“I’ll Never Sit On Another Horse Like Him”: Laura Collett Records Third CCI5* Win with London 52 at Luhmühlen

Laura Collett and London 52 take their third five-star win out of three starts at the level. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

By the time two-phase leaders Laura Collett and London 52 cantered into the arena with their 6.5 penalty margin in hand, Luhmühlen’s CCI5* win could have felt like a foregone conclusion — but 41 rails had already fallen throughout the previous 28 rounds, and the time had proven seriously tricky to catch, too, and so the pressure was on for the pair to try to catch their third five-star win out of three starts at the level.

But pressure? That’s something that icy-veined Laura, who’s carved a career at the top level despite hurdles including a horror fall that cost her most of her vision in one eye ten years ago, has learned to relish. She and the 14-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Landos x Vernante, by Quinar Z) delivered a foot-perfect clear round inside the time to finish on their first-phase score of 20.3 — the second-best five-star finishing score of all time.

“At the end of the day, he’s just a sensational horse that seems to know when it really matters,” says Laura, who sourced the gelding for co-owners Karen Bartlett and Keith Scott at German team trainer Peter Thomsen’s yard in 2016. “Almost the more I ride like there’s a lot of pressure on, and try and do stupid distances, he seems to realise he needs to jump a bit higher, which is luckily what he decided to do today. He’s just — he’s my absolute. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: he’s my horse of a lifetime and I will never sit on another horse like him.”


Laura Collett and London 52. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

This isn’t just a hat-trick of five-star wins and five-star starts for the pair — it’s also the third time they’ve won a five-star with a wire-to-wire lead. Across the three starts and wins so far, they’ve only ever added 0.4 to their dressage scores: that was at Badminton last year, where they crossed the showjumping finish line just one second over the time, but still recorded the lowest-ever finishing score at the event. Now, they hold the record at all three venues they’ve contested. That, she explains, comes down to the deep trust and partnership she’s built with the gelding over the years — the good ones, and the tricky ones, such as 2019, where they had a spate of high-profile learning mistakes, culminating in a fall late on course at Luhmühlen in the European Championships.

“It’s an awful lot that we ask the horses, to come in and do a dressage test, and then be brave and jump very skinny angled fences cross country, and come out and jump clean on the last day,” she says. “So if you don’t have the trust and the partnership there, then things are going to go wrong. It’s taken a good few years to really cement the partnership I have with him, and I think the reason that I’m so proud of him is that I know he’s not a natural cross country horse. He’s had to learn to be a cross country horse, and the way he stormed around that track yesterday, making it feel so easy, is what makes me just so unbelievably proud and why I do it. I love building a partnership with the horses, and when they come out and reward you like that after years of trying to get it right, it’s just an unbelievable feeling. From my point of view, I love spending time with the horses because I think you get to know them inside out. Obviously there’s a massive team of people behind us that make it possible for us to be able to enjoy days like today, but I think it does help build the bond and, and the horses know that we care for them — and I think that makes them try a little bit harder for us when it really matters.”

Now, with three five-star victories and an Olympic team gold under her belt, Laura’s setting her sights on ticking a few boxes and putting a few demons to bed. And then? Maybe it’s time to try to catch a few more of those titles and records.

“I’d really like to win a senior European title, so that’d be first on the on the list,” she says, looking ahead to August’s championships at Haras du Pin. “And then I’ve got a score to settle: I feel like I messed up at the Olympics and should have won an individual medal there, so I guess I’ll try and do that next year — and maybe Kentucky the year after!”

Laura Collett and London 52. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

This fortuitous trip to Luhmühlen was actually never part of London 52’s plan for the season — Laura had intended to return to Badminton to defend her title, but the gelding struck into himself shortly before the event, forcing her withdrawal and a diversion to plan B. That, plus the difficulty of this year’s spring season in Britain, could have been a devastating blow to the rider — but instead, she let the puzzle pieces fall into place.

“The timing actually was pretty perfect, really, because it was far enough out that as soon as he struck into himself, the decision was made he wasn’t going to go to Badminton,” she explains. “He had ten days off, and so then it was just about working backwards from here. We only had one option of a four-star short run, and that was Bicton, and I was really pleased about that because I knew at Bicton, they always build such a good cross country track. So I thought that was perfect, with dressage and show jumping on a surface. To be honest, it’s been such a funny year, but it’s felt like with him in particular, everything’s just fallen into place. It was almost like he saw the weather forecast for Badminton and decided that maybe we’re going to try and win a different five-star instead!”

Kitty King and Vendredi Biats. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Although Kitty King knew that the overnight leader had a rail and change in hand today, she herself did not: she went into the final phase with just a time penalty to spare, and she knew she’d have to leave all the jumps in the cups with Vendredi Biats (Winningmood x Liane Normande, by Camellia de Ruelles) to retain second place and, she hoped, put some pressure on Laura. But even with the weight of that responsibility on her shoulders, as she waited at the in-gate, she felt nothing but an overwhelming calm.

“To be honest, today I felt the least pressure I’ve ever felt with him in a show jumping arena,” she says. “He felt really great in the warm up, so that really helped. I know what a good jumper he is, and to be honest, we’ve had so much rotten luck recently, I thought, ‘no more can go wrong — so what will be, will be here, and I’ve coped with all the downs of Badminton and Burghley, so it can’t get any worse, so we’ll just go in and enjoy our round’. He really did that and he felt like he was on springs. He’s just such a game jumper — he absolutely loves it. He lives for jumping.”

Even with the gelding’s exceptional showjumping record working in her favour, though, Kitty still had to work hard to get the better of the notoriously tough course here — and in doing so, picked up a time fault.

“It wasn’t a track that particularly suits him because it’s quite gallopy; he’s better at tight turnbacks,” she explains. “So I had to break his canter up a little bit, which is why I think I got the time fault. But that was my riding rather than him — he jumped his socks off.”

This second place finish breaks a run of bad luck for Kitty and the French-bred gelding, which began at Burghley last year, where they led the dressage bit hit a late MIMclip on the course to lose their shot at the win. That luck worsened at Badminton this spring; they were placed second after the first phase, but suffered a non-injurious fall early in the course when the keen and quick gelding overbalanced over one of the widest fences on course. Now, finally getting the result their abundance of talent has richly deserved almost feels like “nearly a bit of an anticlimax, as awful as that sounds,” she laughs. “Because, obviously he was on the verge at Burghley, and at Badminton we put ourselves in a great spot.”

But, she explains, sometimes you need a little bit of luck on your side — and learning when to call it a day is crucial, too.

“To be honest, Badminton week I should have given up before we started, because it already wasn’t my week,” she says. “One of my best friends broke his neck at Cirencester and was being operated on, and my dad had a heart attack on dressage day, so I wasn’t in the right mindset for cross country. Neither of us really did anything wrong, I don’t think, other than that he jumped it a bit big. But when I fell off, I was nearly relieved. I was like, ‘Oh well, at least we’re only at minute two — we’re both fine, so we’ll go somewhere else’.  The whole morning I was umming and ahhing as to whether I should be running. I was thinking, ‘everything’s going wrong in my life at the moment, maybe it’s not the day to be tackling this’, and I probably wasn’t in the best mindset. When I was walking back to the stables, I was like, ‘we can go to Luhmühlen’. That’s always been the goal since, and I’ve been in a much better mindset with it all.  I know he’s more than capable so to come out and just to get the job done… It’s a really weird feeling. I’m obviously absolutely over the moon with the result, but in some ways it’s like, I’m so near again, and yet so far. But it’s just so nice to be able to get all the three phases right. [I’m] glad to have a little bit of luck back on our side this year. It’s a shame to always have to be up against London, but he’s so good that coming second to him is almost like a win. [London’s] just the most special horse, and mine’s pretty damn good too! “

Like Laura and London, Kitty logs her phenomenal result this weekend with a horse that hasn’t always been the most straightforward character — but time, patience, and a heaping helping of faith in what could be has helped him to flourish into a top-notch competitor.

“Froggy is very special, but he has a bit of a chequered history,” says Kitty of the gelding, owned by Diana Bown, Sally Lloyd Baker, Sally Eyre and Samantha Wilson. “He was very naughty and used to like to buck people off all the time, so he moved around to quite a few yards until I got him as a five-year-old. When we saw him in the stable, he had the most beautiful head — and then they pulled him out, and to be honest, after they trotted him up I was really quite disappointed! He dragged his feet and didn’t look very inspiring or very impressed about life. But as soon as I sat on him, there was just something really special about him, and we got on really, really well. And I think he’s only bucked me off twice, so I’ve done alright! He’s just a clown and a comedian and really, we’re all just here to amuse him.”

Yasmin Ingham and Rehy DJ. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Reigning World Champion Yasmin Ingham closed the book on an excellent weekend with her long-time partner, the Sue Davies Fund and Janette Chinn’s Rehy DJ (Tinarina’s Inspector x Rehy Misty, by Big Sink Hope), who jumped a classy clear round with a time fault to retain his overnight third place. Like her two compatriots ahead of her on the podium, though, she knew that despite the influence exerted by the course, she was sitting on a horse she could rely on to get the job done.

“I have a lot of trust in Piglet,” says Yas. “He’s usually a very good jumper, and I’ve known him for a long time now, so we have a great partnership. It’s probably his strongest phase out of all the three, so it was a pleasure to go in that arena and jump in front of the crowds and try and do our best for his owners and my team. I think we did just that.”

Yas, too, extolled the virtues of a long partnership and an innate level of mutual trust, and their necessity in bringing home a great result — in this case, the gelding’s first five-star completion after an educational, rather than competitive, debut at Pau in 2020.

“I think it’s all about the bond and the partnership and the trust,” she says. “It comes from the training at home, the looking after the horses — like Laura said, getting to know them inside and out. They have to trust us when we ask them to do the jumping and the cross country and training them in the dressage. I love spending time with all the horses and getting to know them and all their quirks and the good parts and the bad parts and trying to improve them. It’s an amazing sport to be involved in.”

In her case, that partnership goes back to the horse’s formative years — and her own, too. Together, the pair have risen through the Young Rider Europeans level, taking individual fourth at Fontainebleau in 2018, to representing Great Britain at CHIO Aachen in 2022 and now, taking a podium position at this topmost level of the sport.

“I’ve had him since he was six, so I’ve had him for a long time now,” says Yas. “I’ve produced him from the very first international classes at two-star level, so I’m very proud to have brought him up through the levels and to have such a great result today, it certainly makes you appreciate the good days.”

Yasmin Ingham and Rehy DJ. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

British team trainer Chris Bartle was quick to bestow praise upon the trio of British women with whom he’s worked so closely for so many years — praise, he acknowledged, that they were unlucky to give themselves.

“These girls are absolutely right in appreciating what [their horses] do, and obviously, without a super horse that really trusts you as a partner, you’re not going to succeed,” he says. “But don’t underestimate the work that these guys put in to improving their own communication system with their horses; into developing the analysis; into building up the physical and mental competence, and so on. That is not to be underestimated –they’re just far too nice to say as it should be!”

Boyd Martin and Luke 140. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

All week long, Boyd Martin has been at the forefront of the considerable US contingent that made the trip to Germany, and that didn’t change today. He began his morning with his most experienced horse, the Turner family’s Tsetserleg (Windfall II x Thabana, by Buddenbrock), and although the pair tipped a rail and added 1.2 time penalties, he was full of praise for his diminutive Tokyo partner, who finished 25th.

“With Thomas, I was just thrilled the way he jumped,” he says. “We’ve had many rails over much easier courses, and I was very grateful to Peter Wylde, who came over to help us this week.”

One of the changes that Peter helped engineer for the pair was a totally revamped warm-up routine for the gelding: “We gave him his warm up for the jumping at 9:30 this morning [an hour before the start of the class], and then just did a couple of fences before we went in — and it seemed to work, as sometimes he gets a little bit nervous and worried with all the other horses. I’m just blown away by his round — show jumping has been an ongoing challenge, and I don’t think I’ve ever had him jumping so good. So I feel like there’s a bit left in the tank there, and I’ll be forever kicking myself over yesterday’s run out, but I’m hoping that we’ll be able to go to Burghley and have a redo.”

His duo of very different debutants, Fedarman B (Eurocommerce Washington x Paulien B, by Fedor) and the Luke 140 Syndicate’s Luke 140 (Landos x Omega IV, by Limbus), brought it home in fine style: though Fedarman B, or Bruno, had a rail at fence four, he was still able to climb one place to eventual eighth, and the tiny, feisty Luke delivered one of just five clears inside the time to retain his overnight fourth place.

“Bruno is just a phenomenal jumper and he’s never had a rail down with me, so I sadly picked a terrible event to have his first pole — but he’s a class jumper,” says Boyd, who rides the gelding for the Annie Goodwin Syndicate in honour of the horse’s former owner and rider, who tragically passed away at the age of 32 in a cross-country schooling accident in 2021. “I think now that we’ve got a good partnership, we could challenge him a bit more in the warm up to get him to get rid of that pole. Luke’s just a rocket; he’s just got the warrior mindset. Even at the trot up this morning he was pushing me out of the way, and I rode him earlier this morning and he tried to buck me off. In the warm up he was jumping over the standards, so I knew if I could just ride him well enough in there, he should jump clear.”

Throughout their experience at Luhmühlen, Boyd says, both horses learned a huge amount — and he learned plenty about them, too.

“I’ve figured out they’ve both got heart and desire,” he says. “You know, that last minute or two minutes of the cross country here when you come out of last water, you’ve got that hill — and every horse I’ve ever ridden here is grunting as they go up that hill. You just don’t know how they’ll react. Both horses gritted their teeth and pinned their ears back, and they’ll benefit from this hard run. I think wherever I match them up at the end of the year, the hard push that we had yesterday gives me self-belief that they’ve got that inner warrior that you need when the going gets tough.”

For Bruno and Luke, those end of year plans could include a trip to Pau for one and Maryland for the other — but for both, this was always going to be Boyd’s choice for a debut.

“Luhmuhlen’s been on my radar for both Luke and Bruno for a long time, and I really felt like this would be just a perfect first five-star for them,” he says. “They’re green horses, and I thought the track here would be perfectly suited for them. I was thrilled with the way they went — they were really challenged yesterday and stood up to the test, and then came out and jumped very well today. I think I’m gonna have a really, really good run at the top level of the sport for many years with these two. They’re both just quality animals; I love riding them and they really enjoy the competitions.”

Sydney Elliott and QC Diamantaire. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The US had two more solid completions in Sydney Elliott and QC Diamantaire, who tipped two rails and added 1.6 time penalties, dropping them from 14th to 17th, and are still flying high off the back of a super-classy clear inside the time over yesterday’s cross-country, and Katherine Coleman, who also took two with RLE Limbo Kaiser to finish 29th.

Harry Meade and Tenareze. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Harry Meade‘s week of sneaky excellence came good with an exceptional clear inside the time from the on-form Tenareze (Jaguar Mail x Utopie du Maury, by Quatar de Plape), completing their climb from first-phase eleventh place to secure the fifth place they’d held overnight. But while neither horse nor rider has put a foot wrong in any phase, finishing on their dressage score of 30.7, they came into this event — the 16-year-old Anglo Arab’s second full five-star run, and first cross-country clear at the level — flying well under the radar.

“I came out here not quite knowing what to expect from him,” says Harry, who rides the gelding for David Bernstein, Nigella Hall, and Sophie Caruth. “He’s got lots of ability, he wouldn’t necessarily be the world’s bravest horse — but I just thought, ‘okay, I’ll just try and do the best job I can’, and really, I couldn’t have wished for a better performance from him in all three phases.”

Academic horseman Harry was particularly delighted to find that his relatively inexperienced mount felt so well and capable of jumping such a tough track in fine style after yesterday’s exertions.

“I always think that the proof of the pudding of a fit horse is how they feel the next day, not just how they finish the cross country,” he says. “He felt like he hadn’t been cross country at all you know. If I had amnesia and didn’t know what he’d done the day before, I wouldn’t have thought he’d been cross country — he was great.”

That feeling gave him the confidence to ride to plan A, which involved plenty of inside lines to try to catch the elusive time.

“That was the main target — to turn inside a couple of places, as the time was tight in there. I was delighted he finished with a nice clear round; you sort of expect when you have a tough showjumping track like that, that it alters the placings, but obviously, the top five didn’t change order — but I’m delighted with him.”

Tom Jackson and Farndon. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Tom Jackson was one of four competitors to finish on his dressage score, and that allowed him to complete his climb from first-phase 22nd place to eventual sixth with the thirteen-year-old debutant Farndon, who he pilots for Anne and Iain Slater.

“He was awesome, and he jumped really well,” says Tom of the Dutch Warmblood gelding (Hemmingway x Silvanda, by Marlon). “I mean, he’s always wanted to be a careful horse. But a little bit like the cross country, it’s just the that rideability sometimes gets in the way — but I think we’re getting there.”

‘Getting there’, he explains, has taken “just time, and training — it’s been a sort of progressive path to get to here, and I’m over the moon that he’s delivered for us and his owners as you saying come in here.We always knew he had the potential to be very good; he’s always super brave, he moves well, he wants to be careful. But to actually go and do it is always a different thing, so I’m super happy.”

Oliver Townend and Swallow Springs. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Oliver Townend has had a week of ups and downs, with dressage scores that weren’t quite what he’d have hoped for, a green blip for the inexperienced Cooley Rosalent across the country yesterday, and rails for each of his horses today — but his two more experienced mounts were still able to secure spots in the top ten thanks to their speedy rounds yesterday across the country. 15-year-old former Andrew Nicholson ride Swallow Springs (Chillout x Kilila, by Cult Hero), who was rerouted here from Badminton, took seventh place with just one rail down to climb from initial 14th place for owner Paul Ridgeon, while third-time five-star horse Tregilder (Royal Concorde x Trewins, by Hand In Glove) tipped two to move from seventh to ninth place in the final standings.

Jérôme Robiné and Black Ice. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

German five-star debutant Jérôme Robiné, too, tipped two rails and picked up two time penalties with Dorothea Von Zedtwitz’s Black Ice (Vechta x Brookhall Lady, by Touchdown), but such was the pair’s effort across the week that they were still able to step up one place to finish in tenth.

“In the end, for me it’s a top result, being placed in my first five-star in front of a home crowd. It was really good fun,” says 25-year-old Jérôme. “It was a big course, with two doubles close to the other, and the time was tough, which is always hard for me because he has a big canter but is not that fast in his canter. He was great in the warm up, and he jumped pretty good, but then I felt he was a bit tired from yesterday. I came out of the double and held my rhythm and he got tired a bit, and so for me, next time, I have to push him again a bit. I had two down in the end, which was a bit disappointing for me. But in the end, he jumped the last two pretty good again and so I’m happy with the result — but in the first moment I was a bit disappointed.”

Jérôme’s theme of the week, though, has been development: he had originally thought of returning for the German National Championship CCI4*-S, in which he finished fifth last year with the gelding, but was encouraged by his coaches to push himself beyond his comfort zone and take the next step. Along the way, he’s proved a force to be reckoned with — and has itemised plenty of areas he wants to gain experience in and develop over his career at the top level.

“You have to grow into this level, as you did in every other level,” he says sagely. “And of course you can’t [run five-star] that often but for our first time, we are pretty happy. I think the whole German team is happy with the young riders.”

They have plenty to be happy about, certainly: we don’t often see a large German front in this class, as most focus their attentions on the CCI4*-S and championship pathways — but this week, three excellent debutantes stepped up to the plate and showed the strength in depth that the German system is creating. All three completed the competition, and two of those — Jérôme and 24-year-old Emma Brüssau, who finished 21st, are part of the robust Bundeswehr rider training programme at Wahrendorf, under the auspices of coach and Olympic individual gold medalist Julia Krajewski.

“First of all, it’s a super good event to perform at top level,” says Julia, who spent her week helping her students, as well as winning the German National Championship herself (more on this coming soon!). “It’s fair, it’s nice, but you’ve got so much atmosphere and you’ve really got to test your nerves. I’m very proud of all of them; I think all of them had a generally good weekend. You can feel here and there that maybe they made some old mistakes, like some habits came back, but that’s part of the development and it happens. Yesterday, Calvin Böckmann was up there in the four-star and had a nice press conference, and today was a bit unlucky, and then Anna Lena came up the ranks today. So that’s also a big part of the game: sometimes, you’re at the top and then it goes a bit up and down.”

“The ones like Jerome, he’s just really moving his way up,” she continues. “He’s such a precise, dedicated rider, and he really always wants to do the absolute best for his horse and for the performance. This was a top-10 five-star result, and it was about time for him. I think there’s way more to come because what he does, he does with 110%, which is really cool.”

Emma Brüssau and Dark Desire GS. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“And then, I was personally very emotional for Emma [Brüssau]. It’s a horse she’s had since she did Juniors and it was bought to do Juniors, maybe Young Riders, and now it’s a five-star horse,” she explains. “She’s an amateur — she’s studying psychology, but she’s really dedicated, and has such a good head and really wants to work her way up despite not having so many horses. It’s such a big family thing for these riders, and if you go and look how everyone reacted after their cross country rounds yesterday, you can feel that there’s a really good connection between the under-twenty-fives and they really cheer each other on. It’s a really nice atmosphere — they lift each other up and there’s no bad blood, and that’s really nice to see and it makes you feel that they will make their way.”

The robust support system that Wahrendorf creates is essential, Julia explains, for keeping talented young riders in the sport after they age out — and at just 34 herself and at the top of her game, she’s able to lead by example and by proximity to their own experiences.

“I think maybe that makes it quite relatable for me, and also them to me, so they they know I’ve just been there — I’ve done Ponies, Juniors, Young Riders, I’ve had difficult first years in Seniors,” she says. “I know how it is to be at the top and at the bottom. I’m very straightforward with them. I tell them what I think — sometimes they like it, sometimes not. But I think they know they can trust me and they know it’s got some sort of substance.”

“I think the system in Germany had to grow like that, because we just don’t have as many riders,” she continues. “If you look at how many really have the chance to make their way into Seniors and how many come out in the end, I think we have a really good percentage — because we try to really find the ones that have a chance and have the motivation and possibility, and we help them along. In the end, it’s up to the individual person, but most riders will drop out of riding after young riders because you feel quite lost. We try to really pick them up and say, ‘Okay, here’s an idea, here’s a way’. You want to join, you have to work hard, you have to put your work [in] but you have to have some guidance, and that’s really helpful. That’s the nice thing about eventing. I think it is still possible even without massive finances, backing or super expensive horses early on, and we have so many examples who showed it. It’s hard work; it’s a lot.  All of them work many hours per day, per week, per year, but if you want to achieve your dreams and go for it, then you know it’s possible.”

We can think of no better way to summarise the extraordinary efforts that earned placings this week at Luhmühlen — a week of competition that’s been about dedication, partnership, and the cobbled-together family units that this travelling circus of a sport creates. Go eventing, indeed.

The final top ten in Luhmühlen’s CCI5*.

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EN’s coverage of Longines Luhmühlen is brought to you by Kentucky Performance Products and Ocala Horse Properties.

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