With the team dressage in the books, today at Military Boekelo was all about individual competitors in the CCIO4*-L – but such is the strength of the team competitors that just two combinations would ultimately crack the top ten throughout the day.
It’s great news for supporters of Great Britain, though, as four of the five new entrants into the top fifteen ride under the Union Jack. Laura Collett and London 52 produced a typically cadenced, expressive test, earning a final mark of 26 and propelling them into third place – just over a point behind former World Champion Sandra Auffarth and Let’s Dance 73, who remain our leaders on 24.9.
A test sheet populated by 7.5s and 8s was just marred by one minor error in the first flying change, which saw them slip into the fives – had they matched the marks of their second change, they’d have moved up a placing onto a score of 25.1.
“It was an expensive change, but he just got a little bit lit up in there,” explains Laura. “But we just kept him sweet – he hasn’t run since the Europeans, so it’s all about keeping him happy.”
But, as Laura points out, the point this week isn’t to win the dressage, which they’ve proven time and time again that they can do: instead, it’s to put their run of unfortunate luck to bed and deliver in all three phases. For the upstart gelding, who finished second here last year in just his second international season, the right stuff is all there – it’s just about putting it together on the day now, without a blip.
“[Since last year] he’s got a lot stronger and he understands it a bit better now, so he’s a lot easier to ride all the movements on because he actually knows what he’s doing – last year he was a bit of a baby, but he pulled it out of the bag here off the back of a very good year. This year’s been a bit different, but he’s still learning – he’s only ten, and he’s improving all the time,” she says. “The course is absolutely perfect for him; there’s lot of nice flowing fences, and the course is set to you into a rhythm. He should have a really happy time, which is what he’s here to do.”
Sarah Bullimore and her 2018 seven-year-old national champion Corouet, a homebred out of her former five-star mare Lilly Corinne, delivered a mark of 26.5 to put them in sixth place on the tightly-packed leaderboard. The diminutive gelding, who Sarah has described as having ‘small man syndrome’ looked at his best in the ring, shelving his occasional cheeky antics and remaining workmanlike despite one tense moment in the canter work, in which he came off the bridle for a stride.
“He was a good boy – he’s a bit of a monkey in there, and he can just drop you,” says Sarah, who has earned a reputation as a remarkably tactful rider of tricky horses. “I just wonder if, because my legs are so long, I just struggle to actually get my leg on and give him a bit of a kick. I’m kicking air, most of the time! He just thinks about creeping behind me a little bit, but he was really good in there. He’s really precocious; he loves the atmosphere, he thinks [the crowd] is all there for him, and he loves to show off – but sometimes his showing off isn’t quite the showing off that we’re actually looking for!”
Sarah hopes that Corouet’s precocity will help propel him through tomorrow’s cross-country, which sees them leave the start box at the tail end of the 97-strong field.
“That’s tough, when you’re basically on a pony – he could be eleven hands coming out of that mud, and the fences will look six foot,” she laughs. “But it’s a lovely track, and we’ll be going out there and giving it our best shot.”
A newer ride for Izzy Taylor proved an exciting prospect indeed. Fonbherna Lancer, previously ridden to CCI2*-L by Neil Spratt, has been in Izzy’s yard just a year, but the nine-year-old Dutch Warmblood is giving the British rider plenty to look forward to. His dressage test today earned the pair a 28.7, moving them into twelfth place at the conclusion of the phase.
“He’s a beautiful, beautiful horse, and I’m very lucky to ride him – Marcus and Emma Craggs of the Lancer Stud bought him as a young horse, and he’s very exciting for them,” says Izzy. “I was delighted with how he coped today; he’s a nine-year-old, and we’re still in a very new relationship, if you like. Because he’s beautiful to ride, he’s also incredibly sensitive and sometimes that can be a little bit detrimental at the beginning of a relationship. But he’s beginning to have a bit of faith in me and realise that it’s not all that scary. To come to Boekelo and cope was very good.”
A wobbly moment in the canter as they transitioned from the extension to collection and turned onto the centreline was the only blip in an otherwise consistent and pleasant performance.
“He got better and better as he went through the test. At the end there he made a mistake coming back from the extended canter, but it was just typical of him trying too hard – like, ‘what do you want? A change?’ No, just slow down a bit, that’s all,” she says with a laugh. “But that’s classic him – and you can’t fault a trier.”
Michael Jung, who sits fifth with fischerRocana and seventh with Cooley Creevagh, added his third and final horse to the top fifteen when he produced a mark of 28.8 to end the day in thirteenth place with Highlighter. The eight-year-old gelding, with whom he won Strzegom’s CCI4*-S in August and finished sixth in the CCI4*-S German National Championships at Luhmühlen in June, was placed seventh by Stuart Bishell at M, tenth by Dr Katrin Eichinger-Kniely at E, but 32nd by Jane Tolley at C.
In a day dominated by young up-and-comers, Polly Stockton and Mister Maccondy showed the value of experience when they posted a score of 29 to sit equal-fourteenth with fellow Brits Laura Collett and Dacapo. This is the first time that Polly has dipped below the 30 barrier with the fourteen-year-old British-bred gelding, who was originally produced by Ruth Edge, and with whom Polly finished sixth at Blair CCI4*-S and eighth at Bramham CCI4*-L this year.
“I was really pleased – he realistically did as well as I could expect,” says Polly, who took the ride on Mister Maccondy in early 2017. “There were a couple of mistakes, but I was really chuffed. I thought he might get a bit more stressed, but he held it together really well. He actually stopped after the extended canter – I’m usually leaning back in the saddle trying to get him to stop, so that was a highlight!”
The final US rider and competing reserve Matt Flynn made his way down the centreline this morning, posting a 32.9 to sit equal 53rd overnight with his Kentucky partner, the ten-year-old Wizzerd.
“I’m really happy with him; that’s pretty good for where he is. It’s a big ring for a young horse. I thought his medium work was really good – we’ve been working to improve the half-passes, and those were pretty much where we wanted them today,” says Matt, who has been working closely with James Burtwell and chef d’equipe Erik Duvander to produce the horse on the flat.
“I’m really grateful to James and Erik for all their help over the past months and weeks – they’ve been helping me like crazy, and it’s really paid off. The connection and the frame have improved greatly. James is local to me in Florida in the off-season, so that’s a huge benefit, and Erik’s taken a huge amount of time to be available to all us riders. That’s a huge asset. For my first time on a plane [with a horse], I’m pleased with where we’re at.”
A bobble in the upward transition to collected canter out of the second walk pirouette was Matt’s one bugbear with his test.
“Obviously that was disappointing, but we had to deal with it and just get on with the rest of the test,” he says. “It was just a little bit of exuberance – I should have been a little bit softer with my aids and given him a bit more time.”
Tomorrow’s cross-country begins bright and early at 9.30 a.m. local time/8.30 a.m. BST/3.30 a.m. EST, and will run in the same order as the dressage, which means that all of the team combinations will run first, followed by the individuals. You can see the full list of starting times here – but if you’re tuning in to cheer on the US team, who sit second after the first phase, here’s when to tune in (subject, of course, to holds and delays):
- Jennie Brannigan and Stella Artois (=32nd): 10.18 a.m. local time/5.18 a.m. EST
- Liz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Quicksilver (=40th): 11.06 a.m. local/6.06 a.m. EST
- Tamie Smith and Mai Baum (8th): 11.54 a.m. local/6.54 a.m. EST
- Matt Flynn and Wizzerd (=53rd): 13.42 p.m. local/8.42 a.m. EST
You can watch a flyover video preview of the course, which is designed for the first time by its previous builder, Adrian Ditcham, here. The course has been widely praised for its fairness, its flow, and its welcome galloping stretches – historically, this has been considered a reasonably twisty track when designed by Sue Benson. But Boekelo tends to walk rather differently than it rides, as Izzy Taylor points out: “the crowds are very close, and the time tends to be very tight, too, so it’s always a bit of a different story riding it,” she explains.