Bramham Cross-Country: A Trio of British Ladies Serve Up Kardashian-Level Drama

Gemma Tattersall Takes CCI4*-S Victory

“She’s so amazing,” enthused a beaming Gemma Tattersall, after skipping her way around the CCI4*-S track with Quicklook V, winning on her dressage score of 21.6. ‘Pebbles’, as she’s known at home, isn’t ordinarily fond of the sort of wet conditions that today offered up, but the incredibly well-maintained parkland absorbed the consistent rain, allowing for springy, productive footing.

“It’s the best ground we have in eventing – it can take the rain,” says Gemma. “You’d never have known that horses had been round it all day.”

Gemma Tattersall and Quicklook V. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It was a welcome return to the level for Pebbles, who hasn’t run cross-country internationally since the European Championships in 2017. There, she added just 3.6 time penalties across a fiendishly tricky Pierre Michelet track, despite an incredible detriment in the final stages.

“Two minutes from home, her larynx completely collapsed, [but we didn’t know until afterwards, because] that little horse just galloped on until the end,” explains Gemma. “Afterwards, my vet heard her breathe and said that she was one of the bravest horses he’s ever seen to keep going.”

Pebbles underwent a significant wind operation, and then was sidelined with a minor, unrelated injury. Now fourteen, she’s inarguably back with a bang: today marks the first competition of this level in which she’s finished inside the time.

“Her showjumping round was one of the best she’s ever jumped; she was just pinging around, and never even came close to touching one. She’s only about 15.3hh, but she has so much scope and stride – you can really open her up [on cross-country], but you can also make her really little.”

Gemma Tattersall and Quicklook V. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Pebbles’ return to form begs the obvious question: will we see the Olympian at the very top level again?

“We’ve never quite got to five-star with her, because we didn’t know if she’d have the stamina. She’s such an amazing jumper, too, that I’d never want to break her heart. We won’t rule it out, but we won’t promise it, either – she owes us nothing,” explains Gemma.

Laura Collett and Dacapo. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Second place went to Laura Collett and Dacapo, offering up a positive end to a rollercoaster day for the rider, who retired on cross-country in the CCI4*-L with London 52. Dacapo, for his part, jumped flawlessly around the short four-star, finishing on his impressive dressage score of 23.3, and sparking a revelation for his rider after a disappointing first CCI4*-L run last week at Tattersalls.

“He’s been a different horse all week – in every way, he’s been awake and on it. At Tatts, he felt like he couldn’t be bothered, and I think that’s because I didn’t have to keep after him – there was space for him to just gallop, and I think he went a bit braindead with it.”

For now, Laura plans to play to the talented gelding’s strengths, and will run him in CCI4*-S competitions and Event Rider Masters legs, although she hasn’t ruled out a trip to Boekelo for the CCI4*-L.

“It’s the only one I’d take him to at the moment,” she says. “It would suit him much better.”

Emily King and Brookleigh. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Third-placed Emily King also enjoyed a return to form with her horse, but in a slightly different way: Brookleigh makes his long-awaited return to competition this season after nearly three years out with an injury. The former Clayton Fredericks ride ran at Ballindenisk last year, winning the CCI3*-S, but has otherwise been totally off the radar since Badminton in 2016, where he fell at the penultimate fence while lying in second place. Prior to that, he and Emily made their five-star debut together at Pau in 2015, finishing fourth. Today, the seventeen-year-old Westphalian added just an extra second in the showjumping to his 23.6, cruising to an easy podium finish.

“He feels amazing – so happy and enthusiastic,” says Emily. “He’s been squealing and bucking around the place all week.”

A laid-back lifestyle has been key to Brookleigh’s return to form: “we keep the pressure off at home,” explains Emily. “He doesn’t do a lot of schooling, and he spends a lot of time in the field, which keeps him enthused. I’m over the moon to have him back – he’s taught me so much.”

Tamie Smith and Wembley III. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Both of our US riders produced classy performances today: Lexi Scovil and Chico’s Man VDF Z added just 4.4 time penalties to finish fourteenth, while Tamie Smith and Wembley III added the same to round out the top twenty. Now, both will be looking ahead to big end of season goals: Lexi hopes to contest the CCI4*-L at Blenheim, while Tamie will be focusing on a Burghley run.

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

The King in the North: Vendredi Biats Leads CCI4*-L

61 starters took to Ian’s beefed-up Bramham CCI4*-L track today, and although 70% would complete, only 20 would manage to do so with clear rounds – a mere 33% success rate. Interestingly, despite that percentage being so low, a significant amount romped home clear inside the time – thirteen in all, or 21% of the starters. The reason for this slightly baffling set of figures? A tough course, yes, but one set over remarkably good ground, which benefited from a steady fall of rain to add just enough softness overnight. The clear rate, too, was considerably lowered by a higher-than-average number of frangible pin penalties. Ten horse-and-rider combinations, in all, would be awarded eleven penalties somewhere on the course.

“There was, possibly, more trouble than I’d have like, especially where the pins breaking is concerned,” says course designer Ian Stark. “They’re there for safety reasons, and though some were unlucky – and I’d really have loved those riders not to have had eleven penalties – others wouldn’t have stayed in the saddle, or upright, if not for the pins. They did their job.”

Kitty King and Vendredi Biats soar into the lead in the CCI4*-L. Photo by Katie Neat Photography.

On the hunt for redemption after a disappointing elimination at Badminton was British stalwart Kitty King and the ten-year-old French-bred Vendredi Biats, known as Froggy. Though he has a history of some cheekiness, he delivered a mature and commendable performance to gallop home clear, inside the time, and in the lead, putting his Badminton demons well and truly to bed.

“I hadn’t necessarily thought he’d be ready for Badminton this year, but then he came out this spring and he was excellent,” says Kitty. “I thought there was no reason not to go, really, but then his inexperience came out. It’s a shame, but it’s competition, and he’s come here feeling no worse for it – it hasn’t set him back at all. I don’t think he even realised anything had gone wrong.”

“He was pretty much foot-perfect everywhere today. He can run through the bridle a bit, but he didn’t do that here at all – he stayed in balance, which made riding for the time easy. It’s nice to put Badminton behind us.”

The pair’s exceptional clear round allowed them to take over the top spot from dressage leader Pippa Funnell, who picked up twenty penalties for an unfortunate glance off the second element of the influential Spinny at 13AB with Billy Walk On.

Kitty and the talented grey gelding have course form here: they finished fourth last year in this class. This year, though, she finds herself sitting on a valuable extra year of milage and maturity.

“He’s definitely growing up,” she says. “Normally, it takes three runs in the spring to get his arse in gear and his brain back in the box. This year, he’s come out focussed. Badminton wasn’t a naughty mistake; he was just green and a little bit naive. He felt so confident today.”

Gemma Tattersall and new ride Jalapeno III. Photo by Katie Neat Photography.

Gemma Tattersall moves up a placing into second aboard new ride Jalapeno III. Formerly piloted by Karin Donckers, the Chilli Morning mare gave Gemma an exciting trip around the tough track.

“She gave me some feeling today,” she enthuses. “She just kept galloping to the end – she couldn’t have been any more perfect.”

The pair overcome a slightly sticky moment at the coffin: “I just shouted through it, because that’s what Karin would have done,” laughs Gemma.

Selina Milnes and Iron IV. Photo by Katie Neat Photography.

Selina Milnes and her big-strided Iron IV added 1.2 time penalties, making them the only pair in the top ten to add anything to their dressage score, but they still moved up two places to sit third overnight, after yet another performance that left spectators coveting a ride on the gelding. Meanwhile, Polly Stockton and her five-star mount Mister Maccondy climbed from fifteenth to overnight fourth on the strength of their performance.

Emily Philp and Fallulah. Photo by Tim Wilkinson/Eventing Images.

It may be the horse’s first CCI4*-L, but Ian Wills’ Fallulah showed her class yet again with Emily Philp in the irons. Fresh off the back of her ERM debut at Chatsworth, which saw the pair finish fifth, the ten-year-old mare added nothing to her dressage score of 32.4, moving her nine places up the leaderboard to sit fifth overnight. Originally produced by Ian, Fallulah contested the Seven-Year-Old World Championships in 2016, jumping clear across the country and showing an early inkling of the horse she’d become. Then, after a year out, and following Ian’s decision to devote his time to teaching, rather than competing, she was sent to join Emily’s string. Since then, she’s been on a steady upward trajectory, jumping clear around Blenheim’s eight- and nine-year-old CCI4*-S and Belton’s Grantham Cup.

The Equi-Trek CCI4*-L heads into the final horse inspection at 8.30 a.m. BST/3.30 a.m. EST tomorrow, with the showjumping following from 12.15 p.m. BST/7.30 a.m. EST.

The Pratfalls of Flag Penalties: Yasmin Ingham Takes Late Lead in Under-25 Class

Though run over the same course, the under-25 competition played out wildly differently: after three overnight withdrawals, just twenty-two combinations would start. Thirteen of those would make it over the finish line, and just five – or 23% of the field – would do so without adding jumping penalties.

Yasmin Ingham and Sandman 7. Photo by Katie Neat Photography.

“From the moment you started walking the course, you just knew that it was Bramham from the word go: it’s big, it’s bold, and it’s so Ian Stark, as it should be here,” says overnight leader Yasmin Ingham, who produced one of just two clears inside the time in this class. But taking top honours, as she did with the former Pippa Funnell ride Sandman 7, took some work, and not just because of the tough course.

“It’s my first competition at this level with Sandman, and we weren’t sure how it would go,” says Yasmin. After clocking up some impressive results over the years, including a win at Chatsworth in 2015 and eighth place in the European Championships the same year, Sandman had notched up some significant non-completions, too. He had been retired on course here in 2017 and at Tattersalls the following year, before Pippa opted to find a young rider to take the reins. Although Yasmin, who took the ride in the latter half of last year, has posted some great results with Sandman at CCI4*-S, she quite understandably moderated her hopes heading into their first long-format four-star as a partnership.

“I didn’t come here expecting any of this – I just wanted to grow the partnership,” she explains. “But at this level, you have to put it all on the line, or you won’t get around.”

Yasmin and Sandman did just that, only encountering a slight sticky moment at the final water.

“He was getting a bit tired, and I probably wasn’t punching as much as I should have been. He landed a bit too nicely, but we made it to the skinny and he popped over it so honestly. I knew we’d kicked the flag out, but I didn’t think anything of it – I just put it behind me, because on courses like this, you’ve got to stay on your lines and think ahead to ride them properly. When I finished, someone told me ‘you’ve got a 20’, and I thought, ‘oh god, where did that come from?!'”

Yasmin lodged an appeal against the decision after reviewing both the video footage and the wording of the flag rule. While she awaited the ground jury’s decision, she kept herself busy: she had another ride, this time in the CCI4*-S.

“I had to totally rejiggle my head and focus on what was ahead,” she says. “Afterwards, the owners rang me to tell me it had been removed. Everyone does need a bit of luck sometimes, and today it was on my side.”

Yasmin Ingham and Sandman 7. Photo by Photo by Katie Neat Photography.

Such was the influence of cross-country today that even with the 20 penalties, Yasmin would have held third place overnight.

“It’s all so surreal,” she says of the fortuitous position she finds herself in. “I’m just delighted, honestly – you learn to appreciate the good times in this sport, because it might be a while before you get one again!”

Will Rawlin and VIP Vinnie relinquish their lead but hold a very respectable second place overnight. Photo by Katie Neat Photography.

Will Rawlin completed with just two time penalties to move from fourth place into second overnight riding his mother Miranda’s V.I.P. Vinnie. Just eleven years old, the Hanoverian gelding (Valentino x Gianna Nannini) has already proven an exciting prospect for his 25-year-old rider, who has produced him from a four-year-old. The lengthy partnership would prove crucial when horse and rider found themselves up against the almost incomprehensible attrition rate of the class, which serves as Great Britain’s Under 25 National Championship.

“The horse is definitely capable, so I thought we could be up there, if I was on it. But I try not to get too excited about these things, otherwise you only end up disappointed,” he says with a smile.

Managing expectations certainly paid dividends today for the rider, who admits that learning to cope with competitive pressure, and its accompanying nerves, is a work in progress. But today will certainly have offered the chance for some practice in dealing with the roller-coaster of emotions in top-level sport: though Will occupied the top of the leaderboard for several hours after the conclusion of the class, Yasmin’s successful appeal saw him slip into a close second place.

Although Will doesn’t come from a horsey background, he does come from a sporting one – his father, Andy, represented Great Britain in cross-country skiing at the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics. Will, who pursued a diploma in Sports Coaching and Development, runs his compact string out of a yard he rents with the support of his family, and helps to finance his competitive pursuits by offering web-based coaching services, as well as forward-thinking and affordable syndicate packages.

“We’re learning as we go,” says Will of his homegrown venture. “I’m very lucky that my mum and dad support me, no matter what. But this is my only horse at this level, and obviously I want to get noticed by sponsors, and owners, and for teams.”

Cathal Daniels and Rioghan Rua. Photo by Katie Neat Photography.

Ireland’s Cathal Daniels may only be twenty-two, but he can claim the most experience of the field in this class: the leading Irish rider at last week’s Tattersalls International Horse Trials has also represented his country on several occasions, most notably helping Ireland to a silver medal at last year’s World Equestrian Games. There, as here, he rode the fiery, petite mare Rioghan Rua, much admired on the circuit for her fast and ferocious approach to cross-country. As expected, they produced a classy clear inside the time, propelling them from eighth after dressage into third place overnight.

The under-25s will trot up at 8.30 a.m. BST/3.30 a.m. EST tomorrow, with showjumping commencing from 10.00 a.m. BST/5.00 a.m. EST.

Beefy Bramham: An Inside Look at the Cross-Country Challenge

You’d be hard-pressed to find a tougher four-star than Bramham. Set on endless acres of sprawling parkland, it traverses hill and dale and makes clever use of every possible inch of terrain to create an all-round challenge of skill and stamina. Masterfully designed by Ian Stark, it’s the perfect litmus test ahead of a five-star attempt later on in the season. But for all that, it’s still designed to be an education – and today, it showed a gap in many riders’ training that Ian firmly believes needs addressing.

“At all ages, they have to learn to ride a coffin,” he says. “Some of the riding was great, but others kept winging into it – and actually, I’m surprised there’s not more accidents as a result. There’s not enough of an education in riding these types of fences; many of the riders, if they were intimidated by it, just galloped at it. I think a coffin is a great fence, if the horses are ridden and trained correctly, and I’m not going to back off using them, but people need to train more often over them. They don’t need to train them at four-star height, but they do need to train the concept.”

Harry Meade and Away Cruising. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Another crucial concept that Ian hopes to impart across his courses is the ability to analyse lines and adapt them to suit the horse in question.

“Some of the riders have got it in their heads that I want them forward all the time – if I give them a shorter distance, they think I want them to go on one less stride. But actually, it’s about terrain, it’s about the question, and it’s about the horse. They have to learn to read the questions better; they think I galloped everywhere out of control when I was eventing, but actually, apart from the odd day on Murphy Himself, I was never out of control,” he says with a laugh. “I’ve tried to make the distances more open [to interpretation] – they can decide to go forward, or to shorten up, but it’s not a set stride pattern. They have to decide what will work.”

The Spinney at 13AB was one such question. Without a clear trajectory to the second fence, it relied on a well-thought-out line and a committed plan of action. Early on, many riders tried to ride it in a forward four strides, leading to run-outs at the second element and knocked pins, too, as the horses gave it a clout on the way over. Later in the day, though, and with the benefit of having watched their competitors, more and more riders opted to go slightly wider and slow the question down, turning the line into a five-stride one and meeting both elements more directly.

Ultimately, Ian’s aim is to help riders and horses improve and grow as they take to his tracks. It’s important, he points out, that competitors know that course designers are available to help the riders.

“I’m here to answer riders’ questions, and I’m always happy to do course walks, too – but maybe some of the riders are intimidated [by the idea of seeking me out]. This is still a training level – sure, it’s at the top of the level, but it’s meant to help riders progress. I’d be horrified if I though I’d tricked the horses.”

We’ll be back tomorrow morning with all the news from the final trot-up, and the full reports from both CCI4*-L showjumping finales. Go Eventing!

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