There are a few riders in this game that never, ever throw away a mark unless there’s a figurative gun to their heads, and Badminton winner Laura Collett is one of them. Whichever horse she comes out on, you’d be wise to pay attention to — and although much of the sport’s attention has quite rightly been on her stable star London 52, she’s got some real secret weapons in her string. Among those is the 13-year-old Dacapo, who has flirted with the low 20s on several occasions, and today came into his own in the main arena at Boekelo, putting an unassailable 21.9 on the board to take a 2.5 point lead.
“He’s always promised to do something like this, but he’s a funny one, because he’s so relaxed and laid back but he does actually have a bit of tension, in a weird way,” says Laura. “He thinks he knows what he’s doing, and then he doesn’t like being told what to do, so when you say ‘no, maybe not that’, he gets in a bit of a strop. But he was lovely in there — he just listened and did everything that I asked him to do, which is shocking, really!”
Laura’s last trip to Boekelo back in 2019 saw her take the win on London 52, which marked an enormous turning point in the horse’s career and transformed him into something of a winning machine — and there’s every chance this week could do the same for his stablemate, who’s been waiting in the wings.
“He’s grown up alongside London and always been slightly in his shadow, but this year, we’ve just taken the pressure off and said ‘let’s just enjoy him’,” says Laura. “He went to Pau last year, and this year we thought we’d just go to some nice four-stars and let him enjoy himself. When he’s on form, he’s very competitive, so let’s try to win some four-stars instead of stressing him out at five-star this year, and then if it goes well here, we can look at stepping him back up again next year. We’re here this week to have a fun time and let him enjoy himself — and so far, he seems to be doing that!”
Dacapo, who has enormous accolades to his name such as a second place finish at Aachen last year, a win at Millstreet CCI4*-L this year, and 11 four-star placings in total, has also been an occasionally tempestuous character — but so far, the approach looks to be paying off, and he’s not been out of the five in FEI events this season.
“The course should suit him him here — he did one of his first four-longs here [in 2019] and went really well, and he’s got a lot more experience under his belt now,” says Laura. “But he’s the kind of horse where if he wants to do it, he’ll do it — it’s not really the course that’s the problem! It’s beautifully built here, as always, and I’m really looking forward to having a crack at it.”
British-based Italian Giovanni Ugolotti looked as though he meant business from the moment he trotted down the chute to the main arena with Swirly Temptress: all power and extravagance, the ten-year-old British-bred mare was a far cry from the spicy mare who reared bolt upright in the mid-test halt in Aston-le-Walls’s CCI4*-S last spring. They were duly rewarded, earning a 24.4 and overnight second — though, as Giovanni explains, the halts are still a work in progress that, once nailed down, will see her trend even lower.
“I know she can be very, very good in the dressage, but it wasn’t mistake-free — I think there’s a few marks yet to come,” he says. “But I’m super, super happy with her — she was amazing. I would say the halt is something that I can’t ride her to yet, because she gets a little bit tense about it. She’s an amazing mover, so I need to always be quite precise, because I know she has the ability to actually trot off and canter. The changes are there, and I would say she’s a horse that’ll go closer to 20 next season when it’s all established.”
There was a long wait throughout the morning for the first sub-30 test, and when they started to come, no one was much surprised to see them coming at the hands of the Brits: Sarah Bullimore and Evita AP delivered the first, a 28.4 that sees them sit sixth overnight, and just after the lunch break, Ros Canter and Izilot DHI posted the second. Their 25 clinches overnight third place and helps the Brits to take a significant lead in the Nations Cup, the first phase of which was completed today.
The nine-year-old ‘Isaac’ produced a fluent, expressive test — something that’s become rather a hallmark for the Burgham and Bramham CCI4*-S winner after an early career that was all about patience, gentle encouragement, and plenty of spooking along the way. Now, he’s becoming a horse that embraces the atmosphere — and Boekelo certainly has plenty of that.
Fourth place overnight is held by New Zealand’s Tim Price and the 2019 Seven-Year-Old World Champion Happy Boy, who makes his third CCI4*-L start after a technical elimination at Lignières last year and a sixth-place finish at Millstreet. Though this is just his tenth FEI event, the ten-year-old has a remarkable record: beyond taking that World Champion title, he was also sixth in this summer’s CCIO4*-S at Haras du Pin, which was full to the brim with well over 100 of the world’s best horses and riders. He’s romped home clear and inside the time in five of those FEI starts, added less than three time penalties in two more, and never had a cross-country jumping penalty — and his performance today, which earned him a 25.6, proved that he’s a force to be reckoned with on the flat as well.
“He’s quite a small-moving horse normally, but he’s a real athlete, so that work is getting more quality as he learns his craft,” says Tim. “And he’s just got a great brain. He’s a bit of a jack of all trades, master of none, but we call him the Dark Horse, because obviously he’s literally a dark horse, but also, he doesn’t make a fuss on the yard, and he’s just there, happy to be doing his job every day. He comes out, goes to work, and then goes to a competition and wins it, and everyone’s like, ‘wait, did Happy just win again?!'”
Tim has been embracing the gelding’s rather Labrador-like nature, which makes him an enormously trainable character: “He’s coming along really well, and I’m very pleased to have him. He’s had a few goes in a bit of atmosphere now, which used to get to him — he used to jog in the walk and anticipate things, but he’s realising it’s easier now. It’s why I love geldings at the moment — some of the interviews we’ve done over the years after horses like Ascona M have been very different, but life’s fun on a gelding. This guy’s all about the path of least resistance, much like myself!”
Liz Halliday-Sharp leads the way for Team USA, sitting fifth overnight on a 26.2 with Ocala Horse Properties and Deborah Palmer’s exquisite Miks Master C. Though the pair have only been a partnership for five months, there’s an awful lot to get excited about here: the ten-year-old US-bred Swedish Warmblood by Mighty Magic has three top-quality paces and a natural balance that looks set to send him down to the low 20s once the relationship is fully formed. For now, though, Liz is using every ride as a valuable learning opportunity.
“He’s a really, really wonderful horse,” says Liz. “The test wasn’t quite as polished as I want it to be, because I’m a perfectionist, but our partnership is very young and he’s a horse that’s always had a lot of power, but he’s kind of never used this much power. So he’s kind of different at every show.”
Today, that power shone through as expressive, extravagant movement that belied the fact that Liz sometimes felt like she was simply trying to contain the engine.
“There were a few little areas where I was sort of anchoring in because it was all engine and not much control,” she laughs. “But he’s wonderful, and he’s going to be spectacular. I suppose I came here hoping I could do lower than a 25, because I know he’s capable, but there’s still those little bits to polish up — but that’ll come. I’m thrilled with him: he’s never seen atmosphere like this in his life, and he’s never even left North America, so this is a great experience for him.”
Liz, who took on the ride after a period of inaction, is particularly excited to have another great horse in her string for her stalwart owners – particularly as this one, she feels, could be the horse to take her to the Olympics.
“Maya Black produced him up to four-star, and then when she and the owner parted ways last November, the horse was just in the field for a bit,” she says. “Then the owner, Laurie Cameron, who also bred him, called me up out of the blue and said, ‘I have this horse — would you take the ride on him and produce him, ultimately to sell him?’ I thought, ‘sure, he’s a nice horse’, and then I sat on him at Tryon for the first time when we went to pick him up and realised that he’s a very nice horse. He just needed some training, and he was weak, because he hadn’t competed all season — but he’s come such a long way in a few months, and I’m really lucky that Ocala Horse Properties and Debbie Palmer got involved so we could keep him. That’s been amazing — it’s like the universe brought him to me, and I hope he’ll be my Olympic horse.”
The US contingent has been unmissable in its support for one another today, with the Stars and Stripes arriving en masse to cheer on each horse and rider — but none had such a large and enthusiastic team of supporters as anchors Boyd Martin and Fedarman B.
Boyd, who arrives at Boekelo fresh off the back of a successful trip to the World Championships at Pratoni, is debuting the 12-year-old KWPN for Team USA for the Annie Goodwin Syndicate, formed in honour of the much-loved rider who tragically passed away following a schooling accident last summer. The pair gave Annie and her family and friends much to cheer about, posting a 29.8 that sees them sit tenth overnight.
“Of course, I always had dreams and aspirations of getting in around a 25, but it’s still a work in progress,” says Boyd. “I’m very, very pleased with the horse — he’s lovely to ride; he’s very relaxed in there and in hindsight, I screwed up both the changes and could have gone for a bit more in the trot, but next year, I’ll be able to clean all that up.”
For Boyd, who worked closely with Annie in a coaching capacity, it’s a particularly special moment to step the gelding up to team duties.
“He’s a horse with a story, and so many people love him,” says Boyd. “Until me, he’s only ever had one rider, and that was Annie – so he’s a real champion horse and a very lovable animal, with a huge fan club in the States. It’s a privilege and an honour riding him, and I feel like our partnership is just gelling.”
“I was lucky enough to coach Annie, especially in the last couple of years, and so I saw ‘Bruno’ progress from Preliminary to Intermediate to Advanced. They were a wonderful pair and it was quite tragic, because she was a rider right on the brink of stardom. So it’s a real honour to continue the work that she put into him. I’ve become very close to her mom and dad, who are here this weekend, and I’ve become close with all her friends and fiancé, too, who all come to the farm just to see him and say hello to him. I’m on a mission to try to make him as great as he can be.”
It’s a team debut for Alyssa Phillips and Oskar, who also make their first trip to Europe this week – and they’ve started in fine style, putting a 31.2 on the board for provisional sixteenth place. They earned a smattering of 8s through their work, and though a break to canter in the extended trot proved costly, there was much to like in their fluent, uphill test.
“It’s so exciting to be here — I’ve worked so hard to get to this point,” says Alyssa, who’s been getting valuable advice from teammate Liz Halliday-Sharp and her own coach, Jennie Brannigan, who have shared their own Boekelo intel and experiences with her. “Everyone on the team has been great. I haven’t been on a team since Young Riders, and that’s been a while, so it’s been so fun so far.”
13-year-old Oskar has been with Alyssa since 2016, when she got him as a six-year-old from Liz Halliday-Sharp, and so the pair come forward for the USA with a wealth of valuable faith in one another – and the ineffable partnership that comes from having climbed the levels together.
“He’s a great horse, and I’m so happy that my first time on a team is with him,” she says. “He’s awesome. I’ve been getting a lot of help from Erik [Duvander] on the flat, and it helps when he also helps me ride him, because he’s a lot stronger than I am. Oskar is coming along leaps and bounds on the flat — he’s just getting better and better, and today’s test, for where he is in his training, is the best he’s gone.”
James Alliston sits in 28th overnight on 37.4 with the eight-year-old Nemesis, who produced a promising test peppered with some green mistakes but is, as Erik Duvander enthusiastically seconds, a seriously exciting looking horse for the future. For James, who recently changed his nationality to the US from Great Britain after many years on the West Coast, this is a remarkable opportunity not just for his up-and-coming stable star, but for himself, too.
“He’s a really good boy, and his temperament is lovely,” he says. “US Eventing is really cool about doing this trip – you apply, and then you wait to hear if you’ve made it or not, and I was really excited to find out I could go. I’m so happy to be here, and I’m so excited to represent the US. I moved over after I graduated from university, so it’s been quite a while, and all my clients and the people I teach and the owners and everything are all American, so it just made sense [to make the switch]. US Eventing has always been very kind to me, and the coaches have always been very nice with helping me out, even though I’m not American.”
The combined efforts of the US team put them in second place overnight in the Nations Cup competition on an aggregate score of 87.2, just shy of 12 points behind first-phase leaders Great Britain. New Zealand sits third on 88.4, while Germany – currently in the lead in the series standings and one of just three teams in contention for the series prize, is fourth on 88.8. The other two teams on the hunt for this title, Italy and Sweden, sit eighth and tenth respectively going into cross country.
The individual and team competitions aren’t the only prizes up for grabs here: also on the line is the Dutch National Championship, which was won last year for the fifth time, and on a fifth different horse, by Tim Lips. At the end of today he’s at the forefront of the race to take it again, sitting 21st provisionally with new ride Wicro Quibus, who he took on from fellow Dutch rider Laura Bergmans-Hoogeveen this season. The 15-year-old KWPN gelding, with whom Tim has just one CCI3*-S under his belt as a partnership, posted a 33.7 to sit just ahead of Janneke Boonzaaijer and Bouncer, 22nd on 34.4.
Tomorrow’s dressage is all about the individual competitors, and will commence from 10.00 a.m. local time (9.00 a.m. BST/4.00 a.m EST). You can check out the times in full here, and to watch along, check out our viewing guide. Until then: Go Eventing!