While our leaders in the clubhouse at Boekelo, Germany’s Julia Krajewski and Nickel 21, remain unchanged at the end of day two, the day got off to a very exciting start for the US contingent – and for fans of bloody good dressage. Individual competitors Hallie Coon and the former Seven-Year-Old World Champion threw down the day’s only significant challenge to Julia’s 23.6, delivering a flowing, poetic test that earned them a 25 — a score that’s not just the second-best in the whole, enormous competition, but also the best-ever international dressage score that either horse or rider has ever produced.
That score comes as the culmination of no small amount of work. Hallie bought Cute Girl from Australia’s Kevin McNab at the beginning of last year, first getting to know her at home in the US before making the big decision to relocate to the UK at the tail end of last season, basing herself with Kevin for a full immersion into the UK and European competition scenes four years on from her 2018 stint in England, when she came over as a recipient of the Karen Stives Endowment Fund Grant. There, she trained not just with Kevin, but also with Danish dressage rider Sune Hansen, both of whom helped her to unpack the talented, occasionally tricky mare’s headspace, and now, having recently relocated to Katherine Coleman’s Wiltshire base, she’s added Team GB performance manager Dickie Waygood and dressage rider Olivia Oakley to her support arsenal.
The most important element, though? Time — and patience. Getting to know a horse that’s gone to a high level with another rider — in Cute Girl’s case, three-star with Kevin — is always a nuanced process, and one that is often peppered with as many steps back as there are forward ones while both parts of the partnership figure one another out. This year has seen plenty of the former and the latter for Hallie and the nine-year-old Holsteiner (Coventry x Caligula, by Clearway), and now, it’s all coming together into a relationship that’s blossoming out of trust and shared experiences. Their trip to Blenheim’s eight- and nine-year-old CCI4*-S saw them sit in the top ten after the first two phases, which was an exciting turning point that became an educational weekend, and now, Hallie says, it all feels like the real deal — and this is a moment that she’s going to relish.
“It doesn’t happen often,” she laughs. “It feels like everything came together today. I knew it was in her — she’s so working with me now, and I’m just so excited. There’s no anticipation, there’s no missed signals — she’s just there with me, and it’s just lovely.”
Every competition, and every schooling ride, is a chance to fine-tune their communication, and this — Cute Girl’s debut season at four-star — has given them plenty of opportunity to finesse the system.
“There’s a balance of getting her forward enough and into the hand,” explains Hallie. “Then that, for a while, resulted in her running past the rhythm that she should be in. But the rhythm that she should be in, she wasn’t strong enough for yet. In the last week, though, she’s turned into this absolute animal — you get on and you’re thinking, ‘Oh my god, this animal is a beast!’ It’s unlike anything I’ve ever felt. It’s finally like all the strength, and the power, and the collection is finally coming together, and it’s magic.”
And, she jokes, “it’s nice to maybe not have a reputation as a bad dressage rider anymore! But she’s very green still. She’s only a nine year old, so it’s very exciting for the future. The show jumping is so strong, and it’s just about getting on the same page for the cross country. Hopefully we’re working towards that.”
It’s not hard to imagine that the step up in communication that led to their exemplary test today could well have a positive follow-through effect on their cross-country performance. While they come here off the back of a tricky Blenheim — they trialled a different bitting set-up there, which resulted in a bit too much go and not enough ‘woah’ — they regrouped for an enormously positive run in the tough Open Intermediate at Little Downham, and Hallie, who has previously finished in the top ten here, thinks Boekelo could well be the making of Cute Girl as an upper-level competitor, not least because she relishes the buzz of a serious atmosphere.
“She was so bloody relaxed in this arena,” says Hallie. “Obviously, after the prep that we’ve had, you wouldn’t usually take a horse here, but I do feel like all the Boekelo questions that she’s seen she’s answered well, and I think it’s the right track for her. Maybe it’s not the choice everyone would make, but here we are!”
Germany’s Felix Etzel was the only other new entrant to the top ten today; he sits in tenth place going into cross-country with the 12-year-old Trakehner stallion TSF Polartanz (Konvoi x Polarfreude II, by Heraldik xx) on a smart score of 28.4. The Warendorf rider and his compact, classy horse are absolutely ones to watch tomorrow: they took the win in Strzegom’s CCI4*-S last month in their prep run for Polartanz’s CCI4*-L debut, which will also be his first long-format run since 2019, when he finished third in the CCI3*-L at Houghton Hall in England.
British-based US Olympian Tiana Coudray has an undeniable future star in the nine-year-old Holsteiner D’Artagnan (Diamant de Semilly x Cherie Nema, by Cassini II) – and D’Artagnan has had a seriously big few months in pursuit of whatever the equine equivalent of a Master’s degree is. He stepped up to CCI4*-S in July of this year at Aston le Walls, just a year after making his FEI debut, and jumped clear, before doing the same again at Burgham’s CCI4*-S a month later. Last month, we saw him step up to the big leagues in Blenheim’s eight- and nine-year-old CCI4*-S, where he excelled himself for an exciting top-25 finish and now, we’re getting the great joy of seeing him make his CCI4*-L debut. That began with a sweet, flowing test that earned them a 32.5 and overnight 41st place, and gave Tiana and her groom, best friend, and co-owner Annabelle James plenty to celebrate.
“It’s only been a couple of weeks since Blenheim, and I feel like he’s just come on again,” beams Tiana. “There’s not a single day I come out with him and he hasn’t improved from the day before — he breaks my heart, he’s so gorgeous! He tries so hard — he’ll give you everything he’s got. Absolutely everything.”
That deep desire to try has taken him from Novice (US Prelim) to four-star in just over a year, and it’s also the secret weapon that allowed him to make the best of the buzzy, often overwhelming atmosphere of the arena today, despite never having seen a thing like it.
“He was so good in there — so good,” says Tiana. “My biggest struggle with him for now — and there’s no way around it — is just that he’s weak and he doesn’t have the strength to hold it together. But God, he tries — and actually, out here in the warm up, I thought, ‘Oh, no, I’ve used him up. He’s got nothing left’. He was really wobbly and wiggly and tripping over his own feet, and then he went in the ring and to be fair, the adrenaline picked him up a bit more.”
The feeling, she explains, is even better than the one she had at Blenheim, where he scored a 34.9.
“He’s a lot stronger already. By the end of the test, he’s still slightly falling down the centerline. But he held himself together more in there, and give him six months or a year and it’s so exciting what he’ll do, because he’s got the temperament and he’s just such a nice boy. He’s doing it right now because he wants to so badly, but it’s not easy for him yet.”
Now, she’s looking forward to cruising around his first-ever long-format four-star track, and Boekelo’s build this year — a much more open, gallopy feel than we’ve seen here before — will be a great platform for him to learn the ropes on, she says.
“Last time I was here, it was really twisty, and he wouldn’t necessarily be a horse for twisty tracks,” she says. “He’s such a big galloping, powerful horse, so actually, I’m delighted with this year’s course. It’s much more open and galloping. There’s plenty to do, and we can’t forget how green and young he really is, but I’m really excited. I think, from what I was expecting, it’s going to suit him better, because he’s got a really good chance to run and jump. I think the only thing about it is because they have such a chance to run and jump, you then have to be on your game when you do get to a combination. You could get lulled into just having a wonderful time running and jumping, especially on a horse like him, so we just need to really make sure we’re on it when it comes to it!”
The final US individual competitors, Cosby Green and Jos Ufo de Quidam, had a long wait before they got their moment to shine – they were the 110th pair of the competition to deliver their test in the main arena. But while all that hanging around might make most of us go a bit green around the gills, Cosby’s been learning an enviable skill in her season based in the UK with Tim and Jonelle Price: the art of the Kiwi-style chill-out.
“The whole experience has just really grown me in confidence — that’s something I really struggle with,” says 22-year-old Lexington native Cosby, who made the move over with three horses in March. “Just seeing them do it every other weekend; they’re just out there doing the proper thing, no big deal. I think that’s really rubbed off on me — it’s just a horse show, you do the job, you do what you know how to do and it’s no big deal. You just roll on and things happen and you just carry on.”
That newfound zen helped Cosby pilot the relatively inexperienced Jos Ufo de Quidam (Lobby des Fortes x Remonta Guinea) to a confidence-boosting, smart test, with just two small mistakes – a touch of jog in the walk, and a wobble in a flying change as one of the tents next to the arena erupted in that sporadic, loud applause we experienced yesterday afternoon. They put a 35.6 on the board, slotting them into 73rd – but just over ten penalties from the top spot – going into cross-country.
“I mean, I really wish the mark was better, but it’s his first time in a proper atmosphere like that and there’s people all around clapping, so all things considered, I’m pretty happy with it,” says Cosby. “He’s new to the level, and ours is a decently new partnership; I got him from Heather Morris, who owns him, about a year and a half ago. She competed him to 3* level and then she handed over the reins to me last April, and he just stepped up to the 4* level this year. He’s quite experienced with the 3* level, and still sorting this out.”
Basing in the UK has given Cosby the chance to educate her horses over varied, tough tracks, and Jos Ufo de Quidam’s experience at four-star so far has given him the chance to see plenty of different build styles; he stepped up to CCI4*-S at Millstreet in Ireland in June, and then ran at the same level at England’s Aston le Walls the next month, finishing just outside the top twenty with classy clears both times. His CCI4*-L debut came at Blair Castle in Scotland in August, over a track known for being arguably the most mountainous in the sport, and there he shone — their steady clear saw them finish just outside the top ten, and with lots to get excited about as they come into this much flatter, championship-style continental course.
“It looks really good out there, and it’s really suited for my horse,” says Cosby, who says that the Team Price plan is “very focused: everything has a plan, and then the plan is just to execute it!”
One thing she’s not quite got on board with while adopting the Kiwi mindset, though? “Everyone except me was wearing flip flops on our course walk today,” she laughs.
Sanne de Jong and Global Faerlie Flashy remain atop the Dutch National Championship leaderboard on their score of 31.9, and former winner Merel Blom-Hulsman retains her second place on 33.9 with Vesuve d’Aveyron. Stephan Hazeleger and the splashy coloured James Bond step up into third place with their 34.6.
Tomorrow’s cross-country start time has been moved to 9.30 a.m. local time (that’s 8.30 a.m. British time/3.30 a.m. Eastern time) to accommodate for the colossal field of 112 starters, with a planned finish time — holds notwithstanding — of just after 4.00 p.m. (3.00 p.m./10.00 a.m.). That’s great news if you’re planning a duvet day with nothing on your to-do list but live-streaming, particularly as all the action is set to be streamed for free via the FEI TV YouTube channel, as well as through ClipMyHorse.
Want to follow along with the US riders in particular, and need to manage those early morning power-naps? Here’s when they’re set to leave the start box:
- James Alliston and Karma (75th overnight): 10.03 a.m. (9.03 a.m. BST/4.03 a.m. Eastern)
- Cassie Sanger and Fernhill Zoro (67th overnight): 10.39 a.m. (9.39 a.m. BST/4.39 a.m. Eastern)
- Jennie Brannigan and FE Connory (86th overnight): 11.30 a.m. (10.30 a.m. BST/5.30 a.m. Eastern)
- Phillip Dutton and Denim (68th overnight): 12.06 p.m. (11.06 a.m. BST/6.06 a.m. Eastern)
- Hallie Coon and Cute Girl (2nd overnight): 13.39 p.m. (12.39 p.m. BST/7.39 a.m. Eastern)
- Tiana Coudray and D’Artagnan (41st overnight): 14.57 p.m. (13.57 p.m. BST/8.57 a.m. Eastern)
- Cosby Green and Jos Ufo de Quidam (73rd overnight): 15.48 p.m. (14.48 p.m. BST/9.48 a.m. Eastern)
Our pathfinders for the day’s sport will be US-based Aussie Ryan Wood and Cooley Flight, who sit 101st after dressage on a 39 and also trailblaze for the Australian team, which currently sits just off the Nations Cup podium in fourth place. Dressage leaders Julia Krajewski and Nickel 21 will head out of the startbox at 11.03 a.m. (10.03 a.m. BST/5.03 a.m. Eastern) with just 1.4 penalties, or three seconds and change, in hand over Hallie and Cute Girl. Stay tuned for a walk around Adrian Ditcham’s new-look track, stock up your Grolsch fridge (you do have a Grolsch fridge, right?) and let’s dive into a seriously mad day of cross-country together. 3, 2, 1: let’s Go Eventing!
EN’s coverage of Boekelo is presented by Kentucky Performance Products.