US Stays Securely in Silver at Boekelo as Sophie Leube Heads Influential Cross-Country Day

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Over 60,000 enthusiastic spectators packed into Boekelo for its 50th anniversary cross-country day, and they cheered local hero Merel Blom out of the box voraciously. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Just 44 combinations will come forward for tomorrow morning’s final horse inspection after an eventful day of cross-country here in the Netherlands — a significant thinning of the field from its original 61 starters. We were down by one from the get-go: Germany’s Niklas Bschorer opted to withdraw Back In Time 2 this morning, though he was riding as an individual, not a team rider, and so this had no major impact on the leaderboard.

When the competition itself got under way, it certainly did so with a bang. France’s Benjamin Massie and Climaine de Cacao blazed the trail in fine style, sailing home clear and just one second inside the time — but although very quick rounds would continue to be the defining point of the day, Adrian Ditcham’s course offered no room for complacency after that superb first round. 14 of the 58 starters ultimately failed to complete the course, while a further 12 picked up jumping penalties along the way, making this one of the most exciting Boekelo cross-country days we’ve seen in a long time.

Riders and connections were alike were effusive in their praise of course designer Adrian Ditcham, who was deemed to have perfectly balanced the difficulty of the course for this level and presented tough but fair questions that challenged horses without punishing them.

“He’s a very underrated course designer, and he’s actually quite new to designing at this level, but I think he’s got a perfect balance for this track and it was a super job done,” says Dutch chef d’equipe Andrew Heffernan. Adding to the positive feel of the track was the perfect going: though Boekelo experienced its typical seasonal deluge in the lead-up to the weekend, a couple of uncharacteristically sunny days and plenty of work put into the footing meant that for the first time in memory, the going was fast rather than holding and allowed horses to skim easily over the top without any excess strain. That meant that an impressive twelve pairs came home inside the optimum time of 10:16, and though the leaderboard was tightly packed enough that even a second over the clock would be influential, we saw plenty of inexperienced horses catch the time.

Sophie Leube and Jadore Moi retain their lead after cross-country. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Chief among those combinations is Germany’s Sophie Leube and the exciting mare Jadore Moi, who retain their first-phase lead after an easy romp home three seconds inside the time — a feat made even more impressive by the fact that it’s only their second-ever CCI4*-L.

“It’s amazing, and I have no words, actually! It’s my second CCI4*-L, and I’m so proud of my horse and what we’ve achieved now — it’s amazing,” she says. But although she made the track look easy, Sophie admits she never expected to manage a clear inside the time.

“I know we can do a good dressage, but this [level] is still big for me and a big challenge, the whole thing. To be in Boekelo is an honour.”

Sophie, who began her career training with Ingrid Klimke and actually rode her first-ever FEI event on a young SAP Hale Bob OLD, has certainly been making her presence known on the world stage as one of Germany’s most impressive rising stars, but nonetheless, she’s incredibly humble, and was quick to honour the people who had helped her reach this point.

“I’m very thankful to be able to ride the horse, and for the trainers around me,” she says. “I wouldn’t be here without them, and I’m very, very happy.”

William Fox-Pitt and the keen but green Grafennacht take second place overnight. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Two-time Boekelo winner William Fox-Pitt made a solid move towards becoming the first-ever three-time winner of the event, stepping up from fourth to second place after a foot-perfect round on the nine-year-old Grafennacht. They crossed the finish line with two seconds to spare, lodging the best result of the day for the British team, who remain in first place in the Nations Cup competition as they head into the final phase. For William, who is aiming for the mare’s five-star debut next season, coming back to Boekelo after a largely spectator-free pandemic isn’t just about being competitive — it’s about exposure for young horses, who won’t have encountered anything quite like the spectacle of 60,000 drunk and enthusiastic Dutch people.

“She was fab, but I’d hoped she would be fab, because she’s a top cross-country horse,” he says — though, he continues, “she’s not a top showjumper yet, so though she can jump, I don’t expect her to jump a clear round tomorrow. But she might! I do believe she will one day; I believe she wants to. She’s really done everything I’ve asked, and she’s got some good miles for a nine-year-old.”

William, like Andy and like so many of his fellow riders, was vocal in his praise of Boekelo’s track and the effort made to return to the calendar — something that wasn’t guaranteed until the team got the government’s go ahead less than a month ago.

“I think they did an amazing job because it wasn’t a terrifying course, but I really felt they learned quite a lot,” he says. “What the team has achieved here to keep the event going through all their major trials and tribulations of the last few years is quite incredible, and I think most events in Europe would be lost after what they’ve been through. For them to carry this on, we as the riders are so grateful and so lucky to have this amazing venue.”

If William were to win Boekelo this year and set a new record for the most wins, it would be rather fitting — after all, it’s the event’s fiftieth anniversary, and although a first-ever Dutch win would have been the best way to celebrate, a returning hero is a pretty special consolation prize.

“That’s a dream, really, to win Boekelo three times,” William says with a smile. “It’s quite a thought, but realistically probably quite unlikely — we’ve got a very good leader and tomorrow will be a big part of the competition. But it’s a great honour to be sitting with some greats and to think that we’ve won wonderful Boekelo.”

Tamie Smith and Danito hold onto third place going into the final phase. Photo by Libby Law Photography.

Tamie Smith remains in third place with the exceptional Danito, who found a new turn of speed to finish just two seconds over the time — despite a watch malfunction that meant that Tamie had to judge the speed without being able to check her minute markers.

“I was like, ‘oh god, I can’t worry about that, I just have to go as fast as I can!’,” she laughs. “That’s the first time I’ve come close to making the time with him; I think he’s ready to go fast now. I’ve had a good seven to ten time at his previous four longs, and he’s a bit of a pony, so he says ‘I’m getting tired’ and I have to keep him going. But I think not having my watch helped me go faster, actually, and he read all the jumps great. It was so easy for him.”

As the first of the US riders out of the box and just the fifth starter of the day, Tamie’s round was also a valuable way to gain intel about the course, and like several of the riders before her, she discovered that the penultimate question, a wide brush spread to a triple brush at 26 and 27, had the potential to cause a problem if it wasn’t carefully managed.

“He landed from the brush in a little bit of a heap; he kind of tripped,” she says. “But he handled it so good — he just picked his head up and jumped right through there.”

Tamie Smith and Solaguayre California jump the second fence, situated directly next to what appeared to be a nightclub. Only at Boekelo. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

At the tail end of the day, Tamie’s second ride, Solaguayre California, was able to make best use of both a functioning timepiece and the intel her rider had gleaned earlier in the day, and as a result, the Argentinian Sport Horse delivered a superb run inside the time that utterly belied her inexperience. This is just her seventh ever FEI cross-country run, and she stepped up to CCI4*-S just six weeks ago, but despite a lack of mileage and a myriad of potential distractions on course, she never stopped hunting for the next question.

“She was awesome — this is just her second Advanced, and she’s unreal,” says Tamie, who debuted the mare at FEI level just last year. “It’s fast going today, unlike any Boekelo I’ve ever seen in the history of Boekelo, so I was hoping [to be inside the time] and I was going for that. She so wants to jump between the flags, even though she’s a green horse. She’s just amazing. She’s so quick, and so fast with her feet, and she’s just a phenomenal horse.”

The pair were awarded 20 penalties when Tamie opted to go long at the C element of the coffin combination, a route that requires horses to skim past the direct route to manage the tight left-handed turn, but pending a review of the penalties, Solaguayre California is set to move into overnight fourth place on the same score as Great Britain’s Nicola Wilson and Coolparks Sarco, who delivered a faster time that will ultimately relegate them to fifth if the appeal is successful, as cross-country tie-breaks are decided by proximity to the optimum time.

Nicola Wilson’s Blenheim CCI4*-S winner Coolparks Sarco produces the goods yet again. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Just 0.8 behind them is France’s Sidney Dufresne, whose fourteen-year-old stallion Tresor Mail brings the most considerable experience of any horse in this year’s field, having jumped clear around the 2018 World Equestrian Games.

Sydney Elliott and QC Diamantaire make it happen. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Third out for the US team was Sydney Elliott, who’s having the kind of season most of us daydream about with her eleven-year-old Oldenburg QC Diamantaire: after making their five-star debut as a partnership for a top twenty finish at Kentucky this spring, Sydney embarked on her first-ever trip to compete abroad, trailblazing for the US at CHIO Aachen last month. Their admirable performance there was also an educational one; the atmosphere in the main arena resulted in some expensive tension, earning them a 39.4, and they clocked up 10.8 time penalties across the country en route to bringing essential intel back to their teammates. All of that has served to help them peak when it counts, and their flowing, expressive test here put them on a competitive mark of 26.7, putting them into equal eleventh place before today’s exertions. And what exertions they were: the pair made light work of the tough track, attacking each distance and coming home ten seconds inside the time to move up to sixth place going into the final phase.

“It was an amazing day from the start,” says a delighted Sydney. “The crowds actually backed him off a little bit, and so all I had to do was drop the reins and keep kicking — it was awesome!”

That meant that despite the influence of the track and the pressure of riding for the team, Sydney’s Boekelo round with the oversized gelding was actually one of the easiest she’s had, helped along in part, once again, by that pivotal Aachen outing.

“He was brilliant; I’m so thrilled,” she says. “For him, I always knew that at the first water, he’s not going to jump in well — just like at Aachen. He basically tip-toed in at a trot, and so I knew that would be a little funny, and I did six there instead of the five [it walked]. Everything else went exactly as I walked it. It was a good day — he came through the finish sound and happy, and that’s what we want!”

Germany’s Alina Dibowski, the 20-year-old daughter of two-time Boekelo winner and German team stalwart Andreas, sits seventh after climbing twelve places with her Young Rider mount Barbados 26, with whom she went clear inside the time, while Sweden makes an appearance in the top ten in Lina Forsberg, who lies eighth with Kaizen, climbing from 23rd after coming home with four seconds to spare. Great British climbers round out the top ten: Tom Rowland and Quintilius, who ride as individuals, added 2 time penalties to jump from 17th to ninth, while team anchors Izzy Taylor and Hartacker were clear in the time to move from 26th to tenth. They made the most of the open door left by two departing members of the top ten: the Netherlands’ Willemina van der Goes-Petter and Ekino were eighth after dressage but saw their weekend end early after a rider fall at fence 13, while fellow Dutch rider and reigning national champions Merel Blom and Ceda NOP had a horse fall at the final element of the main water complex at 20.

Hallie Coon and Global Ex make a major move up the leaderboard. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

US individuals Hallie Coon and Global Ex made a spectacular leap up the rankings after delivering a fierce clear with two seconds to spare, which bumped them up by 20 places and sees them sit 13th going into tomorrow’s final horse inspection and showjumping. This is a relatively new ride for Hallie, who took the reins from Katherine Coleman at the tail end of 2020 and stepped the twelve-year-old mare up to four-star this spring — but in every outing so far, she tells EN she’s got the feeling that the diminutive grey is the real deal.

“She was unreal,” says Hallie. “She just kept galloping; I never had to put my leg on, and I never had to say ‘come on’. I had to say ‘come here’ a couple of times, but I could take my time and use those extra seconds, because she lands and she goes. It’s a good feeling to have that little bit of breathing room and be able to ride things properly, instead of just having to go balls to the wall, and that really helped today. But obviously, I haven’t had her very long, and I think I learned a lot about her — and it was all good.”

Through building their partnership and incrementally stepping the mare up to greater challenges, she’s also been able to develop her physical strength and shape — and now, people who might have previously written ‘Dolly’ off are seeing her huge potential, too.

“Every event she just shows me a little bit more and a little bit more,” she says. “It’s so funny — the vet who did her pre-purchase exam in England wrote in the notes, ‘nice horse — not sure it’s a top one.’ And she came up to me in the box after cross-country today and said, ‘oh boy, was I wrong!’ The mare just looks completely different; she’s come on so much and her musculature is so different. She was just beaming about her, and it was really good to see that.”

Dolly might be small and unprepossessing, but it’s her extraordinary focus that helps her produce round after round of solid cross-country — even with all the usual distractions of Boekelo, and a few extras besides.

“I don’t think she ever takes her eye off what’s between the flags,” says Hallie. “There was actually a dog under her legs — I was coming up to one of the wagons and literally a stride before, I was right on the ropes and someone lets their dog jump out in front of me. She never stopped looking at the fence, and if they hadn’t pulled the dog away, she’d have gone straight over it — it was inches away. She just never reacts; never takes her eye off the ball.”

Jennie Brannigan and FE Lifestyle anchor the US team in fine style. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

As the US team anchor, Jennie Brannigan knew she had one job with FE Lifestyle, and it was a big one: jump clear and do it fast, particularly after an earlier fall for Matt Flynn meant that all three of the other team rounds would have to count. But Jennie has always had faith to burn in the capable, quick gelding, and she knew that many of his qualities as a cross-country horse are similar to those of Sydney’s QC Diamantaire, which mean that she was able to firm up her course plan based off the intel her teammate brought back.

“I felt good about the course, but I waited for Sydney’s input because I know her horse has a very big step and mine has a huge step,” she explains. “She did the four in the final water, and so I did the four in the final water, and she told me she did six in the first water, so I took that advice to heart. Other than that, it was just getting it done.”

For Jennie, the full focus this week has been on logging a strong result as a team, though today’s result puts her well in the hunt, too.

“I didn’t come here to do well individually — I came here to do well as a team, but obviously it’s great if you can finish well individually as well,” says Jennie, who climbed from 32nd to 14th place after stopping the clock just one second over the optimum time. “I think we all wanted to do a good job for our country, and the team obviously did that at Aachen, so that’s what we wanted to do here. He’s a green horse, so I’m happy with him.”

The team spirit of the USA this week has been palpable, with every groom, rider, and connection rallying to help take care of horses after each phase, offer advice and insight, and provide motivation — a rallying force that has helped produce some seriously exciting results so far this week.

“For me, just being calm is all I need to do well cross-country,” she says. “We had southern rap going in the tack room, and I love that, and as a team, we’ve had some ups and downs — but we’re going all the way up. We’re bringing it all together, and we want to do a good job: Erik [Duvander] has believed in us, and put in a lot of time with us, and we obviously want to do a good job for our country but Erik’s done a great job and we want to hopefully show that. We’d be lost without him, for sure.”

Tim Lips gives Lady Chin van’t Moerven Z a super education. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Though an excellent test and a score of 24.5 put Tim Lips into second place going into cross-country, his ride this week is a catch-ride and his intention today was to provide Lady Chin van’t Moerven Z with experience for her usual rider, China’s Huadong Sun, before next season. That meant that even before cross-country began, he was realistic about the result he’d produce: while a classy clear was well within their wheelhouse, she’s not the fastest horse, and trying for any heroics on a horse he’d never competed before wouldn’t ultimately serve to build her confidence for her 2022 WEG campaign. And so, despite what must have been enormous pressure to chase the lead and become the first-ever Dutch winner of Boekelo in its anniversary year, Tim stuck to his guns and gave the eleven-year-old mare a superb education on course. They added 14.8 time penalties to slip down to 21st place, but Tim is still top of the leaderboard for the Dutch National Championship, and will go into tomorrow’s competition with a rail in hand over reigning champion Merel Blom, this time fighting for a win with Crossborder Radar Love NOP after a fall with her titleholder Ceda NOP.

“The horse has some experience — she went to Tokyo, but before that, she only ran to get the qualifications with Sun,” says Tim. “I think they did a great achievement, but we were looking back at the last few years and thinking about aiming for the World Championships next year, and we think the World Championships will be more strong [than Tokyo]. So Sun thought that this would be a great experience the horse, and that’s the reason I was competing her here. I wasn’t as fast as others, but I let the horse run and I took the time where I thought I should take time, and at the end the horse felt really fresh, so that’s a really good feeling for the next competitions with Sun.”

The team line-up looks much the same as it did after the first phase: Great Britain remains in the top spot, though they don’t have a rail in hand over Team USA, who are down to three riders after an unfortunate tumble for Matt Flynn and Wizzerd in the tough water complex. Behind them, Germany remains in third place, though by a significant margin after a fall for Heike Jahncke and a run-out for Ingrid Klimke and EQUISTROS Siena Just Do It. The team sit 38.3 penalties behind the US, which translates to nine rails in hand.

A tough day for the Swedish team means they’ll need to bring their A game tomorrow to win this year’s Nations Cup series: they’ve been so consistent this year that they only need to finish in the top eight of nine teams, but they come here with just three riders and one of them, Sandra Gustafsson, failed to complete today, putting them on an aggregate score of 1083. Italy, also down to two riders, is three rails behind them on 1098.9, and so the pressure is on for our Scandinavian pals.

Tomorrow’s finale begins with the final horse inspection, starting at 9.30 a.m. local time/8.30 a.m. British time/3.30 a.m. Eastern time, and will be followed by showjumping from 12.30 p.m. local/11.30 a.m. UK/6.30 a.m. Eastern. We’ll be coming to you bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (ish) from the trot-up and beyond, so tune in to EN to find out exactly how the exciting final day plays out here at Boekelo. Until then: Go Eventing!

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