We certainly never expected anyone to topple the serious lead established yesterday by World Champions Yasmin Ingham and Banzai du Loir in Blenheim’s CCI4*-L, where they delivered the talented rider’s career-best score of 20.5 — and today, nobody did so. But where Yas finished yesterday with a five-or-so mark margin over her nearest competitor, she now goes into tomorrow’s cross-country with a much slimmer lead. That’s all thanks to Ros Canter — herself a former World Champion — and the ten-year-old Dutch gelding Izilot DHI (Zavall VDL x Cavalier).
They didn’t just deliver the test of the day to earn a 21.6 — that’s 1.1 penalties off the lead, or less than three time penalties, before you start doing the hard maths — they also managed to snatch an elusive 10 for their second flying change, which is probably the first and last time I’ll ever write that in this sport, so let’s all enjoy it together, shall we?
“I was absolutely delighted with him,” says Ros, who comes to this, the gelding’s third CCI4*-L, off the back of a win in Blair’s CCI4*-S. “I’ve been a little bit braver today with just working him a little bit quieter, doing a little bit less. Previously, I’ve had to do quite a lot of work to get his brain, but he’s been feeling so good this week I thought I best actually reward him and be brave myself and trust him, and I was really pleased with the outcome.”
‘Isaac’ has been a formidable talent throughout his relatively short career, but not always the most straightforward horse to pilot — but in this phase, at least, he has bags of capability, and has previously gone sub-20 at four-star.
“We’re still scratching the surface to be quite honest,” says Ros. “There’s a huge amount more in there from him, I think. But I was delighted with his softness; we maybe lacked a bit of expression in places today, but actually, his softness, his throughness, and his flexibility at the poll was by far better than I’ve had it before.”
Though Ros enjoyed an excellent run in tough conditions — and an 18 dressage — at Chatsworth earlier this year, she explains that latter-season goals are best to help Isaac settle into his year and perform at his best.
“This time of year is a better time of year for him; he’s very tricky in spring,” says Ros. “He’s tricky in bad weather, and things like that, so it’s a nice day for him today.”
Riding him, and learning how to eke the best out of him despite some setbacks, is also a huge educational opportunity for herself, she continues.
“I’m learning all the time; this horse has taught me more than any other horse has ever taught me. I learn every day when I ride him — playing about, working it out. He’s had a little bit of a head tip in the last few events and today I didn’t get that. That was a missing key I found yesterday, just working by myself and playing away, so he’s an absolute pleasure and he teaches me an awful lot.”
Gemma Stevens and Jalapeno, who sat second last night, now move down to third on their 25.6, while Laura Collett and Calahari (Casdorff x Atacama 5, by Night Storm xx) who she’s riding for Ireland’s Aoife Clark as she recovers from a particularly nasty broken arm, take overnight fourth. ‘Harry’ is a sensitive, sharp-minded type of horse — not, perhaps, the kind of horse who would ordinarily thrive with a change of rider at a pivotal point in his career — but after just a couple of months together, the fledgling partnership appears to be blossoming, with a win at Cornbury’s CCI3*-S serving as a great indicator and a confidence-boosting prep ahead of his first full CCI4*-L.
“I haven’t had him very long — he’s Aoife’s horse, and I’m just standing in,” says Laura. “At Lisgarvan and Cornbury it finally felt like we’re kind of gelling as a partnership, so hopefully just in time for a big one! He’s a really fun horse. He’s very, very different to my normal types, and it’s taken a while to kind of get the feeling and find the buttons, but hopefully I feel like we found them.”
Their test today earned them a 25.8 — the German Sport Horse’s best-ever four-star score.
“He really stayed with me. He can get hot but he didn’t feel at all buzzy — he was really rideable,” says Laura. “The trot work felt really good. He doesn’t have the best of walk and there’s a lot of walk in that test!”
He’s already the overnight leader in one class here, and Tom McEwen‘s no slouch in this one, either — as the final rider of the day, he piloted new-ish ride Brookfield Quality to a 26.6 and overnight fifth place, ahead of Pippa Funnell and Billy Walk On in sixth (27.1) and Kirsty Chabert and Opposition Loire in seventh (27.9).
Their smart, polished test came despite having to negotiate the picky walk section of the test while facing a rearing horse in the neighbouring arena — but, laughs Tom, “I had no idea! Norris knows exactly what he’s doing now, thanks to everybody’s work — he’s brilliant. It was probably not the best work we’ve done, and not the best work we’ve done all week [while schooling], so in that department it was a little bit of a shame, but nothing more than that. He just cracks on with it — we had a late change, which was, again, a shame but he was just a little bit behind my leg at some points today.”
That, he says, “could be down to many things. I worked him this morning and he’s just been doing one days, so he wouldn’t have had any of that. So it’s possibly something along those lines, to be honest, but I’m delighted with him. There’s plenty of people this afternoon to see him and he coped really well them. I’m still actually really getting to know him in many ways, and we’ve still got a bit of learning between each other.”
Tom inherited the ride from fellow Brookfield Stables pilot Piggy March, who campaigned ‘Norris’ up to CCI4*-L and handed the reins over in the middle of last season. This’ll be just Tom’s second FEI start on the gelding — they were third in Blair’s CCI4*-S last August in their first — but he’s already itching to get out on course and find out what the gelding’s made of on a longer track.
“He’s lovely. He’s the coolest, especially cross-country — he’s great fun, he finds the flags and off he goes, he absolutely loves it,” he enthuses.
New Zealand’s Samantha Lissington goes into cross-country in overnight eighth on a 28.7 with the expressive German-bred ten-year-old Lord Seekonig (Lord Fauntleroy x Seekoenigin, by Carpalo). A mistake in the end of their canter work, which saw them earn 4s and 5s, precluded a higher-placed score, but considering the gelding’s age and experience level — he’s run at just three four-stars — Sam was thrilled to produce a competitive result.
“He was awesome,” she says. “I felt like I could really ask for all the movements. We just had one little confusion at the end where he thought I was asking for a flying change, but then we figured that out. The changes are a work in progress for him; the penny’s just starting to drop, but sometimes you do get the odd extra one. He’s a lovely horse to ride on the flat, though, and he’s come a long way.”
For Sam, taking the horse on a year ago from Ireland’s Alex Power represents a new challenge for her as a rider, too.
“He is still relatively new to me, and it’s the first time I’ve really ridden something that’s been produced by someone else,” she explains. “Normally, I produce them from scratch. So that’s been a bit of a learning curve for me, about making him feel like my own horse, and we feel like we’re just starting to get to that point now.”
Piggy March and last year’s eight- and nine-year-old CCI4*-S champion, the ten-year-old Halo, sit ninth overnight, slotting in ahead of German National Champions Julia Krajewski and Ero de Cantraie. But while the stallion is very capable of exceptionally low scores — he scored a 21.3 here last year en route to the win, for example — he didn’t quite have his usual sparkle in the ring today, and put a still-very-respectable 28.7 on the board to sit a margin of 8.2 penalties off the lead.
“I’m really disappointed actually,” admits Piggy. “He’s fine; he’s a lovely horse; he has it all there, but that’s not what he should be doing or has been doing. He just sort of went a bit into himself a bit and drew back behind me totally, and he’s not that sort of a horse. So whether it’s just a long day with the heat… I haven’t over-worked him, I don’t know. But it’s horses — we all know the drill! He’s been so much more lovely and expressive and consistent, but today he just came into himself.”
But, she reasons, “tomorrow’s another day, and another learning opportunity for him. I knew he wouldn’t trouble those really good guys, but he’s capable of taking five marks off that quite comfortably. You just always think, ‘what should I have done differently?’ and so it’s always a learning thing for me, too. It’s why it keeps us all so mental, riding these things!”
US under-25 rider Cosby Green and her thirteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse Highly Suspicious got their week off to a smart start with a pleasant test that lost some expensive marks in the walk and the flying changes, putting them on a first-phase score of 36.4 and into overnight 59th, which is still only a reasonably scant 16-and-change penalties off the top end of the board.
Canada’s Hanna Bundy and her off-the-track Thoroughbred Lovely Assistant sit equal with them on the same score. Like Cosby, Hanna is benefitting from time spent with Tim and Jonelle Price — though on a shorter-term basis as she benefits from a grant kindly supplied for the development of Canadian riders by Kelly McCarthy-Maine and Shane Maine.
“I was lucky enough to be one of the grant recipients to come over here for the Nation’s Cup in our Arville in Belgium — four of us came over at the beginning of August, did the Nation’s Cup, and then we’ve all chosen a different path,” says Hanna. “Jessie Phoenix did Burghley, and I’m doing Blenehim; Katie Malensek is doing the eight- and nine-year-olds, and then Kendal Lehari is going to do Boekelo. We’re just so grateful — we’ve been able to train here with Jonelle Price and also our team coach, Rebecca Howard. It’s been a huge learning curve and so far — knock on wood — it’s all been going in the right direction, so it’s been exciting, really very lucky.”
Hanna had Jonelle’s (admittedly formidable) voice in her head as she navigated the test with her diminutive mare.
“Every single movement, every single transition, everything has to have a purpose and you have to do it right,” she says of her mentor’s training ethos. “You can’t just stay up there having no plan — you have to have a plan and you have to execute it well. That’s what I’ve learned from her, and she’s inspiring. She is so on it, 100% of the time, and she teaches that way too. It’s been awesome, and just watching Tim and Jonelle ride and everything and just watching their programme has been amazing.”
That translated into a test that slots in nicely with the mare’s new mid-30s wheelhouse.
“She can get quite tense and I was able to keep my leg on her the whole time, which is a plus,” says Hanna. “There were a few places where I lost some marks, but I was happy with it overall. She kept her head on her shoulders and did her job.”
Hanna was supported on the ground by an enviable crew that included her new UK-based cohorts and colleagues, but also her fiancé, Nick Hansen, who has been a pivotal part of her partnership with the twelve-year-old mare, who sticked at just 14.2hh when she was bought off the track for a dollar.
“Nick got her off the track as a three year old intending to sell her but she just jumped and then we were like, ‘let’s just hang on to her for a little bit longer!’,” says Hanna. “Nick’s sister, Juliana, produced her up to Prelim and did a great job, and I got her four years ago. Juliana decided she didn’t want to event anymore, so I got to take over the ride — which is amazing for me. Juliana did a great job; she knew her job already. She knew to go through the flags, she needed to go fast, so it’s been easy!”
Cali-stralian Bec Braitling also performed her test this morning with Caravaggio, whose European experience this summer has been helping him to cope with the big atmospheres of bustling events — and while they still had some tricky moments in their test, there were some very pleasing moments, too, and areas in which the striking gelding looked to more visibly relax into his work. They’ll go into cross-country on a 40.1 and in overnight 79th place.
Now, with the dressage in the rearview mirror, it’s on to the fun bit — cross-country. With 93 horses and riders to tackle David Evans’ track tomorrow, it’s going to be a seriously big day of action, beginning at 11.30 a.m. (5.30 a.m. EST) and continuing until just before 5.00 p.m. (12.00 p.m. EST), holds notwithstanding. Check out the course to come on CrossCountryApp’s interactive preview, and be sure to tune in to Horse&Country TV to follow along with all the fun through their live-stream — and, of course, head back on over to EN at the end of the day for all the insights and analysis you could ask for. Go Eventing!
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