Just how bored, exactly, are you of the phrase ‘it’s all to play for’? Very? Terribly, awfully bored? Well, yes, same – but this is the nature of this topsy-turvy rollercoaster of a sport, and we saw that in action today in the Nations Cup at Houghton International. There were reversals of fortune across the board – for the worse, in the case of the home team, and for the better, in the case of our trio of intrepid US riders, who clawed their way up the leaderboard to finish on the podium. The word ‘plucky’ certainly comes to mind. We also rather like ‘gumption’.
What had started as a leading weekend for the home team turned into a disappointing finish, as two of the team lodged non-completions across the country. Holly Woodhead had sat in third place after showjumping with Parkfield Quintessential, but three refusals at 8B put paid to their bid for a top placing. All the pressure was then shifted onto the remaining three riders, but when Katie Bleloch fell from Bulano at the 17th, the team was forced to use one of the resultant 1000 point scores. An unfortunate 20 penalties for Matthew Heath and One of a Kind II meant that senior squad debutante Chuffy Clarke posted the only clear round for the home team, adding just 1.2 time penalties with the experienced Second Supreme to finish 28th. The team’s finishing score of 1098.1 pushed them to the bottom of the line-up.
This opened the door for Germany to take the win, their fourth in a row at this leg of the Nations Cup. All four team members posted clear rounds across the country, allowing them to finish on an impressive combined score of 99.8. Hanna Knueppel and Carismo 22 were the frontrunners of the pristine team effort, adding 2.4 time to finish in fourth place. Peter Thomsen certainly earned his keep, stepping in as acting chef d’equipe and also finishing in tenth place aboard Sir Boggles. Ben Leuwer and BGS Urlanmore Prince (27th) posted a clear round inside the time to finish on a score of 37.3, while the discard score belonged to Dirk Schrade, who added 13.6 time penalties and finished 42nd. Earlier in the day, he also picked up a win in the CCI1*, riding Dajara 4.
THE PODIUM SEES STARS (AND STRIPES)
They may have occupied the lowest rung of the leaderboard after the dressage, but the US team’s intrepid trio of ladies wasn’t to be cowed in the face of a challenge. After posting three super clear rounds in yesterday’s showjumping, they came into today’s competition under an enormous amount of pressure. With only three members, they didn’t have the luxury of a discard score – so each rider had to produce a fast clear, while still riding with a view to producing their horses for the CCI3* at Bramham in ten days’ time.
But who needs a margin for error, anyway? Not our girls. Katherine Coleman set out as pathfinder aboard Monte Classico, and the nine-year-old gelding stepped up to the plate with aplomb. This is the horse’s first three-star run – even more remarkably, he has only competed at Advanced once, when he made his debut at the level in April at The Fork – but he made it look easy, and added just 1.6 time penalties to finish on a score of 39.4. This was enough to catapult the pair up the leaderboard, from 66th after dressage to 33rd upon completion.
“It’s amazing, really exciting,” says Katherine of the team’s climb to second place. “I was really pleased with Monte Classico; this is his first three-star, so I wasn’t sure how quick he’d be, but he was brilliant and answered all the questions. I’ve had him since he was six, and I think that makes all the difference, because I have such a great partnership with him.”
Monte Classico will head to Bramham next, where he’s entered in the CCI3*, though Katherine is undecided whether to run him in this class or the CIC3*, with an eye on the future for this talented young horse. Katherine’s second ride, Billy Bandit, was retired on course after an awkward jump through the water at 10ABC.
“He was giving me a really great ride and felt really good, so it’s a shame to have that on his record, as it’s not like him,” she says. “He had a big jump into the water and then scrambled over the cascade, and I think he just stepped on himself at some point.”
Caroline Martin posted clear rounds on both of her horses, adding 5.6 time penalties with The Apprentice to finish 32nd and galloping home inside the time on Danger Mouse to finish 17th. This is the 23-year-old’s third Nations Cup appearance, and her second at this leg, at which the team finished second last year.
“I’m very happy with my horses, and really happy for the team,” she says. “It’s been great being on a team with these girls; they work really hard, they have great horses, and they ride well, so hopefully we’ll be on more senior teams together in the future.”
She may be young, but Caroline’s approach to competing at the top level, and to representing her country, shows a wisdom beyond her years. Her creed for producing quick clears comes down to a forward-thinking attitude and trusting in the training.
“I didn’t make the time on my second horse, because he wasn’t part of the team so there was slightly less importance, but when you’re riding for the time you sometimes have to just go for it. You’ve got to cut some turns and slice some of the galloping fences. It pretty much rode as it walked, and there weren’t any huge surprises – we just had to go for it. If you don’t have a perfect jump, you have to put it behind you and keep going.”
Next up for Caroline is another crack at the U25 CCI3* at Bramham, followed by, she hopes, more team appearances and more learning opportunities.
“I’ve had a really good season so far, with Spring Easy clear at Kentucky and Jump Jet finishing second in the CCI3* at Jersey Fresh two weeks ago. I’ve applied for WEG, but we’ll see – my goal is to be a team player at the senior level, and that’s why I do this. My personal goal is to go to Pau CCI4* at the end of the year with one or two horses. I want to get more four-star miles, and more Nations Cups, too – I think it’s so important to be in a team atmosphere. This is my third Nations Cup, and I feel way more relaxed. I’m used to it now. The Nations Cup is a great series, and a great opportunity, especially with the Karen Stives Grant – I keep getting more experience, and I hope that everyone at home sees it paying off.”
Hallie Coon and Celien impressed throughout the weekend, displaying a calm, cool professionalism that belied the fact that this is their first trip abroad. They were the final combination to tackle the cross country course today, and with no small sense of foreboding: as they entered the start box, the bright sunshine swiftly turned to heavy rainclouds and tremendous thundercracks. Despite this, they added nothing to their dressage score of 34.7, and finished 15th – an incredible climb of 39 places.
“It was sort of a dramatic afternoon, being the last rider, and then having the thunder and lightning as I was heading to the box,” laughs Hallie. “But the mare handled it fantastically – she totally exceeded my expectations. This is the first time we’ve finished on our dressage score at the level – a good time to do it! – although I’ve felt in the past that she could do it, I’ve always wanted to save her legs, and this is what that was for. It wasn’t my prettiest round; for some of it, I couldn’t see because of the rain, but she was brilliant and jumped them where I put her, which probably wasn’t ideal – but it worked! I was going balls-to-the-wall because I had to – it’s a new gear for her and she’s learning how to deal with it and maintain it. It’s nice to have had that here, because now I know she can go on and do that in a CCI.”
Hallie and Celien, too, will head to the U25 CCI3* at Bramham next month.
Each of the team members praised chef d’equipe Leslie Law for his ability to manage the phenomenal pressure exacerbated by virtue of being a three-person team.
“He’s great at encouraging us to do our best without increasing the pressure. He wanted us all to try to finish on our dressage scores, and we all came pretty close,” says Caroline. “We have a great team atmosphere, and that’s super important.”
Leslie says that managing a competition like this is all about breaking down the bigger picture to focus on getting the results, phase by phase.
“You’ve got to focus on the dressage first – and theirs was solid, nothing too exciting, but they put up good tests,” says Leslie. “Then it’s onto the showjumping, and when they all go and jump clear, as the girls did, you start to get excited. Come today, we just had to go out and try to score three great clear rounds, and it came off. For me, it’s exciting because I do the Emerging Athletes under-25 programme, and that’s why we brought Caroline and Hallie over – we try to bring two programme members over each year to do this and the U25 class at Bramham. It’s really exciting that it’s gone this well so far, and we’re looking forward to Bramham now.”
Third place on the podium was occupied by Ireland, headed up by Aidan Keogh and Pride of Tredstep, who finished 22nd on a score of 36.5. New Zealand slipped into fourth place, and Sweden finished fifth.
NATIONS CUP FINAL STANDINGS
New Zealand: 119.8
Great Britain: 1098.1
NATIONS CUP SERIES LEADERBOARD
The Nations Cup travels to Strzegom, Poland for its next leg, taking place from 29 June – 1 July. Here’s how the standings are looking at the moment:
New Zealand: 70
Great Britain: 55
GOOD LUCK CHUCK
It was a case of so near, and yet so far at Chatsworth for Laura Collett and Mr Bass, but the victory today was decisively theirs in the CICO3*. The ten-year-old Holsteiner gelding is known for his consistency in finishing on his dressage score, and he did so again today – his twelfth FOD in 23 internationals. Laura had entered ‘Chuck’ for Badminton earlier this month, but the spate of spring cancellations meant that the pair had insufficient preparation, and she opted to withdraw. Instead, they will contest Luhmuehlen next month for the horse’s first four-star. Houghton serves as the horse’s final prep run, and Laura allowed the horse to cover the ground to make the time.
“He’s not a horse I can ever run slowly, so it was always a case of either he runs, or he doesn’t run,” says Laura. “When I arrived, I walked the course and wasn’t particularly happy with how hard the ground was, but then we had a downpour on Thursday night and it was great after that.
“He’s so nice to ride – he’s like a Ferrari, and we couldn’t have had a better prep run than that.”
Laura heads to Tattersalls next week with a string of horses, so Chris King, husband of yard manager Zanie King, will maintain Chuck’s fitness work in her absence. “Then we’ve just got to keep him ticking over and keep him sweet,” she says.
It proved a successful week across the board for Laura, who also finished in the top ten with Dacapo (6th) and comeback kid Billy Bounce (7th), who had previously been written off due to injury. She picked up 5th in the CCI2*, too, riding Sir Papillon.
Second place was scooped by New Zealand’s Jesse Campbell, on his team horse Amsterdam II. The pair added just 0.8 time penalties to their dressage score of 26.8, which had them in eighth place after the first phase. Third went to British rider Frankie Reid-Warrilow, riding Luhmuehlen-bound Dolley Whisper. Also heading for Luhmuehlen are showjumping leaders Pippa Funnell and Billy Beware, who added six time penalties to drop to sixth.
ANALYSING THE INFLUENCE
Alec Lochore’s 3955m CICO3* track featured 34 jumping efforts over 23 fences, and the optimum time of 6:57 required an average travelling pace of 570mpm. Fence 10ABC, the water, and fence 8AB, the Newmarket Open Corners, proved influential, despite the corners forming an easier question than they did last year in their former location by the water tower.
We saw 66% of the field come home clear, and 15% clear inside the time, while 12% retired or were eliminated. Four MIM clips were activated throughout the day, with the cascade element of 10AB the top culprit.
A WINNING PREPARATION FOR UPSILON
Luhmuehlen-bound horses and riders were out in force throughout the week, with France’s Tom Carlile posting an easy win aboard his 2017 European Championships mount Upsilon in the CCI2*. The ten-year-old Anglo Arab stallion impressed throughout the 2016 and 2017 seasons, winning Barbury’s ERM CIC3* last summer and setting the series record with a finishing score of 22.1, but his team debut wasn’t quite so fortuitous. The pair were eliminated for accumulated refusals – hugely uncharacteristic for a horse who has finished in the top five in a remarkable 13 of 15 international runs.
“Obviously Poland didn’t go to plan, and afterwards we realised that he’d hurt himself due to the firmness of the ground there,” explains Tom. “He’s an exuberant jumper and as a result, he kept landing too firmly. As he went along the course he went sour and took a real dislike to it.”
It was discovered later that Upsilon had bruised a bone in his fetlock: “It’s taken all winter for him to recover, and because he had stud duties too, he didn’t start back until February.”
Houghton was to be the first international run for the horse since Strzegom, in preparation for his four-star debut next month at Luhmuehlen. Tom decided to run him in the CCI2*, rather than the CICO3*, to give him the benefit of a long-format run before he steps up. His first-phase score of 29.2 put him just a tenth of a point ahead of his nearest competitor, but in classic Upsilon style, the stallion added nothing in the jumping phases and took the win.
“He felt as good as he ever has,” says Tom. “He fires on two extra cylinders than any other horse I ride. I didn’t try to make it easy for him; I gave him tight lines and angles to think about. It’s a pleasure to be back out competing with him; he’s a genius over fences.”
Of Opium de Boisy, who sustained a ruptured tendon on landing from the first fence in yesterday’s CICO3* showjumping, he says, “it’s a serious injury, and he’s been a good old boy, so he’ll have a comfortable, happy retirement.”
The week was rounded out by a win in the CCI1* for Germany’s Dirk Schrade and Dajara 4, and a victory for British young rider Yasmin Ingham and Rehy DJ in the CCIYR2*.
That’s all for us from Houghton – we’ll be back with more news and views from the UK next week, when we head to Bramham. Until then, you know the drill – Go Eventing!