When we last left Rosie Fry, she was in two minds about her situation: one the one hand, she was delighted to have moved into the lead with her ten-year-old True Blue Too II after delivering the second-fastest cross-country round of the day in what was only his second CCI4*-L, and she was determined to enjoy the moment, particularly in the wake of the harsh dose of perspective we’d all been dealt after the lorry crash that started the week. But on the other hand, she couldn’t help but think of the last time she was in this position. That was back in 2012, when she found herself in the lead after cross-country with Bankon Louie — but on the final day, the pair took four rails and tumbled down the leaderboard to sixth.
“I don’t really like to be in this position,” she told us yesterday with some trepidation. But despite any latent nerves she may have had, “I was so tired last night that I slept so well!” she laughs. This morning, she was up with the sun and kept busy with the other horses she has with her, who all needed to be fed and ridden and cared for — and in the case of Arise Cavalier, competed.
“It’s quite nice to not have just one, because then you have other things to think about,” she says. “I had [Arise Cavalier] to jump in the three-star, and he went clear, so that gives you the confidence that you’re doing the right thing.”
Arise Cavalier’s performance saw the pair finish fourth in the large three-star class, which began the afternoon on a positive note after yesterday’s rollercoaster of a day, which saw Rosie’s strong cross-country performances bookend an unfortunate early fall on course with her other three-star mount. Bolstered by a successful Sunday thus far, she turned her attention to preparing for the biggest moment of her career — again. Fortunately, like yesterday’s course, today’s track was tailor-made for his strengths.
“It was just forward and nice, and I knew that would suit him — he likes to be on a forward stride,” says Rosie. “And it’s a nice big arena, and on grass; I think he jumps better on grass, and the atmosphere picked him up too, where he might have felt a little bit tired after yesterday. It definitely felt like he knew there were people around him; he felt like he was on really good form and that gave me the confidence to ride him confidently.”
After second-placed Tom McEwen and Dream Big knocked three rails, Rosie was granted a buffer — but she only had one pole in hand, and she didn’t want to have to use it. Though True Blue Too skimmed economically through the treble and breathed on another couple of poles during his round, he ultimately left everything in the cups and crossed the line clear and inside the time as Rosie threw her head back and punched the air in shock and gratitude.
For Rosie, it’s an enormously emotional moment — not least because it’s an affirmation of her skills as a rider and proof that she can hold her own against the biggest names.
“I can’t really believe it — it’s going to take the whole drive home to sink in,” the Dorset-based rider, who will likely spend upwards of 12 hours driving home, laughs. “With all the other amazing people, with Tom and Oliver, these gold medallists in the same section — well, it just puts the belief in what you’re doing, in your process at home and the training and everything. I’ve had him since he was four, so it’s even more special because I’ve done everything with him, and it gives me that confidence. When you have a bad day you think, ‘god, what am I doing wrong?’ But then these days are why we do eventing, so we’ll celebrate it — you just don’t know when it’ll come again.”
Rosie’s also particularly grateful for this result, because she didn’t even know if she’d make it to Blair this year: “Two weeks ago, he had a freak incident at home, and we didn’t know if we’d even get here,” says Rosie, explaining that he managed to get loose and slip over, pockmarking himself with superficial injuries. “Luckily it was all just grazes, but to come here you need to make sure everything’s tip-top. Luckily he recovered in time, but it was a bit of a worry with timing — but my girls have worked so hard to get him in top shape. And he was; he couldn’t have felt better. He’s just tried so hard.”
Now, Rosie plans to give True Blue Too a holiday so that she can bring him back into work over the winter and focus on improving his dressage. Then, all being well, she’s planning for the next step up in the spring.
“There isn’t anything else he needs to do this season, so he’ll have that break and then we need to work on the dressage, so he’ll do lots of dressage and showjumping this winter,” she says. “Then, hopefully we’ll now aim for Badminton, which would be amazing — that’s the long-term plan, so hopefully we can keep him healthy and well.”
Just like Rosie’s horse, nineteen-year-old Alice Casburn‘s Topspin II is something of a family legacy: his granddam competed to Advanced with Alice’s mother, Caroline, who then bred from the mare and went on to compete the resulting filly. Years down the line, she decided to breed from her, and the product of that decision was lanky Topspin, who began his career showjumping with Caroline in the irons before she passed the ride along to her daughter a few years ago. Together, they’ve overcome the gelding’s initial disinterest in eventing, contested the Junior European Championships, moved up to four-star, and even jumped around 1.40m and Puissance classes — but before their showjumping round today, they came up against something they’d never encountered before.
“He actually got really insecure in the warm-up,” says Alice. “He was like, ‘where are you, mum?!’ And he’s never like that. But funnily enough, as soon as he saw the crowds, he was like, ‘brilliant!'”
If you were to stand Alice and Topspin next to one another, you wouldn’t necessarily pick them as the most likely competitive combination: he’s long, tall, and strong, and she’s petite and whip-thin. But her quiet, sympathetic and unphysical style of riding suits the horse, who relies heavily on her voice for reassurance and guidance while on cross-country, and she understands his strengths and physicality and doesn’t try to force him into being something he’s not. That can make for interesting viewing in this phase; he’s so long in his body and his stride that it can look as though he’s going too slowly or without enough power, but Alice learned while jumping a colossal Puissance wall with him that this is simply his natural way of going, and she has to trust in that and go along with it.
“Every time, everyone’s like, ‘you’re going to have time!’ But then you get three strides out and he can really adjust himself to find the long or the short one. He’s really elastic, which isn’t that common for a big horse, but he just looks after me so well — he’ll do anything to get to the other side.” She pauses, beams at her horse, and says, as she has done so many times before, “I’m just so, so lucky and privileged to ride him.”
As Alice and Topspin cantered into the arena, he threw in a dramatic spook at the red brick wall he’d need to jump in just a few moments’ time — but although his antics made the crowd gasp, that was the moment that made Alice realise it was all going to be okay.
“It sounds really funny, but if he spooks as he comes in, that’s when you know he’s on form. People always look at me like, ‘oh my god, are you okay?!’ And I’m like, ‘yeah, I’d be more worried if he didn’t do this!’,” says Alice. “I started enjoying it after the second fence, because if I’m ever going to miss, it’s always at the first — that’s like, my nerves getting to me. But it was okay today!”
Alice’s second place finish is impressive no matter which way you spin it: from the clear round yesterday with just six time penalties, to the fault-free round today, to her young age and the relative inexperience of both horse and rider. But perhaps at the forefront of all of that is that she didn’t come here this week with any intention of being competitive, nor of taking any risks: it’s just the second-ever CCI4*-L for both horse and rider who, like Rosie and True Blue Too, had an educational run at Bicton back in June. Alice wanted to use this week to gain a qualifying result and solidify their education, not to pull out all the stops and deliver heroics — but even with a conservative goal in mind, they’ve still managed to come this close to a win.
“I just wanted to come here and have a good experience, really,” she says. “I thought I’d have another crack at it and hopefully get a qualifying result, so to come second is pretty mega. I thought he’d climb [up the leaderboard] as he loves his jumping and he’s normally pretty quick. I don’t think it’s sunk in yet, though — like, yesterday after my cross-country I was just walking around like, ‘oh, wow, I’m in third!'”
Now, with a five-star qualification under their belts, the sky truly is the limit.
“I’ve always really wanted to go five-star, and he’s obviously more than capable — my mum has always said that when you move up, you don’t know if your horse is capable of that level until the second time, because when you bring them out the next time, they know what’s coming. [So now] I’d love to do a five-star, whether it’s this year or next year; that way I can have a go while I’m on a horse I love and trust.”
Lauren Innes might not be able to spend all day in the saddle — in fact, she regularly has to get up at 5.00 a.m. to ensure she can finish riding and caring for her horses before she begins her day job as an accountant at 9.00 a.m. — but she’s looked every inch the professional this week in partnership with the exceptional eleven-year-old Global Fision M, who she bought as a “very, very sharp” five-year-old through Brian Morrison of Ireland’s Global Event Horses.
Yesterday, she filled us in on her jam-packed schedule that allows her to get the sparky gelding fit herself, and over the course of the weekend, we’ve seen the proof of its efficiency: the pair added 10.4 time penalties yesterday and finished full of running, and today, he looked so fit and feisty in the showjumping arena that we’d almost have suspected her of swapping for a fresh horse — except for his characteristic pinned ears, which made it so plainly evident that the catlike horse in the ring was the one we’d enjoyed watching all week.
“I knew that he was a good horse, but he can get very excited, and it’s just about bringing all three phases together on the day,” says a delighted Lauren, who explains that ‘Flipper’ is ordinarily at his best when showjumping on the final day of a three-day event, which helps to take the edge off him.
Well, sort of. After Flipper’s lightning-fast clear today, which secured a third-place finish for the pair, there wasn’t much opportunity to chat to his beaming rider: he was too busy snorting and cavorting through the collecting ring, and Lauren opted to remove him from the buzz of the pre-prizegiving scrum and hack him back and forth along the path to the stables. Or, more accurately, attempt to keep him in a collected hand canter back and forth to the stables before he had to rejoin his friends and enjoy a rather exciting lap of honour.
Instead, we chatted to Mark Corbett, head of the British Eventing under-18 programme in the south of England and 30-year-old Lauren’s trainer since she was 12.
“I taught her on her scrappy little pony,” he laughs. This longevity, though, means that he knows her inside and out — and understands the constraints of her working life, too, which means he can help her tailor her training regime to her horse’s quirks. But as it turns out, the things that make Lauren’s situation unique are exactly the things that help Flipper to thrive.
“If he was in a team of horses, I don’t think it would work,” he says, watching as Flipper canters back down to the stables, nearly scattering some good-humoured spectators to the breeze in the process. “He’s just an individual character, and it’s taken us quite a while to work him out. But because of his individuality, you have to just let him be — a lot of the thing with him is that you can’t boss him around. You can’t tell him off, you just have to let him do his own little quirky thing, like going back to his stable now, and then he just goes, ‘aahhh.’ We don’t know quite what goes on in his head, but every time you point him at a fence, it’s just like, wow.”
Now, Lauren will plan for the biggest competition of her life: she’s qualified for Badminton, and if all goes well, she’ll head there next year as a true amateur rider on a self-produced horse who will be just twelve years old. Never say never, folks.
Izzy Taylor‘s Ringwood Madras might have been a little-known entity before this week, but the former Ben Way ride delivered three solid performances — including a foot-perfect clear round today — to finish the week in fourth place. It’s an exciting start to what could be a formidable partnership to come: this is just Izzy’s second international competition with the ten-year-old, who joined her string at the beginning of the year.
“She was fantastic; coming to Blair with the hills and the heat, for a change, was a big challenge, but she’s been phenomenal,” she says.
Dressage leaders Nicola Wilson and the inexperienced 12-year-old Erano M had slipped down into sixth place after picking up 14.4 time penalties across the country, but they clawed one spot on the leaderboard back to finish in fifth after overnight runners-up Tom McEwen and the ten-year-old ex-racehorse Dream Big tipped an unlucky three rails to move down to sixth. The final phase here didn’t prove as influential as it has done in the past, with seven of the 13 pairs producing clear rounds and most looking remarkably fresh despite a ten-minute stamina test in yesterday’s blazing sunshine. It’s an exciting uptick after June’s Bicton CCI4*-L, where many horses looked unprepared to tackle such extensive terrain after a long period of time without a significant British long-format competition. As we head towards the spate of three-days coming up on the calendar — including next week’s inaugural Bicton CCI5*, the return of Blenheim in the latter half of the month, the European Championships at the end of September, the Nations Cup finale at Boekelo and five-stars at Pau and Maryland in October, it’ll be interesting to compare the preparation and fitness-building. Now that the home of eventing is truly back up and running, it’s hard to imagine any of the avoidable stamina issues we’ve seen crop up earlier in the year rearing their head again — and that’s something to be very, very happy about. British eventing is back, baby, and if this summer is anything to go by, it’s better than ever.