Can anyone stop the Germans? Certainly not at Houghton’s leg of the Nations Cup, at which they’ve been victorious for the last four years. Today, they made it a fifth, winning on a finishing score of 90.6 – a margin on just 0.6 penalties ahead of the second-placed Swedish team. The home team stepped into bronze position after all four team members laid down clear rounds, giving them a final score of 99.2. The three successes came at the tail end of a day that saw problems scattered across the track, with several coming to grief at the tricky hanging brush log into the water.
“We thought we should have a nice time this year, because next year we might not be invited,” joked German team chef d’equipe Hans Meltzer. This year, he brought forward a team that mixed vast experience with relative newcomers – Ingrid Klimke rode the four-star debutante Asha P, Christoph Wahler continued to establish his reputation aboard Carjatan S, and two young guns in the form of Jerome Robine and Felix Etzel rounded out the group. “We always have a different team here, but everyone is always so motivated to compete and do well at Houghton. We have different courses in Germany, we don’t have these big spaces and parks, so it’s a good experience for the riders to have these galloping courses. It’s not too twisty like we have at most in Germany. I thought this was more twisty than usual, but after you walked it two or three times you could find the lines. In the end, it was good to ride. I think Alec did a super job – my first impression was ‘wow, so many turns!'”
Christoph Wahler held onto his overnight lead, finishing five seconds inside the time with the ten-year-old Holsteiner gelding Carjatan S, marking both horse and rider’s first win at this level. Their finishing score of 24.8 saw them add nothing to their dressage score, and also helped them propel the German team to the top of the podium. The win also sees Christoph and Carjatan back on form after an uncharacteristic tumble at Chatsworth two weeks ago – only their second cross-country fault in 22 international runs.
“Chatsworth was rough, but afterwards we rerouted here, because we just wanted to get another run over with,” he explains. “He did a brilliant job here in all three phases; he was very calm and relaxed in the dressage, he really concentrated showjumping, and then today he felt good from the first couple of fences and just kept galloping and jumping. All the combinations came up well and he gave me a pretty safe feeling, and I just went for it! He’s a very good, honest jumping horse, so I thought I’d just stick to what I normally he do. I know he’s got a lot of confidence on cross-country, so I was confident.”
Christoph was full of praise for Alec Lochore’s influential track, despite some initial misgivings: “It was good, and the ground rode well – when we came here, we were a little bit worried it might be hard, but in the end it didn’t ride hard. The combinations were all nice and the jumps were good, and I liked the questions that were asked.”
Next, Christoph and Carjatan head to Luhmühlen, where they’ll contest the CCI4*-S German National Championships.
The Swedish team took second place, and so did one of their team riders: Louise Romeike and Waikiki 207 climbed from eighth place after the first phase to eventual second, finishing on their dressage score of 28.4. They led an exceptionally strong Swedish front, with three team riders finishing in their dressage score and in the top ten. Ludwig Svennerstal and Stinger finished fifth, while Malin Josefsson and Allan V climbed an incredible 39 places to finish tenth.
For Louise, this marks a second Nations Cup at which she’s taken second place – she did the same thing aboard thirteen-year-old Hosteiner mare Waikiki at last year’s Haras du Pin.
“I’m super happy with Kiki,” she says. “In the dressage, she was a little bit hot, with one or two mistakes, and then showjumping and cross-country she was brilliant. This is my first time riding her in England, and my first time at Houghton Hall – and I loved it, I thought it was really, really nice. On cross-country, everything came up really quick, but she’s really good on her feet and quick in her turns, so it suited her.”
There was only one rider in the top ten who wasn’t part of a team, and her third-place finish is a career best. 20-year-old Rosa Onslow had to miss a university exam to attend the competition, but her decision paid dividends when she managed a podium finish with RLE Kaiser Limbo.
“I’m over the moon with both my horses – they’re both incredible,” says Rosa, who also posted a cross-country clear with Diamond Sundance, finishing in 42nd place. “RLE Kaiser Limbo tried his heart out; it’s quite a technical course with lots of questions, and for him, it would be quite twisty, but we had a great ride.”
While Rosa is away at Newcastle University completing the first year of her Economics and Politics degree, her mother takes the reins at home: “it’s not too easy, but hopefully I’ve done enough to pass this year! It’ll all get easier in a week once I’ve broken up for the summer, but for Houghton, mum has had to do pretty much everything – so it’s all down to her.”
After recording her career-best result today, and with her top horse fully qualified for five-star, Rosa is looking ahead to a potential level debut at Burghley this autumn: “but I’m only twenty, so we’ll see!”
British team anchor Piggy French added another top five finish to her incredible 2019 resume, finishing fourth with comedian Jennifer Saunders’ Cooley Monsoon. The eleven-year-old Irish Sport Horse is named after his owner’s character, Eddie Monsoon, in the British sitcom Absolutely Fabulous – and his form thus far has been fabulous indeed, with nine international runs and nine top-ten finishes. This is only his second competition at this level, and although he’s not a naturally fast horse, the quick ground played well in his favour. ‘Eddie’ and Piggy finished on their dressage score of 29.2 to take the top placing of the British team combinations.
“He was very good; it’s only his second time at this level, so I thought he might still be green. The speed, for him, is still a pretty green thing at the minute, and it’s still unknown territory, so we were delighted,” says Piggy. “It was quite a step up for him, so hopefully he comes out of it well. It’s exciting for the future.”
Though the rest of the season remains up in the air, Piggy is quietly looking ahead to a potential run at Blenheim for the talented up-and-comer.
Sitting just behind fifth-placed Ludwig and Stinger were the Belgian stalwart Karin Donckers and her longtime partner Fletcha van’t Verahof, who slipped from second to sixth place after adding 6.4 time penalties. Just half a penalty behind them, Germany’s Jerome Robine and his Quaddeldo R finished seventh, with just 1.6 time penalties precluding them from finishing on their 30.2 dressage score.
It was a good day for young guns, and three of the aforementioned, representing three different countries, rounded out the top ten: Switzerland’s Robin Godel and Grandeur de Lully CH finished in eighth place, after a tumultuous weekend which saw them start in seventh, slip to 25th, and ultimately climb back up the rankings. In ninth was Richard Coney, one of three British senior team debutantes, riding Kananaskis, and in tenth, Sweden’s Malin Josefsson and her Allan V contributed to their team’s excellent result.
With Germany and Great Britain on the podium and already qualified for Tokyo, team Sweden picks up valuable points on the Nations Cup leaderboard, which will aid them in their quest for a much-coveted team slot.
That’s all for now from Houghton – next, we’re rolling straight on over to Ireland, where we’ll be bringing you coverage from Tattersalls. Don’t miss it, pals – it’s going to get rowdy.