With the conclusion of the British Novice Championship, a packed Advanced division, and the dressage phase of the British Open and British Intermediate Championships Saturday at Gatcombe — all packed with star quality horses — it’s hard to know where to begin.
The British Open Championship Dressage
With about a dozen horses still to do dressage Sunday morning, including William Fox-Pitt on Neuf Des Couers and Andrew Nicholson on Viscount George, it’s not quite a foregone conclusion that Jock Paget will lead going into the show jumping. But with an accurate, obedient and relaxed test on Frances Stead’s Clifton Lush, he’s given himself every chance; they’re currently at the top of the leaderboard with a score of 37.3. [Saturday’s British Open dressage results are here]
Lucinda Fredericks rode Flying Finish in the worst of the heavy downpour on Saturday to sit in second place, and right behind them both and just outside the 30s is Andrew Nicholson on his Olympic Games medalist and Pau winner Nereo on 40.6. Ludwig Svennerstal earned 41.5 despite an error of course for fourth place with a beautiful test on the elegant Shamwari, which means we have to go down to fifth place and the very last ride of the day Saturday, Sarah Cohen on Treason, (42.9) before we get to our first Brit, which once again demonstrates the depth of international talent riding here in the UK.
London Olympic Team silver medalists Tina Cook and Miners Frolic did a super test quite early in the day to tie for sixth place with Oliver Townend on the former Andrew Nicholson ride Armada. “I was really, really pleased with his test,” Tina said. “The mark wasn’t stunning, but I’m getting to know him more and more, and he feels to be getting more and more settled, so it’s just time and work and hopefully one day … He’s done enough four stars now; it’s about time he did something. Obviously, he was fourth at Burghley last year, and he goes back to Burghley this year, so we’ll see.”
Although Oliver was in some pain after a fall jumping a novice horse at home the day before the competition started, it didn’t seem to hold him back as he also rode ODT Ghareeb into second place in the Advanced, two more into the top six and two tied for 11th place in the British Intermediate Championship, as well as finished ninth in the British Novice Championship on Ballaghmor Class, so hopefully that has made it worth his while already. “It looked touch and go whether I’d ride or not, but so far it’s working alright,” Oliver said. “I don’t know whether it is ribs yet or not; we’re not quite sure. I’m alright when I’m on a horse; this is when I’m in most pain — when I’m sat down or walking around.”
Sam Griffiths and Happy Times and Andrew Nicholson on Avebury continued to represent the Southern Hemisphere in the British Open, taking eighth and ninth places after dressage on Saturday, respectively. Pippa Funnel, above, rounded out the top 10 on Or Noir De La Loge. The standard of dressage here and at this level is so high that pretty much every test in the top 20 was an absolute pleasure to watch, and mistakes were rare. Changes and half passes were generally correct and almost routine, and halts were established. The top 15 are now all separated by just 10 points, and as most of them are at least as good jumpers as they are on the flat, Sunday promises to be an exciting day!
The Advanced Division
William Fox Pitt, above on the winner Chilli Morning, took control of the Advanced division in the first phase and never let it go. [Advanced final scores are here] The stallion Chilli Morning led the dressage and added only time faults cross country to that score to win fairly easily, and from here will probably go straight to Burghley. “I’m very pleased with him all round; he was very good,” William said. “He did a lovely test despite me going the wrong way. I just got carried away; I’d already done the test twice on the other two, and I must have just gone off into my own little world! I was quite happy that he was still in the lead because (his owner) Chris (Stone) might have had something to say if he’d lost his lead because I’d gone the wrong way!
“He show jumped very well, and he’s feeling really well; I didn’t go too fast cross country because I felt that with eight time faults it was comfortable enough, and that will probably be his last run before Burghley. It was a little bit on his terms, which is how he likes it. He’s better feeling that he’s a bit in charge and I have to go with the flow, but he was really up for it. This was a good track to ride him around because I haven’t ridden him here before, and I haven’t really even done that many one days on him, so it was a good one for us to do together. It was an interesting course — some new terrain. I’ve never ridden him on terrain like that either, so before Burghley I think that was a good experience for him to have had. Nick (Gauntlett) had ridden him round here before, but I think it was a good opportunity for us, and he finished full of running at the end.”
William’s record on Chilli Morning is almost perfect — two Bramham wins, fifth at Pau CCI4* last year and the only cross country fault they have is at Kentucky this spring, and he still has no inkling of why, nor did he see it coming. “I think the only thing you’d say there was that in Kentucky you’d felt that he was too polite,” William said. “In the few jumps that he did jump, he was very mannerly, waiting for me to tell him what to do, and therefore was never really taking me for whatever reason, whereas he needs to be taking you. I think in Kentucky, I was quite enjoying having that, enjoying riding him and him not taking me, but actually that’s not how he goes best. He likes to be just a little bit in charge, which is a bit of a shock for me, but he was super today, so that was lovely and a good result.”
Oliver Townend rode the quickest round of the day cross country to jump up to second place on ODT Ghareeb, and he said that going right after the downpour might actually have been an advantage, as the ground was fantastic. “We’d just had the monsoon, and I’m not normally one to sit in the wagon, but I stayed away as long as I could,” Oliver said. “The minute it started to stop, I hopped on and went down to the warm up, and there was nobody else in there bar Paul Tapner, so I ended up going out on the Advanced course first. It looked a bit sloppy after all the rain, but we’d put in big studs and it was really good.”
The 9-year-old ODT Ghareeb has been with Oliver on and off since he was a 4 year old, and he described him as very green at this level still. “I really, really like him, but he is spooky and a little bit naughty — not in a bad way, but in a sort of pratting around way!” Oliver said. “I think he’s got all the attributes to be a very good horse. His flying changes really are flying changes at the minute — lots of expression and squealing and messing about, but the rest of his work is becoming very consistent and smart. I really, really enjoyed the cross country. I was really pleased with his fitness; he galloped to the end pretty much. He’s getting quite professional at the cross country, and obviously when you’ve known them as long as I’ve known him, you get used to them.
“His spooking used to be everywhere, but now he’s just spooky in the dressage, and occasionally in the show jumping, but his cross country has become good. That’s his strongest phase, but again at Aston Le Walls last time out, there was a fence with water spurting out of it, and it was so straight forward but for the water. I was galloping at it, and the next minute I’ve spun round, and I’m galloping back the other way down the track! If he sees something that he’s never seen before, then it’s normally an issue’ but once he’s done it, it’s good. He’s a horse that is generally a good jumper, and he definitely doesn’t pull, he’s idle by nature, so you can just keep revving him up. He’s really nice to ride because you only have to sit up and he comes back to you, and you lean forward and he moves off.”
Emily King stormed around the cross country in fantastic style to finish third on Brookleigh, a horse she’s only been campaigning since his former rider Clayton Fredericks moved to the U.S. Emily explained they’d originally gone to see the horse with an intention to buy him, but when he proved too expensive, they worked out an arrangement that she would take him on until a buyer can be found. “I’m hoping he doesn’t get sold now because he’s so lovely,” Emily said. “He was awesome; I’m so pleased with him. He’s fairly chilled by nature, so he was really good in his dressage. He felt awesome, really rideable. His not-so-good change was really good, and his good change wasn’t quite so good, which was annoying, but I was really pleased with his test. In the show jumping, I’ve never ridden him in an arena with as much atmosphere as this, but it kind of worked to our advantage. He had a lot more spark, and he was a lot more lively off my leg and jumped really well. I was really pleased with him. The cross country was fantastic, and the going felt perfect. I’m slowly getting used to him, and we’re slowly gelling, but he felt fab. He gave me a really good ride and he was a good boy.”
With the second fastest time of the day, Emily moved all the way up the leaderboard, but said she still had plenty of gas left in the tank. “I was kicking on but I wasn’t going flat out; I was just moving on after each fence,” Emil said. “I wasn’t overly quick into the combinations; I was taking my time and getting my lines. I was conscious of going quick, but I didn’t feel like I was going flat out, so I was pleased that I came home with only five time faults.” Still a junior by age (unbelievably, she’s just 17 years old) this is probably her most prestigious result in senior company yet. “Its amazing and so great that I can compete alongside the seniors like William Fox-Pitt and everyone else who are such idols. I’ve never ridden here at Big Gatcombe before, and it’s always been a dream to ride here and compete here and finally be here.”
Young British hopeful Tom McEwen was very impressive across all phases and finished fourth on Dry Old Party, above, adding just a handful of time faults cross country to his dressage score. Diesel was here as a prep run before he goes as part of the Team GBR squad to the European Championships in Malmo and so went slowly cross country to finish 27th, but also added only time penalties to his first phase score. Rodney Powell’s nice horse Happy Go Lucky and Esib Power’s September Bliss both looked fantastic cross country to finish sixth and seventh respectively. I’m not sure how I managed to miss Lucy Wiegesma on both her horses, but Simon Porloe and Granntevka Prince finished eighth and 13th.
The British Novice Championship
Bettina Hoy did her dressage on Gerd Horst’s Seigneur Medicott in the pouring rain, but it didn’t stop them from taking a lead which they didn’t relinquish, adding just time penalties cross country for their final score of 28.6. [British Novice Championship scores are here] Bettina found the horse in a show-jumping yard about a year and a half ago as a 6 year old and really only started eventing him properly this year. “He’s done two intermediates, and I’m hoping t0 take him to Le Lion later this year,” Bettina said. “The cross country felt really lovely to ride; he hasn’t done a course as up and down as this, and I didn’t know how he’d read it because coming from a show-jumping yard, he’s only been used to a prepared surface, so all this uneven surface is something that he’s had to learn, but he did it really well today.”
Bettina told me she thinks very highly indeed of this young horse and has Rio in the back of her mind for him. Seigneur Medicott is not related to Mr or Mrs Medicott, but instead the connection is their previous owner, Gerd Horst, although Seigneur Medicott actually runs under Bettina’s name in the UK to simplify the registration process. Designer and Lanfranco TSF head to Hartpury next weekend, as Bettina told me she wanted an extra week for both of them, and besides, she laughed, because Lanfranco was based at Gatcombe before, she was not at all convinced that he would behave at a competition here!
Saturday was a fantastic day of competition and much more fun besides in the main arena, which remained packed and possibly the activities later drew even more crowds. The Shetland Pony Grand National, the dressage display and the falconry are always popular, and this year was no exception. Another big shout out again to the Pony Club members who were running scores all day and literally in all weather. The organization is always seamless, and did I mention the tradestands …?! Hopefully I’ll have time for some of that on Sunday, although with the two jumping phases for both the British Intermediate and Open Championships, that’s highly doubtful! Looking forward to another action-packed day and bringing you lots more from Gatcombe, The Festival of British Eventing.