Luhmühlen CCI4*-S: Julia Krajewski Takes German Championship (Again!)

Julia Krajewski takes to the arena to try to beat herself with Nickel 21. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

As Olympic individual gold medallist Julia Krajewski entered the arena as the final competitor of the day in Luhmühlen’s CCI4*-S, the writing was already on the wall: she was the newly minted German Champion, no matter what happened. This curious bit of kismet happened because Julia’s duo of inexperienced nine-year-olds had performed so extraordinarily well yesterday — and the course had caused so many issues — that she’d been able to move up to overnight second, from fifth, with the French-bred Ero de Cantraie, and from second to first with the German Nickel 21. And so, when she was made to jump out of order on second-placed Ero to ensure she’d have time to prepare her second ride, and when she subsequently went clear with 0.4 time faults, she secured herself the title either way — it was just to be a question of which horse would take the top honours.

In the end, it was Ero — a horse who Julia told us earlier in the week rather reminds her of her Luhmühlen CCI5* winner, Samurai du Thot — who stepped into the top spot after overnight leader Nickel 21 tipped two rails and dropped down to third.

“I knew I was German Champion one horse or the other, and then I came in again and had two unlucky rails with Nickel and I was not in the lead anymore with him, but I was still German Champion, so that was a funny situation,” she says. “Both horses were really nice. With Nickel, I lost a bit of the contact before the double and he didn’t really take the bit going through the double and then I had to push him a bit. That was a bit unusual — but he’s usually a good jumper and I think being third here is everything to be proud of.”

Julia Krajewski and Ero de Cantraie take the German National Championship. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Quick-brained, occasionally mercurial Ero has been stepping up to the plate for Julia since they began solidifying their year-long partnership in the latter part of last season, and while he hasn’t had the same exposure to atmosphere as stablemate Nickel, who’s competed in arena eventing and ride and drive competitions, he still overcame some initial apprehension about the crowd with remarkable ease.

“We had to go in quite early, and then Ero jumped a clear round — I’m super delighted with how he went all week,” says Julia. “[He] came in today, got slightly nervous with the crowd and then really focused and jumped a very easy, nice clear round .I’m delighted; it’s only his second four-star.”

Julia Krajewski and Ero de Cantraie. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Easing his worries and giving him confidence was the name of the game, and Julia’s priority for the day, even if that meant sacrificing the win.

“Bringing up young horses, I’m just trying to give them security in what they’re doing, that they feel safe, that I guide them and they learn to trust me,” she says. “Often enough, it’s doing a little bit less than you would want to do, knowing that in the long-term, it’s better to do a step less than step too many, and maybe doing it for quite some years now, being more experienced than most of the horses I ride has been quite helpful!”

Julia Krajewski and Ero de Cantraie. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

For previous two-time German National Champion Julie — she won in 2018 and 2019 with Samourai du Thot — it’s all been a bit of a weird day, in the nicest of ways.

“It was somehow surreal, to know that I’d won the title so early on,” she laughs. “I could only have beat myself to it. All in all, I’m overjoyed with the way the week went and incredibly proud of my young horses. I really didn’t expect to be on the podium with both horses at the end of the week. Ero’s development in the last 12 months is absolutely amazing, and Nickel was a bit unlucky today. He, too, would have deserved the win today.”

Christoph Wähler and D’Accord 70. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

This time last year, locally-based rider Christoph Wahler, who was part of the German gold medal-winning team at Pratoni last year, came to this event with new ride D’Accord 70 and very nearly medalled in this class — but for the two rails on the final day, which cost them several places on the leaderboard and left them in eighth place. Today, they put that behind them, producing one of just five clear rounds inside the time to become one of just two combinations to finish on their dressage score, proving that the son of Diarado is well on his way to becoming Mr Consistency.

“We weren’t very happy with the dressage [a 34.4 for first phase 24th], because the horse can do a better test, and I can ride a better test, but in the end we didn’t bring it into the arena,” says Christoph, who runs his family’s high-end dressage breeding stud at the Klosterhof Medingen around his eventing obligations. “Whereas Saturday was an absolute pleasure riding him across country, because he’s a naturally quick horse with a huge gallop, and he’s got a huge jump on him. Every round I ride him he gets a little bit safer, and a little bit more comfortable with going that fast.”

Christoph Wahler and D’Accord 70. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

This year, coming from behind suited the pair, and an unruffled Christoph quietly observed the competition play out before cantering into the ring and making his own bid for a top placing.

“We’d already moved up a couple of ranks and then today I knew that the show jumping is usually quite difficult in Luhmuhlen, and the fact if we managed to jump a clear round we could be right up there, and we did,” he says.

Anna Lena Schaaf and Fairytale 39. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

After delivering a clear round, with just 0.8 time faults, Anna Lena Schaaf found herself in an enviable position: the hard work was done, and now it was down to everyone else in the class to try to match her effort — or slip below her trying. Ultimately, so few in this class were able to keep a clean slate that she found herself climbing all the way from eighth to a final fourth place.

“This horse just leaves me speechless,” says 21-year-old Anna Lena, struggling to speak through tears of joy and the enormous emotions of the moment. “She means so much to me. The show-jumping was very challenging today and I’m so glad that we stayed clear.”

Anna Lena, who rides as part of the Warendorf training program for young riders, is already a seriously focussed and committed athlete, despite her young age: she’s previously won both the Six- and Seven-Year-Old World Championships aboard Lagona OLD, and with 16-year-old Fairytale 39, she’s truly climbed through the ranks: the mare was bred by her grandfather and was born when Anna Lena was just five years old. They’ve grown up together: Fairytale was Anna Lena’s first ride in FEI horse classes when she came off of Ponies, and that followed their even more formative start together in 80cm jumping classes. From there, they’ve made their way to two Junior and one Young Rider European Championships, winning individual gold at the Junior level in 2019 and individual silver at Young Riders in 2021. Now, a year and a half after winning on their four-star debut, they’re the bronze medallists in the German National Championships.

Anna Lena Schaaf and Fairytale 39. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

That focus and drive means that she’s also highly critical of her own performances, though: “I was unhappy with my dressage, because I, myself, had two stupid mistakes, and on cross country, I was unhappy with my own riding because I didn’t find a good rhythm, but then the horse took over,” says Anna Lena. But today? She’s making up for it all by being extra happy, because “she doesn’t jump clear so often!”

Coach and fellow competitor Julia Krajewski stepped in to help an emotional Anna Lena out, and to put into words some of the abundance of feelings that come into play in a moment like this: “In my opinion, the bond between a horse and its rider can be even stronger than interpersonal relationships,” she says. “We do everything for our horses — so it’s incredibly touching when they trust us and go above and beyond.”

Nadine Marzahl and Valentine FRH. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Nadine Marzahl had begun her week as the day one dressage leader with Victoria 108, the first of her fiery daughters of the stallion Valentino, but by the time she went into cross-country, in fourth place with Victoria and eighth with Valentine FRH, the tables had started to turn for the two mares: the first, and better-placed of the two, picked up expensive time and jumping penalties at the first combination on course, while the latter nipped home, leaving a stride or two behind along the way and picking up 3.6 time penalties. That dropped Victoria down to 27th and Valentine up to fifth — and a single rail for each mare today saw them both move up a placing in the final order, with Valentine securing an impressive fourth place finish in this prestigious class.

Calvin Böckmann and The Phantom of the Opera. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

22-year-old Calvin Böckmann had been one of the standout heroes of yesterday’s cross-country day: the young talent and former Pony European Champion, who rides as part of the Warendorf system for up-and-coming riders in Germany, had come to Luhmühlen last year to watch and learn from the top talents in the game on foot with his compatriots at the training base, and had dreamed then of one day, perhaps, getting the opportunity to compete in this event. And this week, he made good on that, not just showing up on the starting order with the former Sandra Auffarth ride, The Phantom of the Opera, but delivering the second fastest clear of the day yesterday, too, helping him climb from 12th to third going into the final phase.

But a medal wasn’t to be — not today, anyway, though it’s hard to imagine Calvin staying away from the top spot for too long. He and the twelve-year-old Holsteiner tipped the second fence and the seventh, dropping them two places on the leaderboard, but adding to an impressive resume that’s seen them finish outside of the top ten just twice in nine FEI runs (and then, just barely: their lowest international placing is a fourteenth!).

Lara de Liedekerke-Meier and Hermione d’Arville. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Belgium’s Lara de Liedekerke-Meier has been on triple duty this week: she’s not only had two horses in this class to focus on, but also her two young children, who she and husband Kai, the team trainer for Belgium and a top-level rider in his own right for Germany, have been ferrying to and fro en masse on their bikes in increasingly creative ways through the week. And, of course, she’s been occupying a supporting role: she’s had American friends to stay at Arville, the stunning base she and Kai live and work out of in Belgium, for two weeks before Luhmühlen, and could be spotting ringside cheering on Sydney Elliott in the CCI5* and, before his retirement on cross-country yesterday, Dan Krietl in the CCI4*-S.

But business seems to suit Lara, and she and her two ten-year-old homebred mares, Hermione d’Arville and Hooney d’Arville, the latter of whom is out of her former Young Rider and World Championship partner, Nooney Blue, were thoroughly impressive throughout the week. They began in 11th and 24th place, respectively, after dressage; a speedy clear for Hermione and a slightly steadier one for Hooney saw them move up to sixth and sixteenth; and then, today, a rail for Hermione and a classy clear for Hooney secured them seventh and tenth place and closed the book on a banner week for the experienced competitor.

Young British-based Swede Sofia Sjoborg once again demonstrated the consistency of her Bryjamolga van het Marienshof Z, with whom she delivered a clear inside the time across the country and tipped a rail today to complete an extraordinary climb from 43rd to eighth place, while Italy’s Emiliano Portale and the expressive galloping machine Aracne dell’Esercito Italiano (no, seriously, watch it gallop sometime if you can; it’s actually remarkable) also completed a big leap up the board, adding one rail to their 3.6 time penalties yesterday to move from initial 31st to a final ninth place.

And so we well and truly come to the end of another edition of the Longines Luhmühlen Horse Trials, and five-day celebration of the love of the horse. Stay tuned for more highlights and images from this fantastic event, and in the meantime, Go Eventing.

The top ten in the Meßmer Trophy CCI4*-S, incorporating the German National Championships.

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