“He Just Wants to Do Well”: Julia Krajewski Takes Day One Boekelo Lead with Young Superstar

Julia Krajewski takes the day one lead at Boekelo with the exciting debutant Nickel 21. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

57 horses took to the atmospheric main arena on day one of dressage at the Military Boekelo CCIO4*-L – and when we say ‘atmospheric’, we’re not kidding. Though the morning session was nice and quiet (who, after all, makes it out to watch a 9.00 a.m. test when they spent the prior night propping up the bar?), by midday or so, the numerous social venues around the ring had begun to fill up with hospitality guests and sponsors. We’re not quite sure what they were all up to, but they were very happy to be doing it, and throughout a number of tests, loud, spontaneous, and apparently entirely unrelated applause broke out sporadically. Here, for your viewing pleasure, is a photo of Germany’s Christoph Wahler taking it firmly in his stride and accepting it as kudos for his evidently stunning bit of walk work. Take it all in, Christoph; fame has come for you.

‘It might be a 5, but it’s a really, really enjoyable 5.’

One rider who enjoyed a bit of peace and quiet — relatively speaking, anyway — was Olympic champion Julia Krajewski of Germany, who capitalised upon the opportunity and piloted the nine-year-old CCI4*-L debutant Nickel 21 (Numero Uno x Orchidee V, by Lorentin) to the best-ever score of his international career. That 23.6 catapulted her straight into the lead with nearly a two penalty margin at the end of day one, making it a very good day in the office indeed for horse and rider – but, she says sagely, there’s always something to improve upon.

“He’s only nine, and the other week, I looked up how many three-stars I did with him — it was two, maybe three. So he doesn’t have the biggest experience, and so it’s always a little bit, ‘will he switch on?’ ‘How much do you do?’,” she says of the gelding, who was originally sold to a teenager as a young horse because he wasn’t expected to make the upper levels. “He’s been a bit of everything this year, and I’m trying to figure out a system that’s perfect for him for the dressage, and maybe for myself, I did a touch too much yesterday. He could have been even more springy, but he was so well-behaved. So more for myself, I’m always thinking, ‘what can I do better?'”

Those little moments of opportunity for progression — the walk, for example, which was scored in various points from 6s to 8s — were countered by an awful lot of very nice work, which saw Julia earn 9s for her first and final centrelines and an enviable collection of 8s elsewhere, including across the board for the harmony collective. Though Nickel is young and reasonably inexperienced, his strength and balance, both physically and mentally, have been on an impressive upward trajectory across his first ‘big boy’ season, wherein he made his first strides into the global spotlight when finishing on the podium for the German National Championship at Luhmühlen in June. Now, he’s beginning to feel like a real grown-up, Julia explains.

“How he went in and coped with the atmosphere was super nice. He just wants to do well. If you wanted to say anything about this horse, it’s that he just wants to do well, and that’s really good to have underneath you.” But, she continues, “three weeks ago at Blenheim, it was the complete opposite. For him, being on grass means galloping and jumping, [and that affected his test]. Here, when he walked on the grass, he always felt a little bit switched on, and when I went to the sand school and it was like, ‘okay, it’s okay. Let’s stay on sand’. It’s been funny — he’s very black or white. He’s either uper easy or you’re like ‘okay, what’s going on in your mind? Can we go back to normal?!’ But I’m really, really happy with him. I’m complaining for myself on a super high level, but I’m very, very proud of him. I think he’s probably got one of the best average dressage scores this year, so that’s really nice.”

This, she says, is the bread and butter of what she does.

“I think the nice feeling is that you know they’re still young they’re still going to hopefully get better. You always put a little stone on to the other scale, and get your warm up and preparation right. It’s what I love about this sport — finding the perfect way to make my horse and the judges happy.”

Now, she’s looking ahead to the biggest task of the gelding’s week – his first long-format four-star cross-country after five runs at CCI4*-S, in which he’s never finished outside of the top ten. The key, Julia says, is avoiding complacency, even with Boekelo’s trademark lack of terrain and ostensibly straightforward single fences.

“The course is, I think, typically Boekelo. It’s flat, but that’s always the same. It’s nice, but it’s enough to jump. You either have what you think is a straightforward jump — but I wouldn’t underestimate the big boxes they put everywhere — and then there are proper questions in between. There’s a bit of everything: skinnies, corners, angles, a downhill approach to an angled brush at the end. I think you really have to be on your toes and, especially if you or the horse haven’t done a long one, make sure they’re still switched on. Because it’s either fairly straightforward or, for my feeling, a proper test. It’s a good course, and I think it’s fair — but Boekelo’s always testing in the end, and never boring on Saturday!”

Nicolas Touzaint and Diabolo Menthe step up to the plate for the French. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

While no one could touch Julia’s score, French Olympian Nicolas Touzaint made the closest bid, putting a 25.4 on the board with the ten-year-old Diabolo Menthe (Scareface de Mars x Cori Van De Helle, by Caesar Van De Helle) after trending around the 22 mark for much of the test’s trot work. While I’ve not yet had enough beers to attempt to coax an interview out of Nicolas in French, for which I’m sure he’s enormously grateful, I did a sub-30 myself once (just the once, mind you, and definitely not at four-star) so I feel pretty well-qualified to tell you that this horse is a serious not-so-secret weapon for the formidable French squad. I first saw him at Le Lion d’Angers as a seven-year-old in 2020, where he very nearly won it but for the final rail falling on the final day — but that eventual third-place finish has catapulted him to some seriously inspiring results. This is just his thirteenth FEI start, but in his previous twelve, he’s finished in the top ten ten times, and hasn’t been outside the top four since 2020. Today’s dressage score was by far his best ever, and you can expect him to follow up on it: he’s gone clear inside the time across country seven times, ordinarily only adds a second or two if he’s going to add anything, has never had a cross-country jumping penalty, and has had a single rail down in the last three years. That’s about all the insightful analysis I can muster for you now, but I will say this: I like him a lot, and you probably should, too.

Kevin McNab makes Miss Pepperpot his match at Boekelo. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Australia’s Kevin McNab sits third overnight, and while he’s only had the ride on the eleven-year-old British-bred mare Miss Pepperpot (Peppermill x Winney Z, by Winner E) for just over a year, their partnership is beginning to look truly baked in. They proved that in spades today, posting a 25.5 that — surprise! — represents the best test of the horse’s international career thus far. We’re sensing a theme, and we’re into it.

“[We’re] definitely starting to feel more like we’re on the same page now and getting to know each other, and she was really good. She felt really professional in there,” says Kevin, who took the ride on from Britain’s Caroline Harris when the mare had already done a year at four-star. Learning the ropes of one another, he says, is simply a matter of time and sympathetic riding.

“I think that, in general, horses are creatures of habit, and so it takes a little while until you develop a partnership, no matter what they are,” he says. “She’s very workman-like; she tries really hard. And I would say that because she tries so hard, it’s really good to be on the same page, otherwise we can get little mistakes there because we’re both trying a bit too hard. Today, she was really relaxed in there. She stayed with me for the whole test — and it was actually quite fun!”

Relaxation is the watchword for the clever, sensitive mare, and Kevin was delighted to tick that box with her between the boards today.

“She actually started quite relaxed; she halted in the beginning and took a breath,” he says. “The mediums were maybe a little conservative, and the extended movements, but then as she got going in the canter, she felt good. The second change felt really nice — I hope it looked as good! It felt very good, and I was really happy with her. She’s got three good gaits and she can do everything really well, it’s just a matter of developing a little bit more now.”

Lara de Liedekerke-Meier and Ducati d’Arville. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

At the tail end of the day, Belgium’s Lara de Liedekerke-Meier strode back into the arena on her second horse of the day determined to deliver the test she knew Ducati d’Arville (Diarado x Pricilla, by Perpignon) was capable of. And that’s exactly what she did, earning a 26.6 that put the duo squarely into fourth place overnight.

For Lara, it’s just the start of a big week to come with three horses on her roster — but it’s also a moment that represents an incredible turning point of a year. After some truly rotten luck over the last couple of seasons, she’s turned it all around, and comes into Boekelo as the rider with the most FEI wins in the world for 2023 — and a key player in Belgium’s first Olympic team qualification since 2012, a box the team ticked in fine style at this summer’s European Championships. They’re also the de facto victors of the 2023 FEI Nations Cup series, with such a significant lead coming into this final leg that nobody can catch up with them.

But that’s Belgium as a team – now, let’s focus on Lara as a rider. The 13-year-old Ducati, who Lara bought on something of a whim as a young horse because he had the same name, and many of the same characteristics, as a previous much-loved horse, is one of Lara’s two individual rides here this week (her team horse, Hooney d’Arville, sits 16th on a 30.4), and has previously made headlines this year for finishing in the top ten at Aachen. Beyond that, though, he’s been a labour of love, and one that’s paying his dues in a major way now.

“It’s a dream come true to bring him here, and it will be a dream come true to finish it,” says Lara, adding, “I’m going to start crying! It means the world to me, because this horse just kept me awake for the last few years, and he feels as good as ever. So I’m scared to dream and to believe in it, but I think all the people behind me know how important he is to me, and so I just tried it to enjoy the test and not make it more important than it is at the end.”

Lara, like so many exceptional athletes, holds herself to exacting standards – but this week, that decision to enjoy the moment is at the forefront of her priorities.

“I just want to have fun with him, and when he feels like today it’s so easy. I’m scared to believe that I will make a good result with him,” she admits. “But he feels stronger than ever, and he’s so happy to be here. I think there is even more in him — his rider just needs to have everything in order in her head, but I think that’s never going to happen anyway! But he’s a true friend; I really, really like him and he feels good. “

There’ll be plenty more happy moments to enjoy in the phases to come: “Cross-country should be — it normally is — his strongest phase,” says Lara, “so I’m really looking forward to that. Then we will see whatever comes after that! But today, it’s just pure joy. I’m really happy about Hooney, too — she was fantastic.  The walk is still a work in progress, but she really tried hard for me, and he tried even more, and I feel in a good place as well. I’m just still on the high of the wave, and I know that will change. I won’t stay like that, so I’m going to enjoy as much as I can because at some moment, something will go wrong, and I hope it won’t be this weekend or even this year, but now I just know that I have this luck that you sometimes lose, and it feels so good to be here with these horses.”

Laura Collett and Dacapo sit fifth overnight on day one. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Though last year’s first-phase leaders, Laura Collett and Dacapo (Diarado x Tosca VII, by Canturo), couldn’t quite match their 21.9 of last year, they still delivered a very respectable 26.9 to sit fifth overnight. That mark was earned via a long string of good marks from the judges, but dampened somewhat by 4s in the second flying change and the second walk pirouette — an expensive couple of moments that, Laura explains, happened because the 14-year-old “just dropped behind my leg and got a bit lazy, like he can do! He needs a bit more of an atmosphere. But he was fine; he sort of goes through the motions, but he has to be quite sparkly to do a really good test, which he wasn’t quite today.”

Whether it might have helped him to have random applause from drunk businessmen scattered through his test isn’t necessarily a sure thing, either: “Atmosphere helps, but it’s whether he can be bothered. He didn’t really feel like it today, but we know he can do that sometimes,” says Laura with a wry smile.

But it’s never over ’til it’s over, and Boekelo has historically been a very happy hunting ground for Dacapo, who finished third here last year and jumped a speedy clear in 2019, too. There’ll be plenty to do on Saturday, and some room to climb — even more so, explains Laura, because this year’s Boekelo course has a beefy new feel to it.

“It’s a step up from from what we’re used to here, and with the new layout and the extra loops, it has a much nicer flow to it,” she says. “I think at the first water you’ll have to be very committed, and hope they’re awake and on it early on. The rest is, is very jumpable, but with clever questions here or there that, when you think about what the crowds are going to be like, mean keeping the horses focused is going to be the real challenge. But that does help Dacapo, because you’ve got the crowd from start to finish and it wakes him up a bit!”

Anna Lena Schaaf and Fairytale 39. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Germany’s Anna Lena Schaaf might be just 22, but she’s already making a major name for herself in the sport: riding her self-produced Lagona OLD, she won the Six-Year-Old and Seven-Year-Old World Championships in 2021 and 2022, respectively (and just about everything else in between, mind you); she was the Pony European Champion in 2016, the Junior European Champion in 2019, and the Young Rider European Reserve Champion in 2021; and she’s finished just off the podium in the German National Championship at Luhmühlen too this year, in her first season at four-star. But before this veritable wunderkind was kicking ass and taking names across the continent, most often with the sixteen-year-old Fairytale 39, she was just a kid with a homebred horse and some big dreams.

“I was eight and she was five when I started riding her,” smiles the young rider, patting the mare who her grandfather bred from her mother’s former dressage horse. “It’s really special. She’s my once in a lifetime horse. She’s like my best friend – she’s super calm, and everyone loves her. You can really do anything with her.”

That long partnership, and the mare’s winning personality, helped them begin their first-ever CCI4*-L with a bang: they sit sixth overnight on a smart score of 27.4.

“She was really good,” says Anna Lena of Fairytale (Fidertanz 2 x Lena, by Laurentianer. And yes, we do suspect Anna Lena’s name might be a nod to her mother’s horse.). “She was a bit calm in the warm up, but I think in the arena it was really good. She was in front of me and I can really sit and ride her. She is a dressage horse so it’s her strength!”

She sits just ahead of Jonelle Price and Senor Crocodillo, who scored a 27.9 – “he’s kind of exceeded my expectations; I was hoping for sub-30, but a 29.9 would have sufficed!” – for overnight seventh, while eighth place provisionally goes to Maxime Livio and his team stalwart, Api du Libaire, on a 28. Ros Canter is ninth on the inexperienced MHS Seventeen, on a score of 28.6, while Tim Price and Jarillo, who finished in third place at last month’s Blenheim eight- and nine-year-old championship, round out the top ten overnight on a 29.

Cassie Sanger and Fernhill Zoro. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The US team sit eleventh after dressage in the Nations Cup competition, with high hopes for a jolly good climb to come in the jumping phases – and lots to be pleased about from today’s tests. Nineteen-year-old Cassie Sanger is best of the bunch at the end of the day after delivering a polished, workmanlike test with Fernhill Zoro (Verdi x Oronia 2, by Voltaire) for a 35.1 and overnight 33rd place. They just lost a few costly marks in the flying changes, but otherwise picked up consistent marks through their test – a test that marks the CCI4*-L debut for both horse and rider, and the near-culmination of a year of extraordinary adventures. That has seen them make their European debut at Strzegom this summer after being named to the European Development Tour squad, finishing second with the US team there on their first call-up to fly the flag.

Phillip Dutton and Denim. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Phillip Dutton’s eight-year-old Denim (Dinken x Celia II, by Ibisco xx) had something of a homecoming today: the Holsteiner may have been bred in Germany, but he had his formative education here in the Netherlands under the saddle of former Dutch National Champion Merel Blom-Hulsman, with whom he competed in the Six-Year-Old World Championships at Le Lion d’Angers in 2021. He was bought for Phillip shortly thereafter by Ann Lapides, Caroline Moran, and Neill Sites, and returned last year to Le Lion, finishing seventh in the Seven-Year-Old World Championship. Now, on his return to the country of his ‘youth’, he’s making his hotly anticipated CCI4*-L debut after two runs at the short-format. At both of those, he scored in the 34 bracket, and today, in seriously hot company, he wasn’t far off that. He sits 35th overnight on a 35.2.

“He’s really cool,” says Phillip. “It’s just that some of the movements are a bit hard for him still. He’s been doing each movement okay [at home], but then we didn’t quite put it all together in the test — but he’s got a good head on him and I’m excited for his future. He’s a good type — he’s got quite a lot of Thoroughbred, he’s a  beautiful jumper and he’s got a good brain.”

James Alliston and Karma. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Boekelo returnee and Brit-turned-Californian James Alliston sits 38th on a 35.9 with the nine-year-old Karma — an exciting young prospect made even more compelling by her breeding.

“She was bred on the West Coast, so that’s kind of cool, by Patricia Crowley, and her daughter, Katie Crowley, started her and rides her siblings,” says James of the Oldenburg (Escudo II x Travita, by Lavita). “She started as a six-year-old and she’s been a really good jumper all along. The dressage can be a bit buzzy, so that was pretty relaxed — I know that she missed a change, but it wasn’t that bad.”

Getting Karma to relax and enjoy this first phase has been a process James has committed to taking one step at a time.

“She was quite a tricky young horse,” he explains. “I got sent her because she would freeze in the arena, and was a little bit strange like that. And then, once she stopped doing that, she flew around at 100 miles an hour. But she always jumped really well. Now we’re settling it all down, and finding that in the dressage.”

This will be Karma’s second-ever CCI4*-L: she won on her debut at Rebecca Farm in July, and then won a CCI4*-S at Twin Rivers in California. Boekelo, James explains, is the next step up for both her career and her education.

“It’s a lot of atmosphere here, obviously,” he says. “When you go in the arena, they’re on their own, and it’s definitely a different feel, certainly to the sort of West Coast of America — maybe Kentucky’s a little bit more like this atmosphere. Going through here, it’s quite intimidating for the horses. And then the course is a continental feel, which is different — it’s a different designer than I’m used to in America. And obviously it’s really high standard of competition, so she’ll learn a lot.”

Jennie Brannigan and FE Connory. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Jennie Brannigan and Tim and Nina Gardner’s FE Connory sit 44th on a 37.1 in the eleven-year-old’s second CCI4*-L, and while the flying changes and the lateral walk work proved costly, there was lots to like from the Holsteiner (Conrato x Hocaponta, by Lauries Crusador xx), who particularly impressed with his ground-covering canter extension. Like the rest of the US line-up this week, Connory represents a ‘next generation’ of American talent, all of whom will come on leaps and bounds from their exposure to this buzzy, enormously competitive event.

The top ten at the end of day one at Boekelo.

Germany leads the charge – unsurprisingly – in the Nations Cup competition, which saw all team riders complete their tests today. Theirs is the slimmest of margins, though: they’ll go into Saturday’s cross-country on a score of 82.3, with just 2.6 penalties, or six seconds, in hand over provisionally second-placed Great Britain on an 84.9. In bronze position is the French team on 86.5, while Australia waits close behind in the wings on 87.5.

The team standings following the first phase of the Nations Cup competition.

Sanne de Jong and Global Faerlie Flashy. Photo by Ashley Claus.

The Dutch National Championship got off to a good start today, too – four of the eleven competitors for this coveted title completed their tests, and at the end of day one, Sanne de Jong leads the charge with the eleven-year-old Global Faerlie Flashy, formerly the ride of Ireland’s Brian Morrison, on a 31.9, two penalties ahead of second-placed Merel Blom-Husman, a former winner of this title, riding Vesuve d’Aveyron.

The leaderboard following day one in the Dutch National Championship.

Tomorrow heralds another wall-to-wall day of dressage, beginning at 9.00 a.m. local time (8.00 a.m. BST/3.00 a.m. Eastern time) with Great Britain’s Alfie Marshall and Just Have Faith TN first down the centreline. We’ll have three further US competitors coming forward through the course of the day; the first of those, Hallie Coon and the former Seven-Year-Old World Champion Cute Girl, will perform their test at 10.52 a.m. (9.52 a.m. BST/4.52 a.m. Eastern), while Tiana Coudray and D’Artagnan will come forward at 14.35 (13.45 BST/8.45 a.m. Eastern). The USA’s day will wrap up with yet another British-based competitor in Cosby Green, who’ll ride Jos Ufo de Quidam at 16.48 (15.48 BST/10.48 a.m. Eastern). Keep it locked on EN for a full report from the day’s action – and to watch it as it unfolds, tune into ClipMyHorse or follow along (for free!) via the FEI YouTube channel. Until next time — Go Eventing!

Military Boekelo Links: Website | Entries | Live Scoring | Live Stream | EN’s Coverage

EN’s coverage of Boekelo is presented by Kentucky Performance Products.

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