Eventing Nation’s coverage of Le Lion d’Angers is brought to you by Kentucky Performance Products, our go-to source for the best support your horse can get. With a full line of proven supplements designed to help your horse feel his or her best, you can have peace of mind knowing that Kentucky Performance Products has your horse’s top health in mind. Learn more about KPP by visiting kppusa.com.
There’s something inimitably delightful about watching the dressage at Le Lion d’Angers, because it really strips everything back to basics: after all, these are young, very inexperienced horses, tackling a relatively basic test in an alien atmosphere. While that could get boring pretty quickly, such is the buzz of it all that it provides no end of entertainment; this isn’t dressage where you think, ‘will they nail the changes?’, because there aren’t any changes to nail — instead, it’s ‘will this six-year-old remember that it has legs, and will it use them for dancing or for exiting the arena at high speed?’ It’s also a great chance to find out just how scary an innocuous pot of flowers really is.
But through all the baby green moments, there are also bright spots of genuine excellence, and it’s enormously exciting to see a young horse for the first time and think, ‘I want to watch whatever this horse does for the rest of his career.’ There’s every chance that in that moment, you’re looking at the next Toledo de Kerser, or Avebury, or La Biosthetique Sam FBW — just a tiny fraction of the exceptional horses who learned their trade at this special event.
To understand the excitement and appeal of Le Lion d’Angers, it’s important to parse why a horse might come here — because although it’s the World Championship for six- and seven-year-olds, not every horse can, or should, tackle it. Le Lion offers the kind of atmosphere a horse won’t otherwise experience until they reach CCI5* or senior championship level; the crowds are enormous and vocal, and the roping on the cross-country course is tight and close to the fences — and for a green youngster, one of two things can happen when they meet this unique kind of pressure for the first time. They can rise to it, and embrace the encouragement, or they can suffer badly from stage fright — and a scare like that could take the length of a career to fix.
But if you find yourself on a qualified horse who’s bold and talented and loves an occasion, this truly does become the pinnacle, and it presents an unrivalled opportunity to train your young superstar to deal with the crowds he’ll meet again, hopefully, at an Olympics or a World Championships. Logging the mileage early can help to produce a consistent, confident competitor, and one who makes himself very attractive to selection committees.
That pathway, which we’ve seen so many top horses go down, is such a clear one that the organising committee here has even referenced it, not so subtly, by plonking a miniature Eiffel Tower in the arena. The horses we’re following this week will be nine and ten when the Paris Olympics rolls around — and so it’s not at all hard to imagine that we could see a few of them there.
Leading the way after day one of dressage in the Six-Year-Old World Championship, which runs at CCI2*-L, is a young combination as exciting as one another. 20-year-old Anna Lena Schaaf hasn’t even graduated from the Young Rider leagues yet — in fact, she took the individual silver and team gold in this summer’s Young Rider European Championships — but the rider has been proving through the season that she’s one of Germany’s next big things. Just a few days after making her CCI4*-S debut at Strzegom (which she duly won), the former Pony and Junior European Champion turns her attentions to a different kind of age championship. Riding Lagona 4, an Oldenburg mare by Lavagon and out of a Cartani 4 mare, she delivered an impressive 25.8 to take a unanimous lead from all three judges.
“I’m so happy with our performance — she was so cool, and that she’s done this as only a six-year-old is just amazing. She’s done really good dressage in the past, so this [score] was a little bit expected, but in this great arena, with something new every day, it was really great” says a delighted Anna Lena, who is based at Warendorf at the German Federation’s headquarters while she completes her training. But home isn’t too shabby, either: her grandparents are prolific sport horse breeders, and her grandmother was formerly the trainer of the German eventing team, so her foundations are strong and her string of horses — almost all of which have come from the family business — are of equally high quality. In fact, Lagona is unique in that she’s not the product of their breeding programme.
“This one’s my own — I bought her last year,” explains Anna Lena, who debuted the mare at Arville in May and brings her to Le Lion off the back of a double of wins in CCI2*-S sections at Jardy and Langenhagen.
France’s Tom Carlile has an extraordinary history at Le Lion d’Angers — and, indeed, with the production of young horses generally. We’ve seen the rider finish on his dressage score time and time again here, and his mounts tend to go on to great success at the top levels, whether with him or another rider in the irons. He’s also the only rider ever to do the double, winning both the Six- and Seven-Year-Old World Championship in the same year back in 2013. This year, though, already feels as though it could be his most poignant campaign yet, because his mounts in each class are sired by the great Upsilon, his 2017 European Championships mount and two-time Barbury winner whose career was so unfairly cut short by a form of encephalitis that had caused neurological damage.
“The first generation are the seven-year-olds, and it’s really exciting,” says Tom. “We’ve seen quite a few, in France especially because that’s where we have the most [offspring], getting incredible results in the young horse classes. Last year he got his first international winner with [seven-year-old entrant] Etoiles de Beliard, and this year he’s got his first horses at Le Lion now — and so hopefully, he can go on to have a five-star winner, like Chilli Morning did! There’s a lot more to come, I think.”
The first of these Upsilon offspring to tackle Le Lion is Fair Lady des Broucks, who sits second in the Six-Year-Old Championship on a score of 26.5 — despite some initial nervousness about the buzzy arena.
“She’s quite sensitive, and she got emotional coming in with the atmosphere, even though there’s only about fifteen people in the grandstand,” explains Tom with a laugh. “It was enough to make her go a bit tense, and the big screen didn’t help, but she tries her best. She always does try her best; at the moment, she just needs to mature and get over her emotions a bit.”
The pretty, typey mare won the French four-year-old championship in 2019, topping a podium made up entirely of Upsilon offspring, and earned her place at Le Lion this year by winning the six-year-old title at Pompadour — her only FEI start thus far. Every step of the way, she’s been doing her Anglo-Arab sire proud — and for spectators, it’s been a treat to watch Tom sympathetically pilot another exciting young horse in a manner appropriate to her level. Ultimately, though, she’s been bred to find this easy.
“She’s a very smart, flashy little horse — well, not little, she’s 16.3hh nearly, but she’s quite compact. She’s very consistent on the flat; she has nice paces and she goes into collection quite easily,” he says of the mare, who is out of a Chin Chin mare owned by Frédéric Deroi, though it was part-owner of Upsilon, Philippe Lacaze, who created the pairing between sire and dam.
Newly-minted Olympic gold medallist Julia Krajewski brought forward the first of her six-year-old two-hander in Chintonic 3, an impressive stamp of a Hanoverian who’s a full brother to Chipmunk FRH, who Julia produced to CCI4* and championship level before countryman Michael Jung took over the ride a couple of seasons ago. As the late-rising sun peeked through the grandstands, they danced their way to a tidy 27.9 and provisional third place — and the 2020 Bundeschampionate victor looked every inch his brother’s successor as he did so.
Great Britain’s Izzy Taylor sits fourth overnight after delivering a 28 with the delightfully named SBH Big Wall, whose moniker comes from his sire Puissance. The Irish Sport Horse gelding, who Izzy and owner Jane Timmis bought from Izzy’s partner, Oliver Townend, as a rising five-year-old, is exceptionally bred for the sport: his dam is by the stallion Courage II, whose offspring include Oliver’s Olympic ride Ballaghmor Class and Tim Price’s Burghley victor Ringwood Sky Boy. But while Courage II is renowned for throwing tricky talent, SBH Big Wall has been most notable within Izzy’s string for his workmanlike attitude and level, mature brain.
“It’s obviously a lot for any six-year-old to come here, but he coped very well — he’s a lovely personality,” says Izzy. “There’s not many you’d bring here, because mentally, they have to be very relaxed and strong in their brain in the right way, but he’s got a cool brain so he was allowed to come.”
Just a minor mistake precluded an even lower score for the gelding, whose FEI personal best is a 23.4 earned in Burgham’s CCI2*-S in July.
“He got a bit overexcited in the rein-back and thought he wanted to stay in it forever, which was annoying,” laughs Izzy. “But apart from that he was a really good boy, and he’s starting to learn how to show off a bit, which is good, because he’s not one of the flash foreign-bred types that you get over here. He’s very Irish-bred, which is why I bought him — it’s what we like for the long-term plans.”
The Netherlands’ Merel Blom rounds out the first-day top five with the Holsteiner gelding Denim, by Dinken and out of an Ibisco mare, who earned a 28.5 with his fluid, sweet test. Though this is just his sixth FEI start, he’s already proven consistent in this phase, and Merel was delighted — though not surprised — to find him sitting right on the money where scoring is concerned, despite much more of an atmosphere than any of his previous runs would have offered.
“He’s already had 27, but it’s not like this is totally out of line with the rest of the season,” she says. “You can feel that the horses are surprised by the whole surroundings and the atmosphere, so it’s a really good way to see if they can cope with it. And the youngsters always do something unexpected in these areas, but he went really well, actually.”
Merel has produced the gelding from a four-year-old, when he arrived in her stable almost by chance.
“It was a bit unexpected — I bought him by luck,” she says. “I said to someone, ‘if you can find this kind of horse for this price, I’ll buy it’ — and she called me and said, ‘I’ve got it!’ And so I hadn’t actually seen him in real life, and when he arrived at my stable, he was a bit smaller, a bit petite, but now he’s grown up and become quite a big boy. He’s the perfect size, and he’s a really cool horse, so it’s a pleasure to ride him.”
The sole US representatives in this class, Caroline Martin and King’s Especiale sit tenth overnight on a score of 33.4 — and though Caroline is thinking ahead to sub-30 tests to come in the future, she was pleased with how the leggy Dutch Warmblood gelding coped with the pressure of the day.
“I was a little disappointed, because maybe we should have gone in there and been a little bit more flash, but it’s a lot of atmosphere for the babies,” she says. “I thought it would be better to put in a really steady test and not risk so much of the flash.”
The son of Connect stepped up to the plate to produce a mistake-free, workmanlike test that showed hints of what’s to come — and his early competitive position is a gratifying moment for his extensive connections, who’ve been rooting for him from his earliest competitions.
“He’s so sweet and genuine. When he came over, Lee [Maher] and Casey [McKissock] were like, ‘you’ve got to keep him!’ So it was really a group decision that we kept him. I rang the owner — my boss, Paul Hendrix — and said, ‘what do you think?’ and then we got a team of people and we all own him together.”
Caroline’s aim is to use Le Lion as a stepping stone en route to senior championships, for which she firmly believes he’s the perfect horse.
“We think the world of him, and when he won the five-year-old championship in America, we thought it would be good for him to start getting international experience and getting used to it,” she explains. “It’s so different when you come over here, because you don’t ride them for a couple of weeks, and they’ve got to change climate and get used to it, and deal with the atmosphere. We all think he’s going to be a team horse, so we want him to get the correct experience now so when he’s an eight- or nine-year-old he’s ready.”
There was a British whitewash at the top of the Seven-Year-Old leaderboard today, though the studbooks represented are considerably more diverse. Top of the pack is Olympic team gold medallist Laura Collett, who piloted the Trakehner gelding Outback to a 27.2 — even with a spook that saw him break to canter in his lateral work.
“He was just spooky at certain parts — some of the flowers, for example, and at A, I think he saw the [arena crew] when he first went in and thought, ‘why are those people holding a rope?! Are they going to beat me?!’,” laughs Laura. “So every time he went past there, he was looking for the people — but he was very good to stay with me. It’s a shame about the one blip in the half-pass, but I was really pleased with how he copes, because he hasn’t ever done a test in an atmosphere, really.”
Laura, who competed as part of the British team at Aachen last month, was able to bring the Duke of Hearts gelding along for the trip — and his entry in the novelty Ride and Drive class, which takes place in front of a packed stadium under the lights, was a litmus test that served as a pivotal stepping stone on the road to Le Lion.
“Aachen was kind of a decider of whether he came here or not,” she explains. “I wanted to see if he could cope with the crowds, and I thought, ‘if he copes with that, he can come here.’ It really surprised me how good he was; it was almost that the bigger the occasion, the better he was.”
That was diametrically opposed to the way the outing could have gone for the gelding, who is still learning to cope with the demons he spots at unpredictable intervals in his work.
“He’s a funny character. I’ve had him since he was three, so I know him inside and out — and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing,” Laura says, “Certain things spook him, and you never know what it’ll be, because it’s never the obvious thing — it’ll be, like, a random flower pot. He’s a little bit quirky and a bit strange, but he’s very, very talented, so we just try to manage his brain.”
Hayden Hankey sits second going into day two after delivering a 27.4 with the Irish Sport Horse gelding Heads Up, who worked with a balance and expression beyond his years, despite being one of the lankiest horses in today’s line-up. He makes his Le Lion debut after finishing in the top ten in six consecutive FEI runs — and his maturity is even more impressive when you consider that he only made his two-star debut at the tail end of last season, focusing his talents on the working hunter ring prior to that. In his five-year-old year, he won the Working Hunter class at the Horse of the Year Show, making him one of the few horses at Le Lion with some experience of a major atmosphere. But every step of the way, he’s proven to be an old soul who takes everything in his stride.
“I bought him as a four-year-old from Ireland; my plan was to put a handful of top-class horses together, and he was one of them,” says Hayden, who owns him with Catherine Witt, best known for her long and fruitful partnership with William Fox-Pitt. “He’d be an asset to any yard in the country — he’s so quiet and sensible. Sometimes the fact that he’s so horizontal can make it harder for me, because it can look like I’m getting at him, so we need to get to that point in our training.”
Hayden opted not to participate in arena familiarisation, because Heads Up is such a naturally laid-back horse that he wanted to be able to use the extra sparkle that performing in a new environment would offer — and that paid off, adding extra elevation and responsiveness to the gelding’s big paces.
“He’s definitely a horse for the future, and one that’ll get better as he get’s stronger,” says Hayden. “For a horse of that size with that amount of movement, it can almost make it harder for you. He’s a very good horse; he’s very reliable and he has a lot of good qualities, but it’s a little bit about not making mistakes in the arena — it’s not just about having the biggest, flashest trot. If it was, he’d probably win, hands down!”
Selina Milnes sits third on a score of 27.5 with the Irish Sport Horse gelding Cooley Snapchat (Kannan x VDL Arkansas), who proved professional and workmanlike despite inclement weather: “I was just so pleased with his brain,” says Selina, “because I thought, ‘oh god, he’s going to turn his arse to the rain!’ He’s actually really laid-back, but he’s funny — Gemma [Tattersall] saw him this morning and she said, ‘that looks feisty!’ He was trotting around nicely and suddenly saw something and had a tantrum — but he’d never hold a grudge. He just gets over it and gets on with it.”
Just behind her, Sarah Bullimore holds fourth place on 27.9 with Evita AP, a striking Oldenburg mare who she owns with husband Brett. Though much of the mare’s season has been devoted to qualifying her for the event after a couple of little mishaps along the way, Sarah wasn’t initially totally sold on the idea of buying her when Brett found her at Brightwell Sales as a three-year-old — but some good omens proved prescient.
“She’s by Con Air, who’s the sire of [5* stablemate] Conpierre — but she was a three year old and in foal, and she had a fat leg,” remembers Sarah. “I thought she was too heavy to make a good event horse, but the foal was by Balou du Rouet [the sire of Europeans mount Corouet and 5* stalwart Reve du Rouet].”
Aware that no one would bid on a pregnant three-year-old with a fat leg, she and Brett decided to make a bid, and as Evita has grown into herself, she’s become more and more of a modern event stamp. Though they ultimately sold the foal as a showjumping prospect, Sarah, who bred her European bronze medalist Corouet, hopes to take some embryos from the mare — particularly if she continues producing performances like today’s.
“She’s such a trier. She can be a little bit impetuous sometimes — she’s a girl, you know — but she always wants to do the right thing. The balance is still a work in progress, but if you say, ‘come on, you’ve got to do this,’ she says, ‘oh, okay then!’ and tries her little heart out.”
Germany’s Josephine Schnaufer-Völkel made the only non-British appearance in the top five, taking provisional fifth place with the smart Westphalian gelding Cinnamon Red (Cascadello x Cordino 5), who scored a 28.5 after delivering an expressive, tidy test.
23-year-old Cole Horn sits just outside the top twenty after posting a 36.4 with the Irish Sport Horse gelding MBF Cooley Permission To Land (Cobra x Luidam) in his first call-up for the US squad. Impressively, this is just Cole’s 13th FEI start; the former working student for Australia’s Ryan Wood previously learned the ropes in the 2015 and 2016 seasons with Spy Catcher, and produced youngster Cooley Sligo through 2018, but has been off the FEI radar throughout most of 2019 and all of 2020. This year, he debuted his leggy Le Lion mount, campaigning him in three FEI events and finishing in the top twenty in all of them — including a win in the gelding’s first CCI3*-S at River Glen.
Now, Cole hopes to produce his exciting gelding for the big leagues — and today provided an excellent learning opportunity for both horse and rider on their way to that goal.
“He’s always been such a cool, well-minded horse to produce along the way,” says Cole, who bought the oversized gelding as a three-year-old. “We’ve always thought that maybe we could do something like this with him, and I think there’s a lot left in there. I’m excited to see what eight, nine, and ten look like when he muscles out, and I think there’s a better test in there down the line. I rode the horse that he is today, but he definitely has all the right pieces.”
Cole and MBF Cooley Permission To Land travelled to France as recipients of the Turner/Holekamp Grant, which awarded them flights and $8,000 to make this formative trip work — and already, the gelding is repaying the debt by embracing, rather than shying from, the challenges presented to him.
“He couldn’t care less about the crowds,” says Cole with a grin, “and he’s ready to go tear it up on cross-country!”
Before we can get to that point, though, we’ve got one more jam-packed day of dressage to come — so keep it locked on to EN as we dive into the movers, the shakers, and the best of what the sport horse studbooks have to offer. Until next time: Go Eventing.