Luhmühlen desperately needed today to be a good one — and we got our wish.
After three days of spitty rain and frigid wind, we awoke early to a day that, literally and metaphorically, just got brighter as it went on. This morning’s CCI4* cross country competition was both safe and good sport, and it went a long way toward pushing back the dark clouds that have been hovering over the event for the past couple years.
Eventing in Germany is no joke. I sat in traffic on the way to the show grounds longer than I did for a 90,000-person music festival last weekend. National pride runs deep and at today’s competition Ingrid Klimke was the headliner.
Dressage leader Julien Despontin picked up 22.4 time penalties early on in the day. He later explained, “My horse lost a shoe between jumps 13 and 14 which caused us to slip a little round the corners and slowed us down a bit. Waldano was brilliant nevertheless and I truly enjoyed the round.”
Julien’s time penalties left the door wide open for Ingrid to take the lead and that she did, much to the delight of her countrymen. You could tell where she was on course just by the sound of roars rising up from crowd and the performance she laid down was admittedly pretty rock-star. Ingrid has a presence in the saddle that is matched only by her stunningly talented mare, FRH Escada JS, who made short work of Captain Mark Phillips‘ CCI4* course.
“I am so happy, she was super fit and gave me a wonderful round,” Ingrid said. “The course rode brilliantly, the ground was perfectly prepared and the audience was really supportive. However, the course was technically challenging, especially the different water complexes and the Ariat combination toward the end asked for heightened concentration.
“Escada was unbelievable though: motivated and amazing to ride. She has a big jump in her and is very clever. She can solve even difficult questions almost effortlessly.”
We noticed that Ingrid was sporting a helmet cam so hopefully we’ll all be able to take a vicarious spin on Escada soon!
A clear, fast round from New Zealand’s Jonelle Price and Faerie Dianimo earned them on step up the scoreboard into 2nd place.
“Today she rode like a proper four-star horse!” Jonelle said. “She was amazing, she flew round the course, she is truly exceptional. I have never had a horse like her before, she can do amazing things in all three disciplines. At home she is a little diva and her stable name is Princess, but it was worth putting in all the hard work to get her on my side.
“When I rode her in Pau she was still a little green, but she has grown a lot and her performance here has been tremendous. I really can’t ask for more. If I do my job well tomorrow, then anything is possible.”
Michael Jung had the 3rd and 4th spots claimed with fischerRocana FST and La Biosthetique Sam FBW respectively heading into today’s competition. Sam tackled the course with his signature professionalism, coming home well inside the time.
“La Biosthetique Sam is super fit and rode perfectly all the way round the course,” Michael says. “He listened to me right from the start and we had a lot of fun out there. It was a great round under perfect conditions.”
fischerRocana seemed to be enjoying her romp as well until the final water complex.
In an unexpected turn of events, the supermare went down to her knees on the landing from the drop in. She resurfaced with a surprised expression on her face, shaking the water from her ear bonnet and looking the part of a pony who’d had its dinner taken away. Michael called it a day and they walked back to the stables a bit soggy but no worse for the wear.
We’re thrilled to report that Team North America had a stellar day, with both Clark Montgomery and Rebecca Howard finishing in the top 10.
I saw Rebecca come through #28ABC, the Ariat Horses, a triple brush skinny followed by a left bend to a two-stride line of angled corners. Being just two fences from home and at the bottom of a downhill gallop, it was a test of both fitness and focus and caused trouble for those who didn’t get their horses back quite enough.
New Zealand’s Blyth Tait and Xanthus III were among those who collected 20 here.
Rebecca and Rupert were spot-on, their game face never wavering from start…
Clark and Glen looked absolutely flawless through the Ariat line as well from where I was watching near the last jump. The announcer initially said he’d finished clear and just a second over time, so when 20 jump penalties — and then an elimination — later popped up on the leaderboard beside his name we were all quite stunned.
Glen had apparently knocked the flag at the C element and there was some question about whether his shoulders were over the fence, a matter soon resolved by a series of head-on photographs taken by Shannon Brinkman. You’re an American hero, Shannon!
Even when the ruling was still up in the air Clark told me that he couldn’t have been more thrilled with his horse’s performance. The pair has buckled down on their jumping and fitness work the past few months and their effort clearly paid off today.
“He was right on all the way around,” he said. “I was a bit conservative with really going for the time at the beginning because the concern was whether he would have enough gas to finish the course. But he just kept on wanting to gallop so I was really happy with that. And looking for the jumps — he ticked them off like it was no big deal.”
This was Clark and Glen’s first go at Luhmühlen and he says he was happy with how the course rode.
“It was a bit harder than I expected technicality wise,” he said. “I think a lot of the riders would maybe say that because it caused more issues that we thought it might.”
Issues were scattered throughout the course, resulting in nine retirements, one elimination and a stop or runout here and there. There was only one fall when Kai-Steffen Meier and Sunny Side First “submarined” into the water at 17. Everyone returned to the barn safely, however, and the riders expressed a widespread feeling that their horses had come off course more educated and confident.
“I think Mark did a good job with this course in that it did cause issues with it still being safe,” Clark said. “That’s a super finish for Luhmühlen, especially.”
CCI4* Cross Country Photo Gallery:
CCI4* top 25 after cross country (click here to view the full leaderboard):
Check out video highlights from the FEI below. We’ve got plenty more Luhmühlen shenanigans up our sleeve for later today. In the meantime, go eventing!