Dressage at Bramham concluded today amidst a torrent of rain, but nevertheless, quality shone through. Leading the CCI4*-L as we head into tomorrow’s cross-country phase is Billy Walk On, rerouting after an aborted attempt at a Badminton debut with Pippa Funnell. Though inexperience had stymied an initially impressive start there, the ten-year-old British-bred Sport Horse comes back to Bramham with course form: he jumped clear here last year, finishing fourteenth. Today, he very nearly matched last year’s first-phase score of 26, putting a 26.6 on the board.
“I’m happy enough; there are still bits I know we need to work on,” says Pippa. “It’s nice, actually, because to me, he’s still developing – he’s still not the finished article in terms of his strength. That’s why the changes aren’t quite there. He’s got a good brain, but I think we just nearly overdid the work out there – only by about five minutes – so I felt that I was slightly carrying him in the canter work.”
Despite the horse’s wobble at Badminton, Pippa has opted to make use of the momentum created by its build-up.
“He’s had a Tweseldown Open Intermediate run since Badminton – that’s it! He’s going straight back into it here – it’s a big track. It’ll be interesting to see how he is after Badminton; he had a nice OI run, but you never know how they think. You might think you know how they think … a bit like husbands, really,” jokes Pippa.
Second place, too, is held by a combination rerouting after a problematic Badminton. Kitty King and Vendredi Biats, fourth here last year, earned a 26.8 for a mature, flowing test.
“He can be a bit naughty and a bit cheeky, and do a few spooky, naughty things, but he was really good today,” says Kitty. “It’s a big atmosphere here, but he was so good [in the ring] at Badminton and really naughty at Houghton, where there was nothing to look at! He found the one thing to spook at and was a monkey, so it’s nice that he’s gone in there and behaved, and tried really hard.”
Gemma Tattersall has been a busy bee indeed, with three horses across the long- and short-format competitions this week. Though her short-format entrant, Quicklook V, would steal the show [see below], new ride Jalapeno III, formerly ridden by Karin Dockers, was impressive too, posting a 26.9 to hold third place overnight.
“It’s nice, actually, to have both Jalapeno III and [Quicklook V] here today, because I don’t actually know Jalapeno that well yet,” says Gemma. “But I actually felt like we came together and worked as a team, which gave me a huge amount of confidence to go out there and have fun in my test with Pebbles.”
Jalapeno joins a yard full of fellow Chilli Morning offspring, and Gemma, who took over the ride at the beginning of the year, spent some time showjumping the eleven-year-old mare in Vilamoura before tackling her first events with her. In their three international runs, they’ve never been out of the top fifteen, but today marks a personal best for the partnership.
France’s Aurelie Gomez slipped into fourth place aboard Slamm de la Selune, while yesterday’s leaders, Selina Milnes and Iron IV, sit fifth overnight.
Tattersall Heads CCI4*-S
Equally tightly-bunched is the Land Rover CCI4*-S, which is led overnight by Gemma Tattersall and her Rio mount Quicklook V on an international personal best of 21.6. They’re closely followed by Laura Collett and Dacapo, who have rerouted here after retiring on course in Tattersalls’ CCI4*-L last week, and sit on a comfortable 23.3 overnight. Just behind them on 23.6 is Emily King, who rides Brookleigh, her former five-star mount who’s enjoying a long-awaited return to the sport after a couple of seasons out.
“She absolutely loves doing dressage, which is rare for an event horse, but she just loves showing off. She’s fun to ride in there too, because you know she’s not going to explode or make a mistake – she’s just with you the whole time,” says Gemma of her fourteen-year-old mare, who displayed an incredible return to form after a disappointing performance at Chatsworth three weeks ago.
“When the rain started this afternoon, I wondered if she’d do her normal prancing, because she actually hates the rain. She’s a complete princess, and she likes sunshine and a beautiful surface! Chatsworth wasn’t the event for her; it just felt wrong from the minute we got there, but she’s come here and felt amazing.”
Martin Plewa, who judged from B, was full of praise for the pair’s work: “I love the way she presented [the horse] – it was a great performance, which you don’t see very often,” he says. “[It showed] absolutely the correct way of training the horse; it was very precise, with enough balance always out in front.”
US representative Lexi Scovil has been based with William Fox-Pitt since February, and today, she enjoyed her first international start in the UK with Chico’s Man VDF Z. She made it count, too – they put a score of 28.2 up to sit in 11th place overnight.
“Overall I’m very pleased with it; that’s probably the most atmosphere he’s ever experienced,” says Lexi of the relatively inexperienced gelding. “It’s only his third Advanced, and so the changes need to be better, and he can get a little bit worried about the canter half-pass, but he keeps going and keeps listening, and he does the job. He’s such a cool horse, because he goes around the ring and he spooks, and he spooks, and he spooks – but then he gets in there and he’s like, ‘I need to put my head down and do the job!’ So I’m really lucky – he’s that horse that’s always better in the ring than he is at home, which I’ve never had before!”
Lexi bought the horse sight unseen as a six-year-old, shortly after he’d been piloted around the Young Horse World Championships by his amateur rider owner.
“I was working for Leslie Law at the time, and he went on a horse-shopping trip for himself,” Lexi explains. “He found him and loved him, but didn’t have an owner to buy him. I’d just sold my horse, so he said, ‘do you want to buy this?’ I said, ‘okay, I’ll get on a plane,’ and he goes, ‘no, no, just buy it – if you don’t like it, I’ll resell it for you!’ He showed up and the first day I rode him, he was perfect. The second day, though, he was wild, and I couldn’t put his head down, and I couldn’t ride one side of him! But he’s been a really cool horse in that even if I have something I struggle with at home, he goes in the ring and the judges love him.”
“He’s always a worker. He’s a funny, quirky, spooky horse at home, and you’d never put just anyone on him, because he’ll be walking around the school and will spook at a jump that’s been there for two months!”
Although Lexi and her talented gelding enjoyed considerable success at the Preliminary (BE Novice) level, they hit a stumbling block upon their move-up to Intermediate – but by stepping back and taking the time to figure out how to produce her horse, Lexi hit upon the system that now governs their day-to-day training.
“I changed a lot. I stopped schooling the dressage on him, and just jumped and hacked – and he loved it. He’s just a horse you can’t drill; the more you worry about whether he’s going to do it right, the less he does right. He just wants to be loved and wants a really positive environment; I have to put the micromanaging away and say, ‘I know you’re a good horse, and I’m going to let you get on with it.'”
For Lexi, who will spend the remainder of the season at the Fox-Pitt base in Dorset, a run in Blenheim’s CCI4*-L is becoming a more and more realistic goal.
“Hopefully he’ll be the horse I can experience all these things with,” she enthuses. “I was really worried about moving over and being the little fish, but it’s been amazing so far. I have to give credit to everyone at the Fox-Pitts’ – it’s such an amazing team to be part of. It’s not even the lessons so much; it’s the atmosphere, and the fact that everyone’s so supportive and we’re all so happy. I really believe horses go better when you’re happy.”
Sussing out Saturday
Tomorrow’s schedule is overflowing with cross-country action, with all three classes taking to Ian Stark’s meaty courses.
“It’s typical Ian Stark – big, bold, and attacking riding,” explains Kitty King. “There are plenty of questions and lots of skinnies where you can have a silly run-out, so you need to be really focused the whole way around. You can’t take a breath and think, ‘oh, we’re doing quite well!’ – that’s when you’ll be caught out.”
She’s not wrong. Replete with achingly teensy skinnies, yawning ditches, bold timber fences and, of course, the famous hills of Bramham’s sprawling parkland, neither course is for the faint of heart. Want a sneak-peek? Check out the CCI4*-L course here, and the CCI4*-S here. Now, factor in an inordinate amount of space – and some seriously sherpa-worthy hills – and you’re halfway there.
Cross-country commences tomorrow morning at 9.00 a.m. BST/4.00 a.m. EST, with the CCI4*-L running until 12.13 p.m. BST/7.13 a.m. EST, followed by the CCI4*-L for under-25s. Then, the CCI4*-S class will round out the afternoon’s proceedings. You can follow along with all the cross-country action from all three classes through the free live-streaming service on Bramham’s website.