Welcome to day two at Le Lion d’Angers where, shrouded in a wintry fairytale mist, the second half of the competition’s six-year-olds made their first moves in front of the ground jury of Sandy Phillips (C), Gerd Kuest (M), and Laure Eslan (E). After yesterday’s exacting marking, there was earnest curiosity rippling through the stands: would today’s scores be more lenient, or would the judges stand firm in their pursuit of their ideals? As it happened, it was the latter — and rightly so — and yesterday’s leaders, Tom McEwen and MHS Brown Jack, would stand firm atop the leaderboard.
It should come as little surprise that Germany’s Ingrid Klimke presented the strongest challenge of the day, though, trending in the lead through much of her test with the Westfalian mare Cascamara (by Cascadello II). Throughout the test she demonstrated the softer, slightly longer outline required of these young horses, though a shuffle into trot in the free walk scuppered their chances of taking the lead. Instead, they finished in second place on a score of 27.4 — a fifth international sub-30 mark for the mare, who won the CCI2*-S at Wesel-Obrighoven last month and who has never yet been outside the top ten at the level.
“I was very pleased; she was so good, so smooth, so supple, just wonderful,” enthuses Ingrid, who has had the horse for just under a year. “She was very steady in the contact and I could ride all the extensions really forward. There was just one little mistake in the walk where she thought ‘we trot now!’ while she was stretching, but the rest was perfect. I’m very proud of her.”
The test’s relaxation came as something of a revelation after the mare, who Ingrid describes as ordinarily quite spooky, shied at the entrance at A as Ingrid approached. But instead of letting the misstep dictate the tone of the test, she simply turned away, rode another circle, and reapproached the arena positively.
“The moment she was in the ring she was so focused,” she says. “I think one day she’ll be really easy to ride in dressage; she’s so with the rider and tries to give her very best.”
Now, it’s all about tomorrow’s challenge — but Ingrid, as always, is approaching it with the future in mind.
“I think the cross-country is very challenging; every time with young horses, you never know what will happen. It’s beautifully built and I think they will really learn a lot. That’s why I’m here — there’s no other course where young horses can learn so much,” she says.
New Zealand’s Samantha Lissington has been an exciting new addition to the Kiwis abroad contingent in the UK since her arrival last year, and her polished ride aboard homebred Ricker Ridge Ricochet today showed exactly why. She scored a 29.1 aboard the New Zealand Warmblood (by GT Jake, out of a Landioso mare) to move into third on one of just three sub-30 scores in the class.
“She was really good — she felt very elastic and loose, and it felt like I was sort of just steering her around, which I think is what you want,” she says. “There are a few little things I could have scraped some more marks from, but I’m prone to trying a little bit too hard, so I think it was good on my behalf to just chill out and go for the relaxed, calm test.”
Having had Ricochet her whole life, Samantha was able to impart confidence in the mare — helped along, too, by the horse’s straightforward temperament.
“We bred her, so we know everything about her — she’s been a sweetheart. She’s very quiet and easy.”
Though the mare has racked up clear rounds for 10th and 13th place in her two CCI2*-S runs, Samantha felt the pressure of trying to get the young horse qualified and prepared in such a fragmented season.
“It’s been mental; we didn’t even think we’d be here, so the fact that we’ve made it means that everything else is a bonus,” she says.
Cute is as cute does, and British-based Aussie Kevin McNab‘s Cute Girl certainly lived up to her name in the ring this morning, delivering a two-star personal best of 30 to sit comfortably in fourth place. Like Kevin’s top rides, the Holsteiner mare by Coventry is owned by Italian couture trainer company Scuderia 1918, and her performances this year will certainly help her earn the coveted prefix. She finished third in her Novice debut at Little Downham in July, and jumped classy clears around Wellington and Cornbury’s CCI2*-S classes at the latter end of the summer.
A personal best today is certainly a promising start to her debut CCI2*-L.
“I’m really happy with her,” says Kevin. “She did a good test, she was really settled, and the arena was really nice to ride in.”
Though the pandemic has restricted competition opportunities for these young horses, Kevin has embraced the extra time spent at home working on Cute Girl’s formative education.
“It’s been straightforward [to prepare for Le Lion] in that we’ve had so much time to train,” he explains. “It’s great in the sense that you get time you don’t normally get through the season, but the thing you have to be careful of is that they actually do enough away from home, because there isn’t really a substitute for competing. For the horses who haven’t been out as much this year, though, the lack of trade stands and atmosphere is probably helping them here, though.”
Despite her sweet moniker, Kevin tells EN that Cute Girl is less sugar, more spice — but she has plenty of all things nice, too.
“There’s never a dull moment with her — she’s got plenty of personality,” he laughs. “But she’s actually a really brave, tough little mare as well as being very careful. I wouldn’t say that she’s a ‘girly girl’ — she doesn’t have any mare-ish tendencies.”
Great Britain — and, indeed, the Irish Sport Horse studbook — made further moves on the leaderboard in the form of Oliver Townend and Cooley Rosalent, who posted a 30.3 for fifth. The petite and pretty mare by Valent and out of a Rosalier dam trended in the twenties nearly throughout her test, though lost some marks in the medium walk to slip just into the thirties.
For Oliver, who has been refining his string over the past few seasons, the six-year-old is a special favourite among his horses.
“She’s a very smart horse to me. We’ve had her since she was four years old and we like her an awful lot; this is just part of her education and part of her progression,” he says. “I think she’s one of the better horses that we’ve had a six-year-old. Hopefully this is the start of a special international career; we think an awful lot of her for the future.”
It’s not hard to see why — though the mare only has one international start under her belt, she made light work of it, taking the win in Burgham’s CCI2*-S in August after finishing on her dressage score of 24.7. Her national career has been similarly exciting, with wins in Novice sections at Cholmondeley Castle and Frickley Park this season and a clean sweep of clear rounds across the country in her sixteen runs across the levels. Nonetheless, Oliver isn’t taking the challenge to come lightly.
“I think it’s plenty tough enough, especially for my horse who’s only done one competition of this level,” he says. “There’s plenty out there and it’ll be very educational — it’s very fair as always. I’m a huge fan of Pierre Michelet’s courses; I think the horses will learn a lot.”
Germany’s Sophie Leube certainly has a stable of horses we’d like to raid — after delivering the leading test in yesterday’s seven-year-old class with Sweetwaters Ziethen TSF, she returned for the six-year-old class today with another striking Trakehner stallion. Isselhook’s First Sight TSF, by Lossow W out of a Hibiskus mare, who scored 30.6 for sixth place at the culmination of dressage.
This is an exciting prospect for Sophie, who took the Young Horse class in Emsdetten with the horse on his debut in 2018 and won the prestigious Bundeschampionat Five-Year-Old final in 2019. This year, he’s made three international starts at CCI2*-S, completing all three with quick clear cross-country rounds and finishing in the top ten twice.
One of the most impressive things to see in this six-year-old class is those horses who are at the greenest end of the spectrum but so obviously possessed of the kind of brain that will help them excel in the sport. One of those is the lone US representative, Tiana Coudray‘s Cabaret (a Holsteiner mare by Clinton I), who scored a 33.3 to sit 17th going into cross-country. She delivered a remarkably mature test for a horse who was only started last year, and Tiana is justifiably excited about the affable mare’s future prospects.
“She’s only been in work barely over a year, so she’s unbelievably green to be here, but she’s getting better and stronger all the time,” says the British-based rider, who debuted the mare at BE100 at the tail-end of the 2019 season with success and stepped her up to Novice (US Preliminary) after lockdown restrictions lifted in July. Since then, she’s notched up two top-five results at the level and a promising 11th place in a CCI2*-S at Burgham, where she finished on her dressage score of 34.6.
The attractive mare is owned by Jules Cournane — formerly Stiller — who found her as a foal in Germany and then sent over to Ireland to enjoy her formative years. After being broken in last August, she was sent to Tiana to produce.
“We through her straight in at the deep end, and she did her first event in September,” says Tiana. “She qualified straight away for the Burghley Young Horse Finals and did that and a handful of events last year.”
With a short and sweet education behind her so far, the plucky mare is thriving in her biggest-ever challenge — helped along, explains Tiana, by her positivity.
“She’s very sweet and very straightforward, and she tries so hard. She’s game and she’s taken everything on — hence why we’re here,” she says with a smile.
A Strong Line-Up for the Seven-Year-Olds
As in the six-year-old class, yesterday’s leader in the seven-year-old CCI3*-L, Sophie Leube with Sweetwaters Ziethen TSF remained untouched in the top spot. But several strong contenders came forward through the day to challenge her lead, reshaping the top ten in their wake.
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MONDIAL DU LION 🦁🇫🇷 Diabolo réalise une très belle reprise et se hisse à la deuxième place du classement provisoire. Demain place au cross ! A suivre en live bien sûr. @rossez.dorothee @forestiersellier @royalhorse.france @gpa_safety_legend @dyon_belgium @freejumpsystem @premierequineengland @alliancequine @_backontrack 📸 @solene_bailly_photos
France’s Nicolas Touzaint was the highest scorer of the day, riding Selle Français gelding Diabolo Menthe (by Scareface de Mars, out of a Caesar van de Helle mare). They scored 29.1 — their best mark in an international in 2020 and a three-star personal best — to slot into second place going into cross-country. Diabolo Menthe has had an impressive career thus far, jumping clear around all five of his international starts and adding just 4 time penalties cumulatively throughout his record.
First in the ring for the second half was the Netherlands’ Merel Blom, who followed up a great test in the six-year-old class yesterday with another excellent effort this afternoon. Riding Crossborder Radar Love, a Holsteiner by Diarado, she delivered a 30.3 for third place at the culmination of the phase.
Crossborder Radar Love comes to Le Lion just a month and a half after making his CCI3*-L debut at Strzegom, where he finished third on his dressage score of 35.4. This makes him one of the most experienced horses in the field, and although all three of his three-star runs have been at the Polish venue, he has Le Lion mileage, too — he finished 15th in the six-year-old class here last year after adding a solitary rail to his 31.8 dressage.
It was a jolly afternoon for the French riders, and concurrently for the Selle Français studbook. Donatien Schauly stepped into fifth place, just behind New Zealand’s Caroline Powell and Greenacres Special Cavalier, riding the calm and confident-looking Dgin du Pestel Mili. The Nartago gelding stepped up to CCI3*-S at Haras de Pin in August, finishing second on his dressage score of 27.3. More importantly, he features prominently on the official list of Horses EN Would Most Like to Take Home, due to his big-eared attentiveness and casual curiosity at this new, strange environment. (“Oh, are all zees people here to see moi? Zat is nice.”)
When the World Champion tells you she’s earmarked a youngster as her future superstar, you sit up and listen — and that’s just how Ros Canter feels about Izilot DHI, a horse who certainly fits the bill on looks alone. The leggy Dutch Warmblood was initially produced by fellow Brit Alex Postolowsky, and Ros took the reins in late 2019, promptly winning the British Six-Year-Old Championships at Osberton and following the success up with a victory in the CCI2*-L at Burgham this summer. His final prep run saw him take fourth in his debut CCI3*-S at Cornbury last month, and although his 31.5 today is slightly off the mark of his usual scores, it’s enough to leave him in seventh place overnight behind Laura Collett and Moonlight Charmer.
“I was really pleased with him — he’s a sharp and spooky horse, but I wouldn’t change him for the world,” she says. “He’s hopefully my next superstar; I think the world of him.”
In this tough-scoring class, the marks have to be viewed as relative – but Ros admits to having hoped for a lower score here today.
“I am a bit disappointed in the mark, because he’s very correct in his work,” she explains. “There’s more to come, though, because I have to back off a bit when he gets a bit spooky, but I was delighted with him today. It’s a big deal for him coming here, and hopefully we can build on it for the future.”
Izilot DHI is a horse who may benefit from the uncharacteristic lack of crowds, giving him the opportunity to focus his mind on the task at hand, as Ros explains: “It’s a beautiful course as always, but I think we possibly wouldn’t have come if all the crowds were going to be here because he is quite sharp. I think in another couple of years he’ll really relax with all the people — so from that point of view, I’m quite happy there’s no one here! But there’s still plenty out there to test us — equally, I’m happy I’m sat on a very brave horse, providing he can stay focused. I have no doubt about his ability or scope; it’s whether he stays focused on the day.”
One of the most hotly anticipated tests of the day was that of Norway’s Yasmin Olsson Sanderson and Inchello DHI, who are the highest-placed Le Lion returners in this year’s field. They led the first two phases last year in the six-year-old championship, ultimately finishing in third place after knocking a rail in the poor conditions of the final day.
Their otherwise polished and enjoyable test was marred by an early error when Inchello DHI broke in the medium trot — the first time this has ever happened, and a real shame for the horse for whom this movement is ordinarily something of a party trick. But a spate of event cancellations in the lead-up to Le Lion means that today’s test was his first since Burgham in August — and the first for Yaz, too, who is a one-horse rider.
“To come here and still perform a very respectable test in this company — and when the judges aren’t giving away marks — is great,” she says. “We wanted to be in the top ten before the cross-country. It’s a shame, because normally his medium trot is a big mark for him, and that mistake obviously puts the judges slightly on edge through the rest of the test, but I’m happy with him.”
Nonetheless, the pair earned a 32 to finish the day in eighth place — a slightly more relaxing place to find oneself the night before cross-country.
“In a way I’m quite glad — I might sleep better tonight than I did last year,” she laughs.
Having just one horse is a certain type of pressure, but returning as one of the previous year’s most formidable combinations is quite another. Despite this, Yaz remains characteristically cool-headed and pragmatic about having the world’s eyes on her.
“There’s some pressure, but at the same time, he was amazing here last year and so I know he’s good,” she explains. “He’s up there with lots of great horses ridden by professional riders, and to do that when he’s my only horse is always nice. It’s just a shame that he’ll be eight next year and won’t be able to come back!”
The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed a recurring suffix in this class — two horses in the top ten feature the DHI add-on, as does Brian Morrison‘s Global DHI. The DHI horses are the product of top trainer Ian Woodhead and wife Heidi’s busy and successful Yorkshire-based production yard — and while the Le Lion competition is ostensibly a competition for studbooks as well as individual horses and riders, for a sourcing and production business to feature so heavily is a great advert, too.
Merging the two concepts is the Arville hub headed by Germany’s Kai-Steffen Meier and Belgium’s Lara de Liedekerke-Meier, where the pair breed and produce an exciting string of horses as well as hosting well-loved international events and raising two young children. Who needs sleep, anyway?
Kai rounds out the top ten in this class riding the Oldenburg stallion Charming Ciaco, who lived up to his name in the arena. But though the beautifully presented test looked easy, Kai tells EN that the stallion, by Ciacomo out of a Castellini mare, isn’t always the most straightforward ride.
“He was a really good boy and was trying to concentrate, but he’s a stallion and I said to [German team trainer] Hans Meltzer before I came in, ‘he’s a bit ‘on’ now in comparison with the last few days’,” says Kai. “That’s a bit of a problem, because I can’t put him enough in front of my leg when he’s a little bit tense, but all in all, I was very pleased with him. He was technically very good and didn’t make any real mistakes — but on the other hand, he didn’t really have highlights, either. But I think it was solid, and that’s what I was expecting and hoping for from him because the other days will be challenging enough.”
The stallion’s natural way of going and good looks served him well at the two-star level with its easier test, but at three-star, Kai tells us, Ciaco is still learning how to manage the more technical expectations in this first phase.
“In the two-star tests he can play with the fact that he’s good-looking, but in the three-star tests when it got a bit more technical, it took him quite a long time to get the more difficult lateral movements. The half-pass to the left has been working at a 6 or 6.5 for the past few days, so I was pleased to get that now. In his body, he’s not built to be a dressage horse — he’s built to gallop and jump, but he’s very trainable and once he knows what he needs to do, he always does a good job.”
Although the stallion is licensed to breed, Kai has held off on adding him to the successful Arville programme while he continues his education.
“We made a deal with the owner at the very beginning that until he was seven, he wouldn’t breed. As a younger boy he was a bit more stallion-like, and now he has quite good behaviour — I have a lot of stallions, and I’m happy that they all behave very well, but I also think we don’t need to challenge him too much now.”
The Meier power-couple had a good day in the office all round, with Lara de Liedekerke-Meier returning to Le Lion with Hooney d’Arville and delivering a 35.2 for overnight 14th. For those breeding aficionados among you, this striking mare may be of special interest: bred at Arville, she’s by the stallion Vigo d’Arsouilles, and with one of the most enviable damlines of the day. She’s out of Nooney Blue, the mare with whom Lara contested five European Championships and the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Kentucky.
“She’s the first one out of Nooney Blue, and so she’s slightly special,” she says, adding with a laugh, “she’s impatient and a queen, we call her the Witch because you never know what to expect — she can be lovely and then she can be a little bit special! But she has everything that you want to find in those really great horses; she’s a good jumper, she’s really nice on the flat, and while I don’t yet have all the control on the cross-country, it will come.”
Hooney is one of two exciting seven-year-olds that Lara is looking ahead with — and this week, with its varying challenges, is an important rung on the educational ladder for the horse.
“I’m really happy; I think she’s a lovely horse for the future,” says Lara. “I think she lacks a little bit of experience in a big arena, but I’m really pleased. There’s some little balance mistakes, and places where she needs to be more forward in front of my leg, but she’s a lovely horse so she’s going to wait for her days to come.”
Both classes head into the pivotal cross-country phase tomorrow, which is run over Le Lion’s typically stunning and artistically built track. We’ll be taking a closer look at those courses later on, and you’ll be able to follow all the action live, too. The six-year-olds will get underway at 10.30 local time/9.30 UK/4.30 a.m. Eastern, while the seven-year-olds are under starter’s orders from 13.30 local/12.30 UK/7.30 a.m. Eastern.