riders bounce back from season-ending injuries]

Listen: Still basking in the afterglow of a great AECs? Relive it all over again with the USEA Podcast.

Watch: Some people see ageing as a road block. Others saddle up anyway and ride 600 miles, despite being 80 years old and having just one eye. What a rock star. 

Monday News & Notes from FutureTrack

I truly cannot believe we’ve reached this part of the year already, but somehow, we’re into the autumn season and that special time of the year in which I only think about those clever six- and seven-year-old horses who’ll potentially contest Le Lion d’Angers in late October. It’s always fun to see which US horses will make the journey, and there have been some changes on that front over the last few days: Doug Payne, the recipient of the Holekamp/Turner Grant for 2021 with Camarillo, has opted not to make the trip in light of ongoing travel restrictions, but Avery Klunick, who’s currently based with Australia’s Kevin and Emma McNab in the UK, picked up her qualification with Pisco Sour at Cornbury over the weekend. And so the race to Le Lion continues on apace!

National Holiday: It’s National Peanut Butter Day. I’m into it.

US Weekend Action:

Tryon Fall H.T. (Tryon, Nc.): [Website] [Results]

CDCTA Fall H.T.: (Berryville, Va.): [Website] [Results]

Chardon Valley H.T. (Decatur, Mi.): [Website] [Results]

Copper Meadows Fall H.T. (Ramona, Ca.): [Website] [Results]

Flora Lea Fall H.T. (Medford, Nj.): [Website] [Results]

UK Weekend Action:

Burnham Market (2): [Results]

Cornbury House International: [Results]

Frenchfield (2): [Results]

Frickley Park (2): [Results]

West Wilts (3): [Results]

 

Your Monday Reading List:

The final list of entries for next week’s European Championships has gone live! And blimey, folks, there’s some quality on there. We’ll be doing a deep dive into the entries and what you can expect from them, but in the meantime, have a cheeky browse through the list and start picking your favourites. We reckon it’s pretty hard to bet against the Brits again…! [Definite Entries for 2021 FEI Eventing European Championships]

If you work with horses, you’re probably always stumbling upon new and unique ways to injure yourself. For British farrier Charlie Madden, that injury has been, well, fairly horrific — but he’s hoping that he can use his experience for good, by sharing his story and encouraging horsey folks to consider wearing eye protection when working with their four-legged darlings. [Farrier whose eye burst in freak accident hopes his story may save others’ vision]

Age ain’t nothin’ but a number, baby — or at least, that’s how Aussie Andrew Hoy feels about it. He’s quite happy to let everyone else get into a flap about his age (that’s 62; the oldest in the eventing at Tokyo) while he cracks on with his next set of goals. [Olympian Andrew Hoy focuses on the future, leaving others to talk about his age]

How do you go from rural northern Ontario to the glittering areas of Aachen and Hagen? With a lot of hard work and a heck of a passion for horses, as Canadian dressage rider Ryan Torkkeli discovered. [From Thunder Bay to Europe: The Move That Made Ryan Torkkeli’s Career]

The FutureTrack Follow:

Missed England’s Cornbury House International Horse Trials last week? Recap the event in images from award-winning photographer Sarah Farnsworth.

Morning Viewing:

Ever wondered what actually goes into making a saddle? Consider your questions answered.

Friday Video from SmartPak: Behind the Scenes at Bicton

 

We’ve all sung the praises of Bicton’s organising team for putting together Britain’s first CCI5* since 2019 in just 11 weeks — and rightly so! But just as worthy of praise are the grooms working tirelessly behind the scenes, who’ve ensured their horses are kept in the best of condition despite some seriously tricky circumstances and disrupted seasons. Head behind the scenes with the Elite Eventing TV production team to meet some of the unsung superstars of the sport — we couldn’t be without them!

Tuesday News & Notes from Legends Horse Feed

We’re inching ever closer to the Young Horse World Championships at Le Lion d’Angers, and it’s about this time of year that I start to get really excited about these slightly gangly child prodigies and what they’ve been up to through the summer. Fortunately for me, France’s Tom Carlile always provides the sterling content I need — like these photos of his impressive string of Upsilon offspring, all of whom look to be the spitting image of their beloved sire. Even more impressively, Upsilon offspring took all three places on the podium in the French national championships for seven year olds, with Etoile de Beliard taking top honours, followed by Epsilon First Lady in second and Arnaud Boiteau’s Eau Vive de Brenne in third. Now THAT’S what we call total domination, and I can’t wait to see them in person and watch the world’s best producer of young horses (in my humble opinion!) work his magic again.

National Holiday: It’s the International Day of Clean Air. Can you do one simple thing to cut emissions today? I’m going to walk into town rather than take my car, which might seem like a really teensy-weensy action, but imagine if all of us did that today?

Events Opening Today: Tryon Riding & Hunt Club “Morris the Horse” TrialsHolly Hill H.T.Windermere Run H.TWaredaca Classic Three Day Event & H.T.Fresno County Horse Park H.T.Hagyard Midsouth Three-day Event

Events Closing Today: FEH Qualifier at Loch Moy FarmFEH Championships at Loch Moy FarmOld Tavern Horse Trials

News and Notes from Around the World:

After a crashing fall earlier in the summer that resulted in a broken back and pelvis, former British Young Rider medallist Phoebe Locke is back in the saddle. And she’s making a pretty impressive comeback of it, too! [Four-star event rider seriously injured in rotational fall makes competition comeback]

In the midst of busy Gloucester in the west of England, there’s a riding school with a difference. Head behind the scenes at St James City Farm, an urban riding school dedicated to providing a safe haven for local young riders and particularly Muslim equestrians. [Inside Gloucester’s Muslim horse riding school]

There’s not much we love more than a bit of colour on a cross-country course. Luckily, talented COTH tog Lindsey Berreth agrees and has collated a gallery of some of the splashiest at the AECs. [Favorite Photos: A Rainbow of Horses at the AEC]

 

Listen: Relive some of that Bicton magic as Nicole Brown and Gemma Tattersall debrief after the cross-country phase.

Watch: Meet Belgian Olympian Lara de Liedekerke-Meier, who’s lucky enough to call the stunning Arville home.

Monday News & Notes from FutureTrack

Weekend’s don’t come much better than the one Gemma Tattersall just had — a first five-star win and a surprise proposal at the final press conference will be pretty hard to beat, though we suspect her wedding itself will be every bit as epic. In any case, it was the perfect fairytale send-off for this extraordinary ‘pop-up’ five-star competition, and one that we hope has bolstered the hopes of eventing’s stakeholders, fans, riders and supporters after a seriously tricky 18 months. We’ve often said there’s nothing that the eventing community can’t do when we unite our efforts and energies — and that’s an exciting and reassuring notion to see confirmed once again.

National Holiday: It’s Labor Day! Informally, it’s the end of summer — but formally, it’s a celebration of the laborers who were behind America’s enormous growth, and who were finally given rights and representation in the form of trade unions in the late nineteenth century. These days, we recommend using it to raise a glass (or three) to the hard work you’ve been putting in, managing to juggle full-time jobs, your studies, parenthood, horses — whatever you’ve got going on, and however you make it happen, we know our readership is full of some seriously hard workers, and we salute you. (We’ll leave the searing op-ed on why we should use this as an opportunity to reconsider how we pay and treat grooms and other stable staff for tomorrow. Enjoy your picnic today.)

U.S. Weekend Action:

#AEC2021 (Lexington, Ky.): [Website] [Results]

Bucks County Horse Park H.T. (Revere, Pa.): [Website]

Chattahoochee Hills H.T. (Fairburn, Ga.): [Website] [Results]

Equestrians’ Institute H.T. (Cle Elum, Wa.): [Website] [Results]

Silverwood Farm H.T. (Camp Lake, Wi.): [Website] [Results]

UK Weekend Action:

The Chedington Bicton CCI5*:  [Website] [Results] [EN’s Coverage]

Richmond (2): [Results]

Sapey (2): [Results]

Your Monday Reading List:

After spending the week in Devon reporting on the inaugural Bicton CCI5*, I’m enjoying catching up on everything that went on at the AECs – and my favourite bit, as always, is finding out more about the amateur and junior riders and their horses, whose incredible hard work and a lifetime of dreaming led them to the Kentucky Horse Park for the ride of their lives. One of those riders? Junior Samantha Manning, who helped her Morgan x Mustang back from the brink after a scary injury and competed in the Beginner Novice Jr Championship last week. [Manning And Good Luck Molly Overcome The Odds To Get To The AEC]

We all spend a lot of time thinking about our horse’s limbs, particularly when we compete regularly and want to avoid tendon injuries. But what about their backs? Even if you have a well-fitted saddle, could jumping sessions be causing soreness? A student at Michigan State wanted to find out, with help from a hunter-jumper rider. [Study: Does Jumping Generate Back Pain in Horses?]

Horse Sport Ireland has appointed a new CEO after a slightly tricky Olympic year, which saw a well-publicised controversy emerge when the country’s dressage team — the first one it had ever qualified — wasn’t sent to compete. Dennis Duggan will being his tenure in January 2022. [Horse Sport Ireland Appoints New CEO]

The FutureTrack Follow:

You can never follow too many eventing photographers, and one of Britain’s best is friend of EN Hannah Cole, whose images you may have seen illustrating some of our reports and content this year. Make sure she’s on your feed if you want to follow along with what’s happened on the UK scene and beyond.

Morning Viewing:

Want to rewind to Blair Castle’s emotional, exciting CCI4*-L? You can relive the winning round here.

“She Puts Her Snout Down and Truffle Snuffles”: Piggy March and Vanir Kamira Take Bicton Lead

Piggy March and Vanir Kamira execute the fastest clear round of the day to move into the lead. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

We’d all suspected that the inaugural Chedington Bicton Arena CCI5* might be a bit of a tough one — after all, the CCI4*-L held here as a replacement for Bramham back in June threw even the most experienced competitors for a loop and resulted in just a 35.7% clear rate. This time, a smaller field came forward, amply prepared from prior experience and rider feedback for the relentless terrain and tricky tracks at the Devon fixture, but even with the best of preparation, a true five-star challenge unfolded through the day, resulting in a marginally higher 41.9% clear rate and a 61.3% completion rate — in short, every inch the amount of influence we’d expect from the likes of Burghley, which Bicton is deputising for in this slightly odd year.

31 combinations came forward to tackle Captain Mark Phillips‘s course, a field diminished by one after the withdrawal this morning of Padraig McCarthy‘s second ride Leonidas II, who’s been shortlisted for the Irish team at the European Championships and will be saved for a potential call-up. But if any of the assembled were hoping to glean some useful intel — or, heaven forbid, some confidence — from watching the first couple of riders out of the box, they’d be sorely disappointed. Both trailblazer David Doel and Galileo Nieuwmoed and second out, tenth-placed Oliver Townend and the experienced MHS King Joules, failed to complete after falls on course, and quite suddenly, the warm-up ring was full of rather more set jaws and game faces.

The troubles would come thick and fast throughout the course and the afternoon, and the make-up of the top ten as we head into the final day looks rather different than it did this morning: we saw several surprise early finishes for frontrunners, including fourth-placed Izzy Taylor and Fonbherna Lancer, who had a drive-by at the skinny arrowhead following the drop down into the arena at 14C and retired later on in the course, and third-placed debutants Will Rawlin and VIP Vinnie, who pulled up after the second fence because of a sudden onset lameness. We also saw a retirement on course for sixth-placed William Fox-Pitt and Oratorio II, who looked to sustain a nosebleed mid-round. In total, nineteen horses and riders would cross the finish line, with twelve making the long trek back to the stables through the gathered crowds.

Five-star cross-country is rarely straightforward, but as Captain Mark Phillips put it at the conclusion of the day, “the best made it look easy.” And that was certainly the case for our new overnight leaders, who didn’t just jump a faultless clear round — including all the direct routes, a choice seldom seen through the day — they also delivered the fastest round of the day, romping home nine seconds inside the 11:16 optimum time. That, of course, was 2019 Badminton winners Piggy March and the sixteen-year-old Vanir Kamira, who once again proved that she’s one of the greatest event horses of this generation of competitors.

Piggy March and Vanir Kamira jump direct through the tough line of skinny brushes at 19ABCDE. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

For Piggy, though, the overwhelming feeling upon completion was of relief — not necessarily because she’d had reservations about the track, or because she’d wanted to find herself in a competitive position, but because after two long years, she finally had an opportunity to give her five-star specialist another goal and another chance to do what she does best.

“For these wonderful old horses, to miss two full seasons of their careers, and from being fourteen and running well at Badminton and Burghley… they’re not tennis rackets or footballs; you can’t put them in the cupboard and do nothing,” she says. “‘Tillybean’ doesn’t run very much; she doesn’t really do one-day events, so I came here just hoping her experience from previous years was going to carry us through. I knew how to get her fit, but still, in the back of your mind you think, ‘I hope she remembers!’ And, ‘I hope I remember how to ride!'”

She needn’t have worried. From the start of the course until the very end, Piggy and Tilly gave a masterclass in accuracy, confidence — and old-school event horse fitness. This has always been the mare’s best quality; she’s learned to put together a mid-20s dressage test through correct, sympathetic training, and her showjumping will always be just a tiny bit scrappy, but get her out on a mountainous eleven-minute track and she’s wholly and completely in her element.

“She was like, ‘come on, mother!’ She puts her snout on the floor and truffle snuffles the whole way around like ‘come on, let’s go!’ – we don’t give anything much height, but we’re flying along,” she says with a laugh. “She looks for the flags and the moment I try to slow her up a bit or think ‘let’s give this a bit more time’, she’s like, ‘nope, we’re going!’ But the confidence you can have in a horse like that who knows her job, and wants to do it — she’s a gritty, hardy little mare.”

Piggy and Tilly make light work of one of the Captain’s plentiful skinnies. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

These enormous feats aren’t just special for the riders and their horses, of course — it’s an important milestone for owners, too, who’ve remained loyal and faithful despite the lack of opportunities to enjoy their horses through the pandemic. For Tilly, and for owner Trevor Dickens, those moments are particularly  specialised.

“I’ve joked before, saying she’s a pain in the arse 362 days a year, but those few days when you’ve got a big competition and really need something with guts and heart is when she just comes into her own. I’m so very proud of her and so very proud of Trevor Dickens, as well. He’s owned her all her career, and what a fabulous horse to have had. These are the moments: she’s been a Burghley horse, she’s been second there twice and fifth once, and it’s been so sad for her not to have had one event that was hers to have a go at [since 2019]. She’s made for hills, for terrain, for grit and heart, and she did it, exactly as she always does it, today.”

Piggy, who was also awarded 2TheBarn’s prize for the best cross-country riding of the day, named Bicton’s track as the toughest five-star terrain she’d ever tackled — a sentiment that was widely echoed across the board.

“I think it was really interesting, and it walked like that — when we walked the course, we hadn’t even got to our two-minute marker and we were like, ‘oh my word, we’ve come up three steep hills already!’ We’ve all got experience, and we’ve ridden around Burghley a few times, and you get to learn with experience how to ride the land and the layout and the terrain of it. I was really taken aback by how intense the first four minutes of this track was, and it felt more like a one-day track with the steepness of the rises and having to move up those hills to big fences and get them right back to come down the hill. There was a lot in the first few minutes, where normally at Burghley or Badminton, you’ve run a few minutes on flatter terrain that lets the horses breathe and get into a rhythm a bit easier. So it was as demanding, definitely, as I’ve ever ridden around for a horse with stamina. But it was such clever course designing, too, to let you get home, with the last two and a half minutes of nothing too big and demanding so you could get them home and happy if the petrol gauge was running low. We learned a lot about the terrain, and the horses, and everything.”

Gemma Tattersall and Chilli Knight deliver the first clear inside the time of the day. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The only other clear round inside the time — and the first of the day — was delivered by Gemma Tattersall and Chilli Knight, who came into this competition as one of the fastest horses in the field and was able to climb from ninth place to second off the back of their super round. For Gemma, who’s known the son of Chilli Morning since the day he was born, the sterling finish was the culmination of an awful lot of work behind the scenes — and some considerable pressure, too.

“I can’t tell you the relief — I’ve been feeling so sick all morning,” she laughs. “I was horrifically nervous. My owners have come here and they’ve helped put this event on, and I just wanted to give them a good time, and me a good time, and the whole team a good time — the pressure has been a lot, honestly, and we’ve been working really hard.”

Owner Chris Stone is part of the small and dedicated team of stakeholders that have ensured this one-off event could take place — the latest act of philanthropy from the man who funded the Event Rider Master series and has been a stalwart supporter of Gemma over the years, too. Like Gemma, he’s always believed in ‘Alfie’s’ ability — but the catty chestnut still surprised and delighted his rider over the toughest challenge of his career.

“The horse honestly surprised me; I expected to add more strides! For example, in the arena I’d walked that five all day long, but blimmin’ heck, he actually went on four. He’s just unbelievable — he goes from a pony to a lion. He literally walked around at the start on a long rein, completely switched off, and then he’s off! He’s incredible, because he saves himself. When he’s galloping along he doesn’t take anything out of himself, so I never pushed him once, because he gets in a rhythm and his rhythm is the right pace.”

The pair had just one sticky moment on course: after jumping boldly through the NFU water complex near the end of the course, Alfie didn’t quite clock the final angled hedge on dry land, but a bit of manoeuvring from Gemma — and plenty of honesty from the gelding — saw them find their way to the other side sans penalties.

“He was on such a roll, and if that horse sees a fence, he’ll jump it. He just never realised he had to jump that until I was like, ‘JUMP IT!’ He hadn’t realised; he’d thought he was done [with that question], but he was like, ‘oh shit, sorry mum!’ He’s that honest.”

Pippa Funnell is carried home over the final fence by the roar of the crowd. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Dressage leaders Pippa Funnell and Billy Walk On didn’t quite manage to stay at the top of the leaderboard, but at the tail end of a long day of competition, they gave a fantastic display of cross-country riding to sail home — accompanied by the spine-tingling roar of the assembled crowd — with 4.8 time penalties, which secured them overnight third place. More than that, though, it reignited Pippa’s fire — particularly after a tricky earlier round on Majas Hope, who remains in eighth place after adding 15.2 time penalties because he ended up on the wrong side of the rope and couldn’t find his way back over. But Pippa, who won Britain’s last five-star at Burghley in 2019, regrouped and made the best of her second ride.

“I’m absolutely delighted with him,” says Pippa of the lanky Billy Walk On. “I knew he’s not the fastest horse in the world, so I had to get into such a good rhythm and just keep plodding away. It’s such a bonus living where I do in the Surrey hills, because the horses have done so much hill work and I knew from the first ride that he was plenty fit enough. I’d done exactly the same work with Billy Walk On, and it’s so nice to know that you can just keep asking the questions. And honestly? It was the best ride I’ve ever had on him. He was just class, and he got into a rhythm — and for once, I didn’t feel like an old girl, getting all protective. I really, really enjoyed it — and if I’m honest, I thought I was going to come back [to five-star] after two years thinking I wasn’t going to enjoy it, and that actually it might be my time, if I didn’t enjoy it, to call it a day. But I had such a good time!”

Pippa Funnell sprints for the finish on her first ride of the day, Majas Hope. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Pippa credited her grounding in the old long-format sport as pivotal in helping her prepare her horses for this track: “The one advantage I have as an old girl is producing horses for three-days and steeplechase. That’s how we had to produce the horses for here — there was a lot of work that’s gone into getting them in tip-top condition. You had to put the work in, and the groundwork, and that gave me enormous confidence that he ran on so well.”

Ros Canter and Pencos Crown Jewel sail through the final water complex en route to a classy clear. Photo by Hannah Cole.

Ros Canter‘s twelve-year-old British-bred mare Pencos Crown Jewel finished the day as the highest-placed first-timer, overcoming her suspicion of the crowds — and boy, were there crowds — to sail through the finish with 7.6 time penalties and the seventh-fastest round of the day. That allowed them to climb from seventh place after dressage, where they scored an impressive 27.1, to fourth place heading into tomorrow’s showjumping.

“I’m super proud of her — I really didn’t know what to expect going into today, because she’s a first-time five-star horse and she’s a little mare and so gutsy, but a little bit of a worrier,'” says Ros. “She came out of the start box a little bit frightened of the people, and my steering wasn’t quite on point the whole way around, but she just tries and tries and tries. She’s just the most game thing I’ve ever sat on.”

Oliver Townend and Tregilder pop the first amid a crowd of fans. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Five riders activated frangible devices throughout the day today, and all of them did so at the same fence: that was the upright rail at 16A, the Ariat Challenge coffin, which featured the rail, ditch, and brush on a double bounce distance and was ultimately the most influential question of the day as a result of those pins. But such was the influence of the course that two of those riders still featured in the top ten — and the best-placed of those was Oliver Townend and his debutant Tregilder, who finished inside the time with those eleven penalties to add.

“It was a good five-star course,” says Oliver, who cited the relatively inexperienced field as a primary factor in the influence of the course. “Everyone knows it was a weak field, but you can’t dumb down the course to suit the customers — you have to keep the levels at the levels that they’re at. I thought for a first attempt at the level, the team have done an unbelievable job, and I couldn’t have more respect for the team and everyone behind the initiative.”

Tregilder hasn’t had the most straightforward lead-up to his five-star debut, with non-completions at Burnham Market and Houghton this spring, but today, the gelding came into his own on course.

“I’m incredibly happy with him. He was genuine all the way, stuck his head down and went — I actually thought I was further behind on the time than I was, but he kept making up time as he went on, dropped his head, and lengthened his stride,” he said. But for all his delight in his horse, he was critical of the reasonably recent rule change that means that pin penalties aren’t appealable, which means that even if they haven’t prevented a fall, they can affect the standings.

“It’s not the sport I fell in love with, and if it continues like this, I’ll quickly fall out of love with it because it’s not right,” he says. “We’ve trained these horses to drop their back legs on a vertical going into a coffin to jump the ditch correctly and jump out safely, and I think the FEI needs to open their eyes and realise that not a rider in the world agrees with the penalties on the pins. The pins themselves are a different thing — they’re a safety thing, and I do believe that if the ground jury believes that it’s saved you from a fall, you should be awarded the penalties. But to just be handing these eleven penalties out to horses that have done a very safe, correct job — that’s not cross-country.”

Richard Jones and Alfies Clover execute a characteristic climb to move into overnight sixth. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Several horses and riders were able to make major climbs up the leaderboard off the back of solid rounds today: Richard Jones and Alfies Clover, who have previously finished seventh at Burghley, stepped up into sixth place after adding 8.8 time penalties to their 33 dressage score, while Ireland’s Padraig McCarthy, who was the first rider of the day to finish aboard debutant HHS Noble Call, added 7.2 to his 34.9 and now sits seventh.

“He is outstanding,” says Padraig. “He was always going to be a bit challenging in the dressage, but he always had the stamp of a five-star horse and I’m glad he’s proved it here today.”

Padraig McCarthy and his debutant HHS Noble Call climb into the top ten. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Another high-profile top-ten denizen to take a pin at the Ariat Challenge was New Zealand’s Tim Price and his 2018 Burghley winner Ringwood Sky Boy, who dropped from fifth after dressage to ninth after adding eleven penalties and a further 6.4 for time.

Tim Price and Ringwood Sky Boy stay in the top ten despite activating a frangible pin. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“It’s a tough jump and with the way you get punished now [with penalties for breaking a frangible], it’s tough to try to execute it — especially on a horse like him,” says Tim, who slowed down slightly on course after ‘Oz’ lost a shoe just before tackling the Ariat Challenge. “He’s been jumping things like that for so many years and he just does get a bit lower and these days you just can’t afford to do that.”

Francis Whittington’s DHI Purple Rain rises to the occasion. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Francis Whittington rounds out the top ten with the very exciting DHI Purple Rain, who added 15.2 time penalties to his first-phase score of 34.4 to climb well up the rankings. That time was partly attributed to a sensible decision to circle after galloping down the steep bank into the main arena, where there were two corners at 9AB that came up swiftly, but were separately numbered from the cabin at the top of the slope and thus allowed some leeway for riders to turn a circle as needed if they freewheeled down the slope — as many did through the day.

Now, the nineteen remaining competitors will head into the final horse inspection at 9.00 a.m. tomorrow, followed by the showjumping finale at 1.00 p.m. local time/8.00 a.m. EST. As always, you can watch the action as it happens on Horse&CountryTV, and follow along with our reports here on EN. Until then, folks: Go Eventing!

The top ten after an influential cross-country phase at Bicton CCI5*.

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A True Five-Star: Riders React to Bicton’s Cross-Country Course

Captain Mark Phillips, British Eventing CEO Helen West and Bicton organiser Andrew Fell peer over the first element of question 19, the Burghley Brushes. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

We’re less than an hour away from the start of the inaugural Chedington Bicton Arena CCI5* cross-country, and the venue is abuzz with excitement for what’s to come. The consensus? While some of the single fences — those beefy tables and logs that look so frightening at this level — are generally smaller, the terrain is hillier and tougher than any five-star course in the world, and with its mix of strong stamina challenges and twisty tracks that criss-cross a relatively small swathe of land, it’s going to be an all-round test of horses’ and riders’ skills. Oh, and that optimum time of 11: 16? It’s going to be very, very tricky to catch.

You can dive into an overview of the course with designer Captain Mark Phillips here, or walk the course virtually with eventing legend Lucinda Green, who’ll talk you through every combination, here. Or, keep on scrolling to find out what the competitors themselves think of the challenge to come — and then sign up for your viewing pass and get involved with all the action on-demand or on catch up, starting from 12.30 p.m. local time/7.30 a.m. EST.

Pippa Funnell after her leading test on Billy Walk On. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Pippa Funnell (overnight leader on Billy Walk On, 8th on Majas Hope): The course is tough — every bit a five-star, and obviously made tougher by the factor of the terrain. This horse came here in the spring, and anyone who remembers what a Bedford TK was like, he’s a bit like that — as soon as he gets to a hill he slows down and then he goes roaring off down the hill. He’s not a real Thoroughbred in the way that he gallops, but he got the trip in the spring and he’s scopey.

We all have huge respect for Mark. He always builds a decent course that tests horses and riders, but he always builds fair tests in that horses can read the questions, so it’s just up to us to ride them in a way that they can read them. It’s every bit a five-star course, for sure, and we’re incredibly lucky that Bicton has stepped in to put on a five-star here. I, for one, have got a nice team of horses at the moment and it’s been incredibly sad not to [be able to get them out] at this level — and for me, personally, everyone’s aware of my age, and I’m not sure it’s the best thing for me to have two years without a five-star! I’ll wait and see if I’ve still got the mojo, and the guts, and the bravery, but I’ve got two very good jumping horses and hopefully I’ll have fun.

Piggy March chats through her test. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Piggy March (2nd overnight on Vanir Kamira): I think — I hope! — she’ll love the hills, because she’s designed to put her nose down and gallop flat-out up and down. For her, little things like at 6, where you’ve got these big oxers and it’s on an open, big stride through there, and then you gallop downhill, still fresh, to a really tricky thing [as you come downhill into the arena] where I’ll just have to get her back. She’s brave, and she’s galloped all the way up to there, and she might just be thinking very forward. She gets very on her forehand.

Every time I ride her, I’m interested in starting out, because I’m always surprised that she’s got to five-star and feels so good, when at a one-day she doesn’t. So I’m just sort of hoping that she gets here and feels the occasion, gallops and gets into a rhythm and shows her scope at the jumps, rather than get unsettled with her head low and quite hurdle-y. There are plenty of places that I think will be quite tricky if she’s hurdle-y and a bit quick and not really waiting, so I just hope she’s back to what she was two years ago.

It’s definitely got a different feel to Badminton or Burghley. You walk it with a lot of respect, because there’s plenty of places you could be a problem easily. With Badminton and Burghley, you learn the terrain and how to get them into the rhythm, and you sort of know what to expect of how they feel, but here is very different. It’s very intense for the first five minutes, and the terrain is a lot quicker, sharper, and feistier. Badminton and Burghley aren’t so intense at the beginning, so she settles into a rhythm — so that might be interesting for me tomorrow.

On friend Pippa’s round to come: We were last on a team together at the European Championships at Luhmühlen, and Pipsy was first out. She was like, ‘I’m going to be too slow!’ So I was like, ‘I’m going to shove a sparkler up your [redacted] and light it, and you’ll have eleven minutes and eight seconds to get to the end before it goes off.’ She got home inside the time — so I’ve got two sparklers ready!

William Fox-Pitt after his test with Oratorio. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

William Fox-Pitt (6th overnight on Oratorio II): I think Mark has done a brilliant job. I like the route, but I don’t like the downhill first minute that much because [Oratorio] is quite a keen horse, and I think I’d rather be going uphill. But apart from that downhill first minute, I think the lie of the land is much better this way around [than at June’s four-star] — there’s a little bit less camber. [Helen West] has really thought about the camber, which is a big issue in Bicton park, snd she’s really worked out where the better camber is for the horses.

The distances are encouraging us to go forward all the way, but with accuracy questions — corners, arrowheads, turning, downhill — but all on that forward stride. I think the water [at 22ABCD] that caused so much trouble in the spring is quite late; maybe it’ll ride softer than the one in the spring, because we don’t have the two angled brushes coming out, but the skinny will come up quick. You have to land in ready — you can’t land tired, because there’s no time to recover, so that’s interesting. I’m not as scared about the coffin as I thought I was going to be, but I could be wrong. I think he’s been kind to given us tree wings — I’m sure he hasn’t lost his nerve, but I wasn’t expecting those. I hope, as they come in, that it’ll just look like a parallel fence to a ditch. Optically, horses don’t judge things — in that last minute, they won’t judge things like that, and with the trees to hold you in, the bounce [distances] are just there. I’m a little worried, maybe, about the [frangible] pin going in; you can never trust a pin, so you’ve got to come in quietly enough, and yet you want to be riding forward enough to come out. It’s quite a combination — it’s a downhill approach, a tricky approach, which is interesting. But I’m not as daunted by it as I thought I was going to be. Lucinda [Green] was quite outspoken about it, but Mary [King] was very relaxed, and you don’t quite know who to listen to! You have to draw your own opinion.

[I hope the yellow MIM at the corner won’t affect my approach], but I mean, it’s just so sad — you watched several horses have that clip in the Olympics when they’d hardly have knocked [it if it were a] showjump. Michael Jung had a tiny peck on landing, but did it save him a fall? Of course it didn’t. I don’t love MIMs; sometimes they can be too relaxed, sometimes they can be too tight. I don’t know that that’s always a good thing. Pins were introduced to save lives, not to give you 11 penalties [and influence the competition] — and now they’re becoming a big factor in eventing. They’ve already cost someone potentially the Olympic gold, and for me, that’s the worst thing that could have happened in our sport. I’m a big advocate of pins only counting if you have them in front — if you have them with a back leg and manage to stand up, well good on you, that’s eventing. But if you have it in front, maybe that’s saved your life, and you should be penalised. But can a fence judge decide whether it was a front or back leg? That’s quite a lot of pressure. I know the FEI eventing committee are quite black and white, and they want there to be fewer decisions [to be made], but you know, we’ve got a lot of people who can make decisions, so I don’t see what’s wrong with having people on the job. But that’s just my opinion, and I know it’s a factor in eventing that we’re all concerned about — and you do hope that on the upside, it might save a life.

Gemma Tattersall (9th overnight on Chilli Knight): It’s definitely longer [than the CCI4*-L in June], and I would say he’s made even more of the hills this time, which I think is going to be the main factor. There are some serious combinations: the one in the arena [9AB] is serious, and you’re going to have to have serious control to come down this bank, which is really steep — [my boyfriend] Gary actually rolled down it yesterday like some sort of idiot! I think the water at 22ABCD is tough, and the corner before the water [at 20AB] is a proper five-star question — that’s a big old oxer on a really tricky line to that corner, and it certainly invites a run-out. It may not be Burghley, but there’s enough to do!

Oliver Townend (10th overnight on MHS King Joules and 14th on Tregilder): I can’t take my hat off enough to the team. It’s a proper five-star; it’s an incredibly fantastic job that’s been put together. I was slightly blown away by the presentation, and the ground is A1 — I know they’re planning to do more work in places, but for me, it’s very, very safe ground. If I had to run around last night, I’d have been happy to run any horse on that ground; it’s good to firm in places, but it’s very good ground with good grass cover. The presentation of the fences is fantastic, and it is constant — it’s a proper five-star, with narrow after narrow and corner after corner. He’s encouraging you to go on long distances to accuracy questions, which, when they get a little tired seven or eight minutes in, that’s where the problems start occurring.

The camber’s tough. There’s a lot of sharp inclines that probably won’t be as seeable on the TV — it’s going to be a proper stamina test, and the wiley old course designer has used the camber in a lot of special places where the fences look pretty straightforward, but then the camber will throw you about a bit.

Felicity Collins (overnight 16th on RSH Contend Or): It’s massively different [to my first five-star at Pau]. I sort of thought I was getting the easy way out, coming here, because I was always like, ‘I never want to do Burghley, it’s too big!’ But then I came here and was like, ‘great, Mark’s brought half the Burghley jumps and basically built another Burghley!’ And with the terrain, as well, it’s big enough. I learned [here in June] that the course walks very different than it rides, so I won’t be taking anything for granted out there. There’s some sneaky accuracy questions as well. I’m very glad I came here in the spring, because now I know the terrain, and if I hadn’t I’d have come here and had a massive shock.

The feeling I got in June was that he was super fit and I was being tanked with through the finish flags. Admittedly I didn’t ride super fast, because I’d have a silly 20 early on, but I went all the straight routes and just didn’t have my foot massively on the gas. But he felt really good, and that gave me confidence more than anything that I was doing the right thing. It sounds strange, but now I know to do less — the bigger the course, and the longer the course, I need to conserve his energy by not fighting him, and let the course back him off a bit instead. Hopefully he won’t come out of the start box like a Tasmanian devil, because it’s hard not to pull when he wants to go flat-out!

Richard Jones (overnight 19th on Alfies Clover): It’s a really good track — it’s definitely not Burghley, just dimensionally, but given the undulations here it makes Burghley look fairly flat, which it’s definitely not. I think he’s built a very sensible track with some proper five-star questions, but the let-up fences are a bit easier.

The combination in the arena is a very serious question — you’ve got to jump the little cabin and then come down the hill in some kind of control, and then turn hard and jump the double of corners. For me, that’s a standout fence. Personally — and it’ll probably ride fine — I hate the pair of stumps at 21AB. I think the second one is bloody awful, but the guys who rode it in the spring tell me it should jump well. I’ll take their word for it!

All the way around, you do struggle for the flat ground — and that’ll be a big test even for my horse, who’s a good galloper.

Francis Whittington laughs with stewards after his test. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Francis Whittington (overnight 22nd on DHI Purple Rain): I think there’s not a person here who’s not nervous of all the hills. They’re quite daunting. I think it’s an amazing track, a very exciting track, and I think there’s a nice flow to it. But there’s questions, like the one coming down the bank into the main arena with the corner to corner — that’s an extreme question. And there’s a lot of those out there.

I saw Mark and said, ‘Jesus, Mark, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen something like [the double bounce question at the coffin]’ — it’s rather old-fashioned. Have I been doing it that long?! Yes, I have…! The terrain here, too, is proper cross-country terrain. That’s what it used to be — not all these flat tracks.

The look of eagles: Padraig sternly surveys the ring. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Padraig McCarthy (overnight 23rd on HHS Noble Call): The terrain here is always a huge question, so I don’t imagine we’ll see many inside the time. You have to set out keeping in mind that it’s very intense, and you’re getting the heart rate up very early, and the questions keep coming. So you have to ride with your head and your feel and make sure you have enough horse coming home. You need a horse here that’s got a good engine and good balance. Coming down into the arena requires the horse to be really controlled and really balanced and really focused with you, and then there’s plenty of places where they have to stretch and go on a forward distance.

Malin celebrates after her test, which puts her in 26th place overnight. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Malin Josefsson (overnight 26th on Golden Midnight): I really hope he will enjoy it a lot. The bigger it is, the better it is for him, because then he works a bit more with the fences — otherwise he just wants to run. I’m a bit afraid of the downhill thing, because he can get too strong, but normally he’s always brilliant and thinking very clever, and he’s fast when he’s thinking even if things are coming up quickly.

I wanted to do a five-star with him, because we’ve been struggling so long to get to the Olympics, and for that we didn’t need to bring him out to five-star — last year, he just competed once because he did dressage instead. But then they didn’t need him for [the Olympics or] the Euros, so I said ‘I want to go to Bicton instead’.

David Doel (overnight 18th on Galileo Nieuwmoed and 30th on Ferro Point): It’s certainly going to be a test. It’s not the biggest five-star track, but the undulations where the fences have been placed are really going to test the horses. There are a lot of galloping stretches and some really intense moments, so it’s going to be fun — it’s going to be a little bit like a rollercoaster going up and down and up and down the hills. I’m excited for it!

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Gallery: The Ups, Downs, and Emotions of Bicton’s Five-Star Dressage Day

Oliver Townend and MHS King Joules are second in the ring, watched over by an enthusiastic crowd. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It’s been an incredible first day of sport at the Chedington Bicton Arena Five-Star, as we’ve recapped in great detail in our dressage report — but for every story that makes it into the headlines, there are a million more playing out behind the scenes. We’ll be bringing you some more of them over the next couple of days, but in the meantime, immerse yourself in all the action — and all the emotions — with some of our favourite images from today’s competition.

Oliver gives the in-ring camera crew a thumbs up after his test with MHS King Joules, which sees him go into cross-country in tenth place. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Padraig McCarthy and the gleaming HHS Noble Call get to work, and will go into cross-country in 24th place. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Canada’s Mike Winter delivers his first five-star test since 2009, riding his ‘horse of a lifetime’ El Mundo. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Mike finishes his dressage test on the remarkable gelding, who he nursed back to health after the horse broke his leg as a five-year-old. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Mike Winter’s groom gives El Mundo a kiss after his test, which earned a 29.6 for 13th place. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

One of our favourite bits of Mike’s test? His custom Black Lives Matter stirrups. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Sweden’s Malin Josefsson heads into the ring with Golden Midnight… Photo by Tilly Berendt.

…and celebrates after her test, which puts her in 27th place overnight. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Louisa Lockwood and Diamond Ructions post a 31.5 for 16th place. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

William Fox-Pitt laughs after getting lost on his way back out of the arena after his test with Oratorio II. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Simon Grieve and the diminutive Mr Fahrenheit III perform the horse’s CCI5* debut test, scoring a 36.3 for overnight 28th. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Ireland’s Joseph Murphy returns to England for another five-star run, this time aboard Gorsehill Pearl, the kind-hearted mare his young daughter Daisy enjoys pony rides on at home. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

New Zealand’s James Avery and Mr Sneezy get their second five-star off to a great start, posting a 28.7 and taking 12th place provisionally. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Point those toes: James Avery and Mr Sneezy in action. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

James Avery, groom Frankie Murrell and Mr Sneezy head to the stables after a great test. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Izzy Taylor and Fonbherna Lancer strut their stuff amid the rolling hills of Devon and take overnight fourth place. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It takes a village: Izzy Taylor and her team get to work looking after Fonbherna Lancer after their test. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

24-year-old Harry Mutch pilots HD Bronze to a 35.3, which puts them into 26th place. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Gemma Tattersall’s head girl Charlotte Overton and ‘yes man’ Chilli Knight wait for Gemma to finish media duties in the mixed zone after their test. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Felicity Collins, the youngest rider in the field at just 23, navigates the first phase with her self-produced RSH Contend OR, earning a 31.9 for 17th place at this early stage. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Big hugs for ‘Mickey’ after a job well done with Felicity Collins. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Angus Smales’s ESI Phoenix looks ready for the fun bit on dressage day… Photo by Tilly Berendt.

…but keeps it under control to post a five-star personal best for Angus of 29.9, putting the pair in 15th place. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Will Rawlin — one of just two first-timers in the field — heads towards the ring for his test with VIP Vinnie… Photo by Tilly Berendt.

…and return to the chute, having put a 25.6 on the board for third place going into cross-country. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“We call him Loopy Louis!” Australia’s Sammi Birch sits through a couple of excitable bucks to complete Finduss PFB’s five-star debut test, scoring a 39 for overnight 32nd. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Sammi Birch and press officer Kate Green had down to the media zone. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Sam Griffiths debuts 16-year-old Gurtera Cher, posting a 34 for equal 21st. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Five-year-old Archie Smales waits while dad Angus chats to the TV crews. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Team GB vet Liz Brown chats to Ros Canter and her daughter Ziggy… Photo by Tilly Berendt.

…before Ziggy spots her friend Max March and dashes over to say hi. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

However, in a turn of events most of us can relate to, Max pretends he doesn’t know Ziggy and everyone has to try to style out an uncomfortable social situation. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Ros Canter emerges from the thick trees of the chute to head into the ring with debutante Pencos Crown Jewel. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Afterwards, they exit to raucous applause, despite ‘Jasmine’s’ inherent suspicion of people. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Richard Skelt pilots long-time partner Credo III — or Pedro — to 36.4 and 29th place. Richard picked up Pedro for a bargain price as a youngster because of his sharpness, which Richard kept well under control today. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Pippa Funnell beams after a super test with Majas Hope, who sits in the top ten going into dressage and has become a consistent performer in dressage, which has historically been his weakest phase. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Georgie Spence and Halltown Harley on their way to a 35.2 and 25th place. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Francis Whittington and DHI Purple Rain show some of what’s to come from the flashy gelding. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Francis laughs with the stewards after his test on ‘Prince’, which put him in 23rd overnight. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“Okay, now tell them that if they send £25,000 in unmarked bills, we’ll release you unharmed”: Bruce Haskell interrogates — erm, interviews — Francis Whittington. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Piggy March’s husband, Tom, holds Vanir Kamira after her test while head girl Amy Phillips tends to the mare. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“She’s got a heart that’s bigger than a lion’s,” beams Piggy, chatting through her test with the media. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Tim Price gives Ringwood Sky Boy a pat after his test, which put the pair into fifth place overnight. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Who could resist this face? 18-year-old Ringwood Sky Boy is the oldest horse in the field and makes his 17th five-star start this week. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The look of eagles: Padraig McCarthy’s Leonidas II, formerly the ride of Mark Todd, eyes up the arena before his test. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The look of eagles, part two: Padraig sternly surveys the ring. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

A 28.5 puts Padraig and Leonidas in eleventh going into cross-country. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

David Doel grins as he heads out of the arena with the inexperienced Ferro Point, who sits 31st heading into cross-country. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Ferro Point isn’t impressed about the post-test bit check, but acquiesces. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Pippa Funnell gives Billy Walk On a pat after a super test. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

More pats for Billy Walk On… Photo by Tilly Berendt.

…and unbridled joy for Pip, as she realises she’s taken the lead on an unassailable 23.9. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Oliver Townend closes out the day’s proceedings with debutant Tregilder, posting a 29.7 for 14th. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

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Bicton CCI5*: Pippa Funnell Marches Into Dressage Lead with Billy Walk On

Pippa Funnell takes hold of the lead in Britain’s first five-star since Burghley 2019, which she won with MGH Grafton Street. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It’s been two achingly long years since we last had a CCI5* in the UK, and Britain’s conglomerate of eventers have felt every last minute of that wait. All, perhaps, except Pippa Funnell who, as the winner of Burghley 2019, has been Britain’s de facto five-star champion.

Okay, okay, maybe she’s been missing it too: “at my age, you don’t want to wait too long — I don’t know how brave I am these days,” she joked through the afternoon as the field of 32 came forward for their first-phase efforts. She certainly didn’t drop the ball in defending her title, either, though this week’s effort comes at Devon’s one-time-only Chedington Bicton International CCI5*, which acts as a replacement for Burghley this year. After delivering a top-ten test on her first horse, the stalwart Majas Hope, she came back into the ring at the end of the day and threw down a 23.9 with the lanky 12-year-old Billy Walk On.

“It’s not often I’m delighted, but I was delighted with the way he went,” says Pippa, who opted to scale back both horses’ flatwork in the lead-up to the event — a decision that paid dividends.

“He’s a very, very big horse, and I have to be careful I don’t overdo the work, so he’s done lots and lots of fitness work, which they’ll obviously need for this sort of track,” she explains. “But over the last week, I’ve been careful not to do too much dressage — and not just for the horse’s benefit. With [first ride] Majas Hope, I’ve found a much better system for him, and that is never to put a dressage saddle on [at home]. And I thought, ‘well, if it works for him!’ And actually, I’m much happier not doing sitting trot in a dressage saddle, so both horses have been in jumping saddles all week and the only sitting trot [I’ve done] is in the dressage test.”

“Yesterday he was quite fresh and tricky, so I did quite a lot with him yesterday and again this morning. And thenI held my nerve and really just kept him walking, because when he came out this afternoon he felt really on it and with me, so I thought, ‘I’m not going to do too much — it’s got to be [in the ring], not outside.”

That meant that when he entered the capacious main arena, he was able to make the most of his considerable movement to deliver a very nearly foot-perfect test.

“He was fabulous in his brain, and it’s all credit to the team here: it was a wonderful arena to ride in, lovely to ride on the grass, and actually, it was a lovely atmosphere. He was lovely to ride, and I’m pleased I did him justice. He’s always consistent, and has been pretty consistent in his tests. I tend to have one little blip in his tests, and it’s normally in a change or something. He’s getting stronger; he’s a really big, long horse and quite a lot to keep together.”

Pippa Funnell’s score comes in and confirms her dressage lead. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The last time Pippa found herself in this position, she went on to win Burghley — and though she’s perennially modest about her ability to deliver a fast and fierce clear round, it’s clear that she’ll be a formidable force to be reckoned with over tomorrow’s tough track.

“We all know what the sport’s like — I’ve got two horses that I feel I’ve got very fit, and I’m very much hoping they’re going to go well, but I know I’ve got speedier people and younger people snapping at my heels. My job is to give my horses as good, as safe and as fast a trip as is possible. Who knows what the results will be at the end of it, but when I get out there, I’m pretty sure I’ll be wanting it and competitive, and if I don’t, then I have to get my act together!”

And just as she was at Burghley, she finds herself just ahead of her great friend and longtime competitor Piggy March: “It’s very good news to get in front of Piggy, because she’s always at her best,” she laughs.

Piggy March and her 2019 Badminton winner Vanir Kamira sit in second going into cross-country. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Piggy, for her part, took Britain’s other CCI5* back in 2019, winning Badminton with the tough and super-consistent Vanir Kamira. They posted a 25.5, which is her second-best score at the level — she posted a 25 at Badminton back in 2018, and regularly scores competitively despite not necessarily being built for this phase.

“[Dressage trainer] Ian Woodhead always tells me — because I’m like, ‘it’s not good enough, it’s not good enough!’ — that honestly, it looks fine. I know with her that the ‘clear round’ is the most important thing. I have to have her mind in the right place,” says Piggy. To make that happen, head girl Amy Phillips “just loose lunges her forever. We just try to sort of bore her, because she is what she is.”

“I joke the night before, saying ‘I’m going to make her into Valegro tomorrow!’, but she doesn’t find it easy and she’s a definite mare. There’s that fine line of it being okay or not. If she’s happy and she smiles, her movements are up two marks anyway, even if the movements are the same, because her expression can change her whole outlook.”

Piggy has long been waiting for another chance to run ‘Tillybean’ at this level, where she’s able to shine.

“She was fourteen when she last ran at Burghley. She’s dreadful at one-days; she’s like, ‘what’s the point of being here?’ and she gives no feel. You can’t just pick her up and go into a dressage test; this actually took the last month of trying to get her back into shape mentally and physically so that I can just get on her ten minutes before, pick her up and put the pressure on, and have her believe and trust and go and do her best. So the one-days are quite painful, so she’s not been running very much, and I was just hoping that she would come back into shape.”

Though there’s something admittedly surreal about a five-star in a new place, Tilly — like many of her fellow four-legged compatriots — is wholly aware of what she’s here to do.

“She’s used to Badminton and Burghley and she knows the places well, so she knows when she walks to the arena [that she’s at a five-star]. This is different, but even things like going on the grass — I hadn’t done that all week because she has delicate feet, so we have to stay wherever we can that’s as soft and pleasant as possible to keep her happy. And so I think she thought, ‘this is something new; this is an occasion!'”

That innate perception of an occasion — and the desire to rise to it — is what makes the mare such a success at the upper echelons of the sport, says Piggy.

“You wouldn’t pick her out [as an obvious superstar] like a Ballaghmor Class, that’s like, boom, but my god, her heart is just… you know, she’s a pain in the butt all the time, but that heart is what a good mare is all about.”

Will Rawlin and VIP Vinnie sit third after dressage in their five-star debut. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Making your CCI5* is always a thrilling, nerve-wracking prospect — but for 27-year-old Will Rawlin and his self-produced VIP Vinnie, their debut has been nothing short of magical so far. They sit third going into tomorrow’s cross-country after delivering a 25.6, even despite two early errors in the trot work which saw Vinnie break into canter.

“Being behind Pippa and Piggy is amazing,” says Will. “I’m super proud of him, because he just pulled it out of the bag. I made an absolute howler of a mistake in the first medium, and I was like, ‘ah, shit, we’ve really messed this up.’ But then I thought, ‘okay, right, just relax. That’s one movement done, and there’s plenty more to come’. So we knuckled down and he really gave it his all — but there’s so much more to come from him.”

27-year-old Will, who led the dressage at Blenheim on Vinnie in 2019 and finished third in the CCI4*-L for under-25s at Bramham that year, knows his horse as well as he knows himself by now — quirks and all.

“He’s quite arrogant, and he knows he’s good and has an opinion. When Michael, my groom, was getting him ready and doing quarter markers, Vinnie was absolutely having none of it and wouldn’t stand still — he’s very opinionated and he knows he’s special, so he likes to tell everyone he is.”

Now, on the eve of the biggest challenge of their lives and in an enviable position to tackle it from, Will is remaining positive — but pragmatic — about what’s to come.

“I’m excited and ready to get stuck in, but equally, it’s my first five-star,” he says. “I do want to be competitive but my main aim is to get my first completion and get that under my belt with a good ride.”

Izzy Taylor pilots five-star debutant Fonbherna Lancer to overnight fourth heading into tomorrow’s cross-country. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The road to five-star hasn’t necessarily been straightforward for the talented 11-year-old Fonbherna Lancer. He was originally produced by New Zealand’s Neil Spratt, who gave the gelding his FEI debut back in 2018, and from then on out, Izzy had the ride, producing him to four-star and campaigning him at Boekelo in 2019. After that, though, owners The Lancer Stud moved the horse to Piggy March’s string, and she competed him successfully through 2020 and early 2021, notching up top-five finishes in CCI4*-S classes at Burnham Market and Little Downham. The plan had originally been to aim him for his CCI5* debut at Burghley this autumn, but when the cancellation announcement was released earlier this spring, his owners decided to reroute him to Luhmühlen. But Piggy wasn’t yet qualified to run a five-star with him, as she’d withdrawn before cross-country in their one CCI4*-L entry because of concerns about the ground, and so the horse was moved back to Izzy five weeks before the event. Then, of course, those pesky travel restrictions came into place, and Izzy was also temporarily sidelined with a broken collarbone, so Luhmühlen didn’t happen for them — and now, he makes his five-star debut in the originally intended week at Burghley’s replacement event.

Today, though, they made the best of their unique situation, earning themselves 25.7 for overnight fourth place.

“We made mistakes, quietly, all over the place,” says Izzy. “He’s such a beautiful horse in his brain and his movement and everything. I just get annoyed with myself because he’s so beautiful and a little mistake feels like a massive one on him, whereas on a more average horse you wouldn’t even notice it. I hope with some more cementing of our partnership, he’ll learn to enjoy the atmosphere in the future and be a real show off. We haven’t really done very much, so we’ll have to have a bit of trust tomorrow.”

Tim Price and 2018 Burghley winner Ringwood Sky Boy hold fifth place after dressage in the horse’s seventeenth CCI5*. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

There are warhorses, and then there’s eighteen-year-old Ringwood Sky Boy, who makes his seventeenth (yes, really) CCI5* start this week with New Zealand’s Tim Price. Initially bought as a cheap resale project with a penchant for bolting, ‘Oz’ couldn’t be shifted and has since become a part of the furniture at the Price family’s Wiltshire farm, where Tim has put in the time and effort to help his 2018 Burghley winner thrive in his work. Today, that resulted in a competitive 26.7, good enough for fifth place overnight, which puts them in a strong position to climb from tomorrow.

“I’m just super proud of him, because he’s not a dressage horse. Over the years, he’s learned to work with it and to try and enjoy it a little bit — and he almost stood still three times, so that’s good,” says Tim with a laugh. “It’s not a given with him, because his anxiety sits quite close to the surface. But he’s a senior man now, and I think he’s learned to deal with who he is. He really does try, and that’s the thing with him — what used to just be exertion and effort in just one dynamic, which was just to throw himself to the other side of the jump whether it was a big five-star fence or a showjump that he wasn’t supposed to touch, he’s been able to refine that desire to please into being the whole package for doing this sort of job. I’m super proud of him, and he’s a credit to himself, really.”

William Fox-Pitt celebrates a 27 aboard Oratorio, which sees them in sixth place overnight. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

William Fox-Pitt returns with Oratorio II for the horse’s second CCI5* of 2021, after a competitive run at Kentucky this spring ended with a surprise fall at the tail end of the course — but Oratorio, who’s a son of William’s Pau winner Oslo and a previous Blenheim CCI4*-L runner-up, looks fit and well as his redemption arc yawns ahead of him. Though their test was, perhaps, rather on the conservative side today, it was correct and pleasant, earning them 27 and overnight sixth place.

“Maybe it was a little bit too dull to get in the low twenties, but I thought he really did his best and I was thrilled with him,” says William. “And I was really thrilled I went the right way, because I’ve never done this test before and the brain doesn’t always work these days. You never quite know when it’s going to let you down!”

Their score today is less than a penalty better than the 27.9 they posted at Kentucky, but William says that the quality of the work has improved in the interim period — an assertion that bodes well for future, bolder efforts.

“The Kentucky test was very nice, but Chris [Bartle] gave me some comments and on the videos, which was really useful, and I’ve worked on that to get a bit more expression,” he says. “He couldn’t have done much better; he gave me a really good feeling and felt very rideable. I could always probably say that I should have ridden a bit more, but I know today that some horses are feeling quite tense in there. He was actually very cool, and I’m pleased about that because it’s quite isolated out there — they’re certainly on a stage.”

Ros Canter’s five-star first-timer Pencos Crown Jewel sit seventh on 27.1. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

World champion Ros Canter comes to Bicton off the back of a highly successful trip to Scotland’s Blair Castle last week, where she won both the CCI3*-L and CCI4*-S, and her mount this week is another up-and-comer — this time, the 12-year-old British-bred mare Pencos Crown Jewel, who overcame some stage fright for a 27.1. Like Pippa before her, though, Ros’s success in the ring has come partly as a result of scaling back her flatwork enormously at home.

“I really haven’t practiced a test [with her], so I was quite nervous I was going to go the wrong way — I like to practice,” she explains. “She just likes hacking on a long rein, to put it simply. The excitement you saw here was actually nervousness; she’s actually a lazy horse, but she’s quite out of her comfort zone with people. She likes to keep herself to herself in the stable and everything, and people around her make her suspicious. We call her Miss Health and Safety at home — she’s just a suspicious person and she wants to make sure everything’s okay before she does something, so it’s just about making sure she’s all right, telling her she’s a good girl, and not telling her off. I’ve just found that hacking her on a long rein and keeping her happy and relaxed is really her way. She’s so honest that she’ll do everything you ask her to if you have her in the right frame of mind. She doesn’t need to do it every day — she just needs to be happy.”

This is ‘Jasmine’s’ second trip to Bicton this season — she finished ninth in the tough CCI4*-L earlier this summer, adding 7.6 time penalties to her 32.4 first-phase score.

“She came here in June and was very good — I was just a bit slow. But who knows, to be honest. Every time I’ve stepped up a level I’ve thought, ‘she probably won’t go another level’, and then she keeps going. So I’m very openminded about it — we’ll take it as it comes, but I know that whatever she’ll do, she’ll do her very best.”

Pippa Funnell’s first ride of the day, Majas Hope, ends the day in eighth place. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

As if leading a CCI5* isn’t enough, Pippa Funnell also sits eighth on her first ride of the day, the reliable Majas Hope. They put a 27.4 up, making this the third international test in a row that the 14-year-old gelding, who has historically been a low-30s scorer, has delivered in the 27 bracket. But the exceptional performance came after a slightly tricky morning for the rider.

“I had just changed into my whites all ready to go, and was trying to stay away from the puppy and the dogs so I could try to stay clean, and then I get the distress call from Emily, my groom,” she explains. Emily had begun studding the gelding up for his test, only to discover a problem: “I’ve got a fantastic farrier, but hey — we all make mistakes, and one of the front shoes had the holes punched in, but he hadn’t threaded them. So I couldn’t get any studs in that one front shoe. But you know, that’s the fabulous thing about our sport; everyone was so accommodating. Unfortunately, the blacksmith was stuck in traffic, but I was allowed to slip in later in the order.”

The only other option, she says, would have been to do the test sans studs in front: “and on grass, that would be like me running in one high-heel,” she says.

Pippa opted not to give Majas Hope any more work with the extra time she’d been afforded, a decision that evidently complemented her low-key approach to the final week of preparations she’s undertaken at home. But although her rejigged times allowed her to ride her test under better circumstances, it’s had a major impact on the structure of her day.

“I got up very, very early this morning to work in for a ten o’clock test,” she explains, “and then I was going to ride and then walk the course.”

Shifting her test to just before the lunch-break meant that she didn’t have enough time between horses to do her second walk, though: “so I’ve only actually seen the course once so far, because obviously [this event] is a day shorter!”

Gemma Tattersall and Chilli Knight slot into ninth. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“Oh god, what’s wrong with me?!” laughs Gemma Tattersall, wiping a second flood of tears away after her test with Chilli Knight, which earned the pair a 27.9 for overnight ninth place. It’s not hard to see why she might be feeling a touch emotional, mind you: “I guess having produced him from the beginning,” she reasons, “and [because] he was like, ‘mummy, I’m doing my best!’ He always does his best, but he was just great. If I was being mega-critical, in the second change he was just a little bit extravagant — it wasn’t quite as perfect as the first one. But I thought he did the best trotting he’s ever done. I mean, his trot is terrible, but it was very good trotting for him! I was just really proud of him.”

Gemma Tattersall wipes a tear away after her test with Chilli Knight. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

‘Alfie’ is a son of Chilli Morning, William Fox-Pitt’s 2015 Badminton winner, who relocated to Gemma’s Sussex yard upon his retirement and was a significant part of her breeding programme. That means that Gemma hasn’t just known her eleven-year-old since he was a youngster — she’s known him since the day he was born.

“He’s a funny little horse,” she says fondly. “I wouldn’t say he’s the brightest horse in the world, but he just always tries to please, and that’s what makes him what he is — he just always tries his best. In training, in competition — he always tries to do what I’m asking him. I describe him as a typical gelding and a  ‘yes man’; if I ask him to do something, he’ll give it a go. Very rarely is he difficult or in any way naughty. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him put his ears back in his life; he doesn’t know how to be nasty or horrible at all. He’s not a flamboyant jumper or anything — he makes me laugh out loud sometimes, because if he comes to a fence that’s a bit wider he just goes ‘oh, mum, I think I need to stretch my knees out further!’ Whereas other horses might [jump bigger].”

Though Alfie’s five-star debut in 2019 saw him pick up an education 20 penalties, he’s finished no worse than seventh in all three of his CCI4*-L starts and has established himself as one of the fastest, most consistent cross-country horses at the four-star level. But, as Gemma explains, eventing isn’t so cut-and-dry that she can guarantee she’ll still be in this position come tomorrow evening.

“At the end of the day, he’s a horse, not a machine, and anything can happen. Look at my falling off Arctic Soul at Burghley two years ago — he’d done something like ten five-stars and never had a problem, but I fell off. Anything really can happen.”

Oliver Townend’s stalwart MHS King Joules rounds out the top ten. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Olympic gold medallist Oliver Townend brought two horses, each at either end of the experience spectrum, to Bicton this week — but it was the 16-year-old long-time campaigner MHS King Joules who found himself in the best position at the end of the day, sitting tenth on a 28.1 despite some early spookiness in the test.

“That’s him — he’s getting more like that as he gets older, unfortuantely, which is probably not the right way around to go,” laughs Oliver. “But while he’s sound and healthy and definitely wanting to do it — perhaps too much, sometimes! — we’ll keep going with it. There’s no pressure on him — he’s an old horse now, and we all know that he’s very talented, but we also all know that he’s very tricky in all three bits. But we respect him and love him for who he is, and we work with him every day with the quirks. We’re very happy with him.”

Tomorrow takes us into the heart of the action, with cross-country getting underway from 12.30 p.m. local time/7.30 a.m. EST. The big, bold, hilly track looks set to be enormously influential — and you can get a preview of what’s to come with insight from designer Captain Mark Phillips here. For all the information you need to watch the action, click here.

We’ll be back with plenty more content from Bicton — until then, Go Eventing!

The top ten after dressage in the Chedington Bicton CCI5*.

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Bicton At A Glance: Meet the Horses and Riders of Britain’s 2021 Five-Star

“It’s a bit surreal,” says Pippa Funnell, who comes to the inaugural Bicton CCI5* as the reigning Burghley champion, having won with MGH Grafton Street back in 2019. She’s not wrong — there’s a lovely, welcoming atmosphere at the Devon fixture, which has been beautifully prepped and decorated to host this topmost level of the sport, but there’s also this rare sense of the unfamiliar. None of us — riders, journalists, photographers — know these hills like the Burghley hills, and everything feels like it’s shiny and new and unusual. But there’s something rather magical in that, and we’re excited to bring you wall-to-wall coverage of this history-making event. First, though, it’s time to familiarise yourself with the competitors.

Whether you want the full scoop on each competitor, or simply a brief run-down of the field as a whole, we’ve got exactly what you need — and today, we’re dissecting the need-to-knows about the 32 combinations entered for this one-off five-star. Which of the 28 riders is the eldest? Who’s the youngest? Which horse is tallest, and what breed dominates the entries? Keep on scrolling for all this and more in less than the time it takes to slurp down a cup of coffee.

THE RIDERS

THE HORSES

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All Horses Pass First Horse Inspection at Inaugural Bicton CCI5*

Will Rawlin and VIP Vinnie make their five-star debut this week. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It’s a rather extraordinary feeling, but here we are — we’ve made it to deepest Devon, in England’s rural southwest, where the Chedington Bicton Five-Star is ensuring that Britain can host a CCI5* for the first time since 2019. This ‘pop-up’ five-star comes just a matter of months after the venue hosted its first-ever four-star, stepping up in June to replace the classes ordinarily held at Bramham.

Today kicked the week off as 34 horse-and-rider combinations presented to the assembled ground jury of Andrew Bennie (NZL), Jane Dolley (GBR), and Seppo Laine (FIN), and though they were occasionally near interrupted by confused pensioners who thought they were doing a tour of the park and gardens, the afternoon’s proceedings were largely uneventful. Each of the presented horses was accepted without reservation, and all 34 will start their competition in earnest tomorrow.

Jewellery company Hi Ho Silver was on hand to award a prize worth £250 each for the best-dressed male and female competitors. Harry Mutch, who will ride HD Bronze in their second CCI5*. The best-dressed female was Pippa Funnell, who wore an eye-catching tailored coat to present her two rides, Billy Walk On and 2019 European Championships trailblazer Majas Hope.

James Avery and Mr Sneezy. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

A prize was also awarded to the groom of the best turned out horse. Frankie Murrell, who was previously Pippa Funnell’s head girl, won for her sterling work on Mr Sneezy, the mount of New Zealand’s James Avery.

In light of the compact field of competitors, tomorrow’s schedule will see the entirety of the first phase run over one day, beginning at 9.30 a.m. local time (4.30 a.m. EST) and running until approximately 5.00 p.m. local/12.00 p.m. EST. Each and every test will be available to view for free via Horse&Country TV, while the weekend’s jumping phases will require a viewing pass, the proceeds of which will be used to supplement the prize pot. Want to brush up on each of the competitors and pick your favourites? Head on over to our Bicton form guide, which runs through each pair’s performance predictions, fun facts and back stories. Tomorrow’s times can be found here. Stay tuned for lots more content from Bicton — including an at-a-glance look at the field of competitors — and in the meantime, Go Eventing!

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Britain’s Back, Baby: Your Guide to Every Competitor in the ‘Pop-Up’ Bicton CCI5*

Piggy March and Vanir Kamira. Photo by Hannah Cole Photography.

Started from the bottom (a calendar cleared out by the coronavirus and sad texts to our farriers saying “no stud holes this time, thanks”), now we here (a history-making first-ever ‘pop-up’ CCI5* to make up for the two-year loss of Badminton and Burghley). It’s hard to know quite what to expect as we head into the wild, wild West Country, but there’s an unmistakeable buzz in the air as we venture forth into Britain’s first five-star since 2019.

And what a cool line-up of horses and riders we’ve got! Interspersed with five-star winners and superstars of the sport are some very exciting young horses and some riders making their debut, too. From breast cancer survivors to full-time healthcare workers, anti-racism allies to potential Love Island cast members, there’s an eclectic and vibrant mix of competitors for you to cheer on through the course of the week. As we prepare for this afternoon’s first horse inspection, let’s meet the horses and riders who’ll be battling for victory at Bicton…

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AUSTRALIA

Sammi Birch and Finduss PFB. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Sammi Birch and Finduss PFB

DEBUTANT HORSE

Eleven-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Saffier x Belle Miranda, by Sarantos). Owned by Parkfield Breeding and the rider. 

Talented Finduss PFB has been produced by a few leading ladies of the sport — first Holly Woodhead, who used to be Parkfield Breeding’s rider in residence and took him to the Seven Year Old World Championships and his first forays at four-star, and then, very briefly, by Laura Collett. He moved to British-based Australian Sammi’s string in early 2019 and has gone from strength to strength since, with classy clears and top ten finishes in four-star classes at Barroca d’Alva, as well as clear rounds at Burgham CCI4*-S and Bicton’s CCI4*-L earlier this summer, where he finished twentieth.

Sammi, who beginner career riding ex-racehorses and relocated to England back in 2005, is one of Australia’s biggest star, and perhaps best known in conjunction with her top horse Hunter Valley II, with whom she was fourth at Pau in 2017. She’s also tough as nails, though it’s rare to see her without a warm smile on her face: in 2018, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and went through chemotherapy and a major surgery to remove the cancerous cells while still riding and competing at the top level. She balanced that with raising her young son and dealing with the heartbreak of missing the WEG that year due to a horse injury.

This will be her first five-star since that super result at Pau in 2017, and although it’s a step up for the young horse, it’ll be an exciting week for Sammi, the gelding’s connections, and all of us as spectators to see what he’s made of. His dressage is still a work in progress and can fluctuate between the low-30s and low-40s, and in Bicton’s atmospheric main arena, it’s to be expected that he might err towards the latter. But since Boekelo at the end of 2019, where they picked up a 20 in the early stages of their partnership, this pair have been on great form and should make an impressive debut over Captain Mark Phillips’s tough track. They won’t be among the fastest in the field, but a moderate clear will see them climb — and then on Sunday they’ll have a job on their hands to try to avoid their customary one rail, which has sometimes escalated to two or three in the past.

Sam Griffiths and Gurtera Cher. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Sam Griffiths and Gurtera Cher

DEBUTANT HORSE

Sixteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse mare (Touchdown x Princess H of T, breeding unknown). Owned by the Kim and Imogen Syndicate and Rod and Sue Bennett. 

Badminton winner Sam brings forward a first-timer — and one of just seven mares in this field — in the Irish-bred Gurtera Cher, who is deceptively low-mileage for her age. This will be just her 15th FEI run in a career that began back in 2012 but saw her sidelined until 2016 after her CCI2*-S debut. She was lightly campaigned in 2017, too, with just one FEI start under her belt that year, and, unsurprisingly, 2020 was a scant year for the mare. But she’s had some exciting moments along the way in her stop-start career, including a win in Arville’s CCI4*-S back in 2018 and victory in the CCI3*-L at hilly Blair Castle back in 2017, when Sam’s great friend Shane Rose deputised for him while he recovered from a broken neck.

After that Arville victory, her four-star record can best be described as steady and solid, rather than sparkling. She’s not generally competitive in Britain’s typically enormous four-star fields, which can number well over 100 entries and feature much of the top of the FEI World Rankings. But you do know what you’re going to get with her, and that’s a dressage around 37, a a steady clear across the country, and — her piéce de resistance — a rock-solid showjumping round that’ll almost certainly add nothing to her score. She’s not ultra-flash and super-fast, which means she’s often overlooked, but in a tough week like the one to come, her reliability will prove invaluable, and we should see her produce one of the biggest leaderboard climbs of the week.

CANADA

Mike Winter and El Mundo. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Mike Winter and El Mundo

DEBUTANT HORSE

Twelve-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Numero Uno x Calvaro’s Bria Z, by Calvaro F.C.). Owned by Jonathan Nelson, Emma Winter, and the rider.

What a joy it is to welcome Mike back to five-star for the first time in twelve years — the last time we saw him at this level was back in 2009, when he had King Pin and Wonderful Will at Kentucky. This time, he brings forward the bold, keen El Mundo, who last left the start box at Hartpury CCI4*-S, where he gleefully told his rider the whole way around that not a single one of the fences was big enough for him.

El Mundo, like Gurtera Cher, is often overlooked in overflowing CCI4*-S sections, which require a very specific type of horse for a placing — namely, one that can put a 23 dressage on the board and then nip round in no time at all. Watching El Mundo as he’s become physically stronger, though, it’s easy to see how he could come into himself when given a real stamina test, which would allow him to settle into a rhythm, stay rideable, and climb from his low-30s first-phase score. He’s relatively inexperienced, and does have a blip at CCI4*-L on his record back at Tattersalls in 2019, but this could be a real turning point for the horse.

Mike, who’s represented Canada at two Olympics, is certainly not lacking in experience, and he’s also an outspoken advocate for diversity and anti-racism in the sport. We hope to catch him on course in his Black Lives Matter stirrup irons this week, and however the event pans out for him, he’ll be a welcome reminder to spectators that the sport’s doors are open to them, no matter what.

GREAT BRITAIN

Ros Canter and Pencos Crown Jewel. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Ros Canter and Pencos Crown Jewel

DEBUTANT HORSE

Twelve-year-old British-bred Sport Horse mare (Jumbo x Cornish Queen, by Rock King). Owned by Kate James and Annie Makin.

World Champion Ros Canter has a number of seriously nice up-and-coming horses on the go at the moment, and one of them is five-star first-timer Pencos Crown Jewel, who’s one of just a tiny handful of mares in this field. She comes back to Bicton after a successful run in that achingly tough CCI4*-L here back in June, where she finished ninth on a swift double-clear. That’s the toughest track we’ve seen her tackle in a while — prior to that, she had runs in both this spring and last autumn’s Burnham Market four-stars, which weren’t particularly tricky for the level, and at Burgham last year, where they had an unfortunate fall. But generally, this is a pretty solid cross-country horse whose occasional blips can probably be attributed to a bit of rider swapping: Tom Jackson took the ride for Ros when she was pregnant with daughter Ziggy, and that can be a confusing thing for a young horse who suddenly has to relearn a whole system of communication.

Ros is on super form after two international wins with other horses at Blair last week, and that kind of success gives an innate confidence that can define whole performances. Expect a score in the very low 30s on Friday, and reasonably efficient round on Saturday. If they make it that far without green blips of any kind, ‘Jas’ tends to be a good showjumper and could pick herself up a placing.

Felicity Collins and RSH Contend Or. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Felicity Collins and RSH Contend Or

12-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Nintender x Coulonia, by Toulon). Owned by Vicky Collins and Avrina Milton.

RSH Contend OR is one of Felicity’s self-produced horses, and easily her most impressive: he helped her win the under-21 national title at Houghton in 2017, and then partnered her to 13th place at that summer’s Young Rider European Championships. That autumn, she moved him up to CCI4*-S, and he finished 14th in the eight- and nine-year-old class at Blenheim. In 2018, he was clear around Blenheim’s CCI4*-L, and this year, the pair finished 15th in the Young Rider Europeans, at which the team won gold and the dynamic duo were chosen as pathfinders. They made their five-star debut at Pau in 2019, and though they didn’t complete, they learned an enormous amount about the complexities of this level. Since then, we’ve seen them finish in the top ten in CCI4*-S classes at Barbury and Burnham Market, and they jumped around the CCI4*-L for under-25s here in June, finishing thirteenth with 20 penalties under their belt.

Remarkably, Felicity has competed horses at each of the national age finals – and she ticked all those boxes as a teenager, which just proves her innate ability to produce a youngster carefully and considerately. ‘Mickey’ certainly isn’t anyone’s ride, but Felicity has produced him sympathetically and has a super relationship with the talented, quirky gelding, who’s waiting in the wings for his moment to shine. They’ve had a hugely educational couple of years and this could be the moment it all comes together. If it does, we could see them fight for a spot in the top ten.

David Doel and Ferro Point. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

David Doel and Ferro Point

Eleven-year-old Irish Sport Horse mare (Match Point x Ferra Jones VII, breeding unknown). Owned by Christine Lees. 

When you really take a step back and consider the facts of the matter, David Doel must be Britain’s most prolific five-star rider of 2021. He managed to get three horses to Luhmühlen back in June, which is a major feat for a number of reasons, and none of them are the two horses he competes here this week. That’s five horses fit, qualified, and ready to run at the top level in one season, and that really is extraordinarily impressive.

The first of his two young entrants here is Ferro Point, the exciting mare who stepped up to the level at Pau last year. She finished just outside the top twenty there in the strongest field the event has ever seen, jumping a reasonably quick clear on Saturday to put herself in a respectable position. Just her dressage — a 37.4 — and her two rails on Sunday precluded a bigger climb, and though we haven’t seen her form in these two phases change much, she’s quick, capable, and hasn’t had an international cross-country jumping penalty since 2017. That came at Bicton in the CCI3*-S, but as she’s returned since then without issues, we shan’t take it as an omen. We’ll expect a repeat of her Pau performance this week, which should earn her an even better placing in this company.

David Doel and Galileo Nieuwmoed. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

David Doel and Galileo Nieuwmoed

DEBUTANT HORSE

Ten-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Carambole x Sjaloma, by Harcos). Owned by Gillian Jonas. 

Talk about a literal dark horse: Galileo Nieuwmoed might be one of the youngest horses in the field, but he’s been quietly amassing some very, very promising results over the last couple of seasons. Those include a top-twenty finish at Burgham CCI4*-S, fourth place at the same level at Renswoude in the Netherlands, thirteenth in the CCI4*-S for eight- and nine-year-olds at Blenheim in 2019, and second in his debut at four-star at Haras du Pin that year. Oh, and did we mention that he’s never had a cross-country jumping penalty across his international career? He’s certainly one to watch closely — we’ll be expecting a low-30s dressage, though he’s a consistent upper-20s horse at four-star, and a dazzling clear round on Saturday. He’s one of the fastest in the field, though also one of the least experienced, so how quickly he goes will depend largely on how David opts to run him — whether it’s better for him in the long run to learn about direct routes and speed, or to go steadier around the track. On Sunday, he could well jump clear, and his record indicates that he will. Keep an eye on this one, because both horse and rider are likely to surprise you. Quiet, hard-working, kind David sometimes goes under the radar, but this week could well be his time to take the spotlight, which he certainly deserves.

William Fox-Pitt and Oratorio II. Photo by Shelby Allen.

William Fox-Pitt and Oratorio II

Twelve-year-old British-bred Sport Horse gelding (Oslo Biats x Cinnamon Brulee XX, by Topanoora xx). Owned by the Oratorio Syndicate. 

Though he’s certainly made a name for himself on the British circuit, you might best know Oratorio for his rather famous father. William won the CCI5* at Pau in 2011 aboard Oslo, who he’d taken a limited number of straws from before gelding him as a five-year-old. One of those straws was put to Cinnamon Brulee, who the Fox-Pitts had trained as a point-to-pointer, though she was known for her sheer strength and force of will perhaps more than anything else. And those attributes have shown through loud and clear in the sparky and clever Rio.

“He’s absolutely blood, and he doesn’t know the meaning of ‘hard’ in any phase, on any day, ever. It’s exhausting at my age,” William told EN at Blenheim in 2018, where the pair finished second in the CCI4*-L. “I’m quite looking forward to the day when he says, ‘right, okay, let’s go onto the bridle a bit now!’ At my age, I quite like them to purr around a bit, but he’s a double handful. Sometimes the ‘woah’ can take 25 strides!”

His CCI5* debut at Badminton in 2019 proved how classy he is, despite some excesses of enthusiasm. After his thirteenth place finish, he even made William go rather soppy on us, as he told us, “For a while I did wonder what I was doing [coming back to the sport]. But suddenly, at 50, I see a future. Who says that at 50?!”

Rio was originally produced to two-star by Laura Collett, largely because William worried he’d be small like his 15.2hh dam, and partly because William wasn’t sure how much longer he’d want to stay at the top level anyway. Since taking the reins in 2017, though, William and Rio have notched up some pretty impressive results, and most recently finished 15th in their final prep run at Hartpury CCI4*-S. This will be a shot at redemption after a seriously unlucky fall late on course at Kentucky, which neither deserved at the tail end of a classy round. With that behind them, they can focus on being among the favourites for a win this week.

Pippa Funnell and Billy Walk On. Photo by Libby Law Photography.

Pippa Funnell and Billy Walk On

Twelve-year-old British-bred Sport Horse gelding (Billy Mexico x Shannon Line, by Golden Bash). Owned by Barbara and Nicholas Walkinshaw.

Third time’s a charm, eh? That’s certainly the hope for rangy Billy Walk On, who made his five-star debut at Badminton in 2019, where he picked up a 20 and an 11 for activating a safety device and was subsequently retired, and then went on to contest Burghley, where he was withdrawn after dressage. He’s a bit of a teacher’s pet, according to Pip, and because he’s so tall and leggy, it’s taken a while for him to really build strength and grow into himself — but he’s utterly brimming with talent, and should be among the frontrunners after the first phase on a mid-to-high 20s score. He didn’t run at all in 2020, which was mostly because Pip herself was out of action, but hasn’t had any international cross-country jumping penalties in his last five runs and is looking stronger, faster, and more confident with every outing. He finished seventh in his prep run at Hartpury CCI4*-s and was thirteenth in the CCI4*-L here in June, so is an obvious contender for a top five placing and could even find himself fighting for the top spot. Like several of the other frontrunners, though, he’s prone to a pole — which could make for a very, very nerve-wracking Sunday.

Pippa Funnell and Majas Hope. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Pippa Funnell and Majas Hope

Fourteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Porter Rhodes x Brown Sue, by Flagmount King). Owned by Marek Sebestak and the rider. 

Though Majas Hope has sometimes been overshadowed by his flashy stablemates, this is a seriously consistent horse — he just gets the job done on course each and every time, which is why he was named as the trailblazer for the 2019 European Championships team and was on the original shortlist of nine for Tokyo, too. This year, we’ve also seen his ordinarily mid-30s dressage marks really improve, and in his last two runs, he’s scored a 27.6 and a 27 at four-star.

Majas Hope finished sixth in his final prep run at Hartpury CCI4*-S, which is something of a relief after a highly uncharacteristic 40 and retirement in Bicton’s CCI4*-S back in June. We’re willing to write that off considering how reliable he ordinarily is, and how well he ran in his five-star debut at Burghley back in 2018, when he finished 13th. He’s not going to win this week, but he’s quick, showjumps well, and it’s hard to ignore that ever-improving dressage. This could be a top-five finisher.

Simon Grieve and Mr Fahrenheit III

DEBUTANT HORSE

Eleven-year-old British-bred Sport Horse gelding (Catherston Liberator x Little Tiger, by Java Tiger). Owned by Dr Polly Taylor.

Mr Fahrenheit’s dam was Phoebe Buckley’s tiny, feisty five-star mare Tiger Mail, and he’s certainly inherited some of her can-do attitude, which will hopefully serve him well as he reroutes from his intended debut at Badminton. We’ll be looking for a mid-to-high 30s dressage score, which will have them playing catch-up over the weekend — though very experienced Simon, who also moonlights as a TV presenter, will be aiming more for an educational outing than a competitive one. They come to Bicton with a clear round in their prep run at Somerford Park CCI3*-S behind them, but the confidence-building they did there is doing some heavy lifting after a horse fall across the country in the CCI4*-S at Burgham in July. They also came here for the CCI4*-L in June, where they picked up 20 penalties but went on to complete. They’re capable of big things — a 13th place finish in Bramham’s CCI4*-L in 2019, with no time picked up across the country proved that — but this horse is still young and Simon has been around the block long enough to know that sometimes it’s best to look further ahead than Sunday evening.

Becky Heappey and DHI Babette K. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Becky Heappey and DHI Babette K

Fifteen-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare (Marlon x Fleur). Owned by Julie Record.

Recently-married Becky debuted Babette at five-star at Luhmühlen in 2019, where they recorded an impressive ninth place finish after adding a rail and just 1.6 cross-country time penalties to their 35.3 dressage score. Since then, we’ve seen them at one further five-star, and that was Burghley that autumn. They finished thirteenth there, despite being rather slower across the country and taking three rails on the final day. They’ve only had one FEI run since then — a steady clear in the CCI4*-S at Hartpury last month — but their dressage is looking more polished now and their scores are reflecting that. We could well see them hit the very low-30s on Friday, though they don’t tend to be among the fastest over this kind of terrain test, so they’ll probably be a steadier finisher on Saturday. This field doesn’t have a huge selection of out-and-out speed demons, though, so that could be enough to keep them in touch of the top ten.

Sophie Jenman and Lordana VH Leysehof Z. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Sophie Jenman and Lordana VH Leysehof Z

DEBUTANT HORSE

Eleven-year-old Zangersheide mare (Lordanos x Ratinka, by Elanville). Owned by Kay Jenman.

Sophie makes her return to five-star for the first time since 2015, when she rode around Burghley for the third time on former top horse Geronimo. Now, her fiftieth FEI start will be a special one as she moves Lordana VH Leysehof Z up to the level for the first time after a string of exciting results. Those have included a top twenty finish in July’s Burgham CCI4*-S, which incorporated the British Open Championship, as well as clear rounds at Bicton CCI4*-L and Burnham Market CCI4*-S (this spring) and CCI4*-L (last autumn).

Sophie, who turns 30 this year and formerly represented Great Britain at Young Rider level, is based in Kent and began her career as a working pupil for Lucy Wiegersma. She’s also an A graduate of the Pony Club, and takes great pride in producing her horses from the ground up. Though dressage marks in the high-30s will stop them being competitive on the young mare’s debut, this is just her 13th FEI start and she’s already looking quick and clever across the country. Expect this week to lay the groundwork for some big things to come.

Richard Jones and Alfies Clover. Photo by Peter Nixon.

Richard Jones and Alfies Clover

Fourteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Tajraasi XX x Aoifes Clover, by Clover Hill). Owned by Sandra Martin, Dinah Jones, and the rider. 

It’ll be a treat to see Richard and his stalwart partner Alfies Clover again — the last time we saw them at this level was at Burghley in 2019, though they retired on course there. Their one international run since then was in the CCI4*-S at Burgham in July, at which they jumped a double clear with 4.8 time penalties.

Everyone loves a comeback kid, and good-humoured Jones has, perhaps, one of the more unusual comeback stories in the field. In 2017, he and Alfies Clover were on track to achieve the best result of Jones’ career in the CCI4*-L at Bramham, where they posted a 35 and one of the top cross-country rounds of the weekend to sit in 11th place going into the final phase. After their round, however, disaster struck – Jones slipped while stepping out of the living area of his lorry and caught his wedding ring on the way down. He ended up losing his finger.

But he’s not stopped easily – this is a man who, the year prior, had to have a foot completely rebuilt – and we saw the pair at Burghley a mere three months later. They finished in 22nd place, despite the constant pain and lack of grip in Jones’ left hand. That was the 11-year-old gelding’s first five-star, and Jones’ first since 2014. The following year they returned, added just 2.8 time penalties to their 34.2 dressage, and finished seventh. It’s all been a bit of a rollercoaster since then: they retired on course at Badminton and then finished fourth at Bramham CCI4*-L, which is a big, tough, hilly track, and then had a 20 at Burgham and that Burghley retirement. With just this year’s Burgham under their belt since then, it’s hard to try to gauge whether they’ll come out fresh and full of renewed vigour or if they’ll need to knock some rust off — but we’re going to go ahead and put them up as a dark horse combination for a top ten finish.

Louisa Lockwood and Diamond Ructions

DEBUTANT HORSE

Fourteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Carrick Diamond Lad x Ructions, by Right Win). Owned by Bronwen Jones and Iain Greer.

This will be Louisa’s long-awaited return to CCI5*, a level she last competed at back in 2015 when she completed Badminton with Ballyfarris Flight, a horse with whom she jumped clear around both British five-stars. This time, her mount is longtime partner Diamond Ructions, and this will be their 29th FEI start.

The pair have had a bit of an up and down season so far: they finished 2020 at Little Downham’s CCI4*-S, where they picked up a 20, but recorded a clear around Aston-le-Walls CCI4*-S this spring. Then they ran into problems on course at Bicton CCI4*-L and Burgham CCI4*-S, but jumped clear around their final prep at Hartpury CCI4*-S. The name of the game for Louisa, who represented Great Britain at the Junior level, will be to get a completion under her horse’s belt and build upon it from there.

Piggy March and Vanir Kamira. Photo by Hannah Cole Photography.

Piggy March and Vanir Kamira

Sixteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse mare (Camiro de Haar Z x Fair Caledonian, by Dixi). Owned by Trevor Dickens. 

“Vanir Kamira is going to win a five-star one day, but it won’t be Badminton – she’s a Burghley horse through and through.”

Thus spake (though did not write) the journalist in charge of this form guide, who was inordinately happy to concede that she might not know all the things about all the things, and who cried like a happy, milk-drunk baby when the duo did just what she (I?) said they wouldn’t. And what a long time coming it was – Piggy has been refreshingly candid about her struggle to get to the top and stay there without driving herself into a seriously dark place along the way. Badminton wins always sort of seem to add that fairytale something, don’t they? After all, if you wrote a novel in which the plucky heroine and her ‘scopeless yak’ – Piggy’s words, not ours – jumped two perfect clear rounds, and then won because the heroine’s ex-boyfriend added just one time fault too many in his showjumping round, it would be slated for overuse of deus ex machinaBut that’s just what happened.

The likeliest winners by EquiRatings’ Prediction Centre metrics, 2019’s Badminton victors return for their sixth CCI5* as a partnership and the mare’s eighth in her career. We last saw them at the level at Burghley in 2019, where they capped off their extraordinary year with second place, and they also finished second there in 2017 and fifth in 2018. We’re coming to the latter years of ‘Tillybean’s’ career, but she’s certainly still got a few big results left to come.

Piggy didn’t run the mare at all in 2020, largely because she’s an out-and-out five-star horse and there wasn’t a lot of point wasting her on short format competitions with no end goal. In 2021, we’ve seen her finish second at Burnham Market CCI4*-S and drop down to a surprising 15th at Bicton CCI4*-L after an uncharacteristic four rails; though she’s never been an exceptional showjumper, she’s much more of a one-rail horse.

Expect her to score in the mid-to-high 20s and deliver the round of the day across the country, where she’s fast, fiery, and incredibly reliable. On the final day, we’d ordinarily be looking at a bum-clenching round by Braille with a 50% chance of a rail deciding it, but after her last Bicton experience, this could make for an even more tense viewing experience.

Harry Mutch and HD Bronze. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Harry Mutch and HD Bronze

Fifteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Limmerick x Northern Madera, by Toca Madera). Owned by Carole Mutch.

This will be a second five-star for 24-year-old Harry and his self-produced gelding after they completed Badminton in 2019, having gained a serious education on the way around. Since then, we’ve seen them jump clear around CCI4*-S tracks at Burgham and Barbury, but they’ve also had some problems at Blair and Bicton, where they tackled the CCI4*-L for under-25s earlier this summer but retired on course. That didn’t come after any actual issues, mind you — they made it most of the way around the hilly course in the heat but Harry decided to save him for another day when he was approaching the final combination and thought his much-loved gelding didn’t feel as reactive as normal. That show of horsemanship will have paid dividends in the long run, and although they won’t be fighting for a top placing this week, we could be about to witness Harry’s development as a rider since that debut in 2019.

Michael Owen and Bradeley Law. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Michael Owen and Bradeley Law

Seventeen-year-old British-bred Sport Horse gelding (Mill Law x Scarlet Lady, breeding unknown). Owned by the Jenning’s Syndicate.

With five five-stars under his belt, the bright and beautiful Bradeley Law isn’t short of experience at this level, and he and Michael’s partnership stretches back to 2013, when Michael took the reins from Mary Lofthouse at the CCI3*-L level. Their best result at the level is 15th at Burghley in 2018, when they added just 7.2 time penalties across the country to their 40.1 dressage, proving that they can climb if there’s a tough course for them to sink their teeth into.

Their first-phase performances have improved a bit since then, and will likely be nearer the mid-to-high-30s, and they’re generally fairly consistent, thought they finished their 2019 season with 20s at Burghley and Burgham. They had planned to run at Bicton’s CCI4*-L earlier this summer, but were spun in the first horse inspection, so this’ll be their first time tackling the tough track here. That Burghley result in 2018 represented a particularly quick round for them, so while we know it’s in there, we probably won’t see it again this week — but they’re very capable of putting in a strong performance for another top twenty finish.

Will Rawlin and VIP Vinnie. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Will Rawlin and VIP Vinnie

DEBUTANT PAIR

Thirteen-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Valentino x Gianna Nannini, by Grosso Z). Owned by Andrew and Miranda Rawlin.

27-year-old Will makes his five-star debut in tandem with his top horse, who he’s produced from a four-year-old with a spate of promising results along the way. They finished third in the under-25 CCI4*-L at Bramham in 2019, just outside of the top ten in Burnham Market’s CCI4*-S the same year, and won the CCI3*-S at Bicton at the end of that season after leading the dressage at Blenheim CCI4*-L on a 24.2, though they opted to withdraw after that.

They come into their first five-star off the back of a steady prep run in Burgham’s CCI4*-L, where they posted a 26.2 dressage and once again proved how formidable they can be in this phase. They could well put a seriously strong performance down on Friday to find themselves in good company at the business end of the leaderboard, though Will — who’s been scouted for reality TV shows such as Love Island because of his model good looks — will likely put his horse’s education foremost and run reasonably steadily to ensure a confidence-building and educational round. A steady clear will likely serve them well, as there’ll be penalties aplenty across this track — so a completion will be a very respectable way to start this pair’s career as five-star competitors.

Richard Skelt and Credo III. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Richard Skelt and Credo III

Fourteen-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (VDL Tenerife x Tandora, by Marlon). Owned by the rider. 

It’s a second CCI5* for Credo, who made his debut at Burghley in 2019 but suffered a horse fall on course. We then didn’t see him again until this season, in which he’s had three FEI runs: a CCI3*-S at Little Downham and CCI4*-S runs at Bicton and Burgham, all of which he jumped around clear. He’s returned with much-improved dressage marks, too, which see him scoring under 35, but he’s not a very quick horse and will likely be given a steadier campaign for his first long-format event in two years. On Sunday, he’ll take a few rails, but the aim here isn’t to be competitive — it’s to get Credo back out at the level and amass some valuable mileage.

Richard is based near Burghley and rides professionally, though unlike many other British pros, he didn’t grow up in a horsey family — instead, he got into it on his own and pursued a diploma in equine management through a college in Kent, which gave him the opportunity to work and ride for Marietta Fox-Pitt, mother of William, at the family’s Knowlton Court estate. He bought Credo, or ‘Pedro’, who’d originally been produced by fellow competitor Angus Smales, for a pittance from one of his subsequent employers because the horse was such a spooky horse, but plenty of hunting has helped him to gain confidence, even if he still finds arenas quite a monster-filled prospect.

Angus Smales and ESI Phoenix. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Angus Smales and ESI Phoenix

DEBUTANT HORSE

Twelve-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Clover Echo x Catina, breeding unknown). Owned by Diana Birch and Charlotte Straker. 

This’ll be the first time we’ve seen experienced competitor, course designer, and keen hunting man Angus at five-star since Burghley 2017, and he makes his return with a horse part-owned by loyal owner Charlotte Straker, who began providing rides for Angus just after he’d left school. Previously a stable jockey for Oliver Townend, Angus has had plenty of success at the top level and is an intuitive, gutsy cross-country rider who should do well over a track like Bicton’s.

This is just Phoenix’s eleventh FEI start, as Angus only tends to aim him at a couple of internationals each season. He made his debut in 2017 and within a year, stepped up to four-star. He’s jumped around Blenheim clear and Bramham with an activated frangible penalty, and his only international cross-country jumping penalty came at Burnham Market CCI4*-L last year, when he had a 20. He should score in the low-30s, which won’t put any pressure on the top end of the leaderboard, but will keep him in close enough contention to climb, though he’s not naturally a particularly quick horse and Angus isn’t likely to put that extra pressure on him in a move-up run. Instead, they’ll aim for a respectable result that gives the horse confidence and an essential education for a crack at one of the established British five-stars next season.

Georgie Spence and Halltown Harley. Photo by FEI/Yusuke Nakanishi.

Georgie Spence and Halltown Harley

Fifteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Harlequin du Carel x Cummer Beauty, by Clover Hill). Owned by Suzanne Doggett and the rider. 

The charmingly flaxen-maned Harley makes his third appearance at five-star after jumping around Badminton in 2019 and 2018. He finishes 33rd on his debut with a steady clear round, but had a 20 on his second attempt — though even with that problem on course, he was considerably quicker. Since then, he’s become much more consistently speedy and tends to make the time at the short format, and his dressage scores have trended downwards towards the 30 mark, too. He’s generally a good showjumper, though he’s had two rails on both his most recent FEI outings, and a 20 and retirement across the country in his last run at Burgham CCI4*-S isn’t ideal. But he and Georgie have been together since 2016, when she took the reins from New Zealand’s Caroline Powell, and they know one another inside and out. They should be able to put in a good performance over the Captain’s tough, demanding track, and if their recent penchant for speed continues, that could allow them to fight for a career-best result this week.

Gemma Tattersall and Chilli Knight. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Gemma Tattersall and Chilli Knight

Eleven-year-old British-bred Sport Horse gelding (Chilli Morning x Kings Gem). Owned by Chris and Lisa Stone.

He’s a ‘yes man’ and the son of a five-star winner in Chilli Morning, and Chilli Knight is something of a yard favourite for super-experienced five-star competitor Gemma. We last saw him at Hartpury CCI4*-S, where he finished third and Gemma described him as “absolutely one hundred million percent ready” for his second CCI5* run.

‘Alfie’ made his debut at the level back in 2019 at Pau, where he completed cross-country with an educational 20 penalties but was withdrawn before the final horse inspection, so was unable to finish the event. Don’t let that put you off, though: in his three career CCI4*-L competitions, he’s never finished lower than seventh, and he’s among the very fastest horses in the field, with a history of making the time at events where no one else manages it. He’s not a flashy mover but he’s very correct and rideable, which is contributing to his scores starting to trend to the low-30s and high-20s, and though he’s prone to a pole on the final day, Gemma has been spending more and more time moonlighting as a showjumper with her burgeoning string of jumping horses and will bring that useful experience forward to help Alfie negotiate the course. They’ll be aiming for a top-ten finish here.

Izzy Taylor and Fonbherna Lancer. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Izzy Taylor and Fonbherna Lancer

DEBUTANT HORSE

Eleven-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Otangelo x Bherna, by Utopia). Owned by the Lancer Stud.

The striking grey Fonbherna Lancer has had an interesting couple of seasons. He was originally produced by New Zealand’s Neil Spratt, who gave the gelding his FEI debut back in 2018, and from then on out, Izzy had the ride, producing him to four-star and campaigning him at Boekelo in 2019. After that, though, the Lancer Stud moved the horse to Piggy March’s string, and she competed him successfully through 2020 and early 2021, notching up top-five finishes in CCI4*-S classes at Burnham Market and Little Downham. The plan had originally been to aim him for his CCI5* debut at Burghley this autumn, but when the cancellation announcement was released earlier this spring, his owners decided to reroute him to Luhmühlen. But Piggy wasn’t yet qualified to run a five-star with him, as she’d withdrawn before cross-country in their one CCI4*-L entry because of concerns about the ground, and so the horse was moved back to Izzy five weeks before the event. Then, of course, those pesky travel restrictions came into place, and Izzy was also temporarily sidelined with a broken collarbone, so Luhmühlen didn’t happen for them — and now, he makes his five-star debut in the originally intended week at Burghley’s replacement event. Phew. All caught up, then?

Though the shiftabout might not be the most ideal scenario going into a five-star move-up, this is nevertheless a very exciting horse in this field and could be a real dark horse candidate for a super result. He’s consistently scored in the mid-to-high 20s with both riders, and generally, he’s reliable and quick across the country — though he did pick up a rare 20, his first at four-star, in his last FEI run at Burgham, which puts a question mark over his head coming into this tough competition. On the final day, he’s almost guaranteed to knock a rail — but if he goes as well as he can do on Saturday, he should be able to give himself enough of a buffer to hold onto a top ten spot.

Oliver Townend and MHS King Joules. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Oliver Townend and MHS King Joules

Sixteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Ghareeb x Gowran Lady, by Cavalier Royal). Owned by Tom Joule. 

Before his return to the top level at Pau last year, we hadn’t seen Oliver’s longtime partner since Burghley in 2018 when he picked up an injury. It was something of a surprise to see him return, but he did so with aplomb, finishing sixth in the five-star after just a CCI3*-S run to prepare. This time, he comes forward for his fifth five-star with two CCI4*-S runs under his belt this year: a fourth-place finish at Burnham Market in the spring and a steady clear at Aston-le-Walls in May.

If Townend’s string were old Hollywood stars, ‘Jay’ would be Marlon Brando circa A Streetcar Named Desire – all bulging muscle and alpha-male charisma, but prone to bouts of questionable behaviour and a lil’ bit punchy. Originally piloted by Mary King, who found him ‘disappointingly strong and unruly across country‘, he was then sent to Townend’s good friend Andrew Nicholson, who set to work reforming the talented black gelding.

Now? Well, he’s formidable on his day – just look at his Kentucky performance in 2018 to see why Townend perseveres. He was seventh there, adding just a characteristic pole to his 31.3 dressage score, and he’s dipped as low as 23.9 in a four-star, at Gatcombe’s Open British Championship in 2018. This year, he’s posted a 26.4 and a 28.1, so ought to be in the top ten after dressage, and he should produce a fast clear on Saturday. Sunday’s showjumping is his weaker phase — he’ll have a rail or perhaps two, which could prove expensive.

Oliver Townend and Tregilder. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Oliver Townend and Tregilder

DEBUTANT HORSE

Eleven-year-old British-bred Sport Horse gelding (Royal Concorde x Trewins, by Hand In Glove). Owned by the Hazeldines and Mitchell Fox Group.

It seems like every time a five-star entry list comes out, Tregilder is on it — and then, at the eleventh hour, he’s always taken off again. This is ordinarily because Oliver has such an abundance of top-level horses that the rookie gelding, who was bred by Preci-Spark, has to step back to make way for one of his more competitive stablemates — but now, we’ll finally get the chance to see how he fares at five-star.

Two things will work in the 2018 Blair CCI4*-S winner’s favour: he’s the second of Oliver’s horses, so will be able to make use of the intel that his rider has picked up around the course, and he’s also the very last horse in the draw, so by the time he leaves the start box, there won’t be much that isn’t known about the track’s secrets. That’ll serve him well, because he could actually be well in the hunt after the first phase: we’ll be looking at a score in the high-20s to very low-30s, though he can and sometimes does fluctuate well above or below that benchmark, and he’s generally a quick horse. Just one big question mark looms over his head: he was eliminated in his last CCI4*-S, at Houghton back in May, because he refused a double of corners three times, and Oliver also fell from him early in the course at Burnham Market at the start of the season. He’s had two other FEI runs this year — a clear at Aston-le-Walls CCI4*-S, which was a much flatter track, and a win in the CCI3*-S at Somerford, but it’s not enough to put him forward as a challenger for the title. Instead, he’s rather more of a dark horse in that if all goes well, he has every chance — but Oliver may have to take it fence by fence.

Francis Whittington and DHI Purple Rain. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Francis Whittington and DHI Purple Rain

DEBUTANT HORSE

Eleven-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Arthos R x Wynona VWG’s, by Niveau). Owned by Ro Audley, Belinda Drummond, Amy Drummond and Beryl Chaplin.

It’s crucial that, whenever we talk about Francis’s five-star first-timer, we take a moment to hit play on this first.

Okay, ready? Cool. ‘Prince’, as he’s known at home (obviously), stepped up to four-star back in 2019 before the world fell apart, and since then, he’s had three runs at CCI4*-L and four at CCI4*-S. Though all have been educational, rather than competitive, he didn’t run into any trouble until this season, when he hit a couple of stumbling blocks: first, he retired on course at Bicton’s CCI4*-L, though that was due to a tack malfunction late on the track. Then, he picked up an uncharacteristic 20 penalties in his next outing, Burgham’s CCI4*-S, but has since rallied for a great clear at Hartpury’s CCI4*-S last month.

It might not seem like the ideal lead up to a five-star debut, but the first two-thirds of his Bicton run before his bit broke proved that he loved the tough terrain and bold questions at the venue, and so we expect this to be a pivotal moment in his career. He’s not a super fast horse, and Francis won’t try to change that on a debut run, but he’s very capable of recording a respectable result that will bode well for the future.

IRELAND

Sarah Dowley and Rubix Kube. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Sarah Dowley and Rubix Kube

DEBUTANT PAIR

Seventeen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (VDL Ricochet x Shadow Girl, by Imperius). Owned by Ivan Dowley.

27-year-old Sarah Dowley makes her five-star debut with her longtime partner, the stalwart and impressive Rubix Kube. Together, they’ve come up through the FEI rankings, and Sarah has produced the horse herself the whole way. They made their four-star debut back in 2016 and have amassed some solid results along the way, jumping clear around CCI4*-L classes at Blenheim, Tattersalls and Ballindenisk over the last few seasons. Their mid-to-high 30s dressage won’t see them feature on the leaderboard on Friday, but they haven’t had an FEI cross-country jumping penalty since 2017 and although they’re not a particularly fast pair, a solid clear could see them climb, particularly if the completion rate is as low as it was at Bicton’s CCI4*-L back in June. They’ll likely tip a couple of rails on Sunday, but the whole week will be a valuable education for Sarah’s future as she produces her small string of event horses alongside her full-time career as a Radiation Therapist.

Sarah shares a converted dairy farm in Graigue with her sister, professional dressage rider Rachel Dowley, both of whom grew up hunting and eventing with the Waterford Pony Club before attending Dublin’s Trinity University. That was part of the deal they had with their parents — one of whom, father Ivan, is the grandson of Czechoslovakian refugees who fled to Ireland during the Second World War — and their farm began its successful conversion to a competition yard only upon the sisters’ graduation. Now, each sister runs a string of horses from the yard, and they’ve begun a small-scale breeding operation, too.

Rubix Kube was Sarah’s first horse after competing ponies as a child and teenager, and although he was actually meant to be her father’s horse, she stole him back after completing a working pupil stint with Belgian Olympian Karin Donckers. At a colossal 18hh, he isn’t necessarily an obvious athlete at first glance — but he’s incredibly genuine and probably makes the fences look like Novice questions.

Padraig McCarthy and HHS Noble Call

DEBUTANT HORSE

Ten-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Fortunas x Noblina, by Cavalier Royale). Owned by Pearl Chaffe and the rider. 

HHS Noble Call is one of the youngest horses in the Bicton field, and he comes forward having only made his FEI debut in 2018. This will be a largely educational week for him, rather than a competitive one: his first-phase scores fluctuate between the mid-30s and mid-40s, which will put him off the pace on Friday, and he’s not yet a super-quick horse — but with clear rounds at Ballindenisk and Burgham, he’s proven he can log a useful round to help prepare him for the future. A 20 in Bicton’s CCI4*-S in June will no doubt be in the back of Padraig’s mind, but that Burgham run redeemed the horse and it’ll be fun to get a first glimpse of him at the uppermost echelons of the sport, even if he won’t change the world while he’s there on this occasion.

Padraig McCarthy and Leonidas II. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Padraig McCarthy and Leonidas II

Seventeen-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Landos x Nairobi III, by Parco XX). Owned by Di Brunsden, Peter Cattell, and the rider. 

It’ll be a debut CCI5* for horse and rider as a partnership, though not individually: reigning World silver medallist Padraig has been successful at Badminton with Mr Chunky, while Leonidas picked up four top-ten finishes at Badminton and Burghley (plus a top ten at the Rio Olympics) with previous rider Mark Todd. But while he’s undeniably talented, he’s also always been a notoriously quirky character, and Padraig, who’s one of the best horsemen on the scene at the moment, has had to put plenty of time and patience into building a relationship with the horse, who was only ever previously ridden by Toddy and will have found it something of a shock to the system to be piloted by a new rider, no matter how skilled he may be.

They’ve certainly had some very competitive moments in their partnership, which began in the latter part of 2019 after just a couple of weeks to get to know one another. They were sixth in the CCI4*-S at Millstreet in their first FEI run, and they won the CCI4*-L at Barroca d’Alva in early 2020. But they also picked up an elimination last season at the very end of the course in Burgham’s CCI4*-S, and after starting this season with a third place finish in Ballindenisk’s CCI4*-S, they retired on course after picking up 20s at both Bicton CCI4*-S and Burgham CCI4*-S. On paper, it’s a bold choice to go five-star now, but Padraig will have taken the summer’s problems and used them to structure his training regime with the horse — and at seventeen, it probably feels a bit ‘now or never’ for Leonidas. On their day, they could be very, very competitive here — or they could fail to complete. There’s not really any middle ground.

Joseph Murphy and Gorsehill Pearl

DEBUTANT HORSE

Sixteen-year-old Irish Sports Horse mare (Hermes de Reve x Holly Clover, by Minstrel Bouncer). Owned by Ali and Owen Brennan and Alice Stanton.

Though Gorsehill Pearl is one of the elder horses of this field, she’s actually one of most low mileage, and will make her CCI5* debut this week. Originally campaigned by Ireland’s Luke Drea up to CCI4*-L, Gorsehill Pearl joined Joseph’s string in late 2015 and enjoyed reasonable levels of success in 2016 and 2017, with top ten finishes in four-stars at Ballindenisk and Millstreet, and 12th in the CCI4*-S at Bramham. Then we didn’t see her again until last year, and in the three international runs she’s had since her return, she’s been on the best form of her career: she finished in the top twenty in Ballindenisk’s CCI4*-S, then fifth at both Ballindenisk CCI4*-L and Millstreet CCI4*-S. As a result, she was named as Leading Mare of 2020 in the Eventing Ireland rankings.

She’s fitter and quicker now than she’s ever been, and although her mid-30s dressage won’t trouble the leaders, she could be a dark horse contender for a strong result across the country, which would put her in a competitive position. She tends to be a better final-day showjumper so could well jump clear on Sunday, though Saturday will be her biggest stamina test yet so she’ll be jumping tired on the final day. In any case, expect a sympathetic ride from experienced Joseph, who considers Pearl part of the family: his very young daughter Daisy often enjoys a pony-ride on the kind-hearted mare.

NEW ZEALAND

James Avery and Mr Sneezy. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

James Avery and Mr Sneezy

Thirteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Iroko x Starofdonickmore). Owned by Tiny Clapham and Ian and Heidi Woodhead.

It’ll be a long-awaited sophomore CCI5* for James, who’s based in the north of England with fiancee Holly Woodhead, and the charmingly named Mr Sneezy. They made their debut at the level at Pau back in 2019, where they picked up an educational 20 penalties on course but finished just within the top twenty overall. Now, with some time under their belts to solidify what they learned there, they’re coming back for more at a course that couldn’t be more diametrically opposed to Pau’s twisty, tight, technical track.

Mr Sneezy is a low-to-mid 30s performer, but there’s a 20s test brewing in there — and you can’t help but feel that it’s going to come out on the big stage one of these days. That could happen this week, though a 34.7 in the CCI4*-S at Burgham doesn’t particularly foretell it — but we’ve seen him deliver a sparkling 26.9 in the same class last year and that came after his 38 at Pau the previous autumn, so it’s a tough one to call. Being based with Holly — and, as such, having constant access to the country’s most in-demand dressage trainer, Ian Woodhead, will certainly be an asset to their efforts.

Sneezy is reasonably quick on short-format courses but less so on long-format tracks, and this will be a serious stamina and time challenge — but James will more likely be hoping to ensure a confident clear even if that means accepting a steadier time. If the CCI5*-L ends up being as influential as the CCI4*-L was earlier in the summer, that could be enough to ensure a major climb up the leaderboard.

Tim Price and Ringwood Sky Boy

Eighteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Courage II x Sky Lassie, by Sky Boy). Owned by Verenna Allen and the rider.

One of two previous five-star winners in the field, 2018 Burghley victor Ozzie returns for what could be his final hurrah at this level. He’s had an interesting year: a planned slow run in the CCI4*-S at Millstreet in Ireland seemed to hint at exciting things to come a couple of weeks later, when the Prices made the tough trip to Luhmühlen CCI5*. But luck just wasn’t on the family’s side that week, and none of their three five-star winning entrants made it to the finish line. Ozzie, for his part, came unstuck at the influential Meßmer Water, where horses had to jump a wide table and then execute a quick turn into a skinny brush in the water. The horse, like many others, seemed just not to see it on the first approach, and on the second, he made it quite clear that he still wasn’t quite reading it, so Tim wisely put his hand up and called it quits.

The 2018 Burghley winner was never bought to be a superstar — instead, he was picked up on the cheap as a rogue young horse with a penchant for bolting. The plan was to put some miles on him and resell him, but Tim couldn’t persuade anyone to buy him – though we’re sure he’s not rueing that these days. This will be an extraordinary seventeenth CCI5* for the gelding, and he’s finished in the top ten seven times at the level.

This course, with its tough terrain and tests of boldness, should suit Ozzie down to the ground, though neither horse nor rider experienced the inaugural four-star here earlier in the year, as they were making their way from Ireland to Germany at the time, so in that sense, they come in blind.

SWEDEN

Malin Josefsson and Golden Midnight. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Malin Josefsson and Golden Midnight

Thirteen-year-old Swedish Warmblood gelding (Goldmine x Duva, by Maraton). Owned by Karin Berglund.

Multitalented Malin has been part of the Swedish national team since 2017 – an accolade that she’s balanced with attending vet school. Pretty impressive stuff, especially when you consider that she’s fit in stints working for Anna Nilsson in Sweden and Malin Pedersen in Germany, too.

Malin and Golden Midnight, originally produced by fellow Swede Elvira Stafverfeldt, were silver medalists in the 2017 Nordic-Baltic Championships. They were fifth in the horse’s first CCI4-L, too, at Sopot in 2018, and they jumped clear for top-twenty finishes at both Waregem and Boekelo to cap off that season. They then went on to make their five-star debut at Badminton in 2019, where they jumped clear in both phases and added 14.8 time penalties across the country to finish just outside the top twenty. They also jumped clear around the European Championships that summer.

Expect a mid- to high-30s dressage, and what ought to be a clear cross-country – other than a couple of CCI4*-S blips back in 2019 and in their one and only run of 2020, they’re consistent and reliable and should be able to reproduce their Badminton performance, though the was, admittedly, one of the few times they’ve showjumped clear at the upper levels. It just goes to show that Malin does well under pressure, and she’ll be acutely aware that a repeat of her Badminton performance could yield a very exciting result in this smaller field.

 

Tuesday News & Notes from Legends Horse Feeds

There have been so many great initiatives throughout the equestrian world over the last year or so, all of which encourage access to the industry for riders from all kinds of backgrounds. One I’ve watched keenly is the Riding A Dream Academy, inspired and spearheaded by Ebony Horse Club graduate Khadijah Mellah, who became the first ever Hijabi jockey to win a race when she took top honours in the Magnolia Cup charity race back in 2019. Now, the first batch of participants in the Riding a Dream Academy is seeking to follow in her footsteps as an inner-city rider-turned-jockey, and they’ve just completed their first residential week in Newmarket, England, where they’ve logged plenty of hours in the saddle and learned tonnes about the world of racing. We love to see it.

National Holiday: It’s National Trail Mix Day. (Why?)

Events Opening Today: Ocala Fall Horse TrialsPine Hill Fall H.T.

Events Closing Today: MeadowCreek Park H.T – The Fall Social EventStone Gate Farm H.T.Marlborough H.TGMHA September H.T.Otter Creek Fall H.T.Flying Cross Farm H.T.Unionville Horse TrialsThe Event at SkylineAspen Farms H.T.

News and Notes from Around the World:

Are you as psyched for the AECs as we are? We know you are — and we know you’ll be utterly, ludicrously excited to preview the courses to come this week through USEventing’s virtual cross-country walks. [Preview the 2021 AEC Cross-Country Courses]

You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who, in the wake of Tokyo, thinks the format change for equestrian sports was a good idea. Journalist Pippa Cuckson lays out her thoughts on why it backfired for the showjumping competition, and questions why equestrians are being put under this unique pressure. [Only 30 Flags in Diving, So Why the Pressure On Us?]

Want to maximise your course-riding prowess? Minimise your aids first, with help from Joe Fargis. [Joe Fargis: Keep Your Riding Simple]

There are few limits to what a great horse can do for us. For Janina Lagemann-Doné, that horse was Cayenne Z, and his role has been to help his rider deal with a life-changing cancer diagnosis in her twenties. [F you, cancer. Thank you, CZ.]

Listen: Ireland’s Sam Watson tells his Tokyo story, from pre-quarantine export in Aachen to the real deal and beyond.

Watch: Relive Phillip Dutton and Fernhill Singapore’s winning round in the CCI4*-S at Great Meadow.

Monday News & Notes from FutureTrack

This picture of CCI4*-L competitor Phoebe Buckley managing to jump out of a water complex while turning to watch one of her fellow riders fall off in an adjacent combination perfectly sums up how I feel today. Blair has been busy and brilliant, with super winners and loads of inspiration across the board (plus a lot of driving), but I can only watch it racing away in the rearview as I gallop headlong into this week’s Bicton CCI5*. From then on out, the wheels won’t stop turning until November: there’s Aachen, and Blenheim, and the European Championships, and Boekelo, and Maryland, and Le Lion d’Angers, and Pau, and then maybe, if I’m lucky, a little bit of sleep sometime just before Christmas. But you know what? I couldn’t be more delighted that true eventing madness has returned to the calendar, and I am so ready to do this thang.

National Holiday: It’s National Beach Day! Funnily enough, the week of blazing sunshine here in Scotland has come to an abrupt end, so I don’t think I’ll be stopping off at any beaches on the 10 hour drive home.

U.S. Weekend Action:

Five Points H.T. (Raeford, Nc.): [Website] [Results]

Seneca Valley Pony Club H.T. (Poolesville, Md.): [Website] [Results]

Shepherd Ranch H.T. (Santa Ynez, Ca.): [Website] [Results]

Town Hill Farm H.T. (Lakeville, Ct.): [Website] [Results]

UK Weekend Action:

The Land Rover Blair Castle International Horse Trials:  [Website] [Schedule] [EN’s Coverage] [Results]

Scottish Grassroots Eventing Festival at Blair Castle: [Results]

Keysoe (3): [Results]

Launceston (2): [Results]

Llanymynech: [Results]

Shelford Manor (2): [Results]

Wellington International: [Results]

Global Eventing Roundup:

Just nine combinations started — and seven finished — the feature CCI4*-L class at Millstreet, Ireland, which went to Australia’s Bill Levett and Elisabeth Murdoch’s nine-year-old Lates Quin, who climbed from initial sixth after finishing on his dressage score of 36.2. First phase leaders, Sweden’s Sofia Sjoborg and DHI Mighty Dwight, took second, while third place went to another Aussie: this time, Kevin McNab on the Irish-sourced Global Victory.

It was a good weekend for Kevin, who also finished first and second in the CCI4*-S class aboard Scuderia 1918 A Best Friend and Willunga, respectively. Great Britain’s Willa Newton rounded out the podium with Cock A Doodle Do.

A double clear jumping performance helped Gillian Beale King (🇺🇸) and Chance Encounter VII win the Connolly's RED MILLS…

Posted by Millstreet International Horse Trials on Sunday, August 29, 2021

We also saw two American riders competing in the CCI3*-S at Millstreet, where Gillian Beale King came away with the win aboard Richard Ames’ Chance Encounter, moving up from their original starting point of eighth after dressage to eventually take the top placing. Gillian also finished two other rides, Rebeliant and RCA Royal Mist, in the top 10 in the CCI3*-S. Avery Klunick and her own Pisco Sour rebounded after some trouble at Haras du Pin earlier this month and got their first CCI3*-S completion under their belt in Ireland.

Millstreet International H.T. (Millstreet, Ireland) : [Website] [Scores]

Your Monday Reading List:

With Blair behind us, everyone’s attention is turning to the pop-up CCI5* being held in the UK this week. Horse&Hound caught up with the Bicton team to find out what the process has been like and what we can look forward to over the week ahead. [For once only: organiser of Britain’s only 2021 top-level event looks forward to good competition]

There are few things more impressive than a para horse. I’ve loved watching these extraordinary athletes adapt to unusual methods of communication and demonstrate the incredible partnerships they share with their riders through the Paralympics, and it’s fascinating to get more of an insight into what makes these incredible horses click. [The amazing “sixth sense” of para-equestrian horses]

We could yet see more changes on the USEA calendar for 2023 to 2027. USEventing is still taking bids for Advanced and CCI3*-L and CCI4*-S competitions in a number of areas around the country — but the bids will close on Friday, September 3, so if you’re an event organiser and want to make the big move up, don’t miss your chance! [US Equestrian Announces Re-Opening of Bidding for 2023-2027 CCI4*-S, CCI3*-L, & Advanced]

The FutureTrack Follow:

It’s got to be your new Blair CCI4*-L champion, from whom we can expect to see big things over the next few years.

What I’m Listening To:

I’ve been powering through podcasts and playlists on the long, long drive from London to Scotland and back, and I thoroughly enjoyed author Caroline O’Donoghue’s Sentimental Garbage, in which she chats to another writer about a piece of ‘trash’ culture that changed their life. The episode with Jojo Moyes on Jilly Cooper’s Riders particularly tickled me.

Morning Viewing:

Catch up with all the action from the Junior European Championships’ cross-country:

 

 

Rosie Fry Rewrites History to Win Blair CCI4*-L

That moment when your family horse gives you the biggest result of your career. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

When we last left Rosie Fry, she was in two minds about her situation: one the one hand, she was delighted to have moved into the lead with her ten-year-old True Blue Too II after delivering the second-fastest cross-country round of the day in what was only his second CCI4*-L, and she was determined to enjoy the moment, particularly in the wake of the harsh dose of perspective we’d all been dealt after the lorry crash that started the week. But on the other hand, she couldn’t help but think of the last time she was in this position. That was back in 2012, when she found herself in the lead after cross-country with Bankon Louie — but on the final day, the pair took four rails and tumbled down the leaderboard to sixth.

“I don’t really like to be in this position,” she told us yesterday with some trepidation. But despite any latent nerves she may have had, “I was so tired last night that I slept so well!” she laughs. This morning, she was up with the sun and kept busy with the other horses she has with her, who all needed to be fed and ridden and cared for — and in the case of Arise Cavalier, competed.

“It’s quite nice to not have just one, because then you have other things to think about,” she says. “I had [Arise Cavalier] to jump in the three-star, and he went clear, so that gives you the confidence that you’re doing the right thing.”

Rosie Fry and True Blue Too II jump the final fence. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Arise Cavalier’s performance saw the pair finish fourth in the large three-star class, which began the afternoon on a positive note after yesterday’s rollercoaster of a day, which saw Rosie’s strong cross-country performances bookend an unfortunate early fall on course with her other three-star mount. Bolstered by a successful Sunday thus far, she turned her attention to preparing for the biggest moment of her career — again. Fortunately, like yesterday’s course, today’s track was tailor-made for his strengths.

“It was just forward and nice, and I knew that would suit him — he likes to be on a forward stride,” says Rosie. “And it’s a nice big arena, and on grass; I think he jumps better on grass, and the atmosphere picked him up too, where he might have felt a little bit tired after yesterday. It definitely felt like he knew there were people around him; he felt like he was on really good form and that gave me the confidence to ride him confidently.”

After second-placed Tom McEwen and Dream Big knocked three rails, Rosie was granted a buffer — but she only had one pole in hand, and she didn’t want to have to use it. Though True Blue Too skimmed economically through the treble and breathed on another couple of poles during his round, he ultimately left everything in the cups and crossed the line clear and inside the time as Rosie threw her head back and punched the air in shock and gratitude.

That winning feeling: Rosie Fry rewrites history with her first CCI4*-L win. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

For Rosie, it’s an enormously emotional moment — not least because it’s an affirmation of her skills as a rider and proof that she can hold her own against the biggest names.

“I can’t really believe it — it’s going to take the whole drive home to sink in,” the Dorset-based rider, who will likely spend upwards of 12 hours driving home, laughs. “With all the other amazing people, with Tom and Oliver, these gold medallists in the same section — well, it just puts the belief in what you’re doing, in your process at home and the training and everything. I’ve had him since he was four, so it’s even more special because I’ve done everything with him, and it gives me that confidence. When you have a bad day you think, ‘god, what am I doing wrong?’ But then these days are why we do eventing, so we’ll celebrate it — you just don’t know when it’ll come again.”

Rosie Fry hugs her aunt — and the breeder of True Blue Too II — Di Hamilton-White. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Rosie’s also particularly grateful for this result, because she didn’t even know if she’d make it to Blair this year: “Two weeks ago, he had a freak incident at home, and we didn’t know if we’d even get here,” says Rosie, explaining that he managed to get loose and slip over, pockmarking himself with superficial injuries. “Luckily it was all just grazes, but to come here you need to make sure everything’s tip-top. Luckily he recovered in time, but it was a bit of a worry with timing — but my girls have worked so hard to get him in top shape. And he was; he couldn’t have felt better. He’s just tried so hard.”

 

Rosie Fry and True Blue Too II take their lap of honour. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Now, Rosie plans to give True Blue Too a holiday so that she can bring him back into work over the winter and focus on improving his dressage. Then, all being well, she’s planning for the next step up in the spring.

“There isn’t anything else he needs to do this season, so he’ll have that break and then we need to work on the dressage, so he’ll do lots of dressage and showjumping this winter,” she says. “Then, hopefully we’ll now aim for Badminton, which would be amazing — that’s the long-term plan, so hopefully we can keep him healthy and well.”

Alice Casburn and Topspin II. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Just like Rosie’s horse, nineteen-year-old Alice Casburn‘s Topspin II is something of a family legacy: his granddam competed to Advanced with Alice’s mother, Caroline, who then bred from the mare and went on to compete the resulting filly. Years down the line, she decided to breed from her, and the product of that decision was lanky Topspin, who began his career showjumping with Caroline in the irons before she passed the ride along to her daughter a few years ago. Together, they’ve overcome the gelding’s initial disinterest in eventing, contested the Junior European Championships, moved up to four-star, and even jumped around 1.40m and Puissance classes — but before their showjumping round today, they came up against something they’d never encountered before.

“He actually got really insecure in the warm-up,” says Alice. “He was like, ‘where are you, mum?!’ And he’s never like that. But funnily enough, as soon as he saw the crowds, he was like, ‘brilliant!'”

If you were to stand Alice and Topspin next to one another, you wouldn’t necessarily pick them as the most likely competitive combination: he’s long, tall, and strong, and she’s petite and whip-thin. But her quiet, sympathetic and unphysical style of riding suits the horse, who relies heavily on her voice for reassurance and guidance while on cross-country, and she understands his strengths and physicality and doesn’t try to force him into being something he’s not. That can make for interesting viewing in this phase; he’s so long in his body and his stride that it can look as though he’s going too slowly or without enough power, but Alice learned while jumping a colossal Puissance wall with him that this is simply his natural way of going, and she has to trust in that and go along with it.

“Every time, everyone’s like, ‘you’re going to have time!’ But then you get three strides out and he can really adjust himself to find the long or the short one. He’s really elastic, which isn’t that common for a big horse, but he just looks after me so well — he’ll do anything to get to the other side.” She pauses, beams at her horse, and says, as she has done so many times before, “I’m just so, so lucky and privileged to ride him.”

As Alice and Topspin cantered into the arena, he threw in a dramatic spook at the red brick wall he’d need to jump in just a few moments’ time — but although his antics made the crowd gasp, that was the moment that made Alice realise it was all going to be okay.

“It sounds really funny, but if he spooks as he comes in, that’s when you know he’s on form. People always look at me like, ‘oh my god, are you okay?!’ And I’m like, ‘yeah, I’d be more worried if he didn’t do this!’,” says Alice. “I started enjoying it after the second fence, because if I’m ever going to miss, it’s always at the first — that’s like, my nerves getting to me. But it was okay today!”

Alice’s second place finish is impressive no matter which way you spin it: from the clear round yesterday with just six time penalties, to the fault-free round today, to her young age and the relative inexperience of both horse and rider. But perhaps at the forefront of all of that is that she didn’t come here this week with any intention of being competitive, nor of taking any risks: it’s just the second-ever CCI4*-L for both horse and rider who, like Rosie and True Blue Too, had an educational run at Bicton back in June. Alice wanted to use this week to gain a qualifying result and solidify their education, not to pull out all the stops and deliver heroics — but even with a conservative goal in mind, they’ve still managed to come this close to a win.

“I just wanted to come here and have a good experience, really,” she says. “I thought I’d have another crack at it and hopefully get a qualifying result, so to come second is pretty mega. I thought he’d climb [up the leaderboard] as he loves his jumping and he’s normally pretty quick. I don’t think it’s sunk in yet, though — like, yesterday after my cross-country I was just walking around like, ‘oh, wow, I’m in third!'”

Now, with a five-star qualification under their belts, the sky truly is the limit.

“I’ve always really wanted to go five-star, and he’s obviously more than capable — my mum has always said that when you move up, you don’t know if your horse is capable of that level until the second time, because when you bring them out the next time, they know what’s coming. [So now] I’d love to do a five-star, whether it’s this year or next year; that way I can have a go while I’m on a horse I love and trust.”

Lauren Innes and Global Fision M finish third. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Lauren Innes might not be able to spend all day in the saddle — in fact, she regularly has to get up at 5.00 a.m. to ensure she can finish riding and caring for her horses before she begins her day job as an accountant at 9.00 a.m. — but she’s looked every inch the professional this week in partnership with the exceptional eleven-year-old Global Fision M, who she bought as a “very, very sharp” five-year-old through Brian Morrison of Ireland’s Global Event Horses.

Yesterday, she filled us in on her jam-packed schedule that allows her to get the sparky gelding fit herself, and over the course of the weekend, we’ve seen the proof of its efficiency: the pair added 10.4 time penalties yesterday and finished full of running, and today, he looked so fit and feisty in the showjumping arena that we’d almost have suspected her of swapping for a fresh horse — except for his characteristic pinned ears, which made it so plainly evident that the catlike horse in the ring was the one we’d enjoyed watching all week.

“I knew that he was a good horse, but he can get very excited, and it’s just about bringing all three phases together on the day,” says a delighted Lauren, who explains that ‘Flipper’ is ordinarily at his best when showjumping on the final day of a three-day event, which helps to take the edge off him.

Well, sort of. After Flipper’s lightning-fast clear today, which secured a third-place finish for the pair, there wasn’t much opportunity to chat to his beaming rider: he was too busy snorting and cavorting through the collecting ring, and Lauren opted to remove him from the buzz of the pre-prizegiving scrum and hack him back and forth along the path to the stables. Or, more accurately, attempt to keep him in a collected hand canter back and forth to the stables before he had to rejoin his friends and enjoy a rather exciting lap of honour.

Instead, we chatted to Mark Corbett, head of the British Eventing under-18 programme in the south of England and 30-year-old Lauren’s trainer since she was 12.

“I taught her on her scrappy little pony,” he laughs. This longevity, though, means that he knows her inside and out — and understands the constraints of her working life, too, which means he can help her tailor her training regime to her horse’s quirks. But as it turns out, the things that make Lauren’s situation unique are exactly the things that help Flipper to thrive.

“If he was in a team of horses, I don’t think it would work,” he says, watching as Flipper canters back down to the stables, nearly scattering some good-humoured spectators to the breeze in the process. “He’s just an individual character, and it’s taken us quite a while to work him out. But because of his individuality, you have to just let him be — a lot of the thing with him is that you can’t boss him around. You can’t tell him off, you just have to let him do his own little quirky thing, like going back to his stable now, and then he just goes, ‘aahhh.’ We don’t know quite what goes on in his head, but every time you point him at a fence, it’s just like, wow.”

Now, Lauren will plan for the biggest competition of her life: she’s qualified for Badminton, and if all goes well, she’ll head there next year as a true amateur rider on a self-produced horse who will be just twelve years old. Never say never, folks.

Izzy Taylor and Ringwood Madras finish fourth. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Izzy Taylor‘s Ringwood Madras might have been a little-known entity before this week, but the former Ben Way ride delivered three solid performances — including a foot-perfect clear round today — to finish the week in fourth place. It’s an exciting start to what could be a formidable partnership to come: this is just Izzy’s second international competition with the ten-year-old, who joined her string at the beginning of the year.

“She was fantastic; coming to Blair with the hills and the heat, for a change, was a big challenge, but she’s been phenomenal,” she says.

Nicola Wilson and Erano M round out the final top five. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Dressage leaders Nicola Wilson and the inexperienced 12-year-old Erano M had slipped down into sixth place after picking up 14.4 time penalties across the country, but they clawed one spot on the leaderboard back to finish in fifth after overnight runners-up Tom McEwen and the ten-year-old ex-racehorse Dream Big tipped an unlucky three rails to move down to sixth. The final phase here didn’t prove as influential as it has done in the past, with seven of the 13 pairs producing clear rounds and most looking remarkably fresh despite a ten-minute stamina test in yesterday’s blazing sunshine. It’s an exciting uptick after June’s Bicton CCI4*-L, where many horses looked unprepared to tackle such extensive terrain after a long period of time without a significant British long-format competition. As we head towards the spate of three-days coming up on the calendar — including next week’s inaugural Bicton CCI5*, the return of Blenheim in the latter half of the month, the European Championships at the end of September, the Nations Cup finale at Boekelo and five-stars at Pau and Maryland in October, it’ll be interesting to compare the preparation and fitness-building. Now that the home of eventing is truly back up and running, it’s hard to imagine any of the avoidable stamina issues we’ve seen crop up earlier in the year rearing their head again — and that’s something to be very, very happy about. British eventing is back, baby, and if this summer is anything to go by, it’s better than ever.

The final standings in Blair’s CCI4*-L.

Land Rover Blair Castle International Horse Trials: Website, Entries, Times and Live Scores, EN’s Coverage, EN’s Twitter, EN’s Instagram 

Runaway Victory for Ros Canter in Blair CCI4*-S

 

Winner Ros Canter, second-placed Astier Nicolas and third-placed Emily King atop the podium, with the imposing Blair Castle watching over proceedings. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

After the relatively straightforward CCI4*-L cross-country session, which was plenty influential but largely uneventful, the afternoon at Blair proved to be anything but. The CCI4*-S cross-country finale was always going to be a reasonably late feature on the schedule even if it had started at its intended time of 4:50 p.m. — but a spate of issues in the CCI3*-L class that preceded it steadily pushed the start time back by a full hour. By the time the assembled ground crew could even think about setting the flags for the final class of the day, the afternoon’s extraordinary sunshine had slid languorously down the sky, creating high-contrast light and dark areas on the course and forcing competitors at several points to ride directly towards it, creating some risk of visibility issues. Beyond that, many riders weren’t quite sure how to prepare their horses; there were suggestions prior to the start of the class that the cross-country phase might be split over that evening and the following morning, and after competitors were told there was an hour’s delay to the proceedings, a sudden announcement that the setback would be ten minutes shorter meant that several had to scramble to get on board and down to the warm-up arena, where they then discovered that they’d be able to put their numbers down on arrival and run out of order — a method ordinarily only used in national level classes.

Nevertheless, the class continued on, though not without some excitement of its own. Just shy of 75% of the 40 starters came home without jumping penalties, but there were three eliminations and four retirements on course, with six of those seven noncompletions incurred across fences 14AB — an innocuous water combination with a conservative drop in and a wishing well fence on dry land — and 15ABC, a combination featuring a chunky log parallel to two open corners, which could be ridden on six and four strides or five and three.

Ultimately, the win would go to Ros Canter and Lordships Graffalo, who had lead from the front after producing an impressive 25.2 test on Thursday evening. They then jumped a clear round over yesterday morning’s showjumping track, which produced a clear rate across the class of less than 50%, though they added 0.4 time penalties. When they headed out of the startbox as one of the first pairs to tackle Alec Lochore’s 6:45 track, it was with 2.4 time penalties in hand ahead of then-second placed Yasmin Ingham and Banzai du Loir.

They wouldn’t need it. Ros and the deceptively tall British-bred gelding (Grafenstolz x Cornish Queen, by Rock King), who she rides for owner Michele Saul, produced the second fastest round of the day, adding 0.8 time penalties and making the influential track look like a glorified schooling exercise, even with the  added challenge of the low, bright sun.

“He’s an amazing horse — he’s just fun, and he has the ability to gallop really fast, balance very quickly, and gallop downhill like he’s on flat ground. And he’s careful,” says Ros.

Ros Canter and Lordships Graffalo take another CCI4*-S victory. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

She roundly praised the course, which offered a fair challenge for the level and tested horses’ stamina in a productive, developmental way, requiring them to moderate their balance and power.

“They certainly seemed to cause some problems, but I thought they were clever,” she says. “They just required some thought, really; every question was very fair, but you had to consider the terrain and the effect of the terrain ongoing around the course. You had to think about how it affected their balance towards the end, where you needed to spend time and where you didn’t need to spend time. [You’d have a] fence that maybe would be innocuous on the flat, but when you’re up there and it’s on a bit of a camber coming downhill and you’ve just run fast uphill for two minutes, you’d actually get a new feeling. So I think it was just a case of being kind of ahead of the game on what you think they might feel like.”

Ros’s young daughter Ziggy helps accept mum’s slew of prizes. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The talented nine-year-old won the inaugural (though admittedly much flatter) Aston-le-Walls CCI4*-S and finished second in Bicton’s enormously tough CCI4*-L earlier this summer. This is just his eleventh FEI event; so far, he’s never finished lower than eleventh place in any of them.

“It appears, at the moment, that he can do any sort of track, which is exciting,” says Ros. This makes him the obvious frontrunner among her string for her Paris 2024 campaign, and he’s already making considerable headway: ‘Walter’ was named on Friday as a direct reserve for Ros for the British team at the European Eventing Championships next month.

“[World Champion Allstar B] is my number one choice, but it’s nice to have a back-up that seems quite steady,” she says.

Reigning champions Astier Nicolas and Babylon de Gamma settle for second in their return to Blair. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The last time Blair ran, back in 2019, Astier Nicolas‘s Babylon de Gamma was just an eight-year-old making his CCI4*-S debut — and the fact that he won it was just delicious confirmation of the Frenchman’s suspicions that the horse might be his next superstar. Now, two years along, he didn’t quite manage to defend his title, but as he reflects on the last few days and the second place finish he climbed his way towards, he’s more convinced than ever that the Selle Français gelding has the ‘it’ factor.

“I’m quite in admiration of him — he’s quite a lion,” he says. “He’s a good horse, and now he’s even more so, because now I think he can do dressage — before, I always thought he was a good jumper, but the dressage was not so easy for me. But he’s improved a lot.”

The dressage was something of a point of contention for Astier, who is one of the first European-based riders to tackle the logistically taxing journey to the UK this season. He brought three horses along for the ride: alongside Babylon de Gamma, he ran his 2017 Seven-Year-Old World Champion Alertam’alibor in this class and the inexperienced Diese Cot Chat in the CCI3*-L. But with each of the three horses, he felt he’d been pointedly undermarked, prompting him to seek out the organising team for a chat.

All’s well that end’s well, though, if you can go fast at Blair — and Astier certainly did with Babylon, after taking a tumble from first ride Alertam’alibor at the open corner at 15C. The gelding, who was making his CCI4*-S debut after two seasons off with tendon injuries, was placed higher than his more experienced stablemate in sixth after showjumping, but his elimination allowed the striking grey to step up into that placing provisionally. They would deliver the only clear round inside the time of the day, making them the only combination to finish on their dressage score. They went on to finish in second place, a healthy 4.5 penalties behind the winners.

“When I [won here in 2019], I picked up time faults; I wasn’t aiming for the win,” says Astier, reflecting on his horse’s development over the past two years. “He won naturally, because the field was a bit lighter and I went steady-ish. He’s got plenty in the tank.”

Now, Astier will aim for Babylon de Gamma’s CCI5* debut at either Maryland or Pau. In either case, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility to expect that the gelding could go some way towards replicating the naive but exciting victory he collected in his first CCI4*-S two years ago.

Emily King and Valmy Biats take third place. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Emily King also made great headway on a promising horse, climbing from sixth on 29 after dressage to fourth after a showjumping round that she describes as the best of Valmy Biats‘s life. That’s no small praise, considering the inexperienced twelve-year-old’s career success in this phase: he’s only pulled two rails across his twelve career runs. The withdrawal of third-placed Izzy Taylor and Monkeying Around, who will head to next month’s European Championships, slotted them into third — and despite picking up 7.6 time penalties, they stayed there to round out the podium.

“If someone like Oliver [Townend] had been on him, they’d probably have been able to go fast — but I saw how low the light was and thought, ‘I don’t want to hurt him!'” says Emily with a laugh. Instead, she opted to give the gelding, who is owned with the micro-share Event Horse Owners’ Syndicate, a steadier and more educational run to help prepare him for Blenheim’s CCI4*-L next month, which will be his second run at the level after a debut at Bicton.

There was further good reason not to run for the time — Emily was riding Valmy in a new bit for the first time in a quest to find the perfect balance for the sensitive French-bred horse.

“I changed him to a bigger Swales pelham, and it was really good, because he’s strong but if you go a bit too sharp with things, it doesn’t work,” she says. “But this was perfect. I actually didn’t expect it to be quite so perfect, and so in hindsight, I probably could have gone quicker in places, which is exciting for his future.”

That future looks bright indeed: after Blenheim CCI4*-L, Emily hopes to plan for a five-star debut in 2022 and, if all goes well, she’ll aim him for team pathways. It’s an exciting position to see the 25-year-old rider in: after an enormously exciting start to her senior career, which included a fourth-place finish in her debut CCI5* at the age of nineteen and a win in Bramham’s CCI4*-L for under-25s in 2018, she found herself almost back to square one after her primary owner decided it was time to sell up and get out of the sport. Valmy Biats, who was previously piloted by France’s Mathieu Lemoine and Victor Levecque, was offered to her by breeder Philippe Brivois, who retains ownership, back in 2020 — but although she loved the horse from the moment she sat on him, she knew that Philippe’s terms, which required her to cover all running costs, would be untenable for her in the long-term without help. Now, she’s partnered with EHOS to offer experience-based microsyndicate shares, which allow supporters to ‘buy in’ with a nominal annual fee of less than £100. In return, they get the chance to join her at events for course walks, post-ride debriefs, and a behind-the-scenes taste of ownership, while she gets the security she’s so desperately craved since losing her previous string of top horses.

So far, the talented gelding has offered his group of ‘owners’ plenty of fun — and Emily’s thoroughly enjoying the process of producing him, too.

“He’s really, really nice. He’s quite a hot horse on the flat, and he took ages getting his changes; he’s quite a worrier, so it’s been about getting him to show himself off in a relaxed way,” she explains. “He’d easily just go up and down on the spot snorting, so it’s getting him moving and grooving. When he came to me, he wasn’t really doing his changes at all, and that’s been a real work in progress; now he’s nearly got them, and the rest of his work is really good. In showjumping he’s amazing, and in cross-country, he’s a very good mix of bold and careful. He looks after himself, but he’d never back off.”

Yasmin Ingham and Banzai du Loir add another stellar result to their record. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

24-year-old Yasmin Ingham added yet another impressive result to ten-year-old Banzai du Loir‘s record, finishing fourth after adding 0.4 time in the showjumping and 8.8 across the country to their first-phase score of 27.6. This gives the striking gelding — yes, another Selle Français — his fifth CCI4* top ten from seven runs at the level, and like Valmy Biats before him, he’ll next head to Blenheim to tackle the CCI4*-L after winning its eight- and nine-year-old CCI4*-S, which was temporarily relocated to Burnham Market in 2020.

Wills Oakden and MacGregors Cooley. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Fittingly, a Perthshire-based rider — in fact, Perthshire’s only professional eventer — rounded out the top five of this hot CCI4*-S class. Wills Oakden has been quietly making an impression with his string of horses at the upper end of top-level leaderboards around the country, but it’s with the nine-year-old MacGregor’s Cooley that he looks set to do something very big, very soon. They climbed from 23rd after dressage on their score of 33.3 to eventual fifth after a sparkling clear round over the poles and just 6.4 time penalties across the country, making theirs the third-fastest round of the day. This is just the second CCI4*-S and eighth FEI competition for the gelding: he finished second at Barbury last month on his debut, making him one of Britain’s most exciting young Advanced horses.

The final top ten in Blair’s CCI4*-S.

Land Rover Blair Castle International Horse Trials: Website, Entries, Times and Live Scores, EN’s Coverage, EN’s Twitter, EN’s Instagram 

Blair CCI4*-L Field Thinned by Two at Final Horse Inspection

Overnight leaders Rosie Fry and True Blue Too II. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Amid a rather sultry mist, this morning’s final horse inspection at the Land Rover Blair Castle International Horse Trials  saw fourteen of yesterday’s fifteen cross-country finishers come forward for the CCI4*-L. Opting out of the competition was Katie Bleloch, who withdrew tenth-placed Goldlook before the start of the inspection.

Tim Cheffings and Gaston. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Just one horse was sent to the holding box during the course of the inspection, which was overseen by ground jury president Judy Hancock (GBR) alongside Faith Ponsonby (IRL), and Janet Surr (GBR). Tim Cheffings‘ Gaston, owned by Emma Bryant, was subsequently withdrawn by the rider after being held. The pair had been sitting eleventh overnight.

Now, just thirteen combinations will go on to the showjumping finale this afternoon at 4.40 p.m., with Rosie Fry and True Blue Too II leading the way on a score of 36.6. It’s tightly packed at the top: second placed Tom McEwen and Dream Big sit close behind on a 36.6, giving Rosie a time penalty, but not a pole, in hand. She does, however, have a pole in hand over third-placed Alice Casburn and Topspin II, who come forward on a 40.5 but bring with them considerable showjumping experience.

Here’s a little refresher on how the leaderboard is looking as we head into showjumping (though note that Katie Bleloch’s withdrawal hasn’t been registered on the live scores yet):

We’ll be back this afternoon with all the action from the finale of this exciting class, plus plenty more content to come — so keep it locked on EN and as always, Go Eventing!

Land Rover Blair Castle International Horse Trials: Website, Entries, Times and Live Scores, EN’s Coverage, EN’s Twitter, EN’s Instagram 

Rosie Fry Takes the Lead in Blair CCI4*-L in Showcase of Up-and-Coming Talent

Rosie Fry and True Blue Too II move from ninth to overnight first in just their second-ever CCI4*-L. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“I’ve been in this position once before, nine years ago,” remembers Dorset-based Rosie Fry, who stepped into the top spot over today’s cross-country challenge with the inexperienced True Blue Too II, moving up from ninth place after adding just 2.8 time penalties. But she’s hoping this week doesn’t end in quite the same way: “it all fell apart in the showjumping,” she says with a rueful laugh, “so I don’t really like to be in this position!”

Still, she can’t help but delight in the performance of the ten-year-old, who was bred by her aunt, Di White-Hamilton, and who made his CCI4*-L debut at Bicton in June. That ended up being an educational run, rather than a competitive one, but it’s served him well in the set-up for this weekend.

“He had a twenty there, but it was early on and he just got better and better,” she says. “He’s actually an amazing cross-country horse — all I have to do is sit and steer. But I wasn’t expecting to be in the lead!”

Rosie has produced the gelding from a four-year-old, and knew that the taxing hills of Scotland would suit his rangy, open stride well.

“He’s a proper athlete, and we knew this course would suit him, because he’s a galloper, and he’s so straight and honest. That Bicton course was where he became a man, and now he’s gone up another gear.”

Rosie opted to take the direct routes throughout the course, which helped her keep as close to the clock as she could.

“He had a few time faults, but coming here, I don’t think a few time faults are too bad. Because he’s a good galloper, I just went with him, and he came home full of running. He took a stride out to the corners — I was going on six and four, and he went on five and three, but I didn’t interfere; I just went with him because I know he’s so scopey, and he likes to do things his way.”

There was just one minor hairy moment on course for the pair, which proved a great test of how far the horse has come: “At the skinnies at the top of the hill, I didn’t get a great shot into the first one and he was very genuine to just keep straight and keep on going,” she says. “And then in the water he was really good, because these horses haven’t seen crowds for two years and it’s amazing the difference. He came into the first water and was like, ‘wow, there’s so many people around!’ I didn’t think it would make that much of a difference, but it was a full atmosphere here.”

Now, Rosie’s looking ahead to tomorrow’s showjumping with some trepidation after her experience here nearly a decade ago — but she’s keeping it all in perspective, too, after the tragic lorry accident that claimed the lives of four horses en route to the event earlier this week.

“Whatever happens tomorrow, I’m lucky to be here — we’re so lucky to have horses here, and healthy horses. So we’ll take whatever happens tomorrow and hope that we can have a good result, but [if not], there’s worse things. As long as we go home with healthy horses, [that’s the main thing.] We’ll take this tonight and be proud — I don’t think I was nine years ago, because I thought it was easy, but it’s taken me this long to get back! So we’re very, very proud.”

Tom McEwen and Dream Big record the only clear round inside the time to step up to second. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The time proved to be the most influential factor of the day, and just one combination managed to catch the optimum time of 10:01. That was newly-minted Olympic gold and silver medallist Tom McEwen, who made a spectacular leap up the leaderboard with Magdalena Gut’s Dream Big, finishing three seconds under the time to move from 14th into second place.

“She was amazing. It was a really tough track, and there was a lot of people out on track which is one thing she hasn’t really seen, but she was phenomenal,” says Tom, who took the ride on the ten-year-old Thoroughbred mare in 2017 after she’d completed her first season of national-level eventing with New Zealand’s Lizzie Brown. That had come after a failed career as a racehorse: owner Magdalena was responsible for backing the impressive mare while working for trainer Sheikh Fahed, and she went on to run six times under rules — five on the flat, and once over hurdles — winning a rather uninspiring £385 throughout her short-lived first job. Now, though, she’s obviously found her calling, and Tom was impressed by her boldness out on course.

“We bounced over the coffin at the water,” he says. “She’s inexperienced at this level but she’s been amazing. Being an ex-racehorse and coming up through the grades with her has been amazing, and with her, the time was really easy. She kept ticking over at the same speed going up the hill as she was coming down the hill — I had a lovely time. I was just working out the minute markers so I wasn’t going over the top. Of course they get a bit tired with the hills, but she was travelling so easy on the time so it wasn’t an issue, which was lovely to have.”

19-year-old Alice Casburn and her homebred Topspin II move into third place in their second CCI4*-L after an impressive cross-country round. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Blair’s serious hills always make it an old-fashioned test of stamina and fitness, and several of the horses we saw excel on course today had been so well-prepared that they continued to bubble over with energy and exuberance long after they’d crossed the finish line — and Alice Casburn‘s Topspin II was no exception.

“I came to the last and he was still pulling — I was like, ‘you’re supposed to be tired now!’ He did cart me all the way back to the lorry park after his ten-minute round – as soon as he sees people, he lights up. I’m hoping that’s what will happen tomorrow, but whatever happens, I’m nineteen and made him myself, so I’m chuffed to be here, to be honest,” says Alice. Though neither horse nor rider are particularly experienced at this level — nineteen-year-old Alice contested her first BE90 in 2016, while Topspin began his eventing career just three years ago — they share a uniquely generational partnership that’s no doubt helped them make their first forays into the upper levels such a roaring success.

“My mum  took his grandmother Advanced, and then bred from that, and then eventually [competed] his mother. Then she started eventing him, and I had a horse at the time that wasn’t going to plan. Everyone was like, ‘she won’t be okay!’,” Alice laughs. “And I wasn’t okay for the first year – but then we just sort of clicked after that first year. I feel really, really privileged to be able to ride a horse like him; it’s not every day they come along that you can jump a track like that and they’ll be like, ‘okay, long one here, short one here, mum!’”

That level of intrinsic communication paid dividends around today’s tough track, which they completed with six time penalties to move from eleventh into third.

“He’s quite insecure, but it comes across as naughtiness. In the dressage arena he’ll decide he really hates a corner, and every instinct says ‘give him a kick to get in the corner’. But actually, I’ve just got to give him a pat. He’s really insecure and I’m quite vocal on the cross-country – it’s quite embarrassing, but he actually listens to my voice more than anything. He didn’t really enjoy eventing the first year, but this year, it’s all sort of just clicked with him – he’s started coming out of the start box like, ‘where is it?!’ Today I went in the start box and I didn’t have a choice if I was going – he saw the first fence and said, ‘there it is, mum!’ It’s a really nice feeling.”

“Because he’s quite a big horse and I’m not very big, I knew that by the time we got to the fifth minute, I was going to have to spend a little bit longer everywhere. I got him a little bit deep coming into the oxer before the water, which was quite a big fence, but he was really, really good. By the time you came around to the corners at the top, you really felt them blowing, but luckily he’s nearly full Thoroughbred, so he was still like, ‘where’s the next one, where’s the next one?’ while I’m up there thinking ‘woah, woah, woah!’ I had my minute markers all set up, but then I was walking around in the warm-up and [the tannoy] was like, ‘retired, eliminated, retired, eliminated’, and I’m really here for a qualification. He’s one of those that’s got to be inspired a little bit, so I’m always going a gear quicker than I’d really like to. I got to the seventh minute and was like, ‘hang on, I’m nearly on my time’. They’re big jumps, so you can’t really hang about; you’ve got to attack them like you want it. I’m quite lucky that he sees a hill, you put him in autopilot, and he takes you up it. So I was conscious of the time, but really, I just wanted to give him a nice round.”

Together, Alice and Topspin contested the 2019 Junior European Championships, finishing in the top twenty — and that experience gave them some exposure to the kind of close crowds they had to face today.

I saw the crowds [at Juniors], but considering the only four-stars I’ve done have been under COVID rules, coming around to the first water I was like, ‘woah!’ But he was like, ‘wow, I love this!’,” she says. “He’s pretty mega; it’s nice to look round and feel like you’re on the best one – that’s a nice feeling. I know he’s not done as much as half the others, but I know it’s all there.”

There’s still one more tough phase to come — but Alice, who’s jumped 1.40 classes and even tackled a Puissance with the 13-year-old gelding, is feeling pragmatic about the pressure of finding herself in podium position in her second-ever CCI4*-L.

It’s like anything – it could all go wrong tomorrow, but touch wood, I’m on a good jumping horse and at the end of the day, he’s the one that’s got me here from my first two-stars, so he doesn’t owe me anything.”

Lauren Innes and Global Fision M sit fourth going into tomorrow’s final phase. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Full-time chartered accountant Lauren Innes impressed with the spicy Global Fision M to sit second after dressage, and after adding 10.4 time penalties, they remain well in the hunt in fourth.

“I’m just so lucky to have him; he’s the most incredible cross-country horse,” says Lauren. “He is fearless, and he doesn’t care about crowds — I thought I’d have to ride strongly at the first water with all the crowds, but he was just like, ‘yeah, a jump!’ I didn’t know how he’d cope [with the hills], but he was just amazing.”

Despite the eleven-year-old’s relative inexperience, Lauren was able to make some bold decisions across Alec Lochore’s beefy track.

“I walked the course with my cross-country trainer, Mark Corbett, and between the two skinny brushes at the far end, I was like, ‘do you think I’ll get three strides?’ He said, ‘no way, no matter how many times I walk this on the straight line, you’ll never get there on three’,” she says. But: “We got there on three! He was just flying. Then, at the corner combination, I’d walked the outside line on six, and then straight on the four to the two corners. But I should have just gone for three there, as well, because I was holding for four and it was really short.”

Lauren is effusive in her praise of her horse, who she describes as her ‘horse of a lifetime’, and attributes her time penalties to a more steady approach through the tough middle section of the course.

“I just took my foot off the gas a little bit at the end, because I was up on all my minute markers until the complex section, and I just thought, ‘I need to be careful, because I don’t have that much experience.’ I didn’t want to plop off or something! Then I realised I’d lost quite a lot of time coming down the steep section into the last field, but I don’t care — he’s just amazing.”

Like Alice Casburn’s Topspin, Global Fision M finished the course full of energy — a testament to the balancing act that allows Lauren to get him fit and ready for events, despite not having any help on the yard.

“[Working from home during] COVID has certainly helped, because I can get off him at like, one minute to nine and be at my desk by nine,” she laughs. “I go to Oakingham Stud to use their hill gallops to get him fit for the longs, and that’s about fifty minutes from home, so I’ll get up at quarter past five and leave home just before six. Then after the drive, I’ll be on him just before seven, gallop him, wash him down, and be back by nine. Then he goes out in the field, and I work all day.”

Lauren has just two sponsors at the moment, but one of them — Rachel Corry at the Equine Rebalance Therapy Centre at Hampshire’s Wellington Riding — has proved essential to the process.

“I’ve known Rachel for a long time,” she says. “I go once a week at 7 a.m. before they even open, so he can use the treadmill without using up any slots, and I can get back to work. Everything is just about getting up early and doing it in the morning, because then I know he’s done and I don’t have to worry. It’s not in the back of my mind when I’m working that I need to do something with him. It’s all just done and dusted — [and that helps because] work goes in cycles. Sometimes I’m done at five; sometimes I’m working until eleven p.m.”

The hard work has obviously paid off, and Lauren has big plans in mind — though every step of the way, she’s committed to working methodically in a way that suits her horse.

“I can’t chase the clock with him every time, because it would blow his brains, but when I need to, he gallops and gallops and never gets tired. If I had ridden around ten or fifteen four-stars, I’d be able to get the time on him easily, but because I got my top 25% finish at Bicton, I just needed to get round here, because then I can aim him for Badminton,” she says. And when she gets there? It’ll be off the back of her own momentum — and the support of her family, who help make her unique circumstances work for her.

“I would love to ride all the time, but then, I’d only like to ride horses like him, and when you ride full-time you have to ride some less nice horses,” she laughs. “At least now I can choose to ride him and my other ones, and I love doing it, and it’s always fun. I have supportive trainers, and my mum is like my PA. If you want to do these things, you can find a way to make it happen.”

Izzy Taylor and Ringwood Madras make their move into fifth place. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Izzy Taylor rounds out the top five after an impressive round aboard Ringwood Madras, who stepped up from overnight sixth after cruising home with 12 time penalties. The ten-year-old mare, who’s owned by Sarah van Vegchel, is an exciting CCI4*-L debutant for Izzy, who took the reins from Ben Way at the beginning of the year and has done just one other international with her. That was the inaugural CCI4*-S at Aston-le-Walls, where they finished seventeenth in a very hot field.

Nicola Wilson and Erano M. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Dressage leaders Nicola Wilson and Erano M were relegated to sixth place after adding a steady 14.4 time penalties — roughly the same as he picked up in his CCI4*-L debut at Bicton earlier this summer.

“He struggled with the hills, which I suspected he might,” says Nicola. “But it’ll have done him enormous good for the future. He’s such an athletic little horse, and he’s so fun to ride — he loved it all the way to the end; he had his ears pricked and was looking for his fences, and I was thrilled to bits with him.”

At around 40% blood, his two runs over significant terrain will have served to develop his innate stamina for long-format runs to come, but with tomorrow’s jumping finale yet to come, he can’t be counted out for a top placing just yet: he’s one of the most consistent showjumpers in the field, with just one rail knocked in his four four-stars thus far.

The course’s influence was pretty well scattered, with no one fence negatively impacting more than two competitors. Three competitors were eliminated on course and a further three opted to retire, which meant that 15 of the 21 starters completed the course — and just one of the fifteen still in the hunt picked up jumping penalties on course. Instead, it was largely a test of fitness, and the next indicator of that test will come tomorrow morning, as the field heads into the final horse inspection at 8.00 a.m., followed by the showjumping finale at 4.40 p.m. Once again, there’s sadly no live-stream this year — but we’ll bring you all the news you need to know throughout the day.

Until then: Go Eventing!

The final fifteen in the hunt for glory in Blair’s CCI4*-L.

Land Rover Blair Castle International Horse Trials: Website, Entries, Times and Live Scores, EN’s Coverage, EN’s Twitter, EN’s Instagram 

Friday Video from SmartPak: Hitch a Ride Round Hambach 3* with JulisEventer

Grab your passports, folks, because it’s time to head to Germany: today, we’re saddling up with Juliane Barth, friend of EN and German eventing vlogger extraordinaire, as she tackles her three-star debut around the glorious Hambach course. Fortunately for all of us, she made sure her trusty helmet cam (or Helmkamera) was locked and loaded before she left the start box, which gives us the chance to tag along as she tackles the tricky track. If you’ve ever wondered what a day out eventing looks like over the courses that help create the eventing world’s biggest superstars, this is a super opportunity to see it for yourself, with the insightful addition of speed and performance metrics. Juliane finished 14th over the tough track, which yielded 13 non-completions, and we reckon it’s not too long before we see her at the top levels giving some of her regular interviewees a serious run for their money.

Drei, zwei, eins: Gute Fahrt! (Yes, really. German is a poetic language.)

Ros Canter Heads CCI4*-S on “Weird” But Talented Potential Paris Mount

Ros Canter and Lordships Graffalo maintain an early lead to sit in top spot as the jumping phases dawn. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

There’s been a distinctive buzz of excitement rippling through the grounds of Blair Castle today as the hotly anticipated British team was announced for next month’s European Championships — and rather fittingly, the top spot in the first phase of the CCI4*-S has been snatched up by one of the exciting young horses who features on the list.

Nine-year-old Lordships Graffalo is listed as Ros Canter‘s direct reserve for Avenches, but although he’s second in command to World Champion Allstar B in that respect, he’s certainly not been languishing in his stablemate’s shadow over the last year: he finished second in the eight- and nine-year-old CCI4*-S temporarily hosted by Burnham Market last autumn, and won the inaugural CCI4*-S at Aston-le-Walls on his dressage score. Even more excitingly? Ros reckons he’s still on the up and up.

“He always gets marked very well, but I was in the lorry watching my test back from Aston, where he was joint first on a 21.8. The strength over the last few months has got better again ,” says Ros, who posted a 25.2 with the gelding today. “It’s exciting, because he enjoys the job and doesn’t need drilling beforehand. He’s got a good temperament for it and hopefully, I think there’s a lot more to come. It’s all going in the right direction.”

Though ‘Walter’, who’s owned by Michele Saul and was briefly campaigned by Tom McEwen during Ros’s pregnancy, is a consummate professional under saddle, he’s not quite as straightforward of a character on the ground.

“He has a very weird personality,” laughs Ros. “He’s a funny character; his tolerance of things sometimes isn’t great. Earlier in the year at Burnham Market, he decided he didn’t like a stable he couldn’t see out of, and he was a nightmare. He threw his toys out of the pram completely: he tried to dig out, he tried to rear out, and he tried to run out — pretty successfully! — the whole week. But what’s amazing about him is that he can be horrific in the stable, but the second you get on him he performs like he hasn’t been upset. He’s quite high-maintenance on the ground and has been known to gallop off around the lorry park because he buggers off with his grooms fairly regularly; he’s a character, but to work with, he thrives. I think it’s his brain — it’s a little busy, so he needs to be given something to work with.”

Yasmin Ingham and her 2020 eight- and nine-year-old champion Banzai du Loir move into second going into tomorrow’s jumping phases. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Another hot favourite for the Paris Olympics is Yasmin Ingham‘s Banzai du Loir, who won last year’s eight- and nine-year-old CCI4*-S ahead of Lordships Graffalo, but finds himself just behind on a 27.6 today.

“Banzai was very, very good — I actually thought it was his best test he’s done to date,” says Yasmin, who has made her name in the sport by winning each of Britain’s national age titles from under-16 through under-25 and taking double European gold at the Pony level. Now 24, she’s making a serious mark on the Senior rankings with her string of horses, including the flashy French Banzai. He’s logged some exceptional results since joining Yas’s string in late 2019, including a win in Aston’s under-25 Advanced, third place in his CCI4*-L debut in the under-25 class at Bicton, and fifth at Burgham last month. But today was the first time that the pair have faced an arena with this much action: much of their partnership has unfolded during the pandemic, and so the sensitive, clever Selle Français had plenty to try to cope with when faced with the multiple rings, vibrant crowds and numerous marquees of Scotland’s premier event.

“This is probably the most atmospheric arena that he’s ever been in; I completely underestimated how big this event was. and when I saw the main arena I thought, ‘oh my god, he’s going to go in there and prance about with his tail in the air like an idiot!’,” says Yas. “But he had plenty of work earlier, and then he went in and did his best test he’s done — both the changes were clean and his shoulder-ins and half-passes were lovely. Something we’ve been working really hard on is just getting both the changes in the right place at the right time, because sometimes he does them a little bit involuntary or he does them in the wrong place — like up the centre line, where we’re not supposed to be doing changes! He’s just very keen and eager to please. I really like that about him — his attitude is amazing — but sometimes his brain just works a bit too quickly for whatever’s going on!”

Hyper-focused Yas is quick to celebrate her young horse’s wins in the ring, but just as diligent about spotting the areas she wants to work on for the future, which include the walk work and the subsequent transition to canter — a segment of the test that has been the undoing of many horses’ marks.

“He just gets a bit bored in the walk; he’s a bit of a busybody and I think he’s almost just waiting for that canter transition, so he just gets a bit fidgety. I just need to work on relaxing him a bit more in the walk,” she explains. Now, with a super mark on the board and in an enviable position on the leaderboard, she’s looking forward to making the most of Blair’s spoils.

“It’s our first trip up here, and the sun is shining, which makes such a difference. I don’t think there’s anything more stunning than the castle and the grounds. The ground feels great underfoot and the course looks good — it’s big and bold, so it’ll take some forward riding. Hopefully I’m not going to get carted off with down a hill, but we’ll think about that tomorrow!”

Selina Milnes and Iron IV. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Though much of the upper echelons of this leaderboard showcases up-and-coming young horses, third place is held overnight by the established partnership of Selina Milnes and Iron IV, who produced a 28.2 to slot into the tightly packed top-five. William Rucker’s Belgian-bred gelding first stepped into the spotlight back in 2018, when he finished fourth in the CCI4*-L at Blenheim, and since then, he’s been on the fringes of a major result: he’s finished tenth at Barbury, fourth at Burgham, and an achingly close second at Houghton this season. He’s easily the most experienced horse in the top five of this section, and will be perfectly primed to put the pressure on the young guns tomorrow.

Nicola Wilson and Coolparks Sarco. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

CCI4*-L leader Nicola Wilson strutted her way straight into another leaderboard, this time with the former Andrew Nicholson ride Coolparks Sarco. Owned by James and Jo Lambert, the nine-year-old Irish Sport Horse joined Nicola’s string just this year, but the partnership is already looking impressively well-established; they finished eleventh in the horse’s first four-star at Burgham last month, and though they couldn’t match the 24.8 they scored there today, their 28.3 puts them well in the hunt in what is shaping up to be a serious battleground for the country’s young up-and-comers.

Izzy Taylor and Monkeying Around move into the top five despite some unplanned extra moves. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It’s a testament to the quality of 10-year-old Monkeying Around‘s flatwork that despite a choice bit of lunacy in the first flying change, which earned him a 1 from the judge at C and gave us all an up-close-and-personal look at the soles of his feet, he and Izzy Taylor still finish the day in fifth place out of 42 competitors. Their 28.9 is something of a departure from the low-20s scores we’ve seen the dressage-bred Hanoverian produce (in fact, the last time he scored above a 26 was two years ago), but still keeps them within a rail of the lead — and Monkeying Around has only had one pole down in an international over the last two years. Could this be another podium finish for the gelding, who hasn’t finished lower than third in any international in 2020 or 2021? It’s not unlikely — but with today’s announcement that he’ll be heading to Avenches for his British team debut next month, it must all feel little more than a formality at this point.

2019 winners Astier Nicolas and Babylon de Gamma return to defend their title. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The pandemic has put paid to international competitors crossing the Channel for a long time, and so it feels doubly special to welcome the reigning champion of this class back. French Olympian Astier Nicolas rode the extravagant Babylon de Gamma, who won the CCI4*-S here in 2019 as just an eight-year-old debutant, to a 30.9 and overnight 11th — “I was pleased with my horse, but not so much so with the mark,” he says with a particularly Gallic shrug — and also makes an appearance in the top ten, sitting eighth overnight with the former Seven-Year-Old World Champion Alertamalib’Or on a 29.6. Now eleven, the gelding is actually lower in mileage than his younger stablemate; after winning Le Lion d’Angers in 2017, he made his four-star debut in 2018 with great success and plenty of promise for the future, but was then sidelined until the end of last year with a tendon injury. Time is a great healer, and Astier gave him plenty of that — and now, after two successful three-star runs, including a win at Avenches CCI3*-L back in June, he makes his long-awaited four-star debut this week. Astier’s goals for the horses are different: “I’m not going to run [Alertamalib’Or] fast,” he says, explaining that this is just a milestone in the horse’s education, while Babylon de Gamma is using the run as preparation for something even bigger.

“I won’t be on the team [at the European Championships] for personal reasons, and so I plan to take him to his first five-star,” he says. “We will go to Maryland or to Pau — but really, my first choice is Maryland. I don’t know how hard it will be to get there, because I’ve never ridden over there at Kentucky or anything, but that’s our hope for him.”

The CCI4*-S competitors will have a busy day on their hands tomorrow: they head into showjumping from 8:30 a.m., and then on to cross-country from 4:50 p.m. (and, presumably, straight into the bar after that). The CCI4*-L entrants, for their part, will focus their attentions on Blair’s mountainous cross-country course from 12:30 p.m. We’ll be bringing you a closer look at all the questions ahead of them soon — but for now, you can preview both tracks (plus all the other national and international ones!) via the CrossCountry App.

The top ten in the CCI4*-S at the conclusion of dressage.

Land Rover Blair Castle International Horse Trials: Website, Entries, Times and Live Scores, EN’s Coverage, EN’s Twitter, EN’s Instagram 

She’s At It Again: Nicola Wilson and Erano M Take Blair CCI4*-L Dressage Lead

Nicola Wilson’s Erano M strides into the lead in Blair’s CCI4*-L at the conclusion of the first phase. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Britain’s eventing circuit is so ludicrously well-stocked with horses and riders at the upper levels that it sometimes feels like a bit of a treat to focus one’s attentions on a slightly smaller field of entries — and Scotland’s much-loved Land Rover Blair Castle Horse Trials is always rather a perfect foil for the triple-digit entries we often see at the other four-stars beginning with B in this country. Because of the distance (it’s tucked into the Scottish Highlands, a place so far-flung that even a Glaswegian will let out a long, low whistle and remark that ‘that’s a wee bit far, lassie,’ if you mention where you’re heading), and because of the specificity of the course (quite literally on the side of the mountain, so more fool you if you opted to skip any steps in you or your horse’s fitness routine), and because of its spot in the calendar (nestled amidst an embarrassment of riches where top-level long format events are concerned), Blair’s CCI4*-L field can ordinarily be described as something along the lines of ‘small but perfectly formed’. This week, we’ve got 21 combinations entered — rather a beefy year, comparatively speaking — and this gives us the chance to focus on some exciting, inexperienced horses and some unfamiliar faces among the riders, too.

This afternoon, all 21 came forward for the first phase, but you’d be hard-pressed to call the overnight leader an unfamiliar face. British team stalwart Nicola Wilson has been on exceptional form this year with her Bicton CCI4*-L and Hartpury CCI4*-S winner JL Dublin, but this week, ‘Dubs’ has stayed at home to prepare for another party. In his place, it’s twelve-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding Erano M‘s time to shine — and he’s set the tone from the get-go by taking the first-phase lead on 29.4, the only sub-30 score of the class.

“He’s quite light on his feet and he’s quite expressive. I was pleased with his test — there were a few little things that can be improved upon, but no major whoopsies,” says Nicola, who rides the charismatic gelding for owners Rosemary Search and Lady Milnes Coates. “His changes felt lovely — very clean and expressive — and overall, I was very pleased with his attitude in there. He coped very well and was very rideable.”

This is a second CCI4*-L for Erano M, or Arnie, who stepped up to CCI4*-S at Burgham last summer, finishing fifteenth. Since then, he’s completed two further short-fours, with marks dipping down towards the mid-20s, but today’s performance is a considerable improvement on the 33.7 he scored in his four-long debut back in June. That was at Bicton, widely considered the toughest competition in Britain since 2019, but he tackled it with considerable enthusiasm, boldly executing a clear across the country to finish just outside the top twenty. The experience — and that infamous terrain — will have set the gelding up well to tackle Blair’s hills — particularly as the son of Canturano out of a Flemmingh mare only has around 40% Thoroughbred blood in his pedigree.

“[Bicton] was a big ask, but he was fantastic there,” says Nicola, who’s produced him through from Novice level. “He’s relatively inexperienced at this level, so he’s here to do as well as he can. He isn’t very blood, but he’s quite catlike and he’s light on his feet.”

Like her compatriots in the lorry park, Nicola’s mostly just happy to be back at Blair, which sat out 2020 due to pandemic restrictions.

“We love Blair, and his owners love Blair, so we just like to come and support these three-day events in the north,” smiles Nicola, glancing around her at the sunlit hills and vistas of the dramatic Scottish landscape, once again blissfully filled with people and horses.

Lauren Innes and her “horse of a lifetime” Global Fision M. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Sitting in second as we look toward’s Saturday’s cross-country phase is Lauren Innes, who balances competing eleven-year-old Global Fision M with her busy role as a chartered accountant. Although the KWPN-registered gelding has proven he’s capable of scores even lower than today’s 30.5, he hasn’t always been the easiest ride in this phase.

“I’m really pleased with him — he hasn’t done any dressage on grass at all since May,” she says. “He can get really hot, and when he gets hot, he kind of loses it. But today, he stayed really calm — I couldn’t ask for anything more! He’s by Flipper d’Elle and he’s very French, in his brain. He’s the most confident horse to jump thing; nothing is too big, and he has the utmost belief in his ability. I don’t think he’s ever lost his confidence. But that confidence gets him a bit hot in the dressage sometimes, so he’s had to work a lot on it by going out and doing British Dressage [shows].  I was out the weekend before we came here, and I do six or seven shows before I even start the season so he can learn to do a test and not blow up. So that’s been a challenge, but we’re finally getting it! There’s definitely still more to come, and I know that I can start asking more and more in the arena now.”

Though the pair started their 2021 season with a 43.5 in Burnham Market’s CCI4*-S, they’ve since produced five very respectable international tests, slipping into the 20s on three occasions this year. That’s partly due to a creative warm-up routine that Lauren has devised to avoid any anticipation of the atmosphere to come.

“I go from the stables straight in [to the ring],” she explains. “I don’t do anything — I warm up like, an hour [before the test], put him back in the stable, let him go to sleep, and then I can just get on and go when it’s time.”

Today, that meant that the gelding was able to settle into the test and focus, despite the buzz of a busy ring packed with three arenas, constant noise from the tannoys, and a throng of spectators.

“His canter work was really good; I felt like he was very balanced, the changes happened and the half-passes flowed really well out of them,” says Lauren, who scored consistently around the 7 mark throughout the test.

This will be a fourth CCI4*-L for Lauren and Global Fision M, who finished eleventh at Bicton in June — an extraordinary result for a rider who has only ever ridden at the upper levels on one self-produced horse, and who does all the manual labour herself around her full-time job. But while all this might sound like a collection of tough hurdles to overcome, Lauren’s unconventional path to this point is actually what led her to the gelding.

“I bought him through [Irish event rider and co-director of Global Event Horses] Brian Morrison, who I’ve known for years,” she says. “He was like, ‘come over and see some horses’ — they hadn’t bought him, but they knew of him. He was a five-year-old, and hadn’t done anything, but he’d be my horse of a lifetime.”

Lauren’s friendship with Brian began when she was studying Biological Sciences at Oxford. While she hadn’t been a part of Britain’s bustling Young Rider circuit and teams, she was able to pursue her passion for competing through student riding, helmed by the World University Equestrian Federation. The set-up of the federation means that no competitor is required to have their own horse; instead, students go head to head in heats, each riding the same horse to determine who has exhibited the best horsemanship. Success at student riding competitions can lead to opportunities such as the Student Riding Nations Cups, which give riders from universities around the world the chance to compete together. The system has produced an impressive array of riders on the cusp of the big leagues: Lauren has since ridden for Britain at the CCI3*-S European Cup; Brian was long-listed for the Irish Olympic team; Spanish team rider Esteban Benitez Valle has ridden at the European Championships and, excelling in a rather different avenue in the industry, 2018 Equestrian Journalist of the Year Lucy Elder is one of the media’s foremost reporters.

“Through doing the Nations Cups you meet so many riders from different countries, and you just never know when it’ll lead you to find a horse like him,” she says fondly.

Holly Richardson and Caraghs Buffet sit third on their CCI4*-L debut. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Holly Richardson might have stumbled quite accidentally into being a professional event rider — “and I don’t really think of myself as a professional, I just have a few horses to ride now!” — but she’s making a very competitive mark indeed on her debut CCI4*-L. She sits third going into cross-country with Caraghs Buffet after putting a 30.6 on the board. Though Holly doesn’t consider this phase her horse’s strongest, she piloted the Irish Sport Horse gelding to a real clear-round result, remaining accurate and correct to never slip below 6.

“He’s definitely not good at dressage, so I don’t know how that happened,” she says with a laugh. “He’s built completely the wrong way; he’s really downhill and has really short front legs. But he tries really hard and he’s so obedient — he was really calm today, but he isn’t always. He’s usually quite hot in the ring, and at Aston-le-Walls [CCI4*-S] he just bucked and bucked and bucked!”

Yorkshire-based Holly, who studied Biomedical Sciences at university before pursuing a Masters in Equestrian Performance, never intended to ride full-time — but she also didn’t intend to hang on to Caraghs Buffet for this long, either.

“I got him when he was five as a project, and he was really cheap — about three grand,” she says. “I was like, ‘oh, I’m just going to produce him a bit and sell him on — and then I accidentally kept him.”

Best laid plans, eh? After focusing her academic attentions on the science of racehorse fitness, she made her way to Australia to work with some of the industry’s newest technology, which measures fitness using heart rate monitors and stride length analysis among a range of indicators to give an accurate reading of a horse’s current fitness levels and its potential to improve. Though her intended career has deviated somewhat as she’s picked up more rides on her return to the UK, she continues to do some work with the Australian company and hopes to see performance analysis of this kind implemented more widely into eventing.

“It’s amazing to put it on two horses who you think are about the same level of fitness, but then the difference in the recovery is huge,” she says. “I’ve been able to put it on younger horses and say, ‘okay, well, I don’t think this is going to be able to go on.'”

Though a debut CCI4*-L is a major milestone for any rider, Holly is taking her own brand of pragmatism — and a whole lot of science — out of the start box with her as she makes her mark on Blair this week.

Simon Grieve and Drumbilla Metro. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Simon Grieve and Drumbilla Metro are probably the most experienced pair in the field this year, with four CCI5* starts under their belt as a partnership, including a top-30 finish at Badminton in 2018. This is a first trip to Blair for the 14-year-old British-bred (that’s Drumbilla Metro, not Simon), and comes as they enjoy a significant upswing in their dressage results. We saw them end last year in the low-4os at Little Downham CCI4*-S, and though they’ve been consistently in the 30s this season, they’ve erred towards the other end of the scale. Today’s test, though, was polished and professional without a hint of a mistake from beginning to end. Simon’s been waiting for his big week for a while — and this could be the first step towards something very exciting over the course of the weekend for the prolific competitor.

Ali Wilkes and Social Butterfly. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Rounding out the top five is Ali Wilkes, who made a long journey from the other end of the country worthwhile with a respectable 31.4. She rides eleven-year-old Hanoverian mare Social Butterfly, who makes her sophomore appearance at CCI4*-L this week after an educational debut at Bicton earlier in the summer. There, the pair posted a 44.8 — so whatever Ali’s been feeding Social Butterfly in the meantime, we’d like to buy some.

Tomorrow turns our focus to the 42-strong CCI4*-S section, plus we’ll be taking you on a tour of the cross-country challenge (and we might even take you to the tartan shop, if you’re very lucky). Until next time, folks, Go Eventing!

The top ten going into cross-country in Blair’s CCI4*-L class.

Land Rover Blair Castle International Horse Trials: Website, Entries, Times and Live Scores, EN’s Coverage, EN’s Twitter, EN’s Instagram 

All Pass Blair Castle CCI4*-L First Horse Inspection

Philippa Cross and Scoop de Ferbet. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It might be British eventing’s most far-flung FEI competition, but there’s something about the Land Rover Blair Castle International Horse Trials that keeps it well up the list of mustn’t-miss competitions. This week, the crown jewel of Scotland returns after sitting 2020 out, and it brings with it five exciting international classes and a whole host of grassroots competition besides.

At the forefront of it all is the feature CCI4*-L class. We’re used to seeing relatively small fields for this section, and though this year is no exception, it’s rather a beefier line-up than usual with 21 combinations entered. (In comparison, the CCI4*-S boasts 42, the CCI2*-L has 95 and the CCI1* will see a whopping 120 competitors go head to head — but we’ve also seen fields of half this size in this class, partly because of its far-flung location but more pertinently because of its unique terrain, which requires a very fit, very specific kind of horse, and preferably one with some percentage of mountain goat in its pedigree.) This afternoon, all three long-format classes headed into their first horse inspections, and each of the 21 horses in the CCI4*-L was accepted without issue by the ground jury, made up of president Judy Hancock (GBR), Faith Ponsonby (IRL), and Janet Surr (GBR).

One of the great joys of a competition like Blair, with its smaller field and tough, influential track, is that it gives us all the chance to focus on some of the circuit’s lesser-known horses and riders. For example, fresh off their gold medal success in Tokyo, heavy hitters Oliver Townend and Tom McEwen each come forward for a crack at the title, but their horses — Arklow Puissance and Dream Big, respectively, are both ten years old making their CCI4*-L debut. Alongside them, some of Britain’s up-and-coming riders will try for a top placing for their record — but first, they’ll need to tackle the uniquely mountainous cross-country track that’s previously been the site of arguably the soggiest European Championships on record. So far, so good: the sun is out in force, bewildering the residents of nearby Pitlochry, a town that sells, well, knitwear and not an awful lot else. We reckon a sporran could be crafted into something rather like a bikini if necessary, but we may have to report back to you on that one.

Tomorrow afternoon will see both the long and short four-star classes embark on their first sessions of dressage from 1.00 p.m. and 4.20 p.m. respectively, and there’s lots to be excited about in both classes — including the return of Astier Nicolas‘s exceptional ten-year-old Babylon de Gamma, who will try to defend the CCI4*-S title he won here in 2019 as an eight-year-old. Unfortunately, there’s no live stream this year — but keep it locked on to EN for all the news, views, updates, and plenty more reasons to get your kilt in a flutter as we dive into the very best of wild and woolly Scotland this week.

Until then: Go Eventing!

Land Rover Blair Castle International Horse Trials: Website, Entries, Times and Live Scores, EN’s Coverage, EN’s Twitter, EN’s Instagram