Le Lion Show Jumping: The Young, The Restless, and the History-Making

“He’s just tried really, really hard, and I always said to the owner that he’s as good as Zidante, who was third when he was six, so he’s gone even better,” said a tearful Kitty King after securing the Six-Year-Old World Championship with Cristal Fontaine (Chef Rouge x Nous Avons Gagne, by Griot de Mara). Three phenomenal performances across the phases saw them finish on their dressage score of 25.4, moving from third and clinching the coveted title for the Selle Français gelding, owned by Alex Wakeley.

Kitty King records an emotional win in the six-year-old World Championship with the French-bred Cristal Fontaine. Photo by EquusPix.

“I’m just chuffed to bits with him. Millie [Dumas] and Liz [Halliday-Sharp] are on really good jumpers, and I know what their English form is like, so I was just delighted at the thought of finishing third on our dressage score. I wasn’t even watching! I’m just so pleased for my team at home, and my sponsors, and my owners, especially.”

Kitty King and Cristal Fontane enjoy their victory lap. Photo by EquusPix.

It was to be a British one-two as Piggy French and Emerald Jonny (Waldo Van Dungen x Z Royalty Van De Heernis, by Rubels), owned by Piggy’s partner Tom March, finished in second on their dressage score of 25.8.

“I’m so thrilled with him; he’s a great little horse, a fun horse, and he loves galloping and jumping,” said Piggy. “It’s the first time he’s showjumped after the cross country, so you never know whether they’ll be a bit tired or go flat, but he tried really hard. I’m very pleased; it’s very exciting! He’s quite a show-off, as a character, so I think he rises to it — he loves people watching him.”

Unfortunately it wasn’t to be for US representative Liz Halliday-Sharp and her precociously talented Cooley Moonshine. Billy just tipped a rail and, despite enjoying a three-mark lead after a remarkable 22.4 dressage and a double-clear cross-country trip, he wasn’t quite buffered against the advances of his closest competitors. They dropped two places to finish third, and the best of our North American representatives this week.

“Of course I’m devastated not to win, and he’s such a brilliant horse,” said Liz. “At the end of the day, the ground’s very different in there than it is [in the warm-up]; he’s such a careful jumper, and I think he just had a young horse mistake. I could feel him trying to figure the ground out early on, he was like, ‘oh, this isn’t quite what I thought,’ and he just didn’t quite get himself back quick enough like he normally would. After that, he was trying so hard — he just didn’t want to get near anything.”

Liz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Moonshine finish third and best of the North American contingent. Photo by EquusPix.

“I’m still absolutely thrilled with him. He’s just a baby — I’m proud to be on the podium and so proud of what he’s achieved this week. He’s come out as fresh as anything today; he didn’t notice the crowds, and he just went out and did his job. He had a green moment, but I couldn’t ask for anything more from him — he’s going to be a superstar.”

Liz plans to aim for a return trip to the Loire with Billy in 2019: “He’s really grown as a horse here, and he’s the right sort of horse for Le Lion, so hopefully we can come back and have a real fight for the seven-year-old champs next year.”

Rebecca Howard and Trebor for Canada. Photo by EquusPix.

A rail and three time penalties precluded an FOD for Canada’s Rebecca Howard on the first of her two horses, Irish-bred Trebor (Mighty Magic x Trevilder, by Fleetwater Opposition). They finished in 18th place on a score of 35.3, while second ride Cooley Convinced (Diarado x BLM Clover Diamond, by Clover Echo), also owned by Kelly McCarthy-Maine, finished 29th on a score of 56.4, pulling five rails and adding five time penalties.

Mexico’s Pedro Gutierrez enjoyed a fantastic week with his own California Mail (Quite Easy x Varnalisa Mail, by Kalaska de Semilly), adding just two rails to their dressage score of 39.4 to finish on 47.4 and in 24th place. Pedro’s completion — and, indeed, entry — of the event is a little bit of eventing history; he and his mare are the first competitors to represent Mexico at the Young Horse World Championships. Pedro sees this as a positive step for the profile of the sport in his home country, and we can’t help but agree.

Pedro Gutierrez and California Mail tackle the final phase. Photo by EquusPix.

“I have seen through the years that almost every upper-level top horse has done Le Lion d’Angers,” he explained. His own mount Unanume du Loir, too, had completed the competition, finishing 24th with French rider Jean Marc Favereau in 2015, and thus a seed was sown: Pedro would produce a talented youngster with the goal of competing in the prestigious event.

“I put a plan together to compete there and learn inside-out how things worked. I bought two two-year-olds from their breeder, Bernard le Courtois from Haras de Brullemail, and kept them in France in training at Ecurie Lepertusa.”

Pedro Gutierrez and California Mail. Photo by EquusPix.

The horses went on to do the age classes as four-, five-, and six-year-olds with Nicolas Pertusa in the saddle, and Pedro started to make the journey over to France in the summer to compete them both under the tutelage of Samantha Leper. They earned their qualifying results for Le Lion at Haras du Pin CIC1*, at which California Mail finished 29th, and Pedro decided that she would be his ride for the championships.

“I did Waregem CIC1* to improve our bonding under stressful competition conditions,” he said. “I believe the French eventing Classic cycle is the best tool to develop young horses in competition, and being able to compete at Le Lion is the ultimate test for that system. It’s the first time a Mexican has competed there, and hopefully in the future we’ll be able to bring more Mexican-owned young horses. This has been an outstanding year for Mexican eventing, after winning team gold and individual gold and silver medals in the Central American and Caribbean Games in Colombia, as well as having Daniela Moguel riding Cecelia in Tryon as the first Mexican to compete at the World Equestrian Games, finishing in 42nd. Now we can add my result at Le Lion.”

“The competition is extremely well organised, in a perfect venue for the sport, with challenging but fair courses to test the horses under challenging conditions. Using the longest distances with the minimum jumping efforts in the cross country gives the horses the chance to learn to gallop and ‘cool down’ their brains after jump complexes. At Le Lion, you truly learn if you have a true potential championship horse.”

Pedro Gutierrez and California Mail serve up a double-clear and a little bit of Le Lion history, too. Photo by EquusPix.

Emerald Jonny, Cooley Moonshine, and Universal Cooley also helped the Irish Sport Horse studbook to another win in the breeding prize, finishing on a collective score of 79.5 and edging the Studbook Français du Cheval Selle Français into second place. Third went to the Koninklijk Warmbloed Paardenstamboek Nederland (KWPN), the Dutch warmblood studbook.

Our friends at the Eventing Podcast have been crunching the numbers and looking at the influence of the Young Horse World Championships, which historically has a reasonably uninfluential cross-country. If you’d like to delve further into what they discovered, check our their new pod, The Z Line: An Alternative Scoring System for the Sport of Eventing.

The top ten six-year-olds of 2018.

The seven-year-old class was enormously closely contested and, after the surprise elimination of leaders Michael Jung and Choclat in yesterday’s competition, the door was wide open.

Three horses ended their competition early: French riders Arnaud Boiteau and Amaury Choplain withdrew their mounts Bogosse du Levant and Beaune d’Epte, as did Germany’s Anna Siemer with Capoliveri. This left a hugely competitive field of 56 primed and ready to tackle a tough course in an even tougher atmosphere.

Ingrid Klimke’s Asha P takes the seven-year-old title. Photo by EquusPix.

Last year, the showjumping was enormously influential in this class, and today’s competition proved that the course was as testing as ever. Only thirteen combinations would produce a clear round, allowing for no mistakes at the top of the leaderboard. The pressure was most certainly on.

Germany’s Ingrid Klimke is no stranger to pressure — after all, she’s our reigning European Champion and the reserve World Champion, and after a pole cost her the latter title in Tryon, she wasn’t likely to let it happen again today. Her exceptional Brandenburg mare Asha P (Askari 173 x Hera, by Heraldik) looked cut from the same cloth, delivering a quick and catlike clear to secure the title of Seven-Year-Old World Champion.

“She’s never been in a stadium with so many people, but she was totally with me and jumped bold and beautiful — it was so much fun,” said Ingrid. “It’s an atmosphere that’s really the top of the world. The older I get, the more I really love bringing up young horses, and I’ve had this one since she was five, so I’m so proud — she learned so much here this weekend and I can really look forward for next year.”

Ingrid Klimke and Asha P. Photo by EquusPix.

Young British talent Tom Jackson had spent the week inching his way up the leaderboard, and he ultimately finished second in this class on his dressage score of 27.8. Riding Patricia Davenport, Milly Simmie, and Sarah Webb’s Capels Hollow Drift (Shannondale Sarco x Lucky Crest, by Lucky Gift), he climbed from an initial 7th after dressage.

“I’m delighted with the horse; he’s been tremendous all year, and what a way to cap off the year for him,” said Tom of the Georgie Strang-produced youngster on whom he took the ride this season.

“She produced him beautifully, and I’ve been able to get on him and just enjoy all the work that she’s done. I’m really excited about his future now.”

Home hero Astier Nicolas, who won this class last year with Alertamalib’or, delivered the best result for the host country, finishing third with the Selle Français stallion Babylon de Gamma (Milord Carthago x Sunshine Des Ka, by Happy Vergoignan HN). They finished on their dressage score of 29.4 to climb from 11th after dressage and fifth after cross country, to the delight of the jam-packed stadium.

Nicola Wilson and JL Dublin. Photo by EquusPix.

Belgium’s Karin Donckers and the Belgian stallion Leipheimer Van’t Verahof (Vigo d’Arsouilles x Southern Queen, by South Gale) had been tied with Astier after the first phase, slipping just behind him in the rankings for being a touch further from the optimum time in yesterday’s cross country. Today, they produced a double-clear to finish on the same score, 29.4, and take fourth place.

Nicola Wilson‘s JL Dublin (Diarado x Zarinna, by Cantano) had looked another strong shout for a British victory, and the pair went into the ring today in second position. But it wasn’t to be: a single rail tumbled and they dropped to fifth, finishing on a score of 29.6.

Liz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Quicksilver. Photo by EquusPix.

French four-star winner Maxime Livio and Billy Elmy (Qif Elmy x Kenza de Cartigny, by Dandy de Surcy) enjoyed the fruits of their labours throughout the week, moving from 20th after the first phase to a final sixth due to their FOD of 30.7. In seventh, Liz Halliday-Sharp enjoyed yet another top-ten finish, this time riding six-year-old graduate Cooley Quicksilver (Womanizer x Kylemore Crystal, by Creggan Diamond) for the United States. They, too, finished on their dressage score of 31.1, moving from an initial 24th place.

Doug Payne and Quantum Leap. Photo by EquusPix.

Doug Payne and Quantum Leap finished in 29th place after climbing a whopping thirty places through the course of the week. Their two rails precluded them from a top twenty placing and they finished on 44.5, having added nothing in yesterday’s cross country test.

The top ten at the conclusion of the seven-year-old championship.

That’s it for (equine) Toddlers & Tiaras 2018 — EN, and many of this week’s competitors, head to the south of France next for the northern hemisphere’s final CCI4* of the year. We’ll see you in Pau!

Le Lion d’Angers links: Website, CCIYH* Entries, CCIYH** EntriesCCIYH* Live Scores, CCIYH** Live Scores, EN’s Coverage, Live Stream