Day 1 Luhmühlen Dressage: Who Is Julien Despontin and How Is He Beating Michael Jung?

Julien Despontin and Waldano 36. Photo by Leslie Wylie. Julien Despontin and Waldano 36. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Honestly, I’d never even heard of the guy.

At just 25 years old, Belgium’s Julien Despontin is a newbie to the four-star scene. He and his horse, a 14-year-old Hannoverian named Waldano 36, placed 14th place at their first CCI4* last year at Pau on a pretty shabby score of 102.1. They have a history of alright dressage tests (their average score in 2014 was 41.2), a stop or scattering of rails here and there, and mostly milquetoast finishes. They entered the Luhmühlen CIC3* last year but withdrew before cross-country.

Today, however, they laid down the best test of their FEI lives — by several points — to steal the overnight CCI4* dressage lead from reigning event world overlord Michael Jung.

Michael set the bar high early, laying down a 34.2 on his equivalently bionic partner La Biosthetique Sam FBW. That is Sam’s second best score ever at this level (his top mark was a 33.0 at the 2010 WEG), trouncing his Rolex score from two months ago by 2.1 points. When I talked to Michael after his test he described the ride as “fantastic” and said both his horses — fischerRocana FST goes tomorrow — are recovered well from Kentucky and ready for round two.

“They are really good, in very good form, feeling very strong and happy,” he said. “You need a good feeling from the horse that you can try to win and today I had a good feeling.”

Michael Jung and La Biosthetique Sam FBW. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Michael Jung checking out the scoreboard after his test on La Biosthetique Sam. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Leave it to this Julien dude to waltz in and crush Michael’s dreams. Their test was lovely: crisp and polished with moments of real brilliance woven in. Watching it, I was a little bit mesmerized and a lot curious as to how the judges would be score it, as the powers-that-be are sometimes hesitant to hand out big numbers to rookies.

It turned out to be a mixed bag. The judge at C was clearly caught up the pair’s spell, giving them several 9s and even a 10. The judge at M, on the other hand, low-balled, with the judge at E falling somewhere in between. The result was a massive 13.66 point spread, and theirs wasn’t the only score with a canyon in it — more on that in a minute.

The bottom line: 31.9, a personal best for Julien and Waldano by a landslide. In the 30 FEI competitions Waldano has started in with Julien and former rider Andreas Ostholt, he has only scored in the 30s six times. Six times! Out of 30! And not only that, but their score was just 0.1 off the all-time low Luhmühlen score record set by Lucinda Fredericks in 2012.

What the heck.

“He was brilliant,” Julien said. “It is only our second four-star-event and Waldano did the difficult test virtually without any mistakes. He moves beautifully and his strength is definitely his walk and trot.”

Another day, another conveniently timed dressage test of a lifetime. Their scoresheet via


The final ride of the day, New Zealand’s Jesse Campbell and Kaapachino, snuck into top three on a score of 36.8.

Fun fact: Of the top six placed riders, five are age 26 or under. Jesse is 25; fourth-placed Lizzie Brown (NZL) is 26;  fifth-placed Elmo Jankari (FIN) is 22; and sixth-placed Willa Newton (GBR) is 24.

Jesse Campbell and Kaapachino. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Jesse Campbell and Kaapachino. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

A few notes:

  • There were some disconcertingly large point spreads between judges Christopher Hess (GER) at C; Anne-Mette Binder (DEN) at M; and Andrew Bennie (NZL) at E.

Three of them spanned 10 points or more, including top-placed Julien, whose marks ranged from an  84.83% from the judge at C to a 71.17% from the judge at M as noted above. Lizzie Brown earned an 81.17% from C and a 67.33% from M, and Elmo Jankari scored a 79% from C and a 69% from M. Each of these rides were in the top five.

  • There’s plenty of dressage still to come on Friday, with 15 riders scheduled for day 1 and 23 for day 2. Expect some major leaderboard shakeups tomorrow when the heavy-hitters start throwing their weight around in the ring. And, as EquiRatings noted in its Luhmühlen quick stats, this is no dressage show:

“In the last five renewals of the Luhmühlen CCI4*, the dressage leader has never gone on to win the competition. In 2014, eventually winner Tim Price (Wesko) finished the first phase in seventh place. The other four winners since 2010 have all come from the top five after dressage.”

  • Check out this video of Luhmühlen’s brilliantly simple system for passing scoresheets from the judges to the scorers.

  • The music they’re piping out over the PA during dressage is totally bonkers, ranging from elevator dirge covers of Queen’s “We Are the Champions” to this completely random version of the Ghostbusters theme song. I can’t even.

  • Nobody told me that immediately following the dressage they were going to set a bunch of adorable foals loose in the ring. Squee! It was cryptically described in the program as a “show by PZRV Luhmühlen” and apparently there’s supposed to be a foal presentation and sale late tomorrow afternoon as well. Thank God I left my checkbook at home.
Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

CCI4* Day 1 Dressage Scores:


CCI4* Day 1 Dressage Photo Gallery:

Day 2 of CCI4* dressage kicks off at 1 p.m. CEST on Friday. EST is six hours behind so that’s a bright and early 4 a.m. for many of you in the States. Much, much more to come!

Luhmühlen: [Website] [Entry List] [Schedule] [Leaderboard]