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European Championships Field Thins by Six at Final Horse Inspection

EN’s coverage of the 2021 FEI Longines European Eventing Championships is brought to you in part by Kentucky Performance Products. Click here to learn more about Kentucky Performance Products and its wide array of supplements available for your horse. 

Overnight leaders Nicolas Wilson and JL Dublin remain in the hunt and will showjump this afternoon. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

After a week of dazzling sunshine, this morning’s gloom and drizzle seemed a grim omen ahead of the final horse inspection, held in front of a packed grandstand and officiated over the ground jury of Andrew Bennie (NZL)Christian Landolt (SUI), and Christian Steiner (AUT). And certainly, it wasn’t all plain sailing for the 57 assembled horses and riders, who tackled a tough, twisting track yesterday that evidently took a toll on a handful of competitors.

Second-placed Ingrid Klimke and SAP Hale Bob OLD are accepted and will continue their fight for a third consecutive European title. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Both the team and individual podiums remain intact, with Great Britain fighting for both the team and individual gold after Nicola Wilson and JL Dublin took over the top spot with their faultless round yesterday, while Germany sits in silver medal position on both podiums too, as reigning champions Ingrid Klimke and SAP Hale Bob OLD aim for a hat trick of wins, which would make the seventeen-year-old gelding the first horse to win the championship on three occasions. And in bronze? That’s France on both counts, with Maxime Livio bolstering his nation’s hopes with the smart eleven-year-old Api du Libaire, edging the Swiss team into fourth place overnight.

Julia Schmitz and Lady Like are among the spun pairs in the final inspection. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Several teams find themselves out of contention entirely after losing multiple members of their team prior to showjumping. Belgium is down to just Karin Donckers and Leipheimer van’t Verahof and Kris Vervaecke and Guantanamo van Alsingen after both Lara de Liedekerke-Meier and Ducati d’Arville and Julia Schmitz and Lady Like were sent to the holding box. Lara opted not to represent, while Julia and Lady Like represented but were subsequently spun.

Janneke Boonzaaijer and ACSI Champ de Tailleur wait to re-present at this morning’s final horse inspection. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It was a similar story for the Dutch team, whose trailblazer Jordy Wilken withdrew Burry Spirit before the inspection. Janneke Boonzaaijer‘s Tokyo mount ACSI Champ de Tailleur was also spun, leaving just Merel Blom and The Quizmaster to compete for the Netherlands after Sanne de Jong‘s elimination for technically missing a fence yesterday.

Russia, too, is down a rider after Albert Khalikov and Argolis Tokyo were spun, and sole Finnish competitor Sanna Siltakorpi withdrew Bofey Click overnight after their impressive two-phase performance put them in the top twenty.

The entirety of the top ten remains intact following the final horse inspection, and will go ahead to this afternoon’s final showjumping session with just a pole separating the top seven. Here’s how they stack up at the moment:

The top ten after a dramatic cross-country phase at the FEI European Eventing Championships.

The first session of showjumping will begin at 11 a.m. local time/10.00 a.m. BST/5.00 a.m. Eastern time, followed by the top 25 from 14.00 local time/1.00 p.m. BST/8.00 a.m. Eastern time. As usual, you can watch all the action as it happens via ClipMyHorse.TV, and keep it locked on to EN for the full report from the exciting finale of the 2021 FEI European Championships. Until then: Go Eventing!

 

The 2021 FEI Longines European Championships: [Website] [Schedule and Scoring] [Entries] [Live Stream] [EN’s Coverage]

Triumph and Disaster: Nicola Wilson Regains European Championships Lead After Cross-Country

EN’s coverage of the 2021 FEI Longines European Eventing Championships is brought to you in part by Kentucky Performance Products. Click here to learn more about Kentucky Performance Products and its wide array of supplements available for your horse.

There was a palpable shift that occurred about a third of the way through cross-country day at the FEI European Championships in Avenches, Switzerland. Whereas competitors walking the course for the final time in the morning sported set jaws and grim, focused expressions as they plotted their routes through the twists and turns, the riders with late times who had ventured out on their bikes to watch particularly tricky questions ridden were sunnier, more relaxed, and even quite chatty — because Mike Etherington-Smith‘s track, which had walked as an incredibly intense championship challenge, was proving far more rideable than expected.

Just ten of our 67 competitors fell by the wayside — and just three actually fell — over the course of today’s competition. Perhaps more surprising is that seven riders managed to beat the 10:07 optimum time, which had looked well nigh impossible to catch when wheeled — but so tightly packed were our competitors after the last two days of dressage, which saw nearly 30 pairs score in the 20s, that even a smidgen of time proved costly. And the problems, when they happened, weren’t inconsequential either, with a number of heavy-hitters running into trouble on Avenches’ cleverly-designed track.

Though the first two competitors on course picked up jumping penalties on their way to completion, it was the third out of the box — Ireland’s Sam Watson — who set a positive tone for the day to come. Though his ten-year-old Ballybolger Talisman is inarguably a serious cross-country talent, he’s also enormously inexperienced, and only made his first-ever trip out of Ireland last week for a run at CHIO Aachen. He was pulled into the Irish Europeans effort at the very last minute, after two selected horses with other riders had to be withdrawn, but nonetheless, riders, support teams, and members of the media alike looked to this round as an early indicator of what to expect, largely due to Sam’s analytical, clever cross-country riding. And what a round they offered up: though they initially finished with 15 penalties for a provisionally knocked flag, that was quickly removed, and they added just 6.8 time penalties to move 21 places up the leaderboard.

After that, blazingly fast rounds came thick and fast: French team trailblazer and 1993 European Champion Jean Lou Bigot recorded the first of the day with Utrillo du Halage, moving him from 26th to 12th on his score of 29.5, swiftly followed by another from British trailblazer Piggy March and her championship debutant Brookfield Inocent, who stepped up from sixth to fourth on 23.3. The next clear inside the time was delivered mere moments later by another Brit — this time, individual Izzy Taylor on her Burnham Market CCI4*-L winner Monkeying Around — and the fourth of the day was put forth by second British team rider Nicola Wilson and JL Dublin, who were third after dressage on their very impressive score of 20.9. When third up Kitty King and Vendredi Biats added just 0.8 time penalties to move up one place to seventh, and second individual Sarah Bullimore did the same with Corouet to hold onto fifth place, it seemed as though nothing could possibly go wrong in the Team GB camp.

Ros Canter and Allstar B give a masterclass through the corner question at 9AB before their round took an unfortunate turn later on course. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

But this is real life, and this is horses, and sometimes, a Saturday full of action can take us all by surprise. As the third from last out of the start box, reigning World Champions and British team anchors Ros Canter and Allstar B had everything to play for: not just team gold, though that continued to look almost totally sewn up for the all-female team, but also their chance to fight for the individual title. They’d occupied the silver medal position after dressage, sitting on a tidy 20.6 — just 0.4 behind overnight leaders Ingrid Klimke and SAP Hale Bob OLD. But a very fresh Hale Bob had had a couple of moments on course in which he looked marginally less rideable than usual, and that had cost them: they’d added 1.2 time penalties, which meant that if Ros could get a clear round logged with no more than two extra seconds added, they’d take over the top spot.

It all looked on track to happen, too. Super-experienced ‘Albie’ attacked the course almost in its entirety, and Ros used every ounce of her expertise to pilot the big, rangy horse economically through the courses myriad twists and turns. But then, just a handful of fences from home, disaster struck: as they cantered into fence 28AB, the Fischer Water, Albie simply cantered straight past the triple brush A element, giving him his first international cross-country jumping penalties since Burghley 2016. Ros regrouped and regathered the gelding, navigated through the water complex, and then headed out onto the long loop back to the second part of this final water — and the same thing happened again at the single triple brush heading towards the stables at 29. They would go on to complete, with the security of the British team at the forefront of their minds, but just like that, the dream was over in one of the most dramatic moments we’ve witnessed at a championship.

“I think he probably just got weary, and a bit demoralised by all the twisting and turning, with the size of horse he is,” she says. “This was a twistier track than Strzegom and places like that, and he’s a Badminton and Burghley horse, and I think the knock-on effect meant that his eyes were just running on the floor a bit and not up. He was amazing until then, but he did start to feel weary out of the second water.”

Potentially compounding this, she explains, was the fact that the pair had travelled out to Tokyo as team reserves but hadn’t run, which meant that their usual fitness routine was disrupted.

Nicola Wilson and ten-year-old JL Dublin regain their lead after a faultless clear inside the time. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Heartbreaking though Albie’s penalties were, all hope wasn’t lost in the British camp: those earlier fast clears mean that the team remains in gold medal position, while those 1.2 time penalties picked up by Ingrid allowed day one dressage leaders Nicola Wilson and her ten-year-old JL Dublin to regain their place atop the leaderboard, where they sit 0.5 penalties — or one second on tomorrow’s clock — ahead of the German supremo on their two-phase score of 20.9. Prior to her smooth, classy clear inside the time, though, Nicola admits she felt the pressure.

“It walked very difficult and intense all the way to the end of the course, I thought,” she says. “This is JL Dublin’s first championship; I’ve had him since a four-year-old, and we’ve thought an awful lot of him, but until you put that extra pressure of riding for a team on him, you don’t quite know how they’re going to cope with it.”

Despite Nicola’s  trepidation about the course — which she says had a lovely flow, despite being fast and furious — her Holsteiner gelding stepped up to the plate as he has done through this extraordinary season, which has seen him win the CCI4*-L at Bicton and the CCI4*-S at Hartpury.

“He was magical,” she beams. “Yesterday I gave him a little jump, and he was calm and cool, and then this morning when I got him out to prepare him for cross-country, the squeals were back. He knew it was his day, and I just thought, ‘good boy, Dublin.'”

Nicola was able to remain up on the clock by finding economical lines, hugging the ropes wherever possible and riding crisp, clear lines to the fences — even with a planned long route between fences 6 and 7, a meaty hedge on a turn to a wide spread fence that could be jumped as a corner, which most of the riders opted to play it safe at.

“I think I walked [the course] five or six times, just to make sure I knew where every single turn was. There was lots of little ups and downs and then fences on a turn, so I had to make sure I knew where to do my little preparation points, where to balance him and where I could really just keep motoring. I couldn’t be prouder of him; he was just super from start to finish and he gave me a fantastic ride. It was just such a buzz, and I’m so relieved it’s behind us now and it’s gone so well!”

Ingrid Klimke and SAP Hale Bob OLD slip into silver after adding 1.2 time penalties after a couple of ‘nearly’ moments. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Ingrid Klimke‘s quest for her third consecutive European Championships victory, which would make SAP Hale Bob OLD the first horse ever to win three in a row, might have been slightly complicated by her 1.2 time penalties today, but she remained full of praise and admiration for the exceptional seventeen-year-old after her round, which saw the very fit gelding attack the course with grit and gumption — perhaps a fraction too much, sometimes.

“He was very bold and fast, especially in the beginning,” says Ingrid, “and at the seven minute point I was really very good under the time. Then, in the end, I found it quite twisty and turning, and I lost the last few seconds at the end, I think. I wanted to push a bit too much in the second water so he added an extra stride, to tell me  ‘no, wait, we can’t go faster than this!’ I just love him, because he’s so clever and so smart, and I really thought I could enjoy it. I didn’t have to sweat or work hard, because he was doing his job as perfect Bobby.”

France’s Maxime Livio steps up into bronze medal position after piloting the inexperienced Api du Libaire to 1.2 time penalties. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Ingrid’s finishing time was matched by that of Maxime Livio and his eleven-year-old Selle Français Api du Libaire, who tackled the course with a bit of the ‘allez allez’ typical of French riders and their horses. After a shock fall two-thirds of the way around the course for second team rider Gwendolen Fer and her Pau winner Romantic Love, who sat 14th after dressage on 26.5, a high-octane clear was needed to keep France in the hunt for a medal — and Maxime managed that, contributing to the team’s overnight bronze medal position.

“I’m very happy; he’s not so experienced, and the course is not really the one he’d like because it’s turning a lot,” he says. “But in the first eight minutes he was really with me and trying his best to continue quite fast. In the water when I came back I felt the jumps were not so energetic as in the beginning, so I thought, I have to secure everything a bit from that moment to the end, especially for the team — so it was quite tense for me!”

Maxime was one of the only riders throughout the day to opt for the shorter direct route between fences six and seven, which was considered a particularly risky spot for a runout early on course — but with team and individual medals on the line, and a Gallic proclivity for riding positive distances, it wasn’t hard for the rider to make the bold choice there, particularly as his horse was so attentive from the start.

“He really fought with me, and he was playing my game right until the end,” he says. “From the beginning, with my horse’s big stride, I said to [chef d’equipe Thierry Touzaint] that it was quite clear to me, because for me, forward strides are quite normal. I said to him, if he wanted me to be as close as possible to the time, I have to go straight everywhere. I tried to use what is the natural quality of my horse, and to answer the questions fast enough and smooth enough for him.”

Piggy March and Brookfield Inocent look full of running at the tail end of the course. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

British team pathfinder Piggy March remains on her dressage score of 23.3 and steps up from sixth to fourth overnight after romping home an impressive ten seconds inside the time with championship debutant Brookfield Inocent, despite taking the British tactic of opting for the long route at 6 to 7.

“He’s made for tracks like this,” says Piggy, who finished second with the gelding on his five-star debut around another famously twisty course at Pau last year. “To be honest, he’s made for most courses! He’s a very, very good cross-country horse, and my only worry was fence six — but having heard that someone had made the time going the long route, I knew that there wouldn’t be many people sat on as fast a horse as mine is, and I knew that on his day, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be able to get away with a long route and still do the time. If that fence was number twenty, I wouldn’t even have thought about the option, but he can be spooky at the beginning of courses, and I was just very worried about how that fence was very free, and having that big jump angling the hedge…[if he were to] jinx at the line of trees, it would be a very genuine mistake, but he’s still at that stage. As brilliant as he is, he’s a character, and so the more I walked it, the more I thought that my plan was to go long there.”

Though the gelding looked fit and well over the final fences on course, Piggy explains that the track was mentally and physically tiring for him: “He got tired enough for a horse that’s as much of a cruiser as he is. I felt like I nudged him, but that would be natural for a course where you turn back this much. The moment he got on a straight, he got into a rhythm and you did nothing, but it’s hard with all the twists and turns. It’s a very intense, one-day event course in a three-day event format.”

But, she continues, “”We had a lovely time. It makes it very easy when you’re sat on a horse that’s as wonderful as he is.”

Sarah Bullimore’s pint-sized Corouet pings his way around the tough track to sit fifth going into showjumping. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

British individual Sarah Bullimore retains her fifth place position after crossing the finish line just two seconds over the optimum time with pocket-sized homebred Corouet, whose dam, Lilly Corinne, was Sarah’s partner for her previous European Championships appearance in 2015.

“He was awesome — he was just amazing,” says a delighted Sarah, who produced one of the smoothest rounds of the day aboard the big-striding 15.2hh gelding. “He made it feel like a Pony Club track; there were all those huge, wide fences, and everyone kept remarking on them while we were walking — and I was like, ‘yes, they’re actually wider than the length of my poor little horse!’ But he flew over them. Most horses cross-country, you hear them tap-tap and slightly feel their way around, but he must have been a foot above everything. He’s just amazing.”

Corouet, who Sarah describes as having something of a Napoleon complex, burst out of the startbox full of attitude, and Sarah’s 0.8 time penalties likely came from some early negotiations: “He was a little bit fresh to set off and a little bit like, ‘get off, get off,’ and I think that’s where my couple of seconds came from, but he was fabulous the whole way around,” she explains.

Like her fellow Brits, she opted for the long route at six and seven, though as an individual competitor, the decision was wholly her own.

“I didn’t like that question so early on — I just didn’t think it was that clear. Knowing him, he’d have been absolutely fine the straight way, but I just knew he would possibly shy and give himself a huge bit of hedge to jump. It’s quite a big drop on it, and I quite like my pony, so I thought I’d let him save some energy and make it a little bit clearer.”

Whatever ground they may have lost there, they made up in spades later on, choosing a sharp inside line to the rolltop at 24 and opting for swift direct routes with a ferocity that belies Sarah’s pre-round feelings about the challenge to come and the opportunity to prove, for the umpteenth time, that she’s one of Britain’s most consistent and competitive riders.

“I have to admit to feeling fairly terrified this morning of going and making a cock-up somewhere. Having spent ten years trying to get here, I didn’t want to spend another ten years just fighting to be a reserve again — I don’t think I could go that long!”

Michael Jung’s fischerWild Wave continues to show a marked maturity in his first championship. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Nine-year-old fischerWild Wave‘s five-star debut at Luhmühlen this year has proven to be a pivotal part of his education under Michael Jung: after three exciting but obviously green phases there, he’s come out on superb form thus far in this, his championship debut, and his clear inside the time sees him in sixth place overnight on 23.9.

“He’s a young horse but an amazing horse, and he has a lot of talent in all three disciplines,” says Michael, who has previously won the European Champion title three times on three different horses, and finds himself less than a rail off the gold medal position going into tomorrow’s competition. “Today in the cross-country he showed how light and easy he’s galloping. He has super endurance, he has lots of scope, and he just needs, for the bigger, tougher courses, a bit more experience. They have to learn to be clever and they have to think, but he’s an amazing horse, and I’m so happy about him.”

Though Michi is hugely experienced and has piloted a plethora of different mounts at the top level, Wild Wave has taken some careful production to ensure that he stays focused, not least because of his impressive size, which could make for a difficult ride if he wasn’t quite so on the ball.

“When you go to the start or you go to the first fence he can look at the fence judges sometimes, or he can drift a bit — and he’s a big horse, not, for example, like Sam or Rocana who are more like ponies. He’s 17hh, I think, but he’s light and he’s not heavy on the jumps; he’s very good,” he says.

Kitty King and Vendredi Biats motor to 0.8 time penalties and overnight seventh. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“It’s been quite stressful in the build-up, because we were reserves for Tokyo, and you panic that you’re never going to quite make it here, and then you panic that you’re going to mess up for the team,” says an emotional Kitty King after her round with Vendredi Biats, which saw them add 0.8 time penalties to move into seventh — the same placing they finished on at the 2019 Europeans, where they rode as individuals and were the highest-placed British combination. Today, they looked even more polished than they had in that impressive performance, despite a near miss at the Flowerbox arrowheads at 10AB, where they got in too deep to the first element and then had to add a stride to the second — a manoeuvre that, once upon a time, might have tempted the spicy French gelding to nip out to the side.

“He was absolutely fabulous and spot-on everywhere, and he got me out of trouble when I made a mistake at the double of arrowheads — he was superb,” she says. “I think after such a long gallop, he just got a little bit further out from me and a little strung out, and I could have done with doing something a bit earlier. But that’s cross-country, and it’s never perfect the whole way around. We have to help each other out, and he definitely did there.”

After waiting for their moment for so long, Kitty is, more than anything, just delighted to be back on the main stage with the gelding.

“It’s just a relief to have gotten to a championship with him after building up for so long. The last time I did a three-day with him was at Luhmühlen in the Europeans in 2019, so it’s been a long time coming, and I’m just so chuffed with how he went.”

Christoph Wahler and Carjatan S take calculated risks to step into eighth provisionally. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

German individual Christoph Wahler and his Luhmühlen runner-up Carjatan S made it clear from the moment they left the start box that they were there to take educated risks and make their move up the leaderboard, and they did just that: they were the first of the day — and among the only ones — to take the tricky direct route from six to seven, which they did with a style and panache that continued throughout their round. Ultimately, they’d add 0.8 time to their dressage score of 26, moving them from twelfth to ninth place as we head into the finale phase — and after they delivered the classiest showjumping round of the day at Luhmühlen back in June, their competitors will be feeling the pressure from this hugely exciting pair.

Their round today is even more impressive after Christoph’s observation after his dressage test that the course wasn’t well-suited to his gelding.

“It was absolutely incredible the way my horse did it today, because this course doesn’t suit him perfectly,” he says. “He’s a big, rangy horse with a long stride, and for him it was hard work getting all the turns and the combinations and stuff, but he was so honest and always kept his jump. He was always looking for the next jump and I tried to support him as much as I could, because if I didn’t do a mistake then he for sure wouldn’t do one.”

Felix Vogg is best of the home side after cross-country, finishing inside the time with Cartania and helping the Swiss team to fourth place overnight. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The host nation finds itself in a competitive fourth place overnight after excellent rounds by Robin Godel and Grandeur de Lully CH (now 12th after adding 1.2 time penalties) and Patrick Rüegg and Fifty Fifty, who jumped a sensible clear trailblazing round for 14  time penalties and 36th place. But the start of the Swiss effort was ninth-placed Felix Vogg, son of Avenches organiser Danielle, who delivered one of the seven clears inside the time with his impressive mare Cartania, to the vocal delight of the enthusiastic audience.

“There’s no other word than amazing — for the horse and the crowd,” he says. “We had a good start, and the whole route, you could feel that she’s inexperienced but she wanted to do her job. I think these days, you need horses like this, and she just pulled from the first fence to the last fence in the same way, and you cannot describe the feeling of how the crowd was. It’s just special, and a lot of people from our home show came to build, and a lot of people who ride with me are helping here, so it’s a family competition.”

Izzy Taylor’s Monkeying Around once again proves how much he’s matured, jumping an excellent clear inside the time. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“I’m delighted and relieved with him,” says Izzy Taylor of her ten-year-old Hanoverian Monkeying Around, who jumped yet another clear inside the time to round out the top ten. He’s undeniably one of the sport’s great young talents — a point he proved when winning the Six Year Old World Championship at Le Lion d’Angers in 2017 — but although he’s picked up some seriously impressive recent results, including a win in Burnham Market’s CCI4*-L last autumn, he’s also got a history of being a bit complicated and, well, rather a monkey. But you’d never have known that by watching today as he navigated the track gamely, asking his rider for extra help when he needed it but never for a moment looking as though he wanted to seek an easier way out.

“He’s still green, and like all these younger horses, the last eighteen months have been a little bit nonexistent for him,” she says. “They definitely haven’t seen people, and I think to start with, he wanted to have a look at all the people — but he was fantastic, and really genuine, and he tried his little heart out all the way around. Yes, he was green, but he was a good boy.”

Our remaining 57 horses and riders will head into showjumping from 11.00 a.m. local time/10.00 a.m. BST/5.00 a.m. Eastern time — but first, they need to contend with the final horse inspection, which takes place at 9.00 a.m. local time. After a week of blazing sunshine, tomorrow’s set to be stormy, and this evening has already been punctuated by dramatic lightning, which could add an extra challenge to the final phase. With just one rail separating the top seven, it’s going to a perfect storm no matter what the sky does — so stick around for the full story from the action-packed finale of the 2021 FEI European Championships. Go Eventing!

The top ten after a dramatic cross-country phase at the FEI European Eventing Championships.

The team standings after cross-country.

The 2021 FEI Longines European Championships: [Website] [Schedule and Scoring] [Entries] [Live Stream] [EN’s Coverage]

The Challenge to Come: Riders React + Course Preview of the Euros Track

EN’s coverage of the 2021 FEI Longines European Eventing Championships is brought to you in part by Kentucky Performance Products. Click here to learn more about Kentucky Performance Products and its wide array of supplements available for your horse.  

Nothing on course is small, as demonstrated by photographer Libby Law.

Today’s the day, folks — after two jam-packed days of smoking hot dressage, which sees a whopping 28 of our 67 competitors in the sub-30 zone, we’re finally onto cross-country. And what a day it’s going to be: course designer Mike Etherington-Smith has whipped up a serious championship track in just a matter of weeks, after designing the 2019 Europeans track in Luhmühlen with great success. Our competitors, who represent 17 nations and field 13 teams among them, will tackle 32 questions across 5768 meters, aiming for an optimum time of 10:07 that’ll likely prove incredibly tricky to get.

That’s because the Avenches track, which winds its way through the racecourse, is incredibly twisty, which means that from the moment riders leave the startbox, they’ll need to take every possible opportunity to get up on the clock and try to jump out of a rhythm. If they want to beat the clock — and they’ll need to do their best, if they want to stay in a competitive position — they’ll have to go direct at all the tough combinations, some of which have been described as five-star questions. Of course, not every competitor here is fighting for gold, and for less experienced horses and riders, or those who’ve run into trouble out on course, Mike has provided a number of slow alternative routes to ensure that an educational, positive experience is within the grasp of every horse and rider.

The first fence demands respect — and that sets the tone for the course to come.

They’ll have to be on the ball right from the get-go, mind you. The first fence is a straightforward table with a slanted face, but it’s big and wide, and fence two, a colossal hedge with rails on the take-off side, is enormous both in height and width. By number four, competitors will reach the first combination on course, and it’s a serious one: they’ll tackle a coffin complex with a a clipped upright rail, a wide ditch, and an angled hedge as the C element.

The hedge at 6, with 7 visible to the left. 

Fence 7 can be tackle on the left as a spread, or the right as a corner.

Fences 6 to 7 will also provide an interesting challenge and an early indication of whether a rider is aiming for the time. The two fences — another wide hedge to a brush topped oxer, which can also read as a corner, can be tackled one of two ways: they can angle the hedge at six and go direct to the oxer option at seven, or they can jump the hedge straight on and ride a 90-degree turn around a line of trees to tackle seven as a corner. This early on, horses will be feeling fit and fresh, so this will be an influential question and riders will need to ensure their horses are focused and rideable at this stage.

The ‘Crazy Corner’ with its defined line at 9B. Photo by Lola Enée. 

There’s no real let-up point on this course, because even when riders are tackling single fences, they’re ordinarily doing so while navigating a turn or a mound, so focus will be keep from start to finish. Some of those questions demand accuracy, such as 9AB, which features a log to an open corner, with an angled step defining the take-off point — not a dissimilar ask to Badminton’s famous Vicarage Vee, though not quite as intense.

The narrow Flower Boxes, which come off a mound at 10AB, could also prove a breeding ground for drive-bys, as could the double of angled hedges at 12 and 13, which are so reminiscent of the influential angled hedges at Bicton CCI4*-L earlier this year. Woe betide the person who struggles with left-handed corners, because they’re prevalent on course — and at 16AB, Christine’s Corners, there’s two of them in a row to get through.

At 18AB, they’ll need to tackle a skinny triple brush before striding on to a huge hanging log into the water, though this is one of many spots on course where an easier option is available if needed. The next water question, which appears at 22, features an angled house on dry land before a splash through, followed by another double of angled houses. The final couple of minutes of the course are arguably the most intense, even over the single fences, and the Iena Leap at 25 will require bold riding to navigate the ditch and wall rider frightener.

The corner over a ditch at 26 is among the most impressive fences on course.

There’s no room to breathe after that, because 26 is the most formidable looking single fence on course: this huge, solid tabled corner is situated over a ditch, and will require both accuracy and pace (and nerves of steel, we reckon). There’s a two-fence alternative for anyone who feels this is too much of an ask on a tiring horse.

The water at 28AB opens the door for a runout late on course.

At 28AB there’s another water — this time, it’s a triple brush at A and an angled boat in the water at B, and as they loop back around to tackle another question in the same pond at 30, they’ll meet a single skinny brush heading towards home at 29, which we’re expected to produce a number of frustrating 20s as the day goes on. Finally, after jumping two huge brush-topped angled fences at 31AB, there’s one more meaty table to jump on the way home.

Here’s what some of the riders have to say:

Overnight leader Ingrid Klimke: “I think it’s a little bit like a jump-off sometimes, where you have to turn and turn. At Wiesbaden, it’s the same — it’s like seven minutes in a jump-off, and you can’t breathe very much. It’s a good thing that [SAP Hale Bob OLD] is very handy; he has a very handy canter for good turns. I hunted him when he was young, so I don’t think he’ll stumble over the different ground. I found a few places I can gallop and say, ‘it’s your turn now!’ I’m really looking forward to it.”

Belgium’s Karin Donckers: “I think it’s a proper course — a real championships course. There’s a lot to jump from the beginning to the end, and you cannot lose focus for one second. It’s big, and it’s technical, and it’s not going to be a dressage competition!”

Great Britain’s Kitty King: “It’s a very kind of different track to what you get in the UK. There are lots of twists and turns, and I think that’s going to slow us down a lot — the average cruising speed is going to be a lot slower than round the more galloping track because you’re always on a turn a little bit here. You’re definitely gonna have to keep up on your A game and just really focus; there’s plenty of questions on the course, plenty of places where you can have a silly mistake, and then also it’s just making sure you end up on the right side of the string in some places as well. So you’re going to have to stay really on the ball and really focused from fence one to the last once and I think it’s going to be quite kind of intense for the horses the whole way round. you don’t have much space where you can just gallop along and not have to be motorbiking around so yeah, it’s gonna be intense. They’ve done a great job designing and tracking the you know the facilities in the space they’ve got.”

The Netherlands’ Merel Blom: “I think it’s a big track. I think [The Quizmaster] is of course capable of it, as he did so well in Tokyo, but for me I find it a bit more difficult track than Tokyo. I’m not sure why — everyone asks me why and I’m not sure, but it feels a bit more uncomfortable for me. there’s not a specific thing I don’t like — I like really like the course; I think it’s challenging, and I think it’s a real championship course, but I do think it’s a big challenge. Once there comes a rhythm, things will happen and then things will get into a flow — but it’s always easier if you’re one of the last ones to go, as you can watch a few before.”

Germany’s Christoph Wahler: “It’s very twisty, and it’s up to height, with very, very nice fences — like the way they’re designed, it looks good. We’re going to see how it’s going to ride; I think it won’t ride very soft and easy, regarding all the turns and all the changes of directions. It will be a little bit like driving a go-kart, in that you turn all the time and then you have to accelerate from the turns and then you have to brake before the next turn. It wouldn’t ideally suit a very big horse like mine!”

Ireland’s Cathal Daniels: “I think the cross country is very well presented and there’s black flag alternatives, but I think it’ll be mentally tiring on the horses. You have a lot of turning and twisting at the start, then you go out the back and the ground does change a little bit, but then when you come home, Ithere’s a lot of jumping to do. So if you have a horse that’s getting tired three-quarters of the way around, they have to really dig deep, so horses with a big heart and big engine are going to come out on top. For sure, it’ll take a bit of riding, and it’ll take a good horse to keep answering a lot of questions. Some of the courses you ride, ehen you get three quarters of the way around, they ease off and you get them home nicely and travel home, whereas here it’s nicely presented at the start and it’s gallopy enough, and then on the way home, they need to be a clever horse but a good jumper.”

Want to take a closer look at the course to come? Check out this super preview from our friends at the CrossCountry App, with photos and videos by Lola Eneé and commentary by course designer Mike Etherington-Smith.

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The 2021 FEI Longines European Championships: [Website] [Schedule and Scoring] [Entries] [Live Stream] [EN’s Coverage]

Reigning Champ Ingrid Klimke Steals Euros Lead on Day Two

EN’s coverage of the 2021 FEI Longines European Eventing Championships is brought to you in part by Kentucky Performance Products. Click here to learn more about Kentucky Performance Products and its wide array of supplements available for your horse.

Ingrid Klimke and the exceptional SAP Hale Bob OLD make their return to the main stage a decisive one, taking the first-phase lead as they chase their third consecutive Europeans title. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

If you were a person partial to making grand statements ahead of a day of dressage, you probably wouldn’t have been putting much on the line by suggesting that Germany’s Ingrid Klimke and SAP Hale Bob OLD, the two-time reigning European Champions, might just go into the lead in today’s second day of dressage in Avenches. And although yesterday’s leaders, Great Britain’s Nicola Wilson and JL Dublin, set a lofty bar for them to clear with their 20.9, they did do just that, nailing an extraordinary 20.2 to the board — but theirs is far from the only incredible feat we witnessed today. Throughout the 33 tests performed, we’ve seen huge personal bests, comebacks galore, and some quite remarkable riding, with plenty of surprises and lots of tears of joy along the way. (The riders’, not ours. Maybe.)

But first, let’s talk about Ingrid. She’s had a pretty tumultuous year, as things go: first, her top-level dressage horse, who was longlisted for Tokyo, was injured, and then Asha P, one of her Tokyo hopefuls for the eventing, was ruled out, too. Not long after, Ingrid herself suffered a laundry list of injuries after a crashing fall from up-and-comer Cascamara, and she’s been sidelined for much of the summer. It hasn’t all been bad, mind you: she was able to support and watch on as her daughter, Greta Busacker, became Young Rider European Champion, which surely must have helped relight her fire as she set her sights on her comeback campaign and, if all goes to plan, a third consecutive win in the Senior European Championships.

The champs are back: Ingrid leaves the arena to a roar of appreciation from the packed grandstand. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

And boy oh boy, a 20.2 isn’t too shabby a start, is it? But even though seventeen-year-old ‘Bobby’ is one of the most experienced and accomplished horses in the sport, a foot-perfect test wasn’t guaranteed: the pair had to enter the arena in the wake of a tumult of applause and cheers for Maxime Livio, who had posted a 21.3 just moments before.

“He thought maybe we are on cross-country already,” she laughs, “and so I knew I had to take an extra loop to calm him down [before entering at A]. But the moment I entered the ring, I knew exactly that he knows his job inside out, so I can really enjoy it, and I could ride very precisely from point to point. After so many years now, it’s really a pleasure to ride through a test when you know he’s absolutely focused and with me.”

Their appealing test earned them 9s across the board for harmony — and some much-coveted 10s for their final centre line — and that comes down entirely to their long, fruitful, communicative partnership.

“It’s so much trust,” she says fondly. “I didn’t ride him that long because I know that he knows all the movements, so I thought it’s better to keep him a bit fresh because the ground is so deep — but I didn’t realise he was that fresh!”

Ingrid and German chef d’equipe Hans Meltzer, who will step down this year, share a celebration after her leading test. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Bobby was kept in work throughout Ingrid’s convalescence by her head girl, Carmen Thiemann, who she credits with keeping him feeling at his very best and younger than his years.

“Carmen rode him for ten weeks alone, and she did all the training and kept him healthy and happy,” she says. “I think that while he wasn’t competing that much, he [felt] even younger! She knows him inside and out, and I think that’s why he was so full of himself and happy, because he didn’t have to do so much this year!”

Ingrid was delighted, though, to take back the ride on her top horse, who she campaigned at Arville alongside Equistros Siena Just Do It to get herself back into competitive fitness.

“That was the first show where I felt healthy and strong enough to make it,” she says. “I rode the two horses to make sure I could make it, and week by week, it’s getting better — and as soon as I’m on a horse, I feel nothing. When I was in Arville, I said ‘[riding Bobby] is like coming home.’ We know each other so inside out and when I came out and trotted he was really like, ‘everyone’s looking!’ You can really switch him on and off; as soon as he’s in the barn or grazing, he’s very relaxed and easy, and as soon as you get on, he’s excited. I love it, really.”

It’s an enviable start to the week, and Ingrid remains calm, unfazed, and evidently brimming with joy ahead of the two phases to come — despite the huge pressure of defending her title and the chance to become just the third rider in history to win three consecutive European Championships.

“I know I have a wonderful horse, and I wish to do it for him, but I have to help him and support him to prove that he is the best horse in the world,” she says.

Reigning World Champions Ros Canter and Allstar B post a 20.6 to take second place overnight. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Yesterday’s leaders were nudged further down to bronze medal position ahead of cross-country by teammates Ros Canter and Allstar B, who earned a 20.6 to move into silver. But Ros’s ride on her reigning World Champion was rather the opposite of Ingrid’s: in the heat of the afternoon sun, ‘Albie’ was almost too calm in the collecting ring, and Ros enlisted the help of the British team supporters to loudly cheer as they entered the arena in a bid to perk him up.

“He pricked his ears for about half a second, and then he was like…” she shrugs demonstratively, then smiles and continues. “Honestly, he’s just the most rideable horse I’ve ever had in a dressage test. He doesn’t change, regardless of the atmosphere or anything else, and he just lets me ride for every mark. That’s where his heart shines, and it always has done: time and time again, he does mistake-free tests.”

As anchors for the British team, who lead by nearly five marks over the Germans, there was enormous pressure to perform — particularly as each of their previous teammates had posted sub-25 scores. But the pressure was uniquely intensified by the fact that the fan-favourite horse hasn’t run in a competition of this significance since his WEG win in 2018 — and as the travelling reserve for the Olympic team, his summer was largely spent training and travelling. So although he’s been out and about picking up impressive placings at CCI4*-S competitions, and scored a win in Ballindenisk’s CCI4*-L in 2019, this is the first time he’s really had a chance to get back out in front of his fans as the incumbent World Champion.

“It’s a lot of pressure coming out on him again, but equally, I want to enjoy every moment, because I know I haven’t got many left with him,” says Ros of the 16-year-old Dutch Warmblood, who she owns in conjunction with Caroline Moore. “But he does always make me work for it — I’m sweating more than he is! He quite enjoys the first halt, and I think he’d like to stay there for the rest of the test. But we know each other inside out, and he’s so solid that I know I can go in there and really attack it.”

Maxime Livio and Api du Libaire float their way to a 21.3 and overnight fourth. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Sitting less than half a penalty behind Nicola, who holds bronze overnight, is France’s Maxime Livio, who returns to Avenches after winning June’s CCI4*-S with the eleven-year-old Api du Libaire. That’s no small advantage when it comes to tomorrow’s uniquely twisting, challenging course — but first, he needed to put a serious score on the board to put himself in contention against this strong field, which saw 28 riders go sub-30 over the two days of dressage. And he certainly accomplished that: his 21.3 is his best-ever international test across a storied career.

“I just had to do my job with my horse,” he says with a particularly Gallic nonchalance. “We knew since the beginning that his talent in all three phases is really, really nice, and he can try to fight for the best scores and with the best horses in the world.”

Unlike the two super-experienced campaigners ahead of him, Api du Libaire is inexperienced and makes his championship debut this week, in what is just his 19th career FEI start.

“It’s his first Championship, so it’s good to be where we want today, and it’s good to do it for the team, but it is a three-day event,” he says. “He can be here and there at any time, but when he is not with me he’s not spooky, he’s just looking around — like a kid, but not a bad kid, just someone who’s pleased to be here and would like to see everything. So my job is to try to show him a lot; I rode him a lot during the week, not to work but to look. Like, you can look, but when we work, we work. I’m pleased, because he was totally connected to me, and when he’s like this he’s a super student, because he tries all the time to be square in the halt and to walk like I want.”

Maxime has ridden the gelding for just two years, taking over from fellow Frenchman Baptiste Salaun and using the fallow period of the pandemic to build a partnership with the established horse.

“An owner of mine had me buy quite an old horse, to have one more horse for the championships — but it’s quite a big bet when you buy an older horse, because you don’t know how the combination will match. It was quite fast for him in the beginning, because he had done only three-star, and in six months with me he did four-star short, four-star long, and then the next season he won Lignieres [CCI4*-L] — and now he’s at the Europeans!”

Sarah Bullimore and homebred Corouet make a big splash on day two of dressage. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“He’s a big attitude in a small package,” laughs British individual Sarah Bullimore of diminutive Corouet, her homebred pocket rocket with whom she sits fifth overnight on a 22.8. He might need stilts if he wants to reach 16hh, but he’s proven time and time again that he can play with the big boys — and live up to the huge expectations set by his dam, Lilly Corinne, who Sarah rode at the 2015 European Championships.

“It’s fabulous to have ridden his mother at my last Europeans and then have him here — it’s really special,” says Sarah, who was slightly disappointed not to have produced a test to match the sub-20 she delivered with this horse at Burgham’s CCI4*-S in July.

“He was fabulous — he went in and got a little bit tight and excited, but he actually kept it all together,” she says. “I’m just a little bit frustrated because there were still bits that can be so much better; both changes are normally his highlight and they weren’t quite right.”

That those ‘not quite right’ changes still scored 7.5s and 8s is a testament to how exceptional Corouet’s work is: Sarah can even ride two-tempis on him in training, such is his balance and collection.

“Even when [the changes] are bad, they’re good with him — I’m lucky with that, because he’s so fabulous. We didn’t quite get them right today, so I’m slightly berating myself, but you know, he’s still a work in progress and there’s so much more to come from him.”

That ‘more to come’ includes the next two days of competition — and Mike Etherington-Smith’s go-kart style track, with its myriad twists and turns, should well suit the compact, adjustable little gelding.

“Hopefully it won’t feel quite so twisty for me — just like a few little curves,” she laughs. “It should feel easier for him than some of these bigger guys, but he does have a huge stride, so there’s that. But he’s so well-balanced, so hopefully he’ll cope with it really well.”

Michael Jung’s fischerWild Wave posts a four-star personal best to step into the big leagues. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Though we’ve all come to expect hugely competitive performances from three-time European Champion, Olympic gold medallist and former World Champion Michael Jung, it’s fair to say that we rather underestimated nine-year-old fischerWild Wave, whose previous four-star scores have trended much higher in the 20s and even into the 30s. But something special has clicked for the gelding since we saw him post a 30.1 in his CCI5* debut at Luhmühlen in June, and today he added a bit of sparkle to his very correct, polished test to put a 23.9 on the board and move into seventh place, less than a penalty behind sixth-placed Piggy March and Brookfield Inocent, who did their test yesterday.

“He’s an amazing horse, and a young horse, but it’s very nice when you feel he’s getting better and better and better in the last competitions and last weeks,” says Michael, who made waves — forgive us — on the horse’s FEI debut back in 2018 when they scored a 17.3 in a CCI2*-S at Pratoni in Italy. Since then, Michael — and on several occasions, Italy’s Pietro Grandis, who rides for him — has delivered some exciting results, including a 22.7 at CCI3*, but has never dipped below 27 at four-star before today. For Michael, these are all building blocks along the way to building the Holsteiner into his next champion.

“He’s a very smart horse. He has a lot of power, and you don’t expect that when you see him, but he has a lot of Thoroughbred, a lot of power, a lot of temperament inside. He’s a big galloping horse, with a lot of energy and endurance, and a lot of scope for the jumping. I think he’s a really top horse for the five-star classes,” he says — and with an eleventh place finish at the level under his belt already, it’s easy to see why he might be a bit excited. But riding a young up-and-comer at a championship is a different story to piloting some of his previous mounts, such as the inimitable Sam, who had such a wealth of experience. But regardless of which horse he finds himself sitting on, Michael’s end goal always remains the same: to do the very best he can and ensure every piece of the puzzle falls into place for his horses in the face of enormous expectations.

“For sure, the pressure is always there,” he says. “I don’t have the pressure from the loudspeaker — I have the pressure from myself, and from my team, because everybody is working hard for our success every day. I really love what I do, but it’s not just that we do it for fun. So we want to win, we want to be good, we want to make everything 100% perfect for our horses, with super management in the stable — it’s not just the riding. For sure, when we sit on the horses, we want to do our best, but that’s not always working.”

Kitty King and Vendredi Biats look cool and collected in the heat of the afternoon. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Olympic non-travelling reserves Kitty King and her Selle Français Vendredi Biats were best-placed of the Brits when they competed as individuals at the 2019 European Championships, finishing seventh, and they start their weekend here just one step below that in overnight eighth on a 24.1 — and such is the strength of the British team here this year that at this stage, that’s actually their drop score. But that certainly doesn’t mean that their test disappointed in any way: a 24.1 is a 24.1, after all, and ‘Froggy’ looked mature and rideable, with none of the cheekiness that he’s occasionally exhibited between the boards in prior seasons. In fact, Kitty tells us, he was perhaps too laid back today.

“He slightly dried up behind my leg,” she explains. “He did a really nice first centre line and halt, and then around the top corner he just went a bit behind me, which then was slightly the theme for the whole test. I was thinking, ‘come on, keep taking me forward!’ But he tried really hard, and it was pretty mistake free — and he got his changes, which can be a bit spicy at times, because he can be a bit cold-backed in them. I could’ve squeezed a few more marks out of him but overall, I’m chuffed that he went in and didn’t make any mistakes, and we didn’t let the team down.”

Froggy’s day was certainly one of two halves: though he was slightly behind the leg in his test, he began his day with a rodeo impression on the lunge that filled Kitty with trepidation for what was to come in the ring.

“He was broncing and rearing — I only wanted to give him five minutes, but he ended up doing about twenty-five, because he was just cantering around and around and wouldn’t settle,” she says. “So he was quite full of it this morning, and he’s come out much better — which was a bit of a relief! I was watching him on the lunge thinking, ‘this is not the time to have a cold-backed day!’ But he was much better when I got on the second time — thank god!”

As the third rider in the British team rotation, Kitty went into the ring knowing that both Nicola and Piggy had already laid down super scores, securing a significant lead that she needed to bolster.

“You want to do as good a job as them and not let anyone down — you don’t want to be the one being dragged along and being held with your head above the water by your teammates,” she says with a laugh. “You want to be there for them and get as good a score as you can — so I’m really chuffed, and it’s great to be part of such a great band of girls. A bit of girl power!”

Austria on the up: Harald Ambros steps into the top ten with Lexikon 2, helping his team to fourth place provisionally after a series of excellent tests. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The story of the day — besides the leads held by Ingrid individually and the Brits on the team leaderboard — has to be that of the Austrians, who sit fourth in the team standings after a series of truly exceptional tests. Dr. Harald Ambros and Lexikon 2 moved into equal eighth place on 24.1 at the end of the day, adding their super score to those of Robert Mandl (13th on 26.3 after his test with Sacré-Coeur yesterday) and Lea Seigl (24th on 28.7 today with Van Helsing), plus the current drop score of 35.6 by Katrin Khoddam-Hazrati and the inexperienced Oklahoma 2 to move their country within touching distance of the podium. For this ‘developing’ eventing nation, it’s an extraordinary performance so far — and for three-time Olympian Harald, whose horse has only ever gone sub-30 once at four-star, it’s been a long time coming,

“He was working really good in dressage, but you don’t always come out with 100% of the horse’s ability,” he says. “Especially in a stadium like this — the applause before, the speaker, everything can make them a little more nervous, but not today. He was really, really cool and 100% with me and so we could make the whole test like I wanted to have it.”

Harald has had the twelve-year-old German Sport Horse since he was a three-year-old — and although he’s broken in a lot of young horses in his time, he says that Lexikon was by far the most complicated. Even now, he tells us, he’s not a straightforward ride.

“He’s very focused on me, and if another person is sitting on him, he gets really nervous and always wants to go forward after that — and that can make a difficult way,” he says. “I’ve never broken in a horse for so long before — it took half a year. First it was possible to go to the right, then you’d go to the left and he’d canter away like a mustang, against the wall and everything, because it was the other side. So he needed a lot of time in the small classes. If you have a sensitive horse like this, he knows everything I do — but he makes everything I do great tomorrow, hopefully, too.”

The top ten is rounded out by Dutch National Champion Merel Blom and her Tokyo mount The Quizmaster, who reroutes after a frustrating elimination for missing a fence at the Games but, as Merel sagely points out, has no idea that he had anything other than a great round. They head into cross-country on a 24.4 — just ten seconds off the lead.

If that sounds like quite a lot, think again. We’ll be bringing you a closer look at the cross-country challenge to come, beginning at 11.00 a.m. local time/10.00 a.m. BST/5.00 a.m. Eastern, but for now, let us say this: Mike Etherington-Smith has built what riders are roundly calling a ‘true championship track’, with tough twists and turns, direct routes that wouldn’t look out of place on a five-star track, and above all, plenty of places to lose valuable time on the clock. Expect plenty to change, and some surprise heroes to appear — and tune into EN for all the updates you could possibly want throughout the day!

Until next time: Go Eventing!

The top ten at the culmination of dressage at the 2021 FEI European Eventing Championships.

The team standings after two days of dressage.

The 2021 FEI Longines European Championships: [Website] [Schedule and Scoring] [Entries] [Live Stream] [EN’s Coverage]

Mixed Zone Moments: Stories and Soundbites from Day One at the Euros

EN’s coverage of the 2021 FEI Longines European Eventing Championships is brought to you in part by Kentucky Performance Products. Click here to learn more about Kentucky Performance Products and its wide array of supplements available for your horse.

Everywhere you turn at a championship, there’s another super story of perseverance and positivity against the odds — and we’ve heard plenty of great ones already. Catch up with some of the riders who came forward for their tests on day one, logging personal bests, big debuts, and positive starts galore.

The Netherlands’ Jordy Wilken and Burry Spirit, with Jordy’s girlfriend Inge. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Jordy Wilken

Championship debutant Jordy Wilken of the Netherlands wasn’t just the first up to bat for his own team — he was also the first rider in the ring today, and acts as everyone’s pathfinder this week. But the pressure doesn’t seem to affect the jovial 27-year-old, who is also a major social media star. Instead, he tells us with a broad grin, he loves it. And that showed: he piloted his longtime partner, the lanky grey Burry Spirit, to a 33.4 — his best-ever CCI4*-L mark that proved that time and patience pays off. They sit 23rd as we go into the second day of dressage.

“I’m really happy — my horse was amazing,” he says. “I had two little mistakes [in the changes], but they were all on me this time. I think it was his best test of this year; it couldn’t be better, and I couldn’t be happier.”

Jordy and Burry have come up through the levels together, jumping clear around a number of tough four-star tracks and making their CCI5* debut this year after becoming Reserve Dutch National Champions in 2019. Though they have an undeniably strong partnership that’s at its best across the country, 15-year-old Burry isn’t a natural dressage horse; he’s big, long, and doesn’t find the work particularly easy. But Jordy has persevered with the aim of producing clean, correct tests and making sure his horse feels great — a long-term goal that paid dividends as Jordy tackles his first-ever Senior championship.

“He was really tense [at Luhmühlen CCI5*, where he scored 40.3], and so we looked at him really good with my vet and made everything better,” he says. “And I’ve been doing dressage with Joyce Heutink and that works really well — it’s a super match. Now he’s less tense in his body, and he’s more relaxed, so I can ride him a little more. I think that’s the big difference. He’s a fighter, so when I go out on cross-country, he always fights as hard as he can for me. And sometimes in dressage, he wants to fight a little too much, too! He’s a little like me — we want to do good and sometimes, that makes us make mistakes. So yeah, I think we found balance there. And it looks like it works!”

It’s been a great start to the week for Jordy and Burry — and for the Dutch team, who sit fifth after the first two rider rotations.

“The thing is, you go out there and do your best,” he muses about his debut. “And of course, there is the team — but you need to do your own test, I think, and I’m quite okay with that. So I can handle the pressure; it’s not a big issue for me.

Sam Watson’s Ballybolger Talisman gets an enviable education in his autumn season. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Sam Watson

Ireland’s Sam Watson is a late addition to the team, filling in the considerable gap left by the withdrawals of Steve Smith and Fred Scala a week ago. His ride is Ballybolger Talisman, who left Ireland for the first time just over a week ago to compete at CHIO Aachen, where the pair acted as trailblazers. Now, the ten-year-old Irish Sport Horse is stepping up to the big leagues, making his team debut as pathfinder in what is only his eleventh FEI start. They started their campaign this week with a tidy test for 33.5 and provisional 24th place.

“I’m happy with that now to be honest, because he’s a COVID baby and his first time leaving Ireland was last week,” says Sam. “He was initially the reserve for here, because he’s so young and inexperienced, and so we said Aachen was plan A. I knew, going to Aachen, that there was a spot available to come here, and so I thought, ‘if we keep some petrol in the tank at Aachen and just let him get the experience there, it should bring him along for here.’ And I think it’s worked. He tried last week, and he tried again this week — he’s electric, and he’s so blood, so he so wants to explode but he didn’t. I’m really proud of them when they do that; they kind of hold it together on the big stage. I can’t wait to go cross-country on him, because that’s really his forte.”

Although Talisman isn’t a homebred, he’s adopted the Ballybolger prefix of Sam’s business because he so thoroughly represents the stamp of horse that Sam aims to produce for the upper levels.

“I bought him from Rosemary Ponsonby when he was four, and I said, ‘would you mind if we put the Ballybolger prefix on?’ We have a lot from Rosemary as well, and he’s obviously another Puissance offspring. I’ve had lots of them, so he’s really my cup of tea.”

Sam’s previous Puissance mounts include Horseware Lukeswell, Horseware Bushman, Horseware Ardagh Highlight, and Imperial Sky. If that doesn’t make you prick your ears and tune in for Talisman’s cross-country round on Saturday, we’re not sure what will.

Anna Siemer and FRH Butts Avondale. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Anna Siemer

Germany’s Anna Siemer makes her team debut at the European Championships after competing as an individual at the 2019 edition with her blood mare, FRH Butts Avondale. Like Jordy and Sam, she’s in the pathfinder role this week, and she hasn’t stopped pinching herself about it all since she arrived.

“It’s just unbelievable — to be in a team with your superheroes next to you, and they are in the team with you, that’s quite cool!” she says, gesturing towards teammates Ingrid Klimke, Michael Jung, and Andreas Dibowski. “I always think that I am in a team, my horse and I are a small team, a small gang, but to be in the ‘big team’ is very cool. They all watched my dressage!”

Not only does Anna get to enjoy her well-deserved place alongside three legends of the sport, she also gets the unique honour of being on the last championship team helmed by chef d’equipe Hans Meltzer, who will step down at the end of this season. For Anna, it’s rather like coming full circle.

“Hans retires this year, and — I have to think about how old I am now — for more than twenty years, I was already in a team with him. He was our pony [squad] trainer, so this is really cool. We went to Hartpury in England [in 1997 for the Pony Europeans] and I was an individual, and then the next year I was in the team. I couldn’t have imagined, twenty years later — still together with the same husband, and still together with the same trainer!”

Anna and Avondale began their week with a 31.5, putting them in overnight 17th place after a late second change — annoyingly, ordinarily their better of the two.

“Dressage is to qualify for cross-country,” Anna shrugs with a smile. “In the end, this is not her test — the other test is more technical and you can show more. But anyway — we’re qualified, and I’m in the team, you know!”

Sofia Sjoborg is swept up by the Swedish team after her test. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Sofia Sjoborg

British-based Swede Sofia has had a bit of a jetsetting year — though totally unintentionally. She travelled from her base at the yard of dressage superstar Laura Tomlinson to Portugal’s Barroca d’Alva at the beginning of the year with Ireland’s Cathal Daniels, but as they made their way south, they were met with news of the event’s cancellation. At that point, the European EHV crisis was at its peak, and Laura’s yard went into lockdown to protect her horses — and so Sofia temporarily relocated to Ireland, basing herself at Cathal’s yard until it was safe to move back to England. The weeks turned into months, but now, she’s safely ensconced back at her base, and making the best possible use of the different training perspectives she’s had through the year. That resulted in a solid test for a personal best of 30.3, enough to put her and Bryjamolga van het Marienshof Z into twelfth place at the end of the first day of dressage in Sofia’s first Senior Championship.

“She was the best she’s ever felt,” she says. “It’s been about getting her relaxed enough in a test to really listen, and she felt like she went in and tried really hard.”

The trot work in the first third of the test saw the pair trend in the mid-20s, though they added some penalties in the canter work later on.

“I’m really kicking myself — I just got her into the white boards a bit as we went into the canter, but I couldn’t have asked for more from her,” she says. The ten-year-old mare’s breeding — she’s a Zangersheide by Bamako de Muse Z and out of a Lord Z mare — might make her more obviously suited for showjumping on paper, but Sofia has worked hard to make this phase easier for her. In her quest for dressage success, she’s sought help from eventing power couple Tim and Jonelle Price.

“She finds the dressage quite difficult, but it’s just been about getting her to go in and put herself together for a short period of time and know it’s not going to be too long,” she explains. “Tim’s really helped me, and in the last two or three weeks, something’s really clicked on the flat. He got me to shorten my reins, and he’s helped me to not be afraid to ask more of her. Before, I’d be like, ‘oh, but she finds it so difficult,’ and he’s like, ‘stop babying her — come on!'”

The proof is in the pudding, and the mare looked on the ball throughout the fiddly test: “after the first halt, when I started into the shoulder-in, normally she’ll run off with me after we’ve come off the centreline. So I sat up and waited for her to go, but I didn’t feel it — so that was great, and then I was so focused on doing our thing.”

Cathal Daniels and LEB Lias Jewel. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Cathal Daniels

The last time we saw Ireland’s Cathal Daniels at a Europeans, he took home the individual bronze with his tiny chestnut mare Rioghan Rua. That was at Luhmühlen in 2019, and this time around, he’s giving Red the week off and focusing his attention on another feisty mare — this time, the eleven-year-old LEB Lias Jewel, who finished ninth in her five-star debut at Luhmühlen earlier this year. This week, she looks even stronger physically, and produced a 31.1 test to sit sixteenth at the end of the day.

“I think she did a very good job,” he says. “The mare herself is very inexperienced; she’s got very nice form, but away from home she’s only done Blenheim CCI4*-L [in 2019] and Luhmühlen. So it’s all quite new, for sure, and I think there’s five or six more marks that can be shaved off in the future. She’s an incredible jumper and a cross-country machine, and very fast — so to get a nice score in this is good. Of course I’d have liked a better score, but there’s still a lot to do this weekend.”

The mare was on track to produce a personal best sub-30 mark, but some tension crept into the walk and she tossed her head and jogged for a step or two in response to the flies. But, says Cathal, she used to be a dramatic head shaker, so this is an enormous improvement on her earlier work in the school. Now, Cathal considers her his next generation team superstar.

“A championship like this suits her a lot more — she comes here and works here for a week, and then goes in and is more settled. She’s a little bit hot and stressed, and very fiery, which suits her on Saturday. I seem to be attracted [to the feisty ones] — they seem to come my way!”

When the mare, who’s owned by her breeder Jo Breheny, joined Cathal’s string, she wasn’t a particularly brave cross-country horse — but the trick to helping her embrace the job has been finding her strengths and letting them take centre stage.

“Each time we moved her up, I was a bit cautious — but we’ve never looked back. She’s small and she’s careful, and speed is her best friend, so she’s learned from early on that every time we go out — whether it’s a one-day or a three-day or a small show or whatever, we always go fast, just to keep the revs up and keep the momentum. Some horses can jump around cross-country for a nice hack, and others will find that very difficult, so I think for her, speed is her friend.”

 

The 2021 FEI Longines European Championships: [Website] [Schedule and Scoring] [Entries] [Live Stream] [EN’s Coverage]

Day One at the European Championships: Nicola Wilson Leads British Tour de Force

EN’s coverage of the 2021 FEI Longines European Eventing Championships is brought to you in part by Kentucky Performance Products. Click here to learn more about Kentucky Performance Products and its wide array of supplements available for your horse.

Nicola Wilson understood the assignment. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

2021 really is shaping up to be Great Britain’s golden year: after taking the top honours at Tokyo, they duly won the SAP Nations Cup competition at CHIO Aachen last week and now, they come into the FEI European Championships in Avenches, Switzerland, as the firm favourites with their strong all-female squad.

And what a start they’ve got off to as we wrap up the first day of dressage: after 34 of 67 competitors, Britain doesn’t just find itself in the lead — though it certainly does do that, with an enviable margin of nearly twelve points — its riders are also first, second, and eighth on the leaderboard.

Though Piggy March and her championship debutant Brookfield Inocent dominated the standings for much of the day on their impressive 23.3, which they delivered as British pathfinders, the end-of-day lead would ultimately go to fellow countrywoman Nicola Wilson, who piloted the ten-year-old Holsteiner JL Dublin to a 20.9. The exceptional score isn’t just an international personal best for JL Dublin — it’s the best test of Nicola’s career, too.

Nicola Wilson is swept up by her Team GB cohorts after producing the best test of her career. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“What a fabulous horse he is,” she beams, visibly emotional after extricating herself from a sea of hugs and back-slaps. Hopes have certainly been high for ‘Dubs’ (Diarado x Zarinna, by Cantano), who won his sophomore CCI4*-L over the achingly tough Bicton course back in June and followed it up with a win in Hartpury’s CCI4*-S last month. That summer of dreams made his spot on the squad look nearly guaranteed, but in life and in horses, nothing is ever set in stone — not even an excellent performance from an undeniable talent. But the gelding, whose ‘JL’ prefix is a nod to owners Jo and James Lambert and Deirdre Johnston, produced a test brimming with sparkle and bolstered by a maturity beyond his years to affirm his selection for his first-ever championship.

Nicola Wilson and JL Dublin navigate the fiddly first third of the test with a cadence that was unrivalled through the day. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“He’s really come of age this year, and he’s just getting better and better weekly, it feels,” says Nicola. “He was such a professional in there; I didn’t do a great deal [in the warm-up] because I thought he was on the money. I just worked as much as I needed to and he went in there — and he loved it. He loves to show off; he’s confident now in himself, which perhaps he wasn’t before, and I think he thought, ‘oh, these people have all come to see me! I’m going to show my best.’ And he did: he was so clever, really level-headed, and he stayed with me throughout. He was amazing — and I just needed to remember where I was going!”

Nicola Wilson and JL Dublin balance power and lightness throughout their test. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Ten is young by anyone’s reckoning for a horse at championship level, and although JL Dublin is evidently mature beyond his years, he’s very low-mileage at this stage in his career, due in part to difficulty of competing through the pandemic, as well as to a rider injury that sidelined Nicola and, as such, her string.

“He’s still young for this level; I had a neck injury, so he missed half a year a few years ago, and then of course there was COVID — but even though he’s not been on the competition field [as much], he’s still trained and got stronger and more established in his mind, and I couldn’t be more proud of him.”

In fact, the extra time spent at home may well have contributed to the natural progression of the big, strong gelding, who makes his nineteenth FEI start this week.

“It was very definitely a positive time,” says Nicola. “It’s allowed him to get a little bit stronger and more able to cope with the demands of dressage, and to carry himself. To go in there, and to have such a level-headed brain, and to stay focused from the beginning of the week — we’re only on phase one, and there’s an awful lot more to go, but he’s been superb up to now.”

Piggy March and Brookfield Inocent reroute from Tokyo to Avenches, slotting into second place at the end of the first day of dressage. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Though Badminton victor Piggy March couldn’t quite hang onto the lead, she remains in an enviable second place at the end of the day with twelve-year-old Brookfield Inocent.

“I was really pleased — just over the moon, to be honest,” says Piggy, who had initially been named to the Tokyo team as travelling reserve with Bthhe gelding, whose owners decided against putting through the stress of travelling to the other side of the world without any likelihood of running. What was no doubt an emotional hurdle for the rider, who has previously missed out on Olympic trips due to horse injury, is proving to be a boon for the Brits as they tackle this week’s championship, and Brookfield Inocent, who finished second in his CCI5* debut at Pau last year, certainly lived up to his reputation for dressage prowess when he duly delivered a 23.3 in the ring today.

“I think that’s probably one of the best tests he’s ever done,” says Piggy, who has delivered scores as low as 21.8 at four-star with the Irish-bred gelding (Inocent x Shalies Pet, by Kings Servant). “[It was] just the consistency to his work and his mind all the way through. You could give him another ten goes, and I don’t think he could do any better. He gave it his all; he gave me his all, and that’s all we can ask for.”

Piggy, who’s ranked fourth in the FEI world rankings, is one of the sport’s most consistently successful competitors — who among us can forget her 2019 season, in which she broke the record for the most international wins in a year, after all — but this championship presents a unique new challenge as she takes on the pathfinder role for the first time.

“I’ve never done that before, but hopefully [my test] gives confidence or a good vibe for everyone else,” she says. “When [Performance Manager] Dickie [Waygood] asked me [to be pathfinder], he said, ‘are you alright with that?’ And I said, ‘surely I’m old enough now to have to just get on with something like that and deal with it!'”

Great Britain enjoys a late draw of eleventh out of thirteen teams, which provides something of a benefit on Saturday: “Thankfully, we’re not number one to go, so there is still a footprint on the ground — but something like that, you just deal with. At the end of the day, it’s another day of sport; it’s what we do all the time. You’ve just got to get on with it and go — but hopefully I’ll be able to be of use to the others, which is the whole point.”

There’s a long way to go until Saturday, of course, and in amongst all the celebrations of a job well done today, there’s also a palpable sense of relief at having nailed the assignment.

“A swear word didn’t enter my mind once in the test, which is usually a good sign that there wasn’t a blunder somewhere,” laughs Piggy.

Andreas Dibowski celebrates a competitive test with FRH Corrida. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Though it’s all to easy to assume that Britain’s got the gold medal sewn up once again, they certainly have strong competition — not least from the reigning champions, the formidable German team. One of their number, the enormously experienced Andreas Dibowski, made a super start to his eighth European Championships, putting a 25.6 on the board with the 12-year-old Hanoverian mare FRH Corrida (Contendro x Expo, by Espri)

“I hope it’s always like this, but it doesn’t always work out that way,” says ‘Dibo’ with a laugh. “But I had a good feeling all the days, all the weeks before. I was very, very hopeful that I come over 70%, and at the end, it’s not my job [to mark the test]. I’ve tried to make the best, and it works today, and I’m really happy that the judges saw the same that I felt.”

Andreas Dibowski and FRH Corrida are best of the defending champion team on the first day. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

For Dibo, this week’s competition has been a long time coming: he and Corrida were Germany’s travelling reserves for Tokyo, which meant that the mare had to be fit and ready to run, and then sit and wait through the Games in case she was needed as a substitute for any phase. Ultimately, she wasn’t — and now, Dibo says, she’s raring to go and tackle the challenge she’s been set up for for so many long months.

“After Tokyo, she was so fit and so motivated for the next competitions, and also in training,” he says. “I had always a good feeling, and so I expected a good result.”

That motivation gave Dibo the freedom to ask for a little bit more push, resulting in an extravagant, balanced extended trot — his highlight of the mistake-free test.

“I had a good transition, and then I” — he clicks for emphasis — “picked her up a little bit and said, ‘okay, now we try to make the best of what is possible.’ She gave me the feeling that I can risk enough, and that worked.”

Dibo, who will leave the start box as the second rider of the German team, comes to Avenches hoping to improve upon Germany’s slightly disappointing fourth-place finish in Tokyo — but with his decades of experience at the top of the sport, which includes four World Equestrian Games and three Olympic runs, he’s also pragmatic about how easily fates and fortunes can change in a team competition.

“We are a strong team, and we are looking forward, and sure, our gold [is to win gold] — and at the end of the day, we have to try our best,” he says. “We will see on Sunday afternoon if it works or not. But we saw in Tokyo how quick problems can happen, and especially with problems that you don’t expect — and then you’re between the gold and nothing. So that’s our thought, and that’s what makes it so interesting for us.”

One of those unexpected problems that skewed the team result in Tokyo was the activation of the new yellow MIMclips. Designed for use on corner fences, they’re more easily activated than the red MIMs that have been widely used over the last few years, and Dibo worries that this, in conjunction with the lack of appeals available for riders who feel that they weren’t saved from a fall by an activated clip, will eventually lead to unsafe, backwards cross-country riding.

“You have to collect them more before an [obstacle] like that, and I think it’s not the right way for cross-country riding, because we know that the horse has to jump effectively. It’s a part of cross-country that you sometimes touch the fences — but then, the consequence [of the clip activation] is that the riders think they have to prepare the horses more [for the fence] and that makes it more dangerous. We all have to learn to ride carefully, it’s true. But it’s the wrong way when we are afraid to touch the fences.”

Christoph Wahler and Carjatan S are back on form, holding fourth overnight. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Germany also holds onto fourth place overnight, though Christoph Wahler and Carjatan S, who finished second at Luhmühlen CCI5* earlier this summer, compete as individuals rather than as part of the team effort — an omission that pushes Germany into third in the rankings. They earned a respectable 26 today with their relaxed, flowing test, which comes as something of a return to form in this phase after Luhmühlen: though they’re very capable of topping the leaderboard in any company, and Christoph’s education in this phase is bolstered by the part he plays in his family’s dressage stud and production business, they posted an uncharacteristic 32.1 there when the horse bubbled over and broke in the extended trot, which came early in the test. That was partly a consequence of a new fitness regime, which proved valuable and effective in the jumping phases, and since then, Carjatan has learned to settle into his work even while at his physical peak.

The test that’s being used for this championship is also almost totally opposed to the Luhmühlen test, which asked for power and pace early on and tempted fit horses to the brink. Today’s test, on the other hand, begins with a reasonably fiddly trot section: horses have to tackle shoulder-ins on the long sides, 10 meter demi-voltes back to the track, half-passes, and a halt and rein back in the midst of all of this, before heading into a reasonably lengthy walk section, the canter work, and finally, the extended trot. For horses prone to exuberance, this could be a boon, giving them plenty to focus on before asking for pure power.

“Today was just better; this test doesn’t usually suit him, because he likes tests where he can do a lot of extended work, so for this test we kept him particularly calm and slow with everything,” he explains. “Whereas, once you can go to medium and then extended right at the beginning, you can go in and risk it a little bit during all this. He was soft in the turns and the bends, and did good lateral work, and usually, when I go in there I can feel how the whole test is going to be once I do the shoulder-in and the first half-pass, because then I know whether he’s truly relaxed or not. And he did, and he walked super. I messed up the first change; that was not for him to blame, and afterwards, some parts were pretty good and some parts were good.”

Austria’s Robert Mandl and Sacré-Coeur provide the dark horse result of the day to round out the top five. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Rounding out the top five overnight is something of a surprise entity: Austria’s Robert Mandl and his 12-year-old Oldenburg Sacré-Coeur only contested their first-ever FEI event back in 2016, but despite their relative inexperience, they’ve gone from strength to strength on a remarkable career trajectory. Robert, who rode pure dressage to Grand Prix before picking up jumping and, eventually, eventing, competed with Sacré-Coeur in the 2019 ‘Rural Riders’ CCI3*-S European Cup, a competition designed to give amateur riders and emerging competitors a chance to experience a championship, and now they find themselves representing Austria as part of the team at the European Championship — and they rose to the occasion in fine style, scoring a huge personal best of 26.3 to take fifth place at this early stage with a ‘clear round’ test.

“I’m very, very happy that the dressage is a good start to the event,” he says. “I know the horse can do a very low score, but in the last three or four four-stars, every time I have a mistake in the [test], so that was very good for me.”

Sacré-Coeur isn’t just a competitive partner for Robert, who has only ever evented one other horse and has climbed the levels in tandem with his Euros partner — he’s also a part of the family.

“At home, my daughter can ride him,” says Robert fondly. “He’s a very careful horse, and sometimes a bit spooky, and I hope the cross-country is not a problem for me!”

Tomorrow sees the final 33 competitors come forward to perform their tests, and there are plenty of highlights on the line-up, including World Champions Ros Canter and Allstar BMichael Jung and fischerWild WaveKitty King and Vendredi Biats, who were the highest-placed Brits at the 2019 European Championships, Swiss superstar Felix Vogg and Cartania, Ireland’s Padraig McCarthy and Leonidas II, and, of course, the return of reigning two-time European Champions Ingrid Klimke and SAP Hale Bob OLD. But before we dive into tomorrow’s action, we’ve got plenty more to come from day one at the Europeans — so stay tuned, grab yourself some fondue, and let’s Go Eventing!

The top ten after the first day of dressage at the FEI European Eventing Championships.

The team standings after the first day of competition.

The 2021 FEI Longines European Championships: [Website] [Schedule and Scoring] [Entries] [Live Stream] [EN’s Coverage]

Scenes from the Euros: The Wednesday Gallery

EN’s coverage of the 2021 FEI Longines European Eventing Championships is brought to you in part by Kentucky Performance Products. Click here to learn more about Kentucky Performance Products and its wide array of supplements available for your horse.

France’s Maxime Livio and Api du Libaire. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

We’ve been at Avenches, the site of the 2021 FEI European Eventing Championships, for a scant few hours, and already, we’re irrevocably in love with sunny Switzerland and its picture postcard vistas. And it seems like we’re not the only ones: while course-walking earlier, there was nothing but smiling faces and happy chatter as far as the eye could see as everyone embraces this ongoing slide back into normality that the summer has brought. Today’s mostly been about soaking up the sights and touching base with the 67 competitors before the start of the competition proper tomorrow — so dive into life at Avenches through the EN lens with some of our favourite snaps from day one and the first horse inspection.

The 2021 FEI Longines European Championships: [Website] [Schedule and Scoring] [Entries] [Live Stream] [EN’s Coverage]

The 2021 FEI Longines European Championships: [Website] [Schedule and Scoring] [Entries] [Live Stream] [EN’s Coverage]

Two Held in First Horse Inspection at European Championships

EN’s coverage of the 2021 FEI Longines European Eventing Championships is brought to you in part by Kentucky Performance Products. Click here to learn more about Kentucky Performance Products and its wide array of supplements available for your horse.

Kitty King and Vendredi Biats, highest placed of the Brits in 2019, return for their second Europeans as a partnership. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

We’re not sure which all-powerful entity the eventing community has pleased this year, but in this latter half of the season, we feel like we’re being spoiled absolutely rotten: not only did we get the postponed Tokyo Olympics to sink our teeth into, but we’ve also been gifted with a wildly exciting one-off CCI5* at Bicton, a brand-new CCI5* to come at Maryland next month, the return of the glittering and glamorous CHIO Aachen and now, on top of it all, the FEI European Eventing Championships, taking place this week at the almost ludicrously pretty Avenches in Switzerland.

Before we dive into the action, which commenced today with the first horse inspection, let’s cast our minds back over how this Euros came to be. This was always meant to be a Europeans year: the Championships take place every other year, filling in the gaps between WEGs and Olympics. The last we saw was the 2019 Europeans at Luhmühlen, Germany, and after that wrapped up, we were looking ahead to a late-summer 2021 edition at France’s Haras du Pin. But when the pandemic forced the postponement of the Olympics this year, all three disciplines’ European Championships were initially cancelled, much to the chagrin of riders and supporters of the sport, who made the very valid point that not every nation gets to go to the Olympics, and these ‘regional’ Championships provide vital developmental opportunities for up-and-coming riders, horses, and nations. This argument was enough to see both the showjumping and dressage Europeans reinstated quite swiftly, but the FEI took an initial hard line on eventing — until Michael Jung stepped up to say his piece. He proposed that Avenches, which has formerly held FEI events up to CCI4*-S, would be the perfect venue with an organising team that was eager and prepared to fill the gap, and his social media campaign received such widespread support from his compatriots in the sport that the FEI agreed to reopen the bidding process to assign a Championships venue for this year. Bids were put forward by Avenches, Montelibretti in Italy, and Boekelo in the Netherlands, and ultimately, Switzerland’s national equestrian centre was awarded its first-ever European Championships. And so here we are, soaking up the sun and the dramatic, mountain-fringed countryside, with 67 horse-and-rider combinations and a whole lot of hopes and dreams ready and waiting to be realised.

Jean Lou Bigot and Utrillo du Halage. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

All 68 of those horses, which represent 17 nations, were accepted in this afternoon’s first horse inspection by the ground jury of Andrew Bennie (NZL)Christian Landolt (SUI), and Christian Steiner (AUS). Just two horses were sent to the holding box: Robert Mandl and Sacré-Coeur of Austria and 1993 European Champion Jean Lou Bigot and Utrillo du Halage of France each re-presented and were subsequently accepted to begin the competition, which kicks off in earnest with the first day of dressage from 10.00 a.m. local time/9.00 a.m. BST/4.00 a.m. Eastern time tomorrow.

Robert Mandl and Sacré-Coeur. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

We’ll be back after the Opening Ceremony with a full gallery of images from today’s proceedings — until then, Go Eventing! (Or Go Walking Around in Circles Clutching a Flag! We’re not picky!)

The 2021 FEI Longines European Championships: [Website] [Schedule and Scoring] [Entries] [Live Stream] [EN’s Coverage]

 

Last-Minute European Championships Call-Up for Ireland’s Sam Watson

EN’s coverage of the 2021 FEI Longines European Eventing Championships is brought to you in part by Kentucky Performance Products. Click here to learn more about Kentucky Performance Products and its wide array of supplements available for your horse.

Sam Watson and Ballybolger Talisman at Aachen. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

There’s been a last-minute change to the Irish squad ahead of this week’s FEI Longines European Eventing Championships, set to get underway this afternoon in Avenches, Switzerland. Sam Watson, who was part of the 2019 team at Luhmühlen, will now bring forward his Aachen competitor, the relatively inexperienced Ballybolger Talisman, to fill the gap left by two withdrawals from the squad.

The first of those withdrawals came on September 14, when Steve Smith announced that his mount, Galwaybay Echo, wasn’t 100% in the lead-up to the event.

“Sadly Galwaybay Echo has had a minor setback in his final preparations for the European Championships. After much discussion, we feel the best course of action is to not travel to compete,” his team said in a statement on social media. “All of us, especially Steven, are incredibly disappointed. However the welfare of “Thomas” is our priority and at 13 years old he has many more big days ahead.”

The second withdrawal came from championship debutants Fred Scala and Everon Vivendi, who are based in southwestern England. On September 17, Fred announced that he, too, needed to pull his partner from contention after a minor injury sustained in training.

“The good news is that Donald is in good shape. He has picked up a small injury in our final preparations that luckily we found before traveling,” he said in a statement. “His welfare is paramount and there will be plenty more big days for us both in the future.”

Sam’s addition into the five-strong squad means that Ireland will have just one individual competitor alongside its four-person team, which hasn’t yet been announced. His compatriots in the squad are:

  • Clare Abbott with Jewelent
  • Cathal Daniels with LEB Lias Jewel
  • Padraig McCarthy with Leonidas II
  • Joseph Murphy with Cesar V

The Europeans kick off in earnest at 4.30 p.m. local time today (3.30 p.m. British time/10.30 a.m. Eastern) with the first horse inspection, followed by the opening ceremony. We’ll be bringing you full coverage throughout the week, and you can watch along via ClipMyHorse.TV, too. Let’s go chase some podiums!

The 2021 FEI Longines European Championships: [Website] [Schedule and Scoring] [Entries] [Live Stream] [EN’s Coverage]

Tuesday News & Notes from Legends Horse Feed

Posted by Eiren Crawford on Sunday, September 19, 2021

Some days, it’s just not your day.

National Holiday: It’s National IT Professionals Day. Um, thanks to Blake, I guess.

News & Notes from Around the World:

Eventing Nation is proud to partner with the Maryland 5 Star to produce a Digital Program & Form Guide that will feature all the information you need to know, right at your fingertips and free to access. We’ll also be including a Deal Book with discounts and deals from both on-site vendors as well as other brands. Do you want to include your brand or product? Email me at [email protected].

If you were watching Aachen over the weekend, you might have spotted two unfamiliar faces on the New Zealand team. But pay close attention to Tayla Mason and Madison Crowe: they’re getting set to do some seriously big things. [Debutants Star at Aachen]

Are you waiting on tenterhooks for the new Downton Abbey film, set for release early next year? Whet your whistle with this interview with actor Michael Fox, who plays footman Andy — and previously evented at the lower levels himself, before passing the ride on his horse SRS Kan Do over to pro Kylie Roddie. [Downton Abbey star and eventing owner Michael Fox: ‘I’m waiting for a job where I can ride on screen!’]

Want to be more like Ingrid? (Don’t we all?!) Learn the piece of advice that’s impacted her most, her idea of a perfect day off, and more. [5 Things You Didn’t Know About Ingrid Klimke]

Olympic gold and silver-medallist Tom McEwen knows a thing or two about dissecting a cross-country course. Make your next course walk a winning one with his super advice. [Olympic Team Gold and Individual Silver Medallist Tom McEwen’s Top Tips For Cross-Country Course Walking]

Fancy treating yourself? Look, it’s been a long, hard week already, and you deserve a little retail therapy. Luckily, SmartPak has a seriously good array of special offers on at the moment, but they won’t last forever, so check them out now.

Listen: Ever wonder what it’s like keeping horses in other parts of the world? Head to Kenya to find out with the Pony Podcast.

Watch: “Stop what you are doing and watch this adorable helmet cam of our daughter and her pony flower We watched our daughter Keira’s helmet cam while eventing at Loch Moy and we were not expecting this!! We knew Keira was very vocal with her horse and had a special bond but we did not know to the extent that she was interacting with her pony …. especially during competitions! Watch the whole video to see some genuinely beautiful and hilarious moments between a little girl and her pony!”

Who Jumped it Best: Aachen’s Oxer-to-Corner Question

EN’s coverage of CHIO Aachen is brought to you in part by Kentucky Performance Products. Click here to learn more about Kentucky Performance Products and its wide array of supplements available for your horse.

Who Jumped It Best?

While CHIO Aachen‘s course might not be the biggest four-star track in the world, nor the most influential where jumping penalties are concerned, it still offers a serious challenge and an almost guaranteed leaderboard reshuffle every year. That’s because designer Rüdiger Schwarz has two major priorities: first, to keep horses and riders safe and avoid any major incidents, and second, to ensure that cross-country remains the sport’s most influential phase. To accomplish this, he designs a track that makes catching the optimum time seriously difficult — though the first handful of fences are always straightforward, in order to encourage rhythmic and bold riding, the intensity and technicality begins early on and builds throughout the track. Even the sporadic single fences are set on hairpin turns, in or after mounds or quarries, or require horses and riders to navigate through busy decorations and swarming crowds, so there’s no part of the course that’s just a ‘run and jump’ challenge. As a result, it’s incredibly easy to waste valuable seconds on setting up and overriding turns, and Schwarz’s design says one thing with absolute clarity to competitors: if you want to catch the time, you have to take a risk. You need to ride combinations in the established rhythm and trust that you’ve laid strong enough foundations that your horse will look for the flags.

Though on paper, it might sound like a bit of a kick-and-pull go-kart track, the results speak for themselves: this year, just one rider was eliminated and only three competitors picked up jumping penalties, including the overnight leader, Kirsty Chabert, who had a glance-off at the penultimate combination — which should be renamed the Aachen Heartbreaker, really, because it’s the place where the competition has been lost over and over again. There’s every chance that what Aachen really represents is a vision of the future of the sport, and it’s one that’s well worth paying close attention to.

But enough of all this terribly serious analysis — you’re here to cast your eye over some of our competitors, and then cast your vote for your pick of the best effort. Today’s edition of Who Jumped It Best is a rare double feature, because the two fences are so intrinsically linked that it seemed wrong not to show both. We’re looking at 13AB, an open oxer to a right-handed corner on a forward four-stride line, which came as the final part of a tricky complex: first, competitors had to jump up a steep bank to an owl hole on a one-stride line, after which they cantered down a slope, turned left to jump another airy oxer at 12, and then executed a hairpin turn to the right to pop 13AB. Some riders opted to hold for a conservative five-stride line here, including Laura Collett, who finished second with Dacapo, because she knew her horse’s adjustability was better while shortening his stride than it was while lengthening. Another factor to consider is the tight turn into 13A, on which several horses slipped slightly and lost their rhythm. A scrappy jump over the A element negated either a quick readjustment of the stride pattern or a bit of a kick-and-pray ride, but though we saw a few dramatic efforts through the day, the only fault picked up here all day was an activated MIMclip.

Now, let’s take a look at our contenders, and then cast your vote in the poll at the bottom of the page to crown your Aachen champion.

TOM CARLILE AND BIRMANE

Tom Carlile and Birmane (FRA). Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Tom Carlile and Birmane (FRA). Photo by Tilly Berendt.

 

TIM PRICE AND FALCO

Tim Price and Falco (NZL). Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Tim Price and Falco (NZL). Photo by Tilly Berendt.

 

LINDA ALGOTSSON AND FAIR SPOT

Linda Algotsson and Fair Spot (SWE). Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Linda Algotsson and Fair Spot (SWE). Photo by Tilly Berendt.

 

ROMAIN SANS AND UNETOILE DE LA SERRE

Romain Sans and Unetoile de la Serre (FRA). Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Romain Sans and Unetoile de la Serre (FRA). Photo by Tilly Berendt.

 

TAYLA MASON AND CENTENNIAL

Tayla Mason and Centennial (NZL). Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Tayla Mason and Centennial (NZL). Photo by Tilly Berendt.

 

MALIN HANSEN-HOTOPP AND CARLITOS QUIDDITCH K

Malin Hansen-Hotopp and Carlitos Quidditch K (GER). Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Malin Hansen-Hotopp and Carlitos Quidditch K (GER). Photo by Tilly Berendt.

 

LAUREN NICHOLSON AND VERMICULUS

Lauren Nicholson and Vermiculus (USA). Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Lauren Nicholson and Vermiculus (USA). Photo by Tilly Berendt.

 

LARA DE LIEDEKERKE-MEIER AND ALPAGA D’ARVILLE

Lara de Liedekerke-Meier and Cascaria V (BEL). Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Lara de Liedekerke-Meier and Cascaria V (BEL). Photo by Tilly Berendt.

 

KAZUMA TOMOTO AND BERNADETTE UTOPIA

Kazuma Tomoto and Bernadette Utopia (JPN). Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Kazuma Tomoto and Bernadette Utopia (JPN). Photo by Tilly Berendt.

 

JEROME ROBINE AND BLACK ICE

Jerome Robiné and Black Ice (GER). Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Jerome Robiné and Black Ice (GER). Photo by Tilly Berendt.

 

ALEX DONOHUE AND KILCANDRA BONNIE REWARD

Alex Donohoe and Kilcandra Bonnie Reward (IRE). Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Alex Donohoe and Kilcandra Bonnie Reward (IRE). Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Cast your vote:

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

Monday News & Notes from FutureTrack

It wasn’t, perhaps, entirely unexpected that Andrew Nicholson announced his retirement from upper-level competition yesterday at Blenheim — after all, his longtime friend Oliver Townend has recently taken over the ride on the exceptional Swallow Springs, who Andrew has ridden to top-five finishes at Badminton and Burghley, suggesting that some major change might be in the works. But the hint of what was to come certainly didn’t make his announcement any less poignant, and his fellow competitors, owners, and fans of the sport alike have been sharing their favourite memories of Mr Stickability’s extraordinary competitive career. I was particularly touched by this post by Mollie Summerland, partly because of the beautiful photo that Kiwi ‘tog Libby Law captured just after Mollie’s win at Luhmühlen, and partly because of the sentiment attached: though most might consider Andrew a bit outwardly terrifying, he’s always actually been an incredibly generous, kind person, and so many people have benefited from his sage advice and guidance. On the few occasions I’ve needed his help with anything, he’s been gracious and wonderful, and I’ll truly miss the vague frisson of fear and anticipation that comes before interviewing him. You know you’ve done a good job and managed not to ask any stupid questions if he gives you a ‘well done’ at the end; if not, you’d be dwelling on it for the rest of the day. (Kudos to him, particularly, for recognising that I was outrageously hungover at Blenheim a couple of years ago and could barely speak English anymore. I eventually managed to ask something that resembled a question — though certainly not a clever one — and he still gave me a ‘well done’, though he didn’t even try to hide his smirk as he did so. What a champ.)

(Oh, and you want some context for that photo? Back in 2019, Andrew advised Mollie to sell Charly van ter Heiden after she received an offer for a truly eye-watering amount of money and rang him for guidance. She — now famously — didn’t do so, and after she took her first five-star victory aboard the horse earlier this summer, Andrew scooped her up for a congratulatory hug and told her, “now you can sell him for twice as much!”)

National Holiday: It’s the first day of Pitru Pashka, during with Hindus pray and perform rituals to allow their ancestors to transition from Pitru Lok — the  ‘in between’ space between earth and heaven, to heaven itself, known as Brahmaloka.

North American Weekend Action:

Alhambra Fall Event (Alberta, Canada): [Results]

Aspen Farms International H.T. (Yelm, Wa.): [Website] [Results]

Flying Cross Farm H.T. (Lexington, Ky.): [Website] [Results]

GMHA September H.T. (South Woodstock, Vt.): [Website] [Results]

MeadowCreek Park H.T. (Kosse, Tx.): [Website] [Results]

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

Stone Gate Farm H.T. (Hanoverton, Oh.): [Results]

Unionville CCI4*-S (Unionville, Pa.): [Website] [Results]

The Event at Skyline (Mount Pleasant, Ut.): [Website] [Results]

UK Weekend Action:

Blenheim Palace International CCI4*-L/CCI4*-S (Oxfordshire, UK): [Website] [Entries] [Live Stream] [EN’s Coverage]

Allerton Park: [Results]

Moreton Morrell (2): [Results]

Munstead: [Results]

Wee Burgie: [Results]

Major International Events:

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

Your Monday Reading List:

Eventing legend Mary King continues to show an enviable amount of get-up-and-go — she’ll be running the London Marathon next month. Her beneficiary of choice is the Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity, and she says she’s been building up her fitness using the same kind of interval training she’d use for her horses. Meanwhile, I’ve just eaten three soft pretzels for breakfast and took the lift instead of the stairs. [Eventing legend Mary King to take on the London Marathon aged 60]

Speaking of British riders doing cool things, the Team GB entrants for Le Lion d’Angers were announced the other day. Three six-year-olds and twelve seven-year-olds will make the trip to France next month to contest the World Championships, including Oliver Townend’s Cooley Rosalent, who was the Six-Year-Old Reserve World Champion in 2020. [GB Combinations Selected For Young Horse World Championship]

Meanwhile, back at Aachen, the US jumping team avoided a repeat of the Olympic finale by roundly beating Sweden in the Nations Cup. There are few things more exciting than this prestigious class, which takes place under the lights in the enormous main stadium, and seeing our pique-coated brethren doing so well this week in there has been particularly cool. [US Turns Tables on Sweden to Win Aachen Nations Cup]

The FutureTrack Follow:

They took the CCI4*-S for eight- and nine-year-olds last year, when it was temporarily relocated to Burnham Market, and over the weekend, 24-year-old Yasmin Ingham and her Paris hopeful Banzai du Loir clinched the CCI4*-L at Blenheim. Give her a follow to see life behind the scenes with one of the sport’s brightest young talents, who also happens to be one of the most genuinely lovely people I’ve met in this industry.

Morning Viewing:

This is the most deranged thing I’ve ever seen. You’re welcome.

Will Coleman and Off The Record Score First-Ever US Victory at Aachen

EN’s coverage of CHIO Aachen is brought to you in part by Kentucky Performance Products. Click here to learn more about Kentucky Performance Products and its wide array of supplements available for your horse.

Will Coleman and the ‘weird’ Off The Record get the job done to take Aachen’s coveted CCIO4*-S. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“You’ve got to keep knocking on the doors,” says Will Coleman sagely as he settles in for a celebratory beer. “Eventually, one of them’s got to open.”

He knows a thing or two about knocking on doors, mind you: as one of US eventing’s foremost figures, he’s notched up plenty of successes on home turf over the years, including numerous Kentucky top-fifteen and top-ten finishes, and victories at four-stars such as Great Meadows, Bromont, Fair Hill, and Rebecca, as well as representing Team USA at an Olympics in 2012 and a World Equestrian Games in 2018. And on his trips across the pond to take on the big names of the European circuit? He’s been plenty prolific there, too, winning the achingly tough and highly-coveted CCI4*-L for under-25s at England’s Bramham International back in 2003 with Fox In Flight and notching up a top-ten finishat Germany’s Luhmühlen CCI5* in 2009 with Twizzel.

But boy, does he understand the knife edge that victory straddles. The last time we saw Will on this side of the pond was at Ireland’s Tattersalls CCI4*-L in early 2019, where he and Off The Record lead the way going into the final phase — but a rail fell, costing them the win and ‘Timmy’s’ chance of glory. It wasn’t the first time Will had found himself in that position at that event either; he’d had the same experience with OBOS O’Reilly the year prior. So when he and Timmy delivered one of just three clear showjumping rounds inside the time last night, catapulting themselves from eleventh place to a close third place going into cross-country, it felt like a particularly good omen: now, they just had to focus on doing what they do best and going as quickly as possible — and then they had to hope the fierce British contingent ahead of them were just fractionally too slow to stand in their way.

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

It’s funny how these things work out: though Will and Timmy stayed up on the clock almost the whole way around and delivered by far the fastest round of the day, they didn’t quite manage to keep the clock in the green and added 0.8 time penalties to their two-phase score of 29.7. That gave overnight leaders Kirsty Chabert and Classic VI and second-placed Laura Collett and Dacapo, both on scores of 29.5, a valuable two seconds in hand to stay ahead, which must have made for nerve-wracking watching indeed for Will. Even after Laura dropped behind him with her 3.2 time penalties, there was still Kirsty on the hunt for her first major victory — and so intense was her campaign on course that she was hitting her minute markers even faster than Will had.

But going ultra-fast means taking risks, and though Kirsty and Classic got away with some close shaves around Rüdiger Schwarz’s track, their luck couldn’t last forever — and a shock run-out at the penultimate combination pushed them down to 23rd. That secured a history-making win for Will, who becomes the first-ever American to win Aachen, which has previously only ever been captured by German or Antipodean competitors.

“I’m thrilled for my team, my horse, his owners, all of which have been with me from almost the very beginning,” says a delighted Will. “You know, it’s hard to describe how it feels, honestly. It’s still a very new feeling. But I’m just really proud of my whole team, everybody who’s helped me get here. I’m just humbled and appreciative.”

His most vocal appreciation, though, was for the 12-year-old Irish gelding, who he fondly describes as a bit of an odd horse — but one who’s always been capable of making some big dreams come true.

“Like most of us, my riding career has been up and down — that’s just the nature of the sport and horses,” he says philosophically. “I think [Timmy] embodies what an event horse is all about; he’s a real fighter. He’s not the most physically gifted, but he comes out every time and gives you 1000%, and those kind of horses, you keep giving them chances and they eventually become champions, because that’s what they’re made of inside. I think he’s that kind of horse.”

But Timmy wouldn’t have been everyone’s champion, and though his record is peppered with top-five finishes — 14 out of 22 FEI starts, in fact — they’ve come as the result of plenty of compromise and no small amount of horsemanship.

“There are a lot of days when you get on him and it feels like you’re riding a kitchen table,” he says. “But he’s a kitchen table with a couple of Ferrari engines attached to it — he’s not the easiest to steer, or the most pleasant to ride sometimes, but the effort is really what makes him special. It took me a long time to figure that out, actually — that he was trying very, very hard, even when we were struggling to communicate with one another. I think what’s helped him turn a corner is me just getting that and figuring out how to help him instead of asking why he’s not doing what I want. So we have a good relationship; he’s just got a lot of energy, and he’s like a kid who needs Ritalin. When his energy gets up, he can be a lot to handle, but it’s not malicious; he just gets high strung and his effort comes out in ways that aren’t that attractive. It’s just making him relaxed and helping him feel like it’s as easy as possible.”

Will wastes no time between fences, allowing him to deliver the fastest round of the day. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

That well-established partnership and trust helped Will out of a situation that could have ended up much more costly had it happened to another horse — but instead, it just stopped them from catching the time and upped the ante of the final moments of the competition.

“I can tell you where I lost the seconds — it was coming out of the bowl out of the angled brushes,” he explains. “Over the rails coming out, I asked for a big distance out of the bowl and he jumped it but he drifted way left off the line — I knew right there that that was going to cost me. And the whole way around, every time I thought I was good on time, I had to push a little more.”

But, he muses, that’s what makes this the pinnacle of global CCI4*-S competitions.

“The nature of Aachen is it tests you all the way to the last second. It’s the ultimate in the sport and the ultimate challenge, that’s why I think I value coming here so much. It’s such a privilege. I couldn’t have more respect for the event designer and the people involved. It’s absolutely incredible.”

Shortly after sealing his victory, Will is swept into the cavernous main stadium and handed a microphone as his name is etched into equestrian sport’s most iconic wall of honour.

“It’d be hard to feel much better than I feel right now,” he says, his voice catching a little bit. “But I think the real winner here is the event, and all the people who come together to put this amazing spectacle together; the people of this city who come out to watch us. The names on the wall here are some of the greatest horsemen and women that we’ve ever known, and I don’t know if I belong up there with them — but I feel so lucky to be up there. I’m overcome.”

After a two-day climb, and years spent putting his quirky horse first, we think it’s pretty safe to say his place as one of the world’s best horsemen is wholly deserved.

Laura Collett’s Dacapo grows up at the perfect moment. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Like Will ahead of her, newly-minted Olympic gold medallist Laura Collett has been quietly putting in the work to help the obviously talented — but rarely straightforward — Dacapo flourish. Along the way, he’s both inspired hope — when finishing second in the CCI4*-S at Bramham in 2019, for example, or his third place finish in the Blenheim eight- and nine-year-old class the year prior — and broken hearts, losing out on placings with frustrating penalties at Tattersalls and Chatsworth. But the 12-year-old gelding has just needed time, patience, and, it seems, the chance to show off his inarguable talents in front of a captive audience. Though their 3.2 time penalties precluded a big win, second place at Aachen surely sees Dacapo step up from a naughty boy to a man.

“He was brilliant — from start to finish, he went out there and he was really wanting to go,” she says. “I can now trust him at the combinations, and he was locked on with his ears pricked. He quite enjoyed coming into the arena at the end with the crowds, too!”

Despite his occasional prior mishaps, Dacapo’s innate ride ability makes him well-suited to this kind of course: “He’s so polite; with all the twists and turns, you don’t actually have to pull him, you just lean a bit like a motorbike.”

That influence Laura’s decision to add a fifth stride between the open oxer and corner at 13AB, which she felt suited the horse better than the four strides it walked as.

“I didn’t see the shot, and having done it on Mr Bass, I knew it was a really forward four,” she says. “I didn’t get a very good shot to the parallel, so I made the decision to sit quiet for the five. He’s very adjustable to come back, but not always so adjustable to go, so I knew that would suit him, and he’s very neat with his knees, so that was the only place I changed my plan.”

The experienced Mr Bass provides a useful first round for Laura Collett, who makes a double appearance in the top five. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Not one for doing anything by halves, Laura also finished fourth with first ride and team mount Mr Bass, who added just four time penalties despite what Laura describes as “a terrible ride”.

“Luckily he is just Chuck, and he tells me to shut up and does his own thing,” she laughs. “But I felt awful for him, because I just couldn’t see a distance and I rode really badly. Luckily, then I got my shit together for the next one!”

Emilie Chandler and Gortfadda Diamond prove once again that they’re among Britain’s most consistent combinations, finishing third and contributing to the team victory. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Third place went to fellow British team member Emilie Chandler and her 2019 Blair CCI4*-L winner Gortfadda Diamond, who added four time penalties to their first-phase score of 28.7 and 1.2 showjumping time penalties to prove — not for the first time — that they’re a serious force to be reckoned with on the international scene.

“It was probably not quite his track — it was quite twisty for him, and I felt a little bit scrappy towards the end,” she says. “It was probably not the most beautiful round, but we got the job done and he was absolutely on his game — and what a privilege it is to be here. His showjumping round, for me, was probably the best round he’s ever done, and he obviously liked the main arena — and coming here, you can’t practice or emulate that kind of situation. So he was either going to shrink or shine, and he definitely shone last night. I was delighted with him.”

Their super result — which comes after a sixth place finish at Luhmühlen CCI5* and an eighth place finish in Hartpury’s CCI4*-S this summer with the 12-year-old Irish gelding — will surely put them in a good position for championship opportunities to come, but for now, Emilie’s relishing the feeling of victory in her first team appearance in six years.

“It’s always a privilege to be part of the British team,” she says. “I haven’t done a Nations Cup since 2015, so it’s fantastic to be back on the team again.”

Andreas Ostholt and Corvette 31 charge to fifth place and best of the Germans. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Fifth place — and best of the home side — went to Andreas Ostholt and Corvette 31, who climbed from an initial 14th place on a score of 30.4, adding just 1.2 time penalties last night and 5.6 today to make their move and represent their country, so often victorious in this showpiece event.

Tamie Smith and Mai Baum round out the top ten. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It’s been a bit of a ‘nearly’ weekend for Tamie Smith and Mai Baum, who came into this event as clear favourites and were second heading into last night’s showjumping phase. But in life and in eventing, nothing is ever guaranteed — and despite being one of the best show jumpers in the field, ‘Lexus’ backed off in the huge atmosphere of the main stadium and subsequently took two rails, dropping down to eleventh heading into showjumping. Today, Tamie expertly piloted him to a clear with 7.2 time penalties, which guaranteed them a spot in the top ten — the first time the US has ever had two riders this well placed at Aachen.

“Obviously after having not an ideal round last night I was a little bit like,’ is something going on?’,” she reflects. “Everyone says ‘it’s Aachen, it’s Aachen, it’s Aachen’, so that [atmosphere] was something that you just hope doesn’t affect them. I did a pre-ride this morning and obviously not just wanting to be able to go out of the box and feel like he was confident, but that I could be competitive and go fast.”

Tamie used the feedback from the course, plus all the intel she’d gleaned from other riders before the competition, to give Lexus the best possible ride over the unique track: “Everybody says Aachen is very difficult and it’s not like any other event, so I was just pleased. It definitely is different — the ground is a little bit greasy. But he read all the jumps; they were rideable, he was fast. He loses a little bit of time because he’s such a good jumper, so I think if we weren’t quite jumping so high we’d be faster. But he was so rideable, and that’s something we’ve worked our career on getting. These new courses are so turny and technical, and I’m just really proud of our team. Obviously I’m disappointed for [the showjumping], because it would have been wonderful to win — but who better to win than Will?”

Ariel Grald and Leamore Master Plan rise to the occasion in front of the sprawling Aachen crowds. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Though a first-phase score of 34.8 precluded a higher finish, Ariel Grald and Leamore Master Plan delivered super clear rounds in both jumping phases to finish sixteenth overall — and, more importantly, add another string to the rangy Irish gelding’s bow, which Ariel has been strategically filling by aiming him at completely different styles of course in the US and Europe.

“I am thrilled — the theme for this year has been to put both ‘Simon’ and me in new and different challenging courses,” says Ariel, who finished third at Luhmühlen CCI5* on the gelding back in June and has jumped clear around Kentucky and Burghley with him, too. “I wouldn’t say this track would be necessarily what he’s suited for. This was quite twist — the first three jumps were nice, but it got technical from the start and it never let up.”

Though it might not play to Simon’s considerable natural strengths, such as his enormous length of stride, having to tackle such a ‘thinking’ course came at the perfect point in his ongoing education.

“I’m always working on getting him to be more rideable, and he was such a good boy and kept answering all the questions,” she says. “He was really focused, and I just need to trust that he was going to listen. He’s a big, strong horse and I’ve had a little trouble with him being a little too game — I just need to trust him and let him cruise a little more.”

Though the pair have swiftly gained a reputation for being one of the US’s most consistent competitive combinations, no horse — nor rider — is a machine, and they came to Aachen off the back of a surprise 20 penalties at Great Meadow. But rather than denting their confidence, it bolstered Ariel’s resolve and gave her a learning opportunity — something she’s always vocally grateful for as she works on producing her first-ever top-level horse.

“Having come off Luhmühlen, I purposely went out to give him an easy run [at Great Meadow] and he just never really switched on. He wasn’t being bad, but for him it wasn’t the same level of what he’s done. Nothing really grabbed his attention,” she explains. “It was a good wakeup call that he’s a big, strong horse, even when he seems polite, so he needs stuff to keep his mind on things. I felt that way after Luhmühlen with him too — that was probably the best cross-country round I’ve had on him. When you keep challenging him and keep coming off turns, he has to think quick and move his feet and he goes really well in that type of course. It’s good for us.”

Ariel’s focus is on developing herself, and her horse, for future opportunities with the US team, which is why she’s so focused on creating an all-round event horse — and every step of the way, she’s quick to acknowledge the help and support behind her in the form of the team itself, owner Annie Eldridge, and the generous funding allocated by the USEF.

“I’m so grateful I got the Jacqueline Mars travel grant to come over here. This is my first horse at this level so every opportunity to come over and do events like this is just amazing,” she says. “It’s been really fun. We just keep saying it’s been such a good vibe; everyone is really supportive and we’re helping each other out. The horses that were still in the US flew last Friday, so we had a few days training together with Erik helping us and [showjumper and team jumping trainer] Peter Wylde came over. We walked all the courses together, and we’ve been watching each others rides and rounds. We don’t get a whole lot of opportunities as American riders to do this type of thing, to be able to develop a team strategy of who’s going to go first and be able to communicate with each other and give feedback. It’s something we have to practice as a country so that when the pressure is really on at major championships, we’re familiar with it. It’s been amazing to practice that.”

Lauren Nicholson and Vermiculus nip through the twisty track. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Lauren Nicholson and Jacqueline Mars’s Vermiculus — or ‘Bug’, to his friends — competed as individuals for the US and did so in fine style, overcoming some naughty moments in their test yesterday to finish in 24th place. Their respectable showjumping round, which saw them tip one pole and add 1.6 time penalties, and their clear round today with 11.2 time penalties, moved them up from their initial 31st place.

“He was pretty uncharacteristically a naughty pony in the dressage which did not start us off well,” says Lauren, who navigated through a kick out in the first halt and a rather expressive hind end in the changes to score a 35.6. ” I think it was his worst score in a long time, but it definitely goes to show how important it is to do these trips often. He was just very excited to be at the party!”

Watching the day’s cross-country unfold led to a change of strategy for Lauren, who had initially aimed to replicate the super-speedy round she’d delivered with Bug at Great Meadow CCI4*-S last month, where they finished third.

“I was kind of planning at the beginning of the day to give it a crack like I did at Great Meadow, but once I watched the first half go and realized I wouldn’t be able to make a big move up the leaderboard I kind of adjusted my game plan,” she explains. “I wanted to be efficient but I didn’t want to take any big risks, as he’s going to go to Fair Hill. It’s far from the result I was hoping to come over for — I was hoping to have a good crack. But when we started off on the back foot after the dressage it was a bit too much ground to make up.”

Despite her disappointment with the result, Lauren has embraced coming across the pond with a group of her compatriots for the first time since Burghley in 2019.

“It’s such a great group of people, and it never felt like you were the one left out. It was a team effort regardless, the whole way around. I’ve had the opportunity to be on a lot of these teams and it was fun to support everyone. The whole team did such a great job and had awesome camaraderie,” she says.

Sydney Elliott and QC Diamantaire tackle the final combination before heading into the main arena and the last challenge of the course. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It’s hard to fault first-time travellers Sydney Elliott and QC Diamantaire for any part of their performance this week, which saw them finish in 26th place at the end of the competition. There were plenty of tantalising hints of the good work yet to come from the big, bright gelding in his test, though tact was the watchword as Sydney sympathetically manoeuvred her horse through his bubbling tension to earn a 39.4. Yesterday evening they tipped just one rail and added 1.2 time penalties over the most influential showjumping course Aachen has ever seen, which yielded just an 8% clear rate — and today, they ate up the busy course as US team trailblazers without feeling any apparent pressure whatsoever.

“Erik [Duvander] approached me and asked me about going first, and then we talked about it as a team,” she says of taking the trailblazer position, ordinarily allocated to a very experienced team rider who can act as a fact-finder out on course. “I kind of feel like whatever he recommended, I was happy to go for it, whether it’s first or last or somewhere in between. I wasn’t nervous about it; I kind of treat it as any other normal event because we all just do our own thing together.”

She and the eleven-year-old Oldenburg gelding, who made their CCI5* debut at Kentucky this spring for a top-twenty finish, jumped a workmanlike clear to add 10.8 time penalties and bring home vital information about what they’d learned — information that undoubtedly helped her winning teammate find the most efficient, lowest-risk lines later on in the day.

“I think the course was great,” she says. ” There’s just a lot of busy work to get done from start to finish, starting at fence four — that’s where the work began. Even leaving the start box you’re watching the clock the whole way. The biggest feedback I got was the ground was very slippery; a very greasy feel. I think we all put in as big of studs as we had, and we were still slipping — so that was worth noting.”

The course was, of course, very different from the likes of Kentucky, with its galloping lanes and big, bold fences.

“I’ve never ridden anything quite like this before; I think the closest thing would be the showcase in Aiken,” Sydney says. “I think it’s hard, with the twists and turns — I can’t say it really suits my horse, but he seemed to handle it fine. He came through the finish very good and kept making each turn and reading what was in front of him.”

Now, Sydney is planning ahead for a few more European events to add to her education on the world stage: “This is my first overseas trip ever, so we’re making the most of it. We’re having a great time and I don’t think I could have been with a better group of people,” she says. “I’m staying for Boekelo and I brought a second horse, Commando, and will run some events with him. I wanted to run Pratoni in Italy, so we’ll stay and do that in November and then come home. I’ll be wishing my teammates were here though!”

The Course in Review

Course designer Rüdiger Schwarz always stamps his courses in a recognisable way: they make best use of twists and turns, and they build in technical intensity as they go, which means that the major challenge riders face is that of the clock. His aim isn’t to rearrange the leaderboard as a result of a spattering of 20s and eliminations; instead, he wants to push riders to take educated risks. Can they establish a rhythm when their base instincts are likely telling them to kick and pull and fiddle? Can they trust the foundations they’ve laid with their mounts and approach combinations on a more open stride, or do they need to shut the canter down and micromanage to make it happen, losing handfuls of valuable seconds in the process?

In many ways, this year’s course will have played out exactly as he’d hoped. Just one combination incurred an elimination throughout the day — that was France’s Gireg le Coz and Aisprit de la Loge, eighth after showjumping but struck off the leaderboard by a rider fall at fence 21B, the second of two houses on a one-stride distance into the second water. A further three riders incurred 20 penalties apiece, and two did so at the first water complex; Jonelle Price and McClaren had a naughty drive-by at the final skinny element at 8B, while Ingrid Klimke and the impressive but evidently green and fresh Equistros Siena Just Do It glanced off 8A in the water. The final jumping penalties of the day — and easily the most influential — were awarded to overnight leaders Kirsty Chabert and Classic VI, who left the start box with just two seconds in hand and knew they’d need to take risks to catch the time. Those risks paid off — with some ‘nearly’ moments — until fence 22B, the final combination before the last handful of fences in the main arena, where they, like so many riders before them, lost their chance of a win with a run-out. Over and over again, we’ve seen this combination — in one of its iterations — knock the two-phase leader out of contention; indeed, Kirsty’s teammate Laura Collett has seen Aachen slip through her fingers three times in that spot, most recently in 2019 on her now-Olympic-gold-medalist London 52. In the midst of an ongoing simmering debate about the functionality of the current safety device rules, which don’t allow for any appeals process if a device is activated, it was no doubt something of a relief to Schwarz that just one was triggered throughout the day: Ireland’s Sam Watson, who was the day’s trailblazer aboard the exciting Ballybolger Talisman, hit the device at the open corner at 13B, which was situated on an open four from a wide open oxer and was fitted with one of the new yellow MIMclips, which are designed to activate under less pressure. Despite this disappointment, which comes after the rider and EquiRatings co-founder activated a yellow MIMclip at the Tokyo Olympics, Sam remains pragmatic and positive about the ever-evolving face of safety technology in the sport.

This tiny handful of jumping penalties across the board meant that the clock could exert the most significant influence on the standings, encouraging savvy, economic riding over one of Schwarz’s ‘softer’ tracks. We talk a lot about eventing being at a crossroads between safety and the fundamental ‘spirit’ of the sport, but on days like this one, it’s not hard to imagine that the middle ground might well be something like this: a track that manages to be tight and technical without being punishing, and encourages risk-taking without being unsafe. The formula hasn’t been wholly finessed quite yet, but perhaps we’re finally on our way.

“I’m very satisfied,” says Schwarz. “My principle is to get the excitement, but that nothing bad happens and the best are informed in the end. This is the main thing, and I think it worked out quite well today.”

The individual top twenty in the 2021 CHIO Aachen CCIO4*-S.

Lest we get so caught up in the excitement of the individual results, the SAP Cup is, at its heart, a team competition — though not part of the official FEI Nations Cup line-up. Since its inaugural running in 2007, it’s been won ten times by the home nation, once by the Australian team, once by the Kiwis, and now twice by the Brits, who led from wire to wire in an apparent bid to terrify every other country in the sport into total submission.

The British team is on such extraordinary form recently, and boasts such strength in depth, that it’s easy enough to take their victory here as guaranteed all along, but their closely-fought win is actually Britain’s first here in a decade. Moreover, British riders have only made appearances on the individual podium on two previous occasions: William Fox-Pitt managed it in 2011, while Laura Collett did it for the first time in 2012. That nine long years have passed since then is a testament to the stratospheric growth of the Brits in recent years.

But let’s talk for a second about just how closely-fought today’s win was. The Brits ended up on a score of 116.2, delivered by Laura and Mr Bass, Emilie and Gortfadda Diamond, and Zara Tindall and Class Affair after discarding the score of Kirsty and Classic. That allowed them to edge a lead of just three-tenths of a penalty over second-place Team USA, who discarded Sydney and Q’s score and kept Will, Tamie, and Ariel’s scores for a final aggregate of 116.5. They were followed by an exultant Irish team of Esib and Azure, Joseph Murphy and Calmaro, and Rioghan Rua, finishing on 127.2 after dropping Sam Watson’s score, the fourth-placed Kiwi team on 129.5, the home side in fifth on 171.3, and France in sixth on 186.8. With the European Championships looming next week — and the Nations Cup finale on the cards next month at Boekelo — this could be a very interesting insight into how the hierarchy is shifting on this side of the pond.

The final team standings in the SAP Cup.

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

Aachen Through the Lens, Part One: Just Loads and Loads of Photos, Y’All

EN’s coverage of CHIO Aachen is brought to you in part by Kentucky Performance Products. Click here to learn more about Kentucky Performance Products and its wide array of supplements available for your horse.

Talk is cheap, baby — we know what you all really want is some hot-off-the-memory-card photos of life at CHIO Aachen, officially the world’s coolest equestrian venue. Officially dubbed the World Equestrian Festival, this sprawling competition features the very best of showjumping, dressage, driving, vaulting, and, of course, eventing over the course of its nine-day run. Ordinarily, all this plays out in front of roughly 350,000 visitors, who pack the various stadiums and competition grounds, but this year, we’re looking at a slightly pared-back (though no less spectacular) Aachen, which was relocated from its usual June dates in order to allow for spectators.

Today’s dressage, which unfolded in the driving field, has kept us pretty busy snapping the action and chatting to riders — so here’s how it’s all played out, as seen through the EN lens.

Ireland’s Alex Donohoe and Kilcandra Bonnie Reward score a 38.9 in this morning’s dressage. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Germany’s Andreas Ostholt and Corvette 31 put a 30.4 on the board to take 14th place in the first phase. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

A face we’ve all made after dressage at least once, let’s be honest. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

2019 European bronze medallists Cathal Daniels and a spicy Rioghan Rua reroute from Tokyo to tackle Aachen. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

A 34.9 puts Cathal and ‘Red’ in 29th place after the first phase. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

France’s Gireg Le Coz beams after a personal best puts Aisprit de la Loge into the lead. At the end of the first phase, they were in third place. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

A star of the future? Comeback queen Ingrid Klimke pilots a high-octane Equistros Siena Just Do It. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Jesse Campbell and Amsterdam 21 trend towards the lead but ultimately finish dressage in tenth place on their score of 29.6. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Grooms and their horses soaked up the relative peacefulness of the morning. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

And shared kisses, too. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Pocket-sized but powerful: Jonelle Price’s McClaren takes up his place in the top twenty. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“You’re doing amazing, sweetie”: Tim Price takes on Kris Jenner duties as the Kiwi contingent watch Jonelle’s test. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Jonelle is cheered on by her cohorts as she concludes her test and heads out of the ring. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Newly-minted Olympic bronze medallist Kevin McNab puts Willunga through his paces, taking ninth place at the end of dressage. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Airs above the ground: Belgium’s Lara de Liedekerke-Meier and Cascaria V achieve lift-off in a flying change. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“He just tries so hard,” says Laura Collett of Mr Bass, who takes fourth place after dressage despite being ‘shaped like a wheelbarrow’ (her words, not ours). Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It’s a Bug’s life: Lauren Nicholson and Vermiculus strut their stuff. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Fair Spot, ridden by Sweden’s Linda Algotsson, takes in the atmosphere at Aachen. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Malin Hansen-Hotopp and Carlitos Quidditch K fulfil the unwritten rule that every horse show must have at least one horse with a Harry Potter-themed name. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

France’s Regis Prud’Hon and Tarastro navigate the ring. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

That moment when your horse gives you everything, as demonstrated by Germany’s Sophie Leube and Jadore Moi. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Germany’s Sophie Leube celebrates after taking the dressage lead with Jadore Moi. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Sophie and German team trainer Hans Meltzer share a joyful debrief. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Sydney Elliott tactfully pilots a fizzy QC Diamantaire. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Sydney and Erik Duvander chat through the finer details. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Team USA watches on as Tamie Smith and Mai Baum prepare for their test. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Tamie Smith and Mai Baum begin their autumn campaign in fine style. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Tamie Smith showers Mai Baum with love after a beautiful test that saw them head into showjumping in second place. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Big ears and big dreams: Tamie Smith’s Mai Baum. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

New Zealand’s Tayla Mason and Centennial make their Aachen debut. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Tayla Mason is all smiles amid the cheers of her Kiwi teammates. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Tim Price and “show pony” Falco move into sixth place after dressage. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

I spy with my little eye: European showjumping champion Martin Fuchs schooling his horse. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

He might be a bit of a weirdo, but Will Coleman’s Off The Record is born to win, too. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Former EN-er Jenni Autry gives ‘Timmy’ a pat after a solid test puts him into 11th place. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Japan’s Yoshiaki Oiwa and Calle 44 reroute to Aachen after Tokyo disappointment. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Zara Tindall and Class Affair produce their test at Aachen, the venue at which Zara became World Champion in 2006. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

A Team USA horse is grazed in the shadow of one of Aachen’s grandstands. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Here’s to another day of top sport and great friends at the world’s best venue! Photo by Tilly Berendt.

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

Major Shakeup in Aachen Showjumping; Team USA Moves to Second Place

EN’s coverage of CHIO Aachen is brought to you in part by Kentucky Performance Products. Click here to learn more about Kentucky Performance Products and its wide array of supplements available for your horse.

There’s a lot going on in the main arena, but total focus pays dividends, as Kirsty Chabert and Classic VI discover. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

There’s nothing quite like the adrenaline rush of Aachen, with its main stadium like a gladiator’s last hurrah and its inescapable glitz and glamour. That adrenaline rush, of course, is doubled when its organising team of cackling Germans decides to put eventing’s dressage and showjumping phases on the same day, with nary a couple of hours between them, simply to watch us all scramble and sweat to try to pump some kind of information out to the world. Is there a livestream simply showing panicking journalists? If so, how do we apply for the commentary job? “And as we tick into the forty-seventh minute, we see this contender reach a critical decision point: opt for a tactical food break or attempt to push through the brain fog in favour of an extra batch of quote transcriptions? Ahh, and we see the athlete in question take the latter option! She’s having a Tic Tac for lunch! Just one! Will it work in her favour or will we catch her chewing on a table leg and weeping in twenty minutes? Only time will tell, folks.”

Wait, sorry, you came here for showjumping updates? I was too busy slavering over the furniture to register that, sorry. But let’s get this crazy train back on the rails, folks, because showjumping came, it saw, it conquered, and now everyone is contemplating some kind of wide-scale emotional breakdown. That’s just a guess, for what it’s worth.

Aachen always builds a tough showjumping course — unsurprisingly, when you consider that it’s one of pure jumping’s most iconic and notoriously difficult venues. Even for the eventers, Frank Rothenburger‘s courses are technical and tough, and they make best use of that capacious main arena, which means there’s a lot of ground to cover and an atmosphere that’s pretty well unparalleled in our sport. Tonight, the pivotal second phase got underway as the sun set in spectacular fashion, and so our competitors jumped under the lights and surrounded by huge TV screens, which made it all too easy for horses to get distracted or backed off by the task at hand. A lot could — and did — go wrong.

But when it goes right? “It feels spectacular,” gushes Great Britain’s Emilie Chandler, who recorded one of the first clears of the evening with her five-star horse Gortfadda Diamond and was able to sit back and watch as everything changed around her, pushing her up into eventual fourth place — and what would have been the overnight lead, but for the 1.2 time penalties she added.

That’s the thing with this phase at this venue — it’s not just about the poles, though they do topple with extraordinary ease, as 29 of the 39 competitors discovered. It’s also about the time, which can so easily run away with you as you navigate your way around what feels like acres of space. With just one rail covering third to fifteenth place after dressage, there was remarkably little wiggle room, and it didn’t take much going wrong for a seismic shift to occur across the leaderboard. Just three combinations — Team USA’s Will Coleman and Off The Record, Japan’s Yoshi Oiwa and Calle 44, and Ireland’s Esib Power and Azure — managed clear rounds without any time penalties, allowing all three to make huge moves.

Sophie Leube and Jadore Moi pop through the influential triple combination at the tail end of the course. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Helping them along? The problems at the top. Two shock rails fell apiece for dressage leader Sophie Leube and Jadore Moi, competing for the home country, and second-placed Tamie Smith and Mai Baum, one of the best showjumping pairs in the field, amid anguished groans from the audience. This pushed them into ninth and eleventh places, respectively, but it wasn’t the only drama at the top. A solitary rail fell — and the clock ticked over by one second — for France’s Gireg le Coz and Aisprit de la Loge, who slipped from third place down to eighth, and fourth-place Laura Collett and Mr Bass dropped a rail to move into seventh.

Tamie Smith and Mai Baum regroup to jump the last. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

That opened the door for significant top-end movement — an open door that British rider Kirsty Chabert and her 12-year-old British-bred mare Classic VI (Calvaro FC x India Summer) took full advantage of. Though they didn’t quite join the ranks of the penalty-free, it wasn’t for lack of trying: Kirsty landed from the final fence with such an extraordinary burst of momentum that their 0.4 time penalty was awarded for adding just five one-hundredths of a second to the 80 second optimum time. But nonetheless, she was still able to catapult herself into the lead from her post-dressage placing of equal seventh.

Kirsty Chabert clears the last…

…and gallops through the finish line to take the overnight lead. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

That ‘equal’ remains vitally important: both Kirsty and Classic and fellow Brits Laura Collett and Dacapo earned a first-phase score of 29.1 to share a spot on the leaderboard, and both jumped clear rounds with 0.4 time penalties to finish the second phase on 29.5, though Laura stopped the clock nearly a full second over the optimum time and, as such, moves into second place for being further from that 80 second threshold.

Laura Collett and Dacapo slot into technical second place on the same score as the overnight leaders. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Though it might cause some passing frustration to British chef d’equipe that Laura’s clear came aboard Dacapo, rather than team horse Mr Bass, that’ll surely be a fleeting feeling: Mr Bass, who was fourth after dressage on 28.2, added just one rare rail and sits in seventh overnight, which gives the British team three riders in the top ten and puts them on an aggregate score of 91.6 after dropping the score of Zara Tindall and Class Affair. That’s a pretty healthy lead for them to maintain, but now, it’s not Team New Zealand that’s hot on their heels — it’s Team USA, sitting second on 98.1 after excellent clears by Will Coleman and Off The Record and Ariel Grald and Leamore Master Plan.

Will Coleman and Off The Record produce one of just three completely penalty-free rounds to move into third place individually. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

For Will, that foot-perfect round — which was one of just three to add neither jumping nor time penalties — doesn’t just help his team, nor is it simply a leap up the leaderboard for his individual chances, though they certainly look sunny after moving from eleventh to third place. Even more than that, it feels a bit like watching a redemption arc for the 12-year-old Irish Sport Horse, who’s ordinarily a reliable showjumper but tipped a rail on his last trip across the pond, at Tattersalls CCI4*-L in 2019, costing Will the win in the class for the second time in his career. Now, on the horse’s second competitive outing to Europe, he’s got the pesky poles behind him and can head into tomorrow’s tough, technical, intense cross-country challenge confident in the knowledge that this is where he truly shines.

Event horse or hunter derby champion? Ariel Grald and Leamore Master Plan demonstrate a textbook set of knees over the last element of the treble. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

And for Ariel? Although Leamore Master Plan‘s Irish brain and lanky body mean that the first-phase scores aren’t where the undoubtedly will be over the next couple of seasons, he’s proven already this season that he’s well on his way to becoming an excellent showjumper: he delivered one of the rounds of the day at Luhmühlen CCI5* back in June, earning third place at a venue that’s known for its extraordinarily tough showjumping tracks. Today, he showed that same class and scope, and Ariel made great use of his long stride to eat up the distances in the ring. They ultimately added 0.4 time penalties, but would climb from 28th to 16th.

Yoshiaki Oiwa and Calle 44 move into the top ten. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Two more riders were able to make significant strides into the top ten off the back of excellent clear rounds: Japan‘s Yoshiaki Oiwa and Calle 44, rerouting after a tricky Tokyo, added nothing to their dressage score of 30 and climbed from twelfth place to fifth, while Germany’s Andreas Ostholt and Corvette 31 added 1.2 time penalties to move from fourteenth to sixth.

Sydney Elliott and QC Diamantaire jump under the setting sun. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Both Lauren Nicholson and Vermiculus and Sydney Elliott and QC Diamantaire tipped a solitary pole and added a smattering of time, putting them into 24th and 27th places respectively as we head into tomorrow’s cross-country. And what can we expect there? Well, intensity, in a word — Rüdiger Schwarz‘s courses are known for building in technicality as they go, and by the time you reach the halfway point, you can reasonably expect not to see a let-up until you cross the finish line in the main arena. To add to the challenge? Plenty of distractions, once again, from colourful branding to enthusiastic spectators. The time is also notoriously hard to catch, which we’re expecting to play a major role in tomorrow’s leaderboard: a single time penalty would push our leaders down to fourth place at best, and just eight seconds spans the entirety of the top ten. You’ll be able to watch the entirety of the action via ClipMyHorse.TV from 9.00 a.m. local time/8.00 a.m. BST/3.00 a.m. Eastern, or, if you don’t much fancy staying up until the silly hours to watch horses (sorry, but who are you, you strange, sane person?), then join us after the fact right here on EN for a full report on all the action, more photos than you can shake a jumping bat at, and probably a few more Tic Tacs. Until then, friends, Go Eventing!

The team standings going into the final phase.

The top ten heading into tomorrow morning’s cross-country finale.

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

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

EN’s coverage of CHIO Aachen is brought to you in part by Kentucky Performance Products. Click here to learn more about Kentucky Performance Products and its wide array of supplements available for your horse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lauren Nicholson and Vermiculus. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

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

Sydney Elliott and QC Diamantaire. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

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

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

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

Tuesday News & Notes from Legends Horse Feed

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

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

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

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

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

News & Notes from Around the World:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday News & Notes from FutureTrack

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

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

US Weekend Action:

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

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

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

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

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

UK Weekend Action:

Burnham Market (2): [Results]

Cornbury House International: [Results]

Frenchfield (2): [Results]

Frickley Park (2): [Results]

West Wilts (3): [Results]

 

Your Monday Reading List:

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

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

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

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

The FutureTrack Follow:

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

Morning Viewing:

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

Friday Video from SmartPak: Behind the Scenes at Bicton

 

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

Tuesday News & Notes from Legends Horse Feed

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

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

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

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

News and Notes from Around the World:

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

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

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

 

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

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

Monday News & Notes from FutureTrack

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

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

U.S. Weekend Action:

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

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

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

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

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

UK Weekend Action:

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

Richmond (2): [Results]

Sapey (2): [Results]

Your Monday Reading List:

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

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

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

The FutureTrack Follow:

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

Morning Viewing:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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