Articles Written 371
Article Views 864,211

Tilly Berendt

Achievements

Become an Eventing Nation Blogger

About Tilly Berendt

Latest Articles Written

Laura Collett Takes Boekelo; Switzerland Qualify for Olympics

Laura Collett ends her season on a high win a victory at Boekelo with London 52. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

What a year it’s been for Laura Collett and London 52. After a promising start – they took the win in the Chatsworth leg of the Event Rider Masters, getting the 2019 season off to a good start after a win in the Blenheim eight- and nine-year-old class in 2018 – it all started to go a little bit awry. An uncharacteristic blip at Blenheim set them on the back foot, and Laura acknowledged that under the weight of his previous and projected performances, she’d put the horse on a pedestal.

Aachen offered the pair an opportunity to put the wheels back on the bus, and when they went into the final phase in the lead, it looked as though they might just do it – but a minor overcorrection just a couple of fences from home saw them pick up another 20 penalties for their record sheet. Finally, there was the Europeans, and again, it all looked like it was going the right way: well in with a shout of an individual medal, Laura and ‘Dan’ set out looking focused, efficient, and ready to put their back luck to bed – until they met the bird.

They certainly weren’t the only pair to come to grief at the final water, where a colourful bird-shaped fence threw many experienced pairs for a loop, but when London 52 left a leg, tipping Laura into the drink, it was the mouldy cherry on top of a colossal layer cake of, well, crap.

Laura Collett and London 52. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

But though she is but little, she is fierce – and determined not to finish the horse’s year on a bad note, Laura opted to bring him to Boekelo, where he’d finished in second place in his first CCI4*-L the year prior. The goal? A nice run and a happy time for the ten-year-old gelding, so that he could come back out with all guns blazing next year. The result? An emotional and long-awaited victory, proving that sometimes, these things really do come in threes. For the first time this season, all the luck appeared to play in their favour: a 26 dressage saw them tied for third after the first phase with Chris Burton and Clever Louis, and when both combinations came home fault-free and inside the optimum time, Laura won the tie-break for having come closer to the time than Burto, who was two seconds faster.

When she then went on to deliver one of just eleven clear rounds inside the time today over Boekelo’s notoriously tough showjumping track, all she could do was wait: Germany’s Sandra Auffarth and Let’s Dance 73, who had led throughout, were less than a pole ahead of her in their first long-format combination as a partnership.

Overnight leaders Sandra Auffarth and new ride Let’s Dance 73. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

She’d have a long wait, as it happened, as all the team riders jumped after the individuals, which meant that Laura had two agonising hours to see her fate decided.

“I’d just assumed we’d be second again,” she laughs. “I never thought [Let’s Dance] would have a rail – he was jumping amazingly. I half looked away but then Camilla [Spiers] grabbed me, and I nearly fell off the railing!”

“He deserves it” – Laura Collett credits London 52 after a superb clear. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Sandra had tipped the penultimate fence, the final element of a treble combination that proved fickle throughout the day. The German former World Champion was relegated to fourth place and Laura, with lady luck – and more than a modicum of formidable talent – firmly in situ, was the winner.

“I can’t believe it – second would be good, but there’s nothing quite like winning,” says an emotional Laura. “I’m just delighted for the horse – he deserves it so much.”

Chris Burton and Clever Louis. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Second place went to Australia’s Chris Burton, who also took home an Olympic qualification with Clever Louis, finishing on his dressage score of 26 despite only running in their second competition together.

Michael Jung and fifth-placed fischerRocana FST. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Third place, meanwhile, was the domain of Michael Jung, who climbed five places throughout the week with new ride Creevagh Cooley. He also finished fifth on former Kentucky winner fischerRocana FST, who makes her return to competition this autumn after over a year out due to joint issues. She added a solitary rail today to her 26.1 dressage.

Kazuma Tomoto and Bernadette Utopia. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Japan’s Kazuma Tomoto and Bernadette Utopia executed an impressive climb up the leaderboard from 23rd, where they found themselves after their 30.8 dressage, to 12th after cross-country, and finally to sixth place, on the strength of their showjumping performance. They produced a clear round inside the time to finish on their dressage score, proving once again that Kazu’s background as a World Cup showjumper will be one of the not-so-secret weapons of Japan’s crack eventing team in Tokyo next year.

Zara Tindall and Class Affair. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Former World Champion Zara Tindall and Class Affair, who had cheeky cross-country run-outs at both Burghley and Blenheim, followed Kazu up the leaderboard, moving from nineteenth to eventual seventh, while France’s Nicolas Touzaint – the 2008 Badminton winner – and Vendee Globe’Jac HDC stormed from 18th to eighth after an exuberant clear round today. For Nicolas, the pressure was amplified – not only had he been subbed in to jump for the French team in Karim Laghouag Florent‘s place, he had also spent the season working to overcome some cross-country wobbles, which saw them clock up 40 penalties here last year and lodge faults at both Saumur and Jardy this season.

Nicolas Touzaint and Vendee Globe’Jac HDC. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“He did a 62% dressage last year and had two run-outs cross-country, but he came back this year to do a 70% dressage, jump clear, and very nearly make the time,” says Nicolas. “The progression of the horse is very encouraging. I haven’t changed anything in particular; the horse showjumped until late and has only evented for a couple of years, so he’s needed time to understand the sport. I’m looking forward to what’s to come.”

Mollie Summerland and Charly van ter Heiden. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Young British team member Mollie Summerland wouldn’t just record the biggest climb to the top ten – though she did do just that, moving from 29th to ninth through the week – she would also earn the title of best Boekelo first-timer, finishing on a score of 31.5 with Charly van ter Heiden, the impressive Belgian-bred gelding that she’s produced herself.

“It’s just incredible to be here on a team with riders like Laura [Collett] and Izzy [Taylor],” says the exciting up-and-comer, who was the best of the British team in the Nations Cup at Waregem last month, too.

Tom Carlile and Birmane. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

France’s Tom Carlile rounded out the top ten with the eight-year-old Birmane, whose 26.9 dressage and fault-free cross-country round was good enough to stop them from slipping lower when they tipped a rail and added two time penalties.

“It’s always frustrating to finish on four faults, but I’m really proud of how she ran this final in her first time at this level,” he says. “She did really well for her age – she suffered a bit with the atmosphere, and where we had to turn tight, the ground was getting quite loose. I’m not making excuses, but it wasn’t ideal. I had one down, which was a pain, because the mare was jumping really well. But it’s still top ten, so it’s really promising.”

Tamie Smith and Mai Baum. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Tamie Smith and Mai Baum finished the week as the best of the US contingent in eleventh place, dropping from seventh after tipping a rail and adding a time fault.

“The time was hard to make, and that horse has a big step – I haven’t ridden him in a long-format four-star in a few years, and I just needed to take one more tug,” she says. “I would have gotten away with it had it been a short-format – but hindsight is a beautiful thing. He jumped fantastic, and he barely touched it.”

Now, she says, the plan for next season is up in the air – with Tokyo on the horizon, much will come down to team orders, but Tamie hasn’t ruled out a trip to Kentucky with the gelding, who she describes as “magic to ride.”

Merel Blom and Ceda. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

24th placed Merel Blom and Ceda were the best of the home front, earning them the title of Dutch National Champions, a win that was almost in the bag after yesterday’s competition, which saw them sit 20 penalties ahead of Jordy Wilken and Burry Spirit, who held their place to become reserve national champions.

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

Two rails fell for Liz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Quicksilver, who dropped six places to finish thirtieth overall, adding to the eight-year-old’s comprehensive education.

Matt Flynn and Wizzerd. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Matt Flynn and Wizzerd finished 52nd after a single rail and 2.8 time penalties, while Jennie Brannigan, who fell yesterday but was able to jump for the team score with Stella Artois, per the new Olympic system, didn’t finish with a spot on the individual leaderboard, but contributed a fault-free round to the team.

Jennie Brannigan and Stella Artois. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“It’s certainly not the way I thought I’d be getting a pinque coat,” says Jennie wryly. “But I love showjumping, and the track was tough – my coach always says it’s good to practice high pressure with low pressure. I still wanted to do a good job for the team, and I feel horrible about what happened yesterday, but I think at the end of the day, it’s just something that happened. She’s a great horse. Life kicks you down, but I try to prove that you’ve got to try to keep fighting. I’d love to be able to base over here for a bit – that’s probably something I should try to make happen for myself.”

The final top ten at Boekelo.

The Battle of the Nations

Germany head the Nations Cup. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The unassailable German team walked the win, despite clocking up 16 jumping faults between team members Sandra Auffarth and Let’s Dance 73Michael Jung and fischerRocana, and Ingrid Klimke and SAP Asha P. They finished on a score of 94.1, a remarkable 29.4 points ahead of second-placed Australia, who were led by the faultless performance of Chris Burton and Clever Louis, while Kevin McNab and Fernhill Tabasco added 5.2 penalties and Sammi Birch and Finduss PFB added a solitary rail.

Atsushi Negishi and Ventura de la Chaule JRA. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Team Japan confirmed a podium place when they added just four penalties across their team of Kazuma Tomoto and Bernadette UtopiaYoshi Oiwa and Bart L JRA, and Atsushi Negishi and Ventura de la Chaule JRA.

It was team New Zealand who delivered the leading performance of the day, adding just 1.6 time penalties across three superb rounds by James Avery and One Of A KindJesse Campbell and Cleveland, and Dan Jocelyn and Lissyegan Rory, who were substituted in to replace Samantha Lissington and Ricker Ridge Rui GNZ. Their final score of 130 saw them finish fourth place.

Sweden take the series title. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

But really, the victors of the day were threefold: with Germany confirmed as winners, Sweden were able to bask in the glory of taking the 2019 FEI Nations Cup Series Championship, a testament to their hard work and consistency throughout the season.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to be tenth,” laughed a relieved Fred Bergendorff, chef d’equipe for the team of Hanna Berg and Quite SurvivorViktoria Carlerbäck and Zlatan, and Anna Nilsson and Candy Girl, who came forward to jump after an elimination on course yesterday.

Tiziana Realini and Toubleau du Rueire. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The battle for the final Tokyo ticket was a closely fought one, with Switzerland starting the day in fifth place and Belgium in third. Any movement in either direction would have changed the fortunes of both teams, who were led by Switzerland on a knife-edge – and their performances through the day remained on the similarly tight margin. Switzerland plummeted to seventh place after clocking up thirty penalties: Robin Godel and Grandeur de Lully CH added 13.2, while Caroline Gerber and Tresor de Chignan CH raised team hopes once again when they added just a single time fault to their tally. But although final rider Tiziana Realini had a smart start to her round on Toubleau du Rueire, it all started to fall apart after one pole fell, and by the time she crossed the finish, she’d taken four and added a time penalty, too.

Constantin van Rijckevorsel and Beat It. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

But Belgium didn’t have an easy day, either – they knew they had to aim for a podium finish to put themselves well in the hunt for qualification, but 30.8 penalties across the team of Constantin van Rijckevorsel and Beat ItSenne Vervaecke and Feebe van Alsingen, and Lara de Liedekerke-Meier and Alpaga d’Arville. They dropped to sixth place, and the deal was done: Switzerland will go to Tokyo.

Two further teams made use of the new substitution rule for this final phase: Ireland, who finished 12th, substituted Austin O’Connor and Kinnordy Rhondo for Padraig McCarthy and Leonidas II, who opted not to present at the final horse inspection this morning. France’s Karim Laghouag Florent suffered a horse fall with Triton Fontaine yesterday and was thus ineligible to jump today, and so Nicolas Touzaint and Vendee Globe’Jac HDC showjumped in their stead. The team ultimately finished ninth.

We’ll be taking a closer look at the new format as we saw it this weekend, plus the Olympic spot that could still be up for grabs, in the coming weeks. In the meantime, though, that’s a wrap from Boekelo – we hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as we have! Until next time, folks – Go Eventing.

The Nations Cup finale results.

Military Boekelo: Website, Entries, Ride Times, Live Stream, Live Scores, EN’s Coverage, EN’s TwitterEN’s Instagram

Boekelo Final Horse Inspection: Two Significant Horses Held

Jennie Brannigan and Stella Artois. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

84 combinations will proceed to showjumping after this morning’s final horse inspection at Boekelo, which saw two holds and was slightly diminished by four overnight withdrawals.

Ireland’s Padraig McCarthy opted to withdraw Leonidas II, from whom he fell on cross-country yesterday, due to an overreach injury sustained on course. Great Britain’s Flora Harris also withdrew Bayano, Denmark’s Cecilie Eriksen did not present Calvin, and Germany’s Christoph Wahler, too, is saving Ignatz 22 for another day.

Viktoria Carlerbäck and Zlatan. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

There were two horses sent to the holding box throughout the morning, and both would have had significant implications if spun: Michael Jung‘s Creevagh Cooley sits in eighth place overnight, while Viktoria Carlerbäck‘s Zlatan is part of the Swedish team chasing a series victory here. Fortunately, both were accepted – and Sweden can breathe easily knowing that they can only lose the series victory if Great Britain finish first or second here.

Tamie Smith and Mai Baum. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

All four of our US riders will showjump this afternoon – and if you’re wondering why Jennie Brannigan and Stella Artois can continue after Jennie’s unlucky fall yesterday, refresh your memory of the new Olympic format here. Catch up on all of yesterday’s action, plus the team standings and the status of that Olympic ticket with the full cross-country report.

This morning’s showjumping session features all the non-team riders, and begins shortly at 11.00 a.m. local time/10.00 a.m. BST/5.00 a.m. Eastern time. This afternoon, we’ll see all the teams come forward to battle for the Nations Cup, the series title, and the final Olympic ticket. You can find the starting order here.

Military Boekelo: Website, Entries, Ride Times, Live Stream, Live Scores, EN’s Coverage, EN’s TwitterEN’s Instagram

Boekelo Cross-Country: A Changing of Tides on Trail to Tokyo

Michael Jung and fischerRocana. Photo by William Carey.

The more things change, the more they stay the same, it appears – or at least that proved to be the case with the formidable German team today. All three team competitors – Sandra Auffarth and Let’s Dance 73Michael Jung and fischerRocana, and Ingrid Klimke and SAP Asha P – produced clear rounds inside the team, making Germany the only team to stay on their post-dressage team total.

Kevin McNab and Fernhill Tabasco. Photo by William Carey.

As a result, they maintain a considerable lead in the Nations Cup competition, finishing the day on an aggregate score of 78.1 – an unassailable 36.2 points ahead of second-placed Australia, who climbed from 6th after dressage to take runner-up position on 114.3. This was down to the strength of two of their three team members: Chris Burton and Clever Louis and Kevin McNab and Fernhill Tabasco sailed home clear inside the time, earning themselves places in the individual top ten, too. That third team member Sammi Birch clocked up 20.8 penalties on course with Finduss PFB became less and less consequential throughout a day that saw team fates fluctuate wildly.

It was a good day at the office for both the Swiss and the Belgian teams, who sit fifth and third respectively after bringing all of their team members home without jumping penalties. The Tokyo ticket remains on a knife edge: if the placings stay as they are tomorrow, Switzerland will qualify for the Olympics, but if there’s any movement either way, the fates could realign dramatically.

Lara de Liedekerke-Meier and Alpaga d’Arville. Photo by William Carey.

Belgium started the week as outliers for the qualification, lagging 55 points behind the Dutch and 65 points behind the Swiss in the series rankings. But three exceptional performances saw them climb from seventh place after dressage into a respectable overnight third. Constantin van Rijckevorsel and Beat It added 3.6 time penalties, Senne Vervaecke and Feebe van Alsingen totted up 15.6, and Lara de Liedekerke-Meier and Alpaga d’Arville sped their way to a clear inside the time, giving the Belgians an aggregate score of 117.5 as we head into the final day of competition.

“It’s a challenge, and no one expected us to be there,” says Lara. “But we believe in it, and I think as hard as we believe in it, until the last horse jumps we can still hope and dream of it. That’s what we’re doing. In Luhmühlen the team was not so good, so it was only for me, but here I took the horse out of holiday for it and I knew there was the pressure to give a good round.”

Tiziana Realini and Toubleau du Rueire. Photo by William Carey.

Switzerland’s success came down to focusing on staying safe and coming home, rather than trying for any heroics, and all three team riders did just that. Caroline Gerber and Tresor de Chignan CH added 4.4 time penalties, while 21-year-old Robin Godel and Grandeur de Lully CH clocked up 12.4. The round of the day, though, went to Tiziana Realini and Toubleau du Rueire, who sailed across the finish line with a spotless score sheet, a sea of red jackets welcoming them home with a cheer.

“The horse was very good – relaxed but with power,” says Tiziana. “He was beautiful to ride. I was in the time – wow! I tried to be easy and concentrated to my plan, and to concentrate together with the horse, so it was very good.”

Some of Switzerland’s reformation today can be attributed to the help of cross-country coach Andrew Nicholson, who joined the team’s efforts over the winter and has been helping them to refine their technique and tactics in this most crucial phase. As a result, they earned the second-lowest number of penalties of the twelve teams today, and sit on an overnight score of 125.9.

“It’s pretty much down to them – I went over in February and March and worked with them a bit, and since then, I’ve seen them at a few events to see what they’re like in action and to point them in the right direction,” says Andrew. “They’re a good bunch of people to work with. It’s very much our own little competition here, trying to qualify – it’s probably the most exciting it’s ever been at a final. But none of us – the Swiss, the Belgians, the Dutch – need to win the competition to win our own little competition. So we just stuck to our plan of getting three riders to the finish – we didn’t want to have to take 200. They’re very much happy to ride what they’ve got and do their best, and I’m really proud of them.”

Andrew was positive about the new Olympic format, which has been met with much consternation since its induction this season.

“I think it’s going to make it very exciting at the Olympics,” he says. “For me, equestrian stuff isn’t really a team sport – it’s individual, but we have to have teams. But this way is going to make it very exciting. You’ve got to try to get three clear rounds – they don’t have to go flat out. I think it’ll be very difficult for some riders to take team orders, and I think it’ll be difficult for team managers, but I can see it looking very exciting. It puts a lot of pressure on the riders. I’ve thought for years that it’s odd that riders at the Olympics win medals for doing a bad job, sometimes – I’ve done it myself, but you don’t see any of the other sports do that. In a relay race, if you drop the baton, you’re out – so making all three scores count is more the way sport is in the Olympic Games. Everyone has to do their best.”

Merel Blom and Ceda. Photo by William Carey.

Spare a thought for the home nation, who started the week full of confidence in their Olympic dream: an elimination for accumulated refusals for pathfinders Andrew Heffernan and Gideon saw them take a 200 penalty hit, and even a fast clear from Merel Blom and Ceda couldn’t redeem their place in the order. A further 36 penalties for Raf Kooremans and Dimitri puts them on an overnight score of 342.40, knocking them down to 11th out of 12.

Now, they have two choices: they can either sub in Tim Lips and Bayro to showjump for Andrew’s place tomorrow, taking a further 20 penalty substitution hit, or, because he didn’t suffer a horse fall, Andrew can showjump Gideon if he makes it through the final horse inspection. But either way, they’ve ruled themselves out of the Olympic qualification race.

They weren’t the only team to see their high hopes dashed by the enormous expense of a non-completion. Ireland, who sit in 12th place on 503.6, suffered twice today – a fall for Padraig McCarthy from Leonidas II earned them a direct hit of 200 penalties, although they’re still eligible to showjump in the morning if the horse is able to pass the final horse inspection. Cathal Daniels and OLS King Aragon were issued a technical elimination after being awarded 20 penalties for a run-out: while we’re used to seeing 15 penalties awarded for a contravention of the flag rule, it’s possible to take twenty if the majority of the horse’s body is deemed to have travelled outside the line of the originally flagged point. If this happens, the rider must re-present at the fence, clear it successfully, and take the 20 penalties. If they don’t, as we saw today with Cathal, they’re eliminated for missing a fence. They, too, will be able to showjump if they so choose, though it’s likely we’ll see team reserves Austin O’Connor and Kinnordy Rhondo step in for one of the two combinations we saw eliminated today.

Great Britain had set themselves up for a great week after both Laura Collett and Dacapo and Mollie Summerland and Charly van ter Heiden produced quick clears – the latter after a dispute over two flags – moving them into second. A second or first place finish in this competition would earn them the series title, but a run-out at the skinny at 14b and 20 further time penalties for Izzy Taylor and Artful Trinity ultimately sent them down to seventh place out of twelve teams.

Jennie Brannigan and Stella Artois. Photo by William Carey.

The United States, who were in second place at the conclusion of dressage, also experienced a slip in the rankings after an unfortunate round for pathfinder Jennie Brannigan, who took a tumble from Stella Artois halfway around the course. Their unlucky trip didn’t put a damper on the team’s focus, though: Tamie Smith and Mai Baum blitzed home just two seconds over the optimum time, while Liz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Quicksilver added 2.8 time penalties. Team USA now lies ninth on a combined score of 292.9.

Anna Nilsson and Candy Girl. Photo by William Carey.

Sweden, the current leaders in the Nations Cup series standings, have had a tumultuous day, which sees them spend the night in tenth place. Anna Nilsson was eliminated with Candy Girl for accumulated refusals, so can come forward to showjump tomorrow, while Hanna Berg and Quite Survivor and Viktoria Carlerbäck and Zlatan delivered steady clears to get the job done, earning 16.8 and 18.4 time penalties, respectively. But all hope is not lost: Sweden will still be able to win the series with this event as their discard score as long as Great Britain fails to crack the top two and the Swiss stay outside of the top three. If the Swiss finish fourth and Sweden finish eighth or lower, they’ll tie – then, we’ll head directly into more complicated territory.

The team standings after cross-country.

The Individual Efforts

Sandra Auffarth and Let’s Dance 73. Photo by William Carey.

Sandra Auffarth maintains her narrow lead of 1.1 penalties with Let’s Dance, with whom she produced a double-clear round – but more remarkably, this is her first long-format competition with the twelve-year-old Holsteiner gelding, who she took the ride on in July of this year. Previously, the horse had been campaigned by Kari Ingrid Gunzenhäuser and Marina Köhncke, who produced him to CCI4*-S. The Köhncke family, who bred the horse, maintain ownership.

“We had a great round today and I’m looking forward to tomorrow – he’s a really good jumper, I must say, though every horse can do a mistake,” says Sandra. “I think I can enjoy it, though. It was really good today, I have had the horse a few months and I knew he had a good rider before because he was really straight and honest and gave me a really good feeling, and he was really fit to the end.”

Laura Collett and London 52. Photo by William Carey.

They say that bad things come in threes, and this has proven true for Great Britain’s Laura Collett who, after a promising start to the season, has suffered more than her fair share of heartbreaking luck with the inordinately talented London 52. But today, she shelved the past and set out on course with one goal in mind: give the ten-year-old gelding, who only made his eventing debut three years ago, a bit of fun and let him remember just what he’s capable of. And that’s precisely what she did, finishing clear and just one second inside the optimum time to move into second place – the spot they finished in last year.

“He’s a phenomenal horse, and things just haven’t gone right here this year for him,” she says. “It wasn’t the plan to come here – he went to the Europeans and rerouted here, where we wanted to finish on a good note. We’ve sure done that. It was perfect for what I wanted for him, with some nice let-up fences – the intensity of the Europeans sort of fried his brain a little bit, so to come here and have a really nice run was spot-on. To be second after cross-country is the icing on the cake. [Chef d’equpe] Chris Bartle said to me in the start box to just enjoy the horse, and that’s what I did.”

Chris Burton and Clever Louis. Photo by William Carey.

Chris Burton made light work of his first long-format competition with Clever Louis, who has been in his yard for just shy of seven weeks – but for once, his reputation for being the fastest rider in the world worked against him. He crossed the finish line three seconds inside the optimum time to finish on his dressage score of 26 – the same as Laura – but because Laura was closer to the optimum time, she was given the favourable placing.

But for Burto, who has one major goal in mind for next season with the gelding, it was more than enough to finish the day in third.

“I was so chuffed with myself that I’d left Laura just three seconds to work with – I thought, she’ll never do it,” laughs Chris. “But it really just shows the quality – and she was 0.007 ahead of me in the dressage, so it’s only fitting! I was delighted with the horse. We’re still getting to know each other where I can tell that we don’t know each other very well, but he’s a super horse and I’m really excited about him. There were a few times when he’d run through my distance a bit – he’s a bit that way inclined anyway, so maybe it’s just me getting to know him, but his name fits him, as he’s very clever at his fences.”

Michael Jung and Creevagh Cooley. Photo by William Carey.

Is there any stopping Michael Jung? One would suspect not – and certainly, he was formidable today. He finishes the day with three horses in the top ten after clear rounds inside the time with fischerRocana and Highlighter, and a clear with 1.6 time penalties with new ride Creevagh Cooley. They sit fourth, tenth, and eighth, respectively: if Michael Jung was a nation unto himself, he’d be in second place in the Nations Cup on a score of 83.

Michael Jung and Highlighter. Photo by William Carey.

“fischerRocana is an experienced horse and I know her well, and she was very easy all the way around with super galloping and jumping,” he says. “Creevagh Cooley has only been with me since May, and she’s also a great horse but not super experienced at this level, but she did everything at the jumps very easily. At the last jumps I slowed down too much, otherwise I would also be in the time with her. It was a great feeling. Highlighter has always been ridden by Pietro Grandeis in my stable, but he’s a super horse for the future – a bit green sometimes on the jumps, but I like it when they also think about what they’re doing and not just galloping and jumping everything. He’s quite a clever horse, especially as this is his first time over ten minutes.”

Tom Carlile and Birmane. Photo by William Carey.

France’s Tom Carlile capitalised on an excellent dressage mark of 26.9 with the eight-year-old Birmane when he, too, came home clear and inside the time to move up four places to overnight fifth. It was a great result for the French team, too, which was helped along by the faultless round of Astier Nicolas and the nine-year-old Babylon de Gamma (15th), although a horse fall at 19c for Karim Laghouag and Triton Fontaine saw the team slip to eighth overnight.

“This is her first time at the long format and her first time at such a big venue, so she was really impressive,” says Tom of Birmane. “After seven and a half minutes it was a question mark for me how the mare was going to react, so I kept my leg on and a bit of pressure to the end. At the ninth minute I thought, ‘yeah, she’s cruising’ – I had enough left that I could take my time on the jumps. Coming to the last fences I could get her to relax sooner and save something for tomorrow. It’s a tight competition, with the top ten within a pole – it’ll be exciting, but we’re among the creme de la creme.”

Ingrid Klimke and Asha P. Photo by William Carey.

If spotting the stars of the future is your bag, it’s been a very good day of sport indeed: sixth place is held overnight by Ingrid Klimke and last year’s seven-year-old World Champion Asha P, who recorded the fastest round of the day when they came home on 9 minutes and 40 seconds. This was despite a hold on course, which saw them stopped at one of the toughest points on the course.

“The hold was in front of the corners, and the girls at the corners maybe didn’t realise that someone had restarted me,” explains Ingrid. “So I jumped the first, and then they say, ‘no, no’ – I thought, either I pull her out or I ride on the wide line. She was so good to survive it. I knew the water was coming then, and she was just focused to the end. She was nearly too bold to the ditch, but she flew over it – then it was really short. She thought, ‘maybe I can do three,’ but then she did a small one – but really, it shows she can do everything. She’s so smart and so clever, and so focused.”

Tamie Smith and Mai Baum. Photo by William Carey.

Tamie Smith and Mai Baum retained their place as the best of the US contingent, adding just 0.8 time faults to climb one place to seventh.

“I definitely had a mission to accomplish,” says Tamie. “I’m thrilled with him – I know it’s been hard for us to come over and do well, and Boekelo has its haunting monsters in the ground that like to pull you off your feet. My horse wouldn’t be used to this kind of going – it wouldn’t be holding, but it would be a bit slow. We’re used to running on fast ground. But all the combinations rode to plan; I took a tug to the table in the arena and that was my two seconds, but he was super.”

It’s a great result for the US, but on a personal level, it’s also a poignant day for Tamie, who has experienced a rollercoaster year where international travel is concerned.

“It takes a lot of effort to get them over here, so it’s so nice when it goes well,” she explains. “I’ve never had so many opportunities and dreams come true but then never quite got there as this year. I got to Badminton and Wembley wasn’t quite right; then I took him to Bramham and he was fantastic. I was named to the team at Aachen, and he wasn’t quite right, and then I took Mai Baum to the Pan-Ams and we had a run-by at a corner that I never expected – so I needed this. It’s just the sport. You can’t be weak – you’ve got to be resilient, and you’ve got to be tough. It’s like it tries to weed out the week – when it doesn’t go right it either breaks you or it makes you, and I’ve decided to make them make me.”

Australia’s Kevin McNab and wife Emma’s Fernhill Tabasco moved from eleventh to ninth after an easy spin across the country saw them add nothing to their dressage score of 28.5.

Liz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Quicksilver. Photo by William Carey.

Liz Halliday-Sharp and the eight-year-old Cooley Quicksilver recorded a quick round for 2.4 time penalties, to sit 24th overnight.

“The horse was just amazing,” says Liz. “He’s just an eight-year-old, and this would be a big ask for any eight-year-old, but I’ve always believed in him.”

Liz found herself up on the minute markers all the way to the water at 19, where she went long, as almost every rider did today.

“It was always our team plan to go long, but maybe we just got a little slow there – but god, he fought for me to the end, and I’m just so proud of him. I have to kick a lot on this one; he doesn’t give it to me for free, but he’s a real trier. The five is quite long for him, but I know him – if I held him he’d back off, I had to put my leg on. He’s the sort of horse who likes encouragement all the time; if I switch off, he switches off, too. But he didn’t find it hard, which is amazing for a young horse.”

Meanwhile, Dutch lynchpin Merel Blom piloted Ceda to a steady clear with 5.6 time penalties to sit 30th overnight, but at the top of the Dutch National Championship leaderboard. She sits 20 penalties ahead of second-placed Jordy Wilken and Burry Spirit.

“I do always consider if I can cope with the pressure,” says Merel, who left the start box with the weight of the Dutch team’s fate on her shoulders. “But I thought, ‘yes, I can cope’ – I’ve been riding with my head to it a little bit and made some decisions I had to, so it was good. The only rule we got was to ride right in the water; we didn’t change our plans [after Andrew Heffernan didn’t come home.]

“It’s never easy, of course, it’s not over til its really over, but I’m quite confident about tomorrow – normally she’s a good jumper and I think she’ll be able to become the new Dutch champion. I can be clear that of course, [the Dutch team] were disappointed, but it’s not like we can blame someone about anything. We had an inexperienced combination and also a young horse with Andy – we were all disappointed with the ride Andy got, and it only got more difficult from that point on.”

Matt Flynn and Wizzerd. Photo by William Carey.

Just time precluded a higher finish for Matt Flynn and Wizzerd, who sit in 57th place after adding 22 time penalties to their 32.9 dressage.

“He was really stellar everywhere; it’s a twisty course, and it’s really deep at the end,” says Matt. “I need to get better about my turns, and I need to ride them more economically in those conditions. He was feeling strong all the way home, and he was faster to the last few jumps than he was anywhere, so I couldn’t be happier with him. I’ll kick myself for not having shaved off more seconds, though.”

The course, which was widely regarded as being fair, clear, and largely to be governed by time proved perhaps more influential in the team standings than it did across the board of the field of 93 starters. Of those 93, 83 complete, while 64 would complete without jumping penalties. 16 would come home clear and inside the time.

Tomorrow begins with the final horse inspection 9.00 a.m. local time/8.00 am BST/3.00 a.m. Eastern time, before we head into the showjumping at 11.00 a.m. local/10.00 a.m. BST/5.00 a.m. Eastern.

The individual top ten at the conclusion of cross-country.

Military Boekelo: Website, Entries, Ride Times, Live Stream, Live Scores, EN’s Coverage, EN’s TwitterEN’s Instagram

Boekelo, Day Two: Laura Collett is Best of the British

 

Laura Collett and London 52 shine through the drizzle in Boekelo’s main arena. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

With the team dressage in the books, today at Military Boekelo was all about individual competitors in the CCIO4*-L – but such is the strength of the team competitors that just two combinations would ultimately crack the top ten throughout the day.

It’s great news for supporters of Great Britain, though, as four of the five new entrants into the top fifteen ride under the Union Jack. Laura Collett and London 52 produced a typically cadenced, expressive test, earning a final mark of 26 and propelling them into third place – just over a point behind former World Champion Sandra Auffarth and Let’s Dance 73, who remain our leaders on 24.9.

A test sheet populated by 7.5s and 8s was just marred by one minor error in the first flying change, which saw them slip into the fives – had they matched the marks of their second change, they’d have moved up a placing onto a score of 25.1.

“It was an expensive change, but he just got a little bit lit up in there,” explains Laura. “But we just kept him sweet – he hasn’t run since the Europeans, so it’s all about keeping him happy.”

But, as Laura points out, the point this week isn’t to win the dressage, which they’ve proven time and time again that they can do: instead, it’s to put their run of unfortunate luck to bed and deliver in all three phases. For the upstart gelding, who finished second here last year in just his second international season, the right stuff is all there – it’s just about putting it together on the day now, without a blip.

“[Since last year] he’s got a lot stronger and he understands it a bit better now, so he’s a lot easier to ride all the movements on because he actually knows what he’s doing – last year he was a bit of a baby, but he pulled it out of the bag here off the back of a very good year. This year’s been a bit different, but he’s still learning – he’s only ten, and he’s improving all the time,” she says. “The course is absolutely perfect for him; there’s lot of nice flowing fences, and the course is set to you into a rhythm. He should have a really happy time, which is what he’s here to do.”

Sarah Bullimore and Corouet. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Sarah Bullimore and her 2018 seven-year-old national champion Corouet, a homebred out of her former five-star mare Lilly Corinne, delivered a mark of 26.5 to put them in sixth place on the tightly-packed leaderboard. The diminutive gelding, who Sarah has described as having ‘small man syndrome’ looked at his best in the ring, shelving his occasional cheeky antics and remaining workmanlike despite one tense moment in the canter work, in which he came off the bridle for a stride.

“He was a good boy – he’s a bit of a monkey in there, and he can just drop you,” says Sarah, who has earned a reputation as a remarkably tactful rider of tricky horses. “I just wonder if, because my legs are so long, I just struggle to actually get my leg on and give him a bit of a kick. I’m kicking air, most of the time! He just thinks about creeping behind me a little bit, but he was really good in there. He’s really precocious; he loves the atmosphere, he thinks [the crowd] is all there for him, and he loves to show off – but sometimes his showing off isn’t quite the showing off that we’re actually looking for!”

Sarah hopes that Corouet’s precocity will help propel him through tomorrow’s cross-country, which sees them leave the start box at the tail end of the 97-strong field.

“That’s tough, when you’re basically on a pony – he could be eleven hands coming out of that mud, and the fences will look six foot,” she laughs. “But it’s a lovely track, and we’ll be going out there and giving it our best shot.”

Izzy Taylor and Fonbherna Lancer. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

A newer ride for Izzy Taylor proved an exciting prospect indeed. Fonbherna Lancer, previously ridden to CCI2*-L by Neil Spratt, has been in Izzy’s yard just a year, but the nine-year-old Dutch Warmblood is giving the British rider plenty to look forward to. His dressage test today earned the pair a 28.7, moving them into twelfth place at the conclusion of the phase.

“He’s a beautiful, beautiful horse, and I’m very lucky to ride him – Marcus and Emma Craggs of the Lancer Stud bought him as a young horse, and he’s very exciting for them,” says Izzy. “I was delighted with how he coped today; he’s a nine-year-old, and we’re still in a very new relationship, if you like. Because he’s beautiful to ride, he’s also incredibly sensitive and sometimes that can be a little bit detrimental at the beginning of a relationship. But he’s beginning to have a bit of faith in me and realise that it’s not all that scary. To come to Boekelo and cope was very good.”

A wobbly moment in the canter as they transitioned from the extension to collection and turned onto the centreline was the only blip in an otherwise consistent and pleasant performance.

“He got better and better as he went through the test. At the end there he made a mistake coming back from the extended canter, but it was just typical of him trying too hard – like, ‘what do you want? A change?’ No, just slow down a bit, that’s all,” she says with a laugh. “But that’s classic him – and you can’t fault a trier.”

Michael Jung and Highlighter. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Michael Jung, who sits fifth with fischerRocana and seventh with Cooley Creevagh, added his third and final horse to the top fifteen when he produced a mark of 28.8 to end the day in thirteenth place with Highlighter. The eight-year-old gelding, with whom he won Strzegom’s CCI4*-S in August and finished sixth in the CCI4*-S German National Championships at Luhmühlen in June, was placed seventh by Stuart Bishell at M, tenth by Dr Katrin Eichinger-Kniely at E, but 32nd by Jane Tolley at C.

Polly Stockton and Mister Maccondy. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

In a day dominated by young up-and-comers, Polly Stockton and Mister Maccondy showed the value of experience when they posted a score of 29 to sit equal-fourteenth with fellow Brits Laura Collett and Dacapo. This is the first time that Polly has dipped below the 30 barrier with the fourteen-year-old British-bred gelding, who was originally produced by Ruth Edge, and with whom Polly finished sixth at Blair CCI4*-S and eighth at Bramham CCI4*-L this year.

“I was really pleased – he realistically did as well as I could expect,” says Polly, who took the ride on Mister Maccondy in early 2017. “There were a couple of mistakes, but I was really chuffed. I thought he might get a bit more stressed, but he held it together really well. He actually stopped after the extended canter – I’m usually leaning back in the saddle trying to get him to stop, so that was a highlight!”

Matt Flynn and Wizzerd. Photo by William Carey.

The final US rider and competing reserve Matt Flynn made his way down the centreline this morning, posting a 32.9 to sit equal 53rd overnight with his Kentucky partner, the ten-year-old Wizzerd.

“I’m really happy with him; that’s pretty good for where he is. It’s a big ring for a young horse. I thought his medium work was really good – we’ve been working to improve the half-passes, and those were pretty much where we wanted them today,” says Matt, who has been working closely with James Burtwell and chef d’equipe Erik Duvander to produce the horse on the flat.

“I’m really grateful to James and Erik for all their help over the past months and weeks – they’ve been helping me like crazy, and it’s really paid off. The connection and the frame have improved greatly. James is local to me in Florida in the off-season, so that’s a huge benefit, and Erik’s taken a huge amount of time to be available to all us riders. That’s a huge asset. For my first time on a plane [with a horse], I’m pleased with where we’re at.”

A bobble in the upward transition to collected canter out of the second walk pirouette was Matt’s one bugbear with his test.

“Obviously that was disappointing, but we had to deal with it and just get on with the rest of the test,” he says. “It was just a little bit of exuberance – I should have been a little bit softer with my aids and given him a bit more time.”

Tomorrow’s cross-country begins bright and early at 9.30 a.m. local time/8.30 a.m. BST/3.30 a.m. EST, and will run in the same order as the dressage, which means that all of the team combinations will run first, followed by the individuals. You can see the full list of starting times here – but if you’re tuning in to cheer on the US team, who sit second after the first phase, here’s when to tune in (subject, of course, to holds and delays):

  • Jennie Brannigan and Stella Artois (=32nd): 10.18 a.m. local time/5.18 a.m. EST
  • Liz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Quicksilver (=40th): 11.06 a.m. local/6.06 a.m. EST
  • Tamie Smith and Mai Baum (8th): 11.54 a.m. local/6.54 a.m. EST
  • Matt Flynn and Wizzerd (=53rd): 13.42 p.m. local/8.42 a.m. EST

You can watch a flyover video preview of the course, which is designed for the first time by its previous builder, Adrian Ditcham, here. The course has been widely praised for its fairness, its flow, and its welcome galloping stretches – historically, this has been considered a reasonably twisty track when designed by Sue Benson. But Boekelo tends to walk rather differently than it rides, as Izzy Taylor points out: “the crowds are very close, and the time tends to be very tight, too, so it’s always a bit of a different story riding it,” she explains.

Want to follow all the action? You can watch the live-stream via FEITV or through Boekelo’s website. Until next time, folks – Go Eventing.

The top ten at the conclusion of dressage.

Military Boekelo: Website, Entries, Ride Times, Live Stream, Live Scores, EN’s Coverage, EN’s TwitterEN’s Instagram

Boekelo, Day One: Germany Leads the Nations Cup, US Sit Second

Michael Jung and fischerRocana make their comeback at Boekelo. Photo by William Carey.

And just like that, we’d seen fifty dressage tests.

In a departure from normal form, Boekelo opted to group all its team riders together in the order of go, allowing us to close out the dressage phase conclusively for the Nations Cup today. With twelve teams in it – and three on the hunt for the solitary Tokyo ticket remaining – it was an important day indeed. Let’s take a quick look at the team standings before we delve into the nitty-gritty:

To perhaps no one’s surprise, Germany leads the way heading into Saturday’s cross-country. They boast an aggregate score of 78.1, with all three team members – Sandra Auffarth and Let’s Dance 73Michael Jung and fischerRocana, and Ingrid Klimke and Asha P sitting in the top ten overnight.

Tamie Smith and Mai Baum deliver the best American result, helping propel the team to second place after dressage. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Team USA sits just over eleven and a half points behind them in second place, with a combined score of 89.7 totted up by Jennie Brannigan and Stella ArtoisLiz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Quicksilver, and Tamie Smith and Mai Baum.

Kazuma Tomoto and Bernadette Utopia for team Japan. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The Japanese team, made up of Kazuma Tomoto and Bernadette UtopiaAtsushi Negishi and Ventura de la Chaule JRA, and Yoshi Oiwa and Bart L JRA sit in bronze position on 90.2.

Anna Nilsson and Candy Girl head up the Swedish effort. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Meanwhile, series leaders Sweden got off to a rocky start after some expensive mistakes earned them a team score of 105.2, which sees them sit in eleventh place out of twelve teams. But on current rankings, they’re still safe – however, they’ll need to try to climb if they want to solidify their hold on the series title. If they don’t, and if Great Britain – currently fifth – were to finish in the top three, they would relinquish the glory.

The Golden Ticket: Who’s on Track for Tokyo?

So what does this mean in terms of the fight for the Tokyo ticket? Well, the competition is far from over, but if it were to end now, here’s what we’d be looking at. Belgium, in 7th place, would add 50 points to their year-long tally, leaving them on 350 points total. The Netherlands are currently in 9th place, which would earn them 40 points – but because the series rankings only use the best six results out of seven competitions, they would discard this and finish on 355. Switzerland, who are currently at the bottom of the leaderboard in 12th place, would also discard the 25 points they would earn today, leaving them on 365. The Swiss would make their merry way to Tokyo – despite not looking good on paper at the moment.

But there’s still so much left to do, and so much that can happen. Both the Dutch and Swiss teams have done themselves an enormous favour by contesting every leg of the series, which – as today’s calculations prove – could end up being incredibly influential.

Constantin van Rijckevorsel and Beat It are the best-placed of the Belgian team, in eighteenth place overnight. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Let’s look at what has to happen for Belgium, the outliers, to take the ticket. They’ll need to finish in fourth place or better this week, for starters – that’ll put them on a finishing score of 370 or more, which would allow them to beat the current points of their two challengers. Of course, that means that those two teams would both have to use this event as their discard – so for the Netherlands, that would mean a final placing of seventh or worse. For the Swiss, that means finishing in eighth or worse.

Tiziana Realini and Toubleau du Rueire sit best of the Swiss in provisional 23rd place. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

If the Swiss are to take the ticket, things will have to stay as they are in the team rankings – the Netherlands need to finish seventh or worse, while the Belgians would need to finish fifth or worse, which would put them on a maximum possible score of 360.

If the home nation are to take the win, they’ll need to finish fourth or better. A fifth-place finish would put them on 365 points, equal with the Swiss. The Swiss would then need to finish eighth or worse to stay on 365, while the Belgians would need to finish fifth or worse.

Merel Blom and Ceda, twelfth, spearhead the Dutch efforts. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

So what happens in the event of a tie, which is certainly a possibility? If it happens between Belgium and one of the other two teams, it’s simple: the ticket will go to the team that has contested the most legs, which rules Belgium, who missed Pratoni, out. But this won’t work for a tie between the Swiss team and the Dutch team, both of which have competed at every leg. This is where we head swiftly back into calculator territory, I’m afraid.

In this case, a tie-break is decided by referring back to each of the counting legs of the Nations Cup series – that is, the best six out of seven for each team. In this hypothetical situation, in which the Netherlands finish fifth or better and the Swiss finish eighth or worse, here’s how that could work out.

For Switzerland, we’d be looking at Pratoni, Strzegom, Haras du Pin, Waregem, and two further legs: those could be Houghton, where they earned 45 points, Camphire, where they earned 45, or potentially Boekelo where, if they finish in eighth place, they’ll earn 45 points. But let’s save ourselves a headache and say they finish in twelfth, where they currently sit. They’d discard Boekelo, in that case, on just 25 points. Then, the individual rankings of the best three team members at each of those counting competitions would be added together, creating a final aggregate score that includes three riders’ rankings across six events. The team that ends up with a lower score after much scratching of heads and scribbling of sums takes the win. Clear as mud, eh? Let’s all just be glad that someone else has to do those calculations.

The team standings after dressage.

The Movers and Shakers of Day One

Yoshiaki Oiwa and Bart L sit in second place after the first day of dressage. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Sandra Auffarth and Let’s Dance 73 made great strides for both the German team and their chances of individual victory when they laid down a first-phase score of 24.9, taking the lead overnight. Second place is provisionally held by Japan’s Yoshi Oiwa, who produced an elegant test aboard the former Mathieu Lemoine ride Bart L JRA, with whom he’s developing a formidably competitive partnership ahead of next year’s Olympics.

“I was the third rider for Japan’s team, so I had to be good enough,” says Yoshi, who earned a score of 25.6 for his efforts. “Two seasons now I’ve ridden him, and we understand each other now – he’s a very tall horse, so for me it’s very different. Calle 44 is small and the handling is very good, but this one is very tall with a big canter. But I trust him, and he has enough experience.”

Chris Burton and Clever Louis. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Australia’s Chris Burton, too, appears to be figuring out a partnership well – but his relationship with Clever Louis is a much shorter one. In fact, this is just their second competition together: their first, the eight- and nine-year-old CCI4*-S at Blenheim last month, saw them take the win after just a month together. Today, they delivered a test that earned them third place and a mark of 26, despite some judging discrepancies that had them variously placed in first, second, and seventh.

“We’re really excited about him – he’s a lovely little horse,” he says. “He wouldn’t be the flashest one out there, but he’s not doing a lot wrong, and that’s what we really like. He’s a strong, tough little eventing horse.”

Clever Louis was produced by Germany’s Ben Leuwer under the tutelage of Dirk Schrade, and Chris has been quick to attribute his rapid trajectory with the horse to his careful production.

“It’s a strange situation, because of course we want to be competitive, but we’re still getting to know one another,” he says. “But with a bit of luck, we’ll know him really well by a certain competition next year that I’d like to have him going well for!”

Michael Jung and Creevagh Cooley. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Michael Jung offered audiences a special treat as he returned to the main stage with his double Kentucky winner fischerRocana, who makes her comeback after a year out due to injury. She certainly doesn’t appear to have lost any of her charm in that time, either – she sits fourth overnight on a score of 26.1, while stablemate Creevagh Cooley follows close behind in fifth on 26.5. This makes the mare, who Michael bought from a Swedish rider this spring, the only non-team horse to crack the top ten today.

“They were both really nice to ride, though in the beginning a little bit nervous and tense. Here a mistake, there a mistake, a little bit too much to be in the lead. But in the end they both went well and they were nice to ride,” he says of his two tests, which bookended the day’s competition.

While a competitive first phase result is always a reason for celebration, even more special is the feeling of doing so with a long-term partner – but Michael says that it wasn’t always apparent that fischerRocana would return to the top.

“First, I was thinking about breeding with her, not really thinking of the sport. But then we started to train her a little bit and she was always getting better and better,” he explains.

Tamie Smith and Mai Baum. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Tamie Smith and Mai Baum finished the day as the best of the US team, producing a nearly foot-perfect test to sit sixth overnight on 26.7.

“I had a great time – he was super, and he couldn’t have done any better,” says a beaming Tamie, who has made a habit of putting low-20s scores on the board with the thirteen-year-old gelding. “It’s his best test, but you’ve got to take it the way they give it to you – it’s subjective. But I’m thrilled; I don’t think I could have gotten a better performance out of him. He didn’t have a mistake in the test – it was very clean, and we didn’t leave anything on the table.”

Their efforts helped the US team to second overnight, and Tamie reflects that the international exposure can only be a good thing.

“All you can do is your best – I’m not known, so I have to earn those scores by performing to my best every single time,” she explains. “Eventually, maybe, I’ll see the scores. He’s always been a professional and he’s always given me his all. He can  be tricky because he moves so well, which can be difficult to keep contained, but I never felt like he got away from me today.”

Tom Carlile and Birmane. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

A bizarre incident on the way to Boekelo dictated a necessary change to Tom Carlile‘s schedule – “we spent most of yesterday catching up on sleep,” he laughs, explaining that one of his lorry tyres blew on the way through Belgium after it ran over a bit, of all things, on the road. The blowout added six hours to his already twelve-hour journey from central France, and on arrival, Tom’s efforts were entirely focused on making sure his CCI4*-L debutante Birmane was comfortable and settled. As it turned out, it all paid off – the pair scored a 26.9 to sit seventh.

“We were aiming for a 28, so that’s a birdie,” he says with a laugh. “I’m very pleased with her – I’ve had her since the beginning, and we’ve always had a high estimation of her. She has quality, and she has the attitude that comes with quality, but we’ve got a good partnership. She’s really stepping up and performing all the movements quite correctly; she’s only eight and she can be quite distracted by noise, but we did a good job today to get her to concentrate.”

The exciting progression of Birmane helps to dampen the blow of a tough year for Tom, which has seen top horse Upsilon sidelined with a serious neurological condition.

“There’s been plenty of issues – Upsilon was the worst, but it’s been a tough year,” he says. “But we’ve just been trying to keep busy and keep our minds on the positive. There’s no point living in the past; you’ve got to keep walking forward and keep trying to do what you’re aiming for. I do have the impression that I’ve already eaten the dessert of my career with what’s happened with Upsilon, but I do still have a lot of lovely horses.”

Ingrid Klimke and Asha P. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Ingrid Klimke, too, piloted a young mare to a promising result: SAP Asha P, the winner of last year’s seven-year-old World Championship at Le Lion d’Angers, posted a score of 27.1 in her CCI4*-L debut. Though she’s been a consistent low-20s horse at CCI4*-S, this slightly higher mark won’t rule her out of the game – she’s finished on her dressage score in nearly 50% of her international runs. Though a first long format at this level is always something of a fact-finding mission, it’s unlikely that Ingrid would have brought her to represent Germany if she didn’t feel the fiery mare was ready to play with the big boys. Fans of Ingrid, keep an eye on this one.

Laura Collett and Dacapo. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Australia’s Kevin McNab sits ninth on a score of 28.5 with Fernhill Tabasco, while Laura Collett rounds out the top ten – and leads the way for the British team – with Dacapo, who put a score of 29 on the board despite a wobble in the second flying change.

“They’re a bit hit-or-miss, because he’s quite a lazy horse. He felt like he was on my aids through the counter-canter, but as I made the turn he just dropped off a bit. The first one was really good for him, though. It was really quite costly, but he was really good,” she says – although, she continues, “there was some horrendous noise going on in one of the marquees, and he was sort of flicking an ear on it. Luckily, it didn’t really affect him – I was just lucky I was on him and not something a bit sharper.”

Jennie Brannigan and Stella Artois. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Jennie Brannigan acts as US team pathfinder this week, and she’ll head out of the box on a mark of 31.3. This puts her and the striking eleven-year-old Stella Artois in equal nineteenth place with Padraig McCarthy and Leonidas and Astier Nicolas and Babylon de Gamma, although she, too, suffered a drastic judging discrepancy: while two of the judges had her on 70% and in 14th place, the third awarded her just 66.04%, which would have put her into 31st.

“I was a bit bummed, obviously, that the one judge had me so much lower, but I was talking to Erik [Duvander] yesterday, and we were saying it’s more about thinking about how exciting the future can be,” explains Jennie, who has been training with James Burtwell on the flat for the past two months. “It’s really exciting to have proper help, because I’ve been doing it a lot on my own. Having the right people helps so much. Everyone’s always said ‘oh, the mare’s so strong, you have to dominate her’ – but I just thought, ‘no, she’s got to breathe, too – there has to be a way to be kind to her without being too soft and letting her do what she wants.’ You can’t just muscle her around – she’s a mare, and she’s sensitive, and I think James has really helped me find that balance. The improvement we’ve made with Erik, too, in the past week has been awesome.”

To have Stella Artois at Boekelo is particularly special for Jennie – she found her while competing at Luhmühlen, and this week, she’s surrounded by the mare’s connections made throughout the process. Now, she’s delighted and excited to act as pathfinder for the US team – and she’s gained an innate confidence in herself, too, that allows her to get the best out of the mare, even when she has her trickier moments.

“She’s such a lovely horse, and at the end of the day, she’s really fit and loves the rest of the phases as well,” she explains. “She felt great in the warm-up, but when I went to go in she actually got a little bit sharp. This is probably her first event that has this much atmosphere. But what I’m happy about is that I feel comfortable in the ring now, and I can keep a lid on it and get her relaxed. For a long time, I was taken on trips when I was really young and didn’t feel quite ready for the atmosphere, but now I feel very comfortable. You always want it perfect, but I’m happy it’s going the right way.”

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

He might be referred to as ‘the noodle’ at home, but Liz Halliday-Sharp‘s Cooley Quicksilver certainly looks to be learning how to use his various appendages to their best advantage. Some green moments precluded a sub-30 finish, but they weren’t far off – the pair sit 23rd overnight on a score of 31.7.

“He’s only an eight-year-old, and he’s quite a puppy, still, in himself,” she says with a laugh. “He’s a very young horse to sit on still in that way. In some ways, he’s quite grown-up, though, from having been to Le Lion twice. We’re trying new warm-up techniques, and today we did a lot less than usual – when he was younger, he’d often do something off-piste in the arena, like launch into the air or do something stupid. I think it was the right way forward, because we got a lot more pizazz in the work.”

The greenness showed through in the changes, which Liz attributes to weakness rather than any lack of try.

“He does beautiful changes in the warm-up, but he got a bit behind me, so that was a real shame,” she says. “But there was a lot of good there, and he’ll have learned a lot from it. This horse is going to do the most spectacular test when he’s ten – he’s the wiggliest, most flexible horse I’ve ever sat on, and that can be hard for them when they’re not established. It’s just body parts moving in forty different directions!”

We’ll be back tomorrow with a jam-packed day of individual dressage tests – keep it locked onto EN for the full report. Until then – Go Eventing!

The individual top ten after the first day of dressage at Boekelo.

Military Boekelo: Website, Entries, Ride Times, Live Stream, Live Scores, EN’s Coverage, EN’s TwitterEN’s Instagram

Much Ado About Boekelo: Your Essential Guide to the New Format and the Golden Ticket

When in Boekelo, do as the Dutch do…? Photo by Leslie Wylie.

There’s been an awful lot of fuss about Boekelo this year, and for once, it’s not just because of the infamous parties (though what happens in Boekelo stays in Boekelo, to quote the enthusiastic – and trouble-making – DJ at Tuesday night’s bash). Instead, this year’s focus is on the Nations Cup competition…which it always is, obviously, but allow us to explain.

As the finale of the FEI Nations Cup series, Boekelo CCIO4*-L is always an exciting and climactic watch. This year, though, it offers a little extra excitement. There’s one team ticket for Tokyo left, and it will be awarded this weekend to the highest-placed unqualified team in the Nations Cup series rankings at the conclusion of the competition. But before we get to the exciting culmination of the competition, we’ll also be getting our first proper look at the new – and rather dramatically different – Olympic format, which we’ll see at Tokyo next year.

Under the new format, three riders will represent each team. Shown here are Team USA, represented by Tamie Smith, Jennie Brannigan, and Liz Halliday-Sharp, with Matt Flynn as the reserve. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Let’s start by demystifying the format a little bit. The first thing you need to know is that the teams will be smaller – we’re used to seeing teams of four, with the three best scores counting, and one rider’s score dropped. In the new format, we won’t have drop scores at all anymore – instead, each team will have three riders, and each score will count.

Comprenez-vous? Great. But, we hear you asking, what happens if someone falls on cross-country, or doesn’t make it through a horse inspection, or comes up against one of the myriad other pitfalls that can crop up through an event? Without a drop score, do they just have to accept 1000 penalties for a non-completion and move on?

Nope. This is where the system really starts to look different, because for the first time ever, we’re now using a substitution system, which allows a reserve horse and rider to step in at any point in the competition.

That means that four horses and riders will travel to Tokyo for each nation, but one – the reserve or substitute pair – will not be accredited and won’t be able to compete unless they’re drafted in. What they do have to do, however, is pass both horse inspections. The team of three will be named ahead of time, and the reserve can be subbed in up to two hours before the start of dressage with no penalty to the team. The horse that was taken out can then wait in the wings as the new team reserve. After that? Get your calculators out, because it’s time to do some counting.

If all three combinations on the team complete each phase, nothing changes – they’ll each have their final score as usual, and those three scores will be combined to create the aggregate, or team, score. But if a rider fails to complete a phase, they’ll incur penalties for the non-completion. That works like this:

  • If a rider is eliminated or retires in the dressage (bad luck, pal), they add 100 points to their mark. Because they haven’t earned a dressage score, their starting score is 100 penalties, and the team is stuck with it no matter what.
  • If the elimination or retirement occurs on cross-country, they add 200 points to their dressage score, and no matter what, the team is stuck with that combined score.
  • If they’re eliminated or retire in the showjumping, they add 100 points to their score, and again, the team can’t get rid of those marks.

Once the elimination or retirement has occurred, there’s a couple of options. First, the horse and rider can be substituted, which means that those penalties they notched up as described above are kept on the team score card, while an extra 20 penalties is added on as penance for making the substitution. Then, whatever penalties the substitute earns are also added onto the score card.

Or, they can forego the substitute method, and the horse and rider that were eliminated or retired can continue on to the next phase with those non-completion penalties on their record. This isn’t always allowed, mind you – if the non-completion occurred because of lameness or injury to the horse, any sort of abusive or dangerous riding, a disqualification, or a horse fall, they are ineligible to continue. Likewise, substitution isn’t allowed in cases where abusive or dangerous riding or a disqualification has led to the non-completion of a phase.

Another important point to note is that only one substitution can be made per team, and that substitution must go to a new horse and rider – that is, a team rider can’t simply have a reserve horse waiting in the wings as a substitute. Any substitution made between the phases – let’s call these overnight substitutions – will still incur the 20 penalties for substitution, but won’t incur non-completion penalties. For example, if a team horse and rider complete cross-country, but the horse doesn’t look right the next morning, they can be replaced by the subs for just 20 penalties. They won’t add 200 penalties, because they completed the cross-country, and then won’t add 100 penalties, because they never started showjumping.

If a substitution can’t be made for any reason – because the sub has already been drafted in, or because of a disqualification, or simply the lack of a sub option – it can get expensive, and fast. If a rider is eliminated on cross-country for dangerous riding, for example, they’ll incur the 200 penalty ‘bonus,’ plus 100 penalties for failing to showjump, because they can’t be replaced.

(Oh, and another thing? Only horse-and-rider combinations who complete the entire competition are eligible for individual medals. Which is, you know, fair.)

In any case, any scores earned throughout the competition are kept on as part of the final team score, because drop scores no longer exist. So if a team member completes the dressage with, say, a score of 30, but then takes a spill across the country, they’ll have 230 points on their scorecard. If they then opt to sub in the reserve to showjump, they’ll add the substitution penalty – 20 points, so a total tally of 250 so far – and then the substitute’s showjumping score. Let’s say the sub knocks a rail – the final score is 254 for that slot on the team. If two riders fail to complete the cross-country, they’ll each add the 200, but because only one substitution can be made, they’ll need to decide whether one of them will still showjump the next day. If they can’t for any reason, they’ll add another 100 penalties.

If all this sounds incredibly confusing, we hear you – it’s a huge departure from what we know, and it all sounds pretty bonkers. These changes have been brought in to mitigate the confusion that surrounded drop scores – though we’re used to them, many new viewers of the sport found them difficult to understand, and so this system, it’s hoped, will prove clearer. It’s easy to make a snap judgment on what we’re seeing, but this week’s competition at Boekelo will offer some clarity – watching the system in action will, at the very least, help to demonstrate how it works, which is always easier than reading and re-reading the rule book until you go cross-eyed.

We’ll revisit these rules in a moment. Now, though, let’s discuss Tokyo tickets – there’s one left, and there are three teams chasing it. We’ve got twelve nations competing in the Nations Cup competition, and nine of them – JapanFranceGermanyIrelandGreat BritainNew ZealandAustraliaSweden, and the USA – are already qualified for Tokyo. That leaves the NetherlandsSwitzerland, and Belgium. They’ll all be competing for series points, as whichever of these three teams has the most at the end of the week will take the spot. So how are those points looking at the moment?

As you can see, Switzerland (365) leads the way by a slim margin of ten marks over the Netherlands (355), while Belgium languishes behind on 300 points. But that doesn’t rule them out – a win in the team competition here would earn them 100 points, while second would earn them 90, and so on. Here’s a look at the points that can be earned here:

If you’re about to do some ferocious scribbling to figure out where each team needs to finish to allow for any of them to qualify, don’t: only the best six scores of seven will count, which means that both Switzerland and the Netherlands will have an event to drop by the end of the week. Belgium, who missed Pratoni, will not.

It’s easy enough to consider this a bit of a match race between the Swiss and the Dutch teams – and here, the plot thickens. Both teams will be missing a major player, putting both of their campaigns in jeopardy. Switzerland’s MVP is Felix Vogg, whose top horse Colero is out of action at the moment. He will ride his other mount, Archie Rocks, at Pau – leaving Caroline GerberRobin Godel, and Tiziana Realini to fight the good fight in Boekelo on their European Championships mounts. They finished eighth there, with Tiziana as the drop score.

Tim Lips and Bayro at the first horse inspection. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The lynchpin of the Dutch team should have been Tim Lips, who has twice been crowned the Dutch National Champion here with top horse Bayro (anyone else remember that sub-20 dressage last year?) Bayro went to the Europeans, and Tim doesn’t want to run him in a long-format again so soon, so he had planned to ride Eclips here instead – but after picking up a minor injury, Eclips has had to be withdrawn at the last minute. Instead, Tim has brought Bayro – but only to be used as a substitute, and only for showjumping. Tim won’t run him cross-country. This is big news for two reasons: one, because it throws a real spanner in the works for the home nation, and two, because it gives us a real-world chance to see how substitution works. (For what it’s worth, reserve riders here are allowed to compete in the entire competition normally – which could get complicated if they have their own falls or disqualifications – but at Tokyo, they’ll only compete if drafted in.)

 

The tension is certainly rising in all three camps as they fight for the final ticket – but is it the last chance saloon here? Not necessarily – but more on this next week, when we’ll bring you a comprehensive guide to composite teams.

 

In the meantime, Sweden – who qualified for Tokyo at the European Championships – will be hoping to take the series title. Their nearest challengers, Italy, don’t have a team here, but that doesn’t mean it’s a sure thing. A great result from the Swiss, the Dutch, or the British teams could send their campaign into a tailspin.

Today, we’ll see all the team riders complete their dressage test, so stay tuned for the day one dressage report, where we’ll take a closer look at the numbers thus far – and what needs to be done over the weekend.

Military Boekelo: Website, Entries, Ride Times, Live Stream, Live Scores, EN’s Coverage, EN’s TwitterEN’s Instagram

Star-Studded: Pau Entries Go Live with 43 Combinations

Ascona M and Tim Price aim for a second five-star victory. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

For those of you fearing the swift approach of the end of the season, take heart: we’ve still got some jolly big competitions to look forward to before we all go into hibernation for the winter. (We kid. But wouldn’t that be a nice way to deal with it?) One of those is, of course, the final European five-star of the year. Today, Les 5 Etoiles de Pau revealed its entry list, and there’s plenty to look forward to.

Taking place from the 24-27 October in the south of France, Pau is a popular destination for competitors from around the world, and offers an opportunity for competitors to bank their Olympic qualifications before the season wraps. The twisty, technical track, designed by Pierre Michelet, presents rather a different challenge to the likes of Badminton, Burghley, and Kentucky, and this year, it delivers a smaller field, too – but among the 43 competitors, who represent 11 nations, there’s some serious quality.

Shane Rose and Virgil. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Notable entrants include Australia’s Shane Rose, who brings forward his WEG mount Virgil. The fourteen-year-old gelding finished second in his five-star debut at Adelaide in 2015, 16th at Burghley in 2016, and seventh at Luhmühlen in 2017 before Shane relocated back to his base in Australia. Now, with two CCI4*-S victories under his belt from two international runs this year, he’s on flying form for his return to Europe.

Six French riders will be taking part, with 2016 Pau victor Maxime Livio debuting Vitorio du Montet after a top twenty finish at Bramham. Rio tea member Mathieu Lemoine also has an exciting debutante on the list: Tzinga d’Auzay, who finished 20th at Blenheim last year and has notched up top ten finishes at Saumur CCI4*-L and Haras du Pin CCIO4*-S, makes his first five-star start.

Ros Canter and Zenshera. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Great Britain makes up the majority of the entry list, as has become the norm: among their 20 entrants, Alex Bragg will ride his stalwart Zagreb, third at Luhmühlen in June. World Champion Ros Canter contests her first five-star after maternity leave with Zenshera, who has four top-ten five-star finishes – two of them at Pau – under his belt. Sarah Bullimore, who missed out on the win here two years ago by a tenth of a penalty, brings forward Conpierre, with whom she finished eighth at Luhmühlen, while talented young rider Felicity Collins makes her five-star debut with Just Amazing and RSH Contend Or.

Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser in Tryon. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Tom McEwen and Figaro van het Broekxhof finished second at Luhmühlen this year after winning Belton’s Grantham Cup CCI4*-S, and they’ll head south with the hope of going one better at Pau – but Mr Fig will face stiff competition from stablemate Toledo de Kerser, back in action after a minor injury saw him withdraw from the European Championships at the eleventh hour. Gemma Tattersall, too, brings forward two horses: Chilli Knight, who was third in the eight- and nine-year-old class at Blenheim last month, and new ride Jalapeño, with whom she won the Event Rider Masters finale last week.

Japan’s Kazuma Tomoto has accomplished one big goal this year in qualifying all four of his horses for Tokyo, and now he’s out to prove exactly what they’re all capable of – his Tacoma d’Horset certainly shouldn’t be underestimated.

James Avery and Mr Sneezy. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Nor, of course, should Luhmühlen winners Tim Price and Ascona M. Tim’s entries make up two-thirds of New Zealand’s numbers at Pau: he also brings forward his 2015 Luhmühlen winner Wesko. Joining him in the Kiwi camp is James Avery, who makes his long-anticipated five-star debut with Mr Sneezy.

Sweden’s Ludwig Svennerstal will be a very busy boy indeed – he has three horses entered. Salunette steps up to the level after showing some promising form in her short international career, while the considerably more experienced El Kazir SP, eighth at the European Championships this summer, also heads to his first five-star. Balham Mist rounds out the trio, and will be making his third start at the level.

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

There are few things we like better than an off-the-track Thoroughbred, and we’ll be able to cheer one on in France – Felix Vogg and Archie Rocks will be Switzerland’s sole representatives at Pau. What else do we love? A North American entry, of course, and although the US are conspicuous only in their absence, Canada will be ably represented by Holly Jacks and More Inspiration.

We’ll be bringing you a comprehensive form guide ahead of the event, but in the meantime, you can peruse the entry list in full here. Allons-y!

Boekelo First Horse Inspection: All Pass After Two Holds

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

Welcome to every eventer’s favourite week of the year: it’s Military Boekelo time, and we’re in for one heck of a week at the Netherlands’ feature event. Not only is Boekelo the finale of the FEI Nations Cup series, it’s also a major focal point for riders hoping to gain their Tokyo qualification before the 2019 season wraps. But the CCIO4*-L team competition is going to be our focal point this week: there’s one last Olympic ticket up for grabs, which will go to the highest-placed unqualified nation in the Nations Cup standings at the end of the week, and it’s a chance for us to see the new Olympic format in action. And that format? Well, it’s a serious change from what we’re used to, so we’ll be bringing you a primer on what to expect — and who to keep an eye on.

Joseph Murphy and Cesar V. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

But the first order of business, as usual, was the first horse inspection, held this afternoon. If you happen to be a trucking type, and if you found yourself motoring down the N18 motorway a few hours ago, you might have been distracted on your travels — because just below you, tucked into the trees, a host of nations were parading their horses down the trot strip as traffic roared past. Unfazed, they presented to the ground jury of Jane Tolley (GBR), Stuart Bishell (NZL), and Katrin Eichinger-Kniely (AUT), and we’re delighted to report that all 98 combinations were accepted into the competition proper.

But that isn’t to say that the day was without its dramas. Two horses were held — the Netherlands’ Janneke Boonzaaijer‘s ACSI Champ de Tailleur and Padraig McCarthy‘s new mount Leonidas II, for Ireland, were sent to the holding box, though both duly passed upon reinspection.

Michael Jung and fischerRocana. Photo by William Carey.

In a departure from the norm, Boekelo has opted to put all the team riders consecutively in the order of go, so tomorrow’s dressage will be almost entirely centred around the Nations Cup competition. Germany has been drawn first in the order, and they lead the way with a formidable combination — Michael Jung brings forward his double Kentucky champion fischerRocana, back in the spotlight after a year-long hiatus. The Netherlands — one of the teams on the hunt for an Olympic qualification — will come forward second, followed by the Belgians, hot on their tails for that coveted ticket. The all-female British team has been drawn seventh, and will be spearheaded by Laura Collett and Dacapo, while Tokyo hopefuls Switzerland are the penultimate draw in eleventh.

Team USA has been drawn in twelfth place, with Jennie Brannigan acting as team pathfinder with Stella ArtoisLiz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Quicksilver will be the second of the U.S. competitors, while Tamie Smith and Mai Baum act as anchors. Matt Flynn and Wizzerd hold down the fort as team reserves, but unlike next year’s Olympics, they’ll be allowed to contest the competition in its entirety, rather than waiting in the wings to be substituted in as needed.

Team USA is out in force in Boekelo. Photo by Sherry Stewart.

Dressage gets underway tomorrow morning at 9.30 a.m. local time/8.30 a.m. BST/3.30 a.m. EST. Want to keep an eye on Team USA? Their times are as follows:

  • Jennie Brannigan and Stella Artois: 10.47 a.m. local/9.47 a.m. BST/4.47 a.m. EST
  • Liz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Quicksilver: 12.26 p.m. local/11.26 a.m. BST/6.26 a.m. EST
  • Tamie Smith and Mai Baum: 15.02 p.m. local/14.o2 p.m. BST/9.02 a.m. EST
  • Matt Flynn and Wizzerd: 10.54 a.m. local/9.54 a.m. BST/4.54 a.m. EST (FRIDAY)

Thursday’s dressage times can be found here – asterisks denote team riders, of which there are three per nation under the new Olympic format – while Friday’s can be found here.

Following from afar? Then you’re in luck – you’ll be able to watch all the action via FEITV. Keep a pint of Grolsch on hand at all times for the authentic Boekelo experience.

Military Boekelo: Website, Entries, Ride Times, Live Stream, Live Scores, EN’s Coverage, EN’s TwitterEN’s Instagram

Tattersall on Top and Burton Unbeatable in Event Rider Masters Finale

After yesterday’s dressage in the Event Rider Masters finale at Lignières-en-Berry, which saw the average score dip lower than it ever has, all eyes were on today’s jumping phases. Would they prove as influential? Would the obvious suspects be able to rise above the challenges? And who, exactly, would walk away as the 2019 Event Rider Masters champion?

Gemma Tattersall and Jalapeño move into the lead after showjumping. Photo courtesy of Event Rider Masters.

The drama of the day was evident from the off as our competitors braved a deluge in Lignières’ sprawling main arena to tackle the toughest showjumping course in Event Rider Masters’ history. Not a single combination would deliver a fault-free round and just two – Tim Price and Ascona M and Michael Jung and Star Connection FRH – would manage to stop the clock inside the fiendishly tight time allowed, though each took a rail apiece with them on their hunt for economical lines.

Others would have worse luck – the normally exceptional showjumper Billy the Red and his hugely experienced rider Tina Cook took two poles and added 3.6 time faults, while series contender Jonelle Price had three fences with Grovine de Reve and added 3.6 time penalties. Alex Bragg saw his chances of a podium finish slip just out of reach when Zagreb pulled two rails and added two time penalties, dropping the duo from fourth after dressage to ninth.

But where one goes down, another must come up, and the complexity and incredible influence of the showjumping allowed some key contenders to make their move. France’s Gireg le Coz, battling for the series title with Aisprit de la Loge, produced the round of the morning to add just 1.2 time penalties, while Gemma Tattersall and Jalapeño picked up a mere 2 time penalties to take the lead as we moved ahead to the final cross-country session of the 2019 Event Rider Masters season.

And what a cross-country session it was. After the withdrawal of series contender Jonelle Price, the door was opened wide for a new face to step onto the podium, and with the twisty, technical track causing a number of problems from the offset, nothing was guaranteed for our tightly-bunched candidates.

19-year-old Phoebe Locke and her experienced partner Pica d’Or were the class pathfinders, but their otherwise classy round came to an early end when the young rider took a tumble at one of the final combinations on course. When the next rider on course, Belgium’s Tom Goeman, fell at the second fence, and French superstar Maxime Livio picked up 20 penalties aboard Api du Libaire as third out of the box, it became readily apparent that today’s track wouldn’t be a mere stroll in the park.

Chris Burton and Quality Purdey get the job done without heroics. Photo courtesy of Event Rider Masters.

Sitting in tenth place before cross-country, series leader Christopher Burton had everything to lose – and everything to gain – as he left the start box with Quality Purdey. To maintain his standing, he needed to go fast and clear – but no one before him had come close to the 6:55 optimum time. A scrappy start paved the way for one of the most significant rounds of the day, and Chris ultimately crossed the finish line eleven seconds under the time – despite taking two long routes. The pressure was well and truly back on.

With proof that the time was gettable on the board, a spate of lightning-fast clear rounds followed: Alex Bragg and Zagreb added just 0.8 time penalties to claw their way back up to 7th place, while Arnaud Boiteau and Quoriano ENE HN, buoyed on by an ebullient home crowd, sailed home with three seconds to spare.

“It’s like a championship – it’s France, so there’s a big crowd, and it helps the horse and me to go faster and try to do the best,” said Arnaud, who climbed ten places through the day to finish in eventual fourth.

A slow run from Pau-bound Tim Price and Ascona M and the surprise retirement of Oliver Townend and Alcatraz pushed Chris Burton further up the leaderboard, and as his hold on the series title tightened, the match race between Gireg le Coz and Sarah Cohen intensified.

Gireg le Coz and Aisprit de la Loge produce another competitive clear. Photo courtesy of Event Rider Masters.

Jardy winners Gireg le Coz and Aisprit de la Loge produced quality jump after quality jump, but ultimately, the time wasn’t on their side: they added 2.8 time penalties to stay in fifth place, while fellow Frenchman Arnaud Boiteau moved up into fourth.

Sarah Cohen and Treason enjoy a podium double-feature. Photo courtesy of Event Rider Masters.

Sarah ‘Cutty’ Cohen and seventeen-year-old Treason, for their part, produced the round of their lives to cross the finish line one second inside the time, securing themselves a podium finish on both the leg and series podiums. Now, all they could do was wait to see which tier it would be on each.

When the top spots are occupied by a previous ERM series champion and the last winner of eventing’s Grand Slam, climbing is a tough call – and neither Gemma Tattersall nor Michael Jung looked like faltering for a moment on course.

Michael Jung and Star Connection narrowly miss out on a third ERM win. Photo courtesy of Event Rider Masters.

A foot-perfect round from Michael Jung and his two-time leg winner Star Connection FRH put him in second place on the live podium.

“It was really all there to enjoy,” he said with a broad smile. “Star Connection is a really great horse, and I know I have to let him run from the beginning because he’s not a racehorse, and he doesn’t have a big stride like a racehorse. But that keeps me fast to the jumps.”

He had done what he could – and ultimately, second place would be where he would stay. 2017 series champion Gemma Tattersall left the start box on a mission with Jalapeño.

They looked every inch a long-term partnership, belying the single season they’ve had together, eating up the course and romping home with three seconds to play with. The Lignières title was Gemma’s.

Gemma Tattersall and Jalapeño sprint their way to the win. Photo courtesy of Event Rider Masters.

“I’ve been really good at winning the other four-star section when ERMs have been at venues, and today I’ve managed to win the ERM – get in there!” she laughed from atop the podium, where she accepted a cheque for €18,000 and prizes from the Monart Elite Horse Sales.

“I’m so happy, and so pleased with the horse today,” she continued, acknowledging the efforts of owners Chris and Lisa Stone. “It’s a new partnership [with Jalapeño]; she’s been beautifully produced by Karin Donckers. I’ve had to take the reins and we’ve had to get used to each other. We’ve had a couple of whoopsies, but we’ve done our homework, and today it came good!”

Her third-place finish on the leg podium ensured Sarah Cohen a place on the series podium, too, for the second time. She finished third in the 2019 rankings – a remarkable accomplishment for the former pro turned passionate amateur, who balances family life with competing Treason, her only horse.

“It’s taken the whole season, but he was just magic out there – he’s a star,” said ‘Cutty’ of her longterm partner, who has been one of the most consistent horses on the circuit. Though Cutty hopes to log one more season with the gelding, could his eventual retirement from top competition prompt a comeback for his rider?

“I could really do with a back-up horse for him, so if anyone wants to be involved with the ERM, I have stables,” she smiled with a twinkle in her eye. “Just having the one horse, it’s amazing to be competitive with these top guys – and it makes me want to do a little bit more. I’ll be on the search now.”

A champagne shower for the Lignières leg winners. Photo courtesy of Event Rider Masters.

France’s own Gireg le Coz became a break-out star of the ERM series when he came from nowhere to win the Jardy leg earlier this summer, and since then, he’s proven just what he’s capable of with top horse Aisprit de la Loge. His fifth-place finish today sealed the deal, and the affable Frenchman took the runner-up spot on the 2019 podium. A star, we suspect, is born.

“My horse has been fantastic for all the four legs I did,” he said. “I have to say thank you to my horse, my owners, and everyone who makes it possible in the ERM – thank you.”

And so the 2019 Event Rider Masters championship went to the indomitable Aussie, Christopher Burton. His performance at Lignières proved to be the fastest round of the day, and helped him climb from 15th to eventual sixth place, clinching enough valuable series points to ensure he defended his 2018 Masters title.

“It’s not hard when you’re on such a lovely mare,” he smiled, reflecting on his remarkably fast round. “We love her – she’s truly extraordinary, and such a pleasure.”

Chris Burton takes the ERM title for the second year in a row. Photo courtesy of Event Rider Masters.

This makes Chris the first person ever to win the series twice – and as he held his £30,000 bonus aloft, he thanked the dedication of his team and owners for laying the foundations for his victory.

“This is our favourite part of the ERM, if you’ve gone clear and get to sit up here,” he laughed from the top spot of the podium. “It’s amazing – I still can’t believe it. I had such a good year last year that I really didn’t think I could ever do it again. We’re stoked! It’s a wonderful series to be a part of – and right now, we’re just going to enjoy the moment.”

And so the 2019 season winds to a close – and what a season it’s been. Six legs, five countries, and 85 of the world’s best horses and riders from 15 nations, all battling it out for £350,000 and podium glory. This is eventing, reinvented – and we can’t wait for 2020.

Friday Video from SmartPak: Eventing Down Under with Amanda Ross

The European eventing season is in its final month – though what a month it is, with the Event Rider Masters finale at Lignieres, the Nations Cup finale at Boekelo, the Young Horse World Championships at Le Lion, and the CCI5* at Pau – while those of you above the Mason-Dixon line will likely be thinking about hanging up your skull cap for the winter, too. But has that ever stopped EN from finding an event – and a heaping helping of eventers – to obsess over? No. No, it most certainly has not.

This week, the FEI are helping us to quell our end-of-season anxieties, as they wing us straight to the Land Down Under to meet Amanda Ross, who rode at the 2000 Olympics but somehow, infuriatingly, still looks younger than all of us. That’s probably because she was one of the earliest adopters of rider fitness regimes – but also, we suspect, because of her irrepressible joie de vivre. We first met her at Blenheim CCI4*-L last season, at which she and Koko Popping Candy finished tenth, and now she’s on the Tokyo trail. Get to know her – and get excited about a deeper dive into Australian eventing this winter – in her day-in-the-life vlog. Bonzer!

Friday Video from SmartPak: What’s That Teddy?

By this point, most of you will have encountered one of the most omnipresent faces on the global eventing circuit – the diminutive, wide-eyed face of Wilberry Wonder Pony (and his ever-expanding herd of Berry brethren, of course). But if you haven’t, you might have found yourself wondering why on earth some of the best riders in the world leave the start box with a stuffed animal attached to their number bib.

This season, the Event Rider Masters series has been a committed patron of the Willberry Wonder Pony charity, which helps to support vital research into the osteosarcoma that its remarkable founder, 17-year-old Hannah Francis, suffered through and ultimately passed away from. While pouring its resources into this research, Willberry also helps to grant wishes for equestrian enthusiasts suffering from serious illnesses.

The best bit? Eventers around the world have enthusiastically jumped on board in their support of the charity, which has snowballed in its reach since Hannah’s passing. Check out the ERM’s video, explaining their involvement with the charity this year and some of the riders who never leave the startbox without their own Berry pony on board. With the 2019 ERM series finale just a week away, we’ll be on Berry-watch — will you?

Double Trouble: Chris Burton Takes Second Blenheim Win

Chris Burton and Clever Louis take the top spot, just two years after the Australian rider last won this title. Photo by William Carey.

After the overnight withdrawal of joint leader William Fox-Pitt and Georgisaurous, all eyes were on Australia’s Chris Burton as the SsangYong Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials CCI4*-S for eight- and nine-year-olds headed into its cross-country finale. Surely the fastest man in the world, who won here in 2017 with his WEG mount Cooley Lands, would have no problem securing the win with Kate and Geoffrey Guy’s Clever Louis?

There was just one enormous hurdle to overcome: he had only been riding the horse for a month, and had never so much as competed him in a one-day event. Though the gelding had been well produced by Germany’s Ben Leuwer, who rides for Dirk Schrade, each step of the influential cross-country phase would be a fact-finding mission.

But who were we to doubt Burto, who has proven his prowess across the country time and time again, against all sorts of odds? He duly produced one of just two clear rounds inside the time to deliver the only FOD of the class – and win the competition with a staggering margin of 6.9 penalties.

“I’m really delighted to have this lovely horse. We’re very excited about him – he’s very Thoroughbred, and he’s very honest across the country,” says Burto. “It’s my first ride on him in competition, but I’m very lucky to have an amazing training facility at Lower Chapel Marsh Farm, so I was able to get to know him before I came here. From the first ride on him, he really felt like my horse. We were always planning to do this and then go to Boekelo in an attempt to get a Tokyo qualification, so if all that goes well, we’ll have a think during the winter. If he keeps going like that, he could be [a candidate for the Olympics].”

Chris Burton pilots Clever Louis to a fast clear round, securing the eight- and nine-year-old championship in their first competition together. Photo by William Carey.

Though the CCI4*-L competitors had enjoyed a glorious day of sunshine for their cross-country rounds, the CCI4*-S was plagued by a sudden torrent of rain, which made the reasonably firm ground slippery in places. But fortunately for Burto, some last-minute insights helped him to keep the rhythm.

“I was lucky that my mate Tim Price came up to my in the warm-up, and he said that some of the things we thought might be four [strides] – like across the water – the add is better, and even out of the coffin, the three isn’t there, and the four is better because it’s getting slippery,” he explains. “I was worried he’d be a little bit strong to add, but he wasn’t – he came back to me quite nicely, and he actually sped up towards the end, which I think is really unique. The Thoroughbred started to come out. At the fences he was unbelievable, really looking through the flags and just trying to look for the numbers.”

Tom McEwen and Dreamaway II finish second. Photo by William Carey.

Tom McEwen and Dreamaway II climbed from tenth place after the first phase to eventual second, finishing on a score of 36.6 after adding 5.6 time penalties across the country.

“He’s come on leaps and bounds, and now really has the desire to crack on and get on with it,” says Tom of Barbara Cooper’s eight-year-old Irish Sport Horse, who was running in just his second CCI4*-S. “I wasn’t perfect all the way around, but he really sorted himself out. He shortened himself when he had to; he’s got a big old stride, especially for an eight-year-old – he seems to be forever growing! He really ate the course up and didn’t make anything feel difficult.”

Though Tom admits he wasn’t going as fast as he possibly could with the maternal grandson of Cruising, he praised the efforts of the Blenheim team in producing the best possible ground they could have for the week’s temperamental conditions.

“They’d done such a good job and worked seriously hard all week,” he says. “Yes, in some patches it was possibly a bit slippier, but it wasn’t dramatic.”

‘Dreamy’, who won the Intermediate championships at Gatcombe this summer, will finish his season on this result, saving his first CCI4*-L for next year – and it’s a productive note to finish on.

“He’s done three phenomenal phases all week, and now I really feel like he’s seeking the flags,” says Tom.

View this post on Instagram

Chilli Knight… what can I say?! 🥰 Love this little man so much. He put in a foot perfect XC round in the prestigious 8/9yo CCI4* S class @blenheimhorse to finish 3 seconds inside the time, only one of two to do so.🥉 place in one of the most competitive classes of the season! Alfie is such a consistent horse, always in the placings and a complete xc machine. I actually saw a stride from the start box that set the tone for one of the best rounds I’ve ever had & I couldn’t stop smiling! As most of you will know Alfie is up for sale and I’m doing everything I can to keep the ride on this very special boy – if you know of anyone who is looking to own the most wonderfully uncomplicated, super talented XC machine (and keep him with me) please let me know! . #speedy #nopulling #justkicking #somuchfun #chilliknight #eventer #horsesofinstagram #chillibaby #equestrian #sybiht (Some of the products in this picture were #gifted as part of my brand relationships)

A post shared by Gemma Tattersall (@gemma_tattersall) on

Gemma Tattersall rounded out the top three with Chilli Knight, who has been put up for sale by owners Christopher and Lisa Stone, and who added just a solitary rail to his 33.1 dressage. In coming home across the country inside the time, he became just one of two horses to do so in this class.

“He’s adjustable and really clever to a fence, so we pretty much saw a stride from the start box,” says Gemma. “That set the tone for the round. He’s naturally very fast anyway; he covers the ground in a very quick and easy way, and he’s quick over his fences but clever, too. If you have to add a stride he does it in such a quick way that he doesn’t really slow down; he’s so clever with his body. I came through the last water and I was probably five or six seconds down, but I knew I could make it back because he’s so quick. He’s got real gears, and he’s not got the most enormous stride so I don’t have to slow down – you can keep coming to the distances without having to set up.”

After a successful 2019 season, which saw them finish 6th in the CCI4*-L at Bramham, Gemma is desperate to keep the ride on the son of Chilli Morning, who she’s produced through the levels. If so, she hopes to aim him for his five-star debut at Pau.

“If there’s anyone out there who wants to buy him for me, I’d be unbelievably happy,” she says. “He’s just been amazing, and really consistent – I call him the Yes Man, because he never says ‘no’ and he’s the ultimate trier. He tries in his dressage, he tries in his showjumping, and he’s unbelievable cross-country. We’ve got such a partnership; he believes me and I believe him. He looks for the flags, and when I say go, he goes. It’s so easy – he’s such a cool little horse.”

Course designer David Evans enjoyed a successful weekend – and an abundance of praise from the riders, who felt that in this, his third year designing at Blenheim, he’d delivered his magnum opus, increasing the intensity from the previous two years without sacrificing the confidence-building rhythm and positivity that he’s become known for.

“Even though I’ve been here for so long doing the ground and doing the building, and even when you’ve been working for the designers, you want to do your own thing,” he says. “You know where the ground is, but until you see horses jumping your new or different ideas, [you don’t know]. It still takes three years to actually make the tweaks you want to all the way around the course. Going into this week, I was actually the most comfortable I’ve been – it’s the hardest course we’ve had here, and a proper four-star, but I felt the most comfortable I’ve felt over the last three years. I felt like I’d actually got to where I want to go with it. Now, in the future, I’ve just got to tweak it a bit.”

Some of those tweaks are already percolating as David looks ahead to next year.

“I felt that for the young horses, I was a little bit unfair where I had their alternative coming down to the water,” he explains. “Some of them just looked like they were coming to the shoulder to the water and just, for a split second, looking at the alternative. So I’ll move that out of the way next year. There were a lot of comments from the eight- and nine-year-old class that they felt their question was more difficult than the straight line, but I don’t want those eight- and nine-year-olds coming down that hill to a straight question, because they’re going to run away with themselves. So I’ll look at that, but otherwise, I’ll probably just do some tweaking.”

One of the major conversations that has come out of Burghley has been whether the levels below are adequately preparing horses and riders for a competition of that intensity, or whether riders are setting up the building blocks for their own downfall by seeking out ‘easy’ qualifications. But David hopes that in upping the ante of Blenheim this year, he’s stopped it from being a ‘soft option’ while still creating a suitable competition for inexperienced horses or riders.

“Each level should be at its star, and this year is the closest I’ve got to a true four-star. You can overstep it sometimes and go four-and-a-bit stars, or three-and-three-quarters, and I just think it’s very difficult to get them ready for a Burghley. We’re all completely different designers; if you look at Ian [Stark]’s track at Bramham, he’s very good at what he does, but it’s Bramham [and, as such, more difficult]. I think it’s important to get them round but to ask similar types of questions and use the same top spreads, and then you get closer to getting them ready. I’m a great believer that actually, once you’ve got to this level, you should maybe do Pau or Luhmühlen and then go on to Badminton or Burghley. It was different in the old days, when we didn’t have the other five-stars, but I think with the modernised part of the sport that maybe that’s the way people should be thinking about doing it. But hopefully, we’re starting now to get them ready for the next level.”

So there you have it, folks – a star is born in Clever Louis, who was probably the least likely prospect for a win here this week. Will he join his former winners in moving swiftly on to five-star glory, team success, and household-name status? Watch this space.

Blenheim: Website, Ride Times, Live Scoring, Live StreamEN’s Coverage, EN’s TwitterEN’s Instagram

Piggy French Challenges for a Record at Blenheim

Piggy French and Brookfield Inocent scoop Piggy’s twelfth international win of the year. Photo by William Carey.

Piggy French sewed up yet another international victory – her twelfth of 2019 – in taking the SsangYong Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials with the ten-year-old Brookfield Inocent. But despite her enormously successful season, which now sees her close to rivalling Michael Jung for the most international victories in a single season, she didn’t go into the showjumping finale brimming with confidence – particularly as designer Di Boddie‘s jumping tracks are renowned for their tough turns, tight times, and need for precision. With Kazuma Tomoto and Brookpark Vikenti just two-tenths of a penalty behind her, she couldn’t afford so much as a time penalty.

“I was stewing a bit last night because I was like, ‘I can’t jump a clear round when it matters!’,” Piggy explains. “Everyone keeps on saying, ‘oh, but you’re having a great time’ – yes, but I keep trying to jump a clear round at the minute and it’s not happening. So you do start thinking, ‘I need to do something different,’ or ‘what’s going wrong’, but I just tried to stick to the system. If I got nervous I just tried to take a deep breath and remind myself that just to do it as quick as possible and stay in my bubble, rather than thinking about having to clear every fence by doing something differently. To be fair to them, they were both in amazing form today, and the time’s so tight, so you’ve got no time to think about softening the canter or getting things nice. You just have to ride pretty much as fast as you can go, and do turn-backs without killing the canter or doing something stupid.”

The ten-year-old gelding, who Piggy took over in the middle of last season, is known for being spooky and distractable – but Piggy, who had only competed in short-format competitions with the gelding, discovered the enormous benefit of showjumping him on the final day in what has been their first long-format together.

“He was totally on it – better, if I’m honest, than he’s probably ever been,” she says. “Maybe that’s going after cross-country; if you watched him closely yesterday he was darting across the track in quite a lot of places, at flags, and people, and dogs, and maybe having the edge off him focused him more today. That was the best he’s ever felt in the ring – and I don’t want to do it again! Usually when I finish a round on him I think, ‘I wish I could go straight back in and do it so much better.'”

Piggy French pilots third-placed Castletown Clover in the prizegiving. Photo by William Carey.

Just as special as taking the win was producing a top result on third-placed Castledown Clover. The fourteen-year-old gelding, who was originally bought for his owner, Susannah Paybody, to enjoy at the lower levels, and who began to compete with Piggy after Susannah won a lesson with her in a magazine competition, also finished on his dressage score.

“They were both so amazing; they’re such lovely horses,” she says. “The little old boy jumped his heart out in there today – it’s a fairytale finish for him. He felt unbelievable in there today and jumped a round as good as any horse that I’ve got can jump on the last day. I think we’ve got years left of enjoying him, and he’s an unbelievable jumper. I’m out of control coming into the combination, and not many horses would actually clear all three parts – I turned around thinking, ‘how on earth are they all still up?!'”

But despite his great result and obvious talent, he’s not a horse that Piggy will push for five-star.

“We want to enjoy him; he’s way exceeded our expectations,” she explains. “If he was a few years younger and he’d done the sport earlier I’d have loved to have done a five-star on him, because he reminds me very much of my little dun cob [Done to Order] that I had when I was starting – super technique, and he just loves it. But I think physically that’s the wrong thing for him to do. I think we can enjoy quite a lot more years with him without unnecessarily putting more wear and tear on him.”

Piggy French and Castletown Clover take third place. Photo by William Carey.

As the Year of the Pig continues to gain momentum, Piggy acknowledges the potent power of confidence – but she’s been careful to keep her feet firmly on the ground with it, too.

“I think it probably does help [to have such a good year], although I don’t really think about it – today we’ll enjoy it, especially with the owners, but tomorrow’s a very different day,” she says. “Tomorrow there’ll be fifteen very fresh horses looking at me, ten fresh owners who haven’t seen me for a few weeks, and they all want the fun next weekend, so you get back on the hamster wheel and you go again. You’re only as good as the horses you’re sat on and the support of the people you’ve got around you, so I know I’m very lucky in that way at the minute and it’s all happening – but you know with horses that tomorrow, or next weekend, the wave can break at any time. You start having jumps down, you fall off at fence two, a horse goes lame – things go wrong, and I’ve been on the crest of a wave for a while, so I’ve got to enjoy it.”

She also hasn’t forgotten the crashing blows of 2012, when the carefully honed structure of her yard and competitive plans began to fall to pieces around her.

“I just hope it’s not a bad omen, because I had the best year of my life in 2011, and everything went so well – and then in the Olympic year it all went Pete Tong. So I’m hoping it’s not a similar pattern,” she says. But it’s easy to see the effect of all the positivity of 2019 on her mindset. “But you know what? What will be will be, and it’s just as special, if not more special, to have a fabulous result for new owners who have never had this sort of result. You can never take them for granted. I won in 2011 here, and I don’t think I’ve won that many four-stars. It’s a great event to win at, and I think they get more special the older you get – and I’m starting to get old!”

Kazuma Tomoto settles for second once again with Brookpark Vikenti. Photo by William Carey.

Kazuma Tomoto completed his goal of qualifying his fourth and final horse for Tokyo, and he did so in spectacular style, delivering one of the three FOD finishes of the competition to place second with Brookpark Vikenti. But the result is slightly bittersweet: in 2017, he and ‘Vince’ missed out on the win in the eight- and nine-year-old class by a tenth of a penalty, while this year – many miles more confident and established – there’s a margin of just two agonising tenths.

The former showjumper gave his horse a stylish and nuanced ride in the arena, judging his distances with almost mechanical precision so that when the gelding skimmed low over the fences, the rail taps could be just that.

“He was giving a good feeling in the warm-up arena, so I was expecting a clear round today. We touched and knocked, it was a bit dodgy, but he was great,” says Kazu with a laugh, scooping Piggy up in a hug.

With gold medals on his mind, Kazu won’t be feeling the sting of such a near-win for too long – now, with four fit, talented, and healthy horses ready to target Tokyo, he’s got some serious decision-making to get down to.

“That’s the main thing to me, so I’m very happy,” he says of the final qualification. “I have four horses, and all of them are good quality horses, so I can’t decide it!”

Sammi Birch and Direct Tullyoran Cruise. Photo by William Carey.

Tact has been the watchword this week for Australia’s Sammi Birch, who finished fourth with the former Izzy Taylor mount Direct Tullyoran Cruise.

“She’s a funny little mare, and I only took the ride on her six months ago,” says Sammi. “And actually, she’s been quite difficult this week, out of the competition. She had a little bit of a moment outside the dressage arena in the collecting ring, and she cleared it – she’s quite feisty and tricky, which is one of the reasons I have the ride on her. But she’s a proper competition mare and loves the job, but I think just finds it all a bit much sometimes. But funnily enough, as soon as she got in the competition arena she’s been incredible. She hasn’t put a foot wrong and she’s given me absolutely everything. I’m thrilled with her – I was thinking that if everything went right, we could be in the top ten in such a class field, so to be top four is pretty fantastic.”

Completing her first long-format with the mare has given Sammi some insight into how she has to manage that feistiness.

“Her weakness is probably a little bit her brain; she finds it all a little bit exciting,” she explains. “In the warm-up today I couldn’t turn left at all or she’d stand up, so I had to jump everything off the right rein. You just hope that when you get in there you can turn left! As long as you don’t let that get to you too much, it’s okay. This is our first long together, and I’ve learned a lot about her – I was hoping that if I made friends with her out in the collecting ring I’d be able to turn left in there, and next time, I’ll happily know that she’s going to behave herself [in the ring].”

Sammi, too, has Tokyo in the back of her mind – and now, with next year’s crucial format change, it means that the mare’s next season remains a big question mark for now.

“The biggest thing today is that she’s now qualified for Tokyo. After yesterday, I think I’d like to take her to Badminton, but it sort of depends on what the Aussies are thinking – it’s difficult now because there’ll only be three on the team, so we’ll decide over the winter. I definitely think five-star is on the cards.”

Poignantly, Sammi’s result comes exactly a year after she underwent a major invasive surgery to remove cancerous cells from her breast.

“It’s been twelve months today since my breast cancer operation – it was the 22nd of September, so we had a shitty finish to last year,” she says. “First, it was breast cancer, and then I was ready to go to WEG on my good horse, who broke, and then we came here and another one hurt itself, so we had a shocking year. So actually, to be standing here, fourth at Blenheim on another horse twelve months later, is pretty exciting.”

Her recovery has been a long and tough one, though it’s impossible to tell when watching her gutsy, strong riding in the ring or across the country.

“It was horrible – I got home from hospital and I couldn’t stand up, basically, for weeks. But I started riding again at six weeks, even though they didn’t want me to. It’s taken a long time for my core to get strong again, because they do a tummy tuck, basically, and take from there. I still feel like my body isn’t quite back to what it was, but it’s a work in progress.” Plus, she acknowledges, “having horses like these makes it worth it.”

Andrew Nicholson and As Is. Photo by William Carey.

Andrew Nicholson piloted As Is, owned by long-time patron Libby Sellar, to fifth place, notching up another impressive four-star completing for the young talent, who has evidently got the raw materials for the job despite some latent physical immaturity. After delivering a double-clear on Saturday’s cross-country course and adding just 0.8 time penalties in the showjumping finale, the pair were able to climb from 33rd after dressage.

“He’s only eight, and there are five-star horses against him in this class,” Andrew points out. “I would think that next year, he’ll fill into his frame and look quite different. To ride, he’s very adjustable with his stride, and very agile, and very cool in his head.”

After a successful season with the young horse, the writing is on the wall for Andrew where the gelding’s future is concerned.

“He’s done Bramham clear inside the time and clear showjumping, and that’s bigger than here – so he’s done the two biggest four-stars double-clear. For me, if they can jump four-star courses, they jump five-star courses – the jumps are no bigger,” he says, but: “He’ll probably do another four-star [next year], but probably rather than going off to Luhmühlen or something it’ll be better to go back to Bramham and then maybe think of Burghley or Pau after that.”

Andrew, who had roundly praised David Evans‘ braver course design decisions after Saturday’s competition, was equally full of praise for the dynamic Di Boddy, who delivered another typically tricky showjumping track.

“I thought the course was very difficult to ride; Di is the master of making the turn-backs for us eventers difficult,” says Andrew. “There’s a couple of fences where you wouldn’t sight them until late, so you needed to be able to ride the correct stride patterns and have rideable horses. It makes the competition exciting, doesn’t it?”

It certainly did. Just eight combinations of the 57 finished without adding penalties – time or jumping – in this phase. Katherine Coleman and Monte Classico, sixth after cross-country, dropped to 17th after pulling two rails and adding three seconds to the clock, while Buck Davidson and Carlevo climbed to 27th after tipping one and adding two. Cornelia Dorr and Sir Patico MH also climbed, finishing in 42nd place with 10 penalties in this phase, and Lexi Scovil and Chico’s Man VDF Z were 55th after adding 19.6 penalties in the horse’s first CCI4*-L.

We’ll be back soon with all the news from the eight- and nine-year-old CCI4*-S – until then, go Piggy, and Go Eventing!

Blenheim: Website, Ride Times, Live Scoring, Live StreamEN’s Coverage, EN’s TwitterEN’s Instagram

Field Thins at Blenheim Final Horse Inspection

 

Overnight leaders Piggy French and Brookfield Inocent. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

59 combinations came forward for the final horse inspection of the SsangYong Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials after the overnight withdrawal of five horses: Emily King‘s DargunMatt Heath‘s Thornton JonesSamantha Hobbs‘ Cloonbarry RobinGeorgie Spence‘s Wii Limbo, and Georgia Bale‘s Wonham What Next. After a tense morning in the sumptuous grounds of Winston Churchill’s childhood home – and in front of ground jury members PollyAnn Huntington (AUS), Andrew Bennie (NZL), and Jane Holderness-Roddam (GBR) – the field has been thinned to 57.

Jessica McKie and Ask The Boss. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Five horses were sent to the holding box throughout the course of the morning. While three of them – Hannah Bate‘s Riverside VisionPippa Funnell‘s Billy The Biz, and Josephine Schnaufer‘s Pasadena 217 – were subsequently accepted upon re-presentation, two didn’t fare so well. Sofia Sjoborg opted to withdraw DHI Mighty Dwight from the holding box, while Jessica McKie‘s Ask The Boss was unfortunately spun.

The conclusion of the horse inspection led directly into the start of the showjumping, which is running in reverse order of merit. The final session, featuring the top twenty competitors, will commence at 3.15 p.m. BST/10.15 a.m. EST. Meanwhile, the CCI4*-S competitors will head to the cross-country track – stay tuned for a full report on the finale of both classes.

Blenheim: Website, Ride Times, Live Scoring, Live StreamEN’s Coverage, EN’s TwitterEN’s Instagram

Piggy French Tops the Bill in Blenheim Cross-Country

Piggy French and Brookfield Inocent. Photo by William Carey.

David Evans performed a cross-country coup today, upping the ante of his CCI4*-L course without sacrificing any of his trademarks: bold, forgiving fences, open and positive distances, and universally fair questions. We saw 64 completions from 82 starters, and nine double-clears throughout the day, while 51 came home without jumping penalties. But dispersed throughout the success stories were plenty of problems on course, which struck indiscriminately – and after two green errors in the thick of it, dressage leaders Izzy Taylor and Monkeying Around elected to retire. This opened the door for second-placed Piggy French and Brookfield Inocent to move into the top spot – and they duly did, with a double-clear round that belied the gelding’s inexperience.

“He’s such a good galloper – he’s really fast and he’s quick at his jumps, so I don’t really have many excuses unless we get it wrong,” says Piggy, who produced one of the earliest double-clears of the day to storm home nine seconds inside the time. But the ten-year-old, who started – though didn’t complete – his debut CCI4*-L at Tattersalls last season with former rider Kevin McNab, doesn’t necessarily make it easy to be economical.

“I was trying to ride tight lines at the string, and he was always shooting off away from things – from kids, from dogs,” laughs Piggy, who has spent her fifteen months with the gelding working to put his spooky nature to good use. Though he’s evidently stepped up to the plate now, she confesses that she wasn’t always sure it would be a surpassable hurdle. Now, in her first long-format competition with the Irish Sport Horse, she’s found plenty to be excited about.

“He’s a class act. [John and Chloe Perry] are new owners to me, and it’s always a bit of a gamble, but we’re just having so much fun,” she beams. “He still had a good little dance at the end of the course – that’s the quality and the sharpness of him. So he’ll still have lots of energy for tomorrow, hopefully – god help me!”

But, she acknowledges, it’s still a fact-finding mission with the horse, who she’s never jumped on the final day before.

“They’ve run their hearts out today,” she says, pointing out the work balance differentiation between a one-day event and a three-day. “Tomorrow is a different ball game.”

Piggy French and Castletown Clover. Photo by William Carey.

Piggy’s excellent day didn’t end there. As one of the last riders out of the start box, she recorded her second double-clear of the class with Castletown Clover, the fourteen-year-old CCI4*-L debutante who she describes as “our pet, really – you just want to smile every time you ride him.” Yesterday, he broke the 30 barrier for the first time at the Advanced level, putting a score of 28.6 on the board, and his fast round today allowed him to climb from 19th place to 5th overnight.

“He’s just such fun – I’ve always said it all along, but today especially,” says Piggy. “He was so chilled in the warm-up, and he usually has a wee – a bit of a nervous thing, I think – before he goes. But I think he just thought that today was all about him, which is just too cute, and happy days if that’s what he’s thinking!”

Fourteen might seem rather old for a debutante, but Castletown Clover was never intended to be a top event horse – instead, he was bought to event at the lower levels and hunt with owner Susannah Paybody. When she realised he might have what it takes to reach the top, she enlisted the help of Badminton winner Piggy to help him achieve his quick climb up the levels without sacrificing sympathetic production. This means that for both the Paybody family and Piggy, every step along the way is something to be celebrated – but it also means that the rider needs to pay close attention to the conditions she runs the gelding in.

“I would have liked more rain for him – he’s an old boy, he started this level late, and he doesn’t love the hard ground,” she says. “I was slightly concerned he wouldn’t travel as well around here as he can do, and start over-jumping or something, but he pricked his ears and cantered around like everyone was having a day out just to come and see him. So I just sat there, really, thinking ‘this is all jolly nice!’ But I had to remind myself to keep checking on the time, because you can quite easily float along. I keep having to tell myself to take it seriously and don’t do anything stupid, because you smile on your way around – he’s such a dear little chap. But bloody good, too – he’s a super jumper and he’s easy. It makes such a difference when you can set them up and you don’t spend too long fighting to get the balance.”

Kazuma Tomoto and Brookpark Vikenti. Photo by William Carey.

Japan’s Kazuma Tomoto made great strides on his mission to qualify his fourth and final horse for next year’s Olympics, and after missing out on a win in 2017’s CCI4*-S here by a tenth of a penalty with Brookpark Vikenti, he wasn’t going to leave anything to chance. Instead, he made the gelding’s strength across the country work for, rather than against, him to blitz home ten seconds inside the time and move into second place overnight – just two tenths of a penalty behind the leaders.

“It wasn’t an easy course, and it’s obviously one of the biggest events in the world – there are lots of skinnies, very tricky distances. But he stayed concentrated and on his lines,” says the former showjumper with a smile. “He was strong today, but William [Fox-Pitt] told me – that’s what we expect from him. I feel very positive for tomorrow.”

Kevin McNab and Scuderia 1918 A Best Friend. Photo by William Carey.

Australia’s Kevin McNab crossed the finish line four seconds over the 10:20 optimum time with Scuderia 1918 A Best Friend, but this didn’t stop them from climbing two places to sit third after cross-country.

“I wasn’t disappointed at all – [the horse] is still fairly new to me, so it’s a developing partnership,” says Kevin of the nine-year-old Oldenburg, who is owned by top-end sneaker company Scuderia 1918 and was formerly piloted by Germany’s Jörg Kurbel. “I can live with the five seconds – I’ve got a real one here. He’s a good horse and I think he dealt with most of the fences well, especially when we weren’t quite where we wanted to be. When the going gets tough, he keeps going – I think he should have a fairly exciting future.”

Pippa Funnell and Billy Walk On. Photo by William Carey.

The fastest round of the day went to Burghley winner Pippa Funnell and the rerouted Billy Walk On, whose owners opted to send him to Blenheim instead after completing the first phase at the Lincolnshire fixture. They crossed the line a remarkable 21 seconds under the optimum time after the rangy gelding easily made up the open distances in the course’s myriad combinations, despite a hold, and sit fourth overnight.

“It was a really thrilling round,” says a delighted Pippa, who had scrawled a tiny ‘+1’ onto her number – 76 – for extra luck. “He was absolutely class. I got a little bit flustered when I got held – not because I was held at the big ditch, but because I knew that Burghley came down to one second, and because I wasn’t at a stopping point, I didn’t know exactly when to re-start my watch. So I went the rest of the way without my watch. I normally wouldn’t have judged it that far inside the time, but because I didn’t have a clock, I just had to keep him running in the rhythm.”

Because Billy Walk On had followed the same fitness regime as Majas Hope, who helped Team GBR to a silver medal at last month’s European Championships and Burghley-winning stablemate MGH Grafton Street, Pippa knew the length and intensity of the track wouldn’t faze him – a great help as she tried to maintain a competitive pace without the benefit of the minute markers. But despite the afterglow of delivering one of the best rounds of the day, Pippa still has half a mind on what could have been.

“The way he went round there, I still would have loved to have seen how he’d gone at Burghley,” she confesses. “But it’s never the wrong decision not to run a horse – it’s the wrong decision to go and lose their confidence. You’re better off erring on the side of caution. What was so thrilling was how he went today; now I can go into next season really excited. He’s grown up a lot – this is the best he’s been with the crowds, and that’s been one of his main issues. He can just get that little bit distracted and not look at what he’s meant to jump until it’s too late, but today I felt that he was really on it.”

With a championship and a five-star victory in the bag over the last month, plus two exciting clear rounds today, it’s fair to say that Pippa Funnell has built up an impressive string of top-level rides. But the key to this, she says, has actually been in downsizing.

“It’s always a little bit difficult making the decision, but I knew I had to cut back on the numbers,” she says. “If I’m honest, a lot of us probably make the mistake in the sport of having too large a team horses, and then you can’t really concentrate on the ones that are really talented. The lovely thing is that yes, I’ve got less, but the ones I’ve got I really love riding every day. They fill me with confidence – people say I’m riding well, and I probably am riding better, because they’re giving me the confidence.”

Very Marie Kondo of you, Pip.

Katherine Coleman and Monte Classico. Photo by William Carey.

Katherine Coleman brought Monte Classico to Blenheim with one goal in mind – test out the full range of gears she’s installed on the talented ten-year-old, who she ran conservatively in the CCI4*-S last year to help him gain experience. It paid off: he set out from the start box on a mission, and came home just a second over the optimum time to move up from 23rd place to sixth overnight. But for Katherine, crossing the finish line with that goal accomplished wasn’t just special because of her love for the horse – it was also a poignant farewell to her great friend Keith Flint, who tragically died earlier this year.

“This time last year I was here with a very dear friend of mine, who then committed suicide in March, so it’s been a really tough spring,” says an emotional Katherine. “So to come out and have that is awesome.”

Riding with head, heart, and an indomitable joie de vivre in the way that Katherine did is certainly a fitting tribute to Keith – and in doing so the rider, who splits her time between the UK and the US, further confirmed her belief that the gelding is a true star for the future.

“I’m absolutely delighted, and I know exactly where I lost the time – coming out of the arena I held and slightly missed, so we lost a bit of time coming around the turn after that,” she explains. “That might have rattled me a little bit, so I waited again to the oxer at 10, and he jumped quite high – but then I gave myself a kick up the butt, and on we went. I think so much of this horse – if he was with someone seasoned like Tim or Pippa, he’d be winning everything. Today, I really wanted to challenge him and attack it, and say ‘hey, you’re ten, it’s time to grow up’ – and he really rose to the occasion. He’s really special.”

Daisy Berkeley and Ballinteskin Cooper S. Photo by William Carey.

It’s been thirteen years since British team veteran Daisy Berkeley last won here – and, she admits, a long time since she’s had a truly quality horse. But Ballinteskin Cooper S has earned himself that descriptor after climbing eight places to sit seventh overnight, adding just 2.4 time penalties to his dressage score of 30.2.

“I’m lucky to have a horse like him – I’ve had him since he was a five-year-old, and he’s done nothing but please me,” says Daisy of the ten-year-old Irish Sport Horse. “It’s nice to have a good one – it’s been a bloody long time!”

Alex Bragg and King of the Mill. Photo by William Carey.

“If I’d been on Zagreb, I think I’d have a glass of wine in my hand already,” laughs a breathless Alex Bragg, just moments after the double-clear cross-country round that rocketed him and King of the Mill from 27th to 8th place. “But I’m going to need ten minutes of recovery time – my heart rate is through the roof!”

The nine-year-old gelding might look remarkably similar to his experienced stablemate – like Zagreb, he’s tall, bay, and, well, rather hunky – but as a CCI4*-L debutante, he offers a much different experience out on course.

“It took true cross-country riding – I had lots of plans, but I had to ride what I felt, and in the beginning, I had to ride for my life,” laughs Alex. “He’s quite a sharp horse, and he’s always darting and spooking, but he’s so quick, so you have to be quicker.”

But the gelding, who has recorded top-ten finishes in CCI4*-S classes at Barbury and Hartpury, grew in confidence and professionalism as the course went on, establishing himself as something rather more than a second string.

“He’s only going to learn by doing it,” says Alex. “We’ll be working hard now to make sure he recovers well and performs tomorrow, but today we’ll be celebrating.”

Sammi Birch and Direct Tullyoran Cruise. Photo by William Carey.

Australia’s Sammi Birch and Direct Tullyoran Cruise, formerly ridden by Izzy Taylor, added 2.8 time penalties to move up to ninth overnight. We’re used to seeing William Fox-Pitt in his domain at the upper end of the leaderboard, but Atlantic Vital Spark? You’d be excused for not having heard of him. This is the nine-year-old Irish Sport Horse’s first CCI4*-L – and just his second four-star start – and for William, he represents a new venture. 

William Fox-Pitt and Atlantic Vital Spark. Photo by William Carey.

“I bought him as a sales horse, but people aren’t used to me selling horses – they assume if I am, it’s because there’s something wrong with them,” says William ruefully. The gelding was bought as a seven-year-old from young rider Harris Ritchie, who produced ‘Ted’ – her only international ride – to CC2*-L. But university beckoned, and the Scottish rider put the horse on the market, where he was promptly snapped up by the eagle-eyed Olympian. 

Though he’s been a mid-to-high 30s horse throughout his international career, with the exception of a 28.1 in Rockingham’s CCI3*-S earlier this season, he shone in the atmosphere of Blenheim’s main arena to deliver a personal best of 28 yesterday – and today, he added just 2.8 time penalties to round out the top ten. 

“It’s his first long four, so it’s a big day for him – but he made it feel rather nice,” says William. “It’s quite a consistent course, so he got it – he jumped fence five and said, ‘okay!’, which bodes well. I walked the course for a green horse, and thought, ‘well, I must add strides to give him time’ – but once I got out there, he was really going – he did all the A-level strides and impressed me a lot.”

With just ten internationals on his record, Ted is inexperienced by anyone’s reckoning – but William has great faith in the horse’s ability under pressure. 

“All being well, as long as jumps tomorrow he’ll be qualified for the Olympics – and that’s quite reassuring, isn’t it?” he says. His fondness for the horse is evident and, he tells us, he’d actually rather like to keep the ride for himself – provided an owner steps in to buy him, so that he can tick the ‘sales project’ box. 

Buck Davidson and Carlevo. Photo by William Carey.

It was a day of ups and downs for Buck Davidson, who pulled up the experienced Park Trader after he felt something slightly amiss in his stride. After further examination, some minor damage to his check ligament was discovered – though fortunately, nothing amiss with his tendon.

“He jumped one of the oxers beautifully, and then I landed and took a stride and thought, ‘hmm – that feels funny.’ And then another one, and that felt funny too,” he explains. “I know my horses – I’ve had them forever – and so I was like, ‘forget it.’ Luckily he didn’t hurt his tendon, so I’m thankful – I’ve done horses my whole life, so I was able to feel that. It’s so key to have the horses for a long time, and my aim is always to have them happy and sound. I have to admit I cried – and I haven’t cried in a long time. Thankfully, once we had the scan we knew he’d be fine.”

But the experience meant that Buck had to work hard to get himself back into the zone for his second ride, Carlevo.

“It was very sad – I love my horses, so I needed to take a moment to regroup, to be honest,” says Buck, who came home clear with 11.2 time penalties to sit 31st going into the final phase. “But this horse was spectacular – I should have gone faster, but what can you do? He was fantastic, though, and he did everything I asked him to do.”

To bring Carlevo home in fine style means that Buck can tick a box that went unticked last year, when the horse had to miss his journey here after a last-minute knock.

“My owners are my friends, and I feel awful when it doesn’t go right. They’re so good to me, as are all my owners,” says Buck. “I’m just mad at myself – I should have pushed the gas a bit more with Carlevo. He just got a bit tired – but never mind, it’s better to come home flying than crawling! I love him, and he’s gone well.”

Cornelia Dorr and Sir Patico MH. Photo by William Carey.

A classy round across the country was punctuated by a surprise run-out at the final element of the tricky coffin combination, but for Cornelia Dorr and Sir Patico MH, whose long partnership has seen them grow up together, it’s a chance to learn and develop further as they tackle the upper echelons of the sport. They now sit 47th, adding just 4.8 time penalties with their 20.

“I think he started out super – I set the pace and made sure we were going well, going forward and going quick, and he listened really well,” says Cornelia. “Every time I asked him to move on or slow down he was so responsive, and he was super at all the questions. At the coffin he just jumped in big and slightly to the left, and I wasn’t quick enough to catch it. I’m super pleased with him – he’s my horse to get experience on, and that’s what we’re doing.”

Lexi Scovil and Chico’s Man VDF Z. Photo by William Carey.

Lexi Scovil and Chico’s Man VDF Z, too, picked up a twenty at the final element of the coffin, and added 26 time penalties to move down to 61st place.

“Generally, it was great – I wouldn’t say it was the prettiest, but he’s an amazing horse,” says Lexi of the ten-year-old gelding, who makes his CCI4*-L debut with his rider. “I started quite quietly because he’s never seen crowds like this, and he really peeked at fence two, which is just a table – so that wasn’t a great start! But then he really clicked in and went. I made a mistake at the coffin; I thought the right run-out’s the one to watch for so I really got to the left, and he ran out left. But to be honest, he’s so green, and I’m so green, that I can’t be at all upset with him. He came home – I told everyone that my dream plan was to go double-clear here, but my base plan was just to complete. So I’m absolutely thrilled with him. He got tired at the end but he just kept giving me everything – a year ago I’d have had to fight for every fence, but now he gives me everything.”

With a plethora of new tools in their box, and a significant new understanding of how to attack top-level long format competitions, Lexi is looking ahead to a bright future with ‘Sprout’. But first? Apply for a visa for another year in the UK – and as she runs away to feed back her intel to William Fox-Pitt on the questions the course poses, it’s easy to see that she’ll be welcomed with open arms.

The top ten at the conclusion of Blenheim’s CCI4*-L cross-country.

CCI4*-S

Just sixteen of the 66 competitors in the prestigious eight- and nine-year-old class jumped clear, prompting a paradigm shift across the leaderboard. Dressage leaders Piggy French and Calling Card pulled three rails to slip down to 38th place, while second-placed Sam Griffiths and Freestyler had two and 1.6 time penalties, which sees them move into 35th overnight. When third-placed Mary King and King Robert II also had two rails, the door was opened for two riders who had previously won. William Fox-Pitt and Australia’s Chris Burton had found themselves tied for fourth after the first phase, and when both jumped foot-perfect clear rounds, they found themselves neck and neck in the top spot at the conclusion of the showjumping.

For William, the surprise lead is the culmination of a slow-burning production process, which has seen him take the eight-year-old Georgisaurous through the entirety of his short international career.

“I got him when he was four, and he started very easy at five,” says William, who has taken the Tattersalls CCI3*-L winner and four-star debutante’s career slowly to accommodate his overlarge size. “He’s quite cool, though – he’s not normal. He’s a step ahead. He got a 29 yesterday and it’s the first time he’s ever done that test, but he’s a very good dressage horse – he’ll easily get a 20 one day.”

In fact, he already has – that Tattersalls win came after he finished on his dressage score of 20.5. But four-star is a big step up from three-star, and the coveted title here is another story altogether. With that in mind, William is taking a measured approach to planning his final-phase strategy with the horse.

“We’re still finding our brakes, and I’m not sure I really want to gallop him round there,” he explains. “To me, I always think this class is a bit more for a nine-year-old, so he’s a bit off the pace. To go around his first four-star and to go flat out for the first time is probably not what we want for him – we’re thinking about the bigger picture. If he goes nicely I’ll be happy – it’s about his future and what’s right for him. If he goes off and wings round quickly, then lovely – but that isn’t my goal.”

We last saw Chris Burton take top honours here in 2017, when he won this class with Kate Walls’ Cooley Lands – but his joint-leading ride today is a horse that he’s never actually ridden in an event before. Instead, Clever Louis has been produced to CCI4*-L by Germany’s Ben Leuwer – but Burto and owners Kate and Geoffrey Guy had long admired the horse from afar.

“He was really beautifully trained by Ben under the guidance of Dirk Schrade, and he’s a horse I’ve always known about because he’s got amazing breeding. He’s a lovely horse, a lot of Thoroughbred, and I’m lucky to have the ride on him thanks to the Guys,” he says of the maternal grandson of Cor de la Bryere. “Of course we’re very excited about the horse, but I don’t know him very well – this is my first international on him, and in fact my first competition, so I’ve got a lot to learn about him tomorrow. He’s not the most fancy one out there but he’s the most lovely horse, so I think he’ll do a very good test [one day], and I’ve learned that he’s a very good jumper, too.”|

The top ten after showjumping in the eight- and nine-year-old CCI4*-S.

Tomorrow sees us head into the final showjumping phase of the CCI4*-L, as well as the cross-country phase of the CCI4*-S – but first, we’ll be heading to the final horse inspection for the long-format class, beginning at 8.15 a.m. BST/3.15 a.m. EST. We’ll be bringing you a full report and gallery in the morning – until then, Go Eventing!

Blenheim: Website, Ride Times, Live Scoring, Live StreamEN’s Coverage, EN’s TwitterEN’s Instagram

Friday at Blenheim: Taylor Back on Top as Buck Hits the Top Ten

CCI4*-L

Izzy Taylor and Monkeying Around take a commanding lead in Blenheim’s CCI4*-L. Photo courtesy of the SsangYong Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials.

There were major changes in the feature four-star class at the SsangYong Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials today, as we bade goodbye to the overnight leader and were granted with a new one in the form of one of the field’s youngest entrants.

Will Rawlin made the tough decision to withdraw his Thursday leader VIP Vinnie, who was sitting on a score of 24.2 – good enough for second place at the conclusion of the dressage.

“After doing such a good test, sadly I have made the decision to withdraw VIP Vinnie as he’s feeling a little under par,” says Will, adding that he’s “gutted” by the circumstances. “I can’t take the risk of running him and something happening. As a team we are thinking long-term, and I’m just glad it isn’t anything serious.”

Izzy Taylor, who last won here in 2017 when scooping the Event Rider Masters CCI4*-S with Be Touchable, was quick to fill the gap at the top of the leaderboard. That she did with an eight-year-old – and a horse that makes his CCI4*-L debut here – will come as no surprise to anyone who has seen the eye-catching youngster in the ring. This is partly down to his breeding – despite showing an impressive proclivity for eventing, Monkeying Around is bred to shine between the boards. Out of a Donnerhall-sired dam and by the Grand Prix stallion Bertoli W, his innate expression and balance give him the edge. Today, that edge was a significant one – they sit on a score of 22.7 going into tomorrow’s cross-country phase.

“I’ve had him since he was a four-year-old, and it makes a massive difference when you can have them from the word go and they’re in your system,” says Izzy, who took top honours in the 2017 Six-Year-Old World Championships at Mondial du Lion with the gelding, who she co-owns with Mark Sartori. “He’s a beautiful horse, and I love him. He was very, very good today; there were some mistakes, but he’s still young so it’s all exciting.”

For the mind-bogglingly busy rider, competing at Blenheim offers up some rare treats.

“Blenheim’s ten minutes from home, so that’s lovely – it means my children can come, and it makes that side of it special,” she explains. “But it’s also the most beautiful setting; we’re very privileged with where we get to do our events, and this is a beautiful one.”

“He’s young to be here, but we’re here to be competitive, and hopefully we’ll be on the same score tomorrow.”

Piggy French and Brookfield Inocent remain in second place after their impressive 25.4 test yesterday, giving Izzy a six second advantage across the country tomorrow. But this is the widest margin we’ll see: from here on out, there’s no room for anything less than foot-perfect focus tomorrow. A mere .2 penalties behind Piggy, Japan’s Kazuma Tomoto and Brookpark Vikenti sit third on 25.6, just missing out on some crucial marks in the halts.

Kazuma Tomoto and Brookpark Vikenti. Photo by William Carey.

“It’s a shame about both halts, but I’m very happy. He’s always good at the flying changes, so we need to get the good marks there,” says Kazu, who set himself a lofty goal at the beginning of the 2019 season – to qualify all four of his horses for next year’s Tokyo Olympics. Remarkably, he’s notched up three so far, and this week’s competition sees him aim for the fourth with the eleven-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding, who led the dressage at Luhmühlen’s CCI5* in June.

“[Luhmühlen] wasn’t so good,” reflects Kazu, who opted to retire across the country after a miscommunication on course. “But hopefully this will work out. I’ve course-walked [here] with William and there are lots of tricky angles, but he can do it.”

The pair’s form would certainly indicate so: Kazu first shot to prominence here in 2017, when he and ‘Vince’ led the eight- and nine-year-old class after the first two phases and narrowly missed out on the win when their two time penalties pushed them a tenth of a penalty behind victors Chris Burton and Cooley Lands.

“Two years ago, I was just a tourist,” laughs Kazu, who had made his international eventing debut just a year prior. “But now, I expect him to get the results, so it’s very different.”

Since making the move from showjumping to eventing, Kazu has been based with William Fox-Pitt in Dorset – and William, too, has been impressed by the astonishing trajectory of his career, which now sees him sit 29th in the world rankings.

“If you look back, he’s done WEG, he’s done Badminton, he’s done Pau – he’s come on so far, so quickly. If you think that he’s only been doing the sport for four years – we’d all been doing the sport for four years and were at two-star,” says William. “He’s done as well as you possibly could have dreamt. He’s had good raw material to work with; the horses have all been lovely and quality. [Brookpark Vikenti] can be quite strong, and that’s something that Kazu’s had to learn to deal with; to ride a puller is something that’s very foreign to him out on a cross-country course. But he’s shown that it’s all there, and I know there’s a part of him that would like to win this weekend – but that qualification is the most important thing.”

Australia’s Kevin McNab and Scuderia 1918 A Best Friend move to fourth on their score of 25.7, while Willa Newton got the best out of the occasionally flamboyant Moonlight Dance S to post a 26.1 for fifth. Pippa Funnell and Billy the Biz slip one spot to sixth on their 26.3, while former British Junior National Champion Constance Copestake steps into equal seventh with El Kolibri. She shares the spot with Emily King and her 2018 Bramham under-25 CCI4*-L winner Dargun.

“I’m really pleased with Dargun,” says Emily. “He’s quite experienced at this level and was very calm, and he really concentrates and is with you in there. There were a couple of movements where I didn’t ride as well as I could have done in there, but he was lovely and I’m really pleased with him.”

Buck Davidson and Carlevo. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Buck Davidson holds a place in the top ten after dressage with second ride Carlevo, who missed his planned run here last season after a minor injury in his final preparation. Their score of 27.2 sees them move into cross-country in ninth place, while Park Trader sits in equal 24th on 29.2.

“He’s good at that bit, and now we’ve got to keep him on that score – that’s the challenge,” says Buck with a smile. If Blenheim’s course offers up a significant test en route to glory, Carlevo himself shouldn’t – the experienced twelve-year-old hasn’t had a black mark on his international cross-country record since 2016, and finished twentieth in his five-star debut at Kentucky last spring.

Two promising first-phase results could herald a redemptive week for Buck, who has suffered a run of bad luck this season with falls at Kentucky and Burghley – but sad circumstances beyond his competitive endeavours have brought with them a sense of perspective.

“My dad’s wife is on life support and had a bad injury, so she’s in hospice, so it keeps things in perspective,” he says. “She can’t move at all – it’s awful. We spend our time going back and forth to hospital, and we’re lucky to be able to do this sport. So I’ve had a couple of falls and a couple of things that were unfortunate, but in the big picture it’s nothing compared to what the family is going through.”

All of us at team EN wish Buck and his family the very best as they continue to battle through this tough time.

Kylie Roddie and Carden Earl Grey move into equal tenth place, sharing the spot with Sam Ecroyd and Davinci III, who also scored a 27.4.

Katherine Coleman and the talented Monte Classico sit 23rd on 29.1 on the horse’s second visit to the venue. Last year, they finished 15th in the eight- and nine-year-old class after a conservative but classy educational run, which paid off – in their next international, the horse’s CCI4*-L debut at the Jockey Club in Ocala, they sailed to the win, confirming the horse’s status as Katherine’s next star. Now, with another year of mileage under his belt, Katherine feels that the horse is ready to take it to the next level.

“He’s ten, so he’s a young horse, but I’ve kind of gotten in the trap of babying him a bit,” she says. “When you get a nice one like this, you’re like, ‘oh, I don’t want to run them too fast!’ But we’re going to go for it – it should be good. He’s always been lovely on the flat, and he’s a super showjumper, but he’s a bit slower in his brain cross-country. Last year, in developing it and aiming towards the future, I’d give him a little more time at combinations and I wasn’t really going for the time as much. But this year, I think he’s ready. I feel like he’s in a place where we’ll go out and try to make the time tomorrow. He’s got more gears now and I look forward to using them.”

Staying on their sub-30 score would certainly put the pair in the hunt, but Katherine explains that there’s more to come in this phase from the gelding.

“He went in there and dropped me a little bit in the contact, and then he just dropped behind my leg a little bit,” she says. “So then it’s hard to keep him as up and as expressive as I’d like. But he’s super; he’s so obedient, and he’s got a lovely extended canter, so there’s a lot to like about it. It’s just about perfecting it; they’re all a little different warming up, but he goes in and just holds his breath a little bit. Unfortunately, he has to deal with me on his back – if he had someone else on his back, he’d probably be winning everything, but he’s stuck with me!”

Cornelia Dorr and Sir Patico MH make their European debut. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Cornelia Dorr is making the most of her first trip abroad, self-funded by the sale of a four-year-old half-sister to her striking mount Sir Patico MH.

“Sharon White, my coach, said way back in May that this course would suit us if our year went well, so we set the goal way back then,” she says. “I came over last week and we went to [UK-based Australian] Bill Levett’s. They were super welcoming, very attentive, and the nicest people, so that really helped ease the shock of travelling over here with him! We’re just taking it day by day – it’s very different here, but I’ve really fallen in love with it.”

Making that first leap across the pond is an enormous moment for any rider, but for Cornelia, it’s the culmination of a journey that started when she was just twelve and ‘Hugo’ a five-year-old. In the years since, their partnership has seen them tick plenty of boxes, including top-ten finishes in CCI4*-L classes at Fair Hill and Bromont.

“I was going off to high school and we didn’t exactly know which direction I was going to go in the horse world, so my trainer at the time and I just knew he’d be a safe horse for a young kid to just bop around on,” she explains. “We’re going on our eighth year together – he’s pretty much raised me. There’s no other horse I’d rather do this with.”

The top ten in the tightly-packed CCI4*-L field heading into cross-country.

CCI4*-S

The top of the leaderboard remains much the same in the eight- and nine-year-old class, with Piggy French and Calling Card maintaining yesterday’s lead. Sam Griffiths and Freestyler remain in second, with Mary King and King Robert II holding onto third. 2017 winner Chris Burton moves into equal-fourth place with Clever Louis, who matches Oliver Townend and Dreamliner‘s 29.7 to round out a star-studded top five. Liz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Quicksilver sit equal 29th on a score of 34.

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

What’s next?

Tomorrow will be showjumping day for the eight- and nine-year-old CCI4*-S competitors, which will commence from 3.00 p.m. BST/10.00 a.m. EST, while the CCI4*-L will head to David Evans‘ cross-country track from 9.30 a.m. BST/4.30 a.m. EST. The CCI4*-S order of go can be found here, while cross-country times are available here.

Following our Americans on tour? They’ll be on course at the following times:

  • Buck Davidson and Park Trader – 9.57 a.m. BST/4.57 a.m. EST
  • Lexi Scovil and Chico’s Man VDF Z – 10.15 a.m. BST/5.15 a.m. EST
  • Katherine Coleman and Monte Classico – 11.57 a.m. BST/6.57 a.m. EST
  • Buck Davidson and Carlevo – 12.51 p.m. BST/7.51 a.m. EST
  • Cornelia Dorr and Sir Patico MH – 1.21 p.m. BST/8.21 a.m. EST

You’ll be able to follow along via Blenheim’s live-stream on their website and Facebook page, and we’ll be bringing you a full report tomorrow, as well as a preview of both cross-country courses prior to the action.

Blenheim: Website, Ride Times, Live Scoring, Live StreamEN’s Coverage, EN’s TwitterEN’s Instagram

Thursday at Blenheim: Will Rawlin is the VIP

Will Rawlin and VIP Vinnie take the lead in Blenheim’s CCI4*-L. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It’s only fitting, really, that Will Rawlin should take top billing in our report today – after all, it was just a year ago at the SsangYong Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials that he made his first appearance on Eventing Nation. Then, his top ride VIP Vinnie showed off all the wrong sorts of dance moves, nearly mowing Will down on the trot strip and garnering us many of those sweet, sweet likes on social media.

Sorry, Will.

We sheepishly promised him at the time that one of these days, we’d shout his name from the rooftops for less comical reasons – and almost exactly a year later, he’s given us all the reason we need to do just that, delivering a level personal best of 24.2 with Vinnie to sit atop the CCI4*-L leaderboard at the end of the first day of dressage.

“He’s been going really well, and I felt confident coming into this, but in the warm-up he got tense – and when he gets tense, it’s quite difficult to actually ride him forward and get him going,” says Will of the expressive eleven-year-old. “A couple of times in there I was like, ‘oh god, oh god, keep going!’ – but he kept a nice outline and a good rhythm, and he was with me most of the way. It’s more about me getting the corners and really preparing him for each movement.”

20 penalties across the country was the only black mark on their result here last year, where both made their CCI4*-L debut, but the pair have proven themselves an exciting combination to watch this season. In June, they finished third in the hotly-contested – and enormously difficult – under-25 CCI4*-L at Bramham, and they finished just shy of the top ten in a strong field at Burnham Market’s CCI4*-S at the dawn of the season. Despite a blip at Chatsworth, which was swiftly followed up by that Bramham result, Will feels ready to tackle a hot competition against a top field – and rightly so.

“Although it’s a very strong field, and full of very good riders, I did feel confident coming in in my ability and my horse’s ability,” he says. “This year we’ve had a couple of silly blips, which have been down to me not setting up right for the fence – and actually, the last time I rode him, I fell off, but it was all me! I know if I stick to my plan and ride him properly then we should be home safely. I just need to do my best on each day and then hopefully, we’ll all be smiling at the end.”

Will Rawlin and VIP Vinnie. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

For the 25-year-old up-and-comer, a top result would be understandably special – but it would be made even more so by his long partnership with his horse.

“He’s more like a pet – he’s the first horse I bought as a four-year-old, and my mum and dad own him wholly. We’d never sell him; he’s our baby,” he says with a smile.

Piggy French debuts the impressive Brookfield Inocent at CCI4*-L. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Piggy French holds second place overnight with Brookfield Inocent, the ten-year-old Irish Sport Horse on whom she took the ride in 2018. Though it’s the gelding’s first CCI4*-L, he demonstrated professionalism and pizazz – the right kind, fortunately – to post a 25.4. 

“I’m so pleased with him, and I know I made a couple of mistakes as well,” says Piggy, who finished second with the horse at Hartpury CCI4*-S last month. “But the thing I’m so pleased with is that he’s such a spooky horse, but going in there with the atmosphere and the flower pots – believe it or not, they seem to be the most terrifying things! – he just stayed with me the whole time. This is his first three-day with me, and I’m just over the moon. It’s so exciting for the future. I messed up the first flying change – that was my fault – and I did something radical in the halt, so there’s a couple of bits I thought I could have done better, but overall, I’m delighted. I just rode him like he’s an old one that’s done it plenty of times and he hasn’t.”

For Piggy, who is building up a multilayered and formidable string, Brookfield Inocent is a welcome addition.

“You hate to put the touch of bad luck on them, but he’s such a cool horse and an amazing cross-country horse,” she says. “At the beginning I thought, would that spookiness let him down, or am I going to find it difficult to manage or find him difficult to ride? But I’m starting to figure him out, and if I do figure him out and find the key to it all then there’s no reason he can’t be as good as any of them. I think he’s definitely a five-star horse because he’s got a lot of blood and he loves to gallop, and he’s easy to ride across the country. I’ll be interested [to see how he goes] on Saturday – it’s always a different game when you get to a three-day, because you haven’t had the other two phases first, but I’m hoping he’ll be as good as I know he can be.”

Pippa Funnell and Billy the Biz. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Brookfield Inocent’s former rider, Australia’s Kevin McNab, sits third overnight on a score of 25.7 with Scuderia 1918 A Best Friend, also making his CCI4*-L debut after a clear round in the eight- and nine-year-old class last year, and top-ten finishes in CCI4*-S classes at Hartpury and Millstreet this year. Burghley winner Pippa Funnell holds fourth with her Rio mount Billy the Biz, with whom she posted a 26.3.

“He’s a bit lacking match practice,” says Pippa of the fourteen-year-old, who last ran a long-format in 2017, when he finished tenth at Luhmühlen’s CCI5*. “He was so fresh yesterday that I had to give him enough work, and then with the sunshine today I thought that maybe I’d just overdone it a bit. His trot was very good but I felt that he just got a bit flat in his canter. But I have to be pleased with him; he’s not been on this sort of stage for a while. No, it’s not a winning test, but I’m happy enough.”

The experienced gelding’s preparation for Blenheim has been somewhat scuppered by Pip’s recent absences, which have seen her head to Luhmühlen as part of the silver-medal winning British team at the European Championships, and then straight on to Burghley, where she took the top spot with stablemate MGH Grafton Street.

“It’s made it a little bit difficult, because then they come out and they’re so fresh, and they’re fit, but obviously they haven’t had me on the flat so I have to give them a bit more work than I’d like to here,” she explains.

It’s certainly been a special day for local rider Kylie Roddie, who took an early lead and finished the day in fifth with Carden Earl Grey after scoring a 27.4.

“He’s so naughty at one-day events,” she laughs, “but he’s amazing at three-days – it just doesn’t play in his favour if you can’t work him in and relax him. But secretly, you always know what they can do at home, and I’ve always known that in the big picture, the test is there. He’s just a bit opinionated, and can be a bit wild – but they’re all the things you expect from a true three-day horse. The proper ones event horses have got to be a bit edgy.”

For Kylie, who runs a busy livery and competition yard, that it all came together in the shadow of Blenheim Palace is poignant for a number of reasons – not least because the thirteen-year-old British-bred gelding, who was piloted by Nick Gauntlett until 2015, has been something of a labour of love.

“He’s a fragile horse to manage from a veterinary standpoint, and he’s had injuries that have stopped him from coming out,” she explains. “He’s actually been in my yard for quite a while – over three years now – but it was only last year that I started to compete him, because he was rehabbing.”

When the horse’s longtime owner Madelaine White had to sell the horse, a group of Kylie’s close friends stepped in to secure him for the hard-working rider, who hails from a totally unhorsey background.

“I’ve had to tell them that [horse ownership] isn’t always like this,” she laughs.

Carden Earl Grey’s debutante ownership group aren’t Kylie’s only supporters on the ground this week: “I’ve been teaching my Riding Club and Pony Club groups all week, because they’re coming for the arena eventing,” explains the rider, who holds a BHSI qualification. “That’s why the event is so special for us – it’s so nice for them to be able to come here, have a great ride, and hopefully enjoy seeing someone who helps them, too.”

Buck Davidson and Park Trader. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Buck Davidson heads up the American efforts at this early stage with the first of his two rides, the experienced Park Trader. They sit tenth overnight on a score of 29.2, setting the second leg of Buck’s autumn UK tour off to a promising start.

“He’s so experienced now, and he’s been putting up some good scores,” says Buck, who competed at Burghley a fortnight ago with Jak My Style. “He’s not a big mover, and in his younger years he was fairly temperamental, but he knows his job now and we get along. I let him be him, and then he has to go in the ring and pay attention for five minutes, and then he can screw off. He’s my favourite and it’s a treat to have him.”

Park Trader’s mercurial nature means that Buck has had to refine his system to allow the gelding to perform at his peak.

“I would never ask him to be perfect two days in a row,” he explains. “I’m almost happy when he’s bad the day before – then he gets it out of his system! The day before, I just hack him and let him gallop, and buck, and play, and have a kick out at my leg – whatever he wants. Then I work him for about twenty minutes before the test and it works pretty well.”

Though Park Trader went to Burghley last year, Buck opted to aim him at Blenheim this season to allow his owners, the Segals, the experience of joining the fun.

“They weren’t able to go to Burghley this year, and they called me to tell me they couldn’t but if I’d like to take him I could go – but part of why I like doing this is doing it with them, so I said ‘no, we’ll do something else,'” he explains. “Then they said they’d never been to Blenheim – and I’d been here in 2008 and it got rained out after dressage, so we decided to come. Carlevo was supposed to come here last year but banged himself, so he came along too.”

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

Lexi Scovil and Chico’s Man VDF Z have spent a busy season with William Fox-Pitt with one big goal in mind: a trip to Blenheim. They begin their week in provisional equal seventeenth on a score of 31.7 after producing a confident, expressive test that just lost out on marks at the end when the gelding offered up a lead change in the counter canter. But for Lexi, who makes her debut at the level this week alongside her horse, his calm, professional attitude in the ring was the real victory.

“Normally he goes in and just holds his breath a little bit,” she explains. “He typically scores anyway, because he’s quite fancy and round and correct, but he went in and let me ride him today. That’s such an exciting feeling – at Blenheim! In my experience, the big events like this are the ones where it all falls apart, so for him to go in and have one mistake the whole test was unbelievable.”

Lexi credits her season in the UK with helping to revolutionise her mindset towards competing – and the results along the way are tangible.

“I rode a little bit of a safe test, because I didn’t want to risk it, so for him to still score 8s is amazing. I didn’t expect it at all. In the past, [the big ones] are where I fail,” she says. “We’d always do well at the lower levels, but then we’d go to an international and it would all fall apart a bit. But being over here, there’s such a relaxation in the preparation – there’s attention to detail, but it’s also just another day of riding. You just do the same thing you’re always doing, and there’s no need to get worked up about it. Because I’ve been like that earlier in the season and it’s been proven to work, I’ve realised that as a rider, self-confidence is so important for success. That’s all I can say that’s changed – I don’t know that I have more skills, but I’m in a different place mentally. Normally I’d go into a three-day thinking, ‘oh my god, I’m so scared, why am I doing this?!’ But now, I’m walking the course thinking, ‘I’m capable of this!’ There have been big questions at all our prep events, so we’ve been building to this.”

The top ten at the conclusion of the first day of dressage in Blenheim’s CCI4*-L.

CCI4*-S

If the CCI4*-S level of competition is a college degree for up-and-coming top-level superstars, then Blenheim’s eight-and-nine-year-old iteration is the Ivy League – and its alumni line-up would make Harvard weep, frankly. So how good are we talking? Think five-star winning and flag-carrying good: William Fox-Pitt’s Pau winner Oslo, Mark Todd’s Badminton winner NZB Land Vision, Andrew Nicholson’s Kentucky-winning Quimbo, and Laura Collett’s Europeans ride London 52. And this year – Calling Card?

The Year of the Pig continues in fine style, as Piggy French holds onto the overnight lead with Calling Card. Owned by Jayne McGivern, also boasts ownership of the remarkably consistent Quarrycrest Echo, the debutante is quickly proving himself a star of the future.

“He’s a really beautiful horse – he’s stunning,” says Piggy. “Bar his changes, which he’s still a bit green at, he’s very impressive on the flat. He was beautiful to ride in there.”

But despite his promising early start, Piggy remains pragmatic and forward-thinking.

“He is green – this will be his first Advanced competition – and so I’ve come into the competition just really interested to see how he goes, and not really thinking that running flat out and getting the time will be what he’ll do this weekend,” she explains. “It’s more about the stepping stone. However, if he comes out of the start box and he feels really good, I am always quite competitive, so I’ll probably half have a go! But it’s a stepping stone rather than thinking this is his one to get. I really like the horse and I want to do what’s right for him at this stage in his career.”

Australia’s Sam Griffiths sits in second place aboard Freestyler, owned by Lady Rothermere of the Daily Mail empire.

“I’ve done about a season with him now – she bought him for herself to ride,” he explains. “She hadn’t had him that long and she asked me to do some events on him to get him some mileage, and it went from there.”

So will Sam have to relinquish the ride on the horse once the season ends?

“We’ll see how things go,” he says with a smile. “He’s a really good jumper, so he’s a really nice horse to have!”

The top ten in the eight- and nine-year-old CCI4*-S at the halfway stage.

We’ll be back tomorrow with the final wrap-up from the first phase – stay tuned, and Go Eventing!

Blenheim: Website, Ride Times, Live Scoring, Live StreamEN’s Coverage, EN’s TwitterEN’s Instagram

One Horse Spun in Blenheim First Horse Inspection

Not a bad setting for a trot up – Ginny Howe and Trendy Captain Clover strut their stuff in front of Blenheim Palace. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Spare a thought for poor old Blenheim Palace and its hard-working team behind the scenes. Just a week before it opened its grounds to host one of the world’s most prestigious three-day events, it was beleaguered by the greatest art heist the country has ever known – this month, anyway. The stolen object? A £4.8 million 18-carat gold toilet, designed by the Italian artist Maurizzio Catalan and named ‘America’. Excuse us while we hold an emergency meeting to name the portaloo nearest the media centre.

The crime does drum up rather a lot of questions: how do you steal a toilet without being spotted, for one? (As it turns out, the golden loo – anything but bog standard, amiright? – was plumbed in and open for use by the public. No one was guarding it because a) that’s a recipe for stage fright and b) yeah, as if anyone’s going to de-plumb the thing and run away giggling, clutching a gleaming throne with the ghost of someone’s breakfast lining the inside. Alas!

While we’d love to say that this week’s CCI4*-L and CCI4*-S competition will become a giant game of Cluedo (was it Francis Whittington, in the bathroom with a candlestick?!), two suspects – #1 and #2, you could say – have been flushed out. It’s nice to know the police had something to go on.

But moving onto the competition – and what a competition it is! A field of 87 horses and riders, flush (sorry, we will stop now) with the promise of fierce competition, came forward this afternoon before the ground jury of PollyAnn Huntington (AUS), Andrew Bennie (NZL), and Jane Holderness-Roddam (GBR).

US fans will have another jam-packed week to look forward to, with five horse-and-rider combinations (plus a bonus Canadian combo!) contesting the CCI4*-L and one – Liz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Quicksilver – in the CCI4*-S.

Daisy Berkeley and Ballinteskin Cooper S. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Four horses were held through the course of the afternoon: Max Gordon‘s Redwood CloverDaisy Berkeley‘s Ballinteskin Cooper S, and Cornelia Dorr‘s Sir Patico MH were all passed upon re-presentation.

Rebecca Nicholson and Uno II. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Unfortunately, the competition ended before it began for Rebecca Nicholson and her own Uno II, who were not accepted after re-presenting from the hold box. 86 horses will proceed to dressage.

Country jewellers Hi Ho Silver were on hand to suss out the sartorial offerings on the strip, and they duly awarded two prizes for their best-dressed riders. Piggy French took the ladies’ prize, while Jack Pinkney  – one of many male riders to channel a little bit of Peaky Blinders realness this season – scooped the gents’.

Robbie Kearns leaves behind an essential element of his outfit – but at least his horse, Master McCormack, is suitably well-shod. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

There was drama of a different sort for Ireland’s Robbie Kearns, who discovered he wasn’t quite as well-shod as his horse, Master McCormack. After losing a shoe on the strip, he bravely soldiered on, leaving one forlorn brogue behind.

Cornelia Dorr and Sir Patico MH. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Want to follow along from afar? We’ll be bringing you full reports on both classes every day, but for those of you who want the action in real-time, there’ll be live-streams for each arena on the Blenheim website. 

Dressage gets underway tomorrow morning from 9.00 a.m. local time – that’s 4.00 a.m. Eastern, for you early risers – and we’ve got some considerable talent to keep an eye on throughout the day. Whether you’re tuning in for the whole show or you just want to keep an eye on our US representatives, here are the Thursday rides you shouldn’t miss:

CCI4*-L

  • Andrew Nicholson and Andrea BT4 – 9.30 a.m. BST/4.30 a.m. EST
  • Jesse Campbell and Amsterdam II – 9.37 a.m. BST/4.37 a.m. EST
  • Buck Davidson and Park Trader – 10.07 a.m. BST/5.07 a.m. EST
  • Cathal Daniels and LEB Lias Jewel – 11.00 a.m. BST/6.00 a.m. EST
  • Lexi Scovil and Chico’s Man VDF Z – 11.07 a.m. BST/6.07 a.m. EST
  • Millie Dumas and Fabian II – 11.15 a.m. BST/6.15 a.m. EST
  • Tom McEwen and CHF Cooliser – 11.45 a.m. BST/6.45 a.m. EST
  • Georgie Spence and Wii Limbo – 12.00 p.m. BST/7.00 a.m. EST
  • Piggy French and Brookfield Inocent – 3.07 p.m. BST/10.07 a.m. EST
  • Will Rawlin and VIP Vinnie – 3.22 p.m. BST/10.22 a.m. EST
  • Pippa Funnell and Billy the Biz – 3.52 p.m. BST/10.52 a.m. EST

CCI4*-S

  • Bubby Upton and Cola III – 9.30 a.m. BST/4.30 a.m. EST
  • Astier Nicolas and Babylon de Gamma – 9.37 a.m BST/4.37 a.m. EST
  • Cathal Daniels and OLS King Aragon – 9.52 a.m. BST/4.52 a.m. EST
  • William Fox-Pitt and Georgisaurus – 10.07 a.m. BST/5.07 a.m. EST
  • Liz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Quicksilver – 10.30 a.m. BST/5.30 a.m. EST
  • Tom Carlile and Birmane – 2.30 p.m. BST/9.30 a.m. EST

If this seems like a hefty viewing list, welcome to Blenheim – one of the most popular events in the calendar, it attracts a plethora of the very best riders in the world, for whom it’s a crucial autumn fixture. So buckle up and prepare yourselves, folks – this week, we’ll have the privilege of watching top-class athletes compete for CCI4*-L glory, and we’ll see the birth of a new superstar in the CCI4*-S, too. Churchill would be proud (were it not for the proliferation of petty crime in his humble abode).

Until tomorrow, EN-ers – Go Eventing!

Blenheim: Website, Ride Times, Live Scoring, Live StreamEN’s Coverage, EN’s TwitterEN’s Instagram

Burghley: Pippa Funnell Gets By With a Little Help from her Friends

Pippa Funnell raises her silverware aloft. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Who among us didn’t grow up with a creased poster of Pippa Funnell taped to our wall, those yellow silks and that palpable derring-do inspiring an endless stream of daydreams where there probably should have been, you know, school work? When the British stalwart became the first person to win the Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing, a feat she finalised here at Burghley sixteen years ago, she cemented her status as the rider all aspiring riders want to be like. Even, as it turns out, those aspiring riders who became five-star winners.

There are so many ways you can take inspiration from what happened today, when Pippa won the 2019 Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials with MGH Grafton Street. You can marvel at the margins – sixteen years since her last Burghley win, fourteen years since her last five-star victory, perhaps the longest gap between wins in the sports history. Or, you can watch and re-watch that cross-country round, unpicking the milliseconds to find out just how, exactly, she coaxed the eleven-year-old five-star debutante – a well-known ‘comedian’ with a penchant for practical jokes and jumping penalties – to a clear round, and one which very nearly made the time. You can catalogue the omens – the missing hat silk when Pip had lost her silk when winning Burghley last, the lucky number 77, a number so special that the rider has assigned it to the titular character in her Tilly’s Pony Tails book series. You can focus on love: the love of a doting, if exasperated, husband who flew back from a showjumping competition in Belgium to watch his wife at her best, the love of the horses in their expansive Surrey yard – “it’s the horses that have kept me going,” says Pip, after all. “They keep me young – it’s the belief in the horses, and the belief in their talent. It’s that pure love of the day-to-day graft working with them.” Or you can focus on something else entirely, something love-adjacent, something vital and vibrant and sewn up in colourful, crucial threads throughout the week. Something unsung and under-celebrated: the power of female friendship.

Pippa Funnell wins Burghley – again. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Pippa Funnell has, inarguably, been at her most confident since last week’s European Championships. There, she took the mantle of pathfinder – with just seven hours’ notice that she’d even be going to Germany – and stormed home inside the time, helping the British team to silver. That week, she was surrounded by the women she’s known, loved, and swapped inspiration with over the years – Tina Cook, with whom she’s shared so many podiums and words of advice, and who spent this week supporting and helping her, Piggy French, who, as the baby sister of Pippa’s former head girl Nini, started out as someone to mentor and slowly became a lifelong friend. Consider Laura Collett, part of the next generation of British superstars, and very much of the sellotaped posters era. The point, though, is this: confidence is crushed easily and created with difficulty, but if you can plant the seeds with good horses, great rounds, and top results, you can help them grow by nurturing them with the joy, the laughter, and the inherent love that comes from being surrounded by good people. In other words, the Beatles were onto something, and getting some proximity to the friendships that helped make this win happen – friendships between fearless women who will support ferociously and give unremittingly – has been one of the most striking and poignant parts of this week’s win. In the final press conference, it took centre stage.

Piggy French scoops Burghley winner Pippa Funnell into a hug as both are interviewed by Clare Balding. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“She’s been such a mentor to me for so many years,” says Piggy French, second-placed and jocular, swiftly alternating between joking around and speaking stoically about the week. “[My sister] Nini was head girl to her for five years when I was growing up, so just when I started eventing I would follow Pippa around quite a bit. She’s just been an amazing inspiration. I think it’s the attention to detail, which just goes beyond anything else that I’ve ever been a part of, and her absolute love for the horses, which is what comes first, and…oh, she’s going to start crying.”

Pippa grins at her, a lopsided, sheepish smile that suggest that yes – she might do, after all.

Piggy shakes her head, drily starts again: “She cried more than I did when…”

“…at your wedding?” chips in Pippa.

“No, when I won Badminton, you were blubbing like a lunatic,” replies Piggy, turning back to address the audience. “She’s a legend and just a proper professional, and no one deserves it more…but she is old to be doing this type of thing. Surely,” she turns back to Pippa, “you didn’t need to go that fast around Burghley?!”

Pippa Funnell and MGH Grafton Street take top honours. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

But a 22.8 dressage, that gutsy, gritty round with its four time penalties, and today’s showjumping round – slightly agricultural, and with a rail down midway through – all add up to create the smallest of margins for an enormously popular win.

“I’ve just apologised to William [Funnell] and the owners, because it wasn’t my prettiest round today,” says Pippa. “I think I’m out of practice in going into that sort of situation with that many people. I didn’t do myself justice. Full credit to the horse – he’s been absolutely amazing, but he’s also been quite a comedian, and he’s owed us a big win because he should have won Blenheim twice, and he should have won Tattersalls, and I said I’m going to keep going because I’m sure there’s a big one in him. But I can honestly say I never thought it was going to be Burghley. It’s an amazing feeling.”

Pippa Funnell and MGH Grafton Street. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

To win with a difficult horse would be a eureka moment in and of itself, but for Pippa, it’s about overcoming more than just the challenges associated with a difficult mount. Two years ago, she was plagued by both injury-related pain and overwhelming confidence crises, both of which conspired to make her reconsider her choices. But she was determined not be driven out of the sport she loves by it. Now, she’s enjoying her just rewards.

“I think I’ve been incredibly lucky to have so much amazing support over the years from all the owners I’ve had,” she says. “It’s been such an amazing journey, and hopefully it will continue, but it’s the horses that have kept me going. They keep me young – it’s the belief in the horses, and the belief in their talent. It’s that pure love of the day-to-day graft working with them. I know my husband will probably be a bit disappointed, because it means I’ll probably carry on for a bit longer, and I know he’d like me to stop and do all that with the Billy Stud. I didn’t really think there would be a big one, and I took the pressure off by thinking ‘I’m just going to do the sport I love and enjoy every moment of it.’ The last two weeks have been a surreal experience – I feel like I haven’t had time to touch the ground.”

Sometimes, you’ve just got to hug your horse. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

For Pippa, it’s important that the realities behind major victories are as tangible as the victories themselves – and she hopes that they’ll provide some inspiration to her fellow riders.

“I hope in many ways that it does inspire a lot of other riders, because it took me a long time to win my first championship, and it’s taken me even longer to win another major,” she says. “There’s been a lot of sweat, graft, and tears in between, but there’s also been some very special moments, too.”

Perhaps it was all preordained, after all: who would have put their money on MGH Grafton Street? But then, who would have put their money on that 77, tied around Pippa’s waist for luck as though she’s tackling a hunter class at the local show. If you catch a glimpse of it as she tears round, and round, and round on her lap of honour, you might just start to believe in the power of looking for good omens.

Piggy French and Vanir Kamira take second place by just a tenth of a penalty. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

But before we lose you to the clovers, back to business: Pippa’s solitary rail wasn’t merely a knocked pole – instead, it was a rather spectacular and dramatic miss, and one from which it took the enormously experienced rider a few strides to recover and begin riding actively again. She’d had that rail in hand, sure – but would she be able to keep herself up on the clock? Or would she slip a second over, handing the title to second-placed Piggy French and Vanir Kamira, just a tenth of a penalty behind her?

If it had happened, it might rather feel like deja-vu – after all, that’s how Piggy won Badminton this spring, although that was a moment won from Oliver Townend rather than Pippa – but the former Grand Slam victor got lucky: course designer Richard Jeffry had built a big, square, clever track, but he’d kept the time lenient enough that riders would have time to ride proper turns and approaches. While that didn’t make a clear round a doddle to achieve, it did mean that just three people added time penalties – and Pippa Funnell wasn’t one of them.

“It was one of the hardest things – and I said this to Piglet – because for the last however many years, when I haven’t been at this sort of level, I’ve been absolutely rooting for Piggy to win, because I know what she’s gone through and we’ve been very close for many years,” says Pippa. “Piggy’s older sister Nini was my head girl, so I’ve known little Piglet since she was a very little girl, and she’s very special. I’ve been cheering her on all the way, and it’s the first time ever that I’ve actually not wanted her to win!”

But settling for second isn’t too shabby, and it’s hard to imagine that Piggy will spend too long dwelling on second legs of Grand Slams, or anything quite as inconsequential as all that – after all, her great friend, her long-time mentor, and one of the great failsafe pillars of her life has just taken the win.

“I’m delighted, to be honest, to be second,” says Piggy, who toppled the first fence. “I think I’m lucky to be second, too – to take the first fence and hit it with both her front and hind legs…well, I thought, ‘this is a very long way to go, after this, to remain in second place.’ But this horse owes me nothing, and to be honest, it makes the Badminton result even more special, because she’s not a natural showjumper. I’m just glad it was only one down. She ran her heart on the line yesterday; it’s so hard, because people don’t realise what they go through out there, and then they have to get back on their hocks and try to be careful at these fences. I’m very proud of my horse, and lucky to have her.”

 

Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class take third, making it five top-five finishes at the level for the 12-year-old gelding. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

If Vanir Kamira has clear rounds – or near-clears – despite an unconventional showjumping style, Oliver Townend‘s Ballaghmor Class falls on the opposite end of the spectrum: despite a textbook approach to jumping fences, he’s prone to taking an unlucky rail, which is just what he did today to stay in third position.

“It was a bit of a cheap fence to have, really – of course he felt [like he] touched it, but barely, and I didn’t hear the clunk,” he says. “But I just go to the next one and jump the next one, and try to give him as good a ride and as smooth a ride as possible, like I’m at home rather than jumping at Burghley.”

For Oliver, who has now notched up five top-five finishes out of five runs at the level with the twelve-year-old gelding, it’s been a good week for the sport – despite much discussion on social media about yesterday’s competition.

“It’s been a fabulous week – although it would have been more fabulous [for me] if I’d won it,” he says with a grin, readily offering his congratulations to the event’s two leading ladies. “But at the same time, if you’re not winning it and you still think the event is amazing and better than ever, that makes it even more special. We’re at a special point at the top of the sport as British riders – this year I won Kentucky, Piggy won Badminton, and now Pippa has won Burghley. I kind of get sick of listening to people putting the Germans on this pedestal and saying they’re so far in front of us – put the Germans round [the Burghley course] and see where they are! I think we’re in a very good position.”

Sarah Bullimore and Reve du Rouet take fourth place. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

For the second year running, Sarah Bullimore and the evergreen Reve du Rouet took fourth place. With a margin of over ten penalties separating the top three from fourth and fifth places after cross-country, there was an enormous bridge to cross and only so much the remarkably consistent rider could do to cross it. With a clear round over the poles in the bag, all she could do was wait to see how many more would tumble this afternoon.

It wouldn’t be enough for a top-three finish. But it would guarantee the pair their fourth five-star top-five finish and their twelfth five-star completion, demonstrating the longevity and reliability of the fifteen-year-old gelding who, despite a reputation gleaned from prior indiscretions in the first phase, has collected top-twenty finishes in all five of the Northern Hemisphere’s five-star events.

“He was fabulous in there – that’s a big atmosphere for him, and one that would have freaked him out in the past,” says Sarah, who has to carefully manage ‘Blou’s’ genuine anxiety over crowds. This anxiety, plus a need for almost machinated consistency in his day-to-day routine, has led to some tricky moments in their partnership, but Sarah is enjoying the fruits of her efforts now.

“It’s been a bit of a love-hate relationship with him, and there’s been blood, sweat, and tears,” she admits. “But he’s finally rewarding us – the past couple of years, he’s been so consistent. He’s a bit of a legend. The course seems to suit him here, and he loves coming to Burghley – he got off the lorry at the beginning of the week like, ‘okay, this is my place!’ As a rider, you always want to equal or better what you did the year before, so I’m delighted.”

Tim Price and Bango round out the top five, and finish the best of the non-British riders. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Last year’s winner Tim Price began the week with three horses and ended it with just one, after Xavier Faer knocked a frangible pin and was saved for another day and reigning champion Ringwood Sky Boy suffered a harmless – but enormously frustrating – fall in the Lions’ Brudge water. And so it was all about Bango, who was tenth here last season and seventh after cross-country yesterday.

The chance to be the star of the show suited the Irish Sport Horse gelding who, at thirteen years old, is still something of an up-and-comer in Tim’s string of superstars.

“It was a lovely round, and I’m so happy for him,” says the Kiwi, who added 12 time penalties with the horse on yesterday’s cross-country course. “He’s one that’s not been so easy – they all take their own time for everything to fall into place – but I’m very excited about the next few years with him.”

Although it’s not another trophy in the Price family cabinet, Tim looks at his fifth-place finish with Bango as a positive conclusion to a tumultuous week.

“After our cross-country, I was hoping his would be the weak round of the day for me, but it wasn’t to be – but I think this is the start of something really exciting for him, and it’s good practice for me and good mileage for him.”

Plus, he concedes, it was nice to pass the pressure to someone else for a change: “I tried to enjoy that it wasn’t me going in [last],” he says with a grin. “The winning bit is always nice, but the pressure isn’t!”

Lauren Kieffer and Vermiculus finish ninth and best of the Americans. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Lauren Kieffer finished best of the US contingent, of which six of the original eleven would complete the competition. Her tight, impressive clear round aboard Vermiculus saw her finish ninth – her best result at the venue.

“You don’t know if you’ve got a Burghley horse ’till it’s over,” she says sagely, “and I can say he’s a Burghley horse now. I couldn’t be happier with him – yes, you always want to be quicker [across the country, where they added 26.4 time penalties], but I can confidently promise him that he’ll never do anything so hard in his life, now.”

Ariel Grald and Leamore Master Plan: best of the Burghley first-timers. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

For Burghley first-timers, just to complete can often seem like an impossible dream, but what about nailing down three solid phases and finishing in the top ten? Almost unfathomable – particularly over a course like this one. But that’s just what US combination Ariel Grald and Leamore Master Plan did, capitalising on their positive five-star debut at Kentucky this spring to deliver a level of attack that was wise beyond their years and record sheets. After coming home clear with 15.6 time penalties yesterday, they sat twelfth – and today, with Richard Jeffrey’s fair but square track allowing for just ten clear rounds, their four-faulter was still enough to allow them to climb to tenth and finish as best Burghley first-timers.

“It went pretty well in there, although I don’t think I’ve ever felt my horse get fatigued on the final day, not physically but mentally,” says Ariel, a recipient of the Jacqueline B. Mars International Grant. “I didn’t quite have the connection from fence one to two, and he got a bit spooked by the crowds. After we had our rail, though, we were a little bit more connected.”

Earning a spot in the coveted afternoon session meant that Ariel, who had to trot up Leamore Master Plan five-and-a-half hours before the start of the top 25, would have to wait to catch up on lost sleep: “I had a really hard time falling asleep last night,” she explains. “It was until I got back to my hotel that I was like, ‘I did that – I did Burghley!'”

Andrea Baxter and Indy 500. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Andrea Baxter had hoped to come back to Burghley and jump clear on her third attempt with Indy 500, and she did just that – but if twelfth place might have seemed like rather too much to hope for before the week began, it certainly didn’t at its tail end, when the combination adding just a single  rail and three additional seconds to the clock over the poles, in addition to their 56.8 time penalties yesterday.

“I’m very pleased,” says Andrea. “I didn’t ride as well as I’d have liked in there, but it is what it is.”

Last year, we saw the pair pull two rails because they had too much canter – this year, their one came along as aimed for something more precise.

“She got a bit steeplechase-y last year, so I overdid it this year,” she says. “I held too much and added everywhere, dang it.”

With the Burghley box well and truly ticked, Andrea is keeping her options open with the diminutive Thoroughbred mare.

“I would love to do Badminton, she’s just a really bad traveller in the spring,” she explains, “Plus, we have Kentucky, so it’s hard to leave home and stay a fortune. But maybe we’ll slip [the trip] part her one day.”

Liz Halliday-Sharp and Deniro Z write a new chapter in their 2019 story. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

One rail dropped for Liz Halliday-Sharp and Deniro Z, who stayed in fifteenth place and completed their redemption arc after tough trips to Kentucky and Aachen.

“I’m absolutely thrilled with him – what a horse,” says the rider, who learned a valuable lesson about the eleven-year-old gelding in the warm-up.

“Looking back, I needed just one more jump in the warm-up,” she explains. “I was trying to not overuse him, but he’s so careful and – a little bit like yesterday – he just gets so high that he nearly wows himself a little bit. He launched [at the triple bar] and sitting on a horse with a massive stride, I struggled to get to the second element. But god, he’s a brilliant horse – he’s tried, and he’s given me everything. It’s very disappointing to have a rail, but I couldn’t have asked for anything more – it’s just one of those things. It’s a dream to be here – we did it! We finished!”

Lillian Heard and LCC Barnaby. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

A pole down at the fourth didn’t stop Lillian Heard and LCC Barnaby from improving their standing in the leaderboard, and they ultimately finished 18th – a 36-place rise through the week, and a two-place improvement upon yesterday’s ranking.

“I wanted to go clear, and he can go clear – I just went a little bit too fast,” she explains. “I’m a bit bummed, but it was riding a bit funny and I probably should have showed it to him. I knew it would be a place to ride well – and I tried to, but I must have missed the mark.”

Even so, she continues, “I’ve never jumped in the second group before!”

A classy clear for Will Coleman and Tight Lines moved them up three places to 25th, closing the book on an up-and-down weekend that saw the pick up 31 jumping penalties across yesterday’s influential track.

“It wasn’t the result we’d come for, but that’s eventing a little bit,” says Will. “We’ve had that a couple of times this year, where we’ve been ready but it just doesn’t come off – but he’ll be less green next year for it.”

The twelve-year-old gelding was as hot today as he had been while tackling yesterday’s challenge, but that only helped him in the ring: after an early low-bodied effort, he gave each fence more and more air time.

“My horse is on his toes in pretty much every phase,” Will says. “It’s like riding a balloon – do anything too strong, and he’ll pop. But he’s been a good horse for me, and he’s a fast horse – I had a double handful the whole way out there yesterday. He’s been a tricky horse, but he’s been my favourite horse.”

US-based Australian Dom Schramm, who is based at Phillip Dutton’s True Prospect Farm, tipped the Grand Slam upright at fence four with Bolytair B to finish 28th overall – a climb of 25 places from the beginning of the week and one place higher than his post-cross-country result.

“It’s good to have that one done and dusted,” says the Burghley debutante. “I’m thrilled to be here – it’s such a prestigious event.”

Dom’s conscientious riding on course yesterday meant that he found himself with plenty of horse for today’s final phase – though perhaps, he reflects, too much.

“I think I’m going to have to go see a chiropractor – my neck is really feeling [those big jumps],” he says with a laugh. “He was jumping out of his skin in there, and he’s fresh because he didn’t run so fast yesterday. But it’s a really good feeling to have your horse feeling good, especially after a day of carnage!”

And so we come to the conclusion of our coverage of the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials for 2019. It’s been a week of drama and excitement, reflection and dissection and, as always, a jolly good opportunity for a recreational weep into a glass of Pimms. We’ll be unpacking some of the finer details in a reporter’s notebook over the next few days, as well as revisiting that all-important question: how can we use what we’ve seen and learned this week to improve the sport across the board? But in the meantime, join us in lifting a glass to a woman who has inspired five-star day-dreams in countless pony-mad little girls – what a joy and a privilege to see her live the pony novel heroine dream once again. Always remember, folks: keep your brave pants on, grab life with one hand so you can hail a cab with the other, and never, ever let go of the eventing family around you. Go Pippa, and Go Eventing!

The top ten at the conclusion of an incredibly exciting, enormously emotional Burghley.

#LRBHT19: Website, Ride Times, Live Scoring, Live Stream, Form GuideCourse PreviewEN’s Coverage, EN’s TwitterEN’s Instagram

The 2019 Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials coverage is brought to you in partnership with the team at Voltaire Design United Kingdom. Going to Burghley? Head to Voltaire Design in the World of the Horse and meet the team of Sports Saddle Specialists, arrange a free, totally no-obligation fitting for you and your horse, or indulge in the Deal of the Day. Put a deposit on a new saddle during the event, and you’ll receive a matching bridle – free! Looking for a bargain? Head to Voltaire Design’s sister stand, EquiTack, to check out their premium pre-loved saddles at rock-bottom prices.

 

One Horse Spun in Tense Final Horse Inspection at Burghley

Lauren Kieffer and Vermiculus. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

31 horses will proceed to today’s showjumping finale after a speedy final horse inspection at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials this morning. After the overnight withdrawal of U.S. combination Chris Talley and Unmarked Bills, 32 combinations presented to the ground jury of Nick Burton (GBR), Christina Klingspor (SWE), and Xavier Le Sauce (FRA).

“Yesterday Unmarked Bills gave me his entire heart on cross country and fought his way around one of the most difficult tracks in the world,” says Chris, who was in 32nd place after cross-country, in a statement on his Instagram account. “Unfortunately this morning we have decided it is in his best interest to withdraw due to soreness in his stifle. We can’t be more thankful for the exceptional vets here in England as well as ours at home in the states, his owners, and our entire team who want nothing but the best for him. Billy has given me one amazing ride after another and owes me absolutely nothing. At the end of the day his wellbeing will always be our main priority.”

Four horses were sent to the holding box during the morning’s proceedings. Nicky Hill‘s MGH Bingo Boy (31st), Julia Norman‘s Carryon Bobby Boy (27th), and Gemma Tattersall‘s Santiago Bay (6th) were held but ultimately accepted upon re-presentation, but James Sommerville‘s Talent (23rd) was spun.

James Sommerville and Talent’s competition ends at the final horse inspection. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The Tattersalls Horse Care Prize for the top groom of the competition, judged throughout the week, was awarded to Tamsin Thurlow, groom of Sarah Bullimore‘s Reve du Rouet, who sits fifth going into the final phase. Unfortunately for poor ‘Blou’, this meant a return trip into the main arena to face his nemesis – an enthusiastic crowd.

Tamsin Thurlow and Reve du Rouet – “if I close my eyes, maybe they can’t see me?” Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“They’re very brave, these event horses, aren’t they?” quipped commentator Spencer Sturmey, as the gelding skittered away from the polite applause of the audience.

Dom Schramm and Bolytair B. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

All six of our remaining US competitors – plus US-based Aussie Dom Schramm and his Bolytair B (29th) – passed with flying colours, as did the the tightly-bunched top three, made up of Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class (3rd), Piggy French and Vanir Kamira (2nd), and Pippa Funnell and MGH Grafton Street (1st).

Overnight leader Pippa Funnell shares a laugh with the ground jury. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The showjumping kicks off at 11.40 a.m./6.40 a.m. EST with the morning session, in which just the 25th – 31st-placed horses and riders will jump. Dom Schramm and Bolytair B will be the third to jump, with Will Coleman and Tight Lines following.

This afternoon’s session, featuring the top 24 combinations, will commence at 2.30 p.m./9.30 a.m. EST. Lillian Heard and LCC Barnaby (20th) will be fifth in the arena, Liz Halliday-Sharp and Deniro Z (20th) will be tenth, and Andrea Baxter and Indy 500 (13th) will be twelfth in the order, followed by Ariel Grald and Leamore Master Plan (12th) and Lauren Kieffer and Vermiculus (13th).

Here’s a reminder of the top ten as it stands going into showjumping:

Until then, folks – Go Eventing!

#LRBHT19: Website, Ride Times, Live Scoring, Live Stream, Form GuideCourse PreviewEN’s Coverage, EN’s TwitterEN’s Instagram

The 2019 Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials coverage is brought to you in partnership with the team at Voltaire Design United Kingdom. Going to Burghley? Head to Voltaire Design in the World of the Horse and meet the team of Sports Saddle Specialists, arrange a free, totally no-obligation fitting for you and your horse, or indulge in the Deal of the Day. Put a deposit on a new saddle during the event, and you’ll receive a matching bridle – free! Looking for a bargain? Head to Voltaire Design’s sister stand, EquiTack, to check out their premium pre-loved saddles at rock-bottom prices.

Burghley Cross-Country: Pippa Funnell Puts Her Brave Pants On

Pippa Funnell and MGH Grafton Street head for home. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

At the tail end of a long and tumultuous day over the toughest Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials track in recent memory, it must have made for frightening viewing for the last batch of riders to take to the course. But despite only half the field making it home, and myriad broken pins, missed distances, and unlucky tumbles along the way, dressage leader Pippa Funnell – who confesses to not being a particularly brave soul – was up. And her mount? Well, he’s certainly gained a reputation across the country – and it isn’t one that would fill most people with confidence.

“I’ve hidden away in my lorry all day,” she confesses. “I watched Sarah Bullimore’s round and thought she looked fantastic, so I walked away, sat in my lorry, and felt ill.”

But when her number was called, she knew what she had to do, and that was attack. And so she did: buoyed along by the irrepressible confidence granted her by her clear round inside the time at last week’s European Championships, she dug deep, gritted her teeth, and piloted the quirky, cheeky MGH Grafton Street home, adding just four time penalties to hold onto her overnight lead by the slimmest of margins. It was Funnell at her finest – and at her very grittiest.

“I’m a bit overwhelmed,” she laughs, breathless and beaming after the exertions of her round. “It’s a bit of a surreal day, really – I had no idea what to expect from the horse. He was a little monkey at Tattersalls, where he should have won, and he cost us the win at Blenheim a couple of years ago too, but I thought, ‘he’s not going to have the last laugh on this cross-country day!'”

The former Grand Slam winner’s inarguable experience shone through as she imparted endless positivity – and more than a modicum of gumption – to the eleven-year-old gelding, who makes his five-star debut here.

“It wasn’t a copybook round, and it wasn’t pretty – I had to reward him when I could, but I also had to say, ‘come on, mate!’ He can slip out through his shoulder on corners, and I often correct in a backwards way, but as he’s not as experienced, I had to stay with my brave pants on. If I could have, I would have looked like Piggy, but sometimes you have to throw away the style book.”

On a day when just one rider made the time, Pippa’s speed, too, was impressive.

“I often think I’m a bit of a granny, and so slow, because I don’t run at speed at one-day events,” she laughs. “But at this stage of my career, I can’t go racing around them all – I think about the rhythm, and that rhythm is how you ride these big courses. He’s got a turn of speed, which he probably learned when he was ridden by Andrew Nicholson – he can turn and run.”

The influential Joules at the Maltings was a particular highlight for Pippa, who has had issues with the horse at right-handed corners, and she showed her experience at the Leaf Pit where, she knew, he could stop with her at the drop, as he did at Tattersalls.

“I was lucky that we had enough engine there – he was green off the drop, but we had enough engine that he couldn’t go backwards,” she says.

That today has been her day is made even more special by the fact that Pippa knows the other end of the spectrum all too well.

“Two years ago, I was riding in pain and not confidence,” she says. “I said to Emily Philp earlier, ‘one thing you do learn the more you do is that yes, you do get nervous, but you learn to deal with disappointment.’ I’ve driven away disappointed enough times, and you still have your mates, you’ve still got washing to do, and you still go to the local pub and no one knows who you are.”

It’s all about the highs and lows – and it’s about persistence, too, which Pippa and owners Jonathan and Jane Clarke have exhibited in spades.

“I know the little bugger’s got it in him, but he’s cheeky, with a huge personality, and he’s always getting into trouble on the yard and attention-seeking,” she says with a smile. “But you just have to keep him between the flags without losing his shoulders, and he really dug deep today.”

Though a lifetime of hard-earned experience won the day, Pippa’s burgeoning confidence was bolstered by two good omens.

“I was delighted when they gave me the number 77,” says the rider, who wore back number 7 at the Europeans. “It’s a really lucky number for me – if you look at my Tilly’s Pony Tales books, Tilly wears the number 77.”

The early loss of her hat silk on course also signalled good things to come: “I thought, ‘oh my god, I’ve ridden around the whole course with an egghead, and I always make these faces like I’m hating every minute, so it’s going to look awful! But then I remembered – when I won here on Primmore’s Pride, I’d lost my hat silk and was an egghead then, too!”

So how will Pippa prepare for the final battle ahead?

“I’m going to sleep in my number bib tonight,” she laughs.

Piggy French and Vanir Kamira record the only clear round inside the time of the day. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Badminton winner Piggy French has never made the time at Burghley before, but she picked a good time to do so – she and Vanir Kamira were the only pair to stop the clock inside the optimum time, boosting them from fifth to close second place, just a tenth of a penalty behind the leaders.

“Me! I made the time!” she exclaims. “Usually she can be so quick, but I’ve never quite got there – we always have a few seconds, which is so frustrating.”

Piggy’s impressive round was delivered despite some pre-match concerns about the mare’s readiness, after a long break, a bout of foot-soreness, and a surprise stop at the water at her final prep run cast the team in doubt. And although she happily and comfortably delivered the goods on the day, Piggy had to change her plan slightly on course.

“She got tired between three and four minutes, which never happens,” she explains. “So I let her coast along and then freewheeled her downhill so she could fill her lungs, and then she hit the next hill fighting. I definitely went to my plan B and C on stride patterns in some places. I was definitely conscious of her – has her preparation been alright? And she’s getting older, too. She ran well here last year, but they’re not machines, and you don’t know how they wake up in the morning.”

After clearing the tricky Trout Hatchery, Piggy indulged in a cheer and a wave to the crowd – “I thought, ‘thank god that’s over with!'” – before getting swiftly back to business.

“Once you’ve got the Dairy Farm out of the way you can get home, and all the jumping is there in front of you – and the sizes eases up a bit, thank god,” she says with a grin. “She’s such a little fighter; she really grits her teeth and says, ‘come on, mum!’ She’s a little horse with an enormous heart, and she’s an experienced horse, which is an advantage that not many have. She’ll let me know when she’s hit her limit. She’s her own horse, and I definitely have to get in her mode – but you’re lucky when you have the blood and heart to go round on.”

Vanir Kamira, who remains the diva of Piggy’s yard with a laundry list of management demands, certainly didn’t hit her limit today, pulling up fresh and bright-eyed.

“She’s a pain in the ass 363 days of the year,” laughs Piggy. “Our lives revolve around her, and she’s a tricky little thing, but I’m so proud of her.”

“I feel like a new man”: Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class look at their best at Burghley. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

2017’s victors Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class headed out on course as the penultimate combination to run, and they made child’s play of the enormously influential track, adding just 2 time penalties to sit third overnight. Like Pippa, Oliver – who’s recovering from a slipped disc – only opted to watch a tiny amount of the day’s action.

“I went in the tent at one stage, watched about four people, and walked away. I wasn’t going to learn anything watching what went on,” he says. But Ballaghmor Class is established now – certainly more so than he was when he won here on his debut as a ten-year-old – and both horse and rider knew what they had to do to make an easy job of it.

“He feels completely professional now, like he could run around any course in the world,” says Oliver of the 12-year-old gelding, who has never finished outside the top five in four runs at this level. “Yes, the time penalties are frustrating, but it’s a marathon. We know what he’s capable of now, and we’re not going into the unknown, so the pressure is on me to make sure I give him a good ride. Those five seconds came from coaxing him and trying to give him a nice round – and it was probably the nicest round I’ve had on him at Burghley. It feels like he’s made for it.”

Ludwig Svennerstal and Stinger hold the lead for much of the day, but settle for fourth overnight. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Though the top three are tightly clustered, there’s more than ten marks between third and fourth place. The rollercoaster ride of the day meant that Ludwig Svennerstal and Stinger, placed 29th after dressage, held the lead for much of it – but the final cluster of experienced riders and world-class rounds meant that he was nudged down to fourth at the end of the day.

“He’s a very good horse, and it’s the first really long course for him,” he says. Ludwig started here last year with the gelding, but opted to pull up after knocking a pin at the Rolex Combination, and ultimately took him to the World Equestrian Games instead. His six time penalties were thus attributed to a tactical ride through the same part of the course today.

“Last year we were a bit too quick through there, so today I set up a bit more,” he explains. “Maybe I rode it too slow, but I wanted to give him a nice ride. I could have been quicker from the Cottesmore Leap; I was a bit slow from there, but I’m really happy with him. It’s all about riding the horse you’ve got, and riding your feeling – if you go too fast, you have a tired horse.”

Nonetheless, Ludwig showed committed, forward-thinking riding – particularly through the upright gates at 16AB, where he opted for the forward one-stride, rather than the short and bouncy two.

“It was very good – he was very honest,” he says.

Sarah Bullimore and Reve du Rouet pop into the Trout Hatchery. Photo by William Carey.

It was all rather ‘will they or won’t they’ for Sarah Bullimore, who delivered an exceptionally classy clear round aboard the experienced Reve du Rouet, adding ten time penalties and, for a little while, 15 extra penalties for missing a flag. But those penalties were ultimately removed, much to the delight of the experienced British rider.

“He was absolutely awesome – he didn’t deserve that,” she says, a smile lighting up her face. “He’s a true cross-country horse, and so scopey, and so straight on the lines – he’s just unbelievable. We just had a little mishap when he slipped [after the first element at the Dairy Farm] and had to add an extra stride, but he tried his heart out and just screwed over the second egg box. He’s such a good horse, and he doesn’t deserve just to be here for the beer.”

At the tough Trout Hatchery, which claimed its fair share of broken hearts through the day, Reve du Rouet gave one of the best performances of the day: “he was absolutely foot-perfect – you always jump into the second part of the water thinking you might have to go left or right, but it was all right there.”

Santiago Bay ends Gemma Tattersall’s rollercoaster day on a high. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Gemma Tattersall‘s day started with heartbreak when she tumbled off her stalwart campaigner Arctic Soul at the Maltings, but disaster turned to triumph when she romped home clear with the inexperienced Santiago Bay, adding 11.2 time penalties for overnight sixth place.

“I can’t even explain the day – I was furious with myself this morning,” she says. “I was on the floor and he looked at me as if to say, ‘for god’s sake, get up – we’ve got loads more jumps to do!’ He’s got serious anger issues with me now – he’s an old-timer and he knows he should be out there.”

Watching the day unfold didn’t fill Gemma with confidence, either.

“It’s been quite challenging to get on a young horse and go round again, but she’s so scopey and so game, and we just talked each other through the course. I’m so proud of her for producing the most perfect jumping round over the toughest Burghley I’ve ever seen.”

Despite her earlier problem, Gemma made herself go the straight route at the tough Maltings combination – and when she cleared it, she made sure to enjoy the moment.

“I punched the air and cheered and told her how amazing she was when she jumped that bloomin’ fence,” she laughs.

Tim Price and Bango act as pathfinders. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Pathfinder Tim Price had a day of colossal ups and downs, too – he sits seventh overnight on his first horse, Bango, who looked considerably more rideable than he did at Badminton. He added 12 time penalties to climb from eleventh place after the dressage.

“I was tentative with this horse, because at Badminton he raced off with me,” he says. “I couldn’t go flat out with him at the beginning, but the course suited him down to the ground. He was super, and bold, and that’s why we persevere with him – he has so much ability, he just gives me a hard time in front a bit. I just had to get a bit cowboy and dig deep into the toolkit at the gates, but the one stride was there all day long – it’s just a tough stage of the course for us, going downhill, because he tends to run through the bridle.”

But what goes up must sometimes come down.  It would be an early end to the day for Xavier Faer, who was one of many to knock the pin at the oxer at the Trout Hatchery. Knowing he’d incurred the penalties, Tim added in a circle, popped through the Rolex Combination for the experience, and then opted to save the talented gelding for another day. And so all eyes were on last year’s winner Ringwood Sky Boy, the last horse on course. After making light work of almost the entirety of the course, he stumbled while cantering through the Lion’s Bridge water on the way home, and both horse and rider went down, ending their campaign for 2019 and leaving Tim with just one horse for tomorrow’s final phase.

Imogen Murray and Ivar Gooden climb a remarkable 52 places to sit eighth overnight. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Imogen Murray and Ivar Gooden once again showed their prowess in leaping up a leaderboard, climbing from 60th to 8th after zooming around to add four time penalties, while France’s Sebastien Cavaillon, thirteenth after dressage with Sarah d’Argouges, moved into ninth despite experiencing their first-ever stop on course – just before the Cottesmore Leap. “I said to the jury, you are crazy to stop me here!” But the hold – which was to check a minor surface injury that the mare picked up from a flag – didn’t stop them from regrouping, digging deep, and coming home with 19.2 time penalties added to their 29.8 dressage score. Becky Woolven and DHI Babette K romped home in the same time to round out the top ten.

It’s been a whirlwind day of ups and downs for our US contingent, and one which saw some experienced combinations come to grief and relative newcomers to the level impress over the tough track.

Lauren Kieffer and Vermiculus. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Lauren Kieffer and Vermiculus end the day as the best of the US combinations in 11th place, dropping from fourth place after adding 26.4 penalties, partly due to a hold midway through the course.

“I did really go with the intention of being faster, but I had to take a few unplanned long routes,” she says. “But full credit to him, because he kept trucking on. It was the hardest course he’s ever seen, and it’s the hardest I’ve ever had to work. It’s really hard to get their adrenaline back up after a hold.”

A scrappy ride through the Trout Hatchery was held together by some committed riding on Lauren’s part, and when she reached the Dairy Farm – the last major question on the course – she opted to go long rather than take the risk of attempting to string together the direct route.

“It was just out of reach,” she explains, “and I had to fiddle my way to the option – but all the way, he was trucking on.”

Ariel Grald and Leamore Master Plan navigate the Trout Hatchery en route to 12th place. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Burghley debutantes Ariel Grald and Leamore Master Plan impressed in their five-star debut at Kentucky, and they backed it up today, too, notching up 15.6 time penalties and a clear round to sit twelfth overnight.

“It was just amazing – it’s been my goal all year,” says the hard-working rider, who received the Jacqueline B. Mars International Grant to fund her trip. “I’d never stepped on Burghley soil before, or even UK soil – everyone said it was big here, but I didn’t appreciate just how big. But I just went out with a plan, knowing the plan would probably go to pieces at some point. Bobby Costello and Erik Duvander told me to find the line and point, and he fought for me out there – I was just hoping to be a little bit faster.

One rein? No problem. Andrea Baxter and Indy 500 keep on trucking at the Trout Hatchery. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Andrea Baxter and Indy 500 got what they came for, and then some – they achieved the clear round they’d been hoping for, adding 19.2 time penalties, and they’re in an enviable position, too. They sit 13th as we head into the final phase.

“It wasn’t pretty, but Burghley doesn’t need to be pretty, huh?” laughs Andrea, reflecting on her determined round. “Last year I had a 20, but it was much prettier – I had visions in my head of being pretty again. But I was held at six, which ruined my flow, so I slapped her together a bit but never quite found the rhythm.”

Andrea’s first thoughts on being held were of a prior incident, in which she found herself held for an hour and a half.

“You never know how long it’ll be, or if you’ll be able to keep the adrenaline up.”

Through the Trout Hatchery, Andrea found herself having to dig deep to make up for the flow she hadn’t quite regained.

“I wasn’t planning on going long, but she drifted left – which is odd, because she usually drifts right! I could have made it, but I decided to go for the option – but then I dropped my rein, so we barely made it over. I hope we made it over, anyway – we certainly levitated over something!”

Liz Halliday-Sharp and Deniro Z make it happen. Photo by William Carey.

Liz Halliday-Sharp put a tricky season with Deniro Z behind her, coming home clear with 34.4 time penalties to sit fifteenth overnight, dropping down from equal seventh after dressage. But despite their clear round, Liz found herself having to work hard to tick all the boxes.

“I had to do a couple of options that weren’t in my plan,” says the rider, whose last three-day with the horse was at Luhmühlen last year, where they finished eighth. “He got a little backwards in the middle part of the course, and I wasn’t quite getting the power I hoped for – I had to really kick on at the Maltings and he did a superman jump, so I knew I wouldn’t make the turn and rerouted. It’s disappointing to have the time – he’s a wonderful horse and could have been very competitive, but he’ll come away stronger for it. He’s an incredible horse and so game – but here we are, we’ve got round Burghley!”

Lillian Heard and LCC Barnaby. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Like Andrea Baxter before her, Lillian Heard had one big goal this week: to come home with a clear round on her third attempt with LCC Barnaby. She did just that, clocking up 28.8 time penalties to round out the top twenty after taking straight routes everywhere except the Leaf Pit – the former architect of her Burghley heartbreak.

“I have more experience out there now, but he was awesome,” she says. “Everything was smooth – who has a smooth ride at Burghley?! Now I’m back, I’m frustrated I wasn’t quicker, but I’ve failed here before and I didn’t today.”

With her Burghley demons banished, Lillian’s looking ahead – well beyond tomorrow’s showjumping.

“I promised myself that if I went clear here I’d go to Badminton – I’ve always wanted to go, and who knows when I’ll have the horse again.”

Prior experience, too, meant that Lillian wasn’t put off by how many people failed to complete throughout the day.

“I wasn’t surprised when they weren’t coming back,” she says. “Last year, I was like, ‘what is this?!’ This year I was like, ‘this is what it’s like.’ I stuck to my plan, and I’d usually change it.”

Will Coleman and Tight Lines. Photo by William Carey.

Will Coleman and Tight Lines were the first US combination on course, but they also had one of the trickier rounds of the day: shellshocked by the crowds, ‘Phish’ proved tough to manage on course, and they ultimately added 20 penalties for a run-out at the C element of the Leaf Pit and 11 penalties for a broken pin at the Trout Hatchery oxer, plus 23.2 time penalties, to their dressage score of 32.4, putting them 28th overnight.

“The plan certainly wasn’t a run-out and a pin, but it happened,” he says. “He was really just pulling like a train, and I couldn’t get him to settle – he got right under the oxer and froze a bit. The whole round, his body was going faster than his brain. But he’s a pretty worrisome horse, and that might be the root cause – he didn’t settle in the crowds. He’s not dishonest and he got it done, and we’ve got to start there, I guess – he came out frenetic and the whole occasion got to him, but he’ll be better for it.”

Dom Schramm and Bolytair B notch up a near-clear at Burghley. Photo by William Carey.

Honourary American Dom Schramm and Bolytair B, who ride for Australia but are based in the States, tackled their first Burghley and second five-star with aplomb to sit 29th overnight after adding 37.2 time penalties and eleven for a knocked pin, picked up at the Trout Hatchery – but that didn’t stop Dom from storming home with an enormous smile on his face.

“I’m happy to be home in one piece,” he grins. “I was surprised how backed off he was by the crowds at the beginning, and I couldn’t really get his head down. But what a horse! I came here for redemption – I rode like an idiot at Kentucky. It’s amazing what an outstanding horse can make an average rider look like!”

A big jump at the Maltings prompted Dom to take an unplanned long route, while a ‘pegasus distance’ at the Dairy Farm sharpened the pair up for the trip home – “that fence kept me awake at 4am!” – which they cruised through in style.

“It’s unbelievable, and it kind of feels like I’ve paid my bit back to all the people who support me,” says Dom, who was astonished by the scale and difficulty of the challenge set. “I kept looking at my watch and thinking, ‘how the hell does anyone make the time here?!’ Mark Phillips is a genius course designer, and it’s a privilege to ride around here.”

Chris Talley and Unmarked Bills. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Chris Talley and Unmarked Bills also added eleven penalties, though they picked theirs up at the Maltings, and a further 38 time penalties sees them sit 32nd going into the final phase.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling to stand in the finish box,” says Chris, who rode with his late grandmother’s favourite flower tucked in his armband. “It’s difficult out there today and a lot’s not going to plan – I was a bit off over at the Maltings, so we had a pin. I overrode it and he tried to use his scope, but couldn’t quite make the rail. It was scrappy, and it was tough, but it was an unbelievable feeling.”

Chris had to ride conscientiously after ‘Billy’ lost his right front shoe at fence 5: “I tried to save him and get him home, and I didn’t want him to lose confidence when he’d been going so well. It’s more than I could have asked for – I was all okay with having a green moment, but he exceeded my expectations in every way. He’s shown me around some of the biggest courses in the world – he’s amazing, and it still hasn’t set in that we’ve crossed the finish line.”

Woodge Fulton and Captain Jack. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

The day ended rather earlier for several US combinations. Hannah-Sue Burnett and Harbour Pilot retired at the Dairy Farm after a problem, despite showing early flair and promise, particularly at the Trout Hatchery. Doug Payne fell from Vandiver at the Maltings, while Buck Davidson and Jak My Style tipped up over the second upright gate at the Lake, with Buck getting hung up from the stirrup iron as the horse clambered back up, and Woodge Fulton and Captain Jack took an ostensibly nasty but ultimately harmless tumble at the Dairy Mound. We’re pleased to report that all are uninjured.

The Post-Mortem: A Closer Look at Burghley’s Inimitable Influence

After three withdrawals – Pippa Funnell and Billy Walk On, who will run at Blenheim instead, Michael Owen and Jims Pal, whose running was contingent on how the course was riding, and Georgie Spence and Wii Limbo – 64 horse-and-rider combinations came forward to tackle today’s phase. Of these, we saw just 33 complete – and only 23 do so without picking up jumping penalties. That’s a 52% completion rate, and a 36% clear rate – interestingly, although Burghley is the biggest track in the world, it ordinarily has the highest completion rate at around 62%.

Though the problems came up thick, fast, and well-spread through the intense middle section of the course, the consensus from riders as they came home was universal: the course was a fair one, and one lacking in gimmicks.

“It’s tough, but there’s no trickery like you see in a lot of European courses, where there are things coming up off blind bends and it feels like they’re trying to catch you out,” says Oliver TownendPiggy French, who was vocal about her dislike of the white gates at 16AB, agreed, citing her faith in Captain Mark Phillips – and nodding her agreement that this is a course that’s meant to be attacked, not intimidated by.

“I thought it was an enormous course when I walked it – the oxers at the Maltings (13ABC) rode as big as they walked, which was a scary feeling,” she says. “But [before my round], I thought the double of gates were really hideous – nearly unjumpable – and maybe that’s personal, because they wouldn’t suit my horse. But we have so much faith in Mark, and they were there to be attacked.”

But nonetheless, the problems did appear – sometimes as a result of bad luck, like in the case of George Hilton-Jones, who took a tumble from Efraim when the horse’s front shoe got stuck in his martingale, or in the case of 2018 winners Tim Price and Ringwood Sky Boy who, as the last out of the start box, had made light work of 90% of the course but took an enormously unfortunate tumble when the horse stumbled while cantering through the final Lion’s Bridge water. More often than not, though, issues cropped up because of an error in the approach or in the line, and some fences on the course were particularly prolific in catching out these lapses in concentration – or gaps in knowledge.

Becky Woolven and DHI Babette K, 10th overnight, demonstrate a good effort at the Maltings. Photo by Peter Nixon/Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials.

The Joules at the Maltings combination at 13ABC claimed the most victims throughout the day, with fourteen riders picking up faults at the question, which consisted of two wide oxers on a variable six-stride line followed by a four- or five-stride line to an open corner. This question also saw the highest number of pins break, with seven riders picking up eleven penalties here. Dimensionally enormous, these fences required an aggressive and positive ride, and commitment – though liberally sprinkled with some flexibility – to the chosen stride pattern, but all too often, we saw staid and sedate rides through here, which meant that several horses – left to rely on scope – failed to make the width, taking the frangible elements down in the process.

Michael Owen and Bradeley Law jump the influential timber oxer at the Trout Hatchery. Photo by Peter Nixon/Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials.

The timber oxer at 10, which was the first question at the new-look Trout Hatchery, also proved influential, with eight combinations faulting here – but while the Maltings claimed as many unseated riders and runouts as pins, the oxer here was fundamentally a frangible issue, with six breaking through the day. We saw many horses try for an ambitious leap here, ultimately landing short before the water and kicking out the back rail, effectively making it look like a showjumping question, though three riders did pick up 20 penalties here.

Sarah Bullimore and Reve du Rouet pop through the middle element of the Rolex Combination. Photo by Peter Nixon/Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials.

The Rolex Combination at 14ABCD, with its Vicarage Vee-style middle element, saw seven faulters, no broken pins, and the only missed flag penalty of the day, which was notched up by Richard Skelt and Credo III, who were ultimately eliminated two fences later. Mistakes here largely came down to runouts at that middle element, which required a precise stride and an even more precise line, and many other riders through the day opted to take the long route at the expense of a small handful of seconds.

One of the combinations that proved to be a surprise snake in the grass was Clarence Court at the Dairy Farm which, at 20ABCDE, was the last significant question on course. It was the combination, too, that the Captain vowed to change last year, saying, “it didn’t cause any problems – but it could have done.” This year, its three route options provided a fair question, but a tough one, and five riders faulted here. Three picked up stops or runouts, often for failing to make their line after a poor effort over the first fence, and we saw Hannah-Sue Burnett and Harbour Pilot retire after a problem here. There was one significant fall, too, when Woodge Fulton and Captain Jack took a tumble that, fortunately, looked considerably nastier than it actually was. And then there was an elimination of a rather different sort: Francis Whittington, who had to make a quick decision to go long with Evento after his approach didn’t quite go to plan, completed the course before discovering he’d been eliminated for piecing together different elements from the two different long routes and doubling up on lettered elements in the process.

All this might add up to look like that grand oversimplification, ‘a bad day for the sport.’ But was it? Or was it indicative of a deeper-rooted problem and, as such, a welcome opportunity to make a positive change within our sport?

Consider this: although it’s an inarguably tough course, Burghley was made to look smooth, sensible, and almost easy by the cream of the crop, who rightly rose to the top throughout the day. Compare this to some of the more contentious courses of the past few years, like Pierre Michelet‘s Pau course in 2017 – even the fast rounds from top riders looked difficult on that track, which saw some of the very best in the world falter. So are the problems today the result of a track that was too tough – a notion most of the week’s competitors would appear to disagree with – or are they a spotlight on a gap in the education of less experienced riders?

Overnight leader Pippa Funnell thinks so.

“It’s really important on the national circuit that the courses add up to become a solid preparation for this level,” she says. “There isn’t be an easy track for qualification, a cheap qualification. Bramham is always a good indicator for [riders] coming here, but they have to be able to see a distance, or the accumulative effect can take its toll on the horses.”

Qualification, after all, doesn’t indicate readiness – and course designer Captain Mark Phillips points out that his job is to create a course that tests the best, and so riders need to be prepared for a suitably tough course.

“I feel a bit battered and bruised – I’ve always been told to make Burghley Burghley, and it was Burghley. I have very mixed emotions,” he says. “You don’t set out to see half the field finish – you want to see a lot more. But everyone said at the beginning that you’ve got to ride forward, and it’s sad that we saw too many people not riding forward. We were really missing the likes of Mark Todd, Andrew Nicholson, Tina Cook, and so on in this field. In many ways, we had a weakened field today, and to be honest, that showed. What pleased me is that [through the day] we saw every fence ridden well, and a lot of people made it look really easy, which is what should happen. There wasn’t one fence I thought I shouldn’t have, or that I thought was unfair – in my heart of hearts, I don’t think I made it too hard. If you have to lower the standard for the field, I don’t think that’s what the sport should be about.”

But, continues the Captain, “it was a wonderful day for frangible technology. We’ve probably broken a record [for the most pins broken, 16] but no horse or rider got hurt. We’re still working on the technology – a couple of people broke frangibles and I thought they were unlucky, but others hit the fences harder and they didn’t. The world of frangible technology is a developing one, and there will always be good and bad luck stories.”

So what’s next? Before we head into the showjumping, there’s the final horse inspection to get through – that takes place at 9.00 a.m. local time/4.00 a.m. EST, and as always, we’ll be bringing you a full report and image gallery, as well as live-tweeting throughout. Then, we’ll head into the first session of showjumping at 10.30 a.m./5.30 a.m. EST. Look out for times in the trot-up report – and until then, Go Eventing!

#LRBHT19: WebsiteRide TimesLive ScoringLive StreamForm GuideCourse PreviewEN’s CoverageEN’s TwitterEN’s Instagram

The 2019 Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials coverage is brought to you in partnership with the team at Voltaire Design United Kingdom. Going to Burghley? Head to Voltaire Design in the World of the Horse and meet the team of Sports Saddle Specialists, arrange a free, totally no-obligation fitting for you and your horse, or indulge in the Deal of the Day. Put a deposit on a new saddle during the event, and you’ll receive a matching bridle – free! Looking for a bargain? Head to Voltaire Design’s sister stand, EquiTack, to check out their premium pre-loved saddles at rock-bottom prices.

Riders React to the Burghley Cross-Country Course

The feeling as you finish: Tim Price and Ringwood Sky Boy cross the line in 2018. Photo by Peter Nixon.

And so the big one looms once again: it’s cross-country time at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials. Want to brush up on your knowledge of the course? Check out our comprehensive preview, featuring an in-depth and fascinating course walk video with course designer Captain Mark Phillips. Find your favourites to follow on the live-stream by checking the ride times for tomorrow. Then, check out what some of our competitors have to say about the challenge ahead…

THE RIDERS REACT:

Pippa Funnell (1st): “I’ve walked it with my best friend, Tina Cook – so any problems tomorrow, I can blame on her! He’s had some blips, but we want to try to eradicate the blips – he’s a horse I’ve thought a lot of, but he’s had hiccups along the way. I’ll have to ride his balance a little bit – he can fall on his head and shoulders on cross-country. He’s a rookie, so I’ve got to ride him in the frame of mind I rode with last week [at the European Championships]. You can’t do a nice easy trip – you’ve got to get stuck in and be bold.

Because of the size of the fences, it’s important to give them as good a ride as possible. If you start seeing bad strides, it makes them much bigger. I’ll have to concentrate from beginning to end, because of [MGH Grafton Street’s] sense of humour.”

Oliver Townend (2nd): “I don’t look forward to jumping any of them! I’ve only managed to walk it once so far, as I’ve been suffering a little bit.”

Izzy Taylor (3rd): “It’s a big track and a tough track, and we’ll have to think from the beginning to the very end. There’s no fence to not be concentrating on; the middle of the course is very intense, but that doesn’t take away from the rest of the course. The ground walks very well, but it often rides softer – but they manage it very well here.

[Springpower] is very positive and wants to get on with life, so I need to make sure he’s staying with me as he does so.”

Lauren Kieffer (4th): “I’m not here for experience – I promised the owner that if I came, I’d give it a crack, so we’ll give it a crack or go home trying. But we have Plan Bs, too, as anything can go wrong in the combinations and you need to think really fast to be able to get out of it. He may go out there and say, ‘holy crap! This is different than anything I’ve ever seen!’ Or he might attack it, which is much more him. He’s an Arabian, so the fitness will be okay.”

Piggy French (=5th): “You’ve got to wipe the slate clean before cross-country and take each stage as it comes. She’s a true Burghley horse – our preparation hasn’t been great since Badminton, and I won’t have that in the back of my mind, but I need to make sure she’s feeling her best. She’s got a massive heart and is such a trier – all that helps.

I hate the double of gates [at the lake, fence 16]. I think it’s a horrible fence and Mark Phillips has been brave at that stage in the course. When I jump gates I always turn around to check they’re still standing. We all trust Mark completely, but I’d quite like to bypass it!

The course is enormous, but it’s fair – there’s nothing there to catch us out.”

Jonelle Price (=7th): “The ground here is world class – the best I’ve ever seen in the world.[What make the course tough] is the accumulative effect of big fence after big fence – that’s unique to Burghley. [Faerie Dianimo] is such a dynamic, careful little jumper, which is why I’ve looked after her  a little bit. You never know if you’ve got a Burghley horse until you’re out there, but I think she is, which is why I’ve brought her.”

Eliza Stoddart (=9th): “The first time I walked it, I did it in the dark – so luckily, I couldn’t see some of the fences!

Having not ridden here before, I don’t know what [Priorspark Opposition Free] should feel like at each stage, so I walked the course again with Pippa Funnell and Piggy French, and they told me what he might feel like, and then Chris Bartle said, ‘Eliza, you’re not here for experience – you’re here to do well.’ He’s a very genuine horse, and there are quite a lot of long routes, so you just have to be sensible for your horse. I’ll just break it up into manageable pieces.

I used to come to hunter trials here when I was a kid, and I’d sit on the edge of the Leaf Pit with my mates. We’d say we were the Three Musketeers and we’d do Burghley one day.”

Tim Price (=9th, =11th, and 20th): “Everyone knows what they’re about – you’ve got to do your own job, and your own game, and I’ve got three chances to get it right. The course, by and large, is very cleverly designed. It’s challenging, and I look forward to it.

You’ve got to start in a way that allows them to get into the course, but not at the expense of the time. It’s intense, and you’ve got a lot of obstacles early on. That will affect my three in different ways – Xavier Faer needs to be on his game early on. Once you get up Winners’ Avenue and through the Dairy Mound, you’re ticking boxes – though I don’t say that in a casual way.”

The aftermath. Photo by Peter Nixon.

Sarah Bullimore (=11th): “The first part is heavy with questions, and you have to negotiate them and also be quick. There’s a couple of similar questions, but an awful lot of new questions – some of them are similar but have been tweaked. The terrain here is massively influential, not just on the fences, but on the time.

Reve du Rouet has got so much scope and ability – I just have to direct it in the right way. It’s not like riding a machine; they have a brain too.”

Sebastien Cavaillon (13th): “Its bigger in the middle of the course, though the technicality is similar [to other five-stars]. It’s uphill, it’s downhill – it’s much more difficult than Badminton or Pau.”

Gemma Tattersall (=14th and 28th): “I have two different plans, but they’re both fast, bold cross-country horses. I can bring the information back from Arctic Soul’s round to use for Santiago Bay. It’s the biggest track I’ve ever seen in my life, and that suits me! Obviously anything can happen, and Arctic Soul is still a horse, but this is his best event and I’m looking forward to taking the handbrake off.”

Zara Tindall (17th): “I’m going to go out meaning business – with [Class Affair], it’s easier to go straight than to keep turning around. He almost needs a big occasion to make him back off and not be so buzzy. Obviously you have to have a plan B, but we want to be economical.”

Georgie Spence (18th): “It’s big – it’s always big! – but it looks particularly big in some places. The Maltings seems to walk on four-and-a-half strides, and it’s hard to decide whether to do the four of the five. It all seems jumpable, bit it’s all there.”

Will Furlong (19th): “We’ve done a couple of Badmintons now, and I think I’m as ready as I’m ever going to be! The middle section from the water onward will be intense, and where the problems will come. If you can get around to the Cottesmore Leap, it’s quite a nice ride home and downhill, too. I’m seventh on so I’ll have to stick to my plan – it’s nice, actually, because you can overanalyse by watching and really, you know your horse best.”

Ludwig Svennerstal (=21st): “It’s a good course, and always Mark Phillips builds a good course. It’s going to be very demanding, but it walks very fair. It’s very tough, but that’s what you expect here.”

Sarah Bullimore and Reve du Rouet at the Maltings. Photo by Peter Nixon.

Doug Payne (=21st): “It’s a tremendous place – just having a walk around, it’s incredible. There’s no stone or blade of grass left unturned, and the course is beautifully presented. I watched as many videos as possible, and I find the most value in helmet cams – I watched Tim Price’s round from last year, which gives you an idea of where you’re going and what comes up next.

I might go long at the Leaf Pit, as it’s unpredictable, and you won’t lose too much time. There’s trouble that can be had from beginning to end. I’m lucky to have the horse I have – he’s an absolute machine on cross-country. You just have to hope you’re fit enough. You wouldn’t want to enter here questioning if you’re ready – you need an abundance of confidence.”

Ben Hobday (=21st): “[Harelaw Wizard] has got it in him to go fast – with him, it’s the brakes that can sometimes go wrong! He’s very brave, and he’s also very strong.”

Will Coleman (26th): “This, to me, is the epitome of our sport – I value it above all others. It’s the most pure form of our sport that’s left – it’s a true cross-country dominated event. The Maltings fences are the biggest jumps I’ve ever seen.”

Johan Lundin (27th): “This is one of the biggest courses I’ve ever seen – it’s inviting for the horses, but frightening for the riders!”

Becky Woolven (30th): “It’s very hilly, and there are a lot of questions in one area. I do feel happy having done Luhmühlen with DHI Babette K – she was bold and straight, which does give me confidence, but she’ll never have experienced a test like this.”

David Britnell (32nd): “I’m itching to get out there! There’s a little bit more width in places [than at Badminton], but nothing Continuity can’t read. [Having a long partnership] gives you a feeling of ease where others may have anxiety and doubt – you know how he’ll read things. It’s organic; you feel, you don’t think.”

Buck Davidson (=34th): “Of any event, this is the biggest, and it’s always a dream come true to be here. I’d like to see Mark Phillips’ measuring tape, though! The Dairy Mound and the Maltings are for real serious – and my little horse has never seen crowds, and is a little bit spooky. You need a galloping horse, and a brave horse, and I think Jak is that.”

Emma Hyslop-Webb (=34th): “The Maltings will be tough – it’s not the fences, it’s putting them together, and you have to decide whether to go on four or five strides. The nice thing is that the Captain releases the course video, so you can train the lines at home – I train with Caroline Moore, and we’ve trained over a lot of them. Burghley really is the pinnacle of the sport – I’ve got my whole team here so they know what the end goal is that we’re producing the young horses for.”

James Sommerville (=37th): “I got run away with at the end of Blair last year, so stamina shouldn’t be a problem! Everything here seems to have extra elements – I don’t remember seeing Ds and Es at Badminton. It’s big jumping all the way with very few let-up fences. Winners’ Avenue is certainly a long way – I knew it was a long gallop, but you don’t quite realise how long it is from the gates to the Cottesmore Leap. It’s a good minute of galloping.

Some of the long routes are quite long, but some are as quick as the short routes. I’m having half a glance at the Leaf Pit, though. I’m in a good position in that I’ll get to see how it rides.”

Francis Whittington (=39th): “I intend to go long at the Leaf Pit – I don’t see a reason to jump that big drop, and it’s better to keep him moving round. How do you prepare for the Leaf Pit? I remember coming to the edge of it the first time I ever walked it and thinking, ‘I’m a goner!’ I’ve got a VHS tape that I watch sometimes of that round, and the commentator says, ‘Francis Whittington – reckless at the Leaf Pit!’ I like to think I’ve improved since then! For Evento, it’s an ideal course – we’ll grab it with both hands.”

Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class take the scenic route. Photo by Peter Nixon.

Andrea Baxter (46th): “It’s the same track as last year – in a way, it’s not as technical, but it’s bigger, and when the technical things come up, they come out of nowhere.”

Dom Schramm (53rd): “They’re huge – I got up to the Leaf Pit and was like, ‘I don’t even know if this is possible!’ I guess it is, because they do it every year – part of me is terrified, and part of me wants to give it everything we’ve got. I wouldn’t want to be on a whippet that runs out of jump at the end.”

Matt Heath (=54th): “I’ve been here six times, and it’s the hardest I’ve ever seen. It’s tough out there this year – because it’s different, you start to think it’s bigger and stronger. But Mark has been very kind in that once you’ve got to the top of the hill, he helps us out from there – last year, there was a nasty skinny at the Dairy Mound, but he’s taken that out this year.

I’ll watch the first group of riders go, because you’ve got some of the best in the world in there – they’ll give us an indication of how it’s riding, but I won’t watch after that.”

Lillian Heard (=54th): “I don’t want to have a 20 but I want to be quicker, too, so I won’t take too many long routes. I’m not very good with drops, so the Leaf Pit is my concern – but it’s a long long-route. [LCC Barnaby] is good on cross-country, so I have to be too – but he’s up for it!

I love Kentucky, but this feels like a different sport – it’s as big and as bad as it gets, which makes the first phase a little less important.”

Imogen Murray (60th): “There’s a couple of places where you have options, where one route isn’t actually quicker than the other. The Trout Hatchery is a lot scarier this year – it’s very big. You can’t go to sleep on course out there at any point.”

George Hilton-Jones (=63rd): “I’m still not sure what I’m going to do at the Rolex Combination – the two routes don’t have much of a time difference. It’s a big, impressive track, and it’s what most of us have dreamt of, tackling the biggest course in the world. I’ll probably go long at the Leaf Pit – [Efraim] gets quite strong and forward, so I’ll have to see whether I can get enough control to just step off.”

Woodge Fulton (65th): “He’s an excellent practice horse and super honest – if I don’t mess up, he’ll jump all the jumps.”

Ginny Howe (66th): “As a child, you always look at the Cottesmore Leap, so it’ll be nice to get over that and get a nice picture. I’ll go long at the Rolex Combination – it’s [Undalgo de Windsor’s] first time at the level, and it’s a strong enough middle question – and you don’t lose that much time on the long route. There’s not one small fence, really, but you don’t come to Burghley for any other reason. I’m hoping he’s the right horse to take me round.”

Kirsty Short (67th): “After fence eight, it’s our course – but up till then, I’ll need to keep [Bouncer] steady and together. They’ve got to come into the main arena and be short and nippy, and then there’s a skinny before the Leap Pit where there’s normally a big oxer – and it’s a tight turn, too. It’ll be tough for a big-jumping horse. From then on, it’s a good galloping course.”

The US riders (plus honorary yank Dom Schramm) will ride at the following times:

  • Will Coleman & Tight Lines – 11:55 a.m. (6:55 a.m. EST)
  • Andrea Baxter & Indy 500 – 12:11 p.m. (7:11 a.m. EST)
  • Ariel Grald & Leamore Master Plan – 12:31 p.m. (7:31 a.m EST)
  • Dom Schramm Bolytair B – 12:47 p.m. (7:47 a.m. EST)
  • Doug Payne & Vandiver – 1:07 p.m. (8:07 a.m. EST)
  • Liz Halliday-Sharp & Deniro Z – 1:35 p.m. (8:35 a.m. EST)
  • Chris Talley & Unmarked Bills – 1:55 p.m. (8:55 a.m. EST)
  • Hannah Sue Burnett & Harbour Pilot – 2:03 p.m. (9:03 a.m. EST)
  • Buck Davidson & Jak My Style – 2:19 p.m. (9:19 a.m. EST)
  • Lillian Heard & LCC Barnaby – 2:27 p.m. (9:27 p.m. EST)
  • Woodge Fulton & Captain Jack – 3:03 p.m. (10:03 a.m. EST)
  • Lauren Kieffer & Vermiculus – 3:07 p.m. (10:07 a.m. EST)

To all our competitors heading out of the start box tomorrow: have fun, stay safe, and we’ll see you on the other side. Go Eventing.

#LRBHT19: Website, Ride Times, Live Scoring, Live Stream, Form GuideCourse PreviewEN’s Coverage, EN’s TwitterEN’s Instagram

The 2019 Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials coverage is brought to you in partnership with the team at Voltaire Design United Kingdom. Going to Burghley? Head to Voltaire Design in the World of the Horse and meet the team of Sports Saddle Specialists, arrange a free, totally no-obligation fitting for you and your horse, or indulge in the Deal of the Day. Put a deposit on a new saddle during the event, and you’ll receive a matching bridle – free! Looking for a bargain? Head to Voltaire Design’s sister stand, EquiTack, to check out their premium pre-loved saddles at rock-bottom prices.

Friday Afternoon at Burghley: Phenomenal Funnell Leads the Way

Pippa Funnell and MGH Grafton Street take their biggest leaderboard yet. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

“At Tattersalls my exact words were, ‘I’m not retiring until I get to the bottom of this little bugger!'” laughs Pippa Funnell, the former Grand Slam victor and our dressage leader with MGH Grafton Street. For those of you who keenly follow the sport – and, indeed, our reports from across the country – it should come as no surprise to see the Padraig McCarthy-sourced gelding at the top once again, nor to see him boasting such a considerable lead on his score of 22.8. But if you know MGH Grafton Street as a reliable first-phase performer you know, too, that he can be somewhat less consistent across the country. It’s that Tattersalls performance that Pippa holds onto: in a commanding lead after the first-phase, the gelding stopped at an innocuous drop as Pippa adjusted him for the following corner, dropping them well out of contention.

“He’s got loads of ability, but he can just get the last laugh – he’s a real comedian,” says Pippa, who rides the horse for long-time owners Jonathan and Jane Clarke. “But I’ve walked the course with my best friend, Tina Cook, so if I have any problems tomorrow I can blame them on her!”

Pippa Funnell and MGH Grafton Street. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

The first battle, though, was the first phase – and although the horse scores remarkably well each time he comes out, today’s test was the first time that Pippa thought he felt as good as the scores suggested.

“He’s an attractive horse to look at, but the judges actually tend to like him more than the feeling I get – which is a nice way around to have it,” concedes Pippa. “He’s short-coupled and can feel stiff in the back, and it’s a bit like riding round on a pogo stick.”

Pippa’s decisive, precise riding today came down to two things: firstly, a stern word with herself – “last night I was thinking, ‘it’s ridiculous to have Billy Walk On so far down the field when he’s usually right up there’; I told myself off!” – and secondly, an interesting warm-up tactic, taught to her by long-term coach and mentor Ruth McMullen. In the collecting ring, just moments before her test, she continued to school the horse as normal – but with one hand behind her back.

“It means I can’t start niggling with my hands, and it’s a reminder to turn with my legs, not my reins,” she explains. “For the last few minutes, I can just focus on myself, not him – it’s actually something I used at the Olympics with Billy the Biz, too. It really helped me, and it brought him up through his withers. It gives him something to focus on, and it puts me in a little zone, rather than focusing on everyone else. Yesterday, I got too hooked up on riding the movements from the test – with this horse, I know he can do the movements, but I needed to get the basics. If they’re there, everything else slots into place.”

Pippa will bring just the overnight leader forward to cross-country – Billy Walk On, placed fourteenth after dressage, will reroute to Blenheim, a manoeuvre designed to give the rangy youngster his best chance of a positive, competitive run after Pippa’s week away at the Europeans fractured her training plans.

Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class settle for second. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

2017 champions Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class couldn’t quite usurp the lead, though their 25.3 and second place should be well worth raising a glass of something naughty to, anyway. Or, well, it would be – but for the fact that Oliver hasn’t been able to actually walk tomorrow’s course properly yet.

“I’ve been suffering a little bit,” admits Oliver, who injured his back earlier in the week, and has barely been able to walk or ride since. As a result, he had to withdraw his second entry, the first-timer Ulises. “It’s been a little bit tricky. I’ve had a lot of physio in my career, obviously, but what Ash Wallace, the Team GBR physic, has done since Wednesday has been nothing short of a miracle.”

Despite his own physical limitations, he produced a test with all the consistency and sprinkling of sparkle we’ve come to expect from the Courage II gelding, who has never finished outside of the top five in his four five-star runs.

“Two years ago [when he won here on his debut], he was a novice, really – I remember I was still putting flying changes into him in the warm-up,” says Oliver. “He’s become a lot stronger, and a lot more established since then – but if I could go in again, I’d just get him revved up a bit more. He was very relaxed, and I actually had to kick him on a bit in the walk.”

Although ‘Thomas’ is a reliable low-20s performer – and briefly held the record for the lowest-ever dressage score at Badminton, quickly eclipsed by stablemate Cillnabradden Evo – Oliver doesn’t consider this the horse’s best phase.

“That’s not his strongest bit, I don’t think – but tomorrow’s another day, and the best bits are hopefully to come,” he says. “He’s proven himself here before, and hopefully he’ll do it again, but it’s just lovely to have a horse of this calibre at these sort of events. He’s still only twelve, and he’s not yet finished improving – we’ve not seen his best, yet.”

But how will Oliver make sure he’s at his best before giving the Burghley course another go?

“I don’t know what Izzy’s got planned for me tonight,” he laughs, shooting a sidelong glance at his girlfriend, who sits just behind him on the leaderboard. “She’ll probably spike my drink and give me a kick in the back!”

Springpower shows off his potential with Izzy Taylor. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

“He’s got a lot of movement, but he’s not entirely able to control it at the moment,” says Izzy Taylor, placed third overnight with the ‘cheeky’ Springpower, who was second in the Blenheim eight- and nine-year-old CCI4*-S last season. Though he’s always shown enormous promise in this phase, his previous marks have been somewhat scuppered by a proclivity for naughtiness – but today, in his second five-star start, he looked nothing if not professional, scoring 25.6 to slot in less than half a penalty behind the 2017 winners.

“He’s still green at the level – he went to Badminton [and did his test] on the Friday afternoon, which went to his head a bit, so we had a lot of work to do,” says Izzy. “The cameras are very close in there, so he got a bit tense, but it’s still so exciting – there’s so much more to come, and I’ve always been excited about him since day one. I just had to say to him, ‘it’s alright, we’re still together, I’m still here – let’s go and do this.’ The experience will be fantastic for him.”

Lauren Kieffer and Vermiculus battle the elements. Photo by Tim Wilkinson/Eventing Images.

Lauren Kieffer and the diminutive Anglo-Arab Vermiculus stormed into a late lead this afternoon, and by the end of the day, they remain in fourth place and best of the US riders on their score of 26.7 – yet another personal best, despite some grumblings of harsh marking across the board.

“I’m thrilled with him,” says Lauren, who began her test in heavy rain showers. “He hates the rain, and when it started coming down in [the collecting ring] he kept trying to turn his butt to it – I thought we’d just be trying to survive in there!”

Ultimately, though, the rain proved a surprise advantage to the gelding, who lives out all year round and goes into ‘survival mode’ against the elements as a result.

“In canter he can get a bit stuck and fresh, and he can throw in some changes – but the rain was letting up, and I think he was so thrilled that he was like, ‘I’ll behave, just give me the sun!'”

For Lauren, who finished twelfth here in 2017 with Veronica, Vermiculus isn’t just an exciting part of her competitive string – he’s a poignant link to the past, too. He’s a full brother to Snooze Alarm, the horse with whom she made the transition from childhood rider to five-star competition.

“He was my first-ever horse, and it was a bit of a fairytale – I got him as a kid, and did my first Kentucky on him,” she explains. “After he retired, I didn’t really have any other horses, so I thought I’d start with what I knew, and so I brought his full brother – Vermiculus. He was a two-year-old at the time, and he was so feral that I didn’t manage to catch him until he was four.”

Now, Vermiculus is part of a formidable group of US event horses owned by Jacqueline Mars, arguably the patron saint of upper-level eventing in the country.

“She’s a godsend, and our fairy godmother – she deserves this more than any of us,” says Lauren. “I promised that if I came, I’d give it a crack – so we’ll give it a crack or go home crying.”

Jonelle Price and Faerie Dianimo dazzle in the early movements. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

The Price family are a formidable force at any event, and even after the late withdrawal of top contender Classic Moet, Jonelle Price still finds herself comfortably within the top ten after dressage. Riding Burghley debutante and Luhmühlen winner Faerie Dianimo, she scored a 28.4 to sit in equal seventh place with Liz Halliday-Sharp and Deniro Z. She started her test with a bang, scoring a 10 for her first halt, and produced a nearly impeccable test for the first two-thirds, in which the flashy mare – a maternal half-sister to fellow entrant Xavier Faer – showed her remarkable trot work at its best. ‘Like Marilyn Monroe,’ reads the horse’s bio on the Prices’ website, ‘she’s at her best in front of a crowd’ – and that certainly shone through for the first half of today’s test. But while the medium trots were a highlight, some marks slipped away in the latter part of the canter work, in which she showed some tension and began to slip behind the vertical.

“It’s not quite the start I’d hoped for,” says Jonelle, who scored a 27.1 when winning the German five-star last year with the mare. “If I can get her right in those seven minute, she can be quite special. I thought, at the grand old age of fourteen, that she’d grown a bit more sedentary – but she surprised me by being a little hot in there, and then we had a bit of tension.”

Jonelle had tried a new tactic with the mare this week, riding and preparing her slightly less than usual for this phase – “but it caught up with me,” she says with a rueful smile. “She dances to the beat of her own drum, for sure – she’s certainly a hot little thing, and hopefully that serves us well tomorrow, but it would have been nice to have a few extra seconds up our sleeves!”

But a spot in the top ten at Burghley is enough to continue the fight for the win and, as Jonelle laughs, “we’re in front of the hubby, so that’s always a good start!”

Tim Price and Ringwood Sky Boy round out a star-studded top ten. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

The reigning Burghley champions might have hoped for something better, but a 28.7 isn’t too shabby a place to start for Tim Price and Ringwood Sky Boy, who sit in equal ninth place with yesterday’s leaders Eliza Stoddart and Priorspark Opposition Free – the only competitors in yesterday’s group to remain in the top ten.

“That’s the best he’s been at this level, but I was disappointed with the score,” says Tim. “He’s not flashy, but he’s a serious workman. I’d hoped and thought that this guy would be higher up the leaderboard; he stayed right with me, but he doesn’t have that ‘wow’ that some of the others do.”

Tim is the only rider in the field with three horses this week, and all three sit in the top twenty as we move ahead to cross-country: Bango, tenth here last year, sits just behind stablemate Oz in equal eleventh, while Xavier Faer, who was third at Kentucky this spring, sits twentieth.

Woodge Fulton and Captain Jack begin their last hurrah in a busy summer abroad. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

It’s been a long and productive summer for Woodge Fulton who, powered by the $45,000 Wilton Fair Grant, has spent a season training in Germany with Dirk Schrade. Her adventure began with a successful first trip to Badminton, and now she’s back at Burghley for her last hurrah before she heads home – and this, for her, is the event that matters the most, and the one at which she and her ex-racehorse Captain Jack have unfinished business. Though they came here in 2017 and jumped clear across the country – and, in fact, they’ve never done otherwise in their four five-star starts – they ultimately withdrew before the final phase.

Today, the heavens opened just in time for their dressage, though wise-beyond-her-years Woodge and the experienced sixteen-year-old gelding didn’t succumb to the conditions. Their score of 45.4 might leave them out of the hunt competitively in 65th place overnight but, she sagely points out, “you have to be prepared to be a little bit embarrassed if you want to improve.”

“He’s a bit of a new man, but I’m still riding the old one,” she says. “Dirk has been great in getting him better, but now it’s on me to ride this new horse I’m on.”

Woodge’s go-for-it ethos has been the driving force behind her year abroad, which has seen her compete not just her own horse, but a number of young horses owned by Dirk.

“I think it’s really important to get out of your comfort zone,” she explains. “We [US riders] can’t just compete against each other all the time and lose sight of the bigger picture.”

Riding with Dirk hasn’t just been a positive influence competitively – it’s also allowed her a comprehensive insight into training.

“I can’t remember a time I’ve been riding in the ring alone there, which has been so useful,” says the 23-year-old rider, who shares arena space at Dirk’s with dressage riders, showjumpers, eventers, and stable jockey, who produce the myriad sales horses at the property. All roads lead here – and, most pertinently, to tomorrow’s cross-country track, over which Woodge is hoping to produce the goods yet again.

“I had a text from Dirk this morning, saying ‘good luck – try not to mess it up!'” she grins. “I mean, thanks, coach!”

Cross-country commences tomorrow morning from 11.15 a.m. local time/6.15 a.m. Eastern time, with Tim Price and Bango leading the way. Stay tuned for a look at the course from the riders’ perspective, and in the meantime, revisit our course preview to prepare yourself for the exciting day ahead.

Until then? We’ll be off to light a candle under our poster of Pippa and Supreme Rock, which has been Sellotaped to the walls of EN HQ since the mid-90s. Fangirls? Guilty as charged.

Go Eventing!

The top ten at the conclusion of dressage at the 2019 Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials.

#LRBHT19: WebsiteRide TimesLive ScoringLive StreamForm GuideCourse PreviewEN’s CoverageEN’s TwitterEN’s Instagram

The 2019 Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials coverage is brought to you in partnership with the team at Voltaire Design United Kingdom. Going to Burghley? Head to Voltaire Design in the World of the Horse and meet the team of Sports Saddle Specialists, arrange a free, totally no-obligation fitting for you and your horse, or indulge in the Deal of the Day. Put a deposit on a new saddle during the event, and you’ll receive a matching bridle – free! Looking for a bargain? Head to Voltaire Design’s sister stand, EquiTack, to check out their premium pre-loved saddles at rock-bottom prices.