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Photo Gallery: Sunday Sights at Luhmühlen

Luhmühlen: a place of hopes, of dreams, of ill-advised lederhosen on very sweaty days. Du bist das Gelbe vom Ei. We will be sad to see you go, but if some of your uniformed riders are anything to go by, happy to watch you walk away. You have been a place of merry lunacy and jolly good sport, all wrapped up in a bun and served with sauerkraut. You have also offered us a marvellously luminous arena surface, which lent itself to pure joy as we photographed an enormously enjoyable showjumping session. And so, dear chums, dive into an image gallery showcasing the goings-on in Germany today. It’s been emotional.

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Luhmühlen CCI5*-L Show Jumping: Tim Price Keeps it in the Family

Tim Price and Ascona M take the win in Luhmühlen’s CCI5*. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

One year ago, Tim Price was busy running a string of young horses at England’s Nunney Horse Trials. In a break between classes, he dashed to the organisers’ office, just in time to pull up the Luhmühlen live-stream and watch wife Jonelle take the victory riding her feisty grey mare, Faerie Dianimo. This year, the tables were turned, and Jonelle, who runs her own string at Nunney this weekend, was the one running for the nearest iPad.

“At least, I hope so,” laughs Tim, who delivered a clear round with 3.6 time penalties to take the win with his own feisty grey mare, Ascona M. “Maybe she’s just riding her horses and will find out later and tell me what I should do better!”

It’s a fitting touch that Tim’s win – his third at this level, and his second at this venue – should fall on Father’s Day. After all, it was fatherhood that brought the eleven-year-old mare to his string. For Tim and Jonelle, who have mastered the balancing act of parenting their young son, Otis, and scooping up a plethora of major wins as they do so, it’s all part and parcel of the day job – but the newly-crowned World Number One still feels the thrill, and the disbelief, of finding himself on top.

“It’s quite special coming back here; it’s like coming home,” he says, praising the efficient organisation and inimitable hospitality of the German showcase. “I still feel like I’m trying to make my way in this sport. I know that sounds silly because I’ve become Number One, which was also a surprise. It’s a great place to be, but it also feels like you’re carving your way. To come to somewhere where I’ve won before [at the five-star level] is a new feeling for me – a good feeling! This was the home of my first-ever five-star win, and no matter which one you go to, they’re so hard to win. These days don’t come around every day, or every year, or every half-century! It’s been a long, hard road – we have to invest so much time and faith into every horse, but then when you get there, it’s so much fun for everyone.”

Tim Price and the ‘outrageous’ Ascona M. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Tim has certainly invested his fair share of faith in Ascona M, who is jointly owned by Sir Peter Vela, Suzanne Houchin, and Ben and Lucy Sangster. Talented but unconventional, she’s never been the most straightforward of rides.

“She’s wildly talented, and sometime’s she’s wildly wild – but she’s incredibly good, and now she’s learned to deliver that talent at the top level. It’s all still new discoveries with her, but it’s been a joy to bring her here and see that she’s very capable,” Tim explains. This is the mare’s second five-star: her debut came last year at Pau, where she sat in the top five after dressage but went for an early swim after an exuberant leap into the water. Nevertheless, Tim prevailed.

“This is her first time at this level, properly – we had one go before, unsuccessfully, and it lasted about one-and-a-half minutes on the cross-country! She’s now completed, which is job number one, and to complete with consistency in all three phases is something we all strive for, particularly with a green horse. It’s something I’m really proud of for her.”

As he rode into the arena today, he knew he was up against the real deal: fuelled by pickled herring sandwiches and incomprehensible German disco bangers, course designer Martin Otto builds a notoriously colossal course for the final phase at Luhmühlen. By the end of the 22-strong class, only two would manage to complete without adding penalties. Life, as the Germans say, is no pony farm – and nor is showjumping.

Tim Price and Ascona M leave nothing to chance in the main arena. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Tim’s 3.6 time penalties might seem slightly drastic, but the time was among the tightest we’ve seen at this level – and after Alex Bragg and Zagreb knocked an unfortunate rail, Tim had over five penalties in hand. He could have had a rail, sure, and he could have had time – but to have both would have been to play with fire. Although Tim was once rather adept at juggling flaming batons, allegedly, his fire-playing days are well behind him, and so he rode a tactical round that allowed the mare, with her unique form, to record a steady clear.

“Today, I put myself into a mode that I was in for Burghley last year – [Ringwood Sky Boy] is a fairly similar horse,” he explains. “He’s much more experienced, but he’s lanky and not the most careful, so I tried to go to that place where I could just be relaxed and methodical and bring the jump out of her in the warm-up. I was a little bit slow, but she certainly jumped really well the whole way around, so I just need to find a little bit more time, maybe cut a few more turns and get a little bit closer, but I’m really pleased with her.

“What you feel in the moment is assertiveness from her, and determination, and then the athleticism through the questions. Then I watch it back and she’s upside-down, she’s throwing her head on landing, and I’m like, ‘ugh, that’s not as pretty as it felt!’ But I think the fact remains that she’s been very determined, and that’s why, despite not jumping every jump quite the same out here and sometimes doing something funny with her legs, it’s all through her desire to leave the poles up and get to the other side. She’s a stern mare.”

Tim’s victory makes five five-stars for the Price household. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Competitive success is all well and good, but the real question on everyone’s minds was this: why had Tim been so conspicuously absent from Luhmühlen’s party scene all week?

“Focus is a 24/7 thing for me, I think,” he explains, finally – and mercifully – parked in front of a drink for each hand. “It’s the whole process, from when you arrive until the moment you leave, so that I can feel good within myself and comfortable. Then it’s the closest I can get to feeling like I’m riding at home. That, with a little bit of the juice that the adrenaline gives you in the moment, is the recipe I’m looking for.”

“I call him Mr Fig because I can’t say his long name” – Tom McEwen and Figaro Van Het Broekxhof finish second. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

 

A clear round with just 1.2 time penalties allowed Tom McEwen and Figaro van het Broekxhof to climb from fourth after cross-country into second place. Although Tom is best known for his partnership with the spectacular Toledo de Kerser, he’s been quietly creating a superstar out of the fourteen-year-old gelding, tactically picking out the best of what’s been left behind by his several previous riders and adding his own touch to the recipe, too. One of the crucial elements has been his ability to gallop – and this season, it’s clear that he’s finally learned how to trust in, and transition within, the gait.

“I’m absolutely delighted with Mr Fig,” says Tom, for whom this is a career-best finish at this level. “Cross-country he was spot on the optimum time, and although he made me work towards the end, he’s so honest and true. He’s got an amazing heart in him, and an amazing, kind character that just wants to please you. Even though he’s tired, if you get him there with the right energy, you know he’s getting to the other side. I’ve never been past ten minutes [on cross-country] with him, so to feel him actually getting a bit tired yesterday and then to come out and jump a super clear today, well, I couldn’t be happier with him.”

Alex Bragg and Zagreb: back to their best. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It’s been a bittersweet week for Alex Bragg, who has skated so close to the top spot from the word go, but whose pole today stopped him from taking his first-ever five-star victory.

“It cost me the win, so it was pretty expensive,” he says with a sigh. But after a spring season of uncharacteristically lacklustre performances, he knows all too well how fleeting success can be – and to have his fifteen-year-old partner back to his very best is the first step on his committed campaign to taking the win he’s due.

“Zagreb felt amazing after cross-country, and he trotted up well. I was probably thinking after the treble combination that the bulk of the work was done, and the one thing I needed to do was put some pressure on Tim,” he explains. “The time was tight, so I needed to make the time to put that pressure on. I cut across the upright, thinking that it was an easy fence for the horse to jump so I wouldn’t have to waste time, and unfortunately he touched it with a back toe and dropped the rail. Where I was trying to grab an inch, I actually lost a place.”

“It’s very unfortunate – we’re all here to try to win, and obviously I’m thrilled to be here and on the podium today, the horse has done a great performance. But I’d love to be sat in Tim’s spot as the winner, and that’s what I’m always going to try to do. But it was no fault of the horse – it was just enthusiasm from me to try to put that pressure on so he would make a mistake. And he didn’t – he went steady, and he had the time in hand that he needed. I’m not going to leave here disappointed, that’s for sure.”

Frankie Thieriot Stutes and Chatwin finish clear and with one of the fastest rounds of the day, adding 0.8 time penalties to finish fourth. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Amid a top ten filled with enormously experienced five-star competitors, a debutante pair made a profound mark. Frankie Thieriot Stutes has been waiting a long time – fifteen years, to be precise – to compete at this level, and just to start this week with her phenomenal partner Chatwin was a dream come true. To finish in fourth place after jumping clear and adding just 0.8 time was something beyond dreaming.

“He’s just such an amazing horse – he’s pretty tanked today,” laughs Frankie. “In the warm-up, I felt like he was a little tired, and he went in and as always, he just tried his hardest. All the way to the last fence, he gave me everything he had.”

Despite balancing her competitive pursuits with motherhood and the running of her own marketing business, Frankie takes a decidedly focused approach to how she prepares for her runs. As a result, she was able to ride into the main arena today without feeling the weight of intimidation when she saw the tough course towering over her.

“I’ve been practicing a lot, actually, at home with Erik Duvander and my showjumping coach, so I was lucky to have set up a 1.30 course in our practice ring last week with Erik,” she says. “That was so helpful. It helped me, too, that there weren’t a tonne of related distances, so I could just keep it coming through those turns. I think it was a big track where you had to keep coming – we had a tiny little bit of time, sure, but those are things to work on for the future.”

The girl’s done good: Frankie Thieriot Stutes celebrates a clear round with Chatwin. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The future is something Frankie talks about a lot, and always as something to be worked towards. Despite her incredible result this week, she’s already begun to dissect the elements she can improve upon, ready for her next run.

“I knew he was capable of producing the result. One of the judges came up to me in the prizegiving and said ‘we really thought you and your horse were going to make the time [yesterday]’,” she says. “I thought so too, but we learned so much – this is a different track than anything we’ve ever experienced, and I know how to be a little quicker through the trees next time. I’d walked very careful lines through the trees, and every single turn, but it comes up very, very fast in there – you just end up in survival mode around those turns!

“I think we have some really good homework, and I’m elated with how things turned out, and so, so proud of my horse. I’m so grateful to have had Kelly [Prather] and Tamie [Smith] here, too, and Allie [Knowles], and Sherry [Stewart], and everyone from the US – I think it’s just really special. My mom and my boys are at home, holding down the fort, and today’s Father’s Day – it’s hard to miss those things, but I’m so lucky to have an amazing family that lets me run off to Germany to do this.”

A team effort: Frankie Thieriot Stutes and Chatwin have been well-supported this week. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Frankie has made her way to Germany with the support of the Rebecca Broussard grant, a legacy fund set up in honour of its late namesake, a prominent member of the US eventing community.

“I wouldn’t be here without that grant,” says Frankie. “When you’re a Rebecca Broussard recipient, it’s a tremendous honour, and it means that people believe in you – sometimes more than you believe in yourself! I really wanted to come here and show them that believing in me was worth it. I hope we did that.”

Sarah Bullimore and Reve du Rouet. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Sarah Bullimore might be one of the most underrated event riders in the world, but don’t be surprised when one of these days, she storms in and takes every available spot on the leaderboard. She finished in the top ten aboard both her horses – top ride Reve du Rouet tipped a single rail to finish fifth, while the sharp, spooky Conpierre produced one of the two fault-free rounds of the day, finishing eighth. A remarkable feat, sure, but this isn’t the first time we’ve seen Sarah quietly dominate a five-star – she took three horses to that famously tough Pau in 2017, missing out on the win by a tenth of a penalty and completing with all three horses clear and in the top thirteen.

Yoshiaki Oiwa and Calle 44. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Though the chance of a first five-star win for Japan was scuppered by the unfortunate retirement of Kazuma Tomoto yesterday, the hugely experienced Yoshiaki Oiwa made sure that his home nation maintained a presence in the top ten. He finished sixth with his 2017 Bramham winner Calle 44 after knocking a rail but adding no time penalties.

Sam Griffiths and Paulank Brockagh, one of the most experienced combinations in the field, finish seventh. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Two time faults and a knocked rail from the second element of the double saw 2014 Badminton winners Sam Griffiths and Paulank Brockagh finish seventh. Remarkably, this means that Frank and Paula Cullen’s sixteen-year-old mare (Touchdown x Calendar Girl) has now had a top-ten placing in all four of Europe’s five-star events.

Becky Woolven and DHI Babette K record a career best for the rider. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Becky Woolven enjoyed her best-ever result at this level, which she ordinarily frequents with Charlton Down Riverdance. This week, she rode five-star debutante DHI Babette K, who climbed from nineteenth after dressage to eventual ninth, toppling one rail today but remaining in situ. Rounding out the top ten is Denmark’s Peter Flarup and the exceptional Frankie, making it a double of top-ten finishes for the pair.

That’s all from us for now from what has been a truly weird, wonderfully vibrant week of sport at Luhmühlen. We’ll be back shortly with a full image gallery from the five-star and a report from the CCI4*-S Meßmer Trophy – but in the meantime, we’ll be dealing with our end-of-event Kummerspeck – that is, the excess weight we’ve put on from all our emotional eating. Literal translation? GRIEF BACON.

The final top ten at the conclusion of Luhmühlen’s CCI5*.

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Luhmuhlen CCI5*: All Horses Pass Final Horse Inspection

Frankie Thieriot Stutes and Chatwin share a quiet moment after successfully presenting to the ground jury. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

After the drama of yesterday morning, all anyone wanted was a relaxed, drama-free start to Sunday at Luhmühlen. And that’s exactly what they got: each of the 22 horses who completed cross-country were brought forward in front of the ground jury of Christina Klingspor (SWE), Anne-Marie Taylor (GBR), and Martin Plewa (GER), and each of them was accepted. Done, dusted, and all the more time to find oneself a Fischbrötchen and wipe away the last debris of a long night singing along to this banger:

The five-star showjumping will get underway at 11.45 a.m. local time/10.45 a.m. BST/5.45 a.m. EST, and will run in reverse order of merit. While we don’t have set times for each horse and rider combination, we can tell you that Frankie Thieriot Stutes and Chatwin, who sit in eighth place, will be fifteenth to jump. We can also tell you that the showjumping course, in true Luhmühlen fashion, is seriously big and seriously tough. It’s not going to be an easy feat to win this one today, folks.

Overnight leaders Tim Price and Ascona M. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Live-streaming, as usual, will be available via Horse&Country TV – check out our footer links to find your way there. Now, one last time, jetzt geht’s um die Wurst. Catch you on the flip side, chums.

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Luhmühlen CCI5* Cross Country: Tim Price Romps into the Lead

The beginning of the deluge. Also an excuse to look at Andreas Ostholt. #sinningiswinning

Earth had been many days in the making, proclaimed the Book of Genesis, when the big guy in the sky looked down upon his creation and realised that its denizens had become all tangled up in immoral excesses, illicit behaviour, and idolatry. You know, the fun stuff. As a result, he sent a sweeping flood to wipe out all the very naughty boys and girls, so he could start again with whoever had made it onto Noah’s Ark. What’s the best way to solve a crisis of morality? Generations of inbreeding, apparently.

Luhmühlen is known for a lot of things: its almost indescribable German hospitality, its very good doner kebabs, and, well, its parties. And this iteration certainly hasn’t disappointed – lured in by a free bar, like a gleaming apple in the Garden of Eden, the great and good of the eventing community descending on Thursday for a night of truly exceptional excess. If there is a deity greater than all of us, he was not amused. And so he sent the floods.

Incredible thunder storms racked Luhmühlen through the wee hours of the morning, rendering the previously sun-soaked venue almost completely unrecognisable. In the lorry park, the water was so deep that rogue bales of shavings were dancing their way to a new life somewhere far, far away, and the trade village could have been used as an extra water complex. In the middle of the flooding, a lone coffee van stood open, endlessly optimistic, while its operator peered around at the new landscape before him. Somewhere on course, Alex Bragg sheltered beneath a tree, broadcasting the storm as it ricocheted around him. (Yes, that’s right, he stood beneath a tree and used his mobile phone while lightening sparked and cracked around him. Look, he’s very nice, and he’s a very good rider, so we’ll forgive these transgressions of sanity and sense.)

It could have gone either way, really – any other venue, not blessed with such well-draining ground, might have had to cancel. But the Germans are nothing if not efficient and determined, and with the help of the local fire brigade – and some savvy re-timetabling – the show could go on. The immoral sons of Eventing Jesus were victorious.

Well, mostly. 33 competitors started on course in the third five-star of the year, and 22 would complete – exactly two-thirds, which is the magic number we tend to expect from a competition of this level. Of those 22 who made it to the finish, 19 would jump clear, and four would romp home within the optimum time. This makes Tim Price our first course-preview expert to accurately guess the number of time-makers, which we’re sure is his proudest victory of the day.

Tim Price and Ascona M step into the lead after a nearly perfect cross-country round. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

We kid, of course. Tim Price and Ascona M stepped into the lead after offering up a masterclass in cross-country riding, and following the unfortunate retirement of dressage leaders Kazuma Tomoto and Brookpark Vikenti. They added just two time penalties, sadly marring a remarkable record: until now, Ascona M had never added a single time penalty across the country in any of her long-format completions. Not one. But who cares, really, when you’re sitting aboard an ultra-talented up-and-comer, ready to fight to keep a trophy in the family?

“Ascona’s a really lovely mare with a lot of talent, but often being a bit too courageous in her approach to a job,” says Tim of the German-bred mare, who was sourced reasonably locally to Luhmühlen at Peter Thomson’s yard. “She’s maturing now, though, and I feel like I can let her do the job, and she understands everything. That’s what I was hoping for today.

“The time, for me, was quite difficult – she’s not a full-blooded mare, so I needed to be in the rhythm from the beginning. She’s a little bit inexperienced at this level, so I had to begin a little bit conservatively to make sure she was organised in her mind and in her body, so then I could press a little bit more as we went on. That’s possibly where we lost the time. All the combinations were as I was hoping, except for one or two places – at the Meßmer Water, I left one out coming to the skinny, which wasn’t the plan, but it seemed like the right thing to do. Other than that, it was just a nice round. They get more tired as you go round, but she stayed with me and stayed focused, and I was really proud of her.”

Ascona M shows off her typical flamboyance. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Ascona M was originally piloted by Luhmühlen’s reigning champion – Tim’s wife, Jonelle.

“It’s a bit of an advantage, not only to have two riders in one camp, but to have two very different riders. When we got Ascona M, she wasn’t anywhere near the size she is now, and so she was for Jonelle, who produced her for the first couple of years. But then she grew and grew as a seven, eight, and nine-year-old, which is quite late, and that was the first time that I gave Jonelle a little nudge and said, ‘maybe she’s a little bit tall for you…?’ But the real natural thing was that Jonelle became pregnant, so I took on a few rides. Then, the mare just stayed with me as a bit of a natural transition.”

Alex Bragg and Zagreb. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

One of the first riders on course was also one of the first to deliver a blazingly fast clear round, leaving some to wonder if the time would, perhaps, be all too catchable. But this is what happens when you see pure class in action: it makes everything it touches look laughably easy. That’s exactly what second-placed Alex Bragg and his back-on-form Zagreb did.

“He’s a great horse – I’ve had him since he was four, and he’s forged my career, really,” says Alex. “I think he’s very much like me – he’s taken my characteristics. He’s a bit of a warrior; a month ago, we were at Chatsworth, and I was chasing the time in the Event Rider Masters, turned a little bit tight, and we both hit the deck – and a month later, here we are at Luhmühlen, and he’s just pulled out a fantastic clear round inside the time. I think he was pretty much foot-perfect. He’s 100% committed to the job, and he always gives me everything he can. You’ve got to love a horse for that. It’s my job, now, to pick the right runs for him and do him some justice, so he can earn those successes. He works so hard for me, and he deserves some good results.”

Twinkle toes: Alex Bragg and Zagreb race into the main arena. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Though it feels like we’ve been able to enjoy Alex – and Zagreb – at the top levels for years, he’s actually a reasonably recent convert to the sport. The former farrier was actually a rugby player in a previous life, before a chance encounter over a hot anvil led to a meet-cute with his now wife, Simmone. When she fell pregnant with their first daughter, Alex began to ride her eventer, doing fitness work to keep it fit while she was out of action.

“That’s how my eventing career began,” says Alex, as Tim reaches over for a high-five. “I’d never been cross-country before, and it was something I wanted to do more of. But as you can imagine, from playing rugby, I was in the gym a lot and I was very muscular – so I looked like a gorilla doing dressage! Slowly, over the years, I’ve managed to change a bit. I wouldn’t say I’m as good as some of these guys, but I’m getting better all the time … Tim says I look like a chimpanzee now! But I’m still better-looking than him, so that’s all good.”

Alex maintains his farriery skills by shoeing his own horses, as well as the ponies owned by his children – and, when the need arises, those of his competitors in the stables at events.

“I love this community – it’s a real family feel,” he says. “We’re all competitors, but we’ll all go downstairs and have a drink and a laugh together. I think that’s what’s so wonderful about equestrianism, but most of all, about eventing.”

We’ll raise a glass to that, Alex. Meet you at the bar.

Sarah Bullimore and Reve du Rouet – third overnight. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Two exceptional clear rounds saw Sarah Bullimore keep both her rides in the top ten overnight, with Reve du Rouet stepping up into third place and staying on his 32.1 dressage, and Conpierre adding 8.4 time penalties to round out the top ten.

“I had to work a little bit at the end – we came up towards the last water, and he did think – ‘oh, there’s home!’ But then he had to turn away and keep going, so he was a little bit slow through that water,” says Sarah of third-placed Reve du Rouet, known at home as Blou. “That made him think he was a bit tired, but actually, he was really good. He jumped the last incredibly well and has recovered amazingly quickly.”

Reve du Rouet is as famous for his occasional trips to the dark side as he is for his undeniable talent, but as he gets older and more established, his old trick of bolting in the arena seems to have fallen by the wayside. That niggle has been made worth it by his incredible capacity for the job, as Sarah explains: “He’s such an awesome jumper, and I do trust him. If there’s one horse I’d want to jump any course on, it’s him. He’s got scope to burn, and you’d jump the moon on him, you really would. He’s amazing; he gives you such a good feel over a fence.”

With two horses to ride, bookending the day’s action, Sarah found herself falling out of touch with the day’s proceedings. That meant that, after a gratifying day in the office, it came as a welcome surprise to find out just how well she’d done.

“I don’t even know who else is here today – I haven’t watched anything,” she admits with a laugh. “I had no clue! When they said, ‘you need to go to the press conference!’ I said, ‘oh?’ And they said, ‘you’re in third!’ Oh! I had absolutely no idea. So then I was like, damn, that dressage score … but I was chuffed to bits with him.”

Prepare for take-off: Tom McEwen displays some vintage cross-country gumption, propelling Figaro van het Broekxhof through the tough final water with a hunting-style shout and some very committed elbows. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Tom McEwen stepped into the top ten, climbing from eleventh to fourth aboard his Belton winner Figaro van het Broekxhof. This season, he’s been methodically creating a superstar out of the overgrown Belgian gelding, and today, it paid dividends – this is the horse’s second five-star start (though his first with Tom) and his first completion, and he finished inside the time after some decisive riding by Tom.

Sam Griffiths and Paulank Brockagh. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Japan’s Yoshiaki Oiwa and his WEG mount and 2017 Bramham winner Calle 44 added just two time penalties to climb two places into overnight fifth, while Denmark’s Peter Flarup and Frankie produced another impressive performance, coming home inside the time and proving that last year’s Pau result was no fluke. They’ll sit sixth overnight, just ahead of Australia’s Sam Griffiths, whose Badminton-winning supermare Paulank Brockagh skipped around the course with a smile on her face for 3.2 time penalties and seventh place.

“She’s very experienced and has done lots of five-stars now, so hopefully we can finish the competition and add this string to our bow,” says Sam, who took Badminton in a year that will forever be remembered for its horrific downpour. “I think anywhere else in the world, the event today would have been cancelled [after the rain] – it was like being in the tropics. It was great that we could keep performing, and it’s paid off so far!”

Frankie Thieriot Stutes and Chatwin. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Frankie Thieriot Stutes and Chatwin might have been contesting their first-ever five-star track, but you’d have been hard-pressed to guess it: they left the start box in a blaze of conviction, and returned in a blaze of glory. 6.4 time penalties saw them slip from third after dressage to overnight eighth, but for a five-star debut? Well, we’d take it.

“He’s such a fighter, that horse – he fought for me all the way to the end. I actually lost my stirrup at the last water, coming in, and I thought, ‘wow, what a time to lose your stirrup!’ But I just got him there, and he answered all the questions – I’m really proud of him. I’m disappointed to have a little time today, but if you can walk away from your first five-star just disappointed over a little time, then that’s okay – there’s just some homework to do, and this is a twistier course than we’ve ever done,” says Frankie. “It’s pretty special to bring my horse, who’s lived in the U.S. for the last six years, home to do his first five-star.”

Frankie sits just shy of two points ahead of ninth-placed Becky Woolven and DHI Babette K, who lie ninth overnight after climbing ten places.

Allie Knowles and Sound Prospect. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Problems were scattered evenly across the course today, with the two most influential fences – the skinny at 17 and the C element of the corner complex at 11ABC – only claiming three and four victims, respectively. Several notable names failed to complete: dressage leader Kazuma Tomoto and Brookpark Vikenti picked up twenty penalties for a runout at the angled C element of the coffin, and then another at the final skinny of the second water on course, where they ultimately retired. Allie Knowles was the unlucky recipient of a surprise dunking after Sound Prospect tripped in the first water, and Andreas Dibowski fell from FRH Butts Alvedon at fence 7, an innocuous table.

“To be honest, I thought I’d made it a bit soft – but by the end of the day, I was quite please I hadn’t made it much harder than it was,” said course designer Mike Etherington-Smith. “For me, it’s always interesting as a course designer – I spend the day watching horses, watching how they travel, how they work, and how they jump, despite what the riders may or may not do. But the last 800m to 1km is the most interesting – you watch them at the start, and you watch them coming home, and you can tell if they’ve had a good experience or not. Particularly with the younger horses, you want to see them grow as they go around – and I was pleased with what I saw as they came home.”

We’ll be back tomorrow morning with all the news from the final horse inspection, which takes place at 10.00 a.m. local time/9.00 a.m. BST/4.00 a.m. EST. Catch you on the flip side (or at the bar)!

The top ten after an action-packed day of cross-country at Luhmühlen.

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Storm of the Century Prompts Luhmühlen Cross-Country Time Changes

There have been some crucial changes to today’s schedule at the Longines Luhmühlen Horse Trials after an incredible storm rocked Lower Saxony, nearly washing some of the world’s best eventers — and their very nice lorries — into the sea. (Look, we know the venue isn’t anywhere near the sea. It was a BIG STORM.)

The start of cross country for the CCI4*-S Meßmer Trophy has been delayed until 12:15 p.m. local time/6:15 a.m. EST. CCI5*-L cross country will start at 3 p.m. local time/9 a.m. EST.

New start times times: CCI4*-SCCI5*-L

Want an idea of just how hard the venue got pummelled? Check out these wild social media posts, featuring dramatic lightning, rogue bales of shavings, and some very soggy gazebos. The local fire department is on site now, busily siphoning away as much of the standing water as they can. Remarkably, the general consensus is that, despite an epic bucketload of rain, the ground has held up incredibly well.

Click here for a full cross country course preview with exclusive commentary from Tim Price.

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Wow. Lightening here in Luhmuhlen

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A Fairytale for Thinking Men: Walk the Luhmühlen Course with Tim Price

Walking the course at Luhmühlen on a sunny weekday, before the crowds pour in, is a special kind of joy. It’s ludicrously pretty here – so green, and with towering pines that look like Bob Ross specials, dappling the light and beckoning you into the woods. It’s one of those places where you find yourself suddenly desperate for a horse to ride – you could amble past the foxgloves, letting songbirds fix your hair, before nudging your way into a slow-motion canter to grandmother’s house. In the Luhmühlen daydream, you would never sprout an extra chin or develop an ungodly drop face – you’d be an enviable, glass-slippered beauty, and anonymous princes, charming or otherwise, would almost certainly lob themselves into some thorns for you. It’s all as life should be, as far as we’re concerned.

Too distracted by notions of princes, and songbirds, and the unlikely prospect of looking like anything other than a slightly haggard journalist who sampled one too many local beverages the previous night, I asked a real professional to help me dissect this year’s course.

Tim Price and Ascona M. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

You might have heard of Tim Price. He’s won this party before, back in 2015 with Wesko, and he sits second after dressage with Ascona M. He’s also won Burghley, and  he’s the World Number One and all that, but most importantly, he owns Scooby, the worst-trained dog in eventing and easily my favourite bad boi in the whole world. Basically, I asked Tim to join me for a beer and a chat purely because I knew he’d bring Scooby to me. I wasn’t disappointed.

Scooby Price, after escaping to the Küche and finding a Frau. A Frau with unidentifiable snacks. The best kind of Frau.

But now, onto pertinent matters. The first few fences on course are so kind and inviting that they almost give you the impression you’ve stumbled onto a three-star course. Low, wide, and with forgiving profiles, they almost make me think that after a Schnapps or two, perhaps I, too, could go five-star.

Fence one, with a sprouty umlaut.

But this is the Luhmühlen trap, and it’s easy to follow the trail of breadcrumbs and find yourself lured into its cauldron. It’s a very different kind of five-star than Badminton or Burghley – where they’re unrelentingly big, Luhmühlen’s toughness lies in its technicality and in its time. Even at the very beginning of the course, riders will need to have a plan of attack and they’ll need to stick to it – not because they’ll run into trouble at fences if they don’t, but because any time lost early on will be nearly impossible to make up later on in the course.

U ok, hun?

Fence 4 could be considered one of the first ‘proper’ jumps – it’s a big trakehner going from bright sunshine into the woods – but for horses and riders at this level it ought to be a cavaletti exercise. One guarded by an owl who has seen some things, man.

Then we head to our first combination at 5AB, two offset cottages with an acute dip between them. The dip is the trickiest bit of this combination – the jumps themselves, while reasonably skinny, wouldn’t look out of place on a 2* course.

5AB – a straightforward early question.

“This just gives you a chance to feel out where your horse is at,” explains Tim. “There’s four strides between them – it should be a bit short if you want to be on a true stride pattern for the job ahead, so there’s a slightly outside line that walks best.”

Next, we head over to the first water at 6ABC. A double of rolltops precedes the water itself, and then it’s just a matter of cruising over a skinny arrowhead on dry land. Curiously, there’s an alternative C element, which is a replica of the direct C, but feels miles away.

The double of rolltops and, in the background, the arrowhead at 6C.

“I guess it gives people an opportunity if they have a run-out; then, they can go and find something to jump to keep themselves on course. Often, if a horse has a run-out at something, they’ll run out at it again,” says Tim. “But it’s fairly generous – and perhaps, not really in keeping with the spirit of a five-star.”

The question in its entirety, Tim tells me, is a bit of a schooling exercise. “You find your line and your distance, pop through the two-stride line, and then just find that skinny.” It’s a slow piece of the course, though – after popping over 6C, competitors will have to do a big right-handed loop, cantering through a ‘door’ of flags, before jumping the table at 7 and coming back through the water at 8AB, a brush and brush corner.

Prince Charming? Sam Griffiths doesn’t look convinced.

“Again, it’s about finding your line, being on your game, and making sure your horse is with you,” says Tim. After escaping from the endless spiralling of the first water, it’s time to gallop back into the woods – but, as Tim points out, these canter stretches are one of the reasons the time will be so tough: “You have to run through the woods at speed, turning a bit blind up and down rolling hills. There’s not a lot of long galloping spaces on the course.”

After a spin through the woods and a couple of straightforward single fences, we head to the first serious question on the course – the corners at 11ABC. The first element is a big, bright house, while the B and C elements are both seriously chunky left-handed corners on a curving right-handed line.

Corners so thicc.

“That would be one of the top three questions, for me,” says Tim. “I think it’ll be a short enough six strides to a short enough three, but you’ve also got to jump and ride downhill, and get the balance back before the first corner. You need to get the first one right to make that curving three strides to the second one work well. The corners are big and chunky and the flags are right in there, so it’ll be a place where you really want to clip off the ground and run on proper strides, not choked ones. You need to have a proper plan and trust the horse.”

Flag penalties proved influential here last year – we saw Piggy French and Quarrycrest Echo lose a considerable amount of leaderboard ground as a result. It’ll be interesting to see how harshly they’re judged here, after vocal dissent throughout the first half of the season from riders, trainers, and supporters alike.

Peeking over the hedge – and nearly falling in its colossal ditch – to see the corner at 13.

12 and 13 might be separately numbered, but they’re very much part of one question. The first element is a classic cross-country fence – a yawning ditch and brush. Then, the second is a right-handed brush corner, which is closer to 12 than we’ve seen in previous years.

Still, says Tim, “there’s a long enough way to the corner that you think you’ve got a bit of time to sort things out. You can go inside or outside the trees – I’m thinking of going outside the trees, which isn’t my normal inclination because it’s not the most direct route, but I think the strides work better on the outside. Then, you get a good seven strides in; if you go inside, you have to choke for a short seven or a very brave six.”

The coffin, and a marvellous jumping effort from Sam. Bravo.

At 14ABC we come to the coffin, or the rail-ditch-rail if you’re feeling particularly PC and have a few extra hours to commit to all the extra syllables. The first element is a hanging rail, the second is – obviously – a ditch, and the third is an angled hedge. It’s this angle that will prove the trickiest part of the question.

“This is a tougher, more acute question than we see in a lot of our preparation events – we see a lot of these shoulder brushes, as we call them, but rarely on such an angle and with the ditch element, too. That can disturb your horse’s rhythm,” says Tim. “It’s important not to get too close to the ditch and get a chippy step over it, because that’ll muck up your distance going up to the C. Most people will get suckered into going in a bit too strong and fast, but I think you’re better off to come a little bit quieter in the last few strides. You need to pop over the first and punch over the ditch. There’s been a lot of talk about this fence, and how people will ride it.”

Interestingly, we’ve had two internationals in a row in which coffins were the most influential questions on course – both of those were Ian Stark tracks, and he was vocal in the postmortem discussions about how seldom riders are training over this type of question. He pointed out that at both Tattersalls and Bramham, riders who were intimidated by the coffin would come in too fast – and that’s when they’d run into trouble.

“That coffin either rode really well or really badly at Bramham, and it was all about pace,” comments Tim. “It’s a question where you need to hold their hand a bit, not chuck them at it. It’s also at a stage of the course – just past the five-minute marker – where they’re starting to find their everyday gallop, the one we’ll use the whole way round. That’s where it starts to differ from a short format. You need to find lines that work within the gait. Some people are looking at jumping across the ditch and then coming back to the brush to make a bit more space, and make it a bit more obvious, but I think we need to accept that it’s quite a severe angle. You have to show the whole combination to the horse and trust that they’ll go.”

The point that Tim makes about the ‘everyday gallop’ – which only really develops after a few solid minutes on course – is an interesting one. “It evolves,” he explains, which affects the way that lines need to be walked and analysed. The stride length a horse has at the first combination will be very different from its stride length at the last, or in the middle of the course. “Different things come into focus at different points on a course; you need to try to work on the strengths that are coming in and take care of the ones that are going out.”

Another Prince Charming candidate, and a windmill, because why not?

It’s time for another wending trip through the Hansel und Gretel-esque woods, past slightly mystifying mushrooms and wolves in grandmothers’ clothing, probably, popping a couple of big fences before heading to the main water question on course. It’s preceded by 16, a big timber ditch-oxer, and then 17, a skinny arrowhead just before the water’s edge. Once they’ve galloped into the water, our competitors will pop over a boat (18A) and then up onto dry land and over another arrowhead.

The boat at 18A, and the skinny beyond it.

“The design of the skinny is unique – it makes it look narrower than it is, although it is narrow. There’s an option there, which is definitely fair play,” says Tim. “Then the water is quite deep. It’s notorious for that, actually – Luhmühlen always has deep waters, and we’ve seen people get caught out by it. Michi Jung and FischerRocana went down in that water before, so even nimble horses can be caught out by it. You need to make a proper job of the first skinny, and feel as though you’re jumping into the water, even though you land on the dry. Then, as soon as you land, you need to sit up and make sure your horse is listening. Then you can just pop out and gallop off.”

Grandmother’s house in the background, where naughty children get baked into pies.

There’s a let-up fence at 19, and then a reasonably easy combination at 20AB – these two gates should be ridden on a straight line, which puts the second on a bit of an angle.

“You have to take your medicine a bit, because the striding is short – you need to punch them over them a bit.”

Next, it’s time to gallop into the main arena, where there’s a big table to be jumped and two angled viaduct walls (21ABC), which gives the riders the chance to make some decisions and potentially save a couple of valuable seconds.

“I’m not counting the number after the table, but you just need to find a good line and get organised. They might slither through it a little bit,” says Tim, who points out that you need to allow the horse a few strides to find their footing as it changes to sand beneath them. Coming out of the arena, he tells me, is a welcome moment for the horses – but with a winding turn to the hedge and rail at 22, it can highlight fatigue.

The only photograph I’ll take of this fence, apparently. Thanks, Tim.

“That turn will be where you might find that the wheels are falling off the bus a bit,” he says. “The hedge and rails typically jumps like sh*t, too. They flop through it and jump like cabbage. It’s got white rails and a hedge behind it, so you see some horses starting to come down in the hedge, or they land and you feel like they didn’t really use themselves over it at all. They don’t go, ‘wow, this is to be jumped’ – they just step through it.”

A kinder footbridge than usual.

The footbridge at 23 is much kinder now, with a less obvious angle and a filled-in ditch – it’s considerably less scary than Badminton’s version, and two small bushes on top make it very clear where riders should be aiming.

24AB consists of two low, wide tables on a 90-degree right-handed turn.

“It’s one of the only places where there’s a proper distance for a gallop, but unfortunately, the table at the end is very low, so it’s a bit boring,” laughs Tim. “Then, you can take an inside line for three strides, or a tidy four on the outside line – but if you’re down on the clock, you’ll have no choice. You’ll need to bowl through, leave one out, and maybe get a bit desperate.”

The final water, where we could see combinations getting caught out.

The final water is “tough enough”, says Tim. There’s a table at 25, landing on the dry and then, in the water itself, a pair of separately-numbered offset hedges (26, 27A). Then, back on dry land, we come to 27B – a fairly straightforward wodge of hedge.

“The water’s really deep, again – and they’ll be a bit loose-legged at this stage. It’s five strides from the table to the first hedge, and then a long enough one between the two in the water. You don’t want to come in too backwards or you’ll see some chippy second strides, and they’ll then have to flop up to the last on four, not three. At places like that, you’ll see class, and you’ll see good riders – some people will keep the balance and make it look easy, while others will look decidedly average.”

Though Luhmühlen’s not a course with an enormous amount of terrain, it does have the odd incline, and here we come to quite a steep one.

“It’s always a kick in the guts up the other side – it’s very steep, so that’s where you’ll be panicking if you’re struggling with the time. After that point, you’re ticking boxes – there’s a kind combination of angled rolltops at 29AB, and then a single fence from there,” Tim says.

Time, Tim tells me, will be one of the toughest criteria to meet on this course – and curiously, it’ll be made all the harder to get because the ground is the best it’s ever been.

“Here, it’s often firm with a bit of sand so it breaks, and they sort of just skip over the top nicely,” he explains. “Now, it’s got a little bit more give in it, and I think that’ll slow them down.”

When pushed, Tim wagers that four or five horses will make the time tomorrow: “there’s always a random, isn’t there, on an old-money 60-something dressage who goes inside the time,” he laughs.

Tim Price and Wesko win in 2015. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Wesko, with whom he won here in 2015, is the ideal stamp of a Luhmühlen winner – “you need a short-format horse that is very capable around a long-format, so they can stay. Basically, they’ve got to be able to jump a fence at speed and manage the distance – they need to have good footwork.”

We’d hate to jinx them now, but Ascona M, equipped with mare-brain, fuelled by rage, as all good mares are, and with some of the smartest toes in the business, could be just the horse for the job. Watch this space, folks.

Want a closer look at each of the fences, as well as commentary from course designer Mike Etherington-Smith? Check out this preview, ably documented by Antonia Von Baath.

For our intrepid competitors, there’s only one baffling German phrase they need to know tomorrow. Jetzt geht’s um die Wurst translates to ‘now it goes around the sausage’, but its meaning – however well-shrouded in piggy mystery – is universal. All or nothing – the mantra of five-star riding.

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Luhmühlen CCI5*, Day Two: Fraulein Frankie Storms into Top 10

Frankie Thieriot Stutes and Chatwin. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

If Frankie Thieriot Stutes was German – or just a bit odd – she might have been heard to say “Ich glaud mein Schwein pfeift.” That’s because the Germans love a porcine aphorism, and why would anyone utter a mundanity like ‘I think I must be dreaming’ when one could say ‘I think my pig whistles’ instead?

But Frankie’s pig may well have been whistling as she rode into the main arena at Luhmühlen today. And if it was whistling then, it was almost certainly singing arias by the time she rode back out of it.

That’s because Frankie, who is, perhaps, the ultimate multi-hyphenate – amateur rider, business owner, and mum – has waited a long time for this moment.

“I went in the ring and just took a minute,” she says, her eyes brimming with tears. “From having two horses get hurt just before I was meant to take them to Kentucky, from wanting to do a five-star for like, fifteen years, and coming so, so close … two weeks before both of those times! Just getting to do the first phase, I thought, ‘Frankie, just have a minute. Soak this in, because it’s pretty special.’ There’s no horse in the world I’d rather be sitting on as we do it – no matter what happens the rest of the week, I’m so glad to be Chatwin’s partner. I’m just really thankful for him, and our partnership, and the fact that he trusts me so much – no matter what we do in the next two phases, nothing will ever shake the huge amount of admiration I have for this horse.”

Frankie Thieriot Stutes and Chatwin. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Cool and calm under pressure, Frankie and Chatwin danced their way through the test, just making one mistake in the first flying change but nonetheless putting a score of 28.2 on the board, slotting them three penalty points behind second-placed Tim Price and Ascona M.

“I think we can do a little better than that, but he went in there and did everything I asked of him,” says Frankie. “I ran out of time in my warm-up, which was my fault, not his, and didn’t get to practice any changes. He usually has such good changes, so I was a little disappointed to miss the first one. Then I kind of said, ‘okay, that’s your practice, we better get the rest!’ But he’s so rideable and wants to do such a good job.”

Frankie, who had originally intended to move the horse up at Kentucky, made her way to Germany with the help of the Rebecca Broussard Grant, and is ably supported by chef d’equipe Erik Duvander, as well as her close friends Tamie Smith and Kelly Prather. For the German-bred Chatwin, there’s a certain poignancy to producing a result like this in his home country.

“It’s such a big honour to be have been the recipient, and to come here after rerouting from Kentucky. Chatsworth was bred an hour away from here, and was schooled at this venue as a five-year-old, so it’s really special to bring him home and show everyone how he’s grown up.”

Sam Griffiths and Paulank Brockagh sail into a competitive overnight place. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Australia’s Sam Griffiths piloted his 2014 Badminton winner Paulank Brockagh into sixth place after delivering a score of 30.9, and contributing to an internationally diverse leaderboard, which sees six flags within the top ten.

Sam Ecroyd was one of three British riders to make moves into the top ten. He rides his sixteen-year-old long-term partner Wodan III in the horse’s five-star debut. Sam, who started at Burghley in 2018 but didn’t complete, has amassed a wealth of experience at the four-star level and on Young Rider teams and now, having made his way into the world’s top 40 riders for the first time, he’s ready to make his mark at the highest level. He and the British-bred horse produced a flashy, polished test for a mark of 31.5 and eighth place.

Sam Ecroyd and Wodan III make a positive impression in their first five-star as a partnership. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“I was really happy with him – he doesn’t owe me anything, and he’s been my best horse since I was thirteen years old,” says Sam. “He never lets you down, and he didn’t today, either.”

Despite his relative inexperience at the top levels, Sam is pragmatic about the challenge ahead: “it’s quite different to anything I’ve jumped before – I think it has a strong emphasis on the technicality, but it’s a different type of question to the other five-stars. It’s not something we get a huge amount of in England – it’s big, because all five-stars are big, but it’s not massive. It’s just different. There are lots of angles, lots of accuracy tests – not something we’ve done a huge amount of, but he usually looks after me!”

Sarah Bullimore and Reve du Rouet. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Sarah Bullimore was another British rider to sneak into the top ten, and she did it convincingly, placing ninth overnight with Conpierre (31.7) and tenth with the talented but notoriously tricky Reve du Rouet (32.1), who took a good look at everything as he entered the arena and then decided to save his antics for another day. While not their best score at this level, it’s certainly good enough on a leaderboard that, discounting the two outliers at the front, is tightly-packed.

Now, we’re looking ahead to tomorrow’s cross-country challenge, which begins at 10.15 a.m. local time/9.15 a.m. BST/4.15 a.m. EST. It’ll all be live-streamed, once again, via Horse&Country TV, but if you can only tune in for a few rounds, here are the times you need to know:

  • Alex Bragg and Zagreb: 10.27 a.m. local/9.27 a.m. BST/4.27 a.m. EST
  • Tim Price and Ascona M: 10.51 a.m. local/9.51 a.m. BST/4.51 a.m. EST
  • Allie Knowles and Sound Prospect: 11.03 a.m. local/10.03 a.m. BST/5.03 a.m. EST
  • Kazuma Tomoto and Brookpark Vikenti: 11.07 a.m. local/10.07 a.m. BST/5.07 a.m. EST
  • Andreas Dibowski and FRH Butts Avedon: 11.15 a.m. local/10.15 a.m. BST/5.15 a.m. EST
  • Frankie Thieriot Stutes and Chatwin: 11.47 a.m. local/10.47 a.m. BST/5.47 a.m. EST
  • Sam Griffiths and Paulank Brockagh: 12.15 a.m. local/11.15 a.m. BST/6.15 a.m. EST

Klapp zu, Affe tot (lid down, monkey dead – or, um, that’s all). We’ll be bringing you a bumper course preview with World Number One Tim Price shortly – stay tuned!

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Luhmühlen CCI5*, Day One: King Kazu Reigns Supreme

Japan’s Kazuma Tomoto and Brookpark Vikenti storm into a decisive lead after the first day of dressage. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Welcome to Luhmühlen. Tucked away in fairytale woods, the third five-star of the year wends its way past improbably teensy fairytale cottages, through dappled sunlight, and, presumably, around stray batches of nuns, because there are six – count ’em! Six! – nunneries in the area, all of which date back to the Middle Ages. (Everyone knows that the Middle Ages were an exceptionally naughty period in history – or they were in England, anyway, which wasn’t quite so distracted by Charlemagne’s riots and a few centuries of Mortal Kombat between battling popes.  Nuns, in those days, took vows of poverty and kept themselves busy producing wine and ale, which sounds remarkably like being an equestrian journalist, actually.)

Anyway, once you’ve battled through a bunch of drunk nuns*, all of whom are busy ordering spicy fries with mayonnaise AND curry sauce, you make your way into the heart of the event – which is, frankly, no less bonkers than whatever I’ve just written.

*Probably just normal people who like eventing a bit.

Every five-star has its own distinct personality. Badminton is shrouded in a grandiose mantel of hushed awe, Kentucky is super-sized and colourful, glittering with a uniquely American jolliness. Burghley feels like the final month of school – the exams and the homework are the toughest they’ll be all year, but the end is near, and everyone’s feeling a bit cheeky as a result. Pau is marvellously French, like a Gallic shrug, a flicked cigarette, and then a no-seatbelts spin around a dizzying back road. Adelaide, I think, is judged by kangaroos.

Luhmühlen, for its part, is a Grimms Brothers fairytale writ large, except one of the Grimms is a bit drunk and can’t stop giggling, and the other one has given up trying to contain him. It’s a gorgeous venue – compact, well-dressed, and set in the improbably pretty countryside of Lower Saxony – and it’s incredibly relaxed and welcoming, with the sort of wink, wink, nudge, nudge humour that makes you think having a beer for breakfast is actually okay, all things considered.

The five-star got underway this afternoon amid splendid sunshine, with fifteen of the 34-strong field laying down their first-phase performances to thoughtfully curated soundtracks. (With 17 Brits in the competition, though, the resident DJ might have made a slight error in committing to an all-Beatles playlist for pathfinder Andrew James. Where do you go from there? Lionel Richie, apparently.)

Kazuma Tomoto and Brookpark Vikenti. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

In hugely exciting news for keen followers of #JapanWatch, Kazuma Tomoto set a high bar and will lead overnight with the Japan Racing Association’s Brookpark Vikenti (Master Imp x Tullineaskey Butler’s Simon). Although they’re consistently competitive, and certainly one of the favourites in this field, their score of 25.2 eclipses anything they’ve produced so far at the four-star level – which, all things considered, isn’t too shabby in the eleven-year-old’s five-star debut. For a little while, too, it looked as though it might not come together today.

“I can’t believe it, by my own self,” says a delighted Kazu, his trademark smile lighting up his face. “He was quite tense this morning, so I tried to make him just relax. He’s got very good movement – it’s soft, and it’s big, basically – so I just had to try to get him to relax. He’s quite sharp, so that, to me, is always the goal.”

It paid off. The pair produced a fluid, focused test, scoring particularly highly in the extended walk and second medium walk, where the gelding showed off his naturally prowling movement.

Kazuma Tomoto and Brookpark Vikenti begin the stretchy canter circle. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Brookparkpark Vikenti, who was originally produced by Ireland’s Michael Ryan, picked up his first international win last month, taking a CCI4*-S section at Chatsworth. As far as prep runs go, it’s ideal: Chatsworth, though a short four-star, is a serious stamina test, with relentless hills that make the time nearly impossible to get. It’s also a test of agility and footwork, with enough technical questions to trip up anyone who dares lose focus. Though Luhmühlen is considerably flatter, with just a handful of slopes, dips, and mounds, it’s a racetrack of a course, and will require quick thinking, quick footwork, and a horse and rider who can continue to fire on all cylinders mentally until the end.

“I’ve walked it twice – it’s a typical five-star course,” says Kazu. “It’s twisty, and there’s not huge fences, but it’s technical. He’s a very quick horse, and very good on cross country, but he’s sometimes very naughty! I’ll just have to do my best.”

Tim Price and Ascona M. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Kazu pinched the lead from World Number One Tim Price, but just barely – riding his Tattersalls CCI4*-S winner Ascona M, he put a score of 25.8 on the board. Like Brookpark Vikenti, eleven-year-old ‘Ava’ (Cassaro x Naomi) is undeniably talented, but can be mercurial, too.

“She’s an extremely talented mare that can sometimes be a little bit extreme,” he quips of the German-bred mare, owned jointly by Sir Peter Vela, Suzanne Houchin, and Lucy and Ben Sangster. “It’s sometimes just about turning the volume down, and then she’s still good enough to be right up there. She can lose focus and then things can go wrong – but she stayed with me today. Maybe she could have been a little more up in the trot work, but you have to strike the balance.”

Tim Price and Ascona M. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Ava made her five-star debut at Pau last year, and though she failed to complete, it wasn’t for lack of talent – in fact, it could be argued that her talent was the catalyst for her unlucky stumble. She made an exuberant leap into the water, just losing her footing on landing, and sending her unfortunate rider for swimming lessons. Since then, though, we’ve seen this clever, gutsy mare learn from her mistakes – she jumped considerably more economically into the tough final water at Tattersalls, and historically, she’s very quick – she’s never added a time penalty in any of her long-format runs.

“I think it’s quite difficult, and stamina will be a test,” says Tim of Mike Etherington-Smith’s cross-country course. “The ground is better than it’s ever been here, and while that will look after the horses’ legs, it’ll also be a little bit more draining on their way of going. I think that’ll make the time difficult.”

Alex Bragg and Zagreb. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The CCI4*-S podium at Tattersalls feels achingly recent, and all the more so when you realise that today’s top three each stood atop it. (Kazu, admittedly, was riding a different horse, but bear with us here.) Once again, we see Alex Bragg and Zagreb occupying third place, with the fifteen-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Perion x Renera) back to his best in sunnier climes. They scored 29.7 – not quite a personal best, but not far off, either – displaying Zagreb’s incredibly powerful extended gaits at their very finest. Their score puts them less than a penalty ahead of Germany’s first competitors, the enormously experienced Andreas Dibowski and FRH Butts Avedon, on 30.5.

Yoshi Oiwa and Calle 44. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

What’s better than one of our #JapanWatch heroes taking the lead? Two of them squeezing into the top five, of course. Yoshiaki Oiwa rode his 2017 Bramham winner Calle 44 to a score of 31.3, taking fifth place at this early stage despite some minor fussiness in the contact. Yoshi, who is based in Germany with Dirk Schrade, is one of the Japanese team’s most experienced riders – cast your mind back to the London Olympics, if you will, where you may just recall him leading after the first phase. He’s a serious competitor, and a huge hope for next year’s Tokyo Olympics, but with The Duke of Cavan off games, all hopes rest on Calle’s broad shoulders.

We doubt Yoshi minds. Calle is a consummate competitor: his score today sits a few marks higher than his average, and he’s a very good jumping horse, as proved by his recent form. He’s only been out of the top 20 in an international three times since the beginning of the 2017 season – that’s fifteen top twenty placings, and eleven of those were top ten.

Allie Knowles and Sound Prospect. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The first of our American gals on tour took to the main arena today. Allie Knowles and her seventeen-year-old off-the-track Thoroughbred Sound Prospect are no stranger to foreign shores – they finished just outside the top twenty at Pau in 2017, making nothing of the most difficult course we’ve ever seen there. Now, propelled by a second-place finish in the Jersey Fresh CCI4*-S, they’re back for more. Their score of 38.5 sees them sit in eleventh place at the end of the first day of dressage, but as a Thoroughbred, Sound Prospect will enjoy an enviable advantage here. We look forward to watching the climb.

The second batch of tests commences tomorrow at 2.00 p.m. local time/1.00 p.m. BST/8.00 a.m. EST, and once again, you’ll be able to live-stream it in full – just click the link in the footer to find out how. Sneaking in some Team USA cheerleading on a coffee break? Schedule it for 2.56 p.m. local time/1.56 p.m. BST/8.56 a.m. EST – that’s when Frankie Thieriot Stutes and Chatwin will make their five-star debut.

We’ll be back tomorrow with more content than even we know what to do with – stay tuned for more five-star news, a full report on all the action in the Meßmer Trophy dressage, and a course preview from the World Number One himself.

Go Eventing!

The top ten at the end of the first day of dressage in Luhmühlen’s CCI5*-L.

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Luhmühlen 2019: Your Entries Encyclopedia

Jonelle Price and Faerie Dianimo win Luhmühlen’s CCI5*-L in 2018. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Welcome to Luhmühlen, where Chinch is already three steins in and busy terrorising the locals with a bit of this:

He can’t be tamed, unfortunately, but while he’s distracted saving the planet, we’ve been busy analysing the field of entries.

You might be surprised to see just two German entries in what is Germany’s showpiece three-day event – but there’s a good reason for that. Luhmühlen also host a CCI4*-S which, incidentally, is the German National Championships – so most of the country’s heavy hitters will be focusing on that instead, particularly as we look ahead to this summer’s European Championships. But the Germans entered in this class certainly shouldn’t be underestimated.

While Great Britain holds the monopoly over the 35-strong entry list, with 17 entries, we’re looking beyond this obvious superpower to find our potential winner. Japan has three strong entries, and Kazuma Tomato is enjoying a hot streak at the moment. He’s joined by Yoshi Oiwa, who rides his Bramham winner Calle 44, and Kenki Sato, the thrill-seeking monk, who we’re delighted to see gracing the world stage once again. #JapanWatch is one of our favourite games, and it’s going to give us some real fun this week. New Zealand, too, is a strong shout – while there might only be one horse and rider combination flying the flag for the Kiwis, it’s one we wouldn’t want to look too far past. Tim Price comes forward with the exceptional Ascona M, hoping to keep the Luhmühlen trophy in the family for another year.

Having said all that, though, the British are going to put up a serious fight: Alex Bragg and Zagreb are one of the classiest combinations in this field, while Tom McEwen has made a serious competitor out of Figaro Van Het Broekxhof this year. Flora Harris and Bayano are well overdue a big result, while Sarah Bullimore’s Reve du Rouet is one of the best horses in the game, when he decides to be. There’s a real dark horse contender for the win in the mix, too, and this one will be flying the stars and stripes – Frankie Thierot-Stutes’ Chatwin keeps getting better and better, and after missing out on a planned Badminton run, both horse and rider will be fighting fit and ready to tackle this week’s challenge.

Basically? The door is wide open and, as is usually the case in top-level eventing, absolutely anything could happen. Check out the entries and then let us know who you think takes the top spot!

AUSTRALIA

Sam Griffiths and Paulank Brockagh. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Sam Griffiths and Paulank Brockagh

Sixteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse mare (Touchdown x Calendar Girl). Owned by Dinah Posford, Jules Carter, and the rider.

2014 Badminton winner Brocks was initially entered for a return visit to the site of her biggest triumph, but Sam and his team opted to give her a longer prep run – and a slightly less taxing five-star – with the long-term view of keeping her at her best for next year’s Tokyo Olympics.

In 2014, Brocks triumphed at Badminton despite persistent rain and a slightly off-the-pace dressage performance – she moved up an impressive 24 places to take the win, proving just how tough this mare is. She’s a supremely un-girly mare who thrives on her work. She could be forgiven for slowing down a bit since that momentous victory, but she hasn’t, really – she was ninth at Burghley in 2015, fourth individually at Rio, where she was part of the bronze medal-winning Australian team, and eighth at Pau in 2017 after Sam had to sit much of the season out with a broken neck. That year she ran around Badminton again, but clocked up a slightly contentious 50 penalties for missing a flag at the Shogun Hollow. Last year she finished 15th there after a phenomenal dressage of 24.4 – considerably lower than their projected score – was marred somewhat by three rails on the final day. She had much of the rest of the season off and has come out this year looking very well indeed. Have we seen the best of Brocks? Somehow, we doubt it – and it’ll be exciting to see what this mega mare makes of her first trip to Germany’s foremost event.

Warren Lamperd and Silvia. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Warren Lamperd and Silvia

Eighteen-year-old Holsteiner mare (Lancer II x Moka). Owned by the rider.

The horse that coined the phrase ‘doing a Silvia’ – that is, um, banking a fence and making it look like that’s how it ought to be done – is back. Bossy, as she’s known at home, is well known for being game and gutsy, and she proved her adaptability in 2017 at Burghley when she made light, if creative, work of the Dairy Mound combination. They finished in 31st place after adding rather too many time penalties and poles to threaten the top 20, but Bossy is a classic cross-country competitor.

With street smarts come personality quirks, and Bossy displays plenty of those at home – impossible to contain in a paddock, she’s allowed to roam free-range around Warren’s Berkshire base and choose the best grazing spots. An unbroken broodmare until the age of six, she spent more of her formative training putting Warren on the floor than learning to contain her enthusiasm, but his patience has paid off, and he’ll leave the start box on a partner he can trust.

Silvia reroutes to Luhmühlen after an unspent Badminton entry, which saw her just miss out on a spot off the waitlist, but she should make easy work of her debut at Luhmühlen. The pair will post a score that hovers around the low-to-mid 30s, and although they’ll rack up time penalties, they’ll likely go clear – their blip at Badminton last year, in which they both took a tumble, was their first international cross-country jumping penalty since 2014. The showjumping will prove costly, as it tends to with this pair – they’ve never gone clear in their 19 international runs.

BELGIUM

Christian Chabot and Barlison

Thirteen-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Radisson x Liona). Owned by the rider.

Barlison made his five-star debut at Pau last season, marking a long-awaited return to the top level for Christian, too. They finished nineteenth, jumping clear on Saturday to add 16.4 time penalties to their 35.7 dressage and tipping three rails on the final day. But all things considered, it was a great week for them – their record up until that point, after all, was seriously chequered. Their 2018 season started well with 8th place at Vairano CCI4*-L, but the horse was eliminated in his next three internationals, which were at CCI3*-S and CC2*-S. Then he ran a CCI2*-L, finishing second, as his final run before the big one.

This season hasn’t started dissimilarly. The pair went to Burnham Market to contest the CCI4*-S, finishing 55th on nearly identical three-phase performances to their Pau run, and then they went to Marbach CCI4*-S, where they were eliminated on cross-country. Barlison is a sweet horse; he looks honest, and genuine, and willing to go the extra (figurative) mile, but there’s a niggle somewhere in the system that looks in need of attention. Another solid performance at Luhmühlen could go a long way towards cementing the partnership.

DENMARK

Peter Flarup and Frankie. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Peter Flarup and Frankie

Twelve-year-old Danish Warmblood gelding (Federico XX x Stald Mejses). Owned by the rider.

This will be Frankie’s third five-star start, and in his previous two, he’s been impressive: he made his debut here in 2017, jumping clear to finish 27th. Then he went to Pau the following year, and showed us what he’s truly made of. The pair’s 29.5 in the first phase was good enough to see them round out the top ten, and then they added just 5.2 time penalties across the country. On the final day, though, they showed the biggest improvement, whittling the four rails they’d knocked at Luhmühlen down to one over a big, tough course. Ultimately, the Copenhagen-based duo finished fourth, and although we haven’t seen them at an international since then, it would be a fool’s game to count them out at this stage. If they can clear their biggest hurdle – the final ones – then they could be a dark horse contender for the win.

FINLAND

Elmo Jankari and Soraya 243

Eleven-year-old Oldenburg mare (Seigneur d’Alleray XX x Caipirinhia). Owned by Nina Sibelius & Sauli Jankari.

Eternally youthful-looking Elmo is Finnish eventing’s darling (and, okay, he’s only 27, but we guarantee he’ll look just as fresh-faced at 46 — whether he’s stashing a rapidly aging portrait in his attic remains to be seen, but rest assured that EN is on the case). He’s amassed plenty of experience dealing with the pressures of life at the top in his career — after all, he’s already logged a WEG place in 2014, a European championships finish in 2015, and he rode at Rio, too, finishing 31st individually with Duchess Desiree.

Soraya is a new old ride for Elmo — he produced her to CCI4*-L in 2016 before passing the reins to Spain’s Esteban Benitez Valle for the 2017 season. Elmo took her back last year, and they’ve had mixed results in the four internationals they’ve contested since their reunion. They got off to a great start in the CCI3*-S at Chaumont en Vexin, where they finished eighth, but they then retired on course at CCI4*-L and -S competitions at Strzegom. Finally, they completed Baborowko’s CCI4*-S, finishing eleventh. They moved up to five-star at Pau, picking up twenty penalties, 20.8 time, and adding four rails on Sunday, but a clear round inside the time at last month’s Sopot CCI4*-L could be the harbinger of good form to come. Both horse and rider are still young and gaining valuable experience at this level – they will start clocking up clears at five-star, and this course should be just forgiving enough to allow their streak to begin this week.

FRANCE

Marie-Caroline Barbier and Picasso d’Oreal

Sixteen-year-old Selle Français gelding (Fadgio du Hil x Galice). Owned by the rider.

Marie and Picasso were fifth in Bramham’s beefy Under-25 CCI4*-L last year, though their best result at the level came in the same class the year prior, when they finished fourth. They made their move-up to five-star at Pau last year, and although it was a bumper year for French debutantes, they didn’t enjoy quite the same fairytale ending that many of their compatriots did – instead, Marie opted to retire after picking up a 20 on course.

This will be their first international run since Pau, interestingly, although Marie, who rides with the Cadre Noir at the National School of Equitation in Saumur, will have been working hard behind the scenes to turn their experience last season into a useful lesson. Expect, on recent form, a first-phase score between 31 and 33 and, if they go clear, a reasonably quick round – their style is typical French and forward-thinking. That clear will be the main goal, and is possibly more likely than a clear on Sunday, when they’ll almost certainly tip a rail.

Clara Loiseau and Ultramaille

Eleven-year-old Selle Français mare (Maille Pistol x La Lorelai). Owned by Isabelle Peters.

Clara made her five-star debut at Pau last year aboard the exciting Thoroughbred Wont Wait, and in doing so, strode straight into the international spotlight. They added just a solitary rail to their 31.7 dressage, finishing third and demonstrating the serious strength in depth that the French federation boasts.

Their Badminton didn’t go quite as spectacularly, although they were impressive across the country – unfortunately, a poor first-phase score precluded a higher placing. But this is a different horse, and that Badminton experience will have been enormously educational for Clara, who is now inarguably an established five-star rider. This gives her the tools in the box to give Ultramaille the debut run she needs.

Ultramaille produced a very good 30.9 in the CCI4*-L at Boekelo last season, but her scores tend to sit more in the mid-to-high 30s bracket. The jumping phases are still a reasonably green work in progress, too – although they’ve jumped clear around some tough four-star tracks, they’ve also picked up their share of 20s and horse and rider falls, too. On the final day, they’ll likely tip a couple of rails. The goal here won’t be to polish their performances, though – it’ll be to add some more building blocks onto the young horse’s education.

GERMANY

Andreas Dibowski and FRH Butts Avedon at Burghley. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Andreas Dibowski and FRH Butts Avedon

Sixteen-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Heraldik XX x Karina-Andora). Owned by Dr Manfred Giensch and Anne-Katrin Butt.

Dibo and his stalwart Hanoverian have a serious amount of experience, though their five-star form of late has left a bit of a question mark hanging over their prospects. They last completed a competition of this level in 2016 – that was Badminton, at which they finished fifteenth. Since then, they’ve gone to Luhmühlen, where problems in the showjumping phase forced them to retire, and to Burghley last year, where Dibo took a surprise tumble at an innocuous, early fence. They promptly rerouted to Pau, where they retired on course after picking up a 20. All that said, though, this pair are one of the most experienced in the field, with a heaping helping of top-fifteen finishes at five-star, as well as a second-place at Pau (2014) and third place here (2012).

Though registered Hanoverian, Avedon’s breeding boasts a serious blood percentage — he’s sired by Heraldik, who also sired La Biosthetique Sam FBW and Happy Times, among others. This makes him fast and gritty across the country, and ordinarily, he comes into his own over five-star tracks. They’ve had three CCI4*-S runs in preparation this season: they were fourth at both Strzegom and Baborowko, but retired at Marbach. EquiRatings’ Prediction Centre has this duo down as one of the most likely threats for a top placing, but we’re gathering splinters atop the fence. Expect them to either finish in the top ten, or not to complete. Dibo doesn’t tend to waste the horse’s legs after an issue.

A totally irrelevant fun fact: Dibo likes to unwind by indulging in a favorite hobby — he breeds exotic birds. As you do.

Andreas Ostholt and Corvette 31. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Andreas Ostholt and Corvette 31

Eleven-year-old Westphalian mare (Chacco-Blue x Love Me Picture XX). Owned by Rudolf Westmeyer.

Corvette made her five-star debut at Pau last year, and although she picked up a green 20, we’re not holding it against her – she looked an impressive sort for the future, once she has a bit more mileage under her belt. She’s an exciting prospect on paper, for sure — she had her first international win last year in Sopot’s CCI4*-L, and she’s finished in the top ten in 14 of her international runs. Her dressage hovers around the 30 mark, but she delivered a gorgeous 25 at Pau, an appealing hint that she may be one of those clever, theatrical mares who comes into her own in an atmosphere. If she can match that, and then grow from her learning experience at her debut, she’ll be in a competitive position – then, she’s got a roughly 50/50 chance of showjumping clear. This is certainly one to watch for the #MareSquad members among us.

GREAT BRITAIN

Charlotte Bacon and Last Touch

Fourteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Out of Touch x Last Orders). Owned by Lucinda Froggatt. 

Former Pony squad member Charlotte is one of the youngest competitors here, at just 21-years-old. She’s based at home in Oxfordshire, but she’s well-travelled in her quest to learn and improve – she even spent some time working for Dirk Schrade in Germany.

This will be a five-star debut for both horse and rider, and they come into it off the back of some promising form this spring. They were sixteenth in a CCI4*-S at Chatsworth last month, although they ran slowly, and they were eighth in Bramham’s CCIU254*-L last year. They haven’t had a cross-country jumping penalty in an international since 2016, so despite their mid-30s dressage scores, they tend to be able to climb.

Alex Bragg and Zagreb show off what they’re made of at Tattersalls. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Alex Bragg and Zagreb

Fifteen-year-old KWPN gelding (Perion x Renera). Owned by Phillip and Sally Ellicott. 

There are some horses who just set you to dreaming — somehow, they manage to open the floodgates and make their staggering trajectories a communal effort, something owned and coveted as much by the fans as they are by the rider and the team surrounding these brilliant animals. Tall, dark, and impossibly hunky Zagreb is one of those horses. When he made his Badminton debut in 2017 with the enormously likeable family man Alex in the irons, he stopped being “that nice-looking bay in the collecting ring” and immediately became something to take very seriously indeed, despite – or perhaps, even because of – the fact that he didn’t complete. Though the pair were sitting in fifth place after cross-country, Alex opted to withdraw his top horse before showjumping, spotting that he wasn’t feeling 100% himself and that there would be bigger things to come for the Dutch-bred gelding, known at home as Rhett. Yes, like that Rhett. Ugh, delish, right?!

BUT WE DO, RHETT. WEEEE DOOOOO.

Since then, Alex and Rhett have enjoyed top ten finishes at Aachen, Gatcombe, and Blenheim, as well as Pau five-star in 2017, a win in 2018’s Jardy ERM and third at Blenheim CCI4-L, and another clear around Badminton, though 40 time penalties and a knocked pin proved expensive. They took a tumble at Burghley but recovered well to perform beautifully at Blenheim, and Alex, who excelled in mounted games as a child and then started a successful farriery business, is a firm crowd favourite. They started at Badminton this year, but after a below-average dressage score of 31.7, Alex opted not to run, but a hop over to Tattersalls proved fruitful, and they made the CCI4*-S look like a Pony Club competition, finishing third. A six-run average of 30 (and a five-star dressage average of 30.5) should put them in contention in their first trip to Luhmühlen. On the final day, they’re pretty reliable – in two of their three five-star completions, they’ve jumped clear.

Sarah Bullimore and Conpierre

Twelve-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Con Air x Pia). Owned by Brett Bullimore and Christopher and Susan Gillespie. 

Experienced British competitor Sarah brings two horses to Luhmühlen this year, and in terms of experience, they couldn’t be more different. The first of those is Conpierre who, despite his age, hasn’t been run excessively – he’s had sixteen international starts since his debut in 2013. This is partly due to taking some time off: he was off games for much of 2015 and all of 2016, before coming back for busy 2017 and 2018 seasons. There have been some promising results along the way – he was 10th at Houghton CCI4*-S in 2015 on his level debut, and 10th again in Boekelo’s CCI4*-L in 2017. We haven’t seen him in an international yet this year, and although he was clear across the country in all his internationals last year, he’ll likely be piloted with his longer-term production in mind, rather than aimed for a competitive result.

Sarah Bullimore pilots Reve du Rouet through the last water at Pau. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Sarah Bullimore and Reve du Rouet

15-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Balou du Rouet x Onassis Queen). Owned by Brett Bullimore and Christopher and Susan Gillespie.

The consummate heartbreaker, Reve du Rouet is the sort of guy you’d match with on Tinder knowing, even through the brain fog of that third glass of Savvy B, that for better or for worse, this one would change your life. For a while, you’d imagine he’s changing it for the better – he’d show up unannounced with your favourite takeaway, looking sickeningly handsome with his crooked grin and slightly-too-long hair. He’d make you feel like he really got you, and he’d know lines of Pablo Neruda poems by heart, which is either lovely or incredibly cringe-worthy, depending on the sort of person you are. Then, you’d be sure he’s changed your life for the worse when, fuelled by his commitmentphobia and one too many whiskeys, he’d call you a very rude name in a bar and end up snogging some girl you’re pretty sure you sat behind in high school Trigonometry. Eventually, he’d grow up and get over himself and settle down with you, but he’d never quite lose the air of sheepishness for having been such a committed knobhead once upon a time. But you’d love him nonetheless.

That’s Reve du Rouet all over – gorgeous, crazy talented, and sometimes, well, just plain crazy, he’s spent years putting us all on the edge of our seats wondering which side of the Jekyll and Hyde coin we’d be given today. His flightiness is down to a genuine fear of crowds, which has seen his tension boil over dramatically in the past but – dare we say it? – seems to be under control these days. This is largely due to some seriously tactical riding – Sarah sneaks most of his schooling into her hacking and fast work, so he never realises the pressure that’s being put on. As a result, he finished his 2018 season with a first-phase PB at Burghley, posting a 27.3. That beat their previous PB of 28.5, delivered the previous season at Pau, and on both occasions, he backed up his impressive starts: he finished second at Pau by just a tenth of a point and was fourth at Burghley. Sarah, who has compared her partnership with ‘Blou’ to that of a battered wife, will be hoping to go one better than that Pau result from 2017, and she certainly could do – she’ll just need to put a disappointing Badminton behind her.

Sam Ecroyd and Wodan III

Sixteen-year-old British-bred Sport Horse (Mr Concorde BJ x Tica). Owned by the rider.

Young Brit Sam heads to Germany propelled by the news that he’s just made it into the top 40 of the FEI World Rankings for the first time. That, and the fact that he hasn’t finished outside of the top fifteen in his last seven internationals with Wodan, who is on flying form after sitting the 2017 season out.

Their most recent result is second place in a CCI4*-S section at Chatsworth, where they jumped two quick, clean rounds to finish on a low-40s score. Their mid-30s mark there won’t be good enough to be at the top after the first phase here, but they can score in the 20s, and have done at lower international levels. But there’s plenty of time for Sam to organise some world-beating dressage performances – this week, it’s all about completing a five-star, which he hasn’t yet added to his resume. With Wodan on his side, he should be well-equipped to do just that.

Flora Harris and Bayano. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Flora Harris and Bayano

Thirteen-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Contendro II x Ramontane). Owned by Rebecca Salt and Caroline Harris.

Flora’s Dutch-bred superstar tackles his fourth five-star this week — he was clear at Luhmühlen in 2017 for 21st place and picked up a twenty at Badminton last spring. Then, he headed to Pau, but it wasn’t a successful week – he and Flora were eliminated after she took a tumble on course. Otherwise, he’s been in the top ten in five of his last eight internationals, just missing out on a win in Belton’s Grantham Cup CCI4*-S this spring because of a hugely contentious flag penalty. The high point of his career came in 2015, when he won Bramham’s CCI4*-L.

Barney is small, compact, catlike, and seriously, seriously gorgeous, with a beautiful jump. He’s had five years of experience at four-star now, and the time has come for another great result. He delivered a 26.8 at Badminton, though he tends more towards the high 20s, and the Luhmühlen course should suit his nippy athleticism. He was slow at Badminton — understandably, with a problem — and added 12.4 at Luhmühlen in 2017, so his speed on Saturday will decide whether he climbs the leaderboard, but then he should go clear on Sunday, while we lose all common sense and gaze at him with hearts in our eyes.

George Hilton-Jones and Efraim

Ten-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Ultime Espoir x Veroniek).Owned by Isabelle Hilton-Jones.

Buckinghamshire-based George runs a compact but busy yard, from which he produces, competes, and breeds his eventers. He also set up an innovative event horse selling scheme, which mimicked all the best bits of an auction – horses in one place, vets on site, and the chance to see horses perform – without the actual auction. Sometimes, he wears kilts. All in all, he’s a pretty well-rounded chap.

George has produced ten-year-old Efraim through the levels, beginning with his debut in 2015. Now, he’s done 17 internationals, and up until his last run, the only cross-country jumping fault he’d picked up had been 11 penalties for a knocked frangible pin at the beginning of last season. Unfortunately, that last run is a real black spot on his record: he picked up 40 penalties and was ultimately retired on course at Chatsworth. We’ll forgive him on the basis of the clear rounds he notched up in CCI4*-S classes at Belton and Burnham Market, though. Now, it’s time for both horse and rider to put their heads down and tackle their debut five-star with aplomb.

Andrew James and Cool Chica

Fourteen-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Chicago Z  x Lady B). Owned by the rider.

The most remarkable thing about Cool Chica is that he is, in fact, a gelding. (‘Chico’ is also for sale, as per Andrew’s website, so if you’ve got some pocket money to spare, keep an eye on this one this week.) It’ll be interesting to watch him at his second five-star this week; though he’s plenty talented, his career has been a bit of a rollercoaster. He went to Burghley last year, but failed to complete after Andrew fell at the Trout Hatchery, and then rerouted to Blenheim, where he produced a clear – albeit slow – round across the CCI4*-L track. He’s been clear in both his international runs since then, so it certainly looks like he learned something after a reasonably disastrous 2016 season, in which he seldom completed an event. Andrew has wisely chosen a kinder five-star track for the horse’s second attempt at the level, and will be hoping for a steady completion.

Andrew James and Hold Me Down

Fourteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse (Touchdown x Cavaliers Colleen). Owned by Stephen and Becky Graves.

Initially competed by his owner, the lasciviously-named Hold Me Down joined Andrew’s string in late 2014, guaranteeing Andrew a spot in the Jilly Cooper-style eventing bonkbusters of the future. Sorry, Andrew, but it’s probably true. We’ll be willing to write you out – for a lump sum.

Anyway, Hold Me Down’s record is a bit here and there, like his stablemate’s, although he’s recorded some good clear rounds at four-star, including an eleventh-place finish at Ballindenisk CCI4*-L earlier this spring. He’s an upper-30s horse, and hasn’t learned to go for the time yet, but he’s a good jumping horse and should have a nice, educational run around his first five-star.

Tom McEwen and Figaro van het Broekxhof take the win at Belton. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Tom McEwen and Figaro van het Broekxhof

Fourteen-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding (Tauber van het Kapelhof x Damira Van’t Heidenhof). Owned by Barbara Cooper.

Like many Belgian men, Figaro van het Broekxhof is very tall and very good-looking, and cloaked in a very appealing aura of mystery. That is to say, nobody really knew a bloody thing about him until this season, when Tom put his foot on the accelerator and showed us all just how exceptionally good this horse is. A surprise win in Belton’s Grantham Cup CCI4*-S saw him best a colossal field full of some of the best horses in the world, and since then, he’s been well-nigh unstoppable, and hasn’t been out of the top five in his last four internationals.

This will be his second five-star start: he went to Badminton in 2016 with former rider Jodie Amos, but was eliminated on cross-country. Speaking of former riders, he’s had a fair few – in his international career, he’s been ridden by Anthony Clark, Sarah Olivier, Sarah Bullimore, Jodie Amos, and now Tom. While he might be a bit of a late bloomer, he’s certainly making up for lost time now. Expect a dressage score around 30 – he can get into the 20s on his day – and, on recent form, a quick clear on Saturday. In his recent CCI4*-S he’s on even keel between clear showjumping rounds and four-faulters – but his last long saw him drop a rail, so that could prove influential.

Sharon Polding and Findonfirecracker

Twelve-year-old British-bred Sport Horse mare (Zenturio x Lightfield High Rocks). Owned by the rider.

Sharon saw one of her dreams come true in 2017 when she and her top horse Findonfirecracker were selected for the CCI3*-S Europeans in Belgium. For working mum Sharon, who is a global accounts manager at a telecommunications company, it was a huge moment. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite go to plan — they were eliminated across the country when she took a tumble.

Undeterred, they headed to Blenheim CCI4*-L, going clear for 27th place, and they’ve been clear at every international since, including a great performance and 24th place in their five-star debut at Pau. Dizzy doesn’t love the first phase, and will probably score around the mid-to-high 30s. But she’ll come into her own on Saturday, and we’d love to see another characteristic clear round for this pair. They’ll have a healthy smattering of time penalties, though perhaps fewer than at Pau, but then they should go clear on Sunday.

Patricia Pytches and CES Ballycar Chip. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Patricia Pytches and CES Ballycar Chip

Thirteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Chippison x Killernan Henrietta). Owned by 

Keen hunting follower Tricia and her thirteen-year-old gelding made their five-star debut at Pau last year, jumping a slow clear to finish 27th. But it wasn’t a five-star debut for Tricia, really – she’d jumped around Burghley way back in 1981. Her pure joy upon completion at Pau was totally infectious, and her journey back to the top inspirational.

Tricia has produced CES Ballycar Chip herself after buying him from Vere Phillips as a youngster, and he’s her only horse — together, they’ve tackled a plethora of events, as well as some of the country’s most formidable hedges when following hounds.

They’ll likely score in the high 30s, and they won’t be quick across the country, but they’ll enjoy this new challenge and tackle it with aplomb.

Jo Rimmer and Isaac Newton

Twelve-year-old British-bred Sport Horse (Grannex x Hope IV). Owned by Anna Slight and the rider.

Both horse and rider made their step up to five-star at Pau last year, finishing 32nd after picking up the only cross-country jumping penalties of the horse’s international career.  Otherwise, they’ve gone clear in twelve runs, and that 20 will likely have taught them a thing or two as well.

Their high-30s dressage won’t challenge the leaders, but they’ll be aiming to add to their impressive record on Saturday, though they’ll add some time across the country. They’ll probably take two rails with them on Sunday, but an early five-star is all about gaining experience and confidence, and a couple of rails won’t diminish their joy at finishing the competition.

Eliza Stoddart and Dick O’Malley soar up the leaderboard to finish sixth at Belton. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Eliza Stoddart and Dick O’Malley

Twelve-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Flintstone x Vision Express). Owned by the Flint Syndicate.

Eliza was the winner of the ‘whodat?’ prize at Belton this year, when she and Dick O’Malley finished sixth in the Grantham Cup. But those who know, certainly know: Eliza is a seriously talented jockey who has been quietly working her proverbial off to carve out her niche at the upper levels. She proved that Belton wasn’t a fluke, heading off to Ballindenisk and finishing sixth in the CCI4*-L there.

Eliza cut her teeth in the industry working for some of the greats, including Oliver Townend and Pippa Funnell, so it’s no surprise she knows her way around a cross-country course. It’s all a great foundation for her five-star debut aboard the horse who was originally meant to be a resale project. But Eliza loved the talented chestnut, and quickly formed a syndicate with the help of some of her closest friends. She’ll certainly have a committed group of fans this week, and rightly so. Their mid-30s dressage won’t have them at the top of the leaderboard early on, but if all goes to plan, watch them climb.

Georgie Spence and Cooley Earl celebrate a clear round at Barbury. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Georgie Strang and Cooley Earl

Twelve-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Ramiro B x Regular Eaton). Owned by Lance and Diana Morrish. 

Georgie has been clocking up some jolly good five-star experience over the past few years, and Cooley Earl has been learning the ropes at the level too, making his debut at Pau in 2017. They finished 20th there over an incredibly tough course, and then completed Badminton the following year, albeit with some problems on Saturday. They’ve had a bit of a tricky spring season, with issues on course at both Belton and Houghton, and Georgie will likely have cherry-picked Luhmühlen as a suitable course to help the horse find his feet again. The big bay made easy work of the indoor eventing at Geneva over the winter, so his footwork is certainly fast enough. Still, it’s prudent to expect that education will be the goal here.

Zara Tindall and Watkins. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Zara Tindall and Watkins

Thirteen-year-old New Zealand Sport Horse gelding (Viking Ruler x Vargas Diamond). Owned by Judith Luff.

Eventing’s very own princess (sort of – the rules royal ascendency escape us, because we are mere peasants) is back, and she’s riding exceptionally well at the moment. She rode Class Affair to ninth place at Bramham last week and showed us plenty of the old magic across the country. We’re excited to see her back at this level for the first time since Burghley in 2017.

Watkins is another horse who’s been passed around a fair bit – Zara has had the ride again since the beginning of this year, and rode him for the 2015 and 2016 seasons, but Tom McEwen competed him throughout 2018. Before 2015, he did the rounds in New Zealand, piloted by Heelan Tompkins, Sarah Young, and Blyth Tait. He’s becoming a very good cross-country horse, but his first-phase performance lets him down – he’s a high-30s scorer most days. He’s also likely to have a rail or two on the final day.

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

Becky Woolven and DHI Babette K

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

We’re used to seeing Becky at five-stars with the gorgeous Charlton Down Riverdance, but this week, we see her introduce Babette to the top level. Formerly ridden by Laura Ritchie-Bland, Babette joined Becky’s string in 2017, and has been learning the ropes at four-star ever since. This spring, we’ve seen her come into her own – her dressage scores have dropped to the low thirties, and she’s reliably producing some reasonably speedy clear rounds. She’s prone to a pole or two, but despite that, she’s been in the top fifteen in CCI4*-S sections at Burnham Market and Chatsworth. It’s a big leap from last year, when she was still finding her feet and picking up the odd 20, and she’s beginning to look like a very exciting prospect. She’s still relatively inexperienced, so adjust your expectations accordingly, but it’ll be fun to watch what she makes of Luhmühlen.

IRELAND

Tony Kennedy and Westeria Lane begin their 2019 redemption song. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Tony Kennedy and Westeria Lane

Fourteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Rantis Diamond x Salem Spirit). Owned by Con Kennedy. 

It’ll be a second five-star for 25-year-old Tony and Sam, the one-eyed gelding he bought for a pittance as a three-year-old. Sam is a very interesting horse, and one that you can’t help but root for – he’s not at all the typical stamp of a top-level eventer, but he’s endlessly gutsy and clever, and he jumps so astutely, and so straight, that if you couldn’t see it, you’d never guess he’s missing his left eye.

But this is the segue of nature and nurture; Sam has all the good stuff that can’t be taught – heart, honesty, and a sense of humour – while Tony has put in the hours required to build trust and make his job a little bit easier. It’s paid off, and despite an unconventional early start – “I was fifteen, and so producing a youngster to me meant galloping over 1.40 fences” – they’ve truly grown up together, contesting the Young Rider European Championships and a debut five-star at Pau in 2017, where they finished best of the Irish and in the top twenty after jumping clear around the toughest Michelet track we’ve ever seen. A Badminton debut should have followed, but Tony shattered his collarbone at Chatsworth in 2018, laying him up for much of the season, while fellow countryman Brian Morrison took the reins and piloted Sam to a win in the national championships. Now, the original duo are back together and feeling quietly confident ahead of their second effort at the level.

Don’t expect miracles in the first phase – these two are climbers, and will find themselves out of the hunt during the week, after putting a high-30s score on the board. It’s on Saturday that they’ll really shine, and they’ll be hoping for a tough track that allows them to eclipse the dressage leaders. On Sunday, it’s as much a game of chance as anything else – historically, they’ve pulled a handful of rails, but their showjumping is steadily improving, and we saw Sam sail around Houghton’s showjumping track clear, so easily he could have done it with his remaining eye closed.

Sam Watson and every girl’s dream pony, Tullabeg Flamenco. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Sam Watson and Tullabeg Flamenco

Ten-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Tullabeg Fusion x Tullabeg Heidi). Owned by David Bogossian.

EquiRatings’ big boss will be a busy man this week – alongside his five-star ride, he also has his Ballindenisk winner Imperial Sky in the CCI4*-S, and he probably has some numbers to wrestle into submission, or something.

We’re big fans of the gorgeous Tullabeg Flamenco, and not just because he looks like a chunk of gold dipped in caramel, although that certainly helps. He was top ten in all his international runs in 2018, and fourth in the CCI4*-S at Tatts, giving him a great foundation for his first trip around a five-star. He’s piloted by an experienced jockey, too – in case you didn’t know, Sam was part of the silver medal-winning team at the WEG last year.

Expect a mid-30s dressage score – Tullabeg Flamenco’s scores fluctuate between the lower and upper 30s, but he did a very good test for 31 in trying conditions at Chatsworth. He’s a consistent cross-country performer, and ordinarily quick, and he’s clear more often than not over the poles, too. He’s not an obvious winner in this field, but he could quietly produce a very impressive result this week.

ITALY

Simone Sordi and Amacuzzi (ITA). Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Simone Sordi and Amacuzzi

Sixteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Marcuzzi x Amara). Owned by Maria Giovanna Mazzocchi Bordone.

This will be a debut five-star for both horse and rider, who represented Italy at last year’s WEG, but were unfortunately eliminated across the country. Simone has had a full and interesting career so far – alongside eventing, he trains racehorses. He’s also come back from a horrific fall, which put him in a coma and from which it was thought he might never recover. But recover he did, and here he is with his top horse, ready to tackle the highest level of all.

The former Mark Todd ride is very good in the first phase, scoring in the 20s more and more frequently. He can be both quick and clear, but can also pick up the odd 20 penalties. He’s also quite likely to pull a couple of rails on Sunday.

JAPAN

Yoshiaki Oiwa and Calle 44 (JPN). Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Yoshiaki Oiwa and Calle 44

Twelve-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Cristo x Sara IV). Owned by the rider.

When Yoshi and Calle 44 won Bramham in 2017, they made history – it wasn’t just the first time a Japanese rider had won the prestigious four-star, it was also the first time a Japanese rider had won any competition at the level outside of their home country.

Based with Dirk Schrade in Germany, Yoshi can claim a string of very impressive results: he was 20th at the Rio Olympics with The Duke of Cavan, 11th at his first Badminton back in 2005 with Voyou Dy Roc, and with Calle 44, he’s won Strzegom CCI4*-S twice and placed in plenty of international showjumping classes. The pair have been in the top ten in their last four internationals, consistently laying down mid-to-high 20s scores in the first phase and jumping fast clears across the country. Their showjumping is pretty consistent, too. Keep an eye on them.

Kenki Sato and Shanaclough Contadora

Nine-year-old Irish Sport Horse mare (Contador x Shanaclough Diamond Queen). Owned by Shodo Sato.

If you’re a keen follower of #JapanWatch (and if not, you probably ought to be), you’ll be as excited as we are to see Kenki Sato back on the main stage. Kenki competed at the London 2012 Olympics, taking a short leave of absence from his normal life to take part. That normal life? Training to be a Buddhist priest at the Myōshō-ji temple in the mountain village of Ogawa. His father, Shodo, is the master of the temple, and was an accomplished equestrian himself, just missing out on an Olympic appearance because of the boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

Shanaclough Contadora only moved up to four-star last season, but she’s been excellent at the level – we haven’t seen her finish outside the top twenty since mid-2018. That’s seven runs, for what it’s worth, in which she’s consistently scored in the mid-to-high 30s but then laid down super-fast clear rounds in both jumping phases. She’s very young, and this is a debut five-star for the mare, who was produced by Ireland’s Brian Morrison, but she’s definitely looking like the next superstar for Team Japan.

Kazuma Tomoto and Brookpark Vikenti take steps towards Tokyo. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Kazuma Tomato and Brookpark Vikenti

Eleven-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Master Imp x Tullineaskey Butler’s Simon). Owned by the Japan Racing Association.

King Kazu is on a roll. Kazuma, who has been based with William Fox-Pitt since mid-2017, is aiming to qualify all four of his enviable string of top horses for Tokyo, and although new ride Vinci de la Vigne might be the biggest talking point of the four, it’s his Chatsworth CCI4*-S winner we’ll see here this week. Brookpark Vikenti very, very nearly won the Blenheim eight-and-nine-year-old CCI4*-S in 2017, losing out by a tenth of a penalty, and so it was fantastic to see him take the win he so deserved, particularly as he’s getting better and more reliable in each phase. Kazu, too, just keeps getting better and better – lest we forget, he only picked up eventing less than four years ago, on the prompting of his national federation.

This is Kazu’s second five-star – he went to Badminton earlier this year with WEG mount Tacoma d’Horset, and it could be his time to shine on the big stage this week. It’s never a good idea to underestimate him, and it’s always great fun to cheer him on – he’s quite possibly the nicest man in eventing.

NEW ZEALAND

Tim Price and Ascona M. Photo by Libby Law.

Tim Price and Ascona M

Eleven-year-old Holsteiner mare (Cassaro Z x Naomi IV). Owned by Suzanne Houchin, Sir Peter Vela, and Ben and Lucy Sangster.

The patriarchal side of eventing’s First Family takes to the five-star stage once again, this time aiming to take the Luhmühlen title from wife Jonelle, who won last year on Faerie Dianimo. Interestingly, his ride this year used to be one of hers, too, but ultra-talented Ava is also ultra-opinionated, and Jonelle opted to let Tim take the reins while she was busy brewing up baby Otis. Some serious negotiation obviously ensued because Jonelle, who had been very firm about the fact that her horses would all go back to her, relented and let Tim keep the ride on this talented up-and-comer, known at home as Ava.

Together, they’ve clocked up some pretty exciting results – they were third in 2017’s Nations Cup at Tattersalls, which was only the horse’s second four-star, and they won on her CCI4*-L debut at Haras du Pin later that season. They wrapped their season with second place at Blenheim’s ERM leg and then, last year, Ava made her five-star debut, laying down one of the best tests of the week but suffering an uncharacteristic tumble on course when she took rather too enthusiastic a leap into the water. Since then, she’s been back on great form, winning the CCI4*-S at Tattersalls as her final prep run.

Ava is a solid mid-20s scorer, and her performances are getting strikingly consistent. She’s an excellent jumper and a consummate trier, and although she’s still relatively inexperienced, you’d be bonkers to look past her.

USA

Allie Knowles and Sound Prospect at Kentucky in 2018. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Allie Knowles and Sound Prospect

Seventeen-year-old Thoroughbred gelding (Eastern Echo XX x Miners Girl XX). Owned by Sound Prospect LLC.

If you love cheering on tough, ballsy riders and equally gritty Thoroughbreds, look no further than Allie and Sound Prospect. Allie suffered a horrific rotational fall at the beginning of 2017, shattering her collarbone and her pelvis and shelving her dreams of Kentucky glory. But she clawed her way back, and by the end of the season, she and Sound Prospect motored around the toughest Pau track in memory to finish just outside the top twenty. They had been sixteenth at Kentucky the year prior, but the following year, they weren’t quite so lucky, and clocked up an elimination – and since then, they’ve had a few more, but they were second at Jersey Fresh in the CCI4*-S in their last prep run, and they’ve more than proven that they’re capable of getting the job done at the top level.

They’ll put a mid-to-high 30s score on the board, followed by what should be a slowish clear across the country. Then, they should showjump clear – they haven’t pulled a rail in an international since the beginning of last season.

Frankie Thieriot Stutes and Chatwin. Photo by Shelby Allen.

Frankie Thieriot Stutes and Chatwin

Eleven-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Contendro I x Oktav). Owned by The Chatwin Group.

Don’t let an elimination in the CCI4*-S at Galway Downs put you off – Chatwin and Frankie have a remarkable record. In eighteen internationals, they’ve picked up eight wins and fourteen top-ten finishes – in the other four, they were fifteenth once, withdrew twice, and then had that unfortunate elimination. In 2018, they were the only horse and ride pair to win two CCI4*-L competitions. In doing so, they also took the USEF Eventing National Championship – not too shabby when you consider that Frankie is an amateur rider, and balances her competitive schedule with a full-time job running her own company, Athletux, and also looking after her two young sons, Drake and Kingsley.

Frankie and Chatwin, who loves croissants, should lay down a high 20s dressage score to put some pressure on the leaders, and although this is their first five-star, they’ve been quick and clear throughout their career. On the final day, they’ve got a 50/50 chance of jumping clear – but it shouldn’t stop them from making a brilliant impression.

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Luhmühlen: All Horses Pass First Horse Inspection, Avoid Biblical Thunderstorm

Tim Price and Ascona M. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

A compact but competitive field of 35 trotted up in front of the assembled ground jury of Christina Klingspor (SWE), Anne-Marie Taylor (GBR), and Martin Plewa (GER), presided over by the faint smell of beer and sausages and the imminent threat of a truly epic storm. It rolled and grumbled its way over the trot-up but, thankfully, never quite came to fruition – instead, everyone involved just got a bit soggy while their horses gaped and shied alongside them.

Andrew James and Hold Me Down. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Two horses were sent to the holding box early on – Andrew James‘ second ride, Hold Me Down (let me buy you a drink first, at least) was sent outright, while Tim Price‘s Ascona M was asked to trot a second time and ultimately held. Both were accepted upon re-presentation.

Frankie Thierot Stutes and Chatwin make their five-star debut. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

We’ve got two American riders holding down the fort here this weekend – Allie Knowles and Sound Prospect made light work of a devilishly tough Pau track on their last trip abroad in 2017, while Frankie Thierot Stutes and Chatwin are five-star debutantes, but with a wealth of experience and some enviable wins behind them. We’ll be bringing you the form guide later on today, so you can get to know the full field.

Allie Knowles and Sound Prospect. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The five-star competition begins in earnest tomorrow afternoon, with dressage commencing at 2.10 p.m. German time/1.10 p.m. BST/8.10 a.m. EST. We’ll also be keeping an eye on the CCI4*-S Meßmer Trophy, which also acts as the German championships. The Meßmer Trophy kicks off tomorrow at 9.00 a.m. German time/8.00 a.m. BST/3.00 a.m. EST.

The entirety of the five-star will be live-streamed through Horse&Country TV – you’ll need to subscribe to access the feed, though it’s inexpensive. You can find information on how to access the live-stream depending on which country you’re in here. Stock up on pretzels, chums. It’s going to get very German.

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Bramham: The Red Queen and the Comeback King Take CCI4*-L Wins

Kitty King and Vendredi Biats take the win in the CCI4*-L. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

If you disregard a minor blip back in 2014, Kitty King has enjoyed a rather remarkable relationship with Bramham. She first came here in 2003, finishing second in this class with Five Boys, and second again in 2015, this time with Persimmon. In 2016, she contested the CCI4*-S, which served as the final Olympic trial, and came fourth, securing her ticket to Rio with Ceylor L A N. Last year, she brought the tricky, talented Vendredi Biats and finished fourth in the CCI4*-L. When you consider that Bramham is heralded as the toughest of four-star tracks, it’s not a shabby record at all – but the top spot had always eluded the British team stalwart.

She changed that today. A clear round inside the time yesterday – and a 20 for dressage leader Pippa Funnell – had moved her into the overnight lead, and although she didn’t expect to have a rail in hand, second-placed Gemma Tattersall and Jalapeno III gave her one as they jumped the penultimate round of the day. She wouldn’t need it – well, not all of it, anyway. Kitty and ‘Froggy’ jumped a classy clear round, but finished a single second over the optimum time – a second that would have cost them the win if Gemma had gone clear.

Kitty King and Vendredi Biats. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“I didn’t feel too nervous, because I know he’s a good jumper and he’s produced lots of clears,” says Kitty, who walked the course four times to solidify her plan of action.

“I really knew how I was going to ride each turn, and each approach, and it all came off – apart from at the treble, where I went a bit backward! That’s probably what cost us the time fault, which has really annoyed me,” she says with a laugh. “To win is lovely, but as a rider I’m always looking for something to do better, so that’ll irk me! I’m probably quite a self-critical person.”

Kitty King and Vendredi Biats on their lap of honour. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Perhaps, but maybe that tendency to improve and make marginal gains is what separates the good from the truly great. Also helpful, Kitty points out, is the mental conditioning provided by riding reliable jumpers.

“I’ve had some great last-day jumpers, and it does make you get confident if it’s never been a problem,” she says.

Vendredi Biats’ win marks a sterling return to form after a disappointing Badminton debut, which saw Kitty take a tumble on cross-country after producing a competitive test. But despite the horse’s historic penchant for naughtiness, the Badminton problem was due to greenness and naivety, she says. The ten-year-old’s performance this week suggests she’s probably right. But how will she celebrate his winning comeback?

“We go to pie night at the local pub every week,” she says. “So perhaps we’ll make it pie and prosecco night!”

Gemma Tattersall finishes with two in the top ten – here, she’s pictured aboard Jalapeno III. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Kitty led an all-British, all-female podium. In second place, Gemma Tattersall enjoyed her second podium finish of the week – she won the CCI4*-S aboard her Rio mount Quicklook V. Today, it was the turn of new ride Jalapeno III, previously piloted by Karin Donckers. Though the horse only joined Gemma’s string six months ago, they solidified their burgeoning partnership this week, giving Gemma a much-needed boost in what has been a tough 2019 season.

“Team Tattersall has finally found some form – thank god!” she laughs. “I was this close to booking a holiday and just leaving – every time I went on the yard, something else had gone wrong. I just wanted to run away for a month and escape it. It’s been really hard, and not necessarily because we haven’t been getting results, although I’m a very competitive person. Mostly, it’s been hard because I really love my horses, and it’s horrible when they get injured. Billy Shania’s injury at Belton really affected me, and then, of course, Pamero got hurt before Badminton. But I thought, ‘no, we’ve got to do Bramham’ – it’s one of my favourite events, and we’d been aiming Jalapeno and Chilli Knight at it all year long.”

The final podium: Gemma Tattersall, second, Kitty King, first, and Selina Milnes, third. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Both horses came good – beyond Jala’s second-place finish, Chilli Knight finished sixth, adding nothing to his dressage score of 34.1. Gemma is enormously fond of the gelding, despite the fact that he’s a slightly unconventional model of an event horse.

“He can’t put one foot in front of the other at home – he can’t even walk across the yard without having a nervous breakdown, but he’s just come sixth at Bramham! We laugh about him all the time at home, otherwise we’d cry,” she jokes. “But on cross-country, I can say anything to him, and he’ll just say ‘okay!’ He knows he needs to go between the flags, and he doesn’t know anything different – in fact, he’s never had a cross-country fault in his entire career, because he just doesn’t have the brainpower to stop!”

Gemma, who also showjumps extensively, praised Di Boddy’s course design.

“I did see it and think, ‘Jesus Christ!’ It was a serious track, and that wasn’t necessarily because it was that big – Di is just seriously clever. She’s clever with how she places the fences and the distances, and things like having a red and white plank fence in front of the red and white GAIN banner on the side of the arena.”

Selina Milnes and Iron IV. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Selina Milnes held onto overnight third, adding 1.2 time penalties but jumping clear aboard Iron IV.

“He’s my horse of a lifetime; he’s got everything you’d ever want,” she says of the ten-year-old Irish Sport Horse, who she sourced from Richard Sheane’s Cooley Farm and then sold to owner William Rucker. “He wanted something nice, and I said I already had it in the yard,” she recalls. “I’d like to think he’ll go to Badminton next year, without a doubt. I brought him here, rather than Tattersalls, because you end up seeing what you’ve got underneath you – he’d skip round a flat track no problem, but until you’ve tackled these hills, you don’t know. I wouldn’t have thought he’d be a Burghley horse, but now? We’ll see!”

Cathal Daniels Scoops CCIU254*-L for Ireland

The final podium in Bramham’s CCIU254*-L: Yasmin Ingham, second, Cathal Daniels, first, and Will Rawlin, third. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Though he’s only 22 years old, Ireland’s Cathal Daniels‘ competitive resume looks as though it could belong to a rider many years older. With that accumulated experience comes an unshakeable calm under pressure – but has anyone ever seen the WEG silver medalist cave to pressure?

“I’m sure I have, once or twice, I just won’t tell you about it,” he laughs. “But I didn’t feel it today, and I don’t think [Rioghan Rua] did either. She felt very confident in there – it’s a big atmosphere to go into, but she felt very sharp after yesterday and very fresh. But as four-star rounds go, it was a smooth one – there were one or two little moments that were a little bit breath-holding, but she jumped clean and careful, so I was happy.”

Cathal Daniels and Rioghan Rua make easy work of the final line. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

He should be: although the Irish-bred mare is consistently blazingly fast and clear across the country, her showjumping form is a little less reliable, and she’s prone to a rail. But Di Boddy’s course was typically influential, making use of clever lines and, as a result, Cathal would produce one of only two clear rounds in this class to take the win.

If you’re a fan of unconventional, fiercely talented little mares of the Classic Moet ilk, look no further than Rioghan Rua to get your fix. Though only twelve years old Red, like her owner, has amassed experience that belies her young age: beyond that team silver medal at last year’s World Equestrian Games, she’s also jumped clear around Pau, Badminton, and Luhmühlen, picking up seventh place at the latter. At six, she finished seventh – and contributed to team gold – in the Junior European Championships and was second in her seven-year-old year, once again taking a team gold, too. That autumn, she notched up at top twenty finish at the Seven-Year-Old World Championships at Le Lion d’Angers. The next year, the pair were sixth and took team bronze in the Young Rider Europeans before making their senior team debut on the gold medal-winning Irish Nations Cup team at Boekelo, and in 2016, they made their five-star debut, finishing twelfth. Red was just nine years old, and Cathal scarcely past his twentieth birthday.

It’s all rather impressive, especially when you consider that Cathal, who has produced the horse himself, only picked up the ride for owner and breeder Margaret Kinsella because it was widely thought that the horse wouldn’t make a top-level eventer. Instead, she planned to give the horse some valuable mileage with Cathal in the irons and sell her on as a junior horse.

“But then we started winning,” says Cathal, “and Margaret was enjoying the winning.”

The rest, as they say, is history, and Cathal runs Red as the ringleader of a growing string of talented horses from his Co. Kildare base. Already, he’s making his mark as one of Ireland’s busiest, and most successful, competitors. Last week, he took top honours in Tattersalls’ CCIU253*, and on the strength of his performances in various classes through the week, was also awarded the prize for being the leading Irish rider at the competition. But Red, he says, was always going to come to Bramham instead.

Cathal Daniels, Rioghan Rua – ‘Red Queen’ in Gaelic – and groom Katherine Charlton. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Cathal admits that he’s never been able to reliably put a stick to the diminutive mare – “you’d have to sedate her; she’s terrified of it” – but estimates that Red stands at roughly 15.1hh. Though inarguably talented, she isn’t the most straightforward ride, and occasionally, her tempestuousness has gotten the better of her. She scored a 56.4 in her Badminton debut in 2017, before levelling her scores out in the low 30s at later runs, and at her last run at Chatsworth, she boiled over for a 40.2. This week, though, she was back to her best, skipping her way to a 33.7 for eighth place after the first phase.

“She’s a complicated little horse, and opinionated, but it’s not luck of the draw, thank god – we have a system that’s all worked out,” Cathal explains. “Last year we had some very, very good dressage results, but Chatsworth this year was her first proper run since the WEG, so we changed it a little bit. We did a lot of different things, mostly to see if she’d matured from going to the big championships, and if she’d changed in herself – but obviously not. We went straight back to what we’d done before, and it worked perfectly. It’s just about having her relaxed and confident; she’s just highly strung, so she needs to feel safe to perform.”

Now, Cathal is looking ahead to this summer’s European Championships, and beyond that, a trip to Tokyo.

“She’s all qualified now, so we just have to keep her in bubble wrap,” he says with a smile. “She’d be a strong one to have over there, if it came good.”

Yasmin Ingham adds the under-25 title to her impressive roster with Sandman 7. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

An unlucky rail might have cost overnight leader Yasmin Ingham the win, but her second place finish with the former Pippa Funnell ride Sandman 7 was still enough to make her the under-25 national champion. This means she follows in Emily Llewellyn’s footsteps, becoming one of the only riders to ever win all four young rider titles: she’s been the under-16, under-18, and under-21 national champion previously.

“I’m ecstatic, delighted, just all the happy emotions,” beams Yasmin. “It’s been an incredible week, and just so unexpected, I suppose. It was always a dream to come here and do so well, but there’s a lot to do at Bramham! He jumped incredibly this morning, and I just rode a bit strong into the treble to have a rail – where the second and third parts were quite big oxers, I thought if I just got a bit more power he’d find the distance a bit easier, so it was definitely a rider error. But I couldn’t fault him around the course; he was so straight and so careful.”

Yasmin, who turned 22 last month, might be one of the country’s most exciting young riders, but she’s already begun to bridge the gap to the senior levels, too. Last year, she made her five-star debut riding Night Line, finishing sixteenth after an impressive clear cross-country round. In Sandman 7, the thirteen-year-old gelding she describes as “a princess – the queen of the yard!”, she rounds out a trio of top-level talent in her string and puts herself on enviably solid footing as she aims for a Nations Cup call-up this year.

“I’m so lucky to have some incredibly supportive owners, and to have the young horses coming up the levels, too,” she says. “The goal for the nearer future would be the Paris Olympics, and we’ll have three horses that should be peaking right around that time, which is really exciting. Rehy DJ, who was the under-21 national champion last year, will be aimed at this class next year; we’ve been producing him quite quietly, and hopefully sensibly on my behalf, for him to be a star in the future. It’s just incredible to think about the horses that I’m so lucky to be able to ride, and the events we might get to in the future.”

Will Rawlin and VIP Vinnie complete the podium. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Third place was taken by Will Rawlin, who also had an unfortunate rail aboard VIP Vinnie, but who records his best-ever result this weekend in what is just his second CCI4*-L. His week with the eleven-year-old gelding, who he’s produced from a four-year-old, has been something of a whirlwind: fourth after dressage, he found himself catapulted into the lead after yesterday’s gruelling cross-country phase. Then, after a drawn-out appeals process, an erroneous 20 penalties was removed from Yasmin Ingham’s score, and he was relegated to second.

“I’d seen Yaz’s round, and to be honest, I didn’t know why she’d been given the penalties in the first place,” he says. “In my opinion, she was still in the lead, but on the board I was – which was amazing. But either way, I don’t think I’d have done anything differently today. I was absolutely bricking it, of course, because I do suffer with nerves, but I tried to stay as relaxed as I could. That’s all I could have done, really.”

Will made his CCI4*-L debut last year at Blenheim with VIP Vinnie, but although he’d gotten a taste of main-stage atmosphere there, it was incomparable with the fishbowl he found himself plunged into today.

“To be in the top three at Bramham, with everyone watching to see what happens, is definitely the biggest atmosphere I’ve ever been in,” he says. “Showjumping is my weakest phase, and it’s something I’m constantly working at and trying to get better at, so I’ll go away and watch it back and take what I can from it. But I was so pleased with how he came out after yesterday, because it was a bloody tough track; it’s the furthest he’s been, distance-wise, and Ian Stark built a seriously good course. In the dressage, too, Vinnie really composed himself and did a really nice test – there were just a couple of rider things, but he’ll get a good result one day. He’ll have learnt so much from this, and I have, too. Now I know more about how to be more economical.”

Will, who’s producing a string of talented youngsters to follow Vinnie up the ranks, is looking ahead to another trip to Blenheim this autumn. In the meantime, though, he’ll focus on the up-and-comers while his top horse enjoys a holiday.

That’s all for us from an incredibly exciting week at Bramham. We’ll be taking the show back on the road in just three days’ time, when we head to Luhmühlen CCI5*. Onwards!

Bramham: Website, Entries and Ride Times, Cross-Country Live Stream, EN’s CoverageEN’s Instagram, EN’s Twitter

One Horse Spun in Bramham Final Horse Inspection

CCI4*-L leaders Kitty King and Vendredi Biats. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The sun finally made an appearance – mercifully – during this morning’s final horse inspection at the Equi-Trek Bramham International Horse Trials, illuminating a largely drama-free undertaking, despite the intensity of yesterday’s track.

Harry Meade and Tenareze survive a tense moment, and will proceed to the final phase. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Just one horse was held in the CCI4*-L: Harry Meade‘s Tenareze re-presented after a thorough examination, and was passed without hesitation on his second trip up the jog strip. The CCI4*-L showjumping starts at 1.00 p.m. BST/8.00 a.m. EST, with competitors going head-t0-head with a big, square Di Boddy track. Kitty King and Vendredi Biats sit in the top spot after yesterday’s action, but they’ve got nothing in hand: they sit just a tenth of a penalty ahead of second-placed Gemma Tattersall and Jalapeno.

Charlotte East and King Albert. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The under-25 class, already considerably thinned after an influential cross-country day yesterday, was further condensed after King Albert, presented by Charlotte East, was held and did not re-present. Charlotte and King Albert had produced one of only five clear rounds in this class yesterday, and were sitting in fifth place overnight.

CCIU254*-L leaders Yasmin Ingham and Sandman 7. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Overnight leaders Yasmin Ingham and Sandman 7, who stepping into the top spot after a lengthy appeal yesterday, sailed through the final horse inspection. They head into the final phase just 2.8 points – or seven seconds – ahead of second-placed Will Rawlin and VIP Vinnie. The CCIU254*-L showjumping kicks off at 11.00 a.m. BST/6.00 a.m. EST – stay tuned for the full report at the conclusion of the competition.

Bramham: Website, Entries and Ride Times, Cross-Country Live Stream, EN’s CoverageEN’s Instagram, EN’s Twitter

Bramham Cross-Country: A Trio of British Ladies Serve Up Kardashian-Level Drama

Gemma Tattersall Takes CCI4*-S Victory

“She’s so amazing,” enthused a beaming Gemma Tattersall, after skipping her way around the CCI4*-S track with Quicklook V, winning on her dressage score of 21.6. ‘Pebbles’, as she’s known at home, isn’t ordinarily fond of the sort of wet conditions that today offered up, but the incredibly well-maintained parkland absorbed the consistent rain, allowing for springy, productive footing.

“It’s the best ground we have in eventing – it can take the rain,” says Gemma. “You’d never have known that horses had been round it all day.”

Gemma Tattersall and Quicklook V. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It was a welcome return to the level for Pebbles, who hasn’t run cross-country internationally since the European Championships in 2017. There, she added just 3.6 time penalties across a fiendishly tricky Pierre Michelet track, despite an incredible detriment in the final stages.

“Two minutes from home, her larynx completely collapsed, [but we didn’t know until afterwards, because] that little horse just galloped on until the end,” explains Gemma. “Afterwards, my vet heard her breathe and said that she was one of the bravest horses he’s ever seen to keep going.”

Pebbles underwent a significant wind operation, and then was sidelined with a minor, unrelated injury. Now fourteen, she’s inarguably back with a bang: today marks the first competition of this level in which she’s finished inside the time.

“Her showjumping round was one of the best she’s ever jumped; she was just pinging around, and never even came close to touching one. She’s only about 15.3hh, but she has so much scope and stride – you can really open her up [on cross-country], but you can also make her really little.”

Gemma Tattersall and Quicklook V. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Pebbles’ return to form begs the obvious question: will we see the Olympian at the very top level again?

“We’ve never quite got to five-star with her, because we didn’t know if she’d have the stamina. She’s such an amazing jumper, too, that I’d never want to break her heart. We won’t rule it out, but we won’t promise it, either – she owes us nothing,” explains Gemma.

Laura Collett and Dacapo. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Second place went to Laura Collett and Dacapo, offering up a positive end to a rollercoaster day for the rider, who retired on cross-country in the CCI4*-L with London 52. Dacapo, for his part, jumped flawlessly around the short four-star, finishing on his impressive dressage score of 23.3, and sparking a revelation for his rider after a disappointing first CCI4*-L run last week at Tattersalls.

“He’s been a different horse all week – in every way, he’s been awake and on it. At Tatts, he felt like he couldn’t be bothered, and I think that’s because I didn’t have to keep after him – there was space for him to just gallop, and I think he went a bit braindead with it.”

For now, Laura plans to play to the talented gelding’s strengths, and will run him in CCI4*-S competitions and Event Rider Masters legs, although she hasn’t ruled out a trip to Boekelo for the CCI4*-L.

“It’s the only one I’d take him to at the moment,” she says. “It would suit him much better.”

Emily King and Brookleigh. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Third-placed Emily King also enjoyed a return to form with her horse, but in a slightly different way: Brookleigh makes his long-awaited return to competition this season after nearly three years out with an injury. The former Clayton Fredericks ride ran at Ballindenisk last year, winning the CCI3*-S, but has otherwise been totally off the radar since Badminton in 2016, where he fell at the penultimate fence while lying in second place. Prior to that, he and Emily made their five-star debut together at Pau in 2015, finishing fourth. Today, the seventeen-year-old Westphalian added just an extra second in the showjumping to his 23.6, cruising to an easy podium finish.

“He feels amazing – so happy and enthusiastic,” says Emily. “He’s been squealing and bucking around the place all week.”

A laid-back lifestyle has been key to Brookleigh’s return to form: “we keep the pressure off at home,” explains Emily. “He doesn’t do a lot of schooling, and he spends a lot of time in the field, which keeps him enthused. I’m over the moon to have him back – he’s taught me so much.”

Tamie Smith and Wembley III. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Both of our US riders produced classy performances today: Lexi Scovil and Chico’s Man VDF Z added just 4.4 time penalties to finish fourteenth, while Tamie Smith and Wembley III added the same to round out the top twenty. Now, both will be looking ahead to big end of season goals: Lexi hopes to contest the CCI4*-L at Blenheim, while Tamie will be focusing on a Burghley run.

Lexi Scovil and Chico’s Man VDF Z. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The King in the North: Vendredi Biats Leads CCI4*-L

61 starters took to Ian’s beefed-up Bramham CCI4*-L track today, and although 70% would complete, only 20 would manage to do so with clear rounds – a mere 33% success rate. Interestingly, despite that percentage being so low, a significant amount romped home clear inside the time – thirteen in all, or 21% of the starters. The reason for this slightly baffling set of figures? A tough course, yes, but one set over remarkably good ground, which benefited from a steady fall of rain to add just enough softness overnight. The clear rate, too, was considerably lowered by a higher-than-average number of frangible pin penalties. Ten horse-and-rider combinations, in all, would be awarded eleven penalties somewhere on the course.

“There was, possibly, more trouble than I’d have like, especially where the pins breaking is concerned,” says course designer Ian Stark. “They’re there for safety reasons, and though some were unlucky – and I’d really have loved those riders not to have had eleven penalties – others wouldn’t have stayed in the saddle, or upright, if not for the pins. They did their job.”

Kitty King and Vendredi Biats soar into the lead in the CCI4*-L. Photo by Katie Neat Photography.

On the hunt for redemption after a disappointing elimination at Badminton was British stalwart Kitty King and the ten-year-old French-bred Vendredi Biats, known as Froggy. Though he has a history of some cheekiness, he delivered a mature and commendable performance to gallop home clear, inside the time, and in the lead, putting his Badminton demons well and truly to bed.

“I hadn’t necessarily thought he’d be ready for Badminton this year, but then he came out this spring and he was excellent,” says Kitty. “I thought there was no reason not to go, really, but then his inexperience came out. It’s a shame, but it’s competition, and he’s come here feeling no worse for it – it hasn’t set him back at all. I don’t think he even realised anything had gone wrong.”

“He was pretty much foot-perfect everywhere today. He can run through the bridle a bit, but he didn’t do that here at all – he stayed in balance, which made riding for the time easy. It’s nice to put Badminton behind us.”

The pair’s exceptional clear round allowed them to take over the top spot from dressage leader Pippa Funnell, who picked up twenty penalties for an unfortunate glance off the second element of the influential Spinny at 13AB with Billy Walk On.

Kitty and the talented grey gelding have course form here: they finished fourth last year in this class. This year, though, she finds herself sitting on a valuable extra year of milage and maturity.

“He’s definitely growing up,” she says. “Normally, it takes three runs in the spring to get his arse in gear and his brain back in the box. This year, he’s come out focussed. Badminton wasn’t a naughty mistake; he was just green and a little bit naive. He felt so confident today.”

Gemma Tattersall and new ride Jalapeno III. Photo by Katie Neat Photography.

Gemma Tattersall moves up a placing into second aboard new ride Jalapeno III. Formerly piloted by Karin Donckers, the Chilli Morning mare gave Gemma an exciting trip around the tough track.

“She gave me some feeling today,” she enthuses. “She just kept galloping to the end – she couldn’t have been any more perfect.”

The pair overcome a slightly sticky moment at the coffin: “I just shouted through it, because that’s what Karin would have done,” laughs Gemma.

Selina Milnes and Iron IV. Photo by Katie Neat Photography.

Selina Milnes and her big-strided Iron IV added 1.2 time penalties, making them the only pair in the top ten to add anything to their dressage score, but they still moved up two places to sit third overnight, after yet another performance that left spectators coveting a ride on the gelding. Meanwhile, Polly Stockton and her five-star mount Mister Maccondy climbed from fifteenth to overnight fourth on the strength of their performance.

Emily Philp and Fallulah. Photo by Tim Wilkinson/Eventing Images.

It may be the horse’s first CCI4*-L, but Ian Wills’ Fallulah showed her class yet again with Emily Philp in the irons. Fresh off the back of her ERM debut at Chatsworth, which saw the pair finish fifth, the ten-year-old mare added nothing to her dressage score of 32.4, moving her nine places up the leaderboard to sit fifth overnight. Originally produced by Ian, Fallulah contested the Seven-Year-Old World Championships in 2016, jumping clear across the country and showing an early inkling of the horse she’d become. Then, after a year out, and following Ian’s decision to devote his time to teaching, rather than competing, she was sent to join Emily’s string. Since then, she’s been on a steady upward trajectory, jumping clear around Blenheim’s eight- and nine-year-old CCI4*-S and Belton’s Grantham Cup.

The Equi-Trek CCI4*-L heads into the final horse inspection at 8.30 a.m. BST/3.30 a.m. EST tomorrow, with the showjumping following from 12.15 p.m. BST/7.30 a.m. EST.

The Pratfalls of Flag Penalties: Yasmin Ingham Takes Late Lead in Under-25 Class

Though run over the same course, the under-25 competition played out wildly differently: after three overnight withdrawals, just twenty-two combinations would start. Thirteen of those would make it over the finish line, and just five – or 23% of the field – would do so without adding jumping penalties.

Yasmin Ingham and Sandman 7. Photo by Katie Neat Photography.

“From the moment you started walking the course, you just knew that it was Bramham from the word go: it’s big, it’s bold, and it’s so Ian Stark, as it should be here,” says overnight leader Yasmin Ingham, who produced one of just two clears inside the time in this class. But taking top honours, as she did with the former Pippa Funnell ride Sandman 7, took some work, and not just because of the tough course.

“It’s my first competition at this level with Sandman, and we weren’t sure how it would go,” says Yasmin. After clocking up some impressive results over the years, including a win at Chatsworth in 2015 and eighth place in the European Championships the same year, Sandman had notched up some significant non-completions, too. He had been retired on course here in 2017 and at Tattersalls the following year, before Pippa opted to find a young rider to take the reins. Although Yasmin, who took the ride in the latter half of last year, has posted some great results with Sandman at CCI4*-S, she quite understandably moderated her hopes heading into their first long-format four-star as a partnership.

“I didn’t come here expecting any of this – I just wanted to grow the partnership,” she explains. “But at this level, you have to put it all on the line, or you won’t get around.”

Yasmin and Sandman did just that, only encountering a slight sticky moment at the final water.

“He was getting a bit tired, and I probably wasn’t punching as much as I should have been. He landed a bit too nicely, but we made it to the skinny and he popped over it so honestly. I knew we’d kicked the flag out, but I didn’t think anything of it – I just put it behind me, because on courses like this, you’ve got to stay on your lines and think ahead to ride them properly. When I finished, someone told me ‘you’ve got a 20’, and I thought, ‘oh god, where did that come from?!'”

Yasmin lodged an appeal against the decision after reviewing both the video footage and the wording of the flag rule. While she awaited the ground jury’s decision, she kept herself busy: she had another ride, this time in the CCI4*-S.

“I had to totally rejiggle my head and focus on what was ahead,” she says. “Afterwards, the owners rang me to tell me it had been removed. Everyone does need a bit of luck sometimes, and today it was on my side.”

Yasmin Ingham and Sandman 7. Photo by Photo by Katie Neat Photography.

Such was the influence of cross-country today that even with the 20 penalties, Yasmin would have held third place overnight.

“It’s all so surreal,” she says of the fortuitous position she finds herself in. “I’m just delighted, honestly – you learn to appreciate the good times in this sport, because it might be a while before you get one again!”

Will Rawlin and VIP Vinnie relinquish their lead but hold a very respectable second place overnight. Photo by Katie Neat Photography.

Will Rawlin completed with just two time penalties to move from fourth place into second overnight riding his mother Miranda’s V.I.P. Vinnie. Just eleven years old, the Hanoverian gelding (Valentino x Gianna Nannini) has already proven an exciting prospect for his 25-year-old rider, who has produced him from a four-year-old. The lengthy partnership would prove crucial when horse and rider found themselves up against the almost incomprehensible attrition rate of the class, which serves as Great Britain’s Under 25 National Championship.

“The horse is definitely capable, so I thought we could be up there, if I was on it. But I try not to get too excited about these things, otherwise you only end up disappointed,” he says with a smile.

Managing expectations certainly paid dividends today for the rider, who admits that learning to cope with competitive pressure, and its accompanying nerves, is a work in progress. But today will certainly have offered the chance for some practice in dealing with the roller-coaster of emotions in top-level sport: though Will occupied the top of the leaderboard for several hours after the conclusion of the class, Yasmin’s successful appeal saw him slip into a close second place.

Although Will doesn’t come from a horsey background, he does come from a sporting one – his father, Andy, represented Great Britain in cross-country skiing at the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics. Will, who pursued a diploma in Sports Coaching and Development, runs his compact string out of a yard he rents with the support of his family, and helps to finance his competitive pursuits by offering web-based coaching services, as well as forward-thinking and affordable syndicate packages.

“We’re learning as we go,” says Will of his homegrown venture. “I’m very lucky that my mum and dad support me, no matter what. But this is my only horse at this level, and obviously I want to get noticed by sponsors, and owners, and for teams.”

Cathal Daniels and Rioghan Rua. Photo by Katie Neat Photography.

Ireland’s Cathal Daniels may only be twenty-two, but he can claim the most experience of the field in this class: the leading Irish rider at last week’s Tattersalls International Horse Trials has also represented his country on several occasions, most notably helping Ireland to a silver medal at last year’s World Equestrian Games. There, as here, he rode the fiery, petite mare Rioghan Rua, much admired on the circuit for her fast and ferocious approach to cross-country. As expected, they produced a classy clear inside the time, propelling them from eighth after dressage into third place overnight.

The under-25s will trot up at 8.30 a.m. BST/3.30 a.m. EST tomorrow, with showjumping commencing from 10.00 a.m. BST/5.00 a.m. EST.

Beefy Bramham: An Inside Look at the Cross-Country Challenge

You’d be hard-pressed to find a tougher four-star than Bramham. Set on endless acres of sprawling parkland, it traverses hill and dale and makes clever use of every possible inch of terrain to create an all-round challenge of skill and stamina. Masterfully designed by Ian Stark, it’s the perfect litmus test ahead of a five-star attempt later on in the season. But for all that, it’s still designed to be an education – and today, it showed a gap in many riders’ training that Ian firmly believes needs addressing.

“At all ages, they have to learn to ride a coffin,” he says. “Some of the riding was great, but others kept winging into it – and actually, I’m surprised there’s not more accidents as a result. There’s not enough of an education in riding these types of fences; many of the riders, if they were intimidated by it, just galloped at it. I think a coffin is a great fence, if the horses are ridden and trained correctly, and I’m not going to back off using them, but people need to train more often over them. They don’t need to train them at four-star height, but they do need to train the concept.”

Harry Meade and Away Cruising. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Another crucial concept that Ian hopes to impart across his courses is the ability to analyse lines and adapt them to suit the horse in question.

“Some of the riders have got it in their heads that I want them forward all the time – if I give them a shorter distance, they think I want them to go on one less stride. But actually, it’s about terrain, it’s about the question, and it’s about the horse. They have to learn to read the questions better; they think I galloped everywhere out of control when I was eventing, but actually, apart from the odd day on Murphy Himself, I was never out of control,” he says with a laugh. “I’ve tried to make the distances more open [to interpretation] – they can decide to go forward, or to shorten up, but it’s not a set stride pattern. They have to decide what will work.”

The Spinney at 13AB was one such question. Without a clear trajectory to the second fence, it relied on a well-thought-out line and a committed plan of action. Early on, many riders tried to ride it in a forward four strides, leading to run-outs at the second element and knocked pins, too, as the horses gave it a clout on the way over. Later in the day, though, and with the benefit of having watched their competitors, more and more riders opted to go slightly wider and slow the question down, turning the line into a five-stride one and meeting both elements more directly.

Ultimately, Ian’s aim is to help riders and horses improve and grow as they take to his tracks. It’s important, he points out, that competitors know that course designers are available to help the riders.

“I’m here to answer riders’ questions, and I’m always happy to do course walks, too – but maybe some of the riders are intimidated [by the idea of seeking me out]. This is still a training level – sure, it’s at the top of the level, but it’s meant to help riders progress. I’d be horrified if I though I’d tricked the horses.”

We’ll be back tomorrow morning with all the news from the final trot-up, and the full reports from both CCI4*-L showjumping finales. Go Eventing!

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Bramham, Day Two: Funnell in Front; America Invades CCI4*-S

Pippa Funnell and Billy Walk On. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Dressage at Bramham concluded today amidst a torrent of rain, but nevertheless, quality shone through. Leading the CCI4*-L as we head into tomorrow’s cross-country phase is Billy Walk On, rerouting after an aborted attempt at a Badminton debut with Pippa Funnell. Though inexperience had stymied an initially impressive start there, the ten-year-old British-bred Sport Horse comes back to Bramham with course form: he jumped clear here last year, finishing fourteenth. Today, he very nearly matched last year’s first-phase score of 26, putting a 26.6 on the board.

“I’m happy enough; there are still bits I know we need to work on,” says Pippa. “It’s nice, actually, because to me, he’s still developing – he’s still not the finished article in terms of his strength. That’s why the changes aren’t quite there. He’s got a good brain, but I think we just nearly overdid the work out there – only by about five minutes – so I felt that I was slightly carrying him in the canter work.”

Despite the horse’s wobble at Badminton, Pippa has opted to make use of the momentum created by its build-up.

“He’s had a Tweseldown Open Intermediate run since Badminton – that’s it! He’s going straight back into it here – it’s a big track. It’ll be interesting to see how he is after Badminton; he had a nice OI run, but you never know how they think. You might think you know how they think … a bit like husbands, really,” jokes Pippa.

Kitty King and Vendredi Biats. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Second place, too, is held by a combination rerouting after a problematic Badminton. Kitty King and Vendredi Biats, fourth here last year, earned a 26.8 for a mature, flowing test.

“He can be a bit naughty and a bit cheeky, and do a few spooky, naughty things, but he was really good today,” says Kitty. “It’s a big atmosphere here, but he was so good [in the ring] at Badminton and really naughty at Houghton, where there was nothing to look at! He found the one thing to spook at and was a monkey, so it’s nice that he’s gone in there and behaved, and tried really hard.”

Gemma Tattersall has been a busy bee indeed, with three horses across the long- and short-format competitions this week. Though her short-format entrant, Quicklook V, would steal the show [see below], new ride Jalapeno III, formerly ridden by Karin Dockers, was impressive too, posting a 26.9 to hold third place overnight.

“It’s nice, actually, to have both Jalapeno III and [Quicklook V] here today, because I don’t actually know Jalapeno that well yet,” says Gemma. “But I actually felt like we came together and worked as a team, which gave me a huge amount of confidence to go out there and have fun in my test with Pebbles.”

Jalapeno joins a yard full of fellow Chilli Morning offspring, and Gemma, who took over the ride at the beginning of the year, spent some time showjumping the eleven-year-old mare in Vilamoura before tackling her first events with her. In their three international runs, they’ve never been out of the top fifteen, but today marks a personal best for the partnership.

France’s Aurelie Gomez slipped into fourth place aboard Slamm de la Selune, while yesterday’s leaders, Selina Milnes and Iron IV, sit fifth overnight.

A truly international top ten at the conclusion of the CCI4*-L dressage.

Tattersall Heads CCI4*-S 

Equally tightly-bunched is the Land Rover CCI4*-S, which is led overnight by Gemma Tattersall and her Rio mount Quicklook V on an international personal best of 21.6. They’re closely followed by Laura Collett and Dacapo, who have rerouted here after retiring on course in Tattersalls’ CCI4*-L last week, and sit on a comfortable 23.3 overnight. Just behind them on 23.6 is Emily King, who rides Brookleigh, her former five-star mount who’s enjoying a long-awaited return to the sport after a couple of seasons out.

“She absolutely loves doing dressage, which is rare for an event horse, but she just loves showing off. She’s fun to ride in there too, because you know she’s not going to explode or make a mistake – she’s just with you the whole time,” says Gemma of her fourteen-year-old mare, who displayed an incredible return to form after a disappointing performance at Chatsworth three weeks ago.

“When the rain started this afternoon, I wondered if she’d do her normal prancing, because she actually hates the rain. She’s a complete princess, and she likes sunshine and a beautiful surface! Chatsworth wasn’t the event for her; it just felt wrong from the minute we got there, but she’s come here and felt amazing.”

Martin Plewa, who judged from B, was full of praise for the pair’s work: “I love the way she presented [the horse] – it was a great performance, which you don’t see very often,” he says. “[It showed] absolutely the correct way of training the horse; it was very precise, with enough balance always out in front.”

Lexi Scovil and Chico’s Man VDF Z. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

US representative Lexi Scovil has been based with William Fox-Pitt since February, and today, she enjoyed her first international start in the UK with Chico’s Man VDF Z. She made it count, too – they put a score of 28.2 up to sit in 11th place overnight.

“Overall I’m very pleased with it; that’s probably the most atmosphere he’s ever experienced,” says Lexi of the relatively inexperienced gelding. “It’s only his third Advanced, and so the changes need to be better, and he can get a little bit worried about the canter half-pass, but he keeps going and keeps listening, and he does the job. He’s such a cool horse, because he goes around the ring and he spooks, and he spooks, and he spooks – but then he gets in there and he’s like, ‘I need to put my head down and do the job!’ So I’m really lucky – he’s that horse that’s always better in the ring than he is at home, which I’ve never had before!”

Lexi bought the horse sight unseen as a six-year-old, shortly after he’d been piloted around the Young Horse World Championships by his amateur rider owner.

“I was working for Leslie Law at the time, and he went on a horse-shopping trip for himself,” Lexi explains. “He found him and loved him, but didn’t have an owner to buy him. I’d just sold my horse, so he said, ‘do you want to buy this?’ I said, ‘okay, I’ll get on a plane,’ and he goes, ‘no, no, just buy it – if you don’t like it, I’ll resell it for you!’ He showed up and the first day I rode him, he was perfect. The second day, though, he was wild, and I couldn’t put his head down, and I couldn’t ride one side of him! But he’s been a really cool horse in that even if I have something I struggle with at home, he goes in the ring and the judges love him.”

 

Lexi Scovil puts herself well in the hunt at the conclusion of the first phase. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“He’s always a worker. He’s a funny, quirky, spooky horse at home, and you’d never put just anyone on him, because he’ll be walking around the school and will spook at a jump that’s been there for two months!”

Although Lexi and her talented gelding enjoyed considerable success at the Preliminary (BE Novice) level, they hit a stumbling block upon their move-up to Intermediate – but by stepping back and taking the time to figure out how to produce her horse, Lexi hit upon the system that now governs their day-to-day training.

“I changed a lot. I stopped schooling the dressage on him, and just jumped and hacked – and he loved it. He’s just a horse you can’t drill; the more you worry about whether he’s going to do it right, the less he does right. He just wants to be loved and wants a really positive environment; I have to put the micromanaging away and say, ‘I know you’re a good horse, and I’m going to let you get on with it.'”

For Lexi, who will spend the remainder of the season at the Fox-Pitt base in Dorset, a run in Blenheim’s CCI4*-L is becoming a more and more realistic goal.

“Hopefully he’ll be the horse I can experience all these things with,” she enthuses. “I was really worried about moving over and being the little fish, but it’s been amazing so far. I have to give credit to everyone at the Fox-Pitts’ – it’s such an amazing team to be part of. It’s not even the lessons so much; it’s the atmosphere, and the fact that everyone’s so supportive and we’re all so happy. I really believe horses go better when you’re happy.”

The top ten in the CCI4*-S heading into tomorrow’s jumping phases.

Sussing out Saturday

Tomorrow’s schedule is overflowing with cross-country action, with all three classes taking to Ian Stark’s meaty courses.

“It’s typical Ian Stark – big, bold, and attacking riding,” explains Kitty King. “There are plenty of questions and lots of skinnies where you can have a silly run-out, so you need to be really focused the whole way around. You can’t take a breath and think, ‘oh, we’re doing quite well!’ – that’s when you’ll be caught out.”

She’s not wrong. Replete with achingly teensy skinnies, yawning ditches, bold timber fences and, of course, the famous hills of Bramham’s sprawling parkland, neither course is for the faint of heart. Want a sneak-peek? Check out the CCI4*-L course here, and the CCI4*-S here. Now, factor in an inordinate amount of space – and some seriously sherpa-worthy hills – and you’re halfway there.

Cross-country commences tomorrow morning at 9.00 a.m. BST/4.00 a.m. EST, with the CCI4*-L running until 12.13 p.m. BST/7.13 a.m. EST, followed by the CCI4*-L for under-25s. Then, the CCI4*-S class will round out the afternoon’s proceedings. You can follow along with all the cross-country action from all three classes through the free live-streaming service on Bramham’s website.

Go Eventing!

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Bramham: Golden Performance from Iron IV and Selina Milnes

Selina Milnes and Iron IV take the lead after the first day of CCI4*-L dressage. Photo by First Class Images.

Amongst the household names of last year’s Blenheim field, there was one horse and rider combination who snuck into the upper echelons of the leaderboard and made everyone watching sit up and pay attention in the process. Selina Milnes and Iron IV didn’t just make the serious track look easy – they made it look enormously fun, too, and everyone, commentators, photographers, journalists, and fellow riders alike, got stuck into some good-spirited bickering about who might have the best chance of stealing the striking Irish gelding. They ultimately finished fourth in the CCI4*-L there, and today, they proved that their performance then was no fluke. Coming into the arena as one of the last competitors of the day, they posted a 29.2 to take over the lead from Sweden’s Jonna Britse.

“He’s still got so much more to give – he just sort of backs off me a bit in the arena,” says Selina, who finished 11th here last year in the CCI4*-S. “But in the way he moves, and his frame, he’s just a lovely type. He catches the eye, doesn’t he?”

William Rucker’s eleven-year-old gelding (Aquilino x Ushuaia) was sourced from Richard Sheane’s Cooley Farm. He made the step up to four-star in 2017, finishing 20th in Blenheim’s eight-and-nine year old CCI4*-S.

“I’ve taken it steady, really – he’s so rangy in his stride that I’ve had to, otherwise on cross-country he just gets bigger and bigger and bolder and bolder,” explains Selina. “But he’s lovely, he’s got everything you’d want. He’d definitely make a five-star horse.”

Zimbabwe’s Camilla Kruger and her Rio mount, Biarritz II, step into second place overnight. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“I’m feeling a little bit emotional!” laughs a damp-eyed Camilla Kruger as she exits the ring with Biarritz II. It’s hard to blame her: the road she’s travelled with ‘Sam’, the Dutch Warmblood gelding with whom she made history at Rio, has been a winding one, replete with ups, downs, and everything in between.

As Zimbabwe’s first-ever Olympic competitors in the equestrian disciplines, Camilla and Sam’s clear cross-country round in Rio meant something extra-special. It wasn’t a chance to prove what they were made of; it was also a chance to help build the profile of the sport in Zimbabwe and beyond, where eventing is slowly beginning to gain in popularity. Camilla, for her part, is active in its development, heading back each winter to contribute her extensive experience and knowledge to the planning of the Azaluna CCI2*-L in Harare, which makes up part of the African ‘Nations Cup’ series.

Since Rio, though, it hasn’t all been plain sailing. Though undeniably talented, Sam has had a run of bad luck at the top level, retiring on course at both Luhmühlen in 2017 and Pau last year. He also had a surprise 20 in Blenheim’s CCI4*-L last year, but interspersed with the bad were the flashes of brilliance: the sterling performance here last year, which saw them finish just outside the top twenty, and the clear rounds over Chatsworth’s fiendishly tricky tracks.

“I’d always said that I didn’t think Sam was a Bramham horse, because he’s not very blood,” she says, recalling last year’s run. “But we needed to get a WEG qualification, and so we came here, and he loved it.”

A moment of quiet celebration for Camilla Kruger and Biarritz II. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

They may only have one phase in the books thus far, but yesterday’s best-dressed winner rightfully considers the 29.4, for overnight second place, a very good start indeed.

“Getting into the 20s was the plan, but things don’t always go to plan. In fact,” says Camilla with a wry smile, “things never really go to plan! But I knew he could do it, and he did, so I’m really chuffed with him. There’s a serious dressage diva in this horse, but he’s just never believed in himself in there – it’s been a case of spending so much time doing the same thing and being really consistent with him. Once he starts to realise that it’s easy, he builds in confidence. At home he’s unbelievable, but he’s still learning how to deal with atmosphere; he’s got huge amounts of experience and he’s been around the world, but he did everything at quite a young age. He’s only thirteen this year – so there’s so much more left to come.”

Sweden’s Jonna Britse and Quattrino sacrifice their early lead, but remain in third place overnight. Photo by Tim Wilkinson/Eventing Images.

Young Swedish rider Jonna Britse is making the most of a first trip to England with her sole horse, the talented fourteen-year-old mare Quattrino. They’ve tackled Chatsworth and Houghton’s CCI4*-S classes so far, logging clear rounds at both, in preparation for what is a CCI4*-L debut for both horse and rider.

And what a start to make in a debut performance: the duo put a score of 29.9 on the board, holding the lead for much of the day and ultimately sitting in third place overnight. Jonna, who studied sports psychology at university, has clearly taken her learnings to heart – but for a small mistake, she would have delivered a personal best, too.

James Avery and Mr Sneezy. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Coral Keen and Total Belief sit in overnight fourth place on a score of 30.6, closely followed by Wiltshire-based Kiwi James Avery and Ian and Heidi Woodhead and Tiny Clapham’s Mr Sneezy, fifth on 30.9. Formerly ridden by Holly Woodhead, Mr Sneezy joined James’ string in 2018 and since then, the eleven-year-old Irish Sport Horse has gone from strength to strength. Today, he overcame his first-phase weaknesses, plummeting his usual high-30s dressage mark to a creditable 30.9.

“I was really pleased with the horse; he’s been a bit fresh with me before, and today I could ride him,” says James. “There were a couple of little mistakes, but nothing major, which is a good start.”

For Mr Sneezy, this Bramham run is something of a litmus test: if it goes well, as it ought to, the team can start to seriously consider scheduling in a five-star debut for both horse and rider at Burghley.

Emily Philp and Fallulah: consistent between the boards. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Sixth place is held overnight by Ian Wills’ exciting young mare Fallulah who, with Emily Philp in the irons, has been building up a solid string of good form over the last year. In that time, the ten-year-old has run at five CCI4*-S competitions, jumping clear and quick across the country in all but one. Last month, she lodged a fifth-place finish in her Event Rider Masters debut at Chatsworth and today, in her first CCI4*-L, she put a 32.4 on the board to sit comfortably within the top ten overnight.

The top ten after the first day of dressage in Bramham’s Equi-Trek CCI4*-L.

California Dreaming at Bramham

Elsewhere on site, Richard Coney and Kananaskis lead the under-25 CCI4*-L. Fresh off the back of their senior squad debut at last month’s Houghton International, they’re obviously feeling full of confidence and ready to embrace all the big leagues have to offer. A strong CCI4*-S class got underway today too, with Nicola Wilson taking an early, unassailable lead with the impressive young horse JL Dublin. Together, they scored 25.1, giving them nearly a full penalty margin ahead of second-placed Ben Hobday and Shadow Man II, who posted a 26.

We caught up with Tamie Smith, who comes forward with her experienced partner Wembley III. Tamie and Wembley initially made the journey to the UK to contest Badminton this spring, but an ill-timed abscess led to their withdrawal at the first horse inspection. Undeterred, Tamie left Wembley in the safe hands of Rodney Powell and Alex Franklin and headed back to the States to keep the rest of her string on the go. Now, with the end goal of Burghley, she brings the great grey to Yorkshire for a short four-star run.

“It’s not a bad plan B to have, really,” she laughs. “My vet back home told me that this is what horses are here for: to torture us, to break our hearts, and then to give us an amazing amount of joy, too. He knows his job, so he doesn’t really need to practice it too much. It’s mostly his fitness and his flatwork – and Alex is fantastic on the flat, so we’re really lucky to have access to her. And I’m at home practicing, too, so it’s easy to come back and fit back into it like a hand in a glove.”

Although Tamie had considered a reroute to Luhmühlen, she knew that deep down, she wanted to pursue a competitive goal that would set her heart alight. Bramham, she explains, is the perfect track to help amp the gelding’s fitness back up, while giving him enough of a challenge to sink his teeth into. “There are some skinnies that are skinnier than he is, but luckily we practice a lot of that,” she says. “And it’s funny, people always say it’s hilly here, but until you get here … to me, these are mountains! It’s all about your perspective. But he’s a big galloping horse, and it’s a beautiful place to be. It’s a really fun step down from Badminton – but it wouldn’t be much of a step down!”

Tamie Smith and Wembley III enjoy a revised early-summer competitive plan. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The pair sit in 14th place overnight on a score of 32 at the halfway point of dressage.

“The atmosphere was massive in there, but I was so pleased with him – he was really workmanlike,” says Tamie. “There are still some places we can work on things, but overall, he’s producing some really beautiful work.”

Tamie credits supergroom Monique Coston with making it possible for her to continue to chase the dream, despite a change in plans: “she’s so much more than just a groom; she does everything. She does all the fitness work, the day-to-day, all the gallops – she’s wonderful, irreplaceable!”

Dressage resumes tomorrow morning at 9.30 a.m. BST/4.30 a.m. EST. Stay tuned for a full breakdown of all tomorrow’s action, plus a look at the two tough Ian Stark-designed courses awaiting our competitors this weekend.

Go Eventing!

The top ten after the first day of dressage in the Land Rover CCI4*-S.

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Bramham First Horse Inspection: One Horse Spun as CCI4*-L Classes Kick Off

Zara Tindall and Class Affair. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

From rugged Ireland, with its jolly ginger men (plentiful) and pots of gold (less so), Team EN heads in wildly different directions this week. Your loyal British correspondent (that’s me!) heads to the Equi-Trek Bramham International Horse Trials, set in sumptuous Yorkshire, a locale with slightly fewer tired stereotypes, but perhaps a few more beetle-browed men slamming their heads into trees and shouting “Cathy!” Jenni, for her part, is en route to Bromont – because you can never have too many ‘B’ events – where she is, presumably, going to become a mountie, or a piece of Mounty Bounty, or something.

Harry Meade and the delicious Tenareze. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Last year, I made the grievous error of trusting southern England’s balmy temperatures to follow me north, and by the time I parked up in front of Bramham’s impressive 18th century Palladian manor house, my shorts-clad thighs had turned a few blotchy shades of purple, and I was wearing every piece of clothing I could easily grab whilst traversing a motorway on my upper half. This year, I wasn’t going to be caught out. This year, I was going to be warm and smug, stationed at the end of the jog strip behind the absolutely colossal lens I cart around to these sorts of things like the pack-mule I am.

Except I wasn’t. The M1 – that gloriously inglorious strip of motorway that bisects approximately THE ENTIRE CONTINENT with nary a Starbucks to break up the skyline – decided that today was the day to send some of its constituent roadgoers pinging over the grass verges, and so I found myself stuck, my car in park and a truly grim audiobook on the go, for what felt like half my life. By the time I rolled into Bramham, red-faced and bearing an R-rating for prolonged and almost incomprehensible profanity, the whole sodding thing had finished. And so I come bearing a consolation prize, which is probably better than what I could have offered you anyway – a smattering of images from Actual Professional Photographer Nico Morgan. Thanks, Nico. I’ll show you the best head-slamming tree later.

Gaby Vaughan and Cufflink present for the CCI4*-L. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

First, though, the actual news. 77 horses came forward to present for the Equi-Trek CCI4*-L, down one after Britain’s Alex Whewall didn’t present Ellfield Voyager. Two of them were sent to the hold box, and both were subsequently withdrawn without presenting a second time – those were Alex Postolowsky and Richard Skelt, both representing Great Britain, with Howick Freedom and Man Hunt, respectively. 75 horses will proceed to dressage, which begins tomorrow at 9.00 a.m. BST/4.00 a.m. EST, and six flags will be represented: Great Britain, France, New Zealand, Sweden, Ireland, and Zimbabwe each have riders in the class.

27 horses were presented for the British Horse Feeds CCILu25-4*, which serves as the Under-25 National Championship. Again, two horses were held – but while Indie Vaughan-Jones‘ Quob Dynamic was passed upon re-presentation, Rebelle de Neuville, the ride of France’s Thomas Piejos was spun. 26 horse-and-rider combinations representing four nations – Great Britain, France, Ireland, and the Netherlands – will continue forth to the competition proper, which commences tomorrow at 2.37 p.m. BST/9.37 a.m. EST.

We’ll also be keeping an eye on the Land Rover CCI4*-S, which is chock-full of fantastic horses and riders. Most excitingly, we’ll get our first look at the brand-new partnership of Ryuzo Kitajima, one of Japan’s rising stars, and Cekatinka, the incredibly talented mare with whom Tim Price contested last year’s World Equestrian Games. The stars and stripes are also represented in this class: Lexi Scovil, who has been based with William Fox-Pitt this spring, rides her Chico’s Man VDF Z, while Tamie Smith reroutes Wembley III here after a Badminton that didn’t quite go to plan.

Millie Kruger is best turned out in Bramham’s first horse inspection. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

The best-dressed competition was judged by representatives from Hiho Silver and Land Rover, as well as Bramham’s owner, Rachel Lane Fox. The ladies’ prize was awarded to Zimbabwe’s Camilla Kruger, who rides her Rio mount Biarritz II in the CCI4*-L, while Richard Coney scooped the gents’ honours. He’ll be piloting Kananaskis, the horse with whom he made his Nations Cup debut two weeks ago, in the CCI4*-L for under-25s.

Richard Coney and Kananaskis. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Can’t make the trip north of the Wall? No matter – this year, Bramham will be live-streaming all three classes’ cross-country phases for free through their website. (You might want to set your Saturday plans aside, mind – the action begins at 9.30 a.m. BST/4.30 a.m. EST and continues until 6.00 p.m. BST/1.00 p.m. EST.)

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Izzy Taylor Takes Historic Tattersalls Triple in CCI4*-L

Victory repeated: Izzy Taylor takes Tattersalls’ CCI4*-L with PSH Gazelle. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Rewind twelve months: it was the first half of 2018, and the world was a purer place, full of unspent hopes and dreams, and totally devoid of the finale of Game of Thrones and the FEI’s revised flag rules. What a time to be alive, eh?

It could have been 2018 all over again as the showjumping finale of the Irish Field CCI4*-L at Tattersalls came to its conclusion yesterday. Just as he had been a year ago, Will Coleman held the overnight lead, though rather than his stalwart campaigner OBOS O’Reilly, this time he rode level debutante Off The Record. And, heartbreakingly, all it took was a whisper on a rail, once again, to end the dream. Once again, he had to pass the top honours to Izzy Taylor, who also rode a debutante in PSH Gazelle.

A chilly Izzy Taylor tops the podium in the CCI4*-L, making her the only rider to take this class on three occasions. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

In winning the CCI4*-L, Izzy writes her name in Tattersalls’ history books: she’s now the first person to ever win this class three times. Her first win came in 2014 aboard Allercombe Ellie, and her second, of course, was last year with Call Me Maggie May. This week, she takes top honours aboard Gary Power’s eleven-year-old mare (Flipper d’Elle x Miss Roxcento), climbing from eleventh after dressage to win, finishing on her first-phase score of 32.4.

PSH Gazelle shows her potential with a classy victory for Izzy Taylor. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“I’m very pleased; she delivered a fantastic clear round, and she couldn’t have gone any better,” beamed Izzy, who also took top spot in the Cooley Farms-sponsored two-star and two top-ten finishes in the three-star. “Unfortunately – or fortunately! – Mike [Owen] and Will [Coleman] both had a fence down, so she could win.”

Izzy, who is a regular visitor to Tattersalls with a lorryload of horses, praised the competition for embracing the core values of the sport: “All three phases have been very influential, and that’s how it should be – it’s a three-phase sport,” she says.

Dan Jocelyn’s Blackthorn Cruise fuels the Tokyo fire for the Kiwi rider. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“The dream is that he’s my Tokyo horse – that’s what every step of his production has been geared towards. Whatever falls in our way in that path is what we’ll take,” said New Zealand’s Dan Jocelyn after finishing second aboard the ten-year-old Blackthorn Cruise. A great round aboard one of his three-star rides had filled the experienced rider with confidence, and he came forward prepared to pull out all the stops.

“He’s finished brilliantly – I couldn’t ask for a better result, really. He’s done three solid performances and put all three together; I’m absolutely thrilled.”

Despite his young age, Blackthorn Cruise has now lodged four starts at this level, though this is his best result so far. “He got to the top quite quickly, which was a little bit of a detriment to him, actually – he needed to feel comfortable, and now he does, which has shown through in all three phases,” explains Dan.

Blackthorn Cruise will likely head to Aachen next, giving him the chance to experience a championship atmosphere as Dan continues on the Tokyo trail.

Will Coleman misses out on the win, but discovers an inexorable talent in his Off The Record, finishing third after an unlucky rail. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Once Will Coleman gets past the initial disappointment of missing out on the win – just barely – he’ll surely be comforted by the fact that his ‘quiet confidence’ in Off The Record has proven well-founded. In the ten-year-old’s first CCI4*-L – and first trip abroad – he’s stepped up to the plate in every way, posting a competitive first-phase mark of 31.5 to sit in equal sixth, and catapulting into the lead after a foot-perfect cross-country round that saw the pair finish on the optimum time of 10:18. Despite that rail, which came late on course at the triple bar heading into the final related distance, his showjumping, too, was excellent, and throughout the week he’s shown an enviable aptitude for atmosphere and pressure.

“I can’t complain at all, really,” he says. “The horse tried really hard; he was a little nervous in there, and it was just hard to get into a good rhythm where he felt a little distracted. He’s normally a good jumper, but I couldn’t quite settle him enough. I was a bit off that triple bar and he tried, but he couldn’t quite make it. It’s a good atmosphere and a windy day, and he’s still pretty young, so I’m not going to be upset about it. We’d love to win, but hopefully there will be other chances.”

Little and large: Will Coleman’s Off The Record boasts an impeccable Irish heritage, while 15.1hh Jims Pal brings to the table a bit of rough – “he could have been stolen from someone’s field as a foal, for all anyone knows about him,” says Michael Owen. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Off the Record was sourced through Richard Sheane’s Cooley Farm, and Will and his family enjoyed the Sheanes’ proper Irish hospitality through the week.

“It was nice to come back to where we got him and try to put in a good performance, and he did do that – I don’t think I can be at all upset,” says Will. “He’s got a ways to go [before he’s a championship mount], but I think a lot of the horse; he really, really wants to be good, and it’s my job to help him figure out how to do that. That’s how I’m looking at it – you’ve got to try to get a little bit better each time. This week’s been great for him. He’s going to come away more mature and ready for this type of competition the next time.”

Esib Power is best of the Irish, finishing fourth aboard the experienced Samuel Thomas II. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

She’s arguably one of Ireland’s most accomplished riders, but Elizabeth Power – known to her nearest and dearest as Esib, the daughter of former showjumping legend Captain Con Power and sister of champion National Hunt jockey Robbie Power – has been dogged by an all-too-common problem. Despite pairing a successful five-star eventing career with a sideline in showjumping that has seen her finish in the top twelve in the Hickstead Derby on two occasions, her continued quest for world domination has been somewhat stymied by a lack of top-flight horses.

That’s why it’s such a thrill to see the rider partnered up with Samuel Thomas II, the fifteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse (El Rio x Banard Que) with whom Oliver Townend enjoyed a top-ten Burghley result in 2016. But for all that, he’s not necessarily the most straightforward of horses, and when Esib took the reins from her then-boyfriend midway through the 2018 season, she took over the gelding’s baggage, too, which showed in their early international efforts together. In this, their fourth international together, it all finally came together, and Esib’s ability to impart her own fighting spirit unto her horses won the day. The pair climbed from 21st place after dressage, in which they scored a 36.5, to eventual fourth after clear rounds inside the time in both jumping phases. This was enough to earn Esib the prize for being the best Irish rider in the class – though, in fact, the prize was always to be hers, as none of the other contenders completed the week’s competition.

Esib Power and Samuel Thomas fly the flag for the home nation. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

For Esib, who finished seventh at Burghley last year after producing a masterclass in cross-country riding aboard Soladoun, fourth place at Tattersalls certainly isn’t the upper limit of her scope – but now, perhaps, with Samuel Thomas proving himself a worthy second string, she’ll be better equipped to step into the spotlight and earn the accolades she deserves for her fierce, determined riding.

Michael Owen and the ‘overgrown pony’ Jims Pal dig deep to post the horse’s career-best result. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It was to be a battle of mind over matter for Britain’s Michael Owen, who nevertheless produced a 4.4 fault round aboard the thirteen-year-old Jims Pal. They finished in fifth place, dropping from overnight second, but completing a week-long trajectory that saw them climb from initial eighth after producing one of just four clear rounds inside the time on Saturday.

“To be honest, I wasn’t even sure if I was going to be able to ride today – I’m in so much pain,” said  a grimacing Michael, who dislocated his shoulder at the end of the cross-country horse when the gelding hit the penultimate fence. A Herculean effort from both horse and rider kept the pair upright, but Michael took the full force of the impact.

“He hit it very, very hard. It’s a miracle that I actually got to jump today – I actually jumped another one this morning, too, and it went clear. I’m in agony!”

Despite measuring in at just 15.1hh, Jims Pal easily made up the forward-set strides on Ian Stark’s cross-country track. This, Michael says, comes down to his can-do attitude – a trait that may have been passed down from some suspected pony lineage.

“He’s Irish-bred, but we don’t know his full breeding – we think he probably has a lot of Connemara in there, though,” he explains of the horse who came from a dealer as a ‘naughty’ four-year old with an untraceable history. Bought for a pittance, the youngster then went hunting with Michael’s girlfriend, who produced him to Novice. “I took over the ride when we realised he had a bit more potential, and the rest is history. He just ate that cross-country up so well yesterday – he’s a little star, such a pocket rocket.”

Tina Cook’s Killadeas comes good. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Beyond the big win, the fifth through tenth places on the leaderboard were taken by British riders, too. Sixth place went to Tina Cook and Killadeas, who added a smattering of time penalties on Saturday, but produced one of Sunday’s five double-clears to step up from seventh. Killadeas has, thus far, been one of the under-the-radar denizens of Tina’s string, but a glance across the collecting ring proved that he’s obviously one of the most popular. Tina’s children, Izzy and Harry, made sure the talented nine-year-old knew just how well he’d done throughout the week – good incentive, one would hope, for a continued surge in performance.

That’s all for us from a blustery, beautiful Tattersalls. Next, Chinch will be working off the Guinness over the formidable hills of Yorkshire’s Bramham International Horse Trials, where we’ll be reporting on a jam-packed CCI4*-L and CCI4*-S, as well as the much-coveted CCI4*-L for under-25s. Sláinte!

The top ten at the conclusion of the exciting Irish Field CCI4*-L at Tattersalls.

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Tim Price Takes Tattersalls CCI4*-S, Prompts World’s Most Adorable Prizegiving

Otis Price: Tattersalls’ most popular winner. This is not a question. This is a cold, hard fact. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“Oh god, that’s not the one you’re taking to Luhmühlen, is it?!” asked a horrified Alex Bragg as Tim Price waited in the wings to accept top honours in the George Mernagh Memorial CCI4*-S. He has jolly good reason to worry – the eleven-year-old Ascona M (Cassaro x Naomi IV) has gone from strength to strength over the last eighteen months, choosing more and more frequently to use her formidable talent for good, rather than evil. In doing so, she makes herself almost unbeatable, and she was just that this week, leading throughout to take the win in her final run before the German five-star.

Tim Price and Ascona M make light work of the final water combination. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Tim and ‘Ava’, owned by Lucy and Ben Sangster, Sir Peter Vela, and Suzanne Houchin, started their week with a 25.9 dressage, giving them a commanding lead of 3.9 points.

“She’s sensitive and a little bit outrageous,” Tim told us after his test, which very nearly rivalled the performance she produced in her five-star debut at Pau last season. “Her reaction to something she detests is big. For example, with the flying changes, she can claim that she never saw that aid coming, and what the hell were you thinking?! She’ll throw herself into the air, and there’ll just be legs everywhere. So you say, okay, no worries girl, and a couple of minutes later, she’ll do them perfectly. I won’t have done anything different, but she’ll have taken it better. I have to be the diplomat in the relationship!”

When the duo took to Tattersalls’ notoriously beefy showjumping track yesterday, it looked as though we might see a glimpse of Ava’s radical side. But a few sassy head-tosses notwithstanding, she picked her way over the twisty course, never threatening to touch a rail. Although her exuberant jumping style meant that she and Tim added 1.2 time penalties, the lead was still theirs.

Tim Price and Ascona M fly across Ian Stark’s CCI4*-S course. Photo courtesy of Tatts.ie.

But there was still cross-country to face, and after yesterday’s CCI4*-L track caused such an incredible shake-up of the leaderboard, nothing was certain in today’s fast and furious short-format. And though Ava is unarguably a phenomenal talent, winning a CCI4*-L at Haras du Pin as a nine-year-old and finishing second in Blenheim’s Event Rider Masters the same season, she’d also had a surprise elimination in her five-star debut at Pau last season. Though she spent the winter showjumping on Spain’s Sunshine Tour, and had three good – though slow – Open Intermediate runs this season, she hadn’t contested an international since that unlucky tumble.

Ascona M: established in her extravagance. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

If there was a question mark hanging over her as she left the start box, it had been well and truly dissipated by the time she crossed the finish, three seconds under the optimum time of 6:56. Her exuberant, attacking style had been her downfall last autumn, when she took an enormous leap over a log drop into the water at Pau and consequently stumbled upon landing but today, she looked confident and calculated as she tackled the final water on course. From there, she was home free, and Tim was able to enjoy a fitting conclusion to a busy week in Ireland.

“We’ve absolutely loved it, as usual! It’s so nice to go somewhere with proper jumps and perfect going, and with that little bit of competitive spirit,” says Tim. “That’s certainly the Ian Stark influence coming through, and his design has come on so much. We’ve been coming here for many years, and we’ve got so many stories. In the beginning [of our careers], when we were really struggling, Tattersalls was so kind to us and really helped us to keep the show on the road.”

Between them, Tim and wife Jonelle had five horses to manage throughout the week – and they also had their young son, Otis, along for the ride.

“I’ve heard a lot of feedback on bouncy castles and fair rides, and all sorts of things like that,” says Tim with a wry grin. “He comes back exhausted and sleeps all through the night, which is a very good thing for all of us!”

Otis Price stands to attention for the national anthem of New Zealand. “I don’t think he’s ever stood still for so long,” whispers mum Jonelle. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Otis, for his part, enjoyed his first podium appearance, stealing his dad’s thunder as he clambered aboard, ably assisted by second-placed Kazuma Tomoto, who finished a second inside the time, further establishing his new partnership with former Astier Nicolas ride Vinci de la Vigne JRA.

Vinci de la Vigne and Kazuma Tomoto: fast, economical, and enormously determined to the end. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

This week has been a crucial fact-finding mission for the Japanese rider, and an exciting prospect for committed followers of #JapanWatch. Would Vince’s step back up to four-star be a success with his new rider? Could he, in fact, be Kazu’s mount for next year’s Tokyo Olympics? Those watching in suspense will have been gratified to see that the partnership between man and horse already looks well-established, with Kazu taking calculated risks and riding seamlessly at speed throughout the tricky combinations on course. If this is what a fact-finding mission looks like, then Olympic podium pretenders, be afraid. Be very, very afraid.

Alex Bragg and Zagreb show off what they’re made of for a podium finish. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Alex Bragg and Zagreb enjoyed a welcomed return to form, recording one of the fastest rounds of the day to stay in third place. Their spring season has been a bit of a rollercoaster – Alex opted to withdraw his fifteen-year-old campaigner from Badminton after they found themselves off the pace after the first phase, and then, after performing exceptionally around two-thirds of Chatsworth’s fiendishly tough CCI4*-S track, they made a costly mistake and fell on the home stretch. But a 29.9 dressage, with nothing added throughout the week, is none too shabby – and Alex, who heads to Luhmühlen’s five-star in two weeks with the lanky gelding, should be able to draw crucial confidence from his performance here. Zagreb is back, baby, and both he and his rider are fuelled by hunger for a big one.

Alex Bragg’s young talent Hester climbs to fifth after an impressive FOD. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

That hunger for success also propelled Alex and one of his debutantes into the top five. Hester may be just eight years old, and her first phase performance might have been marred by some greenness in the atmospheric main arena, but two foot perfect jumping rounds inside the tight times allowed her to climb from thirteenth to an eventual fifth place in her first-ever CCI4*-S.

Sam Watson and Tullabeg Flamenco fly the flag for the home nation. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Sam Watson took the best Irish rider honours in this class, finishing fourth with the Luhmühlen-bound Tullabeg Flamenco. Though they added 1.2 time penalties in yesterday’s showjumping, they were one of seven combinations to complete clear and inside the time today – and, in fact, those seven combinations filled the top seven spots on the leaderboard.

(As an aside, we have a new motto: #BeMoreToby. Just look at how thrilled Mini Mr Watson was about getting his hands on dad’s rosette!)

Only two of the sixteen starters in today’s cross-country failed to complete – Niall Ferguson opted to retire MX Calamity after a problem on course, while Millie Dumas, ordinarily astonishingly reliable in this phase, took a surprise swim at the final water when Fabian misjudged the skinny triple brush in the water. Eleven of the fourteen to complete managed to do so with clear rounds, while seven combinations finished clear inside the time.

The George Mernagh Memorial Fund and Trophy are named for the titular founder of the event at Tattersalls, which began in 2006. George passed away in 2011, but left a legacy that has proven invaluable to the Irish eventing community: each year, a bursary is granted to someone in the industry who is helping, in some way, to develop the sport within the country. His name also adorns this prestigious class, which acts as a gateway to the top level of eventing for many up-and-coming horses and riders alike, as well as offering Irish riders a chance to compete against the world’s best on home turf.

That’s all for us from this incredibly exciting class – but stay tuned, as we’ll be bringing you a full report from the Irish Field CCI4*-L shortly!

The top ten at the conclusion of Tattersalls’ George Mernagh Memorial CCI4*S.

 

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Tattersalls CCI4*-L: Final Horse Inspection Sees Field Shrink by One

Overnight leaders Will Coleman and Off The Record easily pass the final horse inspection. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

All nineteen horses that completed yesterday’s cross-country phase came forward for the final horse inspection this morning at the Tattersalls International Horse Trials. The horses were presented to an assembled ground jury of Annabel Scrimgeour (GBR), Dr Ernst Topp (GER), and Tim Downes (GBR). After the withdrawal of one competitor from the holding box, eighteen will proceed to this afternoon’s showjumping finale.

Sarah Dowley and Rubix Kube. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Ichak de Monfirak, presented by Belgium’s Hugo Laschet, and Rubix Kube, the ride of Ireland’s Sarah Dowley, were both sent to the holding box. While the former was accepted on re-presentation, the latter was withdrawn. Rubix Kube had been lying in 14th place overnight after producing a steady clear yesterday.

The remaining field, led by Will Coleman and Off The Record, head into the showjumping finale at 3.30 p.m. BST/10.30 a.m. EST today. As always, you can tune in via the Tattersalls live-stream.

Go Will, and Go Eventing!

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Tattersalls: Will Coleman Leads CCI4*-L; Tim Price Unstoppable in CCI4*-S

And then there were nineteen. You’d have been forgiven, after watching pathfinder Izzy Taylor‘s laughably easy clear aboard PSH Gazelle, for thinking that Ian Stark had, perhaps, made his Tattersalls CCI4*-L track a bit too doable. But as the afternoon’s action unfurled, and our field of competitors shrunk from 28 to 19, it became clearly evident that only the boldest and bravest would end the day at the upper echelons of the leaderboard.

Will Coleman and Off the Record step into the lead in the CCI4*-L. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

He might be a first-timer at the level, and he may have flown all the way from the States to begin this next, crucial stage of his education, but Will Coleman‘s Off The Record looked a consummate professional around the tough track, jumping clear to finish bang on the optimum time of 10:18. For the ten-year-old gelding, who was sourced just down the road at Richard Sheane’s Wicklow-based Cooley Farm, the trip to Tatts has been something of a homecoming – and it certainly shows. When overnight leaders Pippa Funnell and MGH Grafton Street picked up twenty penalties at the drop element of the four-part mound combination, they moved into an easy lead.

Will Coleman and Off the Record. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“He was great; I thought he did it really easily, and I was really happy with that,” says Will of the young talent, with whom he won the Jersey Fresh CCI4*-S last month. “The course suited my plan, and I wasn’t really surprised by anything out there – he gave me a great round. I was up ten, fifteen seconds most of the way around; I thought, at that point, that I was still tied with Pippa [Funnell and Billy Beware, withdrawn before cross-country], so I thought there wasn’t any point in finishing ten seconds under. So I slowed up towards the finish, but I nearly overdid it. [My wife] Katie was really worried that I’d maybe slowed up too much, but thankfully we finished dead on it! He’s a real bulldog; he loved every minute of it.”

Top position at Tattersalls is a familiar position for Will, who came achingly close to a win in last year’s CCI4*-L aboard OBOS O’Reilly. Just a single pole on the last day precluded the victory, and instead, they had to settle for fifth – but for all his relative inexperience, Off the Record is an impressive showjumper, with plenty of clear rounds across his international record.

Michael Owen and Jims Pal climb six places to sit second overnight. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Problems scattered across Ian Stark’s track, on which the coffin at 13ABC proved enormously influential, set in motion a seismic shift across the rest of the leaderboard, with some vastly experienced combinations pulling up and other competitors making fortuitous climbs. British rider Michael Owen stepped from eighth into second place overnight aboard Jims Pal. Though the thirteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding has been contesting this level since 2017, he’s yet to break into the top ten on a final leaderboard – and Michael will need to work hard tomorrow to stop the gelding from sending a handful of rails flying.

Pathfinders Izzy Taylor and PSH Gazelle record one of four double-clears, propelling them to third place. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Izzy Taylor was first out of the box with PSH Gazelle, and she also recorded the fastest round of the day, finishing seven seconds inside the optimum time. This is a debut CCI4*-L for the eleven-year-old, who was produced to three-star by Michael Jackson (no, not that one). The mare’s efforts allowed her to climb from eleventh to third overnight, putting Izzy – who won this class last year with Call Me Maggie May – within touching distance of a repeat victory.

Dan Jocelyn and Blackthorn Cruise stay in fourth place after adding just 3.6 time faults across the country. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

New Zealand’s Dan Jocelyn and Blackthorn Cruise evidently felt quite comfortable in fourth place, and there they stayed – they added 3.6 time penalties after an easy spin around the course. The ten-year-old gelding stepped up to this level last season, jumping clear around Bramham’s CCI4*-S course, but picking up 20 penalties in his first CCI4*-L at Boekelo. He’s not been a particularly quick horse thus far in his career, and so his round today shows promise for a bright future.

Cross-country dynamo Millie Dumas records a fast clear with Fabian, moving up to fifth place. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

British up-and-comer Millie Dumas was the only British Eventing competitor to record fifty consecutive cross-country clears in 2018, and the quiet achiever demonstrated why again today, piloted Fabian around the track with a nurturing determination. Though they added 2.4 time penalties, the nine-year-old gelding was able to move up four places to sit fifth overnight, putting the pair 1.9 points ahead of the best-placed Irish combination, Esib Power and Samuel Thomas II. Their double clear catapulted them from 21st place after dressage to overnight sixth – an exciting stepping stone in the new partnership between Esib, who splits her time between top-level eventing and top-level showjumping, and Samuel, who was produced to five-star by Oliver Townend.

Esib Power confirms her reputation as one of the fastest cross-country riders in the world with a blazing round aboard Samuel Thomas II. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Tina Cook and Killadeas relinquished their hold on fifth place, moving down to seventh with 6.4 time penalties. But Tina, who has been carefully producing the talented, under-the-radar gelding, was thrilled with her horse’s performance, effusively praising him at the finish.

Tina Cook and Killadeas slip from fifth to seventh after adding 6.4 time penalties. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Overnight leaders Pippa Funnell and MGH Grafton Street were the most high-profile combination to come to grief on course: they added twenty jumping penalties and 16.4 time to slip down to fifteenth place. Two riders were eliminated; Melissa Townshend fell from Chapeau at the first element of the coffin, while Lauren Blades and Jemilla were eliminated for missing fence eight. A further seven riders opted to retire on course, including Laura Collett, who ran into trouble at both the coffin and the Horse Sport Ireland water with DacapoKazuma Tomoto, too, put his hand up after Bernadette Utopia took offence to the coffin, while Ludwig Svennerstal called it a day when Salunette opted out of jumping the big log drop into the HSI water.

Tomorrow, our nineteen remaining competitors head into the showjumping finale, which kicks off at 3.30 p.m. BST/10.30 a.m. EST.

The top ten after a hugely influential cross-country phase in the Irish Field CCI4*-L at Tattersalls.

Tim Price Holds CCI4*-S Lead

The CCI4*-S field – whittled down to sixteen starters after the withdrawal of Tina Cook and Calvino II – faced a tough showjumping challenge in the Colm Quinn main arena today, but yesterday’s leaders proved unassailable, despite adding 1.2 time faults.

Tim Price and Ascona M. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“She’s not the most orthodox horse – she throws her heart over the fence first, which is great if you can channel it, but it means you can’t nip around like some of the other horses can,” says Tim Price of the opinionated Ascona M, with whom he heads into tomorrow’s cross-country on a two-phase score of 27.10. This puts him 2.7 penalties – or six seconds – ahead of second-placed Kazuma Tomoto and Vinci de la Vigne JRA, who delivered the round of the day to finish as one of just five combinations inside the time.

Kazuma Tomoto and new ride Vinci de la Vigne JRA. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Only five riders stayed on their dressage scores today, while just seven left all the poles in the cups. Alex Bragg produced two of those five completely fault-free rounds, which was enough to allow Zagreb to hold onto third place and the former Jonelle Price ride Hester to climb from thirteenth to eighth.

Alex Bragg and Zagreb. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The best-placed Irish rider, Sam Watson, very nearly managed the feat too, delivering clear rounds with both Imperial Sky and Tullabeg Flamenco, but adding just 1.2 time penalties aboard the latter. They sit in fifth and seventh overnight, respectively, just below fourth-placed Millie Dumas and KEC Deakon, and creating some sort of Irish sandwich (potato bread, anyone?) with Mary King, who holds onto sixth place aboard her homebred King Robert.

Sam Watson and every girl’s dream pony, Tullabeg Flamenco. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Tomorrow sees the CCI4*-S competition head into its final phase, a shortened version of today’s tough track. Will we see it separate the men from the boys again? And where can I actually get some potato bread, now that I mention it? Stay tuned to find out.

The top ten going into tomorrow’s cross-country finale in the George Mernagh Memorial CCI4*-S.

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Friday Video from SmartPak: The Houghton Cross Country Binge

We’ve reached the bit of the season where the internationals come up so thick and fast that you’ll put yourself at risk of whiplash if you try to keep up with them all. But sometimes, what we all need at the end of a long week is the opportunity to binge some cross country, priming ourselves for an action-packed weekend of … binging more cross country. Fortunately, our friends at the FEI have given us the chance to do just that, with all the action from the weekend’s Nations Cup at Houghton Hall in one handy video. Crack a beer, put your feet up, and relive how it all went down.

Go Eventing!

Tattersalls CCI4*-S: Number One Position for World Number One

Greenery and good horses: welcome to Fairyhouse Racecourse. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

There’s something about Tattersalls. Even when the wind is blowing – and boy, is it blowing – and a cluster of foreboding clouds jostle for prime position over the main arena, it’s possessed of a (blustery) air of good sport and great craic. Plus, frankly, it’s just rather pretty.

With yesterday’s CCI4*-L competitors enjoying a well-earned break, our focus today shifts over to the CCI4*-S. Though the entry list has shrunk down to just seventeen competitors, it’s a classy field chock-full of experienced five-star combinations and red-hot up-and-comers.

Tim Price and Ascona M eclipse the competition in the George Mernagh Memorial CCI4*-S. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

If you’d wanted to place a bet on it beforehand, though, you’d have been hard-pressed to get any odds worth emptying your wallet for. Tim Price becomes our newly-minted World Number One tomorrow, and to say that our reigning Burghley champion is on form would be to utter an egregious understatement. Here at Eventing Nation, we really only deal in overexcited hyperbole. But although we could wax lyrical about Tim’s achievements all afternoon, we have to make note of Ascona M, too. The eleven-year-old Holsteiner mare (Cassaro Z x Naomi IV) is still a relatively new ride for Tim; he first took the reins in 2017, when wife Jonelle was sidelined on maternity leave. Then, the fiery mare went back upon her return – but mid-way through the 2018 season, Jonelle decided to let Tim take over again. Since then, the pair have been on the up and up – they scored a hugely competitive 25.3 at Pau, although an unfortunate stumble after an exuberant jump into the water put paid to their campaign. Today, they very nearly equalled it, putting a 25.9 on the board to take the lead by a significant margin.

“She’s such a quality mare; she’s a winner at home every day of the week. But saying that, she can be radical as well, being a lovely … mare,” Tim says with a grin. Today, though, ‘Ava’ kept her opinions to herself, fairly floating around the arena as we saw her do in her five-star debut at Pau last season. Though she stands a fighting chance here, it’s not a major goal: instead, it’s all useful preparation for her return to the top level at Luhmühlen.

“That felt like a really good thing to have in the back of my head – the fact that she was rideable, the fact that she stayed in front of me, and the fact that she just went through the motions. She’s feeling the best she ever has this year, especially as this is the first season I’ve had from January. I think that’s really benefited us.”

Occasionally radical: Ascona M is on best behaviour to take the lead with Tim Price. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The primary benefit of this extra time together is manifesting itself in the mare’s rideability. Although Ava is a naturally elegant mover, and though she seems to find the work incredibly easy, it’s not a push-button job to produce the goods.

“She’s sensitive and a little bit outrageous,” explains Tim. “Her reaction to something she detests is big. For example, with the flying changes, she can claim that she never saw that aid coming, and what the hell were you thinking?! She’ll throw herself into the air, and there’ll just be legs everywhere. So you say, okay, no worries girl, and a couple of minutes later, she’ll do them perfectly. I won’t have done anything different, but she’ll have taken it better. I have to be the diplomat in the relationship!”

Kazuma Tomoto and new ride Vinci de la Vigne put the pressure on the leaders. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

After clinching overnight third place in yesterday’s CCI4*-L class, Japan’s Kazuma Tomoto returned today firing on all cylinders. This time, he rode new mount Vinci de la Vigne JRA (Esterel de Bois x Korrigane de la Vigne), the ten-year-old Selle Français with whom France’s Astier Nicolas finished seventh at last year’s World Equestrian Games. Vinny was purchased by the Japan Racing Association at the end of last season as part of the country’s quest to take top honours in next year’s Olympics – and though it’s a new one, the partnership has been quietly impressive so far. Kazu and Vinny finished sixth and second, respectively, in three-star competitions at Belton and Ballindenisk, and though this will be their debut four-star together, they’ve started it in a competitive position.

Their score of 29.8 might seem a long way behind that of the leaders, but the margin of 3.9 comes a hair’s breadth away from giving Tim a rail in hand going into tomorrow’s competition. Now, he’ll need to make sure all the poles stay up if he wants to hold his lead while Kazu, whose overarching goal is to qualify his four horses for next year’s Games, can focus on the task at hand without feeling an enormous amount of pressure.

Alex Bragg and debutante King of the Mill. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

He may well feel some from his nearest rival, though. Alex Bragg and Zagreb (Perion x Renera) sit just a tenth of a penalty behind Kazu and Vinny on a score of 29.9, giving Alex early momentum in a class in which he has three horses entered. Michael and Naomi Roe’s King of the Mill (Stormhill Miller x Ballycanew Queen) sits in ninth place overnight on a score of 36.1, while Lucy Nelson’s Hester succumbed to the vibrant atmosphere in the main arena and waits in the wings on 41, putting her in 13th place.

“Zagreb was great, actually – I’ve been trying to wait for the summer, but I seem to be following this wet, breezy weather around,” joked Alex whose top horse, much like one EN reporter, performs at his best in milder weather. “He had a little spook at the camera at the end of the arena in the counter-canter work, which was a shame, for one small mistake – but other than that he was super, as always.”

Though Zagreb – known at home as Rhett – is the much-deserved subject of our endless poster-boy adulation, it’s exciting to see Alex methodically building up a great string of up-and-comers. Both of the younger horses entered in this class are level debutantes: nine-year-old King of the Mill has just three international runs under his belt, while eight-year-old Hester has five, though she racked up considerable international showjumping experience with her prior rider Jonelle Price.

Alex Bragg and the former Jonelle Price ride Hester. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“I brought them over here for the cross-country, actually – I know it’s big and bold, and Ian Stark always builds it that way, but I’ve always felt that horses come back from it feeling really confident, and then they go on to do well through the year,” explains Alex. “The main arena, too, has enough of an atmosphere that it tests them out a bit and gives them some experience there. Hester is a young eight-year-old, and she got a bit lively – she has a bit of a history of that, and it did, unfortunately, tip her over today. King of the Mill has always been a bit of an anxious horse, but he’s gone in there and been incredibly professional. He’s very Thoroughbred-y, so he lacks some of the softness of movement of some of the cross-bred horses that are more expressive, but his main feature is his gallop and his stamina. This is a stepping stone for him, hopefully, to go onto bigger things this year and next. They’ve been fantastic so far, and it’s wonderful to be here.”

A trio of British women hold fort in the middle of the top ten – Tina Cook and Calvino II sit in provisional fourth place on 30.5, while Millie Dumas makes it a second top-ten appearance in as many days, this time riding KEC Deakon. They sit in fifth on 31.3. Less than a penalty and a half behind them, Mary King and her homebred King Robert lie sixth, posting a 32.7.

Sam Watson and Imperial Sky. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

EquiRatings’ big boss Sam Watson is the highest-placed Irish rider in the class, squeezing both his Luhmühlen-bound horses into the top ten. His Ballindenisk winner Imperial Sky leads the way, holding seventh place on 33.8, while the striking dun Tullabeg Flamenco rounds out the top ten on 37.9, just behind lone French representative Arthur Duffort and Toronto d’Aurois.

The CCI4*-S field looks ahead to showjumping next, which commences at 6.15 p.m. BST/1.15 p.m. EST tomorrow, while the CCI4*-L heads to Ian Stark’s beefy cross-country track at 2.50 p.m. BST/9.50 p.m. You can keep an eye on all the action as it happens through Tattersalls’ live-stream, and we’ll be bringing you all the juicy insight after the fact, right here. Go Eventing!

The top ten after dressage in the George Mernagh Memorial CCI4*-S.

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Tattersalls CCI4*-L: Best of British as Pippa Funnell Heads Dressage

Pippa Funnell and MGH Grafton Street deliver another top performance to head the Irish Field CCI4*-L at Tattersalls. Photo courtesy of Tatts.ie.

He might not be sitting atop the leaderboard with his own ride, Rosemaber Lancuest (24th on a 37.5), but it’s been a good day in the office nevertheless for Irish rider Padraig McCarthy. Two of his competitors’ horses in the Irish Field-sponsored CCI4*-L at Tattersalls today were produced and sold from his Devon-based sporthorse empire, and both of them nabbed spots in the top five at the conclusion of the thirty-strong class.

One of them took top spot, a not unfamiliar haunt for the eleven-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding. Jonathan and Jane Clarke’s MGH Grafton Street (OBOS Quality) has established himself as a consistent first-phase performer with Pippa Funnell in the irons, and he delivered on that consistency yet again today, earning scores of well over 70% from judges Tim DownesAnnabel Scrimgeour, and Dane Rawlins. His final mark of 25.4 sees him lead the first phase by three full points, relegating the morning’s leaders, Laura Collett and Dacapo, into second place on 28.4.

Laura Collett and Dacapo get off to a flying start in the horse’s first CCI4*-L. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“It wouldn’t have been his best test he’s ever done; the halts and the first flying change weren’t great, but everything else felt really nice – that’s the easy part on him. Normally, he’s really good at the changes, but he actually got a bit lazy in there; he came out yesterday like a raging bull but today he was like, ‘I’m over it now!’ But he’s so consistent in his dressage, and it’s nice to go in there with him, because you know he’s not going to blow,” says Laura of ‘Cal’ (Diarado x Tosca VII). Owned by Gillian Morris-Adams, Diana Chappell, Carolyn Taylor, and Michael and Alison Smedley, the ten-year-old gelding is as reliable a performer as the overnight leader, but where MGH Grafton Street can boast two-and-a-half seasons at this level, including an eighth-place finish here in 2017, Dacapo makes his CCI4*-L debut this week.

“The aim is to go out and be competitive – he’s been super at all his short-formats, and the only reason he didn’t go and do a CCI4*-L last year is because I didn’t think he was ready. He’s come on from the great note he finished on last year, and jumping-wise, he’s been phenomenal this season – the fact-finding mission will just be that he’s never gone this far [on cross-country] before. But he’s been foot-perfect all year so far,” says Laura, who praised the efforts of the organising team for their hard work on the track. “[The course] has been beefed up from normal, and there are some decent questions out there, but I think it’s a very fair track. It’s very much in front of them and not trappy at all. I’ve never seen the going so good here; for me, it’s the best ground I’ve seen all year.”

Kazuma Tomoto and Bernadette Utopia make great strides towards a longer-term goal. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

He’s known around the lorry park as King Kazu, and rightly so: Kazuma Tomoto, the exceptionally talented Japanese rider who started eventing just three years ago, has set himself a huge goal this season – and so far, it’s coming good.

“I’m not expecting to win this time, just to qualify for Tokyo – we just need a good round,” he explains. Kazu is on a mission to qualify all four of his top horses for next year’s Olympics, at which he hopes to help his team to a home medal and, after much work by both the Japanese federation and its riders, newfound popularity for the sport in Japan. Just three weeks after taking his first CCI4*-S win, which he claimed at Chatsworth aboard Brookpark Vikenti, Kazu is back for more with yet another of his enviable string. Today, he started off his first-ever trip to Tatts with a bang, producing a competitive test with Bernadette Utopia – the second of the Padraig McCarthy-sourced horses in the class – to post a 29.2 and take third place as we look ahead to cross-country.

“She did a really good job today; she can do every movement and she’s a big mover, too, so I tried to make her relax. She can be a hot horse, so I need to ride her once or twice before a test – but this time I rode her once and she was much better.”

His score just edges New Zealand’s Dan Jocelyn into fourth place with Blackthorn Cruise, with whom he earned a 29.3.

Tina Cook brings forward an unknown quantity in Killadeas. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Fifth place is held overnight by Tina Cook and Ella Boyle’s under-the-radar Killadeas. The nine-year-old by Hermes de Reve stepped up to four-star last season, though his campaign at the level has been a learning curve thus far: he jumped clear around his debut at Hartpury, but notched up 40 penalties at his first long-format at Boekelo, and again at Burnham Market’s CCI4*-S earlier this year.

Pippa Funnell makes a second appearance in the top ten, this time riding Billy Beware and tying for sixth place with lone US competitor Will Coleman. Will opted to bring his up-and-comer Off the Record to Tatts after a productive and successful trip to the event last season with OBOS O’Reilly.

“I really thought it was a good course, and where it’s this guy’s first four-star long, I thought it would be the perfect event for him,” says Will. “It gives him a bit of experience at getting to travel, and it’s a nice ten-plus minute course without being a killer. It’s big, but it’s very fair – I think Ian does a great job. For me, I thought the footing was amazing last year, and this year, it’s even better; they put forward a class effort and I thought this would fit really well into the two-year plan for the horse. The owners agreed, so lucky me!”

This will be a debut CCI4*-L for the ten-year-old (VDL Arkansas), who hasn’t been out of the top ten in his last ten internationals, a lucky streak that takes us back to mid-2017. Even more excitingly, he’s only added time in three of those ten runs, and the most he’s added in those instances is a paltry 7.2.

“We’ll know a lot more about him after this weekend, but he’s performed so well in his lead-ups over the last few years. He’s become a really consistent horse, so hopefully that continues. We’re quietly excited about him having a bright future.

[AN: due to a bit of a technical hitch this morning, we’re unfortunately lacking in a photo of Will and Off The Record – for now, you’ll have to take our word (and the judges’!) for it that their test was lovely. We’ll be bringing you lots more of this fantastic pair this weekend!]

Our CCI4*-L competitors will enjoy a day off tomorrow, while we focus on the small but hugely competitive CCI4*-S class, presented by the George Mernagh Memorial Fund. It all kicks off at the enormously civilised time of 11.00 a.m. BST/6.00 a.m. EST – presumably to allow for plenty of whiskey-quaffing at tonight’s Goresbridge Select Event Horse sale – with Alex Bragg and mega-hunk Zagreb kicking off proceedings. Can he top the leaderboard with one of his three exciting entries? Will Luhmühlen-bound Sam Watson notch up a win in his final run with Ballindenisk victor Imperial Sky? Will King Kazu reign supreme with the exceptional Vinci de la Vigne? Or will newly-minted World Number One Tim Price run away laughing with the crown aboard the feisty, flashy mare Ascona M? It’s all still to play for. Go Eventing!

The top ten at the conclusion of the first phase of the Irish Field CCI4*-L at Tattersalls International Horse Trials.

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