Yasmin Ingham and Banzai du Loir Win Luhmühlen’s Olympic Selection Trial CCI4*-S

One of the curiosities of the Longines Luhmühlen Horse Trials is its scheduling: on Saturday and Sunday, the CCI5* class jumps first, and then, after all the excitement and whirlwind of emotions of that, it’s time to regroup and pick right back up again for the Meßmer Trophy CCI4*-S class.

It might seem like it would make more sense for the two classes to go in the opposite order, thus making the higher-level class the focal point of the day, but in many ways, this CCI4*-S is considered the more important class. It’s packed with far more German riders, for one thing, because it also incorporates the German National Championships (or the Deutsche Meisterschaft – not, as my non-horsey-but-kind-of-now-horsey partner calls it, the Master Shaft), but it’s also a key competition because of the continental focus on championship pathways, which are much more targeted by this top-of-its-level test.

This week, that’s particularly true: this isn’t quite the final Olympic selection trial, which is technically, by deadline, anyway, Strzegom in Poland next week, but it’s certainly the most significant eleventh-hour selection trial. This week, we’ve seen riders and horses from a number of nations – Germany, Great Britain, Sweden, and Belgium among them – vie for a chance at securing one of the coveted spots on their respective teams, and in the process, they’ve had to tackle seriously tough dressage judging, a technical, academic cross-country course with a tight time, and, today, a showjumping course that was sufficiently difficult to separate the good from the great.

In many ways, the course felt quite jumper-y, with options for difficult inside lines that would help riders in their pursuit of the time allowed, but would also require considered, balanced riding to avoid rails down.

And, in many ways, it also felt like déjà vu. After yesterday’s cross-country, Germany’s Michael Jung and fischerChipmunk FRH held the lead on a score of 26.1, having added 3.2 time penalties when adding strides in two different combinations on the course. Second was Laura Collett on London 52, on a two-phase score of 26.4, with just 1.2 time penalties to their name. Third were the reigning World Champions, Britain’s Yasmin Ingham and Banzai du Loir, who were putting in one of the most important bids for selection this week if, as is commonly assumed, the only two ‘sure thing’ combinations for the British team are Laura and London and Ros Canter and Lordships Graffalo.

That’s not the déjà vu bit, though. That came a bit later on, after the shock withdrawal of Laura and London 52, who didn’t come forward to the horse inspection due to a small cut on the gelding’s coronet band. Then, it was Michi first and Yas second going into showjumping – the same positions they held, and on the same horses, as at the World Championships in Pratoni two years ago.

Just as they had then, Yas and Banzai cantered confidently into the ring, game faces firmly in situ, and delivered a round under pressure that never looked remotely at risk of tipping a rail.

And, just as they had then, firm favourites Michi and Chipmunk came in, also looking top class, and tipped a rail – though not the last one, as they had in Italy, but very nearly. They tipped the third part of the treble combination at 10C, two fences from home, and handed the victory, once again, to Yas and Banzai.

Yasmin Ingham and Banzai du Loir win the final key selection trial for the Paris Olympics at Luhmühlen. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“It was a very important weekend for me, and there was a lot of pressure involved,” says a visibly relieved Yas, who began her week with Banzai in seventh place on a surprising score of 28.1 with the gelding.

She’s been working extraordinarily hard to earn a place on the Paris team, which is what the French-bred Banzai was originally bought for by owners Jeanette Chinn and the late Sue Davies. After a couple of tricky runs and mistakes last season, they got on the plane to Kentucky this spring to prove their mettle, finishing third there. And it’s not like last season was all bad news for the pair: they became the first British winners of the prestigious CHIO Aachen in July and they were second at Blenheim CCI4*-L at the tail end of last year, too.

But the spot they want so much is also being hotly contested by Tom McEwen and JL Dublin, who have followed a not dissimilar trajectory: like Yas and Banzai, they had a rough time at last year’s European Championships. At Kentucky last spring, they were second while Yas had an early run-out en route to completion, and at Aachen, where Yas won, they had their own run-out. Also fighting for that spot is Kitty King, who won Bicton’s CCI4*-S in fine style last week with Vendredi Biats and who has been extraordinarily consistent in team duties, most recently winning individual silver and team gold at last year’s Europeans.

“Of course, all of us have the goal of being selected for the Olympic Games for our country,” says Yas. “[This week], I just wanted to make sure that I was doing everything I possibly could to put myself in the best place, and Banzai in the best place, for, hopefully, that.”

Yasmin Ingham and Banzai du Loir. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Doing so involved chasing down marginal gains with an eye on a Paris peak, including the addition of a small spur to her dressage arsenal for the first time ever this week, which worked in some ways – the gelding was bright and responsive to her leg in the ring – and needed some refining in other areas, such as the walk work, where he kicked out at the unfamiliar extra variable. But complacency is the enemy of progress, and Yas was delighted to find that the small changes she’s been making are taking things steadily in the direction she’d like to go.

“I feel like this weekend, he’s excelled in all phases,” she says. “The cross country, he was absolutely fantastic on all his lines, looking for the flags, and fast. Then today in the showjumping, he was pretty perfect. I felt like he was giving them lots of air and felt at his match best, I would say.  Overall, he’s been brilliant all weekend, so I’m very proud of him.”

News of the British selection will come in a few days’ time to the riders concerned, and a week later for us mere mortals, but whether Yas’s more immediate plans involve a trip to Versailles or another big goal event, Yas – who also finished third this morning in the CCI5* with Rehy DJ – never loses sight of how special a partnership she’s created with her horse of a lifetime.

“I think he’s just such an athlete,” she says. “He has ability in every phase. He’s very elegant and holds a lot of presence for the dressage, and in the cross country, he’s brave and fast, and in the showjumping he’s very agile. He just holds the ability to basically come out on top, or nearly, in each phase, and that’s what makes him such a great event horse. I feel lucky that I’m able to ride such an athlete.”

Tom McEwen and JL Dublin. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

If you think that the outcome of the class takes away any of the British selectors’ headaches about who to choose for Paris, you can think again: Yas’s hot competition Tom McEwen finished second today with JL Dublin, who also jumped a totally faultless clear round and finished just 0.3 penalties behind the winners. And yesterday? They finished on exactly the same time, too.

“First of all, a massive well done to Yas – it’s a fantastic result ,” says Tom, who, like Yas, took a podium finish this morning in the CCI5*, so the selectors can’t even use that display of poise under pressure as a tipping point between the two riders.

“Like she said, us Brits, as well as probably many other nations, are under pressure,” he continues. “We’re under a lot of scrutiny for our Olympic spots, and we’re just all trying to do as well as we can. But for Dubs this weekend, he’s been fantastic. He jumped brilliantly cross country; really smooth. Today’s showjumping was beautiful.”

Like Yas and Banzai, Tom and Dubs scored a surprisingly high 28.4 in the first phase – and also like Yas, Tom can see room for improvements that’ll help the gelding peak at what he hopes will be just the right time this summer.

 “To be honest, we can go a lot better on the flat. So there’s a lot to look forward to, and whether we’re picked or not, it’s a nice step in the right direction,” he says. “I’m delighted with him – Dubs has been an absolute dude all week.”

Michael Jung and fischerChipmunk FRH. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Michael Jung and fischerChipmunk had to settle for third place in the overall competition due to their rail, but were crowned the German National Champions/Deutsche Meisterschafts/Master Shafts/Masterchefs in front of an ebullient home nation fanbase.

“fischerChipmunk also sadly had one down in the end, but he gives me a very good feeling in the warm up and also in the course. Every jump was a very good – just a bit unlucky in the last combination,” he says.

Michael Jung and fischerChipmunk FRH. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Michi also finished fourth with Kilcandra Ocean Power in the gelding’s Luhmühlen debut after jumping a clear round inside the time.

Shortly after the end of the showjumping, the German shortlist for the Olympics was announced, and segmented into preference blocks: Michi and Chipmunk, unsurprisingly, are one of the three combinations named in block one, while Kilcandra Ocean Power is named in block three.

The other two riders name in block one are Luhmühlen absentee Christoph Wahler, with his 2022 World Championships ride Carjatan S, and Sandra Auffarth and her own World Championships and Tokyo Olympics ride, Viamant du Matz.

Sandra, for her part, had a spotless round today,  adding nothing to her two-phase score to take fifth place with ‘Mat’.

“My horse did a good job in all three disciplines – he is much better in the dressage this whole year already, and I’m very happy that he could show it again in Luhmühlen,” she says.  “He gave me a super and safe feeling in the cross country and show jumping, so I’m very, very happy.”

Calvin Böckmann and Altair de la Cense. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

23-year-old Calvin Böckmann, who rides as part of the Warendorf programme for rising eventing talent in Germany, finished sixth in this class, third in the German National Championship, and first in the under-25 championship with14-year-old Altair de la Cense, with whom he climbed from 27th place after dressage.

They’d started the week on a score of 32.7, which Calvin was disappointed by, but his frustration quickly dissolved after an excellent cross-country round added just 1.2 time penalties to their score sheet. Today, the sharp, often spooky mare jumped a faultless clear, despite having to enter the arena to the riotous cheers and music that celebrated the clear round of the horse and rider before them.

For Calvin, the result was particularly special because many people around him had begun to doubt the mare’s ability after a horse fall at Aachen last year dented her confidence, and she had a subsequent couple of runs at CCI2*-S, picking up 20 penalties across the country in each of them. But Calvin, and his mother and owner Simone, wanted to keep trying to rebuild her confidence and bring her back to the horse she was – a horse who has had 29 top-ten FEI finishes in 39 starts.

Calvin Böckmann and Altair de la Cense. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“I’ve had her for seven years now, and she’s been the horse who I did Junior and Young Rider Europeans with,” he says. “But the second half of last year, we had some misunderstandings at some courses, so we just really took her time to build her up over  two- and three-stars at the beginning of the year.”

They began to hit their stride again at Luhmühlen’s spring international in March, where they finished seventh in the CCI2*-S, and then they won CCI3*-S classes at Strzegom and Münster before stepping back up to CCI4*-S at Wiesbaden and taking eighth.

“This was just a second 4* [for her since her return to form], so there was absolutely no pressure on her,” he says. “I was just thinking, ‘Okay, we’re going to see, just step by step how she’s going to feel’.  We didn’t have the best dressage, but as I’ve known her for so long, I knew that when there was a course where the time was quite short, we could  catch up some places. She was just amazing on Saturday, and then finishing clear today… to be honest, I didn’t really expect it.”

Benjamin Massie and Figaro Fonroy. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

France’s Benjamin Massie proved that he has an exceptional star for the future – his own, and the French team’s – in nine-year-old Figaro Fonroy, who climbed twelve places over the week and finished seventh off the back of a clear inside the time today.

Jérome Rôbiné celebrates his clear with Black Ice. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Another Warendorf young rider, Jérome Rôbiné, enjoyed a faultless round with his longtime partner Black Ice to finish eighth, and was quickly given more reason to celebrate: he and the gelding have been named to block two of the German Olympic list.

Julia Krajewski and Nickel. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Warendorf coach and reigning Olympic champion Julia Krajewski took ninth place with young Nickel 21, who was third here last year, after tipping the first part of the double and dropping five places. The pair have also been named to the Olympic list  – they sit in block three, which also includes Calvin and his Kentucky ride, The Phantom of the Opera.

Tim Price and Falco. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Tim Price rounded out the top ten after a characteristic clear with Falco saw him complete a three-phase rise from 26th place. Nobody managed to finish on their dressage score this week, which is a testament to how tough this class is – and now, with so many horses and riders having done their jobs in fine style, it’s time for us all to let the respective selectors go off, have a think, have a cry, sit in a dark room for a while, and make some seriously tough decisions. We’ll keep you posted on all of them the second we know them – until then, Go Eventing, and join us again soon for plenty more from this incredible week of sport in Germany.

The final top ten in the Meßmer Trophy CCI4*-S.

EN’s coverage of the Longines Luhmühlen Horse Trials is brought to you by Kentucky Performance Products, your go-to source for science-backed nutritional support across all types of horses, disciplines, and needs. Click here to learn more about what KPP can do for your horse — thank you for supporting our wonderful sponsors!

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