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With the team competition’s first phase endeavours done and dusted yesterday, today was all about those riders coming forward as individuals — and once again, we were treated to a showcase of some seriously exciting up-and-coming horses. Absolutely spoiled with an enormous selection of summer and autumn three-days this year, many riders’ top horses have already had their big latter-season outing, or will head on to tackle the forthcoming five-stars at Maryland or Pau, and so Boekelo this year provides a rare and exciting opportunity to give their next generation of superstars an educational experience in a championship atmosphere.
Though nobody could touch yesterday’s top four, which sees dressage leader Sophie Leube and Jadore Moi, second-placed Tim Lips and Lady Chin van’t Moerven Z, and third-placed Tamie Smith and Danito head into cross country without a second in hand between them, followed by William Fox-Pitt and Grafennacht by the merest of margins, the rest of the leaderboard experienced something of a shake-up through today’s competition.
Germany’s Malin Hansen-Hotopp and the delightfully-named Monsieur Schnabel are the highest-placed new entrants, sitting fifth overnight after delivering a four-star personal best of 25.1.
“[German chef d’equipe] Hans Melzer is always saying he’s really special,” laughs Malin of the 13-year-old Trakehner gelding, the second of her two rides this weekend. “Schnabel only runs on cross-country as fast as he wants to, and I can’t do anything about that. But he’s the first horse I have for four-star again after a long time where my sons were born, and he’s given me the chance to do it all again. He’s not really the winning person, because he has his own mind, but he’s picked me back up.”
Today, though, he certainly looked keen to make himself known as a ‘winning person’, and Malin was delighted with the work he produced in the ring: “He’s always surprised, and at the beginning he was afraid of the camera, but then he was good. The changes were really, really good, and he was really looking after me and waiting. For me, it was a really perfect feeling; I think I can now just get him really to my legs, and he’s trotting better and better as a result.”
US pathfinder Tamie Smith, who sits third overnight with yesterday’s ride Danito, has always been a force to be reckoned with between the boards, but a pandemic silver lining has allowed her access to a serious secret weapon in the form of dressage trainer Jo Hinneman, whose yard in Germany she’s used as a base during the course of her autumn European tour.
“He actually lives 20 minutes from me in California, so I’ve known him and cliniced with him over the years,” she explains. “But then with COVID, he was meant to come back to Germany and couldn’t, so I’ve been so lucky to be able to train with him over the past two years consistently. Then when I said I was coming over here to do Aachen and Boekelo, he said, ‘oh, we’re right there, perfect!’ So I came to his farm and it’s been unbelievable; I’ve gotten to ride some really good horses and the knowledge and experience has just transformed everything for me.”
And so, brimming with confidence, Tamie piloted the expressive and attractive Argentinian-bred Solaguayre California to an impressive 25.6, which puts her into equal sixth place with Great Britain’s Nicola Wilson and Coolparks Sarco, who rode as part of the British team yesterday. That competitive mark was helped along by a well-timed peak: the inexperienced mare had struggled to get her flying changes in the warm-up, but made two sweet, very slightly green efforts in the ring to score 6s and 7s, with one solitary 5 thrown in. Elsewhere in her score sheet it’s hard to see through all the 8s, particularly in the trot work, which saw her trend well in the lead in the very low 20s, giving the mare’s connections plenty to be excited about as her fledgling career unfolds — particularly as she only began her FEI eventing career last year, notching up five top-three placings out of her six international runs.
“She was amazing [today]. She’s green, and because she was bred in Argentina she won’t actually be ten until the end of the year,” she says. “And she’s been difficult at times — she bucked me off three times in a week once! — but she’s such a worker and she was so good. She’s just learning the changes, and I didn’t get a single one in my warm-up, but Jo just kept saying, ‘you’ve got to move her back and prepare her to get a more collected canter before the change.’ When you do that, sometimes you get tension, and so I was trying to balance how much I could do, but in there I was like, ‘I’m freakin’ going for it!’, and she got both of them.”
Just half a point behind Tamie is Dutch debutant and talented amateur rider Willemina Van Der Goes-Petter, who made a lifelong dream come to fruition just by entering at A — let alone scoring a 26.1 with Ekino to find herself in eighth place provisionally.
“My goal was to ride at Boekelo before my fiftieth birthday, which is next year,” she says with a beaming smile. “We had the luck to find this horse, and we’ve been training for eight years for this.”
But Willemina didn’t actually buy the Dutch Warmblood with the intention of making him her top-level eventing mount: “He was meant for my husband to ride and hunt, but it was a bit too dangerous for him, so I started riding him,” she explains.
Willemina has sought advice from some of the best in the industry in pursuit of her goal, and it was Lucinda Fredericks’s voice that was in her head as she navigated her way through her sparkling test.
“She was in my mind all the way — she’s helped me a lot,” she says. “She really helped me to ride the corners, and to make a difference in the trot, and to go from the shoulder-in to the medium trot and really make every movement a separate movement.”
It’s been a great couple of days to be a supporter of the Dutch, who are hoping to see one of their own win their country’s showpiece event for the first time ever in this, the competition’s fiftieth year. As they head into cross-country, they do so with three riders in the top ten — and at the very end of the day, it was the reigning Dutch National Champions, Merel Blom and Ceda NOP, who would confirm the hat-trick, posting the eleven-year-old mare’s four-star personal best of 26.2 to share equal ninth position with France’s Sidney Dufresne and Tresor Mail.
US team rider Sydney Elliott holds onto eleventh place going into cross-country on her score of 26.7 with QC Diamantaire, a spot she shares with Japanese Olympians Yoshiaki Oiwa and Calle 44.
“I’m very happy; he was so quiet and calm and doing his best job, so I’m very pleased,” says Yoshi of the fourteen-year-old Holsteiner, who has been such a consistent performer despite not being the most conventional-looking horse for the first phase. But appearances aren’t everything, and even if Calle 44 could pass as a gentleman’s hunter, he’s got plenty of talent hidden beneath his unassuming exterior — and a seriously competent jockey aboard.
“Basically from the beginning to the last, I’m just concentrating on keeping the rhythm, and in the training, too — and maybe it’s also the type of the horse, that he has a good rhythm,” says Yoshi, who famously led the dressage at the London Olympics in 2012 on another mount, putting Japanese eventing firmly on the map. “It’s his character; I can put my leg on and he’s not jumping away, he’s just calm and doing his job.”
Just a smidge behind on 27.2, Brian Morrison leads the way for Ireland with the exciting nine-year-old mare Global Faerlie Flashy, who sits thirteenth going into cross-country after making the very most of her expressive, balanced paces in the ring.
“She’s got a very good trot, and with the two mediums and the extended, this test suits her,” says Brian. “She’s still kind of green at the level, and this is just her second four-star, so we kind of went in not knowing how she’d handle the atmosphere, but she was really good.”
Just some moments of tension in the walk and one imperfect change precluded a top-ten result for the British-bred mare, who contested the Seven-Year-Old World Championship at Le Lion d’Angers in 2019 and who, on paper, is close to the ideal event stamp. Her high Thoroughbred percentage and quick, clever brain have meant that Brian has become a master in the art of compromise as he’s produced her through the levels.
“She’s a very blood mare, so like all good mares, you sometimes have to take what you can get. You can’t really be too tough on her. But I think we’ve cracked the code to her — we work her harder at the start of the week and then we slow it down as the week goes on and just do lots of stretching. Once her brain quietens down she’s very easy to ride; it’s just about getting the brain on side, but once that happens, she has all the talent, and we’re really using this to get her prepared for next year and the WEG.”
Just two of our three US individuals came forward today after this morning’s withdrawal of Katie Ruppel and her longtime partner Houdini, and the close-knit contingent came out in force to support Hallie Coon and her inexperienced but exciting 12-year-old mare, Global Ex. This is a relatively new ride for Hallie, who began her partnership with the horse last November at Portugal’s Barroca d’Alva. Previously, she’d been campaigned to three-star by fellow American Katherine Coleman, who bought her as a two-star mount from Ireland’s Brian Morrison of Global Event Horses. She made her four-star debut early this year, and in four runs at the level has picked up two top-ten finishes — including a ninth place in Kentucky’s tough CCI4*-S this spring — and two further classy clears.
We’re used to seeing Hallie out and about at the top levels with her former five-star ride Celien, and although ‘Dolly’ is a very different stamp to the rangy Tenerife VDL mare who excelled on the flat, Hallie is excited about the diminutive grey’s considerable strengths — strengths that’ll surely come in handy as they make their move up the leaderboard through the weekend from today’s starting point of 32.1 and equal 32nd place.
“I thought she was super in there. She’s really green on the flat still, and we’ve been schooling the changes a lot, but she’s not quite there yet — but I’m feeling really good about the quality, overall. She tried super hard and she was a lot more up in the frame and in the contact. She’s got such a great brain and she works with me in there, and that’s the best thing I could imagine. I couldn’t be more pleased with her,” says Hallie.
Boekelo’s course, which mixes twisty combinations with open let-ups, is tailor-made for a catlike, positive type of horse — and even with the mare’s relative inexperience, that’s exactly what Hallie will be sitting on tomorrow afternoon.
“It’s a really good course for her, I think; she’s really nippy and really quick, and she’ll do just about anything she can to get between the flags,” she says. “So I think I just have to get her out there and not think that she’s small, because she doesn’t ride like a small horse. She’s got a huge stride but sometimes I can doubt the step and pull, and I just need to believe in it a little bit and push for those distances, and then I think it’ll be the perfect course for her. I think I’ve got one of the best horses for Sunday, too, and so I’m looking forward to the jumping phases a lot!”
Cross-country will kick off from 10.00 a.m. local time tomorrow, which is 9.00 a.m. if you’re in the UK and a perky 4.00 a.m. if you’re an East Coaster. Here’s how the US contingent stands on the leaderboard, and the times they’re set to leave the startbox:
- Tamie Smith and Danito (3rd on 24.7):
- Matt Flynn and Wizzerd (34th on 32.2):
- Sydney Elliott and QC Diamantaire (joint 11th on 26.7):
- Jennie Brannigan and FE Lifestyle (joint 32nd on 32.1):
- Hallie Coon and Global Ex (joint 32nd on 32.1):
- Tamie Smith and Solaguayre California (joint 6th on 25.6):
And here’s a recap of the individual top ten as it stands after dressage. There’s not a second to be spared between the top three, and just four seconds covering the entirety of the top ten — and Boekelo, which ordinarily puts up a hard-to-catch optimum time, looks set for yet another shake-up as the day unfolds.
The teams, too, are closely packed, with Great Britain leading the way on a six-second margin over Team USA. Four seconds behind them is Germany, while France sits in fourth on a wider 12-second margin, hotly pursued by the home team one second behind them. Stay tuned, as we’ll be bringing you a closer look at the course to come, plus plenty of behind-the-scenes content from Boekelo. Until then: Go Eventing!