It’s a very Happy Hale Bob Day indeed, as the eponymous SAP Hale Bob OLD and veritable legend of the sport Ingrid Klimke clinched their third Aachen victory after producing the fastest round of the day. This makes Ingrid the first rider ever to win here three times – and also, curiously, the first rider to win having knocked a pole. (Though we suspect most people aren’t delivering 20.7 dressage scores, either.)
The fifteen-year-old Oldenburg gelding was buoyed home by an infectiously enthusiastic home crowd,
“It was a tough course, definitely,” says Ingrid. “There were several difficulties on the course, and we knew we’d have to pay attention and take our time for the narrow fences. But when I saw Michi [Jung] ride it [with first horse, Star Connection] I thought, no, I’m going to go for it – he took shorter turns and that helped me make a decision on what to do. But there were definitely several fences that we’d all been discussing – on Friday night, when all of us went to bed early, I think we all went to bed thinking we really have something ahead of us.”
Once firm in her convictions, Ingrid set out to enjoy the ride on her longtime partner.
“We had so much fun out there – he’s so smart, and so clever, and he was so full of himself in the warm-up so we could really go out running,” she says. “Then, I was so up on the clock that I could take my time in places.”
After some tactical planning, Michael Jung opted to ride for the time with new partner fischerChipmunk FRH in their final run before a potential Europeans call-up. It paid off, too – they romped home as one of just three combinations to make the time, coming in one second under the optimum time of 6:55. This allowed them to finish on a three-phase score of 25.5, adding just a rail to their impressive dressage result of 21.5.
“He’s a super horse, and really top quality in all three disciplines,” says Michi. “I’m just trying to get a good partnership with him. It’s a big change for him and big change for me, too, but it’s such fun to see how we can work together. I feel a difference at each competition, and at home he just gets better and better.”
Michi also rode Star Connection to a seventh place finish – and a significant team contribution – after adding 5.2 time penalties early on in the day.
“It was quite difficult to go inside the time – the water [at 7ABCD] takes a lot of time, and so do the combinations, and then you have to gallop really fast,” he says. “But we have a couple of factors to keep in mind here. First, the ground is unbelievable in Aachen. It’s always fantastic, and it’s soft for the horses, so you get a great feeling as you gallop. But also, sometimes on cross-country you have to take a risk, and take a stride out and ride forward. That’s a big thing in Aachen.”
Another Aachen special is the crowds, who enthusiastically cheer on each and every rider as they clear each and every fence, but for whom the home nation heroes are the stars of the show. This year, those crowds were colossal, forcing the event to halt ticket sales for cross-country to avoid finding themselves over capacity.
“It’s a great feeling – everything’s quiet on the way to the fence and then the crowd really goes with you as you land. It’s great motivation; if you go clear they come with you to the next jump, and if you mess up they might say a few words, too,” laughs Michi.
For the second year in a row, Chris Burton and Quality Purdey were the only pair to finish on their dressage score. They finished third on 27 after coming home one second inside the time – a round surely aided by Chris’ earlier round on Polystar I, who finished ninth after adding four time penalties and a showjumping pole to his first-phase score of 26.4.
“I think most of the riders will agree with me that this is the toughest course we’ve seen here – Rüdiger has done quite a good job of trying to slow riders down,” says Chris. “I was amazed at how well it rode – there were multiple combinations that were difficult, which meant it slowed you down. It’s very clever.”
World Number One Tim Price dropped from overnight second to fourth after picking up 4.8 time penalties with the evergreen Wesko, but such was the quality of the sixteen-year-old’s performances throughout the competition that he’s now considering a final five-star run with the Dutch-bred gelding.
“He was super – I just love that horse to bits,” he says with a rueful smile, adding, “I just needed to go faster. I felt very comfortable out there, and I was under a bit of a false illusion, because so often he’s made the time feel so easy. All the fences were coming up nicely, and I thought we were easily up on the time – but there was much more intensity to the course than I’d anticipated. It was busy everywhere, and there ended up being so many focal points throughout the course, that they just take a bit more time. I realised I was on the time at the skinny fences at 15ABC, and I knew then that I’d lost any chance to get ahead again. From there, we just haemorrhaged seconds.”
Nevertheless Wesko, who’s owned by the Windrush Equestrian Foundation, made easy work of the plethora of influential questions on Rüdiger Schwarz‘s notorious track, following up his 23.8 dressage – a personal best for Tim in his entire international career – and a smart clear showjumping round with a classy performance that belied the difficulty of the course.
Although, at sixteen, he may be in the twilight years of his career, the 2014 Luhmühlen winner is relatively low-mileage. He was sidelined in 2016, 2017, and in the first half of 2018 due to injury, but the time and attention paid to his management is evident in his return to form. Now, there’s a bigger adventure in the pipeline for him.
“I’d like him for the Olympics, and I’ll quietly keep working towards it. It would be a great bookend to his career, because I think he’s been a bit short-changed, really,” says Tim. “He’ll probably head to Pau this autumn, depending on how he comes out of today – although he’s finished in great shape.”
Australian stalwart Andrew Hoy climbed the ranks from an initial 18th to finish fifth riding Vassily de Lassos, a ten-year-old French-bred gelding produced by, and sourced from, Tom Carlile. Though he’s one of the younger horses in the field, he’s amassed a wealth of experience – he hasn’t finished outside the top five in an international since May of 2018, and has an 80% top-ten completion rate across his entire international eventing career. This includes individual fourth at last year’s World Equestrian Games, which he ran as a nine-year-old. With all eyes on the forthcoming European Championships, we suspect that many of the hopefuls will be breathing a sigh of relief that the competition is no longer an open one.
Piggy French and her WEG and Kentucky mount Quarrycrest Echo delivered one of the fastest rounds of the day, stopping the clock just four seconds over the optimum time to add 1.6 penalties to their 28.7 first-phase score. This allowed them to climb from initial 21st to eventual 6th, further securing Piggy’s claim to a spot on the British team for next month’s Europeans, for which she’s been long-listed with both ‘Red’ and her Badminton winner Vanir Kamira.
A tough day for Team USA was salvaged at the eleventh hour by an impressive performance from Caroline Martin, making her Aachen debut with the ten-year-old Irish-bred Islandwood Captain Jack. They added 18.8 time penalties to their double-clear jumping round and 36.3 dressage score to finish 21st, climbing 19 places across the course of the competition. Aachen is always a big ask, particularly for a young horse, but the week has proved to be an essential education for the horse who, Caroline says with a laugh, “used to be so rank that I’d have to tack him up and ride him in his field!”
These days, though, her focus has been on helping the rangy gelding to develop physically, making his job easier for him.
“We’ve spent the last few weeks really just focusing on the flatwork, which meant he was really rideable and with me out there – and that’s so important on a course like this, which feels more like showjumping sometimes.”
Caroline has produced the horse from a four-year-old and has been in the irons for every cross-country round he’s tackled, which proved a boon today: “we’ve jumped a lot of corners, and a lot of skinnies, and I know him so well – I’ve done it all myself. My goal since December has been to do Aachen with him; I thought it would be really good for his maturity. I went out there thinking I had to treat the course like I was schooling, because it’s so twisty and turny that it’s not like a normal course. I had to be really accurate – and now we can build on that and begin to take some risks.”
A slip on the flat at the end of the course brought Liz Halliday-Sharp and Deniro Z‘s day to an early finish. Though enormously frustrating, the fall came at the tail end of an exciting performance from the eleven-year-old, who will be aimed for Burghley this autumn.
“We both learned a lot from the rest of the course, and he was brilliant,” says Liz. The culprit for their unfortunate blip, which came between the first two elements of the long route at 21ABC, was a lost front shoe. The tight, almost rollback-style turn proved too much for Deniro’s diminished purchase on the ground, and the pair fell – though we’re delighted to report that both are absolutely fine.
So, too, are Phillip Dutton and Z, who suffered a dramatic parting of company while tackling the corner in the water at 7ABCD. We saw five horses misread this corner, which appears after a blind turn, and unusually, most went left-handed into widest part of the fence, rather than ducking out to the right. While some were able to get away with kicking the flag out, Z unfortunately got himself caught up and had to scramble over the jump, tipping Phillip out the front door in the process.
42 horses and riders set out on Schwarz’s course following the overnight withdrawal of Tim Lips and Bayro, and 34 would complete it. Of those 34, nine would pick up jumping faults. The problems were scattered around the track, but the Rolex water complex at 7ABCD produced eight, making it the joint most influential combination on course, a dubious honour closely rivalled by 15ABC, the Turkish Airlines complex of skinny arrowheads, which claimed seven.
The most high-profile rider to accrue jumping penalties was overnight leader Laura Collett, who had a surprise stop at the final element of 21ABC, the last combination before the main arena at the end of the course. Their 20 penalties – and subsequent time penalties – dropped them to 20th in the final standings.
“He was class, though – it’s not his fault,” says Laura. “I just took a bit too much away before the corner, and he tried everything in his power to jump it. But he really listened to me out there. Everything came up very forwards, and because I was up on my time I thought I could take a second or two there. But look: the main thing after Bramham was that he came back well, and he has done. He’s only ten, and he’s only been eventing for three years – some of the horses he’s up against today are 16 or 17. Imagine what he’ll be like in a few years’ time!”
The home team took a decisive victory, winning on an aggregate score of 94.5 despite the retirement on course of Josefa Sommer and Hamilton 24.
“The team was well prepared, and we were lucky to win,” says chef d’equipe Hans Melzer. “Hamilton lost a shoe early on, and the decision not to continue was correct. I was sad about the other German riders, though, who had not such a good day – but there are five weeks still until the Europeans, and we’re very happy for them to come to Germany.”
The New Zealand team finished second on a total score of 102.7, while Australia stepped into third on 112.4.
That’s all for this evening from EN and Aachen – but don’t stray too far, because we’ve got lots of extra content coming your way, including the riotous Jump & Drive competition coming up this evening. Also, sausages. Prepare yourselves (and GO EVENTING!)