Five Horses We Can’t Wait to See at the European Championships

When you put form and statistics aside, us turbo horse nerds are all united in one thing: sometimes, you just really love watching a horse because something about it lights your pony-mad brain up. We rounded up two of EN’s newest recruits, Diana Gilbertson and Cheg Darlington, to find out which horses they’re heart-eyed over at this week’s FEI European Eventing Championships – and why, if you tune in and give them a cheer, you might just be to. Take it away, girls!

Giovanni Ugolotti and Swirly Temptress. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Swirly Temptress – Giovanni Ugolotti (ITA)

I’m a sucker for a striking black horse, and one named Swirly Temptress was always going to get me going. In my opinion, we all need to be more swirly temptress on occasion. Sometimes unpredictable but often brilliant, she’s a real picture — flashy and extravagant, full of drama and power, and totally befitting of her name.

Produced from the beginning by British-based Italian rider Giovanni Ugolotti, the mare was sent to him to be broken in and stayed. Despite being dressage-bred, she has at times shown her hot side between the white boards, where she’d rather be showing off her fancy movements than standing to halt. Even when she’s standing on her hind legs she’s impressive though, and rarely posts a score over 30 in the first phase. Her best 4* test came at Boekelo at the end of last season, where she showed all her talent for 24.4 and second place as she headed out onto cross country. She was caught out by the final fence that day — as were a number of others, leading to it being removed mid-way through the competition. Up ‘til that point she’d been brilliant and the sense of ‘what if’ was tangible. Overall, her cross country record is notably clean — she’s speedy and accurate and attacks the course with the kind of flair her name suggests she might.

If everything comes together for her, there is every chance of a very impressive result this weekend and I can’t wait to see how Swirly Temptress takes to the Championships atmosphere.  – CD

Tom Jackson and Capels Hollow Drift. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Capels Hollow Drift – Tom Jackson, GBR

I can’t remember the last time that I was this excited leading up to a championships, something that I can only attribute to the sheer amount of talent lining up in Haras du Pin this weekend. It is not just the usual suspects that have me whipped up into a frenzy; alongside Laura, Michi, Yas, et al is a whole host of young up and coming talent, too. It seems that every single one of the 14 nations being represented in France this weekend has a horse and rider to get excited about. One such combination is 30 year old Tom Jackson and his partner of 5 years, Capels Hollow Drift.

Runner up at the World Young Horse Championships at Lion d’Angers as a seven year old, 12 year old Walshy – as he is known to his pals – has impressed from the off. Georgie Campbell evented him as a young horse, before Tom took the reins in 2018. He finished 16th on his CCI5* debut at Badminton in 2022, and followed that up with a second place at Burghley later that same year, adding just 3.2 cross country time faults to their first phase score of 28.9.

Tom is full of praise for the Shannondale Sarco St Glyvan grey – ‘he makes my job easy,’ he has said of him in the past, and again commended him for just ‘getting the job done,’ in less than favourable conditions at Badminton this year, where they once again added just cross country time (and who didn’t have time faults at Badminton this year?!) to their  dressage score, jumping one of just two clear rounds to finish up 5th and secure their place on the team for the Europeans.

You will have to go back as far as 2019 to find a cross country jumping fault on Walshy’s record, and his show jumping form is similarly superb – he rarely lowers more than a pole.

Bought as a foal by his co-owners Sarah Webb and Mollie Simmie (who also happen to be mother and daughter), there is a big support team heading to France to support this lovely grey gelding, and he deserves all of the superlatives  – and more – that have been thrown at him of late. He is nothing other than consistent, and though his first phase score is not going to break any record books, it will still be good enough to keep them well in touch going into the jumping phases. If they deliver their usual double clear, they could easily make the top 5, if not a podium place, delivering us sentimental fools yet another fairy tale ending – and one that is very well deserved  for this popular pair – DG

Nadja Minder and Toblerone. Photo by Shelby Allen.

Toblerone – Nadja Minder (SUI)

I go totally googly eyed for a heart horse and Swiss rider Nadja Minder’s Toblerone is one of the sweetest on the circuit. Not only does this tasty gelding have a yummy show name, but his stable name is a real treat — I mean, who doesn’t want a little ‘Schoggeli’ (translation: chocolate) in the barn? A Young Riders to World Championships horse, Toblerone’s cross country record with Nadja is immaculate — their only penalties coming in Pratoni when Nadja took a tumble not far from home, after jumping all of the tough stuff — including that slippery slide — like a dream. Good humor is something that stands eventers in good stead, and Nadja seems to have it in bucketfuls — after their mishap she posted, “This man took off like a 🚀 didn‘t break any pins but my seatbelt broke for sure and the ejection seat got activated… 🪂🪂🪂”. 

There’s nothing quite like watching a horse and rider who clearly love and trust one another, and that’s just what we get when Nadja and Toblerone take to the course. Rarely outside the top twenty, and often inside the top ten, this is a partnership which is definitely on my ‘one to watch’ list as they continue their Senior journey together. Toblerone obviously has a liking for French soil, with a third place finish in the 4*-S in Jardy last month, so I’ll be keeping a keen eye on how he finds Haras du Pin. 

Nadja says Toblerone’s character “is as funny as his name” and he’s “THE rascal” in the barn – and I just love that there’s something very apt about a horse with a chocolate bar for a name having a bit of a naughtiness about him, as all the best treats do. – CD

Gaspard Maskud and Zaragoza. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Zaragoza – Gaspard Maksud, FRA

Another bright young talent to keep an eye on this weekend comes in the form of Gaspard Maksud and Equiratings Horse of the Year 2022, Zaragoza. Still only ten years old, this fabulous mare seriously impressed on her and Gaspard’s Championship debut in Pratoni last year, finishing in 6th place having added nothing to their first phase score of 27.1. A double clear in Pratoni last summer is something to be proud of in itself; let’s not forget the number of top horses that ran into trouble out there on both jumping days.

To think that such a result came from a relatively inexperienced horse – ‘Zoe’ was nine when she skipped around the Worlds – means that the home side will be pinning a lot of their hopes on this combination. Surrey-based Gaspard broke his collarbone earlier this year, so they missed their intended Bramham run, though they did then finish in second place in the CCI4*-S at Aston-le-Walls to make up for it, adding just a smidge of time to their dressage score. The mare’s phenomenal jumping record is matched by an ever improving first phase score; she improved with every international outing she has last season, and has beaten her Pratoni PB down even further, posting a 26.6 at Aston.

This Cevin Z mare is undoubtedly on her way to great things: she was in the top ten at 9 of her 13 FEI starts last season, an incredible statistic in what is just the beginning of her career. One of those top 10 finishes was 4th place on her CCI4*-L debut in Saumur and another 4th place in the Nations Cup in Haras du Pin, of all places. Could this prove to be a happy hunting ground for them again this weekend? The French supporters will certainly be hoping so, and if they produce their usual solid performance, they could contribute to a very good result for the home side this weekend.

This is a horse that has all the potential to become a star on the world stage, and one that has already started to make her mark. The European Championships could well see her challenge the status quo even further – watch this space… Zoe is only just getting started! – DG

Nicolai Aldinger and Timmo. Photo by Mariusz Chmieliński.

Timmo – Nicolai Aldinger (GER)

If you love watching cross country, then you’ll love watching Timmo tear up the track. This is a horse that, for me, epitomizes the event horse. With every single stride, you can see he’s grinning from ear to ear as he gallops and jumps for joy. And his cross country record confirms just how adept he is at his job – with 24 clears from 25 runs with Germany’s Nicolai Aldinger, Timmo’s clearly a force to be reckoned with come cross country day. 

It’s fair to say Timmo doesn’t love the dressage phase — like a true eventer he’s in it for the cross country — but he’s so motivated by what’s coming on Saturday that he’s willing enough for some marks in the high-20s, although he’s more likely to be low to mid-30s, and has been as high as 39.2 this season. By no means write him off by those higher scores though, because, as I said, cross country day is Timmo’s time to totally shine.

There was a bit of a tense moment at the First Horse Inspection in Haras du Pin when he was sent to the holding box, and Nicolai must’ve had a horrible sense of deja vu after being spun at the same point at Luhmuhlen, which would’ve been Timmo’s first go at 5*. But all was good after a second trot down the jog strip, which earned a big clap from the crowd and a cheer from me, watching at home, and very much looking forward to seeing this lovely chap doing what he loves to do most of all on Saturday — run and jump. – CD

EN’s coverage of the FEI European Championships for Eventing is brought to you with support from Kentucky Performance Products.

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