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Some things, and some wins, just feel meant to be — and that’s certainly the case for Germany’s Sophie Leube, who produced three foot-perfect phases to lead Boekelo CCIO4*-L from pillar to post this week with Jadore Moi in just their second-ever start at the level. For the last year or so, Sophie has excelled herself on the world stage, taking the win in the Seven-Year-Old World Championship last year with the stallion Sweetwater Ziethen and taking a decisive dressage lead at CHIO Aachen last month with Jadore Moi, an eleven-year-old German Sporthorse by Conthargos. But although such significant leaps into the spotlight can feel like sudden and remarkable trajectories, for Sophie, the newfound recognition has come as the result of an awful lot of hard work — and more than a little bit of love for the horse with whom she’s risen through the levels.
But first of all, let’s talk about today. Boekelo is known for producing a tough final phase, helped along by the incomparable atmosphere and the fact that the surfaced arena — a relatively new addition to the venue — allows the team to ask trickier questions of horses and riders than they might be able to on grass, where the slip factor could quickly become an issue. And so everyone flocked to the ringside for this morning’s first session, which saw the first 18 of 43 competitors come forward to jump. What they witnessed can’t have filled anyone with bucketloads of confidence: just three of those 18 produced clear rounds, and none of those three managed to catch the tight time. The top twenty-five knew they’d need to find inside lines and take some risks in order to attempt to produce a completely penalty-free round — and with a rail covering the top nine, there wasn’t any wiggle room to allow for anything less.
Perhaps, if you’d looked at numbers alone, you wouldn’t have put Sophie and Jadore Moi up as your eventual winners — after all, they average a rail at four-star, and riding under this amount of pressure is still a reasonably new experience for Sophie. But in their only previous CCI4*-L, at Italy’s Pratoni del Vivaro in November, where they finished third — they jumped a clear round, and Sophie had produced the goods so competently when winning the Seven-Year-Old title, too. In every way, Jadore Moi has stepped up a notch this year, swapping her former circa-30 scores for mid-25s, and shaving down the seconds across the country to the point where she added nothing yesterday. That trend continued on today, and the pair left their two rails at Aachen firmly behind them to attack the track in fine style, adding a further 0.4 time and securing themselves the biggest win of their career together.
“It will take a while until I will realise everything,” says Sophie, beaming at the mare she owns in conjunction with a four-woman syndicate. She originally took the ride on the mare as a five-year-old for breeder and then-owner Victoire von Schoen, who wanted Jadore Moi to contest the German Bundeschampionate for young horses. Though Jadore Moi would have won with her final score of 9.5, she was technically disqualified because her sire wasn’t a licensed stallion — but such was her obvious quality and will to win that Sophie decided to buy a half share in the horse with her husband. Top twenty finishes at the Six- and Seven-Year-Old World Championships followed, and more and more people began to see what she’d felt — include the group of loyal owners who are now at the helm of the other half share.
“They all loved the story with the horse, and they also saw the chance I had with her,” says Sophie. If that was a gamble, it was only in keeping with the calculated risk Sophie had taken just a couple of years previously: after a working student placement with Ingrid Klimke, she spent a year working for the incoming German chef d’equipe and former championship rider Peter Thomsen, before returning to Ingrid for a two-year formal training period. After that finished in 2013, she made a big decision.
“I took the risk to start my own business directly after that two years, and Ingrid said, ‘yeah, try to do it, you can do it!’,” she recalls. That positivity and supportive relationship has carried on through Sophie’s years as a professional, in which she and her husband have worked together to help her climb the levels. “She’s a great support to me and I still owe her so much.”
Sophie, who’s a well-liked character on the European circuit for her easy smile and unassuming nature, looked as icy-veined as her mentor as she entered the ring, even after watching the chaos unfold earlier in the day.
“I’m always a little bit excited, and I try to focus on the horse the whole time,” she says. “I’m not watching the others while I warm up; I just do my thing, and today we had a very good plan with Marcus [Döhring, German jumping trainer]. Somehow, you get the confidence, because the trainers say you can do it — and I know I have a great horse, the very best I could wish for. She’s a good jumping horse and if I do most of the things right, then she’s doing everything right.”
Sophie might be processing the exciting reality of her big win for a little while to come, but to the industry around here, she’s already a confirmed superstar — and her 2022 goal of getting onto the German team at some bigger events looks a very reasonable one indeed, even in what could still be considered the fledgling stages of her career.
“It’s really unbelievably extraordinary,” she laughs. “I did my first three-star on her, and my first four-star on her, and she’s my only four-star horse — and in my second four-star long, it’s really crazy to stand next to William Fox-Pitt on the podium!”
Though a record third Boekelo win would have been an undoubtedly cool story for the event’s big fiftieth birthday, William Fox-Pitt was delighted to maintain his second place after cross-country with the nine-year-old mare Grafennacht, who jumped an economical clear to add 1.2 time penalties, giving Sophie a slight time buffer but securing his own spot on the podium. His joy was, perhaps, paired with some surprise: yesterday, after his clear round inside the time, he told EN with some certainty that, although the clear rounds would come in time from the talented mare, she wouldn’t jump a clear today.
“I was just enjoying the moment,” he laughs. “I know she wants to jump a clear, but she doesn’t always give them quite enough space. It might not have been the prettiest round — not like our winner’s! — but at the end of the day, that doesn’t matter. She didn’t do anything wrong, and I certainly can’t complain about that — she’s a good horse and I came here positively, thinking she could come here and do well.”
William was gracious in defeat — though a clear round and second place isn’t much of a defeat, as far as we’re concerned — praising Sophie’s riding and remarking how great it is to see the next generation of riders coming through the ranks. In hindsight, though, he might have misjudged Sophie’s youthful visage: “William thought I was 21,” she laughs. “I’m 34! He said, ‘oh! Well I’m glad you’re not like, a spoiled kid with a very good horse!'”
France’s Sidney Dufresne jumped a gutsy clear aboard his 2018 WEG mount Tresor Mail to remain in third place, adding 0.8 time penalties to his 26.2 dressage and faultless cross-country round, while British team rider and European Champion Nicola Wilson was able to secure fourth place with her Blenheim eight- and nine-year-olds winner Coolparks Sarco despite a frustrating rail and 0.4 time penalties.
“He’ll have learned so much today, and it was just an unfortunate fence down — but he jumped a beautiful round and I was over the moon with him all week,” says Nicola, who rides the horse for the Lamberts, who also co-own her European Champion JL Dublin.
Though the nine-year-old gelding experienced crowds at Blenheim, they’re not a patch on Boekelo’s loud and enthusiastic swarms of spectators, which served to give the horse an education in championship-style atmosphere — a challenge he rose to with his characteristic positivity.
“He hadn’t experienced anything like this, but now he has, and he coped fantastically,” she says. “He came into the week smiling and he’s come out of it smiling as well, and I’m just delighted for Jamie and Jo Lambert, who have been amazing supporters of ours. It’s so exciting to think that they have another lovely horse in the waiting. We’re really excited about the future, and I’m feeling incredibly humbled and excited to have a horse like him.”
Plenty of work and a serious commitment to ongoing education paid dividends for Sydney Elliott and QC Diamantaire, who finished best of the Americans in fifth place after toppling the first element of the double. But such was the drama delivered by the course that this result actually saw them step up a place on the leaderboard, bringing their European adventure to its conclusion in the finest of styles.
“I am ecstatic,” says Sydney, who made her European debut at CHIO Aachen last month with the rangy eleven-year-old gelding. “I’m so proud of this horse — he’s had such an upward swing all year long, and I’m just thrilled. We have the easy part, I think — they tote us around and they don’t have to do that, so I think it’s just very incredible that we get to sit up here and enjoy it!”
Sydney has one more competition to head to before she hops on a plane back home — she’ll tackle Poland’s Strzegom Horse Trials next week with a young horse, giving her one more golden opportunity to soak up everything she can on the continent and apply it to her training system. Like her fellow US riders, the experience has made her hungry to continue to show up and deliver results on the world stage.
“I think the takeaway for the whole team is that when we go home, we’re going to try harder and every single day, our training needs to step up,” she says. “I think with Aachen and Boekelo, our team has been very close — everyone from Erik Duvander, Peter Wylde, Jenni Autry, everyone who’s helping us is huge and we’re really coming together.”
A return trip in 2022 to keep the good times — and the good results — coming is already firmly on Sydney’s radar.
“As long as he’s feeling healthy and happy, we’ll hopefully come back for Luhmühlen,” she says. “That’s our plan — and maybe to come over a little earlier and spend some time over here.”
Just three riders managed completely penalty-free rounds through the day, and two of those were able to climb into the top ten as a result: Japanese Olympians Yoshiaki Oiwa and Calle 44 moved from 12th to sixth, while US individuals Hallie Coon and Global Ex climbed from 13th to seventh. They were the only combination to finish on their dressage score in the entire field, giving them a weeklong climb of 26 placings and proving that the mighty little mare, who is in just her first season at four-star, is the real deal.
“She was unbelievable,” says Hallie of the 12-year-old Dutch-bred mare, who was initially produced by Brian Morrison of Global Event Horses and latterly Katherine Coleman, before Hallie took the ride in November of last year. Then, the mare was green but capable at three-star, and Hallie piloted her around Portugal’s Barocca d’Alva as their debut. Since then, she’s worked on improving the mare’s strength and musculature, producing a series of exciting results along the way and earning, in return, the kind of feeling she’s never encountered from a horse before.
“I don’t even know how to describe her,” she says. “You can just trust her, and just do the turns and have the right place. As long as you keep her in the right balance she’s right there for you, and it’s the best feeling in the world. I just never had a doubt in my mind that she could do it, and I don’t think she did either.”
After watching the entirety of the first session of jumping, Hallie and US team jumping coach Peter Wylde decided to slightly revise the plan of attack for her round, which made best use of the mare’s surprisingly ground-covering stride: “I only changed one thing, and that was that I was initially going to do eight to the triple bar. And then Peter came back and said one of the horses walked it in seven, and he was like, ‘your horse can absolutely get there in seven’. And so I just kept coming, and it was right there.”
Now, Hallie is looking ahead to the future with her superstar mare, who she plans to debut at five-star next year and who, she says with no small measure of awe, would be equally capable of running around a course like Burghley’s or Pau’s: “She’s the ultimate — it’s all really exciting.”
Great Britain’s Izzy Taylor took eighth place with the nine-year-old Hartacker, who has overcome some green, educational moments in his career to become a serious young talent for the British team. He jumped around inside the tough-to-catch time today, and though he took a pole along the way in the treble, the pair were able to climb from eleventh into the top ten.
“He’s definitely stepped up, even just through this week,” she says. “Going into the arena today, he was much more of a man than when he went in on Thursday — then, he was a little bit scared by it all and a bit embarrassed to be there.”
The pair were one of eleven to add nothing to their dressage score yesterday, where Izzy explains that he gave her a green but exciting trip across the country: “He was green, but he was always going to be green,” she says. “But he never deviated off his line; he asked me what was going on occasionally, and I said, ‘you’re going that way!’ and he just said, ‘oh, okay! That’s fine! If that’s what you want!’ The further around we went, the better he got.”
Hartacker was a late starter, only beginning his eventing career as a seven-year-old in 2019, and so this week provided him with his first-ever experience of ‘pre-pandemic’ eventing.
“He’s very inexperienced to be here, and like all the nine-year-olds after COVID, for them to come out on Saturday and see that number of people that close to you has been amazing; it’s been so good for them.”
Like Izzy before him, Ireland’s Padraig McCarthy had a pole down with the homebred MGH Tokyo Phil but still climbed two places to finish ninth, while the top ten was rounded out by Tamie Smith and Danito, who had two late rails to slip from third place — but nevertheless, a super week with the relatively inexperienced gelding and an excellent clear from the very green Solaguayre California for nineteenth gave her plenty to get excited about for the seasons to come.
“He had a rail, and then I had a rail, but he’s getting better and better, and that’s good,” she says. “And Solaguayre California is such a superb athlete; she just went in there and it was just beautiful, just wonderful. I’m so lucky to be riding her. It’s so fun when they jump like that — I’m really excited about her.”
Tamie now comes to the end of a few months of back-and-forth between the US and Europe — after training in Aachen for Olympic pre-export quarantine and then flying on to Tokyo as travelling reserve, she opted to make the most of the opportunity to compete on this side of the pond and embrace the unique and valuable foundation that competing in the beating heart of the sport offers.
“Every time you come over here it just takes you to another level. Riding is such a learning game, and if you’re open to always wanting to be better then you get better. I just feel like every time I come over here, it takes me a notch or two higher. I’m really proud of the horses and proud of how I rode, and proud of the weekend we’ve had; I’m obviously disappointed because you’d like a little luck here and there, but it is what it is and they have such a huge future.”
US team anchor Jennie Brannigan and the quirky but talented FE Lifestyle finished fifteenth after knocking fence three, giving them a weeklong leap of seventeen places up the leaderboard and providing longtime owners and supporters Tim and Nina Gardner with another reason to get excited about their resident redhead.
“I came here knowing that individually, it probably wasn’t going to be my week, but for me, yesterday meant everything because mentally, to pull through and do a good job for our country meant the world to me,” she says. “Erik’s put a lot of time into me, and I’m very grateful — so to do that proud means a lot. The horse is a good horse for the future, too; he did pretty alright today, and the Gardners are great people. This horse has always been a bit of a question mark — he doesn’t always make things easy in some regards, but he made being the anchor and pulling that off easy. He’s just a ginger, so you’ve got to work with that!”
The Dutch National Championship went to Tim Lips, who has now won it five times on four different horses — an impressive feat in itself that’s made more so by the fact that his ride this week, Lady Chin van’t Moerven Z, is a catch-ride that he’s never competed before. He’ll now hand the reins back to his student, China’s Huadong Sun, with extra insight and experience that they can use to plan a 2022 WEG campaign and some more exciting results along the way.
The team competition went the way of Great Britain, who proved unbeatable in all three phases despite their team full of inexperienced mounts. All four riders were on nine-year-olds, and among the huge team experience of William Fox-Pitt, Izzy Taylor, and European champion Nicola Wilson was a new face in British team debutant James Rushbrooke, who finished 20th with Milchem Eclipse after delivering just the third clear round of the day.
“It’s been amazing being on the team, and especially being on it with who I’m with,” says James, who has produced the ‘slightly weird’ Milchem Eclipse from a five-year-old, and finished sixth in Bicton’s tough under-25 CCI4*-L with him earlier this year. “When I got the call [to join the team] I was a bit like, ‘oh god, that’s a lot of pressure’ — but they’ve been amazing, and they’ve given me loads of help, and we get to walk away as good friends which is the best thing.”
Nicola echoed his sentiments and expressed her positivity in the continued strength and depth of the British squad: “It’s been a lovely week, and to be with Izzy and William and to have the first time for James Rushbrooke — it’s been an amazing experience for him. It’s been a lovely team effort, and obviously everybody else that has done the hard work before this week in the Nations Cup means that we’re in this position now, which is lovely. It’s great to be on a team with these guys and to come away with the win.”
Though they gave the Brits a seriously good fight through the week, Team USA’s riders were delighted with their final silver position — the second in a row scored by the team after an excellent showing at Aachen last month. Each was quick to praise the direction that chef d’equipe Erik Duvander and Managing Director Jenni Autry are taking the team in, citing a renewed team spirit and a huge amount of trust and time as the defining forces that are heralding a new, winning era for Team USA.
“I think Erik and Jenni deserve a lot of credit for America doing better,” says Jennie Brannigan. “I think at the Olympics everyone was like, ‘we should have done better’ — but we did the best we’ve done in a long time. And then Aachen happened, and that was the best we’d done in a long time — and then this happened. I think that’s a really important thing to understand: it takes more than four years to make a team great, and we’re on the way. They’re doing a great job, and we should keep on this path — and we don’t have any better people to believe in us than them.”
Tamie Smith agrees, noting how special it felt — and how powerful — to unite the squad in such a positive way.
“We really just all came together,” she says. “Like, Hallie wasn’t on the team but we made her a part of the team, and that’s what it’s about. It’s fun trying to make it different, and it’s not everyone’s belief, but I’ve always believed in it. You can feel the difference, and it is a huge difference when you’ve really got each other’s back and you’re all together.”
Germany rounded out the podium in third place, while France finished fourth and Ireland fifth. Sweden came into the competition almost the de facto winners of the 2021 Nations Cup series, a title they won in 2019, too, and they’re feeling positive about the future with a European bronze medal in their hands, too: “We’re consistent at four-star now,” says stalwart team member Christoffer Forsberg, “and now we’ll work to take that to the five-star, WEG, and Olympic levels.”
That’s all for us for now from beautiful, boozy, bold and brilliant Boekelo. We’re a little emotional to be waving goodbye (and to finally accept the impending post-eventing hangover that’s been threatening to destroy us for days), so stay tuned for some more snippets over the next couple of days. We’ve never been good at walking away from the things we love.
Until next time: Go Eventing.