Germany Sweeps the Board in Exciting Le Lion Finales

Ingrid Klimke pilots a fourth horse to a Young Horse World Championship. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The Young Horse World Championships at Le Lion d’Angers have historically never taken any prisoners where the final phase is concerned, with this ordinarily acting as the most influential phase due to a combination of — previously — tough footing and big, tricky courses. Though the footing in the main arena has been replaced with a new and widely celebrated surface, the courses built upon it today were no less challenging than normal.

The primary challenge in this morning’s Six-Year-Old World Championship, held at the CCI2*-L level, was the time. Initially set at 78 seconds, it looked tight enough for the first handful of riders — but then the decision was made to shorten it to 76 seconds, and the pressure was truly ramped up. Competitors were pushed to take risks, riding positively to cover ground in distances rather than letting the distances ebb and flow conservatively. This put an unfamiliar and educational onus on these young horses to take responsibility for the effort they made over the fence once they got there — a lesson several horses worked out rather too late, as the poles continued to tumble through this early session.

Those who came into the ring buoyed along by the experience of their riders certainly found themselves benefitting today — and that was certainly the case with our eventual winners, Germany’s Ingrid Klimke and Cascamara.

Ingrid Klimke and Cascamara. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The pair had held second place throughout the competition to Britain’s Tom McEwen and MHS Brown Jack, who toppled two rails to finish sixth overall — an aching reminder of last year, in which Tom lost the seven-year-old class in this pace. This allowed Ingrid and Cascamara — a Westphalian mare by Cascadello II — to step into the winning position after their capable, scopey clear round.

It’s fun to watch these young horses, who are starting to get an idea of the task at hand but who haven’t quite mastered the mechanics of it all yet. Such was the joy of Cascamara, who’s plenty athletic enough to leave a foot or two of air over each fence — sometimes a necessity, because she hasn’t yet learned how to lift her shoulder and snap her legs up. That she could come to Le Lion and produce this result after only a year in partnership with Ingrid, though, is testament to the remarkable ability she has.

“It’s really amazing for me as well, because Hans Meltzer said to me, ‘remember that when you started back in the end of July, she really was very, very novice’,” says Ingrid. “When I was thinking about Le Lion this year, I thought, ‘well, my six-year-old is much too green’, and I wasn’t thinking that this would be my aim.”

The mare’s CCI2*-S debut in Kronenburg in early August made Ingrid rethink, though, when they finished third after adding just 0.8 time penalties across the country to their 24.6 dressage. Three more runs at the level followed, each equally capable and earning the mare eighth place, second place, and a win just prior to Le Lion.

“She was so clever and did so well that Hans said, ‘well, why don’t you go to Le Lion just to gain some experience for her?’ That’s she’s the winner of the day showed me how much quality she has,” Ingrid says. “She was so clever and so calm from the inside; in the jumping she was so focused away from the rails. It really was pure fun to ride her through all three phases.”

Ingrid Klimke and Cascamara. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

This is a fourth win at the venue for Ingrid, who took the seven-year-old title in 1998 with eventual WEG gold medallist Sleep Late and again in 2016 and 2018 with Weisse Dune and SAP Asha P, respectively. Though many riders use this championship — and particularly this class — as something of a shop window, Ingrid has historically used it to hone her future stars. In Cascamara, she’s certain she’s found another one — and the myriad of lessons the horse has learned this week will be a fundamental part of her trajectory.

“First of all, she got the chance to perform in a stadium all on her own, where she was so focused and absolutely with me,” says Ingrid of the mare she says can often be spooky. “I feel that one day she’ll be a brilliant dressage queen when she listens so much to the rider and wants to please. In the cross-country she was still a bit spooky — she saw things like the fence judges and all the little animals around here and I realised that she was listening to all the things, but when it came to the fence, she had such a sharp jump and was using her whole body.”

This nearly got the pair into some trouble early on due to the mare’s enthusiasm, though this became an important learning opportunity, too.

“At the first water she jumped much too huge, but that meant that in the second water she realised that she has to just keep a straight line. I think that she was very bold — the further we got around the course, the more I felt she was really fluently and easily galloping in the time,” she says. “I haven’t done nine minutes before so I didn’t know if the stamina was okay, or if she was the kind of horse who has a fifth gear — but it was easy. I was always looking at my watch thinking, ‘I’m ten seconds under the time’. It showed me that she has the stamina for the longer formats.”

With a major milestone ticked off, Ingrid has set her sights on dreaming big with the mare.

“I think she’s definitely a top horse for the future, and that’s why I like to come here every time — because this is really a little championship,” she says. “They learn so much from the variety of fences, so when they finish here, you can really tell the whole potential. When you buy a young horse — like we did with her a year ago — you always have this dream and this wish that from this little pony will be a big star. She has grown so much in one year.”

Oliver Townend and Cooley Rosalent. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Oliver Townend‘s Irish Sport Horse mare Cooley Rosalent, by Valent, jumped a tremendously easy clear round, benefitting from Tom’s rails to finish as Reserve Six-Year-Old World Champion. Like Ingrid, Oliver has high hopes for his horse.

“She was fantastic through the week,” he says. “We like her a lot; coming here was more about the education than about the result. We think she’s a very good one for the future, so we shall see.”

That education came in the form of running over a much longer course than the young horse has ever seen before.

“I think she’s answered every question. She’s definitely on the green and babyish side to be here, but I think she’ll progress hugely from a strength point of view from this. She can have a nice long break now and hopefully come back a stronger horse for next season,” he says.

Merel Blom and Corminta Vom Gwick. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The Netherlands’ Merel Blom and Corminta Vom Gwick continued their climb up the ranks, moving from 7th after dressage on 30.7 to 5th after a clear round inside the time yesterday and finally, an eventual third place today after jumping clear with 1.2 time penalties. The Holsteiner mare, by Cormint out of a Contendro mare, gave Merel the first of two top ten finishes today: she also finished eighth in the CCI3*-L with Crossborder Radar Love.

Tiana Coudray and Cabaret. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

British-based US rider Tiana Coudray and Cabaret, a Holsteiner by Clinton, were one of just six combinations to finish on their dressage score — a feat that becomes even more remarkable when you remember that the diminutive, pretty mare was only broken in in August of 2019. She’s always been something of a prodigy, though — she began eventing just a month after being back, promptly qualifying for and competing in the Burghley Young Event Horse Final. The trip to Le Lion, confesses Tiana, was only every intended to give the horse some mileage — but finishing fourth after climbing from initial 17th is an enormous bonus.

“I’m totally in shock,” she laughs. “We thought we’d just take her because it’s an amazing to come to, and her owner [Jules Cournane] was keen for her to come. We thought, ‘well, she’s quite brave and it shouldn’t upset her, so we might as well go!’ We had no expectations whatsoever — we just thought it’d be a nice education for her. We never thought she’d be as amazing as she was.”

Yesterday’s cross-country proved an ample challenge for Cabaret, who set off as a very green six-year-old and returned home considerably more mature, having tackled a wide variety of obstacles and terrain as well as her own tiredness as she found her feet over nine minutes.

“The first few fences she was very green, and she was very taken by the crowd — though there wasn’t much of a crowd,” she says, explaining that a relatively large number of people at the start provided an early distraction. “I did think on the way to fence three that it was going to be a long way around the course, because she was so starstruck by everything — she was looking at the trees, and looking at the people, and I thought ‘god, we’ve got nearly nine minutes of this!’ But then she got better and better and better. Every jump she jumped, and every galloping stretch in between, she took them on and finished like a much more experienced horse. I was so proud of her.”

Tiana Coudray and Cabaret defy expectations. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

By this morning’s test, Cabaret couldn’t have looked less starstruck by her surroundings — instead, she was quietly confident and happy in her own space, watching the world unfold around her with interest but sans reaction.

“That’s completely her — she’s literally done three Novice events, and at each one she’s been like, ‘okay, I’ve learned that now!’,” says Tiana. “That’s why we though she’d be alright here, but she’s just kept stepping up — each day she’s been like, ‘okay, I get it now!'”

They weren’t the only major climbers through the week — clear rounds today were hard to come by, with just six combinations producing fault-free rounds over the poles. This, plus the fact that the leaderboard was so tightly bunched, meant that a clear round could send you zooming up it, while even the slightest error could make your chances of a top placing plummet.

Cathal Daniels and LEB Empress. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Fifth-placed Cathal Daniels and LEB Empress, an OBOS Quality mare representing Ireland and the Irish Sport Horse studbook, finished on their dressage score of 34.4 to move up from 21st place after dressage. The clever, fiery looking little mare impressed us throughout the competition, and more than once seemed to be channelling the spirit of stablemate, and fellow queen-bee mare, Rioghan Rua in her performances.

The final top five in the Six-Year-Old World Championship.

A redemption arc in the CCI3*-L

Sweet redemption: Sophie Leube and Sweetwaters Ziethen TSF. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Some wins are just meant to be, and that of Germany’s Sophie Leube and Sweetwaters Ziethen TSF has seemed written in the stars throughout the week. They returned after a fifth-place finish last year, wherein they’d sat second after the first two phases but struggled to retain their footing in the quagmire of the main arena on Sunday. As the licensed Trakehner stallion gamely tried to pick his way through the course, skiing his way down the lines, he found himself too deep to the second element of the double and was forced to drop anchor. As was the case so many times for so many horses and riders last year, it wasn’t a fair or honest representation of their ability.

And so their return this year was so hotly anticipated, particularly with the addition of the new arena surface. A 27.6 in the first phase saw them dance into the lead, while an almost laughably easy clear inside the time yesterday kept them there. All it would take today was a clear — and though the stallion (by Abendtanz) is a canny and catlike jumper, his FEI record shows a proclivity for knocking the odd rail. The tension — somehow both heightened and broken by Germany’s showjumping trainer Marcus Döring dancing around as though on hot coals and occasionally bellowing “GALOP!” — was colossal. Could the stallion seize the redemption he so deserved?

Sophie Leube and Sweetwaters Ziethen TSF. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

He could. The pair jumped a beautiful, professional clear round, securing the horse the World Champion title and causing Sophie, who’s never been spotted without a smile on her face, to burst into a flood of happy tears.

“I still can’t believe it,” she says. “I’ve ridden this stallion since he was four and he’s never done a single jump with another rider, so I’m super proud and happy that we achieved being the winners of a World Championship. I knew that he could do it, but at the end I didn’t expect it at all, so I’m very, very happy.”

The combination were one of very few pairs to makes yesterday’s track look straightforward, which Sophie credits to his manoeuvrable personality.

“It was amazing,” she says. “He was just listening to me, and his canter is so big so I don’t have to hurry him; he just wants to canter, but at the same time he’s listening to come back to me and make the turns and see the flags.”

Though the stallion covered a nearly nine-and-a-half minute track yesterday, he came out bright-eyed and full of power for the final challenge this afternoon.

“He was super today; he was jumping great, he didn’t want to touch anything, and he was very fresh,” Sophie says. “He knew what to do and he did it.”

Though Ziethen has progressed significantly in the last year, always been ‘the perfect horse’ to Sophie.

“He’s developed in all three disciplines quite a lot,” she says. “He’s always been a strong, positive, calm horse — he’s very focused and has very good character, so that was always a good base to work on. He wants to do it right and he’s not crazy. He’s just a good worker, so it’s a pleasure to train him.”

Donatien Schauly and Dgin du Pestel Mili. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The French contingent and the Selle Français studbook enjoyed a good day in the office in this class, with Donatien Schauly jumping a clear round with Dgin du Pestel Mili (by Nartago) to finish as Reserve World Champion, climbing from fifth after dressage.

Nicolas Touzaint slips to third after a single rail. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Donatien swapped spots on the leaderboard with fellow countryman Nicolas Touzaint, who tipped a pole aboard the striking grey Diabolo Menthe, second throughout the competition, to drop down one place.

Bittersweet: Nicolas Touzaint rues his toppled rail. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Fourth place went to Alex Bragg and Ardeo Premier, who clawed their way up the leaderboard through the week after a rider error in their test put them into 16th place. A fast clear yesterday moved them up to seventh, while another foot-perfect round today moved them into fourth and made them one of just three combinations to finish on their dressage score.

Alex Bragg and Ardeo Premier. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Fifth-placed Camille Lejeune and his Dame Decoeur Tardonne very nearly managed it, but were among those caught out by the tight time on course. They added 1.2 time penalties, moving up five places after cross country and 21 places after dressage.

Camille Lejeune and Dame Decoeur Tardonne. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Just nine horses would jump round without knocking rails, proving that Le Lion’s showjumping test can still be enormously influential even without tough ground to work over. The surface to jump on on the final day feels rather like the cherry atop the cake: the week has been rooted wholly in education and growth for these super young horses, and whether they covered themselves in glory or made green errors throughout the challenges set, they’ll all have learned a huge amount here. That they could be afforded the opportunity to enjoy the final phase, rather than being punished by it, is proof that the organisers here really do have the best interests of their competitors at heart.

And so with much fondness, it’s a bittersweet au revoir for now from Le Lion d’Angers. We’ll be back with some extra content for you to enjoy, and, of course, all the Pau CCI5* content you could care to encounter over the next week. Join us for part two of our big French adventure, coming soon.

Go Eventing!

The final top five in the Seven-Year-Old World Championship.