The leading nations got off to a solid start on a damp and blustery cross country day at the Longines FEI European Eventing Championship 2015 at Blair Castle – but, as predicted, Ian Stark’s course caused its fair share of trouble.
Germany’s pathfinder, Dirk Schrade, finished clear with 5.2 time penalties on the experienced Hop and Skip, while Britain’s number one, Kitty King, who was lying sixth individually after dressage, was also clear but slightly slower, finishing 21sec over the 10min13sec optimum time to clock up 8.4 time penalties.
“It’s a nice challenging course, big, bold and old-fashioned and I think the ground will hold out Ok despite the rain,” said Dirk after his round. “I played it a little safe near the end as he lost a shoe and was slipping, so I probably added a few more seconds, but my priority was to go clear for the team.”
Kitty set out meaning business. They took the long route at the third water, the First of Forth Crossing (fence 18ab), and Kitty had to sit tight through the rail-ditch-rail combination (fence 23 and 24ab) when Persimmon ballooned the second two elements.
“I’m so relieved because I was feeling the pressure this morning,” said Kitty, who revealed that the team physio has been acting as her “psychiatrist” and “listening to all my worries.”
Persimmon was quite strong, but ultra-genuine. “He is a real fighter and I had to work to bring him back to me as he was feisty, but he was always looking for the flags and was as straight as a die. It was a good fun track to ride and it’s great to feel that I haven’t let anyone down.”
British individual Gemma Tattersall showed the optimum time was achievable with an outstanding ride on Arctic Soul and was the first to beat the clock. Gemma is now seventh, two places ahead of Laura Collett on Grand Manoeuvre.
“I’m absolutely chuffed to bits, an awesome ride, what a horse! So fast and he came back to me when I asked him to, he was so straight over the skinnies, so careful, like a cat through all the tricky combinations, just amazing. With the home crowd cheering – even if it was in the pouring rain and mud – it was still really special. I was even kind of pleased that it was raining for him. Give him tough conditions and he’s even better, an absolute machine. Ian’s been incredibly clever and sited them in tricky places and us riders, we’ve had to use our brains out there today”, said Gemma.
An early run-out at fence four for Sarah Bullimore and Lilly Corinne (owned by Sarah and Brett Bullimore) was disappointing for the talented combination, but they continued to attack the course and added only a couple of time faults to finish on a score of 68.6 penalties.
“It was a stupid stop to have at something that was really a schooling exercise” she said when she got back, “After I’d turned her there she realised she’d made a mistake and she doesn’t like to make a mistake, so she was a bit looky for the next few fences, then she got going and gave me a fantastic ride.”
Holly Woodhead with DHI Lupison, owned by Ian and Heidi Woodhead, headed into today’s cross-country sitting in second place on the leaderboard. Like Sarah, they were unlucky to have a run-out at fence four, but produced a great debut ride on only their second CCI3* track to finish with eighteen time faults for a score of 69.7 penalties.
Speaking after her round she said, “He gave me an amazing ride; after Aachen and now the Europeans I’ve learnt a lot. I held him a bit too much coming to the first part and turned a bit too tight, I should have given him a bit more time to see the second bit”.
Following Holly was Laura Collett who produced a fantastic ride from Mrs Diana Chappell’s big jumping Grand Manoeuvre, over the tough terrain to finish clear with just 10.8 time penalties to add for a final score of 48.6 penalties.
“That was such a buzz! Early on at the houses [fence 4 A,B,C] I didn’t end up going on the line that I’d planned because I couldn’t get the turn in – but that is where the horse is amazing, if I can get him anywhere near the jump he’ll jump the jump. I had to go to plan B there but everywhere else he was fantastic. Through the water at the end he just fiddled his way through and it was sort of over in a flash, I’m just really pleased with him. He was brilliant – I’m chuffed with him,” commented Laura.
The Irish suffered the misfortune of losing their pathfinder, Joseph Murphy, after he fell from Sportsfield Othello at fence 21ab, the Haggis, Neeps and Tatties, having done his best to cling on. The Haggis element was later removed as conditions worsened. The first of the Swiss team, Jasmin Gambirasio and That’s It, were eliminated for a fall at first element of the ditch complex at fence 23, while Sweden’s pathfinder, Johan Lundin (Johnny Cash) fell in the First of Forth Crossing (fence 19ab).
The Dutch and French teams made solid starts with clear rounds for both their first team riders. First of the day out on course, Theo Van De Vendel (Zidane), proved a brilliant pathfinder, incurring just 12.4 time penalties.
Germany remained out in front thanks to an outstanding performance from defending champion Michael Jung on the eight-year-old fischerTakinou, the youngest horse in the field. Riding with only the lightest of contacts, the young chestnut never faltered, maintaining a fluent gallop to finish inside the optimum time, the second rider to do so after British individual Gemma Tattersall.
“He is a fast horse with a lot of thoroughbred blood. I set out quite slowly and helped him a bit, but then towards the end I said to him, ‘go faster’ and he did, which was a wonderful feeling,” said Michael. “My horse was fighting for me and he was running like a steeplechaser even at the end. When the vet checked him afterwards he said he was perfect,” grinned an elated Michael, who is thoroughly enjoying his fortnight on British soil, having won at Burghley last week.
Nicola Wilson, who has produced so many great rounds for the British team, was having a brilliant, bold round on the long-striding One Two Many when the horse ran out at the second of two corners sited in the arena, at fence 16.
“I’m absolutely gutted,” said Nicola, “he gave me a super ride all the way round; he jumped the first corner really nicely and turned onto the line and was bang on, I don’t know if he just didn’t see it properly because to duck out like that it’s just not like him. The terrain obviously does take its toll, but he’s [Ian Stark] been extremely clever in the way he’s positioned the fences, and given the horses time to recover.”
The stylish Izzy Taylor, competing as an individual for Britain, was one of only three riders to achieve the optimum time of 10 minutes 13 seconds and is now in individual bronze position overnight on KBIS Briarlands Matilda.
“She’s a very good cross country horse and she was superb the whole way round,” said Izzy. “I was a little bit down on my minute markers and I didn’t want a few sloppy time penalties, so I pressed for home at the end and she responded. I had hoped for a good result and I set out positively, but this result has exceeded my expectations,” said Izzy.
After yesterday’s stunning dressage test aboard Easy Target, owned by Mrs Catherine Witt, Francis Whittington and Smokey, as he is affectionately known, were unfortunate to have a refusal at fence twenty-one, after which Francis made the decision to retire from the competition.
Francis explained; “He was trying so hard, as we got to the top of the hill and I came to the fence it was really upright, and as I came to it I just felt him come back and drop back off the leg completely so I just pulled on the reins and stopped him and just thought I’m not even going to jump it. He’s absolutely fine, there’s nothing wrong with him, he just got tired and leg weary galloping in this going. This going isn’t his ideal going and it wasn’t worth the risk, simple as that, heartbreaking.”
The Belgian team, who only started out with three riders, were eliminated after their first rider, Giel Vanhouche, was unseated at 21 and the Irish team was eliminated after their second rider also fell. Padraig McCarthy, parted company with Simon Porloe at the corner fence at 16.France’s second rider, Karim Laghouag also ran out and then later had a fall when his horse, Entebbe de Hus, caught a leg at the Neeps and Tatties fence at 21.
The Netherlands also lost their second rider, Alice Naber-Lozeman, with a fall at fence 20, the Aintree chase fence, and the second Italian, Giovanni Ugolotti, was unshipped when Oplitas caught a leg at the fourth fence.
However, individual rider Sam Watson went well on Horsewell Lukeswell, a horse he hopes to take to the Rio Olympics next year. “I couldn’t decide whether to go for individual glory or think about the bigger picture next year and in the end I opted for the long route at the third water as I didn’t get the best jump in,” he said, after clocking 15.2 time penalties.
“I love days like this [the weather] when the good riders come to the fore. You have to deal with what comes out of the heavens,” he said philosophically.
Overnight leader Sandra Auffarth’s round on Opgun Louvo, which was interrupted when she was held before fence 5, looked characteristically smooth and economical, but she did in fact clock up 11.2 time penalties to drop below team-mate Michael Jung on a score of 42.6. “The ground was slippy but my horse was fantastic and really fresh at the time,” said an elated world champion. “He always keeps going and has trust in me.”
Pippa Funnell gave Sandman 7 a superb ride in what was only the horse’s third three-day event at this level finishing clear with 9.6 time penalties. The former dual European champion was characteristically emotional afterwards. “I was very conscious of not over-facing this lovely young horse but I knew I couldn’t go quietly because of the team. The horse was really classy and I’d love to think we could go to Rio 2016 Olympic Games .”
Pippa and her mother, Jenny Nolan, gave a share in Sandman 7 to her long-time trainer Ruth McMullen for her 80th birthday. “As much as anything, I did this for Ruth because she’s responsible for my entire career. I’ll probably burst into tears when I talk to her. I don’t think I’ve ever been so nervous at a Championship but I’m going to really enjoy today.”
With the roar of the crowd spurring them on, Wills Oakden and Greystone Midnight Melody, owned by Mr David Kenwright and Sylvia Douglas, produced a well-judged clear round with the talented Molly to finish on 72.8 penalties after incurring 26.4 time faults.
Commenting afterwards Wills said; “I’m just so thrilled for the owners I really am, having bred her, I’m just so thrilled for them, to have the horse here at a Championship it’s a real big deal for them. And the crowd were incredible the whole way, especially in the main arena, but the whole way they were just brilliant it gave me a really good boost, it’s made my first Championship experience extra special – it’s unreal.
“It’s not her ground at all so I just had to go at her speed and use my head, but I’m so pleased with her she answered every question, kept going, dug deep and I’m thrilled with her.”
Oliver Townend looked to be enjoying a cracking round on Fenya’s Elegance until the big, strong chestnut mare took control in the middle of the third water complex and ran past the brush corner exit fence (19b).
“I rode her strongly, but didn’t quite have her [under control],” said a visibly disappointed Oliver, adding: “The course is riding very well. The weather isn’t really affecting the horses; it’s affecting riders’ heads.”
The Netherlands and France’s third team riders, Merel Blom and Thomas Carlile, both needed to complete to get a team result, and both achieved good, if slow, clears. “I really needed to finish if we were going to qualify for the Olympics,” explained France’s Thomas Carlile. “It was not for me to think about an individual result but about the team.”
Final rider for the British camp and the last team member, William Fox-Pitt came flying out onto the course with Mrs Catherine Witt’s Bay My Hero. Clear round the first half of the course, Bay My Hero then had two uncharacteristic run-outs at fence seventeen, a skinny arrowhead, prompting William to retire on course.
A dejected William spoke afterwards saying, “Very disappointed, I came here with Bay My Hero on terrific form; he’s been feeling fabulous this year and running well. Very disappointing when things don’t go to plan, he’s ok and he’ll be there to fight another day but he just didn’t enjoy it today. He did his best but I think he just lost the will, it’s so unlike him, he’s never had a run out in his life. He’s the most genuine horse I’ve ever ridden, he’s a superstar.
“The team has gone really well today, the girls have gone brilliantly, Kitty showed us how to do it, Pippa went superbly with a young horse and Izzy Taylor cruised round. The conditions have changed during the day and some horses are just well suited and others not.”
Trouble was spread all around the course, which pleased course-designer Ian Stark. Speaking at the press conference after the day’s action was complete, course designer Ian Stark said,
“I had worried that riders might opt for the easier route at the Lochan fence [the influential third water at 19ab], but as it turned out a lot went straight and rode it well,” he said, adding: “I thought the Germans, in particular, were brilliant through here; they rode with great skill and balance, which I was thrilled to see.”
So once again, the Germans proved why they lead the world in eventing and at the end of a gruelling cross country day, they stretched their lead to give them a remarkable nine showjumping fences in hand, with Michael Jung staying on his dressage score of 33.5, over the second-placed British team.
Finally, we must thank our photographer, MDR Photo, for braving the Scottish elements all day and for capturing this epic shot of Mikhail Nastenko’s terrifying fall.
All photos © MDR Photo
Individual Results after Cross Country
1 Michael Jung/fischerTakinou (GER)* 33.5 + 0 = 33.5
2 Sandra Auffarth/Opgun Louvo (GER)* 31.4 + 11.2 = 42.6
3 Izzy Taylor/KBIS Briarlands Matilda (GBR) 44.0 + 0 = 44.0
4 Thibaut Vallette/Qing du Briot ENE HN (FRA)* 36.8 + 8.4 = 45.2
5 Kitty King/Persimmon (GBR)* 36.9 + 8.4 = 45.3
6 Ingrid Klimke/Horseware Hale Bob (GER)* 37.8 + 8.8 = 46.6
7 Gemma Tattersall/Arctic Soul (GBR) 47.3 + 0 = 47.3
8 Dirk Schrade/Hop And Skip (GER)* 43.1 + 5.2 = 48.3
9 Laura Collett/Grand Manoeuvre (GBR) 37.8 + 10.8 = 48.6
10 Pippa Funnell/Sandman 7 (GBR)* 41.0 + 9.6 = 50.6
*denotes team rider
Team Results after Cross Country
1 Germany 122.7; 2 Great Britain 169.3; 3 France 179.7; 4 Netherlands 209.3; 5 Sweden 247.8; 6 Spain 253.8
Click here for the tomorrow’s Starting Order for the 2nd Horse Inspection