If, hypothetically, you’d won the World Championships at the tender age of 25 years old, and had won every British national age title going along the way, and had been second in one of the world’s foremost five-stars last year, you might be forgiven for thinking that winning comes pretty easily, and places on teams at the world’s most prestigious events are a foregone conclusion.
Unless, of course, you’re Yasmin Ingham. Despite her accolades, and the statistical probability of her success at any given outing, she still retains an air of gentle surprise to find herself on the top of a leaderboard, as she did today with her World Champs partner, Banzai du Loir.
“It feels so surreal,” she says with a broad smile. “Like, I just never thought it was going to happen — to be here at this sort of calibre event with my best horse. He’s my best friend; I love him to bits, and to show him off to everybody and try and get the best out of him is so great. He certainly did that, so to come out on top feels incredibly special. It’s just been amazing to be here all week, and the vibes have been so good, with great team spirit. I really enjoyed it.”
Yas and Banzai, who she rides for owner Janette Chinn and the Sue Davies Fund, set up in honour of its late namesake, who had taken enormous pride in owning horses with her daughter for the talented young rider, first found themselves in this position yesterday, when they took the first-phase lead on a score of 23.5. But although they delivered a clear round in last night’s showjumping phase, they slipped down to third – by an achingly narrow margin – after adding 2 time penalties. That, though, put the 26-year-old right where she preferred to be as she headed out of the start box – not as the final rider in the starting order, with everything to lose, but ten or so from the end of the class, with it all to gain.
“I think I personally prefer catching up from behind, but it’s something that you have to learn to deal with as a sports person, to sort of handle the pressure,” she says. “If I’d have gone clear yesterday, inside the time, I would have been out last, and you do have to learn to deal with that. So I think, maybe not this time, but I’m glad that I snuck up from the back on the two ahead of me – I think it was very lucky. I mean, I was 0.1 ahead of Michi, so I think that’s a bit too close for comfort really!”
That 0.1 margin came when second-placed Michael Jung and fischerChipmunk FRH added 2.8 time penalties to their two-phase score of 24.4 – and Yas, for her part, added 1.6 as the joint-fastest round of the day. No one would catch the optimum time of 6:55.
“It’s like a sort of racetrack out there, really,” she says. “It’s an intense short format, and the fences come up thick and fast; you’ve got combinations with an ABC and D, so lots of elements. Banzai came out the start box a little bit like a fire-breathing dragon, so for the first minute, I was fighting with him a little bit and I just sort of said, ‘Just give me this minute and then I’ll let you gallop’, because we had a couple of stretches after the first minute. So once I’d let the handbrake off and I’d kind of let him gallop, he was like ‘okay, I feel better now’, and we got into a bit of a rhythm. He was looking for the flags and jumping brilliantly, so I couldn’t really fault him — and to come so close to the time is obviously a big achievement for me after my very slow performance in the show jumping yesterday, so I feel like I might have redeemed myself a little bit in that matter!”
Once Yas had returned with her very swift clear in the bag, all she could do was wait: teammate Tom McEwen, who would be the last out of the box as the overnight leader, was still ahead of her with the former Nicola Wilson ride JL Dublin, as was Michi, and few riders would be less likely to succumb to pressure than those two. When Michi added his own small handful of time penalties, she was in the clear by one – and so then, it was just about waiting to see if Tom and the reigning European Champion could be fast enough.
In the end, it wouldn’t be time that would push Tom out of the top spot. Aachen’s cross-country is always a rollercoaster of emotion – with a top-end CCI4*-S track to match its top-end calibre of competitors, it’s much more akin to a five-star short in intensity, and even the very best of horses and riders can pick up shock run-outs over designer Rüdiger Schwarz‘s twisty, turning accuracy challenge. And that’s exactly what Tom and ‘Dubs’ did: as they traversed the influential Turkish Bank complex at 16ABCD, which is peppered with driving obstacles that can distract the eye, the gelding skimmed right past the C element, picking up just his second-ever career run-out in an FEI event. Yas had won Aachen, and in doing so, became the first ever British winner of the enormously prestigious competition.
But even with the issues that had happened before her ride – including five eliminations, one of which was for missing a fence, six missed flag penalties, and eleven runouts, mostly at fences 16ABCD and 18AB – Yas kept her mind on the routes she’d originally walked, rather than making last-minute changes.
“I tried to stick to my plan when I walked the course,” she says. And luckily, “everything sort of came up as I hoped it would. Obviously, things happen and you’ve got to react quickly sometimes, but I’m just really pleased that after my mistake in Kentucky, I sort of put that to rest a little bit. I really let him down out there and I was so frustrated with myself, and I thought, ‘I need to put things right at this event’. I’m proud of myself, and proud of him, and hopefully we can keep improving now.”
In horse sports, you either win or you learn – and if you’re really lucky, you do both – and so Yas took the frustration of that early 20 at Kentucky this spring and used it to refine everything she’s been working on with the talented twelve-year-old by Nouma d’Auzay.
“It’s actually really funny, like these sort of problems — not problems, but the mistakes that you make — all stem back to going back to basics a little bit,” she muses. “So we spent a long time just jumping straight lines and then turning left; straight lines and turning right; and making sure that he wasn’t falling in through his right shoulder and making sure that he wasn’t drifting out left. You really do sometimes just have to go back to the basics, nail them, and then crack on again. We spent a lot of time in World Class training and training with Chris Bartle and [dressage rider] Richard Davidson and all the guys that help me on the ground, and we’ve put in a lot of work — and I’m glad that he’s responded well to it out here today.”
Michael Jung couldn’t quite nab the win today – though before he left the start box, he’d moved ahead of Yas on the leaderboard. But his 2.8 time penalties pushed him back into the runner-up slot by a scant tenth of a penalty.
Still, though, it was enough: enough to secure the home nation the win in the team competition, and enough to put the drama of last year’s CHIO, where he was deemed the winner and then stripped of his glory after an appeal saw him given a flag penalty, behind him.
“I think it was a nice course, and fischerChipmunk is an amazing horse,” says Michi, who has previously won here in 2011, with La Biosthetique Sam FBW, and 2016, with Takinou. “He galloped well, and he’s proved himself in the past with really tough, good rounds so I can trust him; I know him.”
Though several riders came achingly close to making the time today, none captured it – and that, Michi thinks, was partly down to the ground, which took a dumping of rain throughout much of the class.
“The ground was a bit soft, not deep — it was nice to gallop, I think, but maybe it takes a bit of energy from the horse,” he muses. “The course was very nice to ride — if you go fast here or there, you take a bit more risk than you want and then you can have a little mistake, but actually, I feel very happy with my horse. Maybe they measure a bit short so that the time was really short, but also the ground takes a bit of energy from the horse so you can’t go really fast from beginning to end — you have to feel a bit into your horse.”
Though the course exerted influence in both time and jumping faults from beginning to end, for Tamie Smith, “it actually felt a lot easier than I expected it to – I was waiting for it to not ride well, but it rode great!” And the proof is in the pudding there: she and her Kentucky CCI5* champion Mai Baum cruised home with 2.8 time penalties and an impressively smooth round behind them to take third place – two places up from their starting position of fifth, after they posted a 26.9 on the flat, and six up from their overnight ninth, which they slipped to after tipping a rail in last night’s showjumping.
But that smooth round came as the result of careful planning, honed around the nature of the horse she knows so well: “At fence three I knew he’d be spooky, because of the ditch there, but we just kind of clambered through that, and on we went – and the rest was perfect,” says Tamie. “I couldn’t have asked for more. I think it was a really good test; you had to have a solid partnership and a very in-tune team.”
Tight, intense tracks like Aachen, which can yield surprise run-outs and issues for even the most experienced of competitors, require an extraordinary level of communication in order to excel – and that, Tamie says, was their not-so-secret weapon today.
“I think it felt easy because of our partnership – you know, I mean we’ve been doing this together for a while now,” she says. “Watching all the problems happen today, I wasn’t expecting that it would ride as smooth as it did. It’s obviously very special to be on the podium at Aachen — that’s a once in a lifetime horse, and it’s a dream to be able to have a competitive score like that. Hopefully there’s more to come!”
If you haven’t been paying attention to young German star Christoph Wahler and his exceptional Carjatan S, here’s your wake-up call: after taking second in the CCI5* at Luhmühlen in 2021, and finishing in fine style in two European Championships, the 29-year-old – who produces his event horses around his ‘day job’ running his family’s busy dressage stud – was then put on the German team for last year’s World Championships, at which he helped secure team gold. Today, he once again got the job done, further proving his consistency in the two jumping phases with the 14-year-old son of Clearway, who began his week in 26th place after posting a 33.6, and finished in individual fourth.
“I think sometimes he makes my life a little bit difficult in the dressage because he doesn’t really enjoy a big atmosphere in the dressage arena,” reflects Christoph, who has previously piloted the gelding to very-low-20s scores, but has sometimes struggled to manage his reactivity in the first phase since revolutionising his fitness programme a couple of years ago. That, though, has been the making of him as a ‘banker’ horse for the Germans, who can rely on the pair to finish very close to whatever score they start with, as they did today with their clear round and 1.6 time penalties – the joint-fastest of the day.
“He’s such a fighter and such a confident horse when it comes to show jumping and cross country,” says Christoph, who felt the full scope of the horse’s fast footwork as he jumped up the steep bank at 11A, touched down too early behind, and then patted the edge of the bank to regain his footing and make it to the B element. “Yesterday evening he had a very nice clear round and gave me a super feeling, and then today, he felt extremely confident at the jumps. He didn’t really enjoy the ground, I think, because it felt like hard work for him, but he was super safe on the jumps, and I tried to ride him as quick as I could, because we’ve known each other for many years now and he’s done some difficult courses before. I knew I would be able to take some risks on the jumps and try and get the time, which in the end we nearly did.”
It’s been a banner day for the US, despite some surprise hitches along the way – not least, the slew of penalties accrued by 2021 winners and team anchors Will Coleman and Off The Record, who had problems after slipping on the turn at the Turkish Airlines complex at 16ABCD and were penalised for crossing their tracks, too. Each of the riders delivering counting scores, though, managed to pull off a top ten finish – and one of those was Liz Halliday-Sharp, who finished fifth with Ocala Horse Properties and Debbie Palmer’s Miks Master C in his first FEI competition since finishing third in his five-star debut at Kentucky.
“He’s a big, bold, galloping horse, that’s who he is, and he hasn’t had a run since Kentucky, so fair enough,” says Liz, who added 4.4 time penalties to climb from overnight fourteenth.
‘Mikki’ is just eleven, and the partnership between the two is still relatively new – and so Liz came to Aachen hoping that the twisty, technical track might solidify much of what she’s been working on with him. At the top of that list? Rideability – the key skill for success over a Rüdiger Schwarz course.
“I thought he was brilliant. This would be a very different track for him, and it was a great learning experience,” says Liz. “The first Aachen for any horse is a lot, and I was thrilled with him. He is a big, bold horse but this proved that he can still be fast around a twisty, turning track, which I was thrilled with. He was a little keen, but now he’s been here and we’ve learned a lot about each other, too, because our partnership is still pretty new. He was maybe a little green in the arena yesterday, but that’s part of the reason why you bring them [to things like this]. It’s just great to get any horse here in this big atmosphere, and he’s not seen that much of it. He’s not been in a stadium like this, so that was educational. In our relationship he’s not been under pressure to go fast around such a twisty, technical track, so that was a good opportunity to put that to the test. He was world class, like I always thought he was.”
Despite her horse’s game, catty jumping, Liz did have one heart-stopping moment on course: as she negotiated the stiff mounds at fence 6, the Allianz Vertical, she heard a tell-tale thud – but as she discovered at the end of the course, the top rail of the fence hadn’t moved. Instead, they’d managed to activate the safety device on the middle rail, for which no penalties were awarded.
“It was never something that would’ve tipped him up,” explains Liz. “I had a bold distance to it, rather than start pulling on him [on the approach], and he just tapped it on the way up. It was just the nature of the fence, climbing the hill – but I was thrilled, when I finished, to see that it was just the middle rail and not the top one as I originally thought. The way the light was when I looked back, I thought that the top rail had gone – but I thought it best to keep the pedal down just in case.”
Though Liz, too, felt that the ground took a bit of energy from the horses, she says that Mikki “could’ve gone another four minutes – he’s got a freak of a capacity on him.”
Now, with another box ticked for one of the most exciting career partnerships she’s had, Liz is looking ahead to next year – and revelling in every chance to be part of Team USA’s upward trajectory in the meantime.
“I’m so thrilled for the team,” she says. “Everybody worked really hard all week. I couldn’t say anything better than that – everybody was very professional and had their eye on the prize, and it was a pleasure to be a part of it.”
Phillip Dutton followed closely behind her, taking sixth place after adding 5.2 time penalties – and completing a trajectory that’s seen him climb with Tokyo mount Z from a first-phase 24th place.
“He was really at his best in all three phases, and it was one of this weekends where you wanted to be a little higher, but it was such a tough competition,” says Phillip, who returns to the competition for the first time since 2019, when he took an unfortunate tumble from the gelding in the Rolex Water.
“We’re really proud of Z and all he’s accomplished,” he says. “The plan was to go as fast as possible without taking a huge amount of risk: I wanted to be accurate, and Z was very rideable. I don’t think there were many places we could’ve gone any faster. He doesn’t have a huge top speed, but he’s very efficient and we saved as much time as we could, so it’s pretty comfortable with what we did today.”
Phillip was quick to sing the praises of his stalwart partner, who he found game and gutsy over the tight, turning track with its abundance of loops and twists.
“He’s such an all-around horse. This probably wouldn’t be quite what he’s best at — more of an open, galloping track would be better for him — but at the end of the day good horses and good riding shines through and he did the best he possibly could.”
Something that made the week all the sweeter for Phillip was the chance to meet Marlies van Bezouw, the sister of Z’s late breeder, who was present at his birth and who journeyed to the show to enjoy a reunion with ‘her’ horse before the start of the competition.
“She traveled down two and a half hours to come and see him, and she just saw him and burst into tears – it was pretty emotional,” says Phillip with a smile. “He means a lot to a lot of people, and [former rider] Duarte Seabra changed sports and went to show jumping after his brother [passed away], and Z was his last event horse. So it’s a full circle of people that this horse has touched their hearts.”
Next up, Phillip hopes, is another trip to Europe later in the year to fine-tune some of the details and put the gelding in the selectors’ minds for Paris next year.
“We’d need to get his dressage a couple marks better, which would then put us up in a higher finish, but we’re talking about going to Pau – he ran great at Maryland last year, and it’s one he’s never been to and I haven’t been to in quite a few years,” he says.
Like Liz, he was delighted to play a part in another US team success, and acknowledged the part that luck – good or bad – can play in riders’ fortunes.
“It’s always great to be a part of the US team and all the riders did well. Will was pretty unlucky slipping coming to that fence, but that’s the risk you take — he was trying to have a real crack at it. Everybody did what they could and we ended up in a good finish — it’s great that America is on a bit of a roll now, I think.”
Though the New Zealand team’s luck definitely wasn’t up this weekend – they finished sixth out of eight after a rider fall for Jonelle Price from McClaren at the Rolex Water complex and two late run-outs for Pratoni teammates Tim Price and Falco, who dropped from fourth to 36th – they did secure a top-ten placing for one of their riders. Caroline Powell and the talented young mare Greenacres Special Cavalier took all that they’d learned from the ten-year-old’s educational trip to Badminton earlier this spring and zipped around today’s much more continental track for 7.6 time penalties and seventh place – a thirteen-placing climb through the competition, and another world-stage placing to add to the fifth they earned on her five-star debut at Pau.
Sweden, too, was well-represented at the business end of the leaderboard, even if they weren’t able to field a team this week: their sole individual rider, Frida Andersen, finished eighth aboard Box Leo with 4.8 time penalties, completing a climb from 33rd in the first phase.
Likewise, Ireland’s Joseph Murphy was the architect of an impressive climb with the former Laura Collett ride Calmaro, with whom he’s pulled out some of his best results at major events: he was 23rd after dressage on a 32.5, and dropped to 25th last night after lowering a pole and adding a second on the clock, but today’s round, which saw the pair cross the finish line with 4.4 time penalties, spirited them straight back up the ladder to a final ninth place. This marks their third consecutive year at Aachen, their third consecutive swift clear across this course, and their second consecutive top-ten placing at this most prestigious of four-stars.
Belgium’s Lara de Liedekerke-Meier was one of the earliest riders of the day, riding in the small batch of individuals at the opening of the phase with her Ducati d’Arville. But even without the benefit of the insight that can come from watching others out on course, she delivered one of the classiest efforts of the day, cruising home with 2.8 time penalties and climbing up from overnight 28th to eventual tenth.
Even with one of the fastest rounds of the day under her belt, though, Lara still feels that there was more left in the tank – and, perhaps, the possibility of logging the only clear inside the time of the day, but for a duo of lost shoes.
“He’s a fantastic horse – he’s really looking for the flags, and he really makes my life easy,” she says with a smile. “Unfortunately, I lost a shoe at fence three, and then later on after the two skinnies I lost the other front shoe – and I thought okay, now the two corners without shoes in front is going to be tricky, so I had to take an extra pull here and there to really ensure that he would stay in between the flags and not slide. So maybe it saved me a place in the top ten, but I do have some little frustration, because I could have kicked here and there a bit more, maybe. But on the other hand, he was just so focused and tried so hard for me, and I think Aachen is one of those tracks where you have to be 100% concentrated from start to finish, and he was – he gave me just the best feeling.”
If redemption has been the overarching theme of the day, there’s no one who can appreciate the joys of a great finish quite like Lara. Her 2023 season has been a rebuilding process – one that’s seen her climb back from the ashes of a heartbreaking Pratoni, where she fell at the first fence, to having her whole string of horses performing at their peak in the first half of this season.
“It takes a village to get here – my trainers, my grooms, everyone – and I’m so thankful to have all these people who kept believing in me despite last year, which was really not ideal. When I felt my head on the ground [at Pratoni], I was like, ‘no way – it’s a nightmare’, but I never woke up. It was reality. And everything happens for a reason; you don’t always know why, but I’m confident it will all come along. The horses I have are so good, and I just need to keep producing them the right way.”
US individual Dan Krietl wrapped up his first Aachen experience with a completion and 35th place with Carmango, which he retained despite a run-out at the first part of the influential Turkish Airlines complex at 16ABCD, which wended its way through an abundance of combined driving obstacles – something that caused six very good horses to lose focus while picking their way through.
Though it looked, for quite a while there, as though the US team might snatch the win here, it wasn’t to be – but second by just 3.3 penalties to the home team isn’t too shabby, and finishing ahead of the Brits, as on-form as they are at the moment, is even sweeter.
“It was a great team – and the US has so many other great riders and horses at home, so our depth is getting there, and we’re on the uphill trajectory,” says Tamie, who’s been a consistent part of so many of the team’s efforts on that climb over the last few years. “It’s like no other, so I’m really proud to be a part of it.”
Just one shock moment marred the team’s scoresheet this week – and Will Coleman was sage in addressing his disappointment after picking up 60 jumping penalties with Off The Record.
“I think turning to the skinnies, my horse slipped a little and lost his rear end, and I really had no chance after that,” he reflects. “We were going for it, and like Michael [Jung] said, when you’re going that fast you bring on a little bit more risk. I paid the penalty today, but my teammates carried the day and I’m really proud of all them and how they rode. All credit to them.”
The Brits, who held top spot after each of the previous phases, suffered a drop to third after that high-profile run-out for overnight leaders Tom and Dubs, a run-out at fence 11B, a brush atop an up-bank, for Kirsty Chabert and Classic VI, and a missed flag for Gemma Stevens and Flash Cooley, which added 55.8 penalties to their aggregate score. Ireland climbed from overnight seventh to a respectable fourth after three clears and a missed flag round for Susie Berry and Kilcandra Capitol, while the French snuck up a singular placing for final fifth.
That’s all from us – for now! – from the SAP Cup at CHIO Aachen, but keep it locked on EN as we bring you more content from this global celebration of horse sport. Until then: Go Eventing.
EN’s Coverage of CHIO Aachen is brought to you with support from Kentucky Performance Products and Ocala Horse Properties.