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Pippa Funnell Named BT Action Woman of the Year

Pippa Funnell takes the top prize at the 2019 BT Action Woman Awards. Photo courtesy of BT.

When eventing hits the mainstream it’s always a little bit like Christmas has come early, no matter when in the year it happens – but the timing couldn’t be much better as we see one of our own take a major British sporting award this week.

Pippa Funnell needs no introduction to horsey households, though viewers and voters of the BT Action Woman Awards may have found her a less familiar face among her competitors, among whom featured record-breaking runner Dina Asher-Smith, top jockey Bryony Frost, 35-time World Championship gold medal winning para-cyclist Dame Sarah Storey. But the longevity of Pippa’s career, which saw the former – and first – Rolex Grand Slam winner take a fairytale win at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials this autumn, resonated with the public, and the enormously popular rider was crowned the 2019 BT Action Woman of the Year in a ceremony presided over by presenter and sporting figurehead Clare Balding, a long-time friend and supporter of both Pippa and of the equestrian industry.

“I’ve had the most amazing career and a long career, but any person’s career over the space of 35 years isn’t just going to be about good days,” said Pippa in a candid speech after her victory. “There have been a lot of tough days, hard days when things don’t go your way or you have injuries. I have very much questioned quite a few times if I carry on in the sport. What’s special is that I know that commitment.”

Pippa Funnell raises her silverware at Burghley. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

This season, which saw Pippa step up at the eleventh hour to ride on the silver medal-winning British team at the European Championships in Luhmühlen, has seen a remarkable upswing in fortunes for the hard-working rider, who last won a five-star sixteen years prior.

“Back in 2003 I won quite a lot of awards,” she recalled. “Of course, I appreciated them all because I was on the crest of a wave back then, but I think because I’ve been gone for so long and not had this sort of recognition I think it’s like I’ve been given a second chance to enjoy it all over again.”

Pippa’s win, which saw her beat out seven impressive competitors for the top honour, comes just a smattering of days after eventers took an almost clean sweep of the NAF Horse & Hound Awards, winning Rider of the Year (Piggy French), Groom of the Year (Amy Phillips, head girl for Piggy French), Horse of the Year (Vanir Kamira, winner of Badminton Horse Trials with – you guessed it – Piggy French), Moment of the Year (Pippa Funnell’s Burghley win), and Amateur Rider of the Year (Adam Harvey). We’ll raise a glass to that.

Friday Video from SmartPak: Meet the Urban Equestrian

“If you take the horses out of my story, it’s just selling marijuana.”

So begins the compelling story of FR33DOM Zampaladus, the charismatic founder of the Urban Equestrian Academy, an inner-city riding initiative based in England’s Midlands. Starting in Antigua and wending his way to the United Kingdom, FR33DOM takes us on a journey from hustling to horses, and then to his remarkable charity initiative, which was nominated for an FEI award this year.

The Urban Equestrian Academy strives to improve diversity within the industry, while also providing life-changing opportunities for inner-city children to enjoy the confidence- and self esteem-building advantages of riding and caring for horses.

We’re huge fans of FR33DOM and his work – check out the video and we think you will be, too.

2020 British Eventing Fixture List Brings One-Stars to the Table

Eventing in early March – or, as is the case in 2020, late February – might be an occasionally brutal undertaking, but let’s be honest: we’re all going to do it. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Praise Eventing Jesus, for the bright spot in a long, cold November of mud and moaning has appeared: British Eventing (BE) has released its 2020 fixtures list, replete with new events, some sad losses, and the welcome addition of CCI1*-S events to the calendar.

The CCI1*-S level was rolled out this year to incentivise developing eventing nations to get their riders on the international pathway; as the old one-star level stepped up to two-star, the new one-star is effectively a BE100 (US Training level) international. Initially, BE’s stance was that their constituent events wouldn’t host this level, but as a result of popular demand, they’ll be trialling the level at three competitions from 2020-2022. These three competitions will cover a diverse geographical area: the first will take place at Brand Hall in Staffordshire (30-31 May), the second at Chilham Castle (2) in Kent (25-26 July), and the third and final iteration will be at Blair Castle International in Scotland (27-30 August), giving one-star debutants the chance to rub shoulders with fellow international competitors through the CCI4*-L level.

“Led by the BE Board, the BE Fixtures Team were tasked with developing a framework for this pilot,” explains BE in a post on their website. “From this framework, the venues have been carefully selected based on various factors, including location, the current event set up, infrastructure and organisers with experience of presenting International competition. The class will run at these selected venues as a pilot from 2020 for three years to provide an opportunity to trial the popularity, viability and value to the BE membership.”

The 2020 fixtures list also sees the addition of three new or returning venues: Cirencester Park returns to the calendar after 47 years, replacing the spring fixture previously held at Gatcombe, and will offer classes from Novice-Advanced on March 21-22. Thoresby Park in Nottinghamshire makes its BE and FEI debut, filling the hole left by the loss of Belton, and will run classes from Novice-Advanced as well as CCI2*-S, CCI3*-S, and CCI4*-S sections on March 27-29. Finally, Cornbury Park in Oxfordshire makes a welcome return, running Novice and Intermediate sections alongside a CCI2*-S and a CCI3*-S on September 11-13.

Gemma Tattersall and Arctic Soul take the British Open Championship in 2017. Photo courtesy of Event Rider Masters.

There are other changes afoot, too, particularly to championship and regional final classes. Perhaps the biggest is that the British Open Championship, held at the Magic Millions Festival of British Eventing (August 8-9), will no longer run as a CCI4*-S. Instead, it will run as a national Advanced class, meaning that the prestigious summer fixture will now no longer host any international classes.

The structure of the four-year-old championship at the Osberton International Horse Trials and Young Horse Championships (October 8-11) has been slightly revised, too. Instead of relying on specific qualifiers, the class – now rebranded as a ‘Showcase’ – will require horses to contest regular BE80(T) and /or BE90 classes in the latter part of the year. Full qualification details will be revealed soon.

2019’s BE80(T) championship, which was unfortunately abandoned, will be rescheduled for April 4 at Norton Disney (1), while the 2020 edition will be held for the first time at its new home at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials. 2019’s abandoned regional finals, which serve as qualifiers for the Science Supplements Cup at Badminton Horse Trials, will be relocated as follows:

  • Moreton (1), held February 29 – March 1, will host both BE90 and BE100 regional finals, and will serve to replace Bovington (2)
  • Oasby (1), held March 5-8, will host a BE100RF, replacing Norton Disney (2)
  • Swalcliffe Park, held March 14-15, will host a BE100RF, replacing Broadway (2)
  • Stafford (1), held March 14-15, will host a BE90RF, replacing Aston le Walls (X)

Great Britain tops the Young Riders Individual podium at the 2019 FEI European Eventing Championships for Juniors and Young Riders at Maarsbergen (NED). L to R: Great Britain’s Isabelle Upton (Silver), Germany’s Emma Brüssau (Gold) and Great Britain’s Heidi Coy (Bronze). Photo by FEI/Victor Krijt.

Finally, Hartpury College will double up on excitement in 2020: alongside their usual international, which hosts CCI2*-L, CCI3*-L, and CCI4*-S classes on August 13-16, they’ll also run the Junior and Young Rider European Championships, July 27-August 2.

The 2020 season will begin on the final weekend of February – until then, drop those stirrups, schedule those extra dressage lessons, and Go (Arena) Eventing.

To peruse the 2020 fixtures list in full, click here.

Badminton Welcomes Two New Partners but No Title Sponsor for 2020

The final winners of Badminton under the Mitsubishi banner, Piggy French and Vanir Kamira. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

There have been few conversation topics as hot in 2019 as the ongoing discussion surrounding the future of Badminton Horse Trials, which said goodbye to longterm sponsor Mitsubishi Motors this year. Who would pick up the mantle of this most prestigious of events, arguably the godfather of the sport?

As it turns out, nobody — well, not in the way we’ve grown accustomed to, anyway. For 2020, Badminton Horse Trials will run without a title sponsor. Instead, the five-star will team up with two new primary partners — Science Supplements® will take title sponsorship of the grassroots championship, previously known as the Mitsubishi Motors Cup, as well as providing pivotal financial support to the feature event, and MARS Equestrian™, supporters of the Land Rover Kentucky CCI5*, will also join the playbill for the 2020 running.

“We are delighted to welcome both Science Supplements® and MARS Equestrian™ to the Badminton family as Official Event Partners,” said the Duke of Beaufort in an official statement released by the event. “We are extremely grateful for their support and look forward to a long and happy association with both partners.”

The statement continues, “MARS Equestrian™ sponsorship by Mars, Incorporated is the link between their iconic brands including SPILLERS™, PEDIGREE®, ROYAL CANIN®, MARS® Bar, and the equestrian community. For generations, Mars has celebrated a rich equestrian heritage, and through purposeful partnerships, Mars is committed to equestrian sport and building an enduring legacy.

“MARS Equestrian™ is thrilled to become an Official Partner of Badminton Horse Trials” said William Clements, Vice President of global sponsorships and sports marketing for Mars, Incorporated. “Through this partnership, we hope to honor the equestrian legacy of MARS and engage spectators with our iconic brands as we work to achieve our vision of a better world for horses, pets, and their owners. Mars, Incorporated is a family-owned business that has been creating products and services that people, and their four legged family members, love for over 100 years. Horses are deeply rooted in Mars’ history dating back to the 1930’s.”

“Science Supplements®, who will also become the Official Supplements of Badminton Horse Trials, currently sponsor the BE90 and BE100 series with the final held at Badminton on Tuesday 5th and Wednesday 6th May. Independently rated as the UK’s number one supplement brand. The company has over ten awards and nominations for their products and services including winning the International Innovation Award on two occasions for Gut Balancer (2014) and GastroKind (2017).

“David Mitson, Group CEO of Science Supplements® said, “We are delighted to become partners of one of the worlds finest horse trials and continue our support of equestrian sport across all levels. The Science Supplements® Cup is already a showcase event for grassroots competitors and we are thrilled to be able to extend our relationship with Badminton as official partners.”

“Although it is now unlikely that Badminton 2020 will have a title sponsor in place, the announcement of MARS Equestrian™ and Science Supplements®’partnership with the most prestigious horse trials in the world is significant. “From the outset we have been exploring different sponsorship models and it is fantastic to now have both Science Supplements® and MARS Equestrian™ on board as Official Partners.” commented Event Director Jane Tuckwell.”

Though the dissolution of the Mitsubishi partnership brings with it major changes — the event’s branding, for example, debuted a somewhat contentious makeover earlier this year, and the iconic L200s and red-and-white awnings will cease to hold down the fort upon the Gloucestershire grounds — it also offers the chance for an exciting new era for the world’s foremost CCI5*.

The 2020 Badminton Horse Trials will run from May 6-10, with proceeds from the competition going to newly announced fundraising partner the British Equestrian Federation Fund, which helps to supplement National Lottery funding and support Great Britain’s equestrian teams in Tokyo. The box office will be open for priority bookings on January 6 and general sales on January 13. No word yet on whether there’s going to be a giant chocolate bar to jump by the lake, but there’s really only one way to find out — set those reminders on your phones now, readers.

Cathal Daniels Catch-Rides to Stuttgart Indoor Eventing Victory

Cathal Daniels and Alcatraz. Photo via Stuttgart German Masters.

For those poor, unfortunate souls who don’t have access to an Ocala to escape to – that’ll be all of us on this side of the pond, then – there’s got to be something to fill the drudgery of the grey and soggy winter months.

Cue indoor eventing, the fast-paced, Europop-fuelled, boozy and enthusiastic little brother to the sport proper, which takes a plethora of familiar faces into the heart of some of Europe’s most prestigious indoor horse shows. Though it’s a decidedly Eurocentric undertaking, the indoor eventing season got off to a rip-roaring start in Canada, with the Horseware Indoor Eventing Challenge at the Royal Winter Fair going to Karl Slezak and Fernhill Wishes.

Yesterday, though, it was back to Bratwurstier climes, as indoor eventing took to the floor at the Stuttgart German Masters. 19 horse-and-rider combinations from seven countries came forward to tackle the course, made up of two parts: the first, a twisting, turning accuracy challenge over 17 solid fences, and the second, a quickfire timed figure-of-eight over showjumps. For every fence knocked, three seconds would be added to a competitor’s time – but competitors would have to finish the first section of the course within the optimum time of 98 seconds to be allowed to put the pedal to the metal and ride for the chance to take top honours.

And thus commenced an hour of frenetic fun, with a packed house of enthusiastic spectators clapping and cheering each competitor around the whirlwind track, designed by Rüdiger Rau. It quickly became apparent that one fence in particular would be the bogey of the evening: the final showjump at 23, a substantially-filled upright at the end of a long gallop, fell and fell and fell some more.

Photo via Stuttgart German Masters.

This allowed Spain’s Esteban Benitez Valle and his diminutive firecracker Milana 23 to hold the lead for much of the class after their ferociously quick one-pole round set the tone as the second in the order of go. Though he would ultimately have to settle for fifth place after a hot batch of late riders, his little mare certainly earned the unofficial EN award for the horse we’d most like to smuggle home in our carry-on.

The winner would only end up 0.19 seconds faster than the Spaniard, but that three-second penalty proved costly – and Ireland’s Cathal Daniels, well-known for his inimitable ability to pair speed with precision, edged the victory with fourteen-year-old Alcatraz, a catch-ride borrowed from Oliver Townend and owner Sarah Hughes for the competition. Previously piloted by Great Britain’s Alex Bragg (and a handful of Americans as well, including Ryan Wood, Phillip Dutton, and Allison Springer), the KWPN gelding (Cartier van de Heffinck x Imperatrice, by VDL Corland) won last year’s Paris class, and is proving something of a specialist in these buzzy, close competitions.

Despite opting for a slightly wider turn onto the final gallop down to that fickle final fence, the 23-year-old European bronze medalist stopped the clock on 36.65 seconds, perhaps spurred on by the nostalgic overtones of…Crazy Frog? We don’t know what they’re feeding these German arena DJs, but we’d quite like some, actually.

Photo via Stuttgart German Masters.

It would be an Irish one-two, after final rider Padraig McCarthy would cross the finish line less than a third of a second slower than Cathal, riding his 2018 Geneva indoor eventing victor Rosemaber LancuestIngrid Klimke would lead the way for the home side, finishing third on her 2016 Seven-Year-Old World Champion Weisse Düne, who gained some experience in this type of novelty class when joining in with Aachen’s infamous Ride and Drive this summer. They clocked in at 38.47 seconds, while fourth-placed Laura Collett and Cooley Again – rather charmingly referred to as ‘Nostrils’ – would finish up on 39.80 seconds, and €2,000 the richer.

One might suspect, though, that drinks were on Cathal, whose catch-ride was sweetened by the prospect of being able to keep all his prize money – a not insubstantial €10,000. Ever the competitor, he could be found rigorously tackling a pull-up challenge in the stables before making his merry way to the bar. Shots for nailing all the shots? We certainly hope so.

The next leg of the hotly-contested European indoor eventing circuit takes place at the Sweden International Horse Show in Stockholm on Thursday, the 28th November. After that, we’ll be heading to Paris for the Salon du Cheval on Saturday, the 7th of December, and swiftly onwards to Switzerland’s CHI Geneva, where the indoor eventing will take place on Friday, the 13th of December.

Stuttgart German Masters: Press Release

The Alumni Report: Looking Back at Goresbridge’s Golden Graduates

Royal Trend, a 3-year-old filly purchased by Michael Jung at the 2018 sale. Photo courtesy of Goresbridge Go For Gold Sale.

Pipe down, Jon Snow – winter is officially here, if the state of our collective rug room is anything to go by. With the season wrapped – unless you’re lucky enough to be heading south – it’s time to focus on the essentials at home: solidifying and building upon your training, creating a robust plan of action for next year and, in many cases, adding to your blossoming string. And as reliably as the frost, November brings with it a host of sales around the world designed to help you do just that. But ask any rider – from enthusiastic amateurs with an eye for quality to Olympic medallists looking for their next podium partner – and they’ll all tell you one thing: you’ve got to head to Goresbridge Go For Gold, which takes place in at Barnadown and the neighbouring Amber Springs Hotel in Co. Wexford, Ireland, on the 11th and 12th of November.

The Goresbridge sale has existed since the 1960s as a family-run venture, although the jewel in its crown – the Go For Gold sale – is a much younger entity. This year, Go For Gold celebrates a decade as the leading sale of top-quality event horses in Europe, refining the usual sale model by utilising a stringent selection process to choose only the best of the best. The final field, usually hosting around 60 consignments, is narrowed down by a formidable team of selectors, made up of Chris RyanClare Ryan, and Sally Parkyn, all of whom can take credit for sourcing a truly star-studded resume of horses through their careers. Backed up by a veterinary panel led by Irish team vet Hugh Suffern MVB MRCVS, they’ve created an appealing package that takes the risk – and much of the guesswork – out of choosing your next horse of a lifetime.

But when you’re hemming and hawing over attending a sale, what’s more potent in the decision-making process than seeing a string of previous successes? Today, we’re taking a look at some of the familiar faces whose illustrious careers began at Goresbridge. Some have come through Go For Gold, while others were sourced in the original sale – but all of them have left their mark on the sport in some way.

Buck Davidson and Ballynoe Castle RM. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Ballynoe Castle RM

The all-time leading points-earning horse in US Eventing history – and now, a Breyer model – began his story at Goresbridge. Reggie certainly earned his status as one of the best-loved horses in the States, jumping clear around Badminton, Burghley, and of course, Kentucky on a number of occasions. His best placing at his home five-star was third and National Champion, and he enjoyed his last foray into the competition ring there too, performing the guinea pig test with longtime groom Kathleen Murray in 2017 after a winter of competing together.

Want your own Reggie? Lots 36 and 41 are also by the stallion Ramiro B.

Cooley SRS and Oliver Townend at Badminton. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Cooley SRS

A graduate of the 2011 Goresbridge sale – just the second running – Cooley SRS enjoyed an exciting career trajectory with Oliver Townend before heading down under to join Hazel Shannon’s string under his new name, Willingapark Cooley. While campaigned under the Union Jack, he enjoyed top-five finishes in multiple CCI4*-S classes, including Burgham, Ballindenisk, and Jardy, as well as a win in Ballindenisk’s CCI4*-L. He was part of the winning British team in the Nations Cup finale at Boekelo in 2016, where he finished third individually, and was team pathfinder at the 2017 Strzegom Europeans. In 2018, he finished second in his five-star debut at Badminton, and capped off the year with 12th place at Burghley, before his high-profile sale to Australia.

Lenamore

Though not even 16hh, little Lenamore was one of Burghley’s most popular winners when he took it in 2010 with New Zealand’s Caroline Powell. He was also a stalwart of the Kiwi squad, representing his adopted nation at both the 2008 and the 2012 Olympics, taking team bronze at the latter, and at the 2006 World Equestrian Games. He retired at the beginning of 2013, enjoying a farewell ceremony at Badminton, a competition he’d completed a record-setting seven consecutive times. Since then, he’s enjoyed life in the hunting field.

Lenamore is a graduate of the ‘original’ Goresbridge sale, and also an exemplary example of a classic Irish Sport Horse: his sire was the Registered Irish Draught Sea Crest, while his dam was a full Thoroughbred with superb racing lineage.

Ciaran Glynn and November Night. Photo by Peter Nixon.

November Night

Named for the boozy evening at the sale in 2010 at which she was purchased, this rising star of the Irish team captured the attention – and the hearts – of the wider eventing world at Burghley last year, where she and Ciaran Glynn showed a tantalising glimpse of all that they’re capable of, finishing 14th overall. At Badminton this spring, their cross-country performance was one of the rounds of the day, notching up just six time penalties, and they delivered the first clear round inside the time at this summer’s European Championships.

Tim Price and Ringwood Sky Boy. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Ringwood Sky Boy

You’d be forgiven for thinking that a sale of this calibre would only command top-end prices – but there are bargains to be had for the savvy shopper, and Ringwood Sky Boy is a classic tale of a cheap and cheerful purchase that came good. Originally bought as a resale project, the quirky youngster ended up a permanent piece of the furniture at Tim and Jonelle Price’s Wiltshire base, from which he strode proudly into a rather impressive career: ninth at his first Badminton in 2014, second at Burghley the following year, fourth at Luhmühlen in 2016 and the same at Burghley that autumn, fifth at Burghley in 2017, and finally, a five-star winner at the Lincolnshire fixture last year. Now sixteen, he’s still going great guns, with a tenth-place finish at Badminton this spring and very nearly another excellent Burghley result, but for a truly rubbish piece of luck when he tripped in the final water, sending Tim into the drink. Though not necessarily the most straightforward of horses, he’s certainly cemented himself as one of the great characters of the sport – and, we suspect, more than earned back the pittance paid in the first place.

Imogen Murray and Ivar Gooden. Image courtesy of Tim Wilkinson.

Ivar Gooden 

Over the past few seasons, Ivar Gooden and Great Britain’s Imogen Murray have entertained eventing fans by offering them a glimpse of some rose-tinted heyday, something nostalgic and gung-ho that brings back memories of Ian Stark, Ginny Leng, and Blyth Tait bombing over timber. In doing so, the pair have established themselves as one of the most formidable cross-country partnerships on the circuit at the moment, with five clear rounds at five-star from five runs. This year, they finished in the top ten at both Badminton and Burghley, and although they’re not first-phase contenders, Ivar has won Badminton’s Glentrool Trophy – awarded to the highest climber throughout the week – twice in a row.

Phillip Dutton and Mr Medicott. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Mr Medicott

There are horses who make their name in a single dominant partnership, and then there are those who leave a mark on multiple teams throughout their long careers. The late Mr Medicott, who was partnered with three high-profile riders at the top level, is among the latter.

Originally bought by Nigel Taylor and then produced from a six-year-old to CCI5*-L by Germany’s Frank Ostholt, ‘Cave’ achieved a level of success in this formative partnership that eclipses many horses’ entire careers. Together, they finished second at Boekelo CCI4*-L in 2007, third at Aachen CCIO4*-S in 2008, won Saumur CCI4*-L in 2010, and was part of the gold medal-winning German team at the 2008 Olympics. That autumn, he finished third in the CCI5*-L at Pau, where he also finished tenth in 2011 in his last competition with Frank. Now the Stateside leg of his career was to begin: he was bought to target the 2012 Olympics with Karen O’Connor. They did just that, finishing ninth individually and taking fourth place at Kentucky that spring, too. But their partnership was to be a short one, as Karen would retire from competition at the end of 2012 following a major fall. Mr Medicott, still in the prime of his career, moved to Phillip Dutton’s string.

Their first five-star together would see them revisit the French five-star that had proven such a firm favourite of Cave’s – and that 2013 trip proved no different, resulting in a fourth-place finish for the new partnership. They would produce the goods at Kentucky the following season, though they withdrew before showjumping due to the aggravation of an old tendon injury, and after a couple of seasons out, they finished fourth at the US mainstay, earning the National Championship title.

In late 2017 and early 2018, Cave passed along some of his considerable experience to Olivia Dutton, helping her step up to CCI3*-S before retiring in the summer at Rebecca Farm, just moments after helping the Area II Young Rider team to a gold medal.

Andrew Nicholson and Mr. Cruise Control take Luhmühlen 2013. Photo by Thomas Ix.

Mr Cruise Control

Let’s throw it back to another vintage Goresbridge graduate, and one of our favourite of Andrew Nicholson’s remarkable list of top-level partners – the divine Mr Cruise Control. After winning back-to-back titles at Hartpury CCI4*-S, the Cruising gelding took both Chatsworth CCI4*-S and Luhmühlen CCI5*-L in 2013, cementing his superstar status. And after that? He spent his later teens teaching British junior Thomas Hawke the ropes, taking him from two-star to his first four-star at Houghton last year. In an interview with Horse & Hound, Thomas admitted that there was some pressure associated with taking on such a well-known horse – people would come over to hug him in the collecting ring. Um, not guilty?

Buck Davidson and Copper Beach. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Copper Beach

Mr Davidson has certainly done well with Goresbridge grads, and five-star mount Copper Beach is yet another of them to grace his string. The attractive chestnut, who won the Rebecca Farm CCI4*-L in 2016 and the Plantation Field CCI4*-S in 2017, has kept up his globe-trotting after his initial trip home to the States – he’s completed Pau, Tattersalls, and Boekelo, as well as making repeat visits to Kentucky, where he was tenth in 2018. Tall, ginger, and worldly – could he be the perfect Irish man?

Ready to head to the Emerald Isle – or bid from afar – and find your future partner? Whet your appetite by looking through the course catalogue and its accompanying videos, and register as a buyer today.

Friday Video from SmartPak: Dressage for Dummies

In today’s daily dose of weird, we bring you two guys dressed as a horse, attempting to outperform actual Grand Prix dressage horse, the late, great Sandro Boy. Australian dressage star Lyndal Oatley puts them through their (slightly sweaty) paces in this video, which truly needs to be watched after a beer or two for optimal value.

Tricky hooves, spinning donuts, and diagonal disco – Hamish and Andy make their way through all the sport’s toughest movements in pursuit of one goal: being sent to stud at the end of their illustrious career.

That’s cute and all, guys, but may we politely suggest a follow-up episode where you tackle a cross-country course? We think you’ll do GREAT.

Happy Friday, folks.

Friday Video from SmartPak: Lucinda Green Swaps Saddles

Petplan rider challenge

In this new Petplan Equine film, top riders Charlie Hutton and Lucinda Green swap disciplines. Find out how Lucinda gets on riding piaffe and tempi changes while Charlie finds his feet with angles and skinny fences…

Posted by Horse & Hound on Friday, November 1, 2019

What happens when Grand Prix dressage rider Charlie Hutton and veritable eventing legend Lucinda Green swap disciplines? Rather a lot of infuriating brilliance, you’ll be unsurprised to find. But we’re huge fans of some of the key takeaways of today’s video, which features each rider helping the other get to grips with a slightly alien discipline – there’s plenty that even the most hardened of us can learn from watching (although we recommend pouring yourself a glass of wine first, to numb the pain of seeing Hutton’s absolutely faultless form over a line of fences.)

Have you tried a temporary discipline swap? Did it lead to a revelation for your riding? Let us know in the comments!

The Trail to Tokyo: What’s the Deal with Composite Teams?

Tiziana Realini and Toubleau de la Ruiere help the Swiss team to the final qualification spot at Boekelo. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

With the Nations Cup finale at Military Boekelo behind us, it’s easy to think of the Tokyo team line-up as being set in stone now – after all, the final, much-discussed ticket was awarded at the Dutch event to Switzerland, the highest-placed non-qualified team on the final series standings. For all those who haven’t made it happen this year, that’s just tough luck and an early start to the next Olympic cycle, right? Well, maybe not so much. In this primer, we’re going to look at composite teams – the backdoor route to qualifying as a nation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

First of all, though, let’s refresh our memories of the teams that are going, and how they managed to secure their spots:

  • Japan – automatically qualifies as the host nation
  • Great Britain – WEG 2018
  • Ireland – WEG 2018
  • France – WEG 2018
  • Germany – WEG 2018
  • Australia – WEG 2018
  • New Zealand – WEG 2018
  • Poland – Special Qualifier for Group C (Central, Eastern Europe and Central Asia) at Baborówko
  • China – Special Qualifier for Groups F and G (Africa, the Middle East, South-East Asia, and Oceania) at Saumur
  • Thailand – Special Qualifier for Groups F and G (Africa, the Middle East, South-East Asia, and Oceania) at Saumur
  • United States – the Pan-American Games 2019
  • Brazil – the Pan-American Games 2019
  • Sweden – the FEI European Championships 2019
  • Italy – the FEI European Championships 2019
  • Switzerland – the FEI Nations Cup 2019

With their qualifications in the bag, each of these teams now has an important job. They need to provide an NOC Certificate of Capability to the FEI by the 31st of December, or they’ll forfeit their place.

Sweden qualified for Tokyo at the European Championships, though a victory in the Nations Cup series showed the value of hedging one’s bets. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

So what, exactly, is a Certificate of Capability? Basically, it’s a list of at least three qualified combinations, which proves that the country has sufficient strength, depth, and quality to actually field a team by the time the Olympics rolls around. These combinations don’t have to be the ones that end up going to the Games, they can just be any three combinations – as long as they’re qualified.

Here’s where it can start to get a bit confusing. The window of opportunity for gaining the qualifications for the Certificate of Capability is different to the window of opportunity for gaining individual qualifications for the actual Games – for the Certificate, those results can be taken from last year’s World Equestrian Games up until December 31st of this year. It’s important to note that no results earned earlier than January 1st of 2019 will be eligible for actually qualifying a horse and rider combination for the Olympics theselves – these results can only be used to secure the team quota.

Most of the teams with tickets don’t have to worry about this – the major eventing nations, of course, have multiple combinations qualified, and many high-profile riders are qualified several times over. (We see you, Chris Burton and Kazuma Tomoto, with your six and four qualified horses, respectively!) But some of the developing nations will be feeling the pressure, and there are two in particular that we’ll be taking a closer look at here.

Alex Hua Tian and Don Geniro at Saumur. Ouest Image.

Something that’s worth acknowledging is that Olympic team tickets were handed out at quite a wide spectrum of levels. The WEG, for example, is a CCI5*-L for qualification purposes, while the European Championships and Baborówko are held at CCI4*-L. The Nations Cup series is largely held at CCI4*-S, although the finale at Boekelo is a CCI4*-L, but the Pan-American Games and the Group F and G qualifier at Saumur? They were held at CCI3*-L.

What does this mean, in real-world terms? First of all, it means that we can introduce new flags to the sport, which is a major priority of both the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the FEI. Conversely, though, it also means that qualified teams aren’t necessarily capable teams, as far as the ruling is concerned. There are four nations that qualified through CCI3*-L competition – the United States will have no problem fulfilling the quota by December 31st, and Brazil will just scrape through too, despite being conspicuous only by their absence at many of the major competitions this year. But China and Thailand? Well, they’ve got some work to do.

Before we dive into these two teams – the only two not to have the minimum of qualified combinations – let’s go over the Minimum Eligibility Requirements, or MERs, for Tokyo qualification.

  • Qualification must be achieved as a combination
  • The eligibility period for results to count for the Certificate of Capability is WEG 2018 – December 31st, 2019
  • The eligibility period for results to count for a combination to actually be qualified to go to Tokyo is January 1st, 2019 – June 1st 2020
  • Combinations must achieve an MER at both a CCI4*-S and a CCI4*-L, or they can achieve a standalone MER at CCI5*-L
  • An MER, or qualifying result, must include a dressage score of 55% or better (penalty score 45 or below), a clear cross-country round with 30 or fewer time penalties (if at four-star) or 40 or fewer time penalties if at five-star, and a showjumping round with 16 or fewer jumping penalties
  • The combination can knock one frangible, earning 11 penalties, and still use the result as an MER. A second 11 penalties, a 15, or a 20 will render the result invalid for qualifying purposes

The State of the Nation: China

China has 2/3 riders qualified ahead of the December 31st deadline. These are:

  • Alex Hua Tian. China’s first Olympic eventer – Tokyo will be his third Games – was the lynchpin of the team that qualified at Saumur, where he finished second with Don Geniro. He and The Don picked up their CCI4*-S qualifying result at Ballindenisk in April, following it up with a CCI4*-L qualifying result at Camphire in July. For the purposes of the CoC, Alex’s WEG mount Ballytiglea Vivendi is also qualified, while Ballbreaker SD and PSH Convivial have each picked up their CCI4*-S qualifying results, but both need their CCI4*-L ones.
  • Liang Ruiji. Also part of the Saumur team, Liang isn’t just qualified for Tokyo in eventing – he’s also qualified for showjumping. Alongside these two endeavours, he finds the time to compete in international endurance. Liang, who’s based with Marc Rigouts, hadn’t competed higher than CCI3*-S before this year, but with top horse Crackerjack, he got his CCI4*-S (Millstreet) and CCI4*-L (Sopot) qualifying results on his first attempt at either level.

There are three riders we need to be keeping a close eye on as we head into the last couple of European events of the season. Each of them needs a CCI4*-L qualifying result before the year wraps. Here are the names you need to know…

  • Sun Huadong. Based with Dutch superstar Tim Lips, Sun has been hard at work to try to get his qualifications banked. Although Sun was part of the Saumur team with Lady Chin V’T Moerven Z, and although he got his CCI4*-S qualifying result with her at Strzegom in April, they were eliminated in their CCI4*-L attempt at the same venue in June, and then again when they resurfaced for Ballindenisk in September. Now, Sun is turning his attention to new ride Brent, who was campaigned by Tim until June. The duo fast-tracked their way to four-star with some top-ten placings along the way, and picked up their CCI4*-S qualifying result at Montelibretti this month. Now, they need to get their CCI4*-L – and there’s only one chance left for them to do so before the end of the year. (More on this below!)
  • Ciren Bianba. Ciren wasn’t part of the Saumur team – he was busy spending this year learning the ropes of eventing. Before 2019, the international showjumper had only evented a handful of times internationally – one in 2009, twice in 2014, and twice in 2018, to be exact. This season, he’s gone from CCI2*-S to CCI4*-S. On his first CCI4*-S attempt, which was at Waregem with the former Mathieu Lemoine ride Tropic d’Heauville, he picked up a qualifying result – but they were eliminated from their sole CCI4*-L attempt at Montelibretti this month when he took a tumble.
  • Yingfeng Bao. Yingfeng was also part of the Saumur team, although he failed to complete the competition. You might have spotted him out and about purely by dint of his horse – he rides the former Andrew Nicholson mount Teseo. Also based with Tim Lips, Yingfeng has had a few false starts this season, but after a few attempts, he picked up his CCI4*-S qualifying result at Montelibretti this month. We foresee another Team Lips trip to Italy before the year is out.

The State of the Nation: Thailand

Like China, Thailand has 2/3 combinations in the bag ahead of the deadline. These are…

  • Korntawat Samran. Korntawat was a member of the Saumur team with Luminous, but it’s Uster de Chanay who he’s qualified with. They got their CCI4*-S at Strzegom this month, and then their CCI4*-L at Montelibretti – a bold move, but a valid one, as there was just over ten days between the competitions, as per FEI rules. Korntawat, in keeping with a theme, was only really an old one-star rider before this season – but basing himself with Maxime Livio has allowed the 21-year-old a quick trajectory up the levels.
  • Weerapat Pitakanonda. ‘Bomb’, as he’s known to his pals, competed up to CCI3*-S a couple of times before this year, but has also put in the work to get the job done – he splits his time between his home in Thailand, Maxime Livio‘s base in France, and Sam Griffiths‘ UK yard. He managed his qualifying results with Chateau de Versailles M2S on his first attempts at each level – they picked up their CCI4*-S at Strzegom in August and their CCI4*-L at Sopot in September.

There’s really only one other rider who can qualify before the end of the year – Supanut Wanakool, who was on the Saumur team, lost the ride on Tzar of Dreams to Korntawat, and then to Arinadtha, after an unlucky run of performances. So all hopes rest on…

  • Arinadtha Chavatanont. Also based with Maxime Livio, Arinadtha was the highest-placed member of the Thai team at Saumur, finishing 12th with Boleybawn Prince. The horse is hugely experienced, having been campaigned by Dirk Schrade and Maxime, who still intermittently competes him. Although the rider, who also competes in international showjumping and dressage, was only competing at CCI2*-L before this year, she picked up her CCI4*-S qualifying result on her first run at Strzegom in August. The following month, the pair were on track to nail down their CCI4*-L qualifying result at Sopot, but Boleybawn Prince was withdrawn at the final horse inspection. At Strzegom this month, they fell across the country in the CCI4*-L. They’ll need to head to Italy next month – and everything will ride on this one result.

What are the remaining options?

Our Chinese and Thai competitors are all based in Europe, so at this point, their options are pretty limited – there are two four-star competitions before the year ends, and only one will be of any use. Le Pouget in France (November 13-17) will host a CCI4*-S, while Pratoni in Italy (November 14-17) will host both a CCI4*-S and a CCI4*-L, which we can expect to see our unqualified riders entered in.

What happens if they don’t pull it off?

China’s chances are looking strong enough – if all three of their unqualified riders head to Pratoni, the odds are that one of them will pick up an MER, and de facto head honcho Tim Lips is confident about their chances. But Arinadtha Chavatanont will need a bit of luck, a cool head for pressure, and the ride of her life to make her final run count for Thailand – plus, Boleybawn Prince will need to be feeling well enough to run after his fall earlier this month. There’s a huge margin for error – and it’s important to understand the next steps if the deadline isn’t met.

If December 31st rolls around and Thailand, for example, still only have two riders qualified, they won’t be able to submit their Certificate of Capability, which means their team ticket will be rescinded and they’ll be given an individual place instead. The team ticket will then be reallocated to what’s called a composite team.

A composite team is decided, simply, by Olympic rankings. Each of the unqualified nations is given an aggregate score, which is decided by adding together the rank of the three best-placed athletes from that nation. The country with the lowest score – that is, the highest-ranked athletes – gets the spot, assuming that country has at least three combinations with the sufficient qualifying results.

For example, country A, B, and C are unqualified for the Olympics, but a composite spot has opened up. Country A’s best-placed riders are 5th, 7th, and 10th on the Olympic rankings, giving them an aggregate score of 22. Country B’s are 3rd, 11th, and 13th, giving them an aggregate score of 27. Country C’s are 2nd, 9th, and 12th, giving them an aggregate score of 23. Country A takes the team spot.

There’s plenty of time for rankings to change before the end of the year, and, indeed, before February, which is when composite teams will be awarded if necessary, but we’ve crunched the numbers to see who would get the spot if it was decided on current standings. Will it be the Dutch, who tried so hard to claim their spot at their home nation final? How about the Belgians, who so nearly managed it despite a huge disadvantage? Maybe the Canadians, whose podium finish at the Pan-Ams was so bittersweet?

Nope. The Russians take this, on an aggregate score of 218, made up by Aleksandr Markov (19th in the global Olympic rankings), Valery Martyshev (26th), and Andrey Mitin (173rd). The Dutch would beat them, in theory – their top three rankings put them on a final score of 148 – but the top two rankings are held by Tim Lips, and the ruling specifies different athletes. This forces them to count Tim and Bayro, fourth in the world, but skip Eclips, 60th. Counting Merel Blom and Ceda (84th) and Ilonka Kluytmans and Image of Roses (192nd) puts them on a current ranking of 280. Sadly for the Dutch, this isn’t even enough to allow them to sneak in if a second composite team slot becomes available – although for poor Tim, who is so heavily involved with the Chinese riders, it would probably seem a strange sort of victory to take their place, anyway. The second spot, on current rankings, would go to Belarus, who climbed from an aggregate score of 774 to one of 225 after a clean sweep of the recent CCI4*-L at Minsk. Alexander Zelenko (70th) won it, Aliaksandr Faminou (77th) finished second, and Maryna Ivanova (78th) finished third in the class, which had 15 starters.

But this is all only a rough guide – after all, so much changed for Belarus in one competition. Our advice? Keep a very, very close eye on Pratoni – we certainly will be.

Tom McEwen Takes First Five-Star Win at Pau

Tom McEwen leads the lap of honour for the first time at this level. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It would be tempting, when writing about Toledo de Kerser and Tom McEwen‘s first CCI5* victory at Pau today, to suggest that it’s been rather a long time coming. But Tom is quick to dispel that notion with a laugh: “I know everyone always goes on about their horse deserving a win, and all that rubbish, but he’s a mega horse and when you’re sat on something like that on the last day… yeah, he sailed. It’s a horrible thing to say, but it felt easy – he’s incredible.” Then, he concedes – “The horse fully deserves it; he’s an amazing horse.”

Though Pau had to break its lucky streak of home nation winners, it did enjoy one consolation prize – the winner was a Selle Français. As such, his two-phase lead was closely followed by the record crowds of attendees, waiting to see if the rangy French horse – originally produced by Australia’s Sammi Birch – could come good on home soil.

“He’s a super French horse and he jumps like an airplane, so there was nothing to be worried about today – I’m the only one who’s going to let him down showjumping, so I just needed to stay on board and count some numbers,” says Tom, who entered the ring in a confident position – he had already produced a foot-perfect clear with Figaro van het Broekxhof (16th) and the difficulty of the course meant that he suddenly found himself with two fences in hand; rather a luxury when you’re sitting aboard a horse who’s only ever had two rails in his entire international career.

Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

But as it happened, he wouldn’t use any of the significant buffer he’d been granted – instead, he canter into the main arena as though he was about to cruise through a schooling exercise at home and neatly popped his way around the twisting track, making us rather wonder why anyone had had any rails down at all throughout the day. In fact, Tom’s round was one of just nine without jumping penalties out of the 27 rounds completed, and one of just five to finish up clear and without time penalties.

Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

For Tom, this win wraps up an occasionally frustrating season in a bow.

“He’s just such an incredible horse, despite a few things going wrong at the beginning of the year,” says the rider, who missed his cross-country start time at Badminton this spring with Toledo, and then knocked a frangible pin, ultimately finishing eleventh. Then, a surprise slip-up on the yard meant that the gelding had to miss the European Championships, for which he’d been selected after this great performance at the Tryon World Equestrian Games last year.

“It’s not been bad at all; it’s just been a bit flat – it’s the highs and the lows of the sport, although my lows haven’t been that low,” says Tom, level and unruffled as usual, though a broad grin sneaks across his face every few moments. It seems fitting that this first victory comes at the place where it all began for Toledo – he did his first five-star here three years ago, finishing 22nd, and has since featured in the top ten at both Badminton and Burghley.

Now, Tom and his team begin the 25-hour journey home – but Tom has a celebration up his sleeve.

“I’m off to Amsterdam for a stag do,” he says with a twinkle in his eye.

Chris Burton and Quality Purdey. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Quality Purdey once again proved that her moniker isn’t a misnomer, stepping up to finish second with Australia’s Chris Burton in the irons. Though they had begun the week in sixth place on their dressage score of 27.8, a quick round across the country moved them up to third overnight. Although they tipped the final fence today, they were able to step up into second place, over eight points behind the winners. Remarkably, this result means that Chris now has six horses qualified for Tokyo this year – a phenomenon we think can be fairly described as an embarrassment of riches.

Shane Rose and Virgil. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Shane Rose, like Burto above him, represents Australia – but unlike Dorset-based Chris, Shane hasn’t set up shop on European shores. Instead, he and Virgil travelled for five days to make it to Pau, at which Shane hoped they might be able to nab a top placing and curry favour with the Australian selectors ahead of next year’s Olympics. While the plan paid off in the end, with their clear round over the poles helping Shane and Virgil to climb from fifth to third, it wasn’t without its difficulties.

“He actually tied up last week at Le Lion d’Angers during a gallop there,” explains Shane. “We were held up on the racecourse for about forty-five minutes and the stress really got to him. So it wasn’t ideal, but we had a great support team to get to this point.”

Just one stone remains unturned for Shane as he reflects on his week, which saw him deliver a dressage mark of 33 for 14th place after the first phase, and then climb to fifth after adding just 1.6 time penalties on cross-country.

“It’s just a shame my dressage wasn’t to the standard it can be,” says the rider, who led after the dressage here with CP Qualified in 2017, but came unstuck on the cross-country course. “But I’m very pleased with the horse; it’s a big deal travelling to the other side of the world. The plan was to come here, do well, and cement a top three performance so we could give ourselves a good chance for next year.”

Alex Bragg and Zagreb. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Alex Bragg and Zagreb went into the final phase in a close second place after delivering the only clear round inside the time over yesterday’s cross-country course, and although Alex, too, is a British rider who has continually come achingly close to a top placing at this level, it wasn’t to be his week. He dropped to a still very respectable fourth place after two fences – including, infuriatingly, the final one – toppled, an out-of-character performance for the ordinarily reliable fifteen-year-old gelding.

Ros Canter and Zenshera. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Two rails would tumble for Ros Canter and Zenshera, who nevertheless finished fifth – their third time finishing in the top ten at this event, and their fifth time in the top ten out of five attempts at the level. As far as speedy returns to the sport after having a baby go, it’s not too shabby at all.

Tim Price and Ascona M. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

No one had to work quite as hard for their clear round as New Zealand’s Tim Price, who displayed remarkable tact in manoeuvring the headstrong Ascona M around the course. ‘Ava’, who won at Luhmühlen this year, is still just an eleven-year-old and this week, in the best shape of her life, she’s certainly proven hard to handle. But such is the flamboyant mare’s scope that she can skip her way over the top of the wings, throwing her legs out ahead of her in her typical style and laughing her way to the finish while the rest of us scarcely dare to breathe. We were relieved to see someone hand a laughing Tim a glass of something naughty as the showjumping came to a close – he likely needed it.

But while Ava may not have been the easiest of mounts this week, as she demonstrated while tackling the arena familiarisation days ago on her hind legs, she’s certainly proven once again that she’s got all the goods. Despite having a necessarily slow round to focus on the mare’s education, rather than getting caught up in an argument, Tim and Ava still finished in 6th place, one spot up from the 7th place spot they occupied after each of the first two phases.

Kevin McNab and Scuderia 1918 Don Quidam. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Australia’s Kevin McNab also rode an eleven-year-old, but Scuderia 1918 Don Quidam brought forward considerably less experience than Ascona M. Though making his five-star debut – and partnered by a rider we haven’t seen at this level in several years – he looked every inch the old pro, tipping just one rail along the way to swap places with Tim and Ava and finish 7th, a week-long climb of eight places.

Andreas Dibowski and FRH Butts Avedon. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Two late rails fell for Germany’s Andreas Dibowski and his long-term partner FRH Butts Avedon, not an unusual circumstance for the hugely experienced partnership who long held a weak spot in this phase. But they didn’t drop a single place on the leaderboard, instead just sacrificing the one place they could have moved up had they gone clear.

Any performance today would have been the icing on the cake of a successful final major competition for sixteen-year-old FRH Butts Avedon, who was for so long one of Germany’s most successful five-star horses. Though his form at the level tailed off in recent seasons, with multiple failed attempts, it’s been enormously special to watch him romp around the three phases of this week’s competition looking back to his best. Dibo had told us earlier this week that he wanted to give his old friend the chance to bow out on a high – and that mission was inarguably accomplished today.

Mathieu Lemoine and Tzinga d’Auzay. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Mathieu Lemoine and the ten-year-old mare Tzinga d’Auzay tipped two poles but stayed in ninth place, finishing the best of the French riders at this week’s competition.

“Tzinga is not the easiest horse in the showjumping arena; I had a credit of two rails to stay in ninth, and I did have two rails down,” says Mathieu, who was part of the gold medal-winning French team at the Rio Olympics, but has largely been out of the spotlight since the sale of his Olympic mount Bart L to the Japanese team. But the promise shown by the Selle Français mare on her debut this week gives the popular rider plenty of reason to hope for a return to the global stage.

“She’s got a big heart and tries her hardest, and I’m getting to know her really well now. This has opened a lot of doors; when I came here I was not expecting to do so well. This opens a glimmer of a dream for future big events with Tzinga.”

Benjamin Massie displays his orange armband, as does Arnaud Boiteau, pictured in the background. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Mathieu joined his fellow French riders in wearing an orange armband, a nod to their young countryman Thibault Fournier, who won Pau last year on his debut and is currently in hospital, recovering from a major fall at Pompadour that put him into a coma.

Sarah Way and Dassett Cooley Dun. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Let it never be said that we at EN miss out on the stars of the future – we’ve been cheering on little Dassett Cooley Dun for two seasons now, and today, the 15.1hh Irish-bred claimed his biggest result yet, rounding out the top ten with rider Sarah Way who, like Ros, is newly back from maternity leave. The diminutive gelding, known at home as Mouse, made his debut here last year, picking up an unfortunate 20, but this year, the strength of the pair’s performance yesterday allowed him to climb from 40th after dressage to 14th. Today, they knocked just one rail and moved up four places to tenth, representing the biggest climb of the week. Pony power – it’s the most sustainable form of energy, folks.

Holly Jacks-Smither and More Inspiration. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Canada’s Holly Jacks-Smither has waited several long years to come to Pau with ex-racehorse More Inspiration, and although two rails down belied the pair’s consistency in this phase, it didn’t lose her her twelfth place spot.

“I’m happy with my weekend – this is my strongest phase, so it’s a shame to have two down, but we had personal bests in both the other phases,” says Holly. “I’m thrilled with my horse and thrilled with my weekend in general. I’m so glad I made it here – not just to be at the show, but because of the people I’ve met along the way, these amazing connections that will stay with me forever.”

James Avery and Mr Sneezy. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

British-based Kiwi James Avery was the best-placed five-star debutante, finishing 17th with Mr Sneezy after a clear showjumping round with 0.8 time penalties to end their week on a score of 80. Though the pair picked up 20 penalties across the country yesterday, they proved themselves to be a stylish and capable duo in their debut.

And so we come to the conclusion of the final CCI5* of the Northern Hemisphere’s eventing season and, in fact, our European coverage for 2019. But never fear – we’ll have plenty to keep you warm on a cold night from this side of the pond as we head into the off-season. For now, though, let’s all raise a glass to Tom McEwen, to Toledo de Kerser, and to 2019, with all its highs, lows, and perfect moments. Roll on 2020, when we can once again Go Eventing.

The final top ten at the 2019 edition of Les 5 Etoiles de Pau.

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Archie Rocks Euthanised After Fall at Les 5 Etoiles de Pau

Felix Vogg and Archie Rocks on course at Pau. Photo by Kingfisher Media Services.

We’re devastated to report that Archie Rocks, ridden by Switzerland’s Felix Vogg, has been euthanised following a fall late on course at Les 5 Etoiles de Pau yesterday. The pair had enjoyed a clear round up until the final water on course, which featured a hanging log in at 28A and a skinny in the water at 28B. After navigating the first element successfully, the gelding appeared to stumble in the water, falling just in front of the second and sustaining a catastrophic injury to his shoulder.

The event has released a statement, which reads: “It is with a great sadness that we announce that Archie Rocks, ridden by Switzerland’s Felix Vogg and owned by Phoenix Eventing S.à.r.l., was put down on Saturday, October 26, following a fall on the cross-country, while competing at the CCI5*-L of les 5 Etoiles de Pau, France. The fall occurred on fence 28B.

The decision to put the horse down was taken by the owner, in consultation with the show veterinarians.”

“Archie Rocks suffered an irreparable shoulder fracture, considered to be severe by the veterinarians on the site,” says Felix, who co-owned the gelding, in the statement. “Despite all efforts to save him, we have had to take the difficult decision to put him to sleep. Archie was a very special horse in many respects. Special thoughts go to all his American fans, who have given him their support throughout his career. He was outstanding on the cross-country, a sweet horse who gave his best to his rider.”

Archie Rocks enjoyed a brief career as a racehorse, winning over $30,000 over 30 starts in the States before embarking upon his second career as an eventer. He was bought from Chris Talley by Maya Simmons, who renamed the horse – then called Smittys Messiah – to honour her grandfather, who served during World War II. Maya campaigned the gelding to CCI4*-S before Buck Davidson took the reins, partnering Archie to top ten finishes in all four of their international runs together, including Fair Hill CCI4*-L, Jersey Fresh CCI4*-L, and a win in the CCI4*-S at Plantation Field. Felix bought the eleven-year-old at the end of 2018, and in their brief but illustrious partnership together, they finished in the top ten in the CCIO4*-S at Pratoni, the CCI4*-L at Strzegom, and represented Switzerland at this summer’s European Championships.

Eventing Nation’s team sends its deepest consolations to Felix and all of Archie’s connections and many fans. Archie Rocks was not only a much-loved ambassador for retrained racehorses worldwide, he was also a firm favourite among the teams he was a part of, and will be much missed.

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Jack Pinkney Speaks Out After Pau Fall: “I Was So Angry With Myself”

Jack Pinkney and Raphael tackle fence 11. Photo by Kingfisher Media Services.

If you’ve been following along with Les 5 Etoiles de Pau – or, indeed, have nipped onto social media over the last 24 hours – it’s likely you’ve come across a widely-shared video of an incident that occurred over yesterday’s cross-country horse. Today, we spoke to 27-year-old Jack Pinkney, the British debutante who was eliminated when his mount, 15-year-old Raphael, attempted to jump a large dividing wall in the final section of the course, and who has been at the centre of heated criticism as the clip has gained traction.

“It started brilliantly – he was flying, as always, and he made everything in the beginning feel like it was easy. He was cruising around, and it felt like you’d want it to,” reflects 27-year-old Jack, who runs his own yard in Andover, Hampshire after several years working for Padraig and Lucy McCarthy and latterly, Austin O’Connor. He took the ride on Julia Plaisted’s Raphael, who was a working hunter until the age of ten, five years ago, and has produced the Irish Sport Horse through the levels as he, too, has made his debut at the upper echelons of the sport. Promising results, including tenth place in a CCI4*-S at Chatsworth and a fast clear at Blenheim’s CCI4*-L, led to the decision to head to the south of France’s for the pair’s first five-star.

The early section of the course proved uneventful for the seasoned partnership. But after jumping neatly through the first part of the course’s first water complex, Jack turned back for the second passage through, made up of fences 10 – a reasonably skinny arrowhead – and 11, a brush swan in the water. As the pair touched down from fence 10 and aimed for the left-handed turn to 11, Jack’s left rein snapped partway through the rubber section, and with the balance and steering momentarily lost, they slipped by fence 11, picking up 20 penalties. Jack quickly regained purchase on the broken left rein, which allowed enough length for him to comfortably use it, circled back, and popped fence 11.

“It snapped on the rubber section of the rein, which was odd, but I managed to pick up what I could in the water to then ride out over 11 and 12,” says Jack. “Again, [Raphael] showed how class he was, because he just did it. Then I had a bit of thinking time, because I had a bit of a gallop to a straightforward table, and I was addressing what I had at that time: I had a left rein, so I decided that I had control of the horse. We jumped the table at 13 and he felt good, and so I addressed it again.”

Jack assessed the length of rein he was afforded, and tested the controls to see whether he felt he could assert enough influence for the next, more open, part of the course.

“I had to have my left hand more forward, but I had a rein – it wasn’t like there was nothing there. I had a bit of rein to play with, and I could ride it. I shut the canter down, I shut the whole plan down then – I stopped my watch, because I thought, ‘let’s just try to give him a nice round with what I can do.’ I just wanted to get him home; I thought I was safe to go on because he’d been so easy and he felt brilliant.”

“We then did lots of technical parts [from fences 14 to 26]; I added in a couple of places because I changed my riding to try to get there and make it easier for the horse,” continues Jack. “Where there were long routes I took them. From then on, he was cruising and it was going well – he did the tricky turn to the left where you have two angled brushes [at 25 and 26] amazingly.”

The next fence was one of Pau’s myriad let-up tables – an innocuous obstacle after the skinnies and turns that the pair had already conquered. But this jump – fence 27, just prior to the final water and only a handful of fences from home – proved to be enormously influential to the pair, who had settled into a comfortable rhythm.

“He just jumped so well over [27] that it took the rein completely out of my hand,” explains Jack, who  leaned down to try to regain it. “I could never catch it again – I tried to pull on the martingale to slow him, and that’s where you see me trying to reach for the rein [in the video]. But the rein was hanging, and I couldn’t catch it.”

Just beyond fence 27, a large dividing wall – roughly ten feet high – opened into an archway to usher horses and riders into the final wooded section of the course. Still without his left rein, Jack felt Raphael lock onto the wall as though it was an obstacle.

“Being a very brave horse with confidence in our partnership, he eyed up the wooden dividing wall between two parts of the course, and there was nothing I could do. He took off at it, I fell off backwards and he galloped off,” says Jack, who landed on his feet as his horse attempted to clear the wall, instead crashing into it and landing on his hindquarters, quickly uprighting himself and cantering away.

Much of the criticism on social media has been directed at the two seconds of footage immediately after the fall, which show Jack throwing his whip to the ground as his horse canters away. But this, he says, isn’t indicative of any anger towards his horse – instead, it was a visceral reaction to how the situation could have panned out.

“At that moment, I was so angry with myself – I thought, ‘I could have hurt my horse’. Any reaction from me was just upset with myself,” he explains. “I made a massive mistake – your adrenaline’s up, you’re going, and you’re wanting to finish, and as a competitor that’s what you do. But then, if you could take a breath when you finish it, you start to think that would could have happened could have been so much worse, and that’s when you think, ‘I should have pulled up.’”

After tending to his mount, Jack took himself to the ground jury, professing his responsibility for the entire incident. He has received an official warning.

“I told them that I’m completely guilty; I have nothing to hide,” he says. “I made a mistake, and I’ve learnt from it – I won’t ever do it again.”

Despite the intensity of the backlash, Jack tells us that his overwhelming feeling is relief that his partner, Raphael is unhurt.

“He’s totally sound and happy, with just a small cut on his face,” he says. “We trotted him up this morning and he was absolutely fine, so I’m so relieved. He’s such a gent, and he just wants to please – I’ll probably never ride a horse like him again, and I know him so well. If I’d been on something else, I’d have thought differently. From the bottom of my heart, I didn’t want it to be dangerous, and I’m so sorry.”

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Overnight Leader Held in Pau Final Horse Inspection

Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

And so the final battle commences, but not before Sunday’s horse inspection – and true to Pau form, that, too, brought its fair share of drama. After the overnight withdrawal of Gemma Tattersall‘s two rides, Jalapeno and Chilli Knight, 27 horses came forward in front of the assembled ground jury of Katrin Eichinger-KnielyTim Downes, and Nathalie Carriere. After yesterday’s sizzling highs of 27 Celsius, it was a joy to see a field of fit, happy, and occasionally rambunctious horses presented on the strip, which rather bizarrely abutted the tail end of the combined driving marathon course. Hashtag danger trot-up, anyone?

Just one would be held throughout the course of the trot-up, but it was one that quickened a fair few pulses: Tom McEwen‘s two-phase leader, Toledo de Kerser, was sent to the holding box, but subsequently passed upon reinspection. He’ll be our last horse to jump this afternoon in today’s showjumping finale, which begins at 15.00 local time/14.00 British time/10.00 a.m. Eastern. Full times can be found here, while a free live-stream can be found on Horse&Country TV.

Here’s a refresher of the leaderboard after cross-country:

The top ten at the culmination of cross-country at Pau.

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Tom McEwen Tops the Bill in Pau Cross-Country

Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser. Photo by Kingfisher Media Services.

A curious thing happens at the beginning of cross-country day at a major three-day event: either the first riders out of the box make the whole shebang look laughably easy, and then a false sense of ease settles upon the rest of the pack and it all unravels again – or the first few fail to make it to the finish, and everyone begins to pay very close attention to every stride. The latter is what we saw today at Pau, where 29 of the 41 starters completed the course, but just 16 did so without adding jumping or flag penalties. Throughout the day, we saw problems scattered evenly across the course, with the myriad skinnies providing ample opportunity for drive-bys.

At the end of the day, though, dressage leader Tom McEwen would prevail, romping home just two seconds over the optimum time with Toledo de Kerser.

“Usually I don’t get that excited about things, but I was in that round,” laughs Tom, who piloted Figaro van het Broekxhof to a completion – albeit with a 20 – earlier in the day. “It’s been a long day for me; we’ve been to our Burghleys, and our Europeans, and so on, but it’s a strong field here and it’s just caused problem after problem all day. It’s a long old wait until the end of the day, and the first one wasn’t as precise as we’d like, although he went well. But Toledo was ready to go to the Europeans and he’s carried that over, so we were very fresh out of the start box. We just got into the flow of it – we were right down out the back and he just picked it back up, and as the round went on he just got smoother and smoother. For a horse with not much blood, he can run well enough.”

Though this is the first time Tom will go into the final phase with this amount of pressure, one thing must surely make him breathe a little more easily: Toledo de Kerser has one of the most impeccable showjumping records in the field.

Alex Bragg and Zagreb. Photo by Kingfisher Media Services.

The fastest round of the day – and the only round to stop the clock under the optimum time of 11:15 – was that of Alex Bragg and Zagreb, who finished with three seconds to spare and climbed from eighth to second place. For the pair, who have twice been fifth here on double-clear performances, making the time at Pau is a first.

“I think it shows the improvement in both of us along this journey,” says Alex. “He doesn’t have the biggest stride, considering he’s such a big horse, but he does have a lot of experience now and I’m able to ride up to fences without interfering or setting up too much, so I could keep a good pace and rhythm all the way around the track.”

Watching the riders before him impressed upon Alex the importance of finding that rhythm.

“I watched Tim [Price and Ascona M] and thought they looked like they were travelling well, but suddenly they were 40 seconds up on the clock,” he says. “It was clear to me that you were going to lose time in the last part of the course because the horses would be tired, and you’d be able to run straight past fences. You don’t want to be pulling their heads off and killing their power; you needed to relax to the fence and let them slow up themselves. Then, when you put your leg on, you’d get a response – and that’s the crucial thing.”

Alex roundly praised Michelet’s course design, which exerted considerable influence: “When I walked the course I knew it would have accumulative effect on horse and rider – you needed to make a decision about adding or leaving out before you got to a combination,” he explains. “If you were indecisive you had a slip-up – but that’s why it’s a clever course. You didn’t have major incidents and injuries, but it had an effect. This is a three-phase competition, after all.”

Chris Burton and Quality Purdey. Photo by Kingfisher Media Services.

The fastest man in the world didn’t quite deliver the fastest round of the day today, but Chris Burton couldn’t fault five-star debutante Quality Purdey, who added just 2 time penalties to move up to third place from sixth.

“I’m so proud of her – she’s a lovely mare, and I’m so lucky to have the ride on this horse,” says Chris. “She got a bit tired like they all did; Pierre Michelet does a great job of slowing us down in that last and second-last minute. It’s just impossible to take the fences out of a gallop and be quick. There’s a lot going on. But she’s really astonishing in how she looks for the jumps and wants to jump them – she steals my heart.”

Quality Purdey’s success is something of a miracle for her connections, who nursed her back from an injury last season.

“She broke her pedal bone after Aachen last year, and she’s come back from that getting better and better,” says Chris. “She’s amazing; she’s defied all the odds, and our team vet just can’t believe it – he’s absolutely in love with her.”

Chris and his team affectionately refer to the mare as ‘the dragon’ – despite her placid, sweet nature at home, she starts to breathe fire (though not literally, one must hope) at events.

“She must count down the days to an event – she knows when it’s cross-country day,” laughs Chris. “At Lignières we couldn’t get near her in the stable – she was wild, snorting fire, and she did a little bit in the dressage there, too. But she’s a lovely mare and we absolutely love her. You’ve never met a horse who wants to do it so much.”

Ros Canter and Zenshera. Photo by Kingfisher Media Services.

Reigning World Champion Ros Canter made good on her postpartum five-star comeback, cruising around with 15.2hh Zenshera. Though small, the fifteen-year-old gelding has become a mighty Pau specialist, finishing in the top ten on both his runs here – and today, both he and Ros showed us exactly why, adding a relatively tiny 6 time penalties to their 27.2 dressage to sit fourth overnight.

“We didn’t have a bad jump – he was just fantastic,” says Ros, who gave birth to her daughter, Ziggy, in July. “He’s such an honest horse, and he turns easily, and he comes back easily, and I don’t have to set him up too much, so from that point of view, he’s great. He just doesn’t have the gallop – you get out onto the racecourse and you think ‘right, now we can go’, and we don’t go any faster. I just have to be chugging away the whole time – he just doesn’t take me. It’s really hard if you have to slow down, because it takes quite a while to get back up again. I’ve got used to it now, though. The first time I came here I was slogging away at minute two, and so I slowed down thinking, ‘I’ve got all this way to go and he’s already tired’ – but he wasn’t getting tired, he’s just level in his rhythm and he doesn’t get any faster. But you know what? We didn’t buy him ever thinking he’d go around something like this, and I can live with a few time faults – I wouldn’t want to be on any other horse coming back. He and Allstar B are extremely special to me.”

Despite this, Ros admits that she felt the prickle of nerves this morning.

“I thought of just having a word with my partner and saying, ‘is this a stupid idea?’,” she says. “I had a bit of a wobble this morning – I went out early to have a practice fence, for my benefit not the horse’s, because I just haven’t been doing it like everyone else has this year. But I ended up pulling out of a brush fence that was only about a metre high, and I thought, ‘what the hell am I doing?! Come on, woman, buck your ideas up!’ And I just found it really hard out there this morning. So I had to give myself a bit of a talking to, but actually, in the warm-up the second time around, I was fine.”

Helping her along were some sage and simple words of wisdom from British chef d’equipe Chris Bartle.

“He always gives me the best advice, and he just said ‘stick to the system – it’s all about the eyes,'” she explains. “You’ve got to be on the ball with these types of courses, and you’ve got to almost be looking at part C when you’re jumping part A, and almost go through part B. You’ve got to have long reins and be strong with your body, and that’s so important for me right now because I’m not that strong. When I think I’m sitting up, I’m not – so I was trying to get out the back today.”

Shane Rose and Virgil. Photo by Kingfisher Media Services.

You know you’re speaking to a true competitor when they lament their 1.6 time penalties as a slow round, but that’s just what Shane Rose did after coming home with Virgil, who steps up to fifth place from 14th.

“I probably went out a little bit more conservative than I would normally, just because no one had gone close to the time when I left,” says Shane. “The plan was to be a little bit further up at the two-minute mark, but other than that early change to the plan, all the distances that I’d planned came off. It’s been five weeks since he’s had a start, so he was just a little keen and I had to touch his mouth a couple of times, about which he wasn’t as obliging as he can be. But he was great.”

Unusually on a Pierre Michelet course, the Australian rider – who travelled for five days with his horse to get here – opted to add a stride in one of the major combinations, the rolltop-corner-skinny combination spiralling down a mound.

“The plan was to do four and four, but he got quite close to the rolltop on the hill and he actually waited more than I expected him to, so I did five and four,” explains Shane. “I think I could have done either, but I decided to play it a bit safe and add.”

Kevin McNab and Scuderia 1918 Don Quidam. Photo by Kingfisher Media Services.

Australia’s Kevin McNab soared up the leaderboard from 15th to 6th with Scuderia 1918 Don Quidam, adding 10.4 time penalties and enjoying a successful return to the level, at which we last saw him in 2015. It was an impressive debut for the eleven-year-old gelding, too, who finished eleventh in Hartpury’s CCI4*-S at the tail end of the summer.

Tim Price and Ascona M. Photo by Kingfisher Media Services.

It’s been a day of two halves for Tim Price, who had a chance to recapture the World Number One title after finding himself in the top ten with both Wesko and Ascona M. But fortune didn’t quite play in his favour: though Ascona M, who fell in the water here last year after an exuberant jump, finished clear, Tim took an extraordinarily unlucky dunking when Wesko, placed second after dressage, stumbled en route to the final element of the last water combination on course – a nasty moment of deja-vu after Tim’s similar fall from Ringwood Sky Boy at Burghley.

His ride on Ascona M, who won Luhmühlen this summer, wasn’t plain sailing either. They added 16.4 time penalties after some lapses in communication on course, which forced Tim to change his plan of attack and focus on giving the eleven-year-old mare an educational round.

“She’s been particularly feisty this week,” says Tim with a laugh. “She was just wanting the job, and it’s really difficult with her because she’s got so much talent, and scope, and ability there that I need to take away a bit of the gallop at the fences to do the job, and that costs time. I was aware of that, but it was important to jump the jumps first, and so I did that. It wasn’t probably the most suited to her, this track – it’s particularly twisty this year, and there’s a lot of places you’ve got to be quite nimble. I would have to say ‘right, you need to stay like this,’ and she’d argue a bit, so I’d take away some of the canter and we’d pop the fence and leave one out. I wanted to focus on some fences and then have another look at the clock, then jump a few out of the gallop and try to get her on a bit. That’s my normal way of riding, and the guys who make the time make it look smooth – but it’s not like that when you have to do a little bit of work. On balance, though, she’s still young, and I’m not disappointed – I know who she is, and I’m well used to not being able to always harness her ability.”

Andreas Dibowski and FRH Butts Avedon. Photo by Kingfisher Media Services.

Though we haven’t seen FRH Butts Avedon at his peak in some time, Germany’s Andreas Dibowski knew that the sixteen-year-old’s time at the top level was coming to a close – and so, spurred on by a win in a CCI4*-S at Strzegom, he decided to bring his formerly prolific five-star mount out for one last shot at a great run.

“He’s the most beautiful horse in the eventing world,” says Andreas fondly of his long-time partner. “I decided very late to come here, but he gave me such a good feeling in the last competition so I made this decision. For me, it was only to enjoy this ride – we will see what happens after this competition, but I think he’s sixteen-years-old and he’s done everything, and for me it’s important to give him a good last competition.”

It paid off. Despite failing to complete here last year, the stalwart Hanoverian picked his way neatly around the troublesome track, adding 16.8 time penalties to climb one spot to eighth.

“He was really motivated and he jumped very well,” says Andreas, who stuck to his guns and went long at the final major combination at 31ABC. “This is his last big competition, and for me, a good result was more important than winning. He had one moment only in the first water, where he didn’t really jump over – he jumped on the top – but then he reacted immediately and the rest was really perfect. At the end, it’s a tough course with all the turns and it needs a lot of power. After every turn, you have to go back to the speed, and that costs a lot of power from the horse.”

Mathieu Lemoine and Tzinga d’Auzay. Photo by Kingfisher Media Services.

Rio team member Mathieu Lemoine snuck his way into the top ten, finishing in ninth place at the end of the day with the young debutante Tzinga d’Auzay. They added 14.8 time penalties, necessitated by the 10-year-old Selle Français mare’s tiredness at the tail end of the course.

“I nursed Tzinga home after the eighth minute, and it was an obvious choice to take the long route at the final major combination,” he says. “But I’m really pleased with what she’s shown today in her first five-star.”

It’s certainly good news for followers of the much-lauded French rider: after the sale of his Rio mount, Bart L, to Japan’s Yoshi Oiwa, his horsepower has looked thin on the ground. But Tzinga – who he admits isn’t always the easiest horse to ride in the showjumping – looks quite the part at this fledgling stage of her career.

Regis Prud’Hon and Tarastro. Photo by Kingfisher Media Services.

There was plenty of scope for big move-ups today, and buoyed along by an extraordinarily enthusiastic home crowd, Regis Prud’Hon and Tarastro got the job done, adding 20.4 time penalties and moving up 23 places to round out the top ten overnight in the horse’s first five-star, despite a 20 in their final run at Waregem.

Holly Jacks and More Inspiration. Photo by Kingfisher Media Services.

Holly Jacks has long held the belief that Pau would suit her ex-racehorse More Inspiration, who she used to ride out as a two-year-old on the track, down to the ground – and that conviction proved true today, when they crossed the line with a clear under their belts. That they’d picked up 24.4 time penalties along the way would prove almost inconsequential as the day unfolded: such was the influence of today’s cross-country that they moved from 29th place up to 12th overnight.

“This horse has done so much for me – he’s come back from injury and been my first five-star horse,” says Holly, who describes her ride today as the best of her life. “I’ve always wanted to come here – the last three years I’ve tried to come, and I left the start box the calmest I’ve ever been. Once I jumped through the first water I just knew that we could get through the rest, and I think I did some things here that I didn’t know I could do – he’s always really short-strided, and a few times I saw the big one and just kicked him on. He just pricked his ears and went, and gave me more options than I’d ever had.”

For Ontario, Canada native Holly, this is affirmation of her decision to focus on her education over five-star tracks, rather than putting all her eggs in the championship basket.

“I really just want to get five-star miles, and I have a lot of amazing people behind me, so I wanted to ride with my coaches and follow my system,” she says. “It’s put me in a different mindframe to focus on that, rather than to chase teams.”

Tomorrow sees us head into the final horse inspection at 9.30 a.m. local time/8.30 a.m. BST/3.30 a.m. Eastern, followed by showjumping from 14.30 local/13.30 BST/8.30 a.m. Eastern. We’ll be bringing you all the news that’s fit to print – so join us tomorrow with plenty of French attitude. Until then – Go Eventing! (Or Pau eventing, we guess?)

The top ten at the culmination of cross-country at Pau.

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Suck It In and Pray: Your Pau CCI5*-L Cross Country Preview

“I’ve eaten slices of pizza that were wider than this, y’all.” –Wylie. Photo courtesy of CrossCountryApp.

You’ve heard of show condition, but let us tell you something: there should be a spot on the equine body-scoring chart called Pau condition. This year’s course, designed by Pierre Michelet –– affectionately dubbed Michelet the Menace — is full of all the teeny-weeny, itsy-bitsy, thinner than a supermodel skinnies we’ve come to expect from France’s five-star … and then some. You wanna get through those flags and not take 15 penalties with you? You better suck it up, buttercup.

Check out this (not comprehensive) sampling of the course’s skinnies and corners:

Woof. Lots of technical stuff out there, straight from the dark, labyrinth depths of Michelet’s brain. But it’s not just the dimensions of the fences that make it difficult – and we’re certainly looking at some of the biggest, boldest questions we’ve ever seen at this event – it’s the go-kart turning, too.

There are a few things you need to know about the Pau course: first of all, it’s a city event, and so it has much less space to play with than the likes of Badminton, Burghley, and Kentucky. This means that the first and last third of the course wend their way through a tightly-packed wood, requiring horses and riders to be on their A-game — and their lines — from the word go. The middle section of the course opens up into the middle of the racecourse, where we’ll see our competitors try to make up the time they lost in the early slow minutes, and that they won’t be able to make up in the final slow ones, either. This means that the combinations in these first and last sections are as tricky as it gets: the waters, for example, require dizzying circles and hairpin turns to navigate the myriad obstacles placed within them. The second crucial detail is that the French favour a forward stride — their style is to open up, slip the reins, and ‘allez! Allez! Allez!‘ their way through. If something looks like a compact three, you better plan to land running and make that long two happen, baby. Positivity will be the watchword, and those catty pony types who can problem-solve on their quick little feet will have a ball.

But for all that the course looks like the devil’s playground at first glance, overnight leader Tom McEwen asserts that this course in three parts is actually rather fluid. We’ll certainly be looking forward to seeing his plan of attack in action with his two very different horses, Toledo de Kerser and the oversized Figaro van het Broekxhof.

The official length is 6,410 meters, with an optimum time of 11 minutes 15 seconds.

Here’s the course, via our friends at CrossCountry App. Many thanks to Paul Tapner for the recording.

Pau’s cross-country phase begins at 14.00 local time/13.00 BST/8.00 a.m. Eastern time, and will be live-streamed with English commentary through Horse&Country TV (dressage and show jumping are free; cross country requires a subscription) or here with French commentary (player embedded below). You can find ride times here.

Best of luck to all for a safe, happy day of cross country. Go Eventing!

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Pau, Day Two: Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser Dance to Dressage Lead

Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

And so the sand-dancing comes to a close, and the wine-quaffing begins in earnest – and at the culmination of a day and a half of closely-fought competition, a French horse sits in the top spot. But Selle Français Toledo de Kerser doesn’t wear the tricolour – instead, with Tom McEwen in the irons, he’s one of Great Britain’s brightest stars, though his 2019 season hasn’t afforded him quite as many golden opportunities to shine as it could have done. Selected for the European Championships, he was sidelined at the eleventh hour after slipping on the yard – and now, at the tail-end of the season, he proved that his brief break from the spotlight hasn’t done his form any harm. He and Tom scored an unsurpassable 24.9 to take the lead going into cross-country.

“It’s great to be in the lead going into cross-country – for me, it was just a nice, elegant, fluent, uphill test, which is what the judges have been looking for all week,” says Tom, who has never led the dressage at this level. “It’s definitely nice to be in the lead against such stiff competition – I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”

Tom will certainly have his work cut out for him over tomorrow’s cross-country course, over which he’ll need to pilot two distinctly different horses: Figaro van het Broekxhof, who sits eleventh after dressage, will act as the pathfinder of his two horses.

“You come here expecting a twisty track just because of the dimensions of the setting, but for me it’s really fluid – though there are big fences and clever lines, and a lot to be done,” he says. “I’ve got two completely different horses here, and it’s basically a course of three parts. Toledo can do all of it – the twisting parts, the open bits. He’s fit and ready to run, and he’s not coming here to just get round any more. Basically, he’s a good French-running horse!”

Tim Price and Wesko. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Tim Price, already in seventh place with first ride Ascona M, certainly gave Tom a run for his money aboard his 2014 Luhmühlen winner Wesko today – and although his score of 25.6 would relegate him to second place overnight, he gives Tom just a second in hand over tomorrow’s time-sapping track.

Ros Canter and Zenshera. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The World Champion has been on superb form since her return to competition after having her daughter, winning three internationals from four starts and adapting remarkably quickly to life as one of eventing’s myriad supermums.

“I’m trying not to let [my eventing life] change at all, really – you’ve kind of got to stick to the game plan, and my desire to win hasn’t gone at all,” says Ros. “That’s all I want to do, and I really want to gear up for next year and have a good crack at getting Olympic selection. But it obviously is very different; fifteen minutes before I got on today, I was breastfeeding! There’s an awful lot to contend with, but I’m very lucky that I’ve got so much support – I’ve got my mum here this week, and my partner, Chris, who will take Ziggy whenever I need him to, so it’s all good so far.”

Today, she rode 15.2hh Zenshera – a horse she’s described as being quiet enough to work in a riding school – to equal third and a score of 27.2. For Zenshera, this looks to be the start of another successful week in the Pyrenees – he’s finished 5th and 7th here on his two previous visits, proving that sometimes, small really does equal mighty.

“It’s very special – we didn’t actually know until last week if I was going to come here, and I felt a little bit rusty at times since coming back, so we’ve played it a bit by ear,” she says. “But Zenshera’s a real professional by now; he’s fifteen, and we’ve known each other since he was four years old, so if I was going to come back on anything, I wanted it to be him.”

Gemma Tattersall and Jalapeno. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Gemma Tattersall made good on a fledgling partnership with Jalapeno who, like other ride Chilli Knight (13th), is by Badminton winner Chilli Morning. But unlike Chilli Knight, who Gemma has produced through the grades, Jalapeno has spent the formative part of her career under a different flag, being piloted by Belgium’s Karin Donckers. Though the eleven-year-old mare only changed hands at the end of last year, the pair have enjoyed several high-profile successes in their young relationship, including second place in Bramham’s CCI4*-L, 9th at Chatsworth CCI4*-S, and a win in the Event Rider Masters series finale at Lignières. But that doesn’t mean that it’s always been plain sailing, as Gemma explains.

“Karin has done the most wonderful job on her and everything was installed, but we’ve had to fine-tune it for me,” she says. “We’ve had a few blips on the cross-country, but in the dressage, up until Lignières we were doing superb tests, but we weren’t doing clear rounds. We were still late 20s, whereas at Lignières and Millstreet we were right on the money getting low 20s, which she’s so capable of doing every time out. I wouldn’t say it’s been straightforward; it’s just a case of her getting to know what I want and me getting to know what she wants.”

Their test today saw them score a 27.2, putting them in equal third place overnight.

“It’s our first five-star test, and we’re still finding each other out,” she says. “I’m really pleased with that – the changes can be better, but I had four clean changes. We’re doing really good, straight changes at home, but sometimes when we’re in the arena she’s so laid-back that she just drops behind my leg and I have to force them a little bit. Then you lose the straightness. Instead of being potentially an 8, they then drop to a 6.5 or a 7. But she’s got so much ability in this phase – it’s just about getting the best out of her now. She’s so rideable and trainable – you could have set fireworks off in there and she’d still have done it. She’s got an amazing brain on her.”

Sarah Bullimore and Conpierre. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Sarah Bullimore rounded out a near clean-sweep for the Brits to sit fifth overnight on Conpierre, who made his five-star debut at Luhmühlen in June, finishing eighth. Today, he scored a 27.7, despite a dramatic spook as he entered the main arena – a dance move that’s not entirely outside his usual oeuvre.

“I’m chuffed to bits with him – he’s a lovely, lovely horse, but he’s quite cheeky,” says Sarah with a smile. “He’s got a real sense of humour, and he can have a little squeal and a squirt and spook at something at just the wrong moment. But he was fabulous [in the ring] and so rideable, and what’s really exciting is that there’s so much more to come from him.”

Improvement in some of the trickier movements certainly proved that point, with ‘Toby’ expertly navigating the test – which features as many twists and turns as Pau’s cross-country track – with balance and ease.

“He finds the changes really quite difficult; he can almost be a little bit too extravagant, but only in front, and then just a little bit wrong behind,” says Sarah, reflecting on the highlights of his test. “But he was much more symmetrical front and back today. The lateral work is always quite easy for him. I was so pleased with the trot work – there’s a lot of changes of bend, and when I was watching yesterday I saw so many people missing the centreline, because it’s quite hard to judge it with the sand, so I hope we got that right!”

Though Toby has been rather overshadowed by stablemate Reve du Rouet, it turns out that he’s an essential part of the latter’s life.

“We call him the social worker,” laughs Sarah, explaining that turning Reve du Rouet out with Toby has taught the formerly reclusive horse to open up. “He never used to want to be around people, or around other horses, and we turned them away together and by the end of it, they’d stand at the fence scratching each other. Now, we let ‘Blou’ loose on the yard and he goes from box to box, scratching everyone – even the mares, who aren’t always so sure about it, but they let him because it’s Blou.”

Now, though, it’s Toby’s time to shine – and possibly to help Sarah to her first five-star win, which she lost out on here two years ago by a matter of less than a second.

Chris Burton and Quality Purdey. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Chris Burton sits sixth overnight on Quality Purdey, who makes her five-star debut on a score of 27.8.

“We’re very happy with her – she was a naughty girl last time at Lignières and she got very feisty in the dressage, but she was a good girl today,” says Burto. But even the fastest man in the world is aware of the challenge that tomorrow will present: “What Pierre Michelet does is a lot of turning back and twisty turns to slow the riders down. But we’re going to give it a good go.”

Yesterday’s leaders, Tim Price and Ascona M, move down to overnight seventh on their score of 28.1, while Alex Bragg and Zagreb sit eighth on their 28.8.

Andreas Dibowski and FRH Butts Avedon. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

We’ve enjoyed many years of watching Germany’s Andreas Dibowski and FRH Butts Avedon at this level, and we’ll be paying extra attention this week – because it’s likely to be the last time we’ll see the experienced gelding, who was second here in 2014, 12th in 2015, and ninth at Luhmühlen in 2013, among his myriad accomplishments. But the last few seasons have been trickier – in fact, the last five-star the horse completed was Badminton in 2016, and on his four attempts since then, he’s failed to complete. But now, off the back of a win at Strzegom’s recent CCI4*-S, Andreas is hoping that his late entry to Pau will allow the horse to bow out on a high.

“Now he’s sixteen, and I think it could be the last big competition with him,” he says. “The decision came only last week after Strzegom, and at Waregem and Strzegom he gave me such a good feeling that I decided to try it again.”

The week got off to a competitive start for the pair, who are consistent performers in this phase. They posted a 30.4 to hold ninth place overnight.

“I had a very good feeling; he was calm and he was with me,” says Andreas. “Only on the last change he was a little bit before me, but everything was fine.”

Felix Vogg and Archie Rocks. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Switzerland’s Felix Vogg had plenty to celebrate after piloting the American off-the-track Thoroughbred Archie Rocks to a personal best across all levels of 31.6, putting them into tenth place going into cross-country. Previously piloted by Maya Simmons, who bought the gelding – then named Smittys Messiah, but renamed for Maya’s grandfather, who served during World War II – from Chris Talley, and latterly competed by Buck Davidson, the gelding has never quite forgotten his roots, but today, that inclination to go forward worked for him, rather than against him.

“I did a few mistakes, sadly, and that always costs more than when the horse does it, but he was pretty good,” says Felix, who moved back to this side of the pond after basing in the States until just after Kentucky this spring. “It’s not always easy with him, because he’s still a little bit a racehorse in the ring, but he’s absolutely a trier. He tries really hard every day and I’m really lucky to have him.

The walk was really good for him; I’ve always had a few issues in walk with him. The centreline was good too, and in the medium canter he wanted to go a little bit too much, maybe, but overall it was a good test for him.”

Though Archie Rocks makes his five-star debut this week, he gained useful experience when stepping in for Felix’s top horse, Colero, at the European Championships this summer, where he romped home clear inside the time. Now, Felix is confident in his ability to read and tackle Pierre Michelet’s track, which has something of a dual identity: though it’s tight, twisty, and packed with dizzying turnbacks in the first and last thirds, the middle section opens up onto the racecourse and allows for a much more open, forward ride.

“He’s really honest, and he’s fast, and I wouldn’t want to be sitting on another one for a first five-star,” says Felix, who thinks the horse’s future lies at this level, rather than as a championship mount.

“I think this level will suit him more, because it’s not so much of a dressage competition,” he explains.

Holly Jacks and More Inspiration. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

We caught up with our sole North American competitor, who makes her return to Europe after four years. Canada’s Holly Jacks and her ex-racehorse More Inspiration sit in 29th place on 36, a personal best for them at this level.

“I’m thrilled with him,” says a beaming Holly, who has twice contested Kentucky with the gelding. “He’s been a difficult horse on the flat, and I’ve really changed my programme in the last year. Now, I don’t do a lot of dressage – I do a lot of it on my trots and my gallops. He hasn’t been in a dressage ring in about three weeks; I walk him around the ring to familiarise, and I don’t warm him up in the outside rings – I just canter, and then canter on down. I’ve done this in my last three events, and in each of them, we’ve had personal bests.”

For Holly, being here is the realisation of a plan shelved two years ago, when her father suffered a stroke and she changed her autumn season as a result. Now, with the experience of her last trip to Europe – and plenty of internationals on home soil and in the US in the following years – under her belt, she’s looking to give this week her all.

“We were both a lot greener [in 2015] – we’ve been around a couple of five-stars now, and we’ve been around Aachen, so I’m hoping to put the pedal down tomorrow and be a little more competitive than I have in the past,” she says. “I’ve always been told it’s a really tight, twisty, technical course, and he’s that kind of horse – he’s a good showjumper, he’s very handy, and he loves indoor eventing. I wanted to come overseas with him before I retired him, and I thought this would be a better spot for him than Burghley, for the type of horse he is.”

Tomorrow sees us look to the main event: Pau’s cross-country phase begins at 14.00 local time/13.00 BST/8.00 a.m. Eastern time, and will be live-streamed through Horse&Country TV. You can find ride times here, and we’ll be bringing you a close look at the challenge ahead tomorrow morning. Until then – foux de fafa, my friends.

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Day One at Pau: Tim Price and Ascona M Lead the Way

Tim Price and Ascona M. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

After this morning’s first horse inspection, we were treated to a teeny-weeny, dainty little dressage session in the drizzle this afternoon, which saw the first fourteen competitors deliver their dressage tests for judges Katrin Eichinger-Kniely (C), Tim Downes (B), and Nathalie Carriere (H).

Although top marks were few and far between, it was an obvious suspect who would top the ranks at the end of the day: Tim Price and Ascona M laid down a conservative and correct test, perhaps lacking in some of the mare’s usual sparkle, to earn a 28.1 and take an early lead in the competition.

But although we’ve come to expect brilliance from the exuberant mare, who won Luhmühlen 5* this summer, her jockey was happy enough to settle for obedient and attentive work, rather than demanding flamboyance in the ring.

“I’ve never had her so physically prepared – she’s coming of age at this level and it’s just been another reason for her to exuberant in all the wrong ways,” says Tim. “She’s certainly been a handful the last couple of days. She’s been crazy at times and then brilliant at other times, but that doesn’t get you through a test, so I’ve had to just try and think on my feet. I’m never the type of rider to try to wear them out, so I just keep coming a little bit more and trying something a little bit different – if I tried to wear her out, she’d just use it against me, so I had to persevere and try to get her into my way of thinking. But when we went in she was settled and with me, and looking like a normal horse in the ring was kind of enough. I didn’t want to ask too much and risk it – it’s all very well asking for more and getting some blips, and then you end up on the same mark or a little bit worse but they haven’t learnt as much.”

Alex Bragg and Zagreb. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It was a little bit of deja-vu for Alex Bragg and Zagreb, who posted a 28.8 to hold a close second to Tim and Ava. For Alex, who has been achingly close to a top result at this level and finished third at Luhmühlen this year to the same pair, it was a matter of fine margins – as fine, even, as the margin that kept him from taking the top spot.

“I’m really pleased with him, but it’s tough going on a Thursday,” he laments. “They’re sharp, and it’s hard – if you do too little and they blow up, it’s a 30 test, but you don’t want to do too much with them, either.”

Still, on a day when good marks were hard to come by, their score isn’t too shabby a starting point – and would have been considerably lower were it not for a lack of cohesion in the first change, which saw them add a 4 to their score sheet and lost them the chance to finish in the 26 bracket.

Tom McEwen and Figaro van het Broekxhof. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Tom McEwen didn’t fare quite so well under the judges’ watchful eyes, earning a 31.9 with his Luhmühlen runner-up Figaro van het Broekxhof after a momentary lack of connection in the medium canter earned him 4s, too. But this score was enough to earn him third overnight in this early stage of the competition, and it betters his Luhmühlen performance, too, which saw him earn a 32.2 with the oversized Belgian Warmblood.

Gemma Tattersall and Chilli Knight. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

A debutante squeaked into the top five today, but it certainly wasn’t a first-time jockey: Gemma Tattersall brings nine-year-old Chilli Knight, the youngest horse in the field, forward for his first five-star this week. The son of Chilli Morning and Kings Gem has been described as a ‘yes man’, and he showed that generous nature in the ring today, remaining focused despite the myriad distractions around the arena. His efforts – and the careful piloting of Gemma atop him – earned him a 32.7 for fourth place overnight.

Shane Rose and Virgil. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

No one has had a longer journey to get here than Shane Rose: he and Virgil traveled for five days to make it to the south of France from their native Australia. But why a trip to Pau when Adelaide, at which the horse was second in 2015?

“I guess I just like spending money,” laughs Shane ruefully. “If I do Adelaide on him, he’s already done really well in the past there, so I felt that if I came over here and did a good job it would tick more boxes going forward towards Tokyo. If I can get all my work done here, then hopefully we can go home and prepare for if we’re selected.”

Although Shane based himself in the UK in 2017, he’s not planning a trip back to prepare for the Olympics.

“The trip to Tokyo’s a lot easier for us from home – it’s ten hours as opposed to twenty-two,” he explains. “It’s going to be a much easier prep for him.”

Wobbles in both right-hand changes precluded a higher placing, leaving Shane on 33 and overnight fifth.

“He’s been really good this year with them, but he hasn’t had the perfect prep in the last couple of weeks so I just didn’t give him enough time to work on those,” he says. “I’m disappointed with the score – I thought he did some really nice work.”

Arnaud Boiteau and Quoriano ENE HN. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Experienced combination Arnaud Boiteau and Quoriano ENE HN lead the way for the home nation, sitting sixth at this early stage on a score of 33.2.

“I’m not as happy as possible, because I had a big mistake just after the start of the test,” says Arnaud, who lost marks for a break into canter in the medium trot. “It makes a bad start for the judges. But the horse was, as usual, nice and a good mover, though he’s not so easy to drive in the dressage arena. I was quite pleased, but the mistake cost me a lot, I think.”

Marcelo Tosi and Glenfly. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It’s a truly global top ten today, with six nations represented within this upper echelon of the leaderboard. One of those nations is Brazil, ably represented by Marcelo Tosi and the Thoroughbred gelding Glenfly, who was 25th at Kentucky this spring. Today, they scored a five-star personal best of 34.3 to hold seventh place overnight.

Sam Ecroyd and Wodan III. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Eighth place is the domain of five-star sophomore Sam Ecroyd, who completed Luhmühlen this summer with his Pau partner Wodan III. Their test today didn’t quite hit the marks that their debut did, though their final score of 34.6 sees them well enough in the hunt after the first 14 combinations.

Tomorrow sees the remaining 28 competitors take to the main stage from 10.00 a.m. local time/9.00 a.m. BST/4.00 a.m. EST. Our sole North American competitors, Holly Jacks and More Inspiration of Canada, will ride at 10.14/9.14 a.m. BST/4.14 a.m. EST – you can find the full list of ride times here.

A tout a l’heure, mes amis!

The top ten after the first – shortened – day of dressage.

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Pau At-a-Glance: A Visual Breakdown of the French Five-Star Field

There are some things the French do very well: kissing, bread, excellent aphorisms (‘ah, la vache’ – literally, ‘oh my cow’, instead of ‘oh my God’), cinema, full fringes, a Breton stripe, and truly unique equestrian events. But before we delve too deeply into the horse-man-beasts, the plentiful fruits de la mer, and the swimming rats (yes, that’s a thing) of Pau, let us first focus our attention on the horses and riders who’ll be riding this jolly wave with us. Or us with them, which is probably a slightly fairer way of putting it.

You’ve seen the jam-packed form guide, but hey – maybe you don’t have time to read about the life story of every combination entered. We get that. Or maybe you just want a coffee-break overview of the need-to-knows – either way, this double-sized edition of AAG will give you all you need to be truly, thoroughly prepared for the next few days of competition. Without further adieu, here’s your 2019 Les 5 Etoiles de Pau field, at a glance.

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All Pass Pau First Horse Inspection

Chris Burton and Quality Purdey. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The first horse inspection got underway this morning at Les 5 Etoiles de Pau, mercifully not in the dark for the first time in recent memory. This is partly because of our friends and neighbours the combined drivers – their competition this week serves as the test event for next year’s World Championship, and so the structure of the week has changed to accommodate their additional needs. This doesn’t have much bearing on the CCI5*, but that the trot-up has shifted forward and Friday brings us a full day of dressage, rather than a shortened day as we’re used to.

Today’s horse inspection took place before the assembled ground jury of Katrin Eichinger-Kniely (AUT), Tim Downes (GBR), and Nathalie Carriere, and 42 combinations came forward to begin their competition. You can read all about each and every single one of them in our bumper form guide. 

Charlotte East and King Albert. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Just one horse was held through the course of the morning: British debutante Charlotte East was sent to the holding box with King Albert, bred and formerly produced by Mary King. The pair were subsequently accepted upon representation.

Tom McEwen and Figaro van het Broekxhof. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Dressage begins at 14.00 local time/13.00 BST/8.00 a.m. Eastern time, and we’ll see the first 14 combinations of the 42-strong field deliver their tests in the sandbox today. It’s an afternoon of sport well worth following: this afternoon’s competitors include Luhmühlen winners Tim Price and Ascona M (14.51 local time), runners-up Tom McEwen and Figaro van het Broekxhof (14.44), five-star fan favourites Alex Bragg and Zagreb (16.02), and Australia’s Shane Rose and Virgil, on a hot winning streak (16.16). You can find this afternoon’s full timetable here.

Want to watch along? You’ll find a live-stream with English commentary at Horse&Country TV. The dressage and jumping phases are free to watch, while Saturday’s cross-country requires a subscription.

Unfortunately, some technical malfunctions prevented us from capturing the full gamut of this morning’s combinations, but enjoy a teeny-weeny gallery for now and keep it locked onto EN, where we’ll be bringing you plenty more Pau content throughout the day.

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Polework in the Pyrenees: The Bumper Guide to Pau’s Competitors

Started from bottom (March) and now we here (the tail end of the European eventing season, sobbing into a bottle of cheap red). But what better way to cap off a whirlwind season than at Les 5 Etoiles de Pau, that most truly, unapologetically weird and wonderful of events? Buckle up and settle in for four days of pâté-eating, vin-guzzling, foux de fafa-ing, and top horse-spotting, because this compact field is purpose-built to bring us all no end of excitement and fierce competition.

At just 42 competitors, Pau’s field is only half the size of what we see at Burghley or Badminton, but it delivers a mix of experienced pairings and promising first-timers that is just truly *chef’s kiss*. There are at least seven horses in the field that present themselves as obvious winners, so pity the betting man – a wiser tactic this week will be simply to sob with joy universally. Want to know who you’ll be shedding happy, slightly tipsy tears over? Dive into the comprehensive form guide and get to know the field…

AUSTRALIA

Chris Burton and Quality Purdey. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Chris Burton and Quality Purdey

Thirteen-year-old Oldenburg mare (Quality x Lara). Owned by Dom and Claire Poole and Bek Burton.

It’s a long-awaited five-star debut for The Dragon, who hasn’t been out of the top ten in an international since the beginning of 2018, and who FOD-ed her way to a merry win in Saumur’s CCI4*-L last year. In fact, she’s becoming a bit of an FOD machine; she did the same at Aachen this summer, finishing third as a result. Competed through to CCI4*-L by Lauren Blades, she joined Burto’s string in 2017 and won in their debut together at Haras du Pin CCIO4*-S. She’s great on the flat – we’ll be looking at a mark between 26 and 29 – fast and careful across the country, and generally a very good showjumper, although she doesn’t run in many long-format events, so we haven’t seen quite enough to make a final judgment on her jumping prowess. Still, this is an almost certain top-five finisher – and a win wouldn’t be at all unlikely, either.

Isabel English and Feldale Mouse. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Isabel English and Feldale Mouse

Seventeen-year-old Connemara x Thoroughbred gelding (Domo Cavallo Praize x Zoe). Owned by Sarah English.

I met Isabel English for the first time in a crowded bar earlier this year, where several hundred sweaty teenagers were Vossy Bopping around us and a framed photo of Trevor Breen collected airborne condensation in the corner. I was working on the press team for a major showjumping competition, which meant that any eventer I saw – even if I didn’t actually know them – was suddenly my very favourite person. Three or four or eight gin-and-tonics down, I bellowed my love for Feldale Mouse at her.

“HE…IS THE BEST…PONY…AND I LOVE HIM,” I dispensed, my eloquence and erudite nature once again elevating me above the commoners in the room. “HE. IS. SO. SMALL. SO. COOL.”

Isabel, for her part, took it with aplomb, partly because she is much cooler than I am, and partly because she spent a few years training with Michi Jung, so she’s absolutely used to foreigners bellowing barely comprehensible things at her. And, for what it’s worth, even without the gins, I do love Feldale Mouse. He has small man syndrome in the best possible way; it’s like he’s spent his whole life thinking, “you called me MOUSE?! Oh, just you wait, pal.”

Isabel is only 24, but she’s accomplished an enormous amount in her career with the Connie cross. She went five-star for the first time basically the moment she turned eighteen; that resulted in a twelfth-place finish. The next two years, again riding Feldale Mouse, she finished eighth. Then, in 2016, she left her Australian hometown of Biddaddaba (yes, really) to move to Germany and work for a certain Herr Jung. Since then, the duo has tackled 16 internationals, only running into problems across the country on two occasions. This spring, they tackled their first Badminton, jumping a reasonably slow but classy clear.

Don’t expect them to blitz into the lead on speed – sorry Mouse, your legs aren’t that long – but do get ready to loudly cheer on this dynamic duo, who are basically the personification of every childhood daydream you ever had. They’ll score in the mid-30s, but who’s going to remember that bit when they’re jumping one – and perhaps two – fantastic clears?

Kevin McNab and Scuderia 1918 Don Quidam. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Kevin McNab and Scuderia 1918 Don Quidam

Eleven-year-old KWPN gelding (Quidam x Nairoby). Owned by Scuderia 1918.

Originally produced by Hannah Bate, Don Quidam is one of a growing string of exciting horses for Italian footwear company Scuderia 1918. He’s a worthy partner for Kevin’s first five-star since 2015, when he finished 25th at Luhmühlen: he was eleventh at Hartpury CCI4*-S, seventh at Luhmühlen’s hotly-contested CCI4*-S, which hosts the German national championship, and eighth at Sopot CCI4*-L. Though it’s a first five-star for the horse, and as such, a bit of an unknown, he should sneak sub-30 in the first phase, look professional on Saturday, and could well jump clear on Sunday, too.

Shane Rose and Virgil. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Shane Rose and Virgil

Fourteen-year-old warmblood gelding (Vivant x unknown dam). Owned by Michelle Hasibar and the rider.

Isn’t it a treat to have Shane Rose back? We got so used to seeing him around the UK and European circuit in 2017 that we didn’t quite accept that one day he’d leave us to head back to his base in Australia, where he trains eventers, racehorses, and fighting kangaroos (Ed. note: please check this). While he was here, he and Virgil finished sixteenth at Burghley, seventh at Luhmühlen, and took the win in Blair’s CCI4*-S, and upon buggering off back from whence they came, they promptly won the CCI4*-S at Camden, finished second in the CCI4*-S at Werribee, and won CCI4*-S classes at Canberra and Camden once again. They popped over to Tryon for the WEG, although it didn’t go quite to plan: they had a sub-30 dressage but picked up a 20 across the country. Still, we can expect a mid-to-high 20s dressage to kick their week off, followed by what should be a quick clear. On the final day, they’re consistently clear – so watch out for these two to make the top five.

BRAZIL

Marcelo Tosi and Glenfly. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

Marcelo Tosi and Glenfly

Fourteen-year-old Thoroughbred gelding (Presenting x Dorans Glen). Owned by the rider.

There are a few things I’ve been accused of saying one too many times. “He’s earned himself a place on the FEI World Bum Rankings” is certainly one of them. “How hard is it to become a member of the ground jury? I’d like to be saluted” is another. But the most common offence of them all is the one I’m going to use to describe darling Glenfly – “he just looks like he’s been plucked straight out of a Munnings painting.”

But you know what? Je ne regrette rien. I’m absolutely right. And frankly, I couldn’t take my Thoroughbred-loving eyes off him when he was mincing around Kentucky, having a lovely time in his own lovely way, this spring. His first-phase score of 40.8 (robbed! Robbed, I tells ya!) precluded a competitive finish, and he wasn’t particularly fast, and okay, he had three rails down, but he did jump around clear on Saturday, tucking his improbably fine legs up by his pretty little face, and oh god, Marcelo, please just get bored of your lovely pony and send him to me, please!

That Kentucky dressage score was considerably above Glenfly’s norm, so we’ll be expecting a mid-30s score here. They were eliminated for a rider fall at Burghley, so they’ll be looking to pin down a completion on their reroute here, which is doable. A couple of poles will topple on the final day, and we’ll still be carrying some polos in our pocket for him, regardless.

CANADA

Holly Jacks-Smither and More Inspiration. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Holly Jacks-Smither and More Inspiration

Fourteen-year-old Thoroughbred gelding (Inspired Prospect x Gentle Buck). Owned by Bruce Smither and the rider.

Thoroughbred fans, rejoice: there are two off-the-track Thoroughbreds in this year’s field, and the first of them is More Inspiration, the $2,000 racetrack flunky who upgraded to a very different trip to Kentucky. In fact, he’s made two of them now – he finished 26th on his debut in 2017, losing out on a higher placing after grease on the reins left Holly with little control, and although he was eliminated in 2018 for a rider fall, he’s been in the top fifteen in his three international runs since then. Two of those came at Bromont, in both the CCI4*-S and CCI4*-L classes, and one came in Plantation Fields’ CCI4*-S in September.

This won’t be the pair’s first time in Europe – they represented Canada at Aachen in 2015, finishing 30th. The experience served them well – in their next run, they finished fourth at Plantation Field. Holly will be looking ahead to Tokyo next year, so a qualifying result will be the main aim – anything else will be a brilliant bonus for this long-term partnership. Expect a low-40s dressage, a steady run across the country, and a one-or-none round on Sunday.

SPAIN

Gonzalo Blasco Botin and Sij Veux d’Autize. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Gonzalo Blasco Botin and Sij Veux d’Autize

Thirteen-year-old Selle Français gelding (Urban du Monnai x Novia d’Autize). Owned by Marta Botin Naveda.

The son of an eventing mother, Gonzalo has represented Spain at the World Equestrian Games in Tryon, where he unfortunately withdrew Sij Veux d’Autize before the cross-country. They rerouted to Pau, where they took a tumble across the country, but they’ve since jumped clear around CCI4*-S tracks at Haras du Pin and Vairano. The Spaniard, who was a prolific championship rider in the pony, junior, and young rider divisions, balances his riding with his job as an investment analyst, and he has Masters degrees in mechanical engineering and international business, so if that ever comes up in a pub quiz, you are sorted, my friend. We’ll be looking at a mid-30s score and a gung-ho cross-country round this week, which will hopefully pay off for them – then, the horse might go clear, or he might have three rails. Who’s to Sij? (Sorry, not sorry.)

FRANCE

Arnaud Boiteau and Quoriano ENE HN. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Arnaud Boiteau and Quoriano ENE HN

Fifteen-year-old Selle Français gelding (Coriano x Lili Saincrit). Owned by the Institute Français du Cheval et de l’Equitation.

Arnaud was part of France’s first-ever gold medal-winning Olympic eventing team, who topped the podium at Athens in 2004 and now, we’re used to seeing him sneaking into four-star top tens across the continent with top horse Quoriano (Lignières ERM, for example, and Jardy ERM, and Haras du Pin CCIO4*-S). But his five-star record with the gelding isn’t quite so illustrious – they’ve started at this level five times, and only completed twice, when they finished third here on the horse’s debut in 2014 and again in 2017, when they finished 30th but had a 20. They likely won’t be the best of the home nation entries, despite their amassed experience – although that 2014 result certainly showed they can do it if it all goes right.

Mathieu Lemoine and Tzinga d’Auzay

Twelve-year-old Selle Français mare (Nouma d’Auzay x Danae de Turenne). Owned by Natacha Gimenez.

It’s nice to see Mathieu, who was part of the gold medal-winning team at Rio with Bart L, back at the top, and not just because he’s reasonably easy on the eyes. It’s been a bit tough for Rio’s victorious French in the years since – Mathieu’s partner was sold to the Japanese federation for Yoshi Oiwa to ride, while teammate Astier retired Piaf de b’Neville and similarly lost his WEG mount, Vinci de la Vigne, to Japan. But Mathieu has been working hard to get Tzinga on track for her five-star debut, which could be an impressive one. They were eighth at Saumur CCI4*-L this year, clear at Blenheim last year, and although she’s been sparsely run, Tzinga is starting to show some real promise for the future. She’s had her early blips across the country, though these seem to have been ironed out over the last two seasons, and she’s quick, too – so she’ll climb after her low-30s test, though her showjumping won’t help her. She’s prone to several rails.

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Benjamin Massie and Ungaro de Kreisker

Eleven-year-old Selle Français stallion (Armitage 2 x Douce Platiere). Owned by Isabelle Dion and the rider.

This won’t be a first five-star for Benjamin, who finished thirtieth at Badminton in 2010, but it is for his horse, who sat the 2018 season out but has a five-strong top-ten streak on his international record. This includes ninth at Jardy CCI4*-S and second at Pratoni CCIO4*-S, and in his fourteen internationals, he’s never picked up a cross-country jumping penalty. He’s also proven super fast throughout his career, which should mean that this most French of tracks, with its demand for forward riding, should suit him well. He’ll score in the mid-30s in the first phase, but if he continues on his current trajectory, he’s certain to climb – then, on Sunday, he’ll likely have a rail as a souvenir.

Remi Pillot and Tol Chik du Levant

Twelve-year-old Selle Français gelding (Volchebnik x Frimouce du Levant). Owned by the rider.

Both Remi and Tol Chik du Levant make their five-star debut here this week, and although Pau has a rich history of favouring French first-timers, they’ll need to fight for their finish: they’ve been top five in two three-stars this year, but have had problems in both their four-star runs. In 2018, they finished 16th at Haras du Pin CCIO4*-S and 4th at Saumur CCI4*-L, and in 2017, they were 13th at Waregem CCIO4*-S and 3rd at Haras du Pin CCI4*-L, so the tools are all there, they’re just not quite all in the box at the moment. Nevertheless, Remi knows his horse and his plan far better than any of us do, and he’ll have his reasons for making the step up now – so expect a mid-30s dressage, and we’ll all take it fence by fence thereafter.

Regis Prud’Hon and Tarastro

Twelve-year-old Anglo-Arab gelding (Sarastro x Loo Native). Owned by Nathalie Carrere, Earl Elevage de la Salaman, and the rider.

We’re used to seeing Regis with Kaiser HDB, his usual mount at the top level, but this week we get the treat of meeting two less familiar faces. The first of these, Tarastro, jumped sweetly around Bramham’s CCI4*-L this year, though picked up 11 penalties along the way for a frangible pin, and he was eighth in the CCIO4*-S at Haras du Pin, too, where he finished on his 37.4 dressage. A 20 in his last run at Waregem isn’t the ideal prep for a debut at five-star, but Regis has plenty of experience and will coax a confidence-giving first run out of the horse over a course that’s designed to suit the French way of riding down to the ground.

Regis Prud’Hon and Vanda du Plessis

Ten-year-old Selle Français mare (Leonardo Louvo x Giralda du Clos). Owned by Claire Lafuma, Jules Prud’Hon, Earl Elevage de la Salaman, and the rider.

Joing Tarastro is Vanda, who moved up to four-star in 2016, but had some teething problems along the way. Since then, it’s been a game of ups and downs – Regis moves her down to three-star to rebuild, steps her back up, and then moves her down again when the performances begin to waver. This season has seen her stick to three-star until Waregem CCIO4*-S, where she pulled a quick clear round out of the bag to finish just outside the top twenty. This is a big move-up for the young and slightly fragile – performance-wise, not physically – mare, who will deliver a high-30s mark in the first phase and a big question mark in the second.

GREAT BRITAIN

Alex Bragg and Zagreb. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Alex Bragg and Zagreb

Fifteen-year-old KWPN gelding (Perion x Renera). Owned by Sally and Phillip 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. Then, they headed to Luhmühlen CCI5*, where they finished third, and they haven’t been out of the top ten in their three internationals since. A big win is on the cards at some point very soon – and it could well happen this week.

Sarah Bullimore and Conpierre. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Sarah Bullimore and Conpierre

Twelve-year-old KWPN gelding (Con Air 7 x Pia). Owned by Chris Gillespie, Anna Ross Davies, and Brett Bullimore.

Despite his age, Conpierre hasn’t been run excessively – he’s had eighteen 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. His best result, though, was eighth at Luhmühlen’s CCI5* this year, and though Sarah says he’s a very different ride to her top horse, Reve du Rouet, we saw her give him one of her typically nurturing rides across the country, getting the best out of him and instilling a huge amount of confidence. Hopefully, this should carry through here, where Sarah herself has great course form – she missed the win by a tenth of a penalty in 2017 with Reve du Rouet, and got all three of her horses home clear on a day when barely anyone even completed.

A high-20s score will stand her in good stead from the get-go here, and the showjumping is relatively good for this pair – it’ll just be the speed that stops them from threatening the leaders.

Ros Canter and Zenshera. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Ros Canter and Zenshera

Fifteen-year-old KWPN gelding (Guidam x Telvera). Owned by the rider.

The World Champion would be forgiven for taking the bitter end of the season off after having a baby, perhaps to dash off to a 5* hotel in Portugal or something, but no — the irrepressibly hard-working Ros is heading back to Pau with Zenshera, who performed so well here in 2017, finishing 7th, and last year, finishing fifth. This will be his fifth attempt at the level, and rather impressively, he’s never been out of the top ten — he was 9th at Luhmühlen in 2017 and 3rd last year.

The 15-year-old, 15.3hh Guidam gelding is supremely talented, but he was a quirky youngster — Ros found him in Holland while doing a stint of work experience at the Dutch stud her former employer, Judy Bradwell, sourced many of her horses from. The owners of the stud had intended for him to showjump, but he didn’t show much promise in his formative years, and then he was broken to harness basically, as the kids would say, for the sh*ts and giggles.

“I rode him because he was something to ride, and I was gullible enough that they could sell him to me,” laughs Ros, whose 4,000 Euro investment has certainly come good. Zenshera has 25 international starts under his belt, and he’s only picked up cross country faults at one of them — Ros took a tumble in the Nations Cup at Great Meadow in 2016. He delivered a 26.4 dressage at Pau in 2017, giving Ros the lead on the first day, but a few time penalties and a pole ultimately cost them a shot at the win. With course form and Ros on a confidence-boosting high – she’s won three of her four international starts since returning from maternity leave – this could be a real shout for your 2019 Pau winner.

Felicity Collins and Just Amazing

Twelve-year-old British-bred Sport Horse mare (Weston Justice x Preston Polly). Owned by Vicky Collins.

Felicity Collins makes her five-star debut riding not just one but two horses, and she’s certainly an impressive first-timer to keep an eye on. She’s gained a reputation since her pony years of producing her own rides, no matter how tricky they are, and although ‘Maisie’ wasn’t hers from the get-go – she was her mother, former 5* rider Vicky’s Novice horse – they’ve certainly logged some miles on the international circuit, moving up to four-star together in 2017. This year, they were third in the CCI4*-L at Camphire, 3rd in the CCI3*-S at Brightling, and clear around Burnham Market, although problems at Bramham, Houghton, and Waregem blotted their copybook slightly. This run, which will see them start in the mid- to high-30s, will be about experience and education, which Felicity will earn in spades with her two rides.

Felicity Collins and RSH Contend OR

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

RSH Contend OR is one of Felicity’s self-produced horses, and easily her most impressive: he helped her win the under-21 national title at Houghton in 2017, and then partnered her to 13th place at that summer’s Young Rider European Championships. That autumn, she moved him up to CCI4*-S, and he finished 14th in the eight- and nine-year-old class at Blenheim. In 2018, he was clear around Blenheim’s CCI4*-L, and this year, the pair finished 15th in the Young Rider Europeans, at which the team won gold and the dynamic duo were chosen as pathfinders. This week, we’ll be looking at a mid-30s dressage, a slow and steady clear, and a likely clear on Sunday – Mickey has only knocked two rails in 21 internationals.

Remarkably, Felicity has competed horses at each of the national age finals – and she ticked all those boxes as a teenager, which just proves her innate ability to produce a youngster carefully and considerately.

Eilidh-Jane Costelloe and Westmur Quality

Thirteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (OBOS Quality x Ruby Royale). Owned by the rider.

Both Eilidh-Jane and Westmur Quality make their five-star debut this week after jumping clear around Blenheim last season and around Burgham CCI4*-S this year. But their lead-up hasn’t been ideal – they picked up 20s at both Blair CCI4*-L and Bramham CCI4*-L. That said, issues in the run-up don’t always rule out a great debutante performance – just look at last year. On paper, no one would ever have put Thibault Fournier down as a cert to go clear, and he only went and won the thing. So Eilidh-Jane, like all debs, will come hoping to learn and improve for the future, and no matter what, she’ll do just that – even if it means taking a couple of long routes and keeping a sense of humour about the whole thing.

Charlotte East and King Albert

Seventeen-year-old British-bred Sport Horse gelding (Mayhill x Kings Gem). Owned by the rider.

If King Albert sounds familiar – and his dam, Kings Gem, who he shares with Gemma Tattersall’s Chilli Knight, sounds even more familiar – that’s because he originally comes from Mary King’s own little breeding enterprise. Mary took him from two-star to four-star in just over a year, and then passed the reins to Jodie Amos, who competed him for the 2012 season. In 2014, then-junior rider Charlotte took over, riding him first in junior two-stars and then in under-25 classes, and you’ll have to excuse us a second, it’s time to apply our night creme to our crows feet.

This will be a first five-star for Charlotte, who was part of the bronze medal-winning junior team in 2015 with Clear Dawn, and for King Albert, who jumped clear around Millstreet CCI4*-L and Barbury CCI4*-S after an unfortunate elimination in this year’s hugely influential Bramham Under-25 cross-country. This week will be about building the foundation for the future for this talented young rider – a dressage mark around 40 and a slow run won’t allow them to be competitive, but that’s not really the point.

Sam Ecroyd and Wodan III. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Sam Ecroyd and Wodan III

Sixteen-year-old AES gelding (Mr Concorde BJ x Tica). Owned by the rider.

It’s a second go at five-star for Sam and Wodan III who, despite his advancing age, still approaches life like an overadrenalised five-year-old in a candy shop. This is charming and endearing (possibly more so for those of us not actually riding him) until it stops working in his favour, as we saw in their debut at Luhmühlen, where they picked up a 20 as a result. But first five-stars – heck, all five-stars – are educational things, and they’ll have come back battle-hardened and with a plan of action to better their 20th place finish in Germany. In their seven internationals prior, they only finished outside the top ten once, and that was an eleventh place at Blenheim, so we can hardly count it against them. They can score in the high-20s, although at this level they’ll flirt with 30, and although they won’t be among the quickest in the field, we’re looking forward to watching them lay down a round replete with all the trappings of life lessons learnt. And on Sunday? Extravagant Wodan has only had one rail since 2016, and that was at Luhmühlen.

Louise Harwood and Balladeer Miller Man. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Louise Harwood and Balladeer Miller Man

Twelve-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Stormhill Miller x Kintara Pride). Owned by Alli and Ian Haynes.

Harwood is known for piloting her homebreds around the upper levels, but Balladeer Miller Man bucks the trend. He was bought as a four-year-old from Ireland, but nonetheless, he grew and grew to fit in with diminutive Harwood’s stable full of oversized stars.

Miller’s 25th place finish at Burghley – his five-star debut – capped off a great 2018 season for the horse. He had jumped clear around Bramham’s CCI4*-L and finished twelfth at Camphire CCI4*-S in Ireland, proving his considerably ability. He’s finished in the top five at Blair Castle CCI4*-L, too – that’s generally considered one of the toughest competitions of the level, and it’s a real test of fitness.

Expect a high-30s to low-40s dressage, which will be off the pace competitively. That said, this pair should go clear across the country – they totted up a creditable 18.4 time penalties at Burghley which, all things considered, isn’t bad for a first-timer, and then jumped clear with 23.6 time at Badminton this year. They retired on cross-country in their next international, at Barbury, and then withdrew after dressage at Gatcombe, so they’re slightly short of match practice, but they’ve got all the goods. On the final day, they’re prone to a few rails – as many as six, in the case of Barbury last summer.

Ginny Howe’s Undalgo de Windsor displays some of the unwarranted dance moves he performed on the strip at Burghley once again at Blenheim. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Ginny Howe and Undalgo de Windsor

Eleven-year-old Selle Français gelding (Lotus XV x Angelique Folle). Owned by the rider.

Ginny and her French horse both made their five-star debut at Burghley this year after two and a half methodical – but very promising – seasons at four-star. Ginny prefers not to over-run the horse, and tends to stick to three or so internationals per year with a big run at the end, and that method is paying off – Undalgo de Windsor hadn’t had a cross-country jumping penalty in an international since he was a three-star horse, way back in 2016. Unfortunately, Ginny took a tumble on cross-country at Burghley, and so they reroute here for round two.

His low-40s dressage scores still need some work – he can be a bit of a wild man in this phase (and in the horse inspections!), but a solid clear at Blenheim gives us every reason to believe that they’ll get the job done this week.

Kirsty Johnston and Classic VI

Ten-year-old British-bred Sport Horse mare (Calvaro x India Summer). Owned by the rider.

It’ll be a five-star debut for Classic VI, though not for Kirsty, who has ridden here – and at Badminton and Luhmühlen – with Opposition Detective. The last time we saw her at the level was in 2017, and she’s since had a baby, which generally means she’s probably about to win everything she enters.

Joking aside – although the post-maternity form of some of these gals is truly unbelievable – we’re looking at a pair on good, solid form. This year, they’ve jumped clear around Bramham CCI4*-L – a seriously tough iteration – Burgham CCI4*-S, Haras du Pin CCIO4*-S, and Ballindenisk CCI4*-S, notching up top-five finishes in the latter two. Though their season began with 20s at Bicton and Chatsworth, they seem to have turned them into something positive, and although they’ll start down the order on a mid-30s dressage, they could certainly climb. They’re not tremendously quick yet, but they’re reliable, and not too shabby on Sunday, either – they haven’t touched a rail in their last four internationals.

 

Prepare for take-off: Tom McEwen displays some vintage cross-country gumption, propelling Figaro van het Broekxhof through the tough final water at Luhmühlen. 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 Herdehof). 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 wasn’t out of the top five in five consecutive internationals since the latter half of 2018.

This will be his third 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. Speaking of five-star starts, too, he came achingly close to winning Luhmühlen this year, though settled for second to Tim Price’s Ascona M. His last international saw him record a very uncharacteristic 20, which will have had Tom kicking himself – he’d been named as the direct reserve horse for Toledo de Kerser at the Europeans, but the proximity of the run meant that Tom had to sit it out entirely. Now, he’ll be on the hunt for redemption.

Expect a dressage score around 30 – he can get into the 20s on his day, but scored 32.2 at Luhmühlen – 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 he was clear at Luhmühlen, which has a tough, square showjumping track not dissimilar to Pau’s.

Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser

Twelve-year-old Selle Français gelding (Diamant de Semilly x Ariane du Prieure II). Owned by Fred and Penny Barker, Jane Inns, and Ali McEwen.

A freak of a horse, really: Toledo de Kerser is one of the hot favourites for a top placing in this year’s field, and for very good reason.

He stormed into the spotlight back in 2016, when he partnered Tom to a win in Bramham’s hotly-contested Under-25 CCI4*-L. Then, he jumped clear around his five-star debut at Pau that autumn, finishing 22nd because Tom opted to run him slowly. A jolly good tactic it was, too – they finished eleventh at Badminton the following spring, fourth at Burghley that autumn, and seventh at Badminton last year. Then, they popped over the pond to Tryon, where they helped the British team to a gold medal and finished 12th individually. At Badminton this spring, he finished eleventh despite knocking a frangible pin and picking up 8.8 time penalties.

Toledo is consistent and flashy in the ring, scoring in the mid-to-high-20s reliably, and he’s only faulted three times across the country in his 22 internationals. If we were being picky, we could have said he’s not the speediest horse – but then he went clear inside the time at Tryon, so really, what do we know anyway?! On Sunday, you’ll really see Toledo shine – he’s probably the best showjumper in this list, and has only ever knocked two rails in his international career. Don’t let this pair out of your sight – a five-star win is right around the corner for Tom.

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

Michael Owen and Jims Pal

Thirteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (breeding unknown). Owned by Ashleigh Dean.

We fell in love with 15.2hh Jims Pal at Tattersalls CCI4*-L, where he finished fifth in a tough competition – despite his rider having dislocated his shoulder on the previous day’s cross-country course. He’s a total mutt – “he could have been stolen from someone’s field as a foal, for all anyone knows about him,” says Michael Owen – and probably more pony than Irish Sport Horse, but all this means that he’s tough, and clever, and chock-full of squirrelled-away talent.

“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.”

We’re expecting a mid-30s mark, and for Jims Pal to cover the ground as quickly as his little legs will allow – he certainly made easy work of the open distances at Tatts, which is promising news for a Pau run. His showjumping can be a bit iffy, although he only had one down when Michael was jumping injured – but he can have four, or even six, down on a bad day. His last two international runs have seen him take just one, so we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume this phase has improved.

Jack Pinkney, Raphael, and Léa Boulesteix at Blenheim. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Jack Pinkney and Raphael

Fifteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Limmerick x Beveny). Owned by Julia Plaisted. 

It’s a debut at five-star for both Jack, who cut his teeth working for Padraig and Lucy McCarthy and latterly Austin O’Connor, and for Raphael, who only started eventing at the age of ten. Prior to that, he had a busy career as a show horse, contesting working hunter classes before heading to Austin’s to learn how to tackle the proper stuff. The horse was ultimately too big for Austin, who passed the ride along to his talented stable jockey, and the rest is, as they say, history.

Now Jack has his own setup in Hampshire with girlfriend Léa Boulesteix, and he’s kept the ride on the talented Raphael, with whom he delivered a stonking clear at Blenheim CCI4*-L to finish just outside the top 24 this year, despite the fact that this is really only the horse’s second international season – he completed one two-star with Austin in 2014, and then didn’t contest another international until 2017, with Jack in the irons. He had moved up to CCI4*-S by the end of the season, making his debut at Hartpury, which is generally considered a prep event for tough autumn three-days like Burghley – but he made easy work of it, knocking a frangible but otherwise coming home clear and super quick, too. He had the 2018 season out, and then finished tenth at Chatsworth this spring. A 20 at Bramham CCI4*-L would set us on the fence, but he evidently learned from it – his Blenheim performance was professional and polished. We won’t see these two trouble the leaders – the first phase, which sees them fluctuate between the low-ish 30s and the mid-40s, will preclude that – but they’re here to smash out their first five-star and learn as much as they can, which Jack can then bring home to his next generation of horses. This is a very talented up-and-comer, and we love a horse with a slightly left-field entry into the sport – consider them EN official Ones to Watch.

Gemma Tattersall and Chilli Knight

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

One of the youngest horses in the field, Chilli Knight makes his five-star debut after two impressive seasons at the four-star level. In 2018, he recorded top-five finishes at Barbury CCI4*-S and Strzegom CCI4*-L, and in 2019, he did the same at Bramham CCI4*-L, the Blenheim eight- and nine-year-old CCI4*-S, and Lignières CCI4*-S. He’s been a bit of a low-30s scorer, but now, we’re starting to see him sneak down into the high-20s. Although he’s prone to a pole, he’s proving to be something of a cross-country machine – he hasn’t had a single time penalty internationally since April, and in 20 international cross-country runs, he’s never had a jumping penalty. Gemma certainly thinks a lot of this horse, who she refers to as a ‘yes man’ – his five-star debut will be an exciting one to follow.

Gemma Tattersall and Jalapeno. Photo by Katie Neat Photography.

Gemma Tattersall and Jalapeño III

Eleven-year-old British-bred Sport Horse mare (Chilli Morning x Maiden Voyage). Owned by Chris and Lisa Stone.

Gemma and Jala’s fledgling partnership has been one of the most exciting new unions on the British circuit this year – Gemma took over the ride from Belgium’s Karin Donckers over the winter, and spent the off-season getting to know her in sunnier climes on a showjumping recce in Vilamoura. It paid off – they were ninth at Chatsworth CCI4*-S, second in Bramham’s CCI4*-L, and they won the ERM finale at Lignières. The partnership has had its teething problems, too, with 20s at both Millstreet and Aachen, but if they can get it all right on the right days this week, they could do very well indeed. Expect a mid-to-high 20s dressage, a reasonably – though not exceptionally – quick cross-country round, and a likely rail on Sunday for a potential dark horse top-10.

Izzy Taylor and Call Me Maggie May. Photo by Niamh Flynn/Tattersalls.

Izzy Taylor and Call Me Maggie May

Twelve-year-old KWPN mare (Hamar x Marijke). Owned by Sara and Tom Strong.

Maggie’s first five-star was at Pau last season, and she made it a good one: she finished eleventh, and was the only one of Izzy’s three rides to complete the competition. A result that becomes all the more impressive when you consider that Izzy doesn’t actually ride the mare every day. Instead, she lives with her owner, Tom, who produced her to Intermediate and still does much of the day-to-day schooling.

The shining star on Maggie’s international record was her win at Tattersalls CCI4*-L last year, which she accomplished with a 28.5 FOD. Pau aside, where she posted an uncharacteristic 37.5, she’s becoming a seriously strong performer in each phase – and now that she’s made her level debut, Izzy will know just how much she can push the mare. A slower-than-normal run and three rails pushed her down to 31st place at Badminton this year, but she’ll have learned plenty from the experience, and Izzy certainly won’t have travelled all this way just to say she completed another Pau.

Sarah Way and Dassett Cooley Dun. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Sarah Way and Dassett Cooley Dun

Thirteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (breeding unknown). Owned by Kate Willis and Mel Pritchard.

Mini Mouse might be the smallest entry in the field, but he’s got one of the biggest personalities – and once you’ve seen the pint-sized dun tear up a cross-country track, it’s hard not to become one of his fervent cheerleaders. He’s tiny, he’s golden, he’s what your childhood dreams were made of – and Dassett Cooley Dun is ready to go and show Pau who’s boss, in that delightful way that only small and golden things can. This will be his second five-star; he came here last year for his debut and finished in the top 30 after a solitary issue across the country. Since then, he’s jumped clear around both Burgham and Blenheim.

He’ll probably score in the high 30s, so won’t challenge the leaders, but he’s quick and ordinarily clear at four-star, so he’ll be really exciting to watch. Of course, a five-star track is always a big ask for a small pony, but Napoleon managed to conquer most of Europe at one point or another, and if we’ve learned anything, it’s that you should never doubt a short man. He usually has a pole or two, but let’s be real — we’re all here to watch the pony go cross country.

Oh, Mouse has a Facebook fan page, too – it’s well worth a follow.

GERMANY

Nicolai Aldinger and Newell

Eleven-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Newcomer x FRH Serve Well). Owned by Beate Hohnfeldt, Dieter Aldinger, and the rider.

This will be a second start at five-star for Nicolai – he went to Luhmühlen in 2017 with Tactic 4, though withdrew before the second horse inspection. Top ten finishes with Newell at Sopot and Waregem CCI4*-S, as well as a clear round in Blenheim’s CCI4*-L last year, certainly stand them in good stead for this week, although we won’t see them fight off the obvious contenders for a top spot – they’ll score in the mid-to-high 30s, should jump clear, and then will likely knock a rail. This horse’s showjumping can be a bit erratic: he’s clear as often as he plays pick-up-sticks, although his form has been improving over the last few seasons. It’s never a good idea to ignore a new wave of German talent, so let these guys slide into your radar this week.

Andreas Dibowski and FRH Butts Avedon. Photo by Peter Nixon.

Andreas Dibowski and FRH Butts Avedon

Sixteen-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Heraldik xx x Karina-Andora). Owned by Manfred Giensch, Anne-Kathrin Butt, and the rider.

Three-time Olympian Dibowski has completed six five-stars with this horse, finishing second at Pau in 2014 and third at Luhmühlen in 2012. They attempted Burghley in 2013, but retired on course — and although the gelding has racked up some seriously impressive form in his time, he’s not had much luck at this level over the past couple of years. They were eliminated for a rider fall early on the course at Burghley last year, and then retired after a 20 in their reroute to Pau. Prior to that, they retired during showjumping at Luhmühlen in 2017. This year, they were eliminated at the same event for a rider fall across the country.

This year, they’ve had a season of ups and downs: there was the Luhmühlen fall, and also a 20 and retirement at Marbach CCI4*-S, but there have also been top-ten finishes at Kronenburg, Waregem, Strzegom, and Baborowko, as well as a win in the CCI4*-S at Strzegom’s October fixture. The form line is certainly looking up for the experienced pair, who generally deliver a competitive first-phase result and a couple of rails on Sunday, but for Dibo, the goal should just be to get his long-time partner home on a happy completion.

Elmar Lesch and Rough Diamond

Twelve-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Nobre xx x Woodsgirl). Owned by Heike Kikuth.

Elmar Lesch holds the unique accolade of being one of Germany’s first professional eventers – in the early 90s, when he was a mainstay on the team, he carved out a corner of the market for himself, working as a trainer, a rider, and, most profitably, as a sport horse dealer, launching the first auction for elite event horses in the country. These days, he keeps a finger in the pie as a member of the Trakehner licensing committee, as well as continuing to hold his well-attended sales days at his yard in Bavendorf, at which horses and buyers from around the country are united.

We haven’t seen Elmar at this level since 2015, when he finished 25th here with Lanzelot 113, but Rough Diamond has had a promising enough season: in eight international starts, he’s come home clear in six and not run in one, finishing in the top ten in a CCI4*-S at Baborowko and a CCI3*-S at Strzegom. We aren’t expecting him to change the world this week with his mid-30s dressage and a rail or two on Sunday, but he should go clear, and he could do so without too much time. But it’s prudent to remember that this is a five-star debut for the horse, so we’ll likely see a much slower time than normal.

NEW ZEALAND

James Avery and Mr Sneezy. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

James Avery and Mr Sneezy

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

Sometimes it feels as though we’ve been waiting for British-based Kiwi James Avery to go five-star for years – it’s easy to forget, somehow, that he only made the move up to four-star at the beginning of last season. But such has been his trajectory, which includes leading the first phase in last year’s Blenheim eight- and nine-year-olds class with Vitali, leading the first two phases of the seven-year-old class at Le Lion with the same horse the year prior, winning Blair’s CCI2*-L with Seaflower, and taking a CCI4*-S win at Camphire with One of a Kind, that it feels like he’s been around all along.

Now, though, it’s time for James and Mr Sneezy, who possesses absolutely the best name of all the entries, to step up to the biggest league of them all. Previously ridden to CCI3*-L by James’ girlfriend Holly Woodhead, Sneezy has jumped clear rounds at Blenheim, Ballindenisk, and Bramham four-stars, but for an 11 picked up at the latter, and although he isn’t always the most straightforward horse, he’s certainly got the jump and the ability to make it all happen here. His first phase is frustratingly close to being rather good, and the atmosphere at Pau could push it to either end of the spectrum – he’s dipped down to the mid-20s, but he’s also visited the mid-40s, too. Realistically, we’re looking at a low-to-mid-30s score here, and then a couple of long routes across the country to ensure they complete the trip. On Sunday, he’s a pretty consistent performer – he took four down at Aachen, but that round, and that week, were indicative of a bit of an outlier performance for him. Ordinarily, he’s a clear machine, and at most, he’ll have the occasional single pole. We could see them pick up an educational 20 across the country, but if they can pull it all together on the day, they can sneak into the top twenty.

Tim Price and Ascona M at Luhmühlen. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Tim Price and Ascona M

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

She’s extremely talented, and sometimes she’s just extreme: or at least that’s how Tim describes feisty Ava, the powerhouse mare with whom he took Luhmühlen 5* this year. Reminiscent of stablemate Faerie Dianimo, who took the title the year prior, she’s a toe-flicking, superman-jumping, diminutive but dynamic bundle of opinions, and although she took a spill after overjumping into the water here last year, she’s on flying form and one of the hot favourites for the win.

You can certainly expect her to be up there after the first phase – she was in 2018 on a score of 25.3, and produced a 25.8 at Luhmühlen, too, to sit second going into cross-country. A year older and wiser, she’s learned to conserve her power and rein in her exuberance, which only makes her more catlike and economical than she’s ever been. It’s hard to foresee a situation in which she doesn’t perform brilliantly here – the only thing that makes her victory any less certain is the sheer quality of the field she’s up against. Our prediction? She’ll give Tim a run for his money in every ride leading up to the one that matters, and then she’ll spot her adoring public and throw out a 24. But she wants to make one thing very clear: that 24 will happen because she wants it to.

Tim Price and Wesko. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Tim Price and Wesko

Sixteen-year-old KWPN gelding (Karandasj x Kolien). Owned by the Windrush Equestrian Foundation.

It would be foolish to discount Tim Price, who recently relinquished the World Number One spot, in any circumstances, but when he brings forward two five-star winners, he’s a truly fearsome beast. We still haven’t quite got over the joy of seeing Wesko back out competing; he was benched for the 2016 and 2017 seasons after a string of impressive results. There was the Blair Castle CCI4*-L win in 2013, and a second-place finish at Hartpury CCI4*-S the same year, and in 2014, ‘Dash’ won both Tattersalls CCI4*-L and Luhmuhlen CCI5*-L, giving Tim his first win at the level. His strong form continued into 2015: he was second at Kentucky 5*, fourth at Aachen, and third at Pau 5*.

But his injury – and, as such, his inability to come forward for the Rio Olympics – set Tim’s 2016 into a bit of a downward spiral. Tim’s form has obviously recovered marvellously since, and so has Dash – and getting to watch him at his first five-star since 2015 will be a special treat this week. With wins at Arville’s leg of the Event Rider Masters and in a CCI3*-L section at Lignières under his belt this year, he’s certainly on form. His last international test saw him produce a 20.7 – at three-star, admittedly – and he popped a 23.8 on the board at Aachen. He’s a sub-30 horse every day of the week, and this week, he’ll be aimed at a sub-25 test. The rest? Absolutely made for him – he’s already FODed twice at this level.

SWITZERLAND

Felix Vogg and Archie Rocks. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography courtesy of TIEC.

Felix Vogg and Archie Rocks

Eleven-year-old Thoroughbred gelding (Le Monde x Unbridled Diva). Owned by Phoenix Eventing SARL, Jürgen Vogg, and the rider.

With top horse Colero temporarily sidelined, Felix is focusing all his attention on second-string mount Archie Rocks, an American off-the-track Thoroughbred who was previously campaigned by Maya Simmons and latterly by Buck Davidson, before Felix bought him at the end of 2018. (For those ex-racehorses aficionados among you, he raced – not entirely unsuccessfully – as Smittys Messiah, winning over $30k in a 30 start career that ended in 2013. He was renamed by Maya, who bought the horse from Chris Talley and chose the moniker in honour of her grandfather, who had served as a pilot during World War II.)

It’s unlikely that Felix is coming to Pau with the intention of trying to win; the reasonably inexperienced gelding isn’t going to manage that in this company, because his first-phase results simply aren’t there yet. We’ll see him produce a test in the 32-36 margin, and then he’ll likely go quick and clear across the country to climb his way up the leaderboard. Whether he can stay there is debatable – his showjumping record is patchy, with just one clear in seventeen internationals. But a good run here will give him plenty of necessary experience and make him a valuable back-up for Felix’s Tokyo campaign next year.

SWEDEN

Ludwig Svennerstal and Balham Mist. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Ludwig Svennerstal and Balham Mist

Twelve-year-old British-bred Sport Horse gelding (Mill Law x Rock Me Baby). Owned by Andrew Ayres and the rider.

Balham Mist reroutes to Pau after an early end to his Burghley campaign, which saw him among the many horses to falter at the tough Maltings combination, booting Ludwig straight out the moon door. Rather than let that be the final event of what has been a slightly frustrating season, with a retirement at Chatsworth, a withdrawal at Barbury, and two good performances at Vairano and Camphire, Ludwig has opted to give the experienced gelding a shot at redemption here.

It’ll be a third five-star start for the gelding, whose early education was installed by Ireland’s Sian Coleman, and who made his debut at Burghley in 2017. There, he notched up 40 penalties but went on to complete, and now, he’s turning his hoof to a competition that can only be described as the polar opposite of Burghley. Expect a low-to-mid-30s dressage, and then expect the unexpected on Saturday – Balham Mist has a bit of a chequered record, but Ludwig will be hoping to nurse a clear round out of him and nail down a Tokyo qualification.

Ludwig Svennerstal and El Kazir SP. Photo by William Carey.

Ludwig Svennerstal and El Kazir SP

Fifteen-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding (Capriano x Katella). Owned by the rider.

El Kazir SP, or ‘Elk’, as he’s known around the yard, has become a bit of an old faithful in camp Svennerstal. We last saw him in action at the European Championships at the end of the summer, where he helped the Swedish team to a bronze medal and Olympic qualification and finished eighth himself, adding nothing to his 31 dressage through the week.

Produced to CCI4*-S by Italy’s Paolo Belvederesi and then campaigned at three-star by British rider Chuffy Clarke, Elk moved to Ludwig’s string in mid-2017 after a year out of action. He promptly delivered a third-place finish at Hartpury’s tough CCI4*-S, though much of the rest of that season was peppered with withdrawals. In 2018, he had top-ten finishes at Wiesbaden’s ERM and in Tattersalls’ CCI4*-L, and although he’s been lightly campaigned this year, he’s certainly being aimed high.

This year, his scores have hovered just above 30, but we’ve seen glimpses of something really special in this phase: he earned a 25.5 at Tatts last year. While he won’t lead after dressage this week, he could well be in the top fifteen, and he’s ordinarily fast across the country, so we could see him climb as he did at the Europeans. He’s generally a good showjumper, though may have one down – and we’ve seen him have three on more than one occasion, though not since 2017.

Ludwig Svennerstal and Salunette. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Ludwig Svennerstal and Salunette

Ten-year-old Hanoverian mare (Numero Uno x Salü II). Owned by Ewa Kroon.

Everyone’s favourite Swede (well, top ten, at least) is going to be a busy boy this week: he’s brought nearly all the horses in Sweden to the Northern Hemisphere’s final five-star of 2019. His final ride is the relatively inexperienced mare Salunette, who stepped up to CCI4*-L this year. Her first attempt didn’t quite go to plan, and Ludwig opted to retire and try again another day – and that methodology paid off. She was fifth in the CCI4*-L at Camphire in July, adding just 6.4 time penalties to her 32.2 dressage.

Now, Ludwig is looking ahead to Tokyo with the talented mare, who was bought as a foal by his mother, campaigned through her first international season back in 2015, and then sold as a six-year-old. She was produced to CCI4*-S by Jamie Atkinson, and then Ludwig, realising how good she could be, teamed up with owner Ewa Kroon to buy her back. This season they reunited and gained their Olympic qualification by the end of July. Ludwig won’t bring her here to try to win, although she could certainly be reasonably competitive – instead, it’ll be all about the experience for the young mare, whose low-30s dressage will preclude a top placing.

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Piggy French and Tim Price Take Top Spots at Muddy Mondial du Lion

Piggy French and Cooley Lancer. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

If you’ve never been to Mondial du Lion, the Eventing World Breeding Championships – or indeed, any event in France – allow us to set the tone for you. The stands? Absolutely heaving. The wine? Flowing from the get-go. The apples? Inexplicably free and plentiful. And the crowds? About as unruly as it gets. We’re all used to a very British approach to spectating: a pervasive silence, broken by the occasional groan or gasp as a pole hits the deck, or threatens to. At the end, polite applause, and a roaring cheer only for the person who takes it all.

Not so in France. Revved up by the commentator, who delivers information in minutiae over the tannoy as the horse is jumping, the audience cheers and claps particularly tricky efforts, reacts with soap-operatic sobs and shouts for every mistake along the way, and merrily starts laughing and bellowing their observations to one another after a pole topples. Never mind that the horse and rider are still working their way around the track – did you see that fence come down?! (This is to say nothing, of course, of the tour group of presumably unhorsey sixty-pluses, who appeared for the dressage with matching bum pillows attached to their belt-loops, sat raptly to watch a French rider, and then decided ‘sod this, he’s Irish’ as the next competitor was halfway through their test and left with all the quiet grace of a herd of Vikings invading a monastery.)

This is less a criticism of the French je ne sais quois than it is a useful primer in the key benefits of bringing a horse to a competition like this. Picture it: you’ve got a six- or seven-year-old who you truly believe can jump the moon, who occasionally brings all his constituent body parts into the same county to do something that’s starting to look like rather a smart medium trot, and who innately seems to understand that red goes on the right, white goes on the left, and all the fun stuff happens somewhere in the middle. You’re beginning to get quietly excited that a few years down the line, this little guy could find himself on the main stage at Badminton, Burghley, Kentucky, a major championship…but there’s one problem. So far, he’s produced some great results around Novice or Intermediate tracks – at Aston-le-Walls. How on earth can you prepare him so that he doesn’t lose his mind when suddenly, at the age of ten, he goes from performing for a sea of mud and three bored dads on fold-out chairs, to a packed grandstand full of fans?

You chuck him into the maelstrom of French madness, of course, and you let him rise to the occasion through the week until he makes a decision: he’s either a wilting flower who can’t stand up to the pressure, in which case you start strategising about how to un-wilt him, or he’s the cock of the walk, and all those French people and bum pillows are there just for him.

That’s why we see a relatively kind cross-country course here, as observed in Saturday’s report:  the point isn’t to stage a championship course of the sort we saw at the European Championships or the Pan-Ams. Instead, it’s to encourage and educate, while appreciating that the most difficult part of it for these youngsters will be the many thousands of people surrounding them.

But for all that, the showjumping here does tend to be of a championship standard. It’s up-to-height, it’s square, and it’s certainly technical enough, with a jumble of tightly-packed fences creating a bit of a maze for riders to wend their way through, showing dexterity on either rein and an early inclination to adjust down a line. This year, we saw it at its toughest – not because the design had been amped up in any way, but because several weeks of rain had left the ground completely waterlogged. It was problematic on Thursday and Friday, when our competitors battled through the Somme to deliver their dressage tests, but as we hit the final hour of showjumping, it was truly horrendous. As British eventer Hector Payne glibly asked, “does anyone know who won the ploughing match?” Certainly, it opens up a valuable debate: should a world championship – and particularly one for young horses, the very future of our sport – be held on a surface?

Sophie Leube and Sweetwaters Ziethen. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The tough conditions were ultimately the decider in the CCI2*-L for six-year-olds. 12 of the 38 starters delivered a clear round – quite good numbers, actually, by Le Lion standards – but it didn’t always make for nice viewing, and many riders had to gently nurse their horses around the course so as not to dent their burgeoning confidence. The penultimate rider in the arena was Germany’s Sophie Leube, who had held second place throughout the competition with the licensed Trakehner stallion Sweetwaters Ziethen (Abendtanz x Zaria, by Campetot). Sophie was one of the only German remaining in the competition – though all had come forward for the final horse inspection, all three Germans accepted in the seven-year-old class had opted to withdraw as a result of the poor ground. But in such a competitive position, and mounted on a breeding stallion with a considerable jump, Sophie would have been on the wrong side of mad to withdraw, and so she gamely persevered.

But from the get-go, it was clear that the stallion was struggling with the footing. Huge efforts over the first couple of fences saw him scrabbling for purchase, and as he headed into the double at 4AB, it began to unravel. As he found his favoured deep spot at the base of 4A, his hind-end – so used to anchoring and powering him off the ground – continued to slide forward beneath him, and only his innate athleticism allowed him to corkscrew his way over the fence. But the rough jump over the first element gave him little to work with to the second, and as he skated his way down the line, he was forced to drop anchor. Though it was clear that he still couldn’t quite find his grip, Sophie nursed him through the line on their second attempt, and quietly popped him around the rest of the course for an otherwise clear round with 1.6 time penalties to add to their 4 faults. They would ultimately finish fifth.

Two-phase leaders Yasmin Olsson-Sanderson and Inchello DHI. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

But Sophie’s issues on course had put the pressure on overnight leader Yasmin Olsson-Sanderson, who had held the top spot throughout with her self-produced KWPN gelding Inchello DHI (Chello III VDL x Barbarena O.A., by VDL Montreal).

“I saw the horse before me slide through the double, and I decided I probably needed to put my leg on there – forgetting that my horse has such a big stride that I wouldn’t want to push,” she explains. Her last-minute change of tactics tipped a solitary rail in an otherwise polished, professional round – but in this tightly-packed competition, one rail was all it took. The UK-based Norwegian rider, who has spent the week proving her capability against riders considerably more established, dropped down to bronze medal position, putting her less than a penalty ahead of France’s Nicolas Touzaint, a perennial winner here, and the Selle Français mare Demoiselle Platine HDC, by Quite Easy II out of a Robin II Z mare.

“I’ve never ridden at an event this big, and to be behind these guys that ride under pressure all the time [is huge],” says Yaz, who bases her fledgling business out of boyfriend Hector Payne’s Hampshire yard. Already, she’s looking ahead to next season with the talented Inchello DHI, sourced from Heidi and Ian Woodhead.

“I hope to bring him back next year; he’ll have learnt so much, and I’ve learnt so much, so hopefully he can go even better next year,” she says.

Tom Carlile and Dartagnan de Beliard. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Yaz’s pole opened the door for two combinations to move ahead of her, putting her in exalted company indeed: the silver medal would go to France’s Tom Carlile, who bases his business out of the Hippodrome du Lion d’Angers, and who climbed from sixth to second after his fast clear with the Selle Français stallion Dartagnan de Beliard ( (Quite Easy x Royce de Kreisker, by Diamant de Semilly), a maternal half-brother to Boekelo top-ten finisher Birmane. This adds another FOD to Tom’s remarkable record here: from 2013-2016, he finished on his dressage score in all eight of his campaigns at Le Lion, and that really does just scrape the tip of the iceberg where his dominion here is concerned. But a record of success doesn’t necessarily make for an easy week, particularly in conditions like the ones we saw this year.

“At the start of the week on Wednesday, I was really chuffed to have a late draw in the dressage,” says Tom, his distinctive accent an ode to his French and British heritage. “It’s never happened for me before – I’ve been here thirteen or fourteen times, and I’ve always been in the first five to run in the six-year-olds. So I was pleased with that, but then when I saw the rain and the ground, I thought, ‘actually, I’d have been better off first…!’ But Dartagnan was fantastic all week – he’s such a great soldier and he has a really great mentality about life, about work, and about eventing. He really loves his job.”

A 28.3 dressage score earlier in the week put the pair in a competitive position, though Tom conceded that the horse had struggled to produce his best work in the bottomless arena.

“He was serious on the flat, if a bit bogged down – but he wasn’t the only one,” says Tom. “On cross-country our relationship was really good; he’s got a huge amount of scope and stride but he’s very light to ride, and he covers the ground so easily. Today, he came out on a mission not to touch a pole; he tried his heart out and considering the conditions, I couldn’t be more chuffed with him.”

Piggy French and Cooley Lancer take the six-year-old World Championship. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Breaking the record for the most international wins in a season – previously 13, held by Michael Jung – evidently wasn’t enough for Piggy French, who is having the sort of season most people only ever dream of. (As Tom Carlile aptly put it, “second to Piggy is basically a win.” You’re not wrong, Monsieur Carlile.) She capped off her remarkable 2019 by taking the Six-Year-Old World Championship with Cooley Lancer (Coeur de Nobless M x Tante Catoche du Houssoit, by Ogano Sitte), who logged some of the most impressive airtime over the fences of the day, embracing his Irish roots to romp home with a clean scoresheet and the win.

“I’m just a very lucky girl, to be honest, and I thank the Craggs [of the Lancer Stud] who bought him for me last year,” says Piggy. “Richard Sheane of Cooley Farm said that he believed this was one of the best five-year-olds he’s had, and he’s definitely felt one of the best young horses I’ve had. All week, he’s felt like a World Champion to me – he’s a beautiful horse to work with and he’s got so much talent and such a fabulous way. It’s the icing on the cake of a lovely year, and it’s lovely to give back so much, as well, to the people that support you. It’s days like this that so many other people take away as being so wonderful as well, whether it’s the team at the end of a good year, or just wonderful owners, families that enjoy the journey and support you. I’m very lucky and very grateful.”

Now, Cooley Lancer will aim for an early qualification for the seven-year-old championship next season, which will allow him to then spend much of his season showjumping. All this, Piggy hopes, will help to create a horse who can be her next-generation senior team horse.

But first, she’s looking back at 2019 – a year that’s done and dusted, but for a one-day event with some ‘truly feral creatures’ next week (“I’ve begged the girls not to clip them,” she laughs) – with a smile and a disbelieving shake of the head.

“It’ll never, ever happen again – I think the longer you stay with horses, the more you realise that,” she says. It’s certainly a far cry from her nightmare season of 2012, which saw her hit emotional rock bottom after a series of disasters lost her much of her support. Then, she says, she felt as though she was screaming and no one was listening – but now, shrouded in glory from success after success, she’s remarkably gracious, mentioning over and over again how wonderful these wins are for the people who support her. If, like JK Rowling, Piggy has made rock bottom the foundation on which to rebuild her life, it’s looking like a very strong foundation indeed. And with it, she finds, comes a hopeful pragmatism that allows her to ride the waves as they come – crashing, rolling, or dribbling in to shore.

“The important thing that stands over everything is that you never, ever take the whole thing for granted,” she says. “You still put in the same amount of work, the same amount of effort as we all do – you’re trying to improve yourself and improve your horse. You also always have to remember to enjoy what we do. It’s such hard work and there are so many black clouds that come along; you always question yourself, thinking ‘why do we do this? Why do I have so many horses? Why do I, every weekend, go and do this?’ But you know that when that wave comes back and things do turn around that you’ll have these little patches that make it all so worthwhile.”

“It’s so lovely to then give back to people. It’s expensive, and we can’t do it without everyone that’s behind you, whether that’s an owner, or grooms. Everyone works so hard, and doesn’t necessarily get the results, so it’s just so cool, when you’re having a moment like this, to give something back to everyone who’s been so loyal to you.”

Cooley Lancer delivers the fifteenth and final international victory of Piggy French’s season. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

For the Cragg family who own Cooley Lancer, it’s a particularly special victory.

“Emma, who owns this horse, has been through an awful time with cancer, and it’s been awful last year. This year, we’ve had a few wins with First Lancer, a horse that they were told was basically a write-off, and just to see how much it means makes it so much more special,” explains Piggy. “I just come away from things like this thinking, ‘shit, I’m a lucky girl’ – I have a bloody nice horse, and it busted a gut today; I could have put anyone on it and it would have jumped like that. To see how much it means to people – it just takes them away from the daily shit that they have to deal with. It gives rays of sunshine to people – it’s just cool all around when things go well. So now we just need to bottle it – and I probably need to retire!”

Though fifteen wins is an impressive coup, it wasn’t something that Piggy targeted – nor is it something she thinks she’ll replicate again.

“In my head, I’m not like, ‘next year, I’ll do sixteen!’, because it’ll never happen,” she says. “Of course I’ll be at home in my arena, working away to get the best out of every horse, but to be honest with you I didn’t even look this year until after Blenheim – I don’t do any social media, so I didn’t know until someone actually told me I was one off Michi’s record. I was like, ‘oh, that’s cool – what have we got left?!’ So we entered everything that was already going to go out for a run; we didn’t pull anything out just for that. The only thing I did enter, which I wouldn’t have otherwise, was Bicton next weekend. I thought, ‘why don’t we take two or three there to give it a chance?’ Am I going now? Nope,” she laughs.

The final top ten in the 2019 Six-Year-Old World Championship.

Two Happy Boys Take the Seven-Year-Old Title

Tim Price and Happy Boy climb from 13th to take the win. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Another rider who’s not been having too shabby a time of it is indefatigable Kiwi Tim Price – and this week, he managed to set a record of his own, too. In climbing from 13th to the top spot with Happy Boy (Indoctro x W Amelusina 17, by Odermuser), he delivered the highest climb to win in Le Lion history.

“This is an event you always dream of winning, but not many people actually get to win,” says Tim, who heads to Pau as his final international of the year this week. “To look at the top ten [here], you’d think that the win could come from anywhere – they’re all top-class riders, bringing their best horses here.”

For Tim, the poor ground was something of a benefit to Happy Boy, who popped around clear and quick, one of just a double-handful to do so.

“I absolutely think the conditions played their part – he’s got a very deliberate jump, and on this kind of ground, that really helped him,” says Tim. “I’ve got a lot of faith in him, and I was able to just go in there and just believe in his jump. It was quite a nice approach and today, it worked out – but it was totally unexpected.”

Tim has ridden the gelding since he was a five-year-old, and originally sourced him from Ireland’s Padraig McCarthy, who has also been responsible for Burghley winner MGH Grafton Street, two top ten Badminton finishers in Cillnabradden Evo and MGH Bingo Boy, and Vendredi Biats who, with rider Kitty King, was the best of the British at this summer’s European Championships. For Tim, Padraig’s Devon base was an ideal spot to track down the next generation of talent, and Happy Boy fit the bill from the off.

“He’s been a cheeky horse – he sort of matches his name,” says Tim. “He’s a happy horse, but in a disruptive, cheeky way rather than in a useful way. But he’s maturing now – I was very happy with his dressage, which was a personal best for him, and then in the jumping he just heads out and gets the job done. It’s very exciting for him and very unexpected for me and his owners. We’ll see what the future brings for him.”

Liz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Moonshine. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The day’s competition saw some of the biggest climbs we’ve ever witnessed for top placings at Le Lion, and our silver medallist is no exception: Liz Halliday-Sharp‘s Irish Sport Horse gelding Cooley Moonshine (Cobra x Kilpatrick Duchess, by Kings Master) was ninth after the first phase on a 29.3, and then dropped to 13th after adding just 1.2 time penalties across the country. But his classy clear round over the poles, aided by the impressive amount of hind-end power he possesses for a horse so young, allowed him to sail right back up the leaderboard to ultimately finish second, just 0.4 penalties behind the winner.

“If I hadn’t had those time penalties [on Saturday], he’d have won it,” lamented Liz, who knows all too well the fine margins at Le Lion: after all, Cooley Moonshine led the six-year-old class last year throughout, just tipping a rail on the final day to slip to third. But nevertheless, Liz delights in the performance of her talented up-and-comer, who holds a significant place in what is becoming an enviable string for the sole US representative at this event.

“I’m thrilled with him – he’s a wonderful horse,” says Liz. “He’s quite quirky, he’s quite difficult in the mouth, but he’s all the things you want in a really top horse and I think he showed that today. He jumped one of the best rounds he has in his life; I don’t think he touched anything, which is amazing in these conditions.”

Cooley Moonshine is owned by the Monster Syndicate, who bought the horse after his performance last year.

“I’m just sad that they couldn’t be here,” says Liz. “But it’s so exciting for them, and this week shows what a class horse he is. He’s very exciting for the future, and one of the best horses I’ve ever had.”

Liz Halliday-Sharp and Flash Cooley. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Liz also finished thirteenth with the small but plucky Flash Cooley (CSF Mr Kroon x Castlefield Ruby), who jumped ninth from the end. For the seven-year-old, who has about a year less experience than his peers, the jumps must have seemed twice the height by the time he entered the quagmire, and he pulled two rails – the first two of his international career, which has seen him deliver foot-perfect rounds in all seven of his previous runs.

Tom McEwen and Brookfield Benjamin Bounce. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It was Tom McEwen who had sagely pointed out yesterday that today would be a lottery, and that the leaderboard could change dramatically throughout the day – and so it did, sending him from top spot down to a final third place when he and Brookfield Benjamin Bounce tipped a rail in the final line. But such was the difficulty of today’s showjumping, in which just 10 of the 53 starters jumped clear, that he was able to maintain a podium position, finishing third with the Irish Sport Horse (Nazar x Ashmores Zoe, by Grange Bouncer), who was previously campaigned by Kevin McNab and Patrick Whelan.

“I was delighted with the horse, although obviously it’s gutting to miss out when you’ve been in the lead,” says Tom, who stepped into top spot after Saturday’s cross-country saw dressage leaders Josephine Schnaufer and Viktor 107 pick up time penalties after a miscommunication early in the course.

“What he’s done this weekend has been far beyond our expectations, even though he’s gone very well internationally this year. To come out and jump the way he did was incredible – but the only good shot I saw in the entire round, I managed to have down,” laughs Tom ruefully. Still, there’s much to be excited about: Tom has had the ride on the oversized grey for just under a year, and his gutsy performance in trying conditions speaks volumes about what must be to come for the gelding.

“He’ll probably do Blenheim eight- and nine-year-olds next year; we’ll see how he’s progressed from this,” says Tom. “I think he’ll have learned a lot here, and will have matured – and he’s showed us that he can really cope with the atmosphere and everything that’s involved, too.”

William Fox-Pitt finished a happy fourth with Grafennacht (Granstolz x Nachtigall, by Narew), climbing from eleventh after dressage and making his Le Lion comeback after his accident here in 2015 a successful one, while Tom Carlile took fifth place with Cestuy la de l’Esques (King Size x Gaia of Ultan, by Ultan).

The Selle Français Studbook took top honours in the breeding competition, ably assisted by Kitty King and Cristal Fontaine (6th, 7yo), Tom Carlile and Dartagnan du Beliard, and Nicolas Touzaint and Demoiselle Platine HDC. The Irish Sport Horse Studbook had to accept a close second place, less than two points behind them on an aggregate score delivered by Liz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley MoonshineTom McEwen and Brookfield Benjamin Bounce, and Jesse Campbell and Global Candy Boy (7th, 6yo). The KWPN studbook rounded out the top three, with scores to count from Tim Price and Happy BoyYasmin Olsson-Sanderson and Inchello DHI, and Heidi Coy and Halenza (10th, 7yo).

That’s all for now from Mondial du Lion – next, we’re heading down to Pau for the CCI5*-L. Stay tuned for a form guide and plenty of pre-event tasters to come shortly.

On y va!

The final top ten in the 2019 Seven-Year-Old World Championship.

Le Lion d’Angers: Website, Entries and Ride Times (CCI2*-L), Entries and Ride Times (CCI3*-L), EN’s Coverage, EN’s TwitterEN’s Instagram

Two Horses Out of Top Ten After Le Lion Final Horse Inspection

Overnight seven-year-old leader Brookfield Benjamin Bounce and Tom McEwen. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Ahh, Sunday morning. A time for long lie-ins (until 6.00 a.m.), slow coffees (lukewarm, from a communal pot on a table in the rain), and crying over horse inspections, apparently. This morning’s dramatic final trot-up at Mondial du Lion gave us more than enough of the latter, as 38 six-year-olds and 60 seven-year-olds came forward for inspection by the assembled ground juries of Tim Downes (GBR), Xavier Le Sauce (FRA), and Katrin Eichinger-Kniely (AUT) (CCI2*-L) and Annabel Scrimgeour (GBR), Stuart Bissell (NZL), and Eric Lieby (FRA) (CCI3*-L).

While the six-year-old inspection passed without incident, the seven-year-olds didn’t fare quite so well. Four horses were sent to the holding box throughout the course of the morning: Ireland’s Suzie Berry and Monbeg by Design (28th after cross-country), her countryman Suzanne Hagan and OBOS Take One (37th), the Netherlands’ Tim Lips and Herby (5th, but first in the race for our collective heart), and Germany’s Josephine Schnaufer and Viktor 107 (10th).

Tim Lips and Herby. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Ultimately, none of the horses held would be accepted. Neither Tim Lips nor Suzie Berry opted to re-present, and instead withdrew from the holding box, while Josephine Schnaufer and Suzanne Hagan came forward again, but their horses were spun from the competition.

Josephine Schnaufer and Viktor 107. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

This changes the shape of the seven-year-old leaderboard quite dramatically: Liz Halliday-Sharp and Flash Cooley move into ninth place, while last year’s six-year-old World Champion Cristal Fontaine, piloted by Kitty King, moves into tenth. One pole covers first place through to thirteenth place, which sets us up for an enormously exciting finale today.

Liz Halliday-Sharp and Flash Cooley move into the top ten. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Both showjumping sessions will run in reverse order of merit from fifteenth place onward, with the six-year-old class commencing at 11.00 a.m. local time/10.00 a.m. British/5.00 a.m. Eastern, and the seven-year-old class getting underway at 14.30 p.m. local/13.30 p.m. British/8.30 a.m. Eastern. As usual, you’ll be able to watch along on the free livestream on Mondial du Lion’s Facebook page. Prepare yourselves: the showjumping track here is always hugely influential, and after a week of rain, a paradigm shift on the leaderboards could be on the cards.

(We know how much you all love a full trot-up gallery, so please do accept our apologies here – this morning’s inspection took place in near darkness. October, man. We’ll be adding the salvageable photos into this post throughout the morning, so check back if you really, really must see what a drizzly trot-up in France looks like!)

Le Lion d’Angers: Website, Entries and Ride Times (CCI2*-L), Entries and Ride Times (CCI3*-L), EN’s Coverage, EN’s TwitterEN’s Instagram

Don’t Look Back in Angers: The Le Lion Cross-Country Report

Le Lion resident – and specialist – Tom Carlile gives a masterclass in both sections, pictured here with six-year-old Dartagnan de Beliard (sixth). Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Welcome back to Le Lion d’Angers, the gathering point for four-legged child prodigies and one very, very large spider. Today saw us head out onto the beautifully-designed cross-country course, where much excitement ensued.

The CCI2*-L for six-year-olds, as is typical, didn’t cause any enormous dramas – in fact, of the 42 starters, only four failed to complete the confidence-building course, designed to help these talented youngsters progress and grow. Of the 38 finishers, 34 would cross the finish line without jumping penalties, and 23 would record double-clear rounds, giving their horses a valuable education in crowd-control in the process.

This is the thing with Le Lion: while it’s not designed to be the type of championship track and tricks, traps, and separates the wheat from the chaff with ‘gimme’ 20s, it’s an enormous step up from anything these young horses will have faced before. Yes, there are harder CCI2*-L and CCI3*-L courses, but there isn’t another place in the world that allows a horse of this age and level to meet enthusiastic crowds of spectators, who cheer and shout and lean across the ropes in their droves to catch a glimpse of the action. The real test is this: can a fresh-faced youngster rise to the challenge and greet the crowds as a welcome motivator, or will their attention and focus falter, giving their rider the tough job of setting it back on track? For horses intended for the upper levels, it’s an undeniably useful primer for the championship tracks and five-star courses to come.

Yasmin Sanderson-Olsson and Inchello DHI. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

UK-based Norwegian rider Yasmin Olsson-Sanderson should be feeling exceptionally happy with these future prospects after Inchello DHI, the only horse she owns, embraced the crowds as his own personal fan club, making easy work of Pierre Michelet’s beautifully-presented track to sail home clear within the time allowed.

“It’s such an amazing event, and they make such an effort with the decorations – every fence is something different to look at,” enthuses Yaz. “He quite enjoyed the crowds; he thought everyone was here just for him!”

Fresh from university herself and based with boyfriend Hector Payne in Hampshire, Yaz finds herself at a critical juncture in her career – and at the point where many talented riders have to choose between a ‘normal’ career and pursuing the eventing dream full-time, the impressive up-and-comer has opted for the latter.

“It was always the plan to do horses – I ride a lot being based with Hector, and I go to tonnes of events even if I’m not riding,” says Yaz, who cut her teeth in the West Hampshire Pony Club, and was convinced to try eventing after a lesson with Kiwi eventer Bruce Haskell when she was eleven. “He said we should get an event pony, and so I started when I was twelve. No one really did it then, because everyone stayed with the Pony Club.”

Yaz worked her way through British Pony Trials, and the Norwegian Federation spotted her talent. Aware of her heritage, which sees her claim her flag through her Norwegian mother, they implored her to ride for them. After some consideration about the opportunities this switch could afford her, she made the decision to do so.

“I said no originally – I wanted to stay and do the pony trials for another year,” she says. “I did all the under-16s, but then I thought, ‘actually, it’s quite a sensible decision.’ Why not, if you can?”

A gap year spent working for British eventer Kirsty Johnson strengthened her resolve, and then the age-old question reared its head: would she go to university, or stay on the yard? Ultimately, she decided it would be best to give herself options, and this spring, she graduated with a degree in English Literature and History from the University of Leeds. But her studies proved useful in another, unexpected way.

“Leeds have a massive sport programme – I was a Sport Scholar for three years, and it was amazing to have access to strength and conditioning programmes, sports psychology, and so much more. It was so useful, and they were really helpful in allowing me to make up what I missed for eventing,” she explains.

Just having one horse competing – plus an exciting three-year-old at home – might seem a tricky start for a fledgling career as a professional, but Yaz has found a system that functions well for her, and one that keeps her dreaming, at the 20-box yard she shares with Hector, who has competed to five-star.

“I go to a lot of events and people ask if I’m riding, and I’m like, ‘no, I have one horse – I can’t ride at every event,'” she laughs. “I’m in a transition phase, but I’ve been counting down the weeks until uni was done and I could just concentrate on it. I had an exam on the Thursday of Tatts; I flew out that night, and then came home on Sunday night and had another exam on the Monday. It was ridiculous, and it’s so nice to not be juggling. Now, I’d like to buy another three-year-old, and I hope this will help me connect with some potential Norwegian owners – it’s amazing how they’ve connected with the sport. They’re all so supportive, and it’s nice to give them something to be proud of.”

Sophie Leube and Sweetwaters Ziethen. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Germany’s Sophie Leube and the Trakehner stallion Sweetwaters Ziethen remain in second place, a trend that continues down to the sixth spot on the leaderboard. But his success this week comes at the culmination of a season that hasn’t necessarily been centred around this one goal.

“He’s a breeding stallion, and so he’s had other aims this year – he had to get in the studbook, to be allowed to breed,” explains Sophie. “He couldn’t do events and cross-country all year; he had to do jumping tests and his licensing. But he’s a very cool horse, and very relaxed, and for a young stallion he’s very concentrated. In the dressage, he felt like he has done this very often, but he hasn’t – he really showed what he can do. Today was the same; he walks to the start box focused but super relaxed, and then when he knows it’s starting time, he’s on fire.”

Piggy French and Cooley Lancer. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Piggy French and Cooley Lancer hold their spot in third place, giving the Team GB camp much to celebrate as they look ahead to what could be a superlatively successful conclusion to the week.

“It’s a good surprise [to be this well-placed], but then he’s a lovely horse and I wouldn’t bring him here if I thought he wasn’t ready for this event. There was no surprise today with his ability and how good he felt. It’s great to be in the top three, but I did come here to be competitive,” says Piggy, for whom Cooley Lancer was bought as a five-year-old by the Lancer Stud from Ireland’s Cooley Farm.

“Richard Sheane [of Cooley Farm] thought he was a very good horse, and this has always been the aim – it’s nice when it all goes to plan. It’s the whole occasion, here, for six-year-olds especially – the crowds, going for nine minutes, having lots to take in for a longer time. Even getting to the start on a six-year-old can be more entertaining than usual! But the course is very inviting and fair, and the horses have time to understand it. As long as they’ve done enough in their education so far, it’s a very fair test.”

Piggy hopes to bring the gelding back for the seven-year-old class next year, but in the meantime, she’s planning a slightly different route for him.

“He’s a horse I won’t event a lot – he’s naturally very brave, and he’s a big horse, so he doesn’t need to run too much,” she explains. “I’ll try to get him qualified early enough next year that he can run on the good spring ground, and then I can take the pressure off in the summer – he’ll do a lot of showjumping, more than I would normally do with my horses.”

Germany’s Kai-Steffen Meier remains in fourth place with QC Rock and Roll, while Australia’s Sammi Birch holds onto fifth place with catch-ride Faerie Magnifico, who she’s competing for Jonelle Price this week.

There’s plenty left to be done, though: just a solitary pole covers the top seven in this class.

The top of the leaderboard at the culmination of the six-year-old CCI2*-L cross-country.

There was drama early on in the seven-year-old CCI3*-L, when overnight leaders Josephine Schnaufer and Viktor 107 picked up twenty penalties in the formative part of the course. Though the impressive, mature-looking gelding left the start box with conviction, his ground-covering stride proved to be his detriment as he landed from the significant drop at 6AB and failed to regroup in time for the second element, situated on a 90-degree turn to the left on this surfaced section of the course. Though Josephine attempted to wrestle back some control, the damage was done – though the pair cleared the C element nicely and continued well afterwards.

But was it? After some deliberation by the ground jury, Josephine’s 20 disappeared, leaving behind just 3.6 time penalties. It was still enough to demand a forfeiture of the top spot, but Josephine had scraped her way to redemption by a matter of millimetres: her quick-thinking serpentine to the left, rather than to the right, allowed her to wiggle her way back to the fence, just breathing on her own tracks as she did so. She now lies tenth overnight as we head into tomorrow’s showjumping.

Tom McEwen and Brookfield Benjamin Bounce. Photo by EquusPix.

Josephine’s snafu – and the extra time it cost her – opened the door for a new overnight leader, and Tom McEwen left nothing open to consideration as he piloted the rangy Brookfield Benjamin Bounce to a clear round, three seconds within the optimum time of 9:15.

“I’ve had him for just about a year, so everything so far has just been about getting to know him,” he says. “Everything he’s done leading up to this he’s done really well, but he’s a big horse and very rangy, and with a lot of power, so a lot of it has been about developing his balance.”

Despite his size, and the relative ungainliness that ordinarily accompanies it in a young horse, Brookfield Benjamin Bounce coped well in the bog yesterday to post a score of 27.2, which he remains on after the second phase.

“A lot of people talked about the conditions yesterday, but actually, it suited him,” says Tom. Today’s main ask – the exposure to crowds of over 20,000 – didn’t faze him either.

“He didn’t notice any of the people today, and for the young horses that have never seen that, it’s a big ask. It’s not a video I’ll want to keep to watch back in ten years’ time, but we got it done. He was young and green, but we learned a few things that we’ll be able to put into practice differently next time.”

With the prospect of showjumping, arguably Le Lion’s most influential phase, tomorrow, Tom is remaining pragmatic about the young horse’s chances.

“He jumped brilliantly in his last three-day at Tattersalls, and for me, he’d be a lot more used to these conditions than many horses,” he says. “But it’s a bit of a lottery. There’s so many of us, so tight together, and the three horses you see at the top of the leaderboard today could be a different three tomorrow. This is all just a stepping stone, a milestone for him – next year is a new year, and we’ll make further plans after he has a holiday.”

Chris Burton and Coup de Coeur Dudevin. Photo by EquusPix.

Chris Burton showed yet again why he’s widely regarded as one of the most economical cross-country riders on the circuit, cruising home in nine minutes and eleven seconds on Coup de Coeur Dudevin to step up to second place overnight.

Oliver Townend and Miss Cooley. Photo by EquusPix.

Oliver Townend has cruised to success on several offspring of Ramiro B, the Belgian Warmblood stallion who acted as a foundation sire for his breeding operation Harthill Stud, which he operates in conjunction with Nina Barbour. We’re used to seeing those offspring at the top levels – Cooley Masterclass, for example, won Kentucky CCI5* this year and in 2018, and was part of the silver medal-winning Great British team at this year’s European Championships, and Cooley SRS was second at Badminton last year – but in Miss Cooley, who sits third overnight after a speedy clear, he has a young gun waiting in the wings for her own chance to shine.

“I’ve had her since she was four years old,” says Oliver. “She’s a very tough mare, and overly enthusiastic – she can be a little bit sensitive and she always wants to do everything a little bit quicker than you’d like, but she’s not short of talent or enthusiasm, and she wants to do the job. I couldn’t be more impressed with her this week, but as Tom [McEwen] says, tomorrow is a lottery.”

For Oliver, the young mare’s week so far has been a welcome indicator of her promise for the future.

“I think she’s a top class horse, and this has been a big milestone. You never know if they’ll get the trip and keep the enthusiasm when they get a little tired, but today, she stuck her head down and dug deep even when she got a little tired. The mental tiredness is the big thing with these young horses, but she answered all the questions in the way I’d expect a top-class horse to, so I see no reason why she couldn’t be a top-class horse in the future.”

Astier Nicolas and Lumberton. Photo by EquusPix.

Astier Nicolas leads the way for the home nation, lying fourth with Lumberton despite a sticky moment at the tough combination at 6AB and 6C, where we saw Josephine falter and several horses corkscrew their way over the second element.

Tim Lips and Herby: the horse that this EN reporter would most like to take home. Photo by EquusPix.

Dutch superstar Tim Lips made the trip easily with Herby, despite some unusual preparation: the KWPN gelding had popped around a 90cm event as his final run before Le Lion, piloted by his owner, who shares the ride with Tim. Nonetheless, some focussed schooling at home allowed him to get his head in the game for a three-star, and he was one of seventeen horses to finish the day on their dressage score.

Liz Halliday-Sharp and Flash Cooley. Photo by EquusPix.

It was a good day in the office for Liz Halliday-Sharp, whose clear rounds on Flash Cooley, who finished inside the time, and Cooley Moonshine, who added 1.2 time penalties, sees her in eleventh and thirteenth place, respectively, at the end of the day.

The strength of Flash Cooley’s 9:09 round allowed him to climb seven places from 18th, despite being arguably greener than stablemate Cooley Moonshine, who contested the six-year-old class here last year and led after the first two phases. Flash Cooley’s limited life experience, the result of a minor colic surgery, didn’t show on course though, and Liz found the compact youngster improving stride by stride as he tackled the track.

“He was totally amazing, to be honest,” she says. “He gets better every time out, and he’s not seen crowds like that before – I wasn’t sure how he’d cope with it. But he’s a little nippy thing, and the track really suited him. Now he’s happy in his box thinking he’s the bee’s knees, which is just great.”

Liz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Moonshine. Photo by EquusPix.

Cooley Moonshine lost a couple of seconds at the second water, where Liz had to enact some expert piloting to help the keen gelding through the bending line, which provided a plethora of distractions from the assembled audience.

“He’s a big, bold, galloping horse – the kind that needs to go around Burghley, not these twisty tracks,” she laughs. “I was disappointed to have the time faults, and there were probably a few more places where I could have saved some time, but he can be tricky in the mouth. He’s strong, but at the same time he needs you to be right there with him – I don’t think I have it quite right yet with the bitting, but we’re nearly there.”

Now, in spitting distance of the top ten, Liz is grateful for unlikely blessings – like running at boggy Ballindenisk, which gives her horses an edge over many of the continental entries, who won’t have encountered footing like they’ll need to jump out of tomorrow.

“We’re within a rail of the lead, which is just incredible,” says Liz. “I never thought I’d say that jumping at Ballindenisk would be useful, but it was! Now, we just have to see – the hardest thing about this venue is that the warm-up is so different. They go in and they have something totally different to deal with. But they’re both very good jumpers and they’ve jumped out of a bog before.”

Typically, we see a tougher track for the seven-year-olds than the six-year-olds – not because it’s a level higher, of course, but because it applies an increased relative amount of pressure and technicality. This year, the general consensus was that the twisty track, which turns through the woods and makes use of sharp inclines and descents, was more intense than usual.

“The ground conditions definitely played into it, but I thought the course and the time were tougher than last year – running it this way around makes it more intense,” says Liz.

Of the 66 starters – diminished by one after the overnight withdrawal of Ireland’s Camilla Spears and BT Martins Masterpiece – 60 would complete, while 42 would complete without adding jumping, flag, or frangible penalties. 17 would come home clear and inside the time.

What comes next?

Tomorrow kicks off with the final horse inspection, which takes place at 8.30 a.m. local time/7.30 a.m. British/2.30 a.m. Eastern time. The six-year-olds will present first, followed directly by the seven-year-olds. The showjumping for the six-year-olds will commence at 11.00 a.m./10.00 a.m. British/5.00 a.m. Eastern, while the seven-year-olds take to the main arena at 14.30 p.m./13.30 p.m. British time/8.30 a.m. Eastern.

If the cross-country at Le Lion is known for being reasonably nurturing, the showjumping is where the true championship challenge lies, and for the seven-year-olds particularly, it tends to be enormously influential. This phase will see us back in the main arena – the one you may recall as having difficult, holding ground on Thursday and Friday – and with the better part of a hundred horses jumping on it, it’s certain to play its part in the outcome of this week’s competition. Though the riders have spoken out in favour of moving the showjumping to the spacious schooling arena, which has a surface, the competition looks likely to stay in its normal place – but there are widespread calls to install a surface in the main arena for future competitions. It’s easy to see why: this is a world championship, and one that takes place in rainy October, and when we’re looking at horses that we hope will be the future of the sport, it makes little sense to risk breaking their confidences – and their hearts – by asking them to perform in conditions that work against them. Our prediction? A spate of overnight withdrawals – not because the cross-country taxed their horses, but because there’s little benefit to be gleaned from asking a non-competitive youngster to tackle a notoriously hard showjumping course in deep, holding mud.

We’ll be bringing you the full report tomorrow – until next time, folks, Go Eventing.

The top ten after cross-country in the seven-year-old CCI3*-L.

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