NEWs

Britain in the ascendency after dressage at the FEI Eventing European Championships

 

With the dressage phase complete at the FEI Eventing European Championship in Haras du Pin in Normandy, France, Britain’s team quartet and two individuals occupy six of the top ten places in the leaderboard, with Ros Canter the highest placed in second. The British team dominates the rankings over Germany and Belgium by over nine penalty points ahead of tomorrow’s crucial cross-country phase.

The morning session on day two of dressage began under overcast skies, but the first of Britain’s individual riders, Olympic individual silver medallist Tom McEwen, certainly brightened the mood. Riding reigning European Champion JL Dublin for owners James and Jo Lambert and Deirdre Johnston, it was clear that Tom meant business from the moment he entered the arena.

With a pristine entry and first halt awarded two eights and a seven point five from the ground jury of Judy Hancock (GBR) at C, Katrin Eichinger-Kniely (AUT) at E and Seppo Laine (FIN) at M, they were off to a good start. The following trot work tour was active and fluid, with just a slight loss of quality in the halt into rein-back bringing the marks back. However, the chipper duo was quickly back into their stride and back to scoring eights. The extended walk showed good ground cover and relaxation, with the Holstein gelding really lengthening his frame. The canter work was exemplary, showing great bend in the half passes and effortless flying changes. The final extended trot to end the round was breathtaking – a real party piece for the combination – and the judges agreed. The final centreline was a four-square halt, bang on the marker for two more nines, with a total of five throughout the whole test.

The final percentages were 78.33% at E, 76.19% at M and a whopping 79.52% from the president at C, which delivered a 22.0 – a personal best at this level for the pairing – and into the overall lead.

Tom, who even let slip a smile or two during the test, commented; “He’s just simply stunning on the flat. He shows a real story in there, he captures the eye, fills the eye, he swings through and to be honest, bar the tiniest few things, he was absolutely excellent.

“In the halt before the rein-back, I could hear the judges. I thought he was alright and then he moved and I thought ‘oops I can’t move it anymore’. But I’m delighted, I thought the changes were a serious highlight and, as per usual, that extended trot. We could do five more of those!” he enthused.

The media asked for Tom’s thoughts on tomorrow’s cross-country course; “Whether we’re due rain or not, I think it’s [the going] soft, a lot of it will be made timewise in the first few minutes – it’s tough. I think they’ve built a beautiful track – not what I was expecting, but a stunning track. If I wasn’t riding, I’d be quite happy to go and walk round the whole course. You have to be on it the whole way around, a corner into water doesn’t happen too often!”

During the extended lunchbreak, the weather deteriorated, and the grey fluffy clouds gave way to drizzle and eventually rain, which bought a raising of umbrellas around the arena just as the third British team member, Laura Collett, cantered in. Her partner was the three-time CCI5* winner London 52, owned by Keith Scott, Karen Bartlett and Laura. ‘Dan’ is a horse who oozes presence, but he was clearly a bit unnerved by the weather and resulting umbrellas.

Once the duo had entered the white boards, his mind was on the job and the good marks began to flow. The trot work was largely praised with eights and the rein-back was regular to keep the marks flowing. A beautiful, soft outline and some superb activity continued, and Laura really let the gelding open up in the extended canter, which is a real feature for the athletic bay, for eights across the board.

A final flourish with the extended trot and centre line produced a nine and the first  10 of the day from the Finnish judge at M for the halt. Two eight point fives and a nine for the double marked ‘overall impression’ packed a punch to give a final percentage range of 75.24% from E, 79.52% from C and 78.10% from M for an average of 77.62%, which translates to 22.4 – just 0.4 off the leaders, compatriots Tom and ‘Dubs’ individually. Importantly, it was our best team score to date.

“He was a little bit fragile – he absolutely hates umbrellas, and it started raining as I went in, so he noticed where the umbrellas were and he felt like he was very aware of that,” explained Laura. “Normally, he’s 100% with me in the arena, so I had to try and coax him to listen to me and not think about where the umbrellas were. Obviously, it wasn’t the best test he’s ever done, but I’m glad it was good enough to be close enough. He doesn’t really have too much of a weakness other than when I lose his mind, so he felt fragile and maybe felt more fragile than it looked. His extended trots are always his party piece, though.”

Laura was asked for her thoughts on Pierre Le GoupilIt’s cross-country course; “It’s a proper track, it’s more like a five-star than a four-star championship track!” she exclaimed. “Dimensionally, it’s very big and square. Every fence is a big jumping effort, there’s no real let-up for the horse’s energy-wise and, obviously, the ground is going to play a massive part. It’s probably not what we were all expecting, we were expecting lots of skinnies and twisting and arrowheads and angles. So, hopefully, our horses are used to these types of tracks and go out and do a good job. The ground is seriously soft – it’s dried all week and we were hoping it would continue to dry and we might have been okay, but this is going to be a serious question. I think from start to finish you have to be on your A-game.”

It was then on to our second individual and, for this rider from Surrey, it was the realisation of years of hard work and dedication. What a 12 months it’s been for Tom Jackson– a two CCI5* top-five finishes, a wedding in November,  a first child on the way for him and wife Sabrina, and now he’s earned the right to wear the coveted red-collared Lotus Romeo tail coat today and number 197 on his hat silk tomorrow as he makes his senior championship debut. This is a huge moment of pride for Tom, his mentor Pippa Funnell, his owners Patricia Davenport, Milly Simmie and Sarah Webb, and of course their pride and joy, Capels Hollow Drift.

Dressage has never been ’Walshy’s’ strongest phase – he’s a natural jumper and Tom has really been working hard and utilising the support afforded to him by the National Lottery-funded World Class Performance Programme to improve his scores in this first phase. Today, it was time to see if that extra effort would pay off. It started brightly, with eight, eight point five and nine for the entry and halt. The following trot work was correct and showed good activity without being rushed – it was a picture of harmony, with the horse focused on the rider’s aids.

There was a slight miscommunication – perhaps down the aforementioned umbrellas – around the top corner of the arena and into the second flying change, which lost crucial marks, but the relaxation returned, as did the eights. The final halt brought a huge smile from Tom – delight in a job well done, combined with relief that he’d produced the goods when it mattered most.

The final average percentage was 74.28% from individual scores of 75.71%, 73.57% and 73.57%, which equated to a penalty mark of 25.7 – a new personal best, and into fourth at the time.

In his first championship mixed zone, Tom told the media; “Yeah, really good, I’m really happy to get that done and dusted and out the way. For him to be as good as he was is a testament to all the training that we’ve had building up to this from the World Class Programme. I found out today he’s not a massive fan of umbrellas, though – when we came out, he was a bit uptight, which is really unlike him, normally he’s super laid-back.

“Hopefully, Pippa will be happy – she’s always on about the little details and I hope I nailed most of the halts and everything. His good change was very good, and his bad ones are still a work in progress, but it was much better, sort of damage limitation on that, but I thought all his half-passes and his expression in his trot has really upped a gear in the last six months or a year,” he continued.

As a final word on his special grey partner, Tom said: “He’s very special, to do what he’s done, and he’s still a relatively young horse. Hopefully, he’s still got a lot of life left in him at this level, and hopefully we can keep building on each of these performances and get better and better.”

Tom is looking forward to tomorrow’s cross-country test. “I’m excited. I think it’s a really good course, it will suit him and his way of going. The ground is going to be a big factor, but it’s given me a bit of confidence knowing that he dealt with that quite well at Badminton earlier in the year,” he explained. “Generally, it’s all quite spread out along the track, but I think we’re just going to have to be careful of tired horses towards the end of the course. So, that always means that anything is a factor, especially if this rain keeps going.”

Of course, a senior debut couldn’t happen without reflection from Tom, “We’ve always been on a trajectory to get there, and it’s maybe taken us a bit longer than I necessarily wanted when I was an 18-year-old lad coming out of juniors. But it makes it even more special now that we’re here,” Tom said.

Tom and ‘Walshy’ were the last of the individual combinations and, after a short break, it was on to the final rotation of the team competitors. The familiar name of Michael Jung featured in the running order and with the experienced fischerChipmunk FRH, he was the biggest threat to the sea of Union flags currently dominating the top end of the scoreboard. Their test was a picture of correctness, fluidity and expression and was duly awarded our first sub-20 score of 19.4, which equates to an average percentage of 80.63%, to cruise into the lead.

Our bid for a commanding team score was left in the hands of the reigning Badminton champions, Ros Canter and the British-bred Lordships Graffalo, whom she rides for Michele Saul. The phenomenal score by Michi Jung brought pressure, as did the expectation of the team to deliver something special, but there are few with a cooler head than Ros.

She and ‘Walter’ have won over a legion of fans past the 11-year-old gelding’s first appearance at Badminton last year, and he’s a horse who takes life in his stride and shares a magical bond with his petite rider. In the gloom of the eventing, with the rain still pouring, they cantered in and planted at X to salute the judges to start the test. The scores were cautious from the judges to start with, but a skilled halt into the rein-back yielded two nines. While the following rein-back wasn’t quite as polished, it still scored nothing less than a six point five.

The walk tour looked relaxed and pleasing, but the judges just held back a little. However, the marks began to flow again as the pair entered the canter tour, with the eights coming thick and fast. A nine came for the final extended trot and the E judge finished with a 10 for the halt. A nine and two eight point fives were awarded for overall impression, which boosted the end tally to give 79.52%, 78.57% and 78.10% for an aggregate 78.73%, or 21.3 penalties to take forward. It wasn’t quite enough to topple Michi, but leaves the duo in runners up spot, and importantly is a great boost to the team total.

“I’m absolutely over the moon with Walter” exclaimed Ros.. “It’s been a very long wait for me these last two days – I don’t think I’ve been very easy with Ian Woodhead, my trainer, yesterday and this morning, but when I got on today, I felt much better that I actually had a job to do at last!”

“I couldn’t be more delighted with Walter. I was looking back, while I had so much time on my hands, at all the videos from the spring building up to Badminton and I can’t believe how much he’s come on, even since then. He’s truly an amazing horse. I’m very lucky to have him.

“I did have to give myself a reminder yesterday not to have too high an expectation and to stick to the process and remind myself that he’s still a horse that physically isn’t fully matured yet, and I was to stick within the boundaries of what he was capable of, but he actually gets stronger all the time. It’s little things – his changes are getting better and better, his halt and his rein-back were a real weakness last year and the start of this year, and this summer they’re starting to feel like they’re getting very consistent, so it’s really exciting. There are little things I would tweak for next time, but on the whole, I think our training is just gradually going in the right direction, which is what I’m really pleased with,” she explained.

The assembled media was keen to know about how Walter was finding his time in Haras du Pin; “Well Walter does thoroughly love being the centre of attention, so to have Sarah [Charnley, groom] as his sole provider does float his boat. He’s been enjoying the grazing – he loves to roll every time he goes out of the stable. But he’s very laid back as well – there’s occasionally an episode where Walter decides he doesn’t like his stable at a certain venue, but this week he’s very tolerant of his surroundings, and he seems to quite like being in France!” she disclosed.

With the wet weather for the majority of the day, Ros’ thoughts turned to the cross-country tomorrow. “The first water is a very big drop in, so it’ll be interesting to see how they read that. Of course, with Walter, we are still coming across questions that he hasn’t actually come across before, with his age, even though he’s done what he’s done already. He tends to drift a bit more to the right and little things like that, so for my personal self I have to walk the course very much thinking of Walter, but I think it’s more the undulations, the twists and turns that are going to create more challenges at the jumps.

“It walks very much like a short format, but obviously you’ve got the length added onto it as well, so it will be mentally and physically quite challenging for the horses, and I think that’s where the questions are going to lie. The first three fences are basically on a 360 to a 180, so it’s going to be very hard at the start of the course to get into the speed that you really want to be in. I think it’s highly likely by minute one you’re going to be down on the clock, and then I think it just depends on if you can claw it back and stay inside the time.

“We’ve been very positive as a team so far about the course – our course walks have been extremely positive and there hasn’t been too much talk on the parts we don’t like or the ground we don’t like, and I think that’s really good for team spirit,” she concluded.

With the dressage complete, Britain has a commanding hold at the top of the standings, with a total of 67.1 from the best three riders giving us a 9.2 penalty advantage over Germany in second on 76.3 and the Belgian quartet hold third on 90.9. Fourth is occupied by Switzerland and the Netherlands, who both ended on 93.1, while our hosts France are sixth and Sweden seventh, followed by Italy, Austria and Ireland.

Individually, the Union flag occupies six of the top nine positions:

  1. Ros Canter and Lordships Graffalo – 21.3
    3. Tom McEwen and JL Dublin – 22.0
    4. Laura Collett and London 52 – 22.4
    5. Yasmin Ingham and Banzai du Loir – 23.4
    6. Tom Jackson and Capels Hollow Drift – 25.7
    9. Kitty King and Vendredi Biats – 27.2

The cross-country action kicks off at 10;00 BST tomorrow and British combination times (all BST) are:

  • Kitty King and Vendredi Biats – 11:32
  • Yasmin Ingham and Banzai du Loir – 12 :32
  • Tom McEwen and JL Dublin – 13:16
  • Laura Collett and London 52 – 14:00
  • Tom Jackson and Capels Hollow Drift – 14:20
  • Ros Canter and Lordships Graffalo – 15:00

All the action will be available to stream live with English commentary on FEI.TV via a subscription to ClipMyHorse.TV. Click here for the full schedule.

Running orders and results – WST | FEI Eventing European Championship (worldsporttiming.com)

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The funding that the British Equestrian World Class Programme receives from the National Lottery and UK Sport is pivotal in preparing our teams for senior championships and supporting them on the ground.

British Equestrian is also extremely grateful for the support we enjoy from partners – Bates Saddles, Dodson & Horrell, Fairfax & Favor, Haygain, NAF, SEIB and Toggi – and team suppliers – Equi-Trek, Horseware, Lotus Romeo, Marksway Horsehage and Point Two. We’re indebted for the year-round support they provide to the World Class Programme and British teams.

Image:  Ros Canter and Lordships Graffalo  (credit: Peter Nixon)

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