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A double golden final day at the FEI European Eventing Championships for the British

Great Britain’s eventing team today emulated the team of 1969 the last occasion the European Championships were held at Haras du Pin in France in taking team and individual gold and individual silver. The names in the fray 54 years ago were Mary Gordon-Watson, Richard Walker, Derek Allhusen, Polly Hey-Hutchinson and Reuben Jones. Today, it was the all-female quartet of Ros Canter, Kitty King, Laura Collett and Yasmin Ingham who took the gold, with Ros and Kitty claiming gold and silver individually respectively.The final horse inspection was the first task of the day to ensure the welfare of the horses following Saturday’s exertions, and all five of the remaining British horses passed with flying colours and looked exceptionally well. It was testament to a job well done by the exceptionally dedicated grooms, Chloe Fry (Vendredi Biats), Sarah Charnley (Lordships Graffalo), Tilly Hughes (London 52), Alison Bell (Banzai du Loir), Chloe Whitelam (Capels Hollow Drift) and Adam Short (JL Dublin), the latter of whom wasn’t in the horse inspection but reports that ‘Dubs’ is fine and well. Credit must also go to team veterinarian Liz Brown, equine physiotherapist Vicky Spalding and farrier Greig Elliott for their work in keeping the horses in tip-top condition.

Tom Jackson and Capels Hollow Drift
The first up for Britain was individual combination Tom Jackson and Capels Hollow Drift, owned by Patricia Davenport, Milly Simmie and Sarah Webb. The duo is somewhat of a final day specialist, with a number of clear rounds securing them top-10 positions at big events. Yesterday’s 20 penalties coming out of the final water meant that they wouldn’t finish amongst the leaders, but a clear round would put the shine on their senior championship debut.

Course designers Quentin Perney and Jean-Pierre Meneau had provided a perfect jumping test – the right balance of technicality to test the rider’s ability and the athletic prowess of the horses on the final day. ‘Walshy’ cantered into the expansive arena situated beneath the imposing chateau – which overlooks the grounds of Haras du Pin, one of France’s oldest national studs – looking spritely and up for the task. Tom produced a skilled round, with the grey answering every question efficiently with just enough lift to clear the poles but without wasting an extra split second. It was flawless, not a pole touched or a stride missed, and neatly inside the time to add nothing to their two-phase score. They completed on a final penalty score of 69.7 – perhaps not the dream debut position they’d hoped for, but satisfied that they’d notched up their first senior team appearance in tough conditions.

After his round, Tom said; “He [Walshy] recovered really well from yesterday and he’s getting quite good at jumping clear! I think he’s only had a pole once in about the last three years, or something like that. So, he’s a pretty impressive horse in that phase. Obviously, I’m still a little bit disappointed with the result yesterday, but I’m over the moon with him – he’s not put a foot wrong – so I’m really happy. Every day’s a school day, as they say, and every time you come and learn something you can take away. Hopefully next time we’ll be where we want to be.”

What’s next for the duo? “First and foremost, he’ll have a nice break now and that’ll be him done for the rest of the year. We’ll then start the preparation for Badminton next year, and hopefully captialise on the fifth place of this year and see if we can go a few places better,” Tom said.

When asked about his senior debut, Tom reflected; “It’s been really good [to be part of the British team]. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a team environment because we don’t get chance to experience it that often – Young Riders was a little while ago now! But it’s been really good, everyone has been so supportive and there’s a really great team behind us, so thanks to UK Sport and British Equestrian for sending them to help us out.”

Yasmin Ingham and Banzai du Loir
With individual medal aspirations put behind her following a run-out yesterday, Isle of Man rider Yasmin Ingham found herself in unchartered territory, where completing a good round for the team was the priority. Her equine partner, Banzai du Loir, owned by The Sue Davies Fund, certainly entered the arena looking as though yesterday took nothing out of him. They met fences one and two expertly, but just gave the front rail of three, a narrow oxer with pure white poles which had claimed a number of victims, the slightest of touches for four faults. They were neat through the treble, but did go on to have a tap on the double at nine. However, the rails remained in their cups, as did the remainder of the fences, and they cantered through the finish inside the time to add four penalties for the fence down for a completion score of 55.8 for the team.

“He jumped so well. I was really pleased with him, he just had a really unlucky rub at fence three, which is a shame because he jumped the rest of the round so well. There’s a lot of people watching and it’s definitely a good atmosphere in there for them – I felt like he coped with it really well and finished the course beautifully, so all in all I’m very pleased,” said a satisfied Yasmin.

When asked to summarise her first championship team appearance, a reflective Yasmin said; “It’s an amazing feeling. Having only done two senior championships now, I feel like I’m building up my confidence and experience and that’s what it’s all about, and hopefully it will all pay off in the future. I’m still quite young at this level, so I’m definitely always learning and hopefully we can look forward to the future now.  I always go out and do my best. That is the most important thing, obviously riding for the team I want to make sure I pull my weight, and obviously four of us in the girls’ team, we’re all rooting for each other as well, so it’s really nice atmosphere and good vibes so, yeah, I’ve loved being part of the team. It’s amazing to be on the team with three other amazing ladies. It means the world. I’ve grown up dreaming of doing this stuff and now that I’m actually here, it’s definitely a pinch-me moment, so I’m just taking it all in and enjoying it!”

Laura Collett and London 52

Laura Collett and Keith Scott, Karen Bartlett and her own London 52 are a combination accustomed to jumping under pressure – after all, they’ve won three CCI5* events – but today it was all about the team, as well as targeting a top-10 finish individually. Laura has been open about their cross-country round yesterday and how the conditions were not in their favour, so there was a touch of apprehension on how ‘Dan’ would jump after his supreme effort yesterday.

French team rider Karim Florent Laghouag went before them and the boisterous home crowd went wild as he completed, which could have unnerved some horses but Dan looked as though he felt the accolade was for him. As they progressed around the course, the rangy bay gelding was clearly none the worse for his experience and did everything Laura asked, giving each fence the height and scope needed while keeping a ground-covering rhythm. In the complete silence of the arena, you could hear a toe tap of the front rail of the oxer at six, but it was safe. The remaining seven efforts were all cleared without penalty and they were inside the time for a coveted clear round, giving them a total of 46.6 which was a boost both for the team and Laura’s individual placing.

“I think he thought everyone was cheering for him entering the arena, so I let him think that,” joked Laura after her round. “He was fantastic, to come out after what he did yesterday and jump like that, he’s a serious horse! I gave him a little jump straight after the trot-up and he felt perky enough, and I think just coming down here, having the atmosphere, really perks him up anyway, so that helped. He felt super from the moment I started warming up, and he just got better and better in there. He jumped his socks off. It’s a great arena and an unbelievable atmosphere, especially when you follow a French person jumping clear, so luckily he likes crowds – I wouldn’t want to be on one that gets a bit nervous with the crowds, so I tried to use it to my advantage and the crowd wanted us to jump clear. To be honest, even if he hadn’t, they were going to make a lot of noise, so luckily he enjoyed it,” she said.

She was quick to pay testament to the team environment at the championship; “It’s been an amazing team from the moment we all got selected and went to squad training. It’s a brilliant group of younger riders and we’re all living the dream, and we’re all super grateful to be here. We’ve had to fight for our places to get here because of all the other amazing riders at home, so I think we’re just super grateful and trying to enjoy the ride.

And a final word on Dan, her stalwart partner; “At the end of the day, he’s just a superstar. He’s an unbelievable horse and I’m the one very lucky person that gets to be the one to sit on him,” she beamed.

Kitty King and Vendredi Biats
It was then down to the final three riders, and it was Sandra Auffarth for Germany riding Viamant du Matz who began the battle for podium places. She entered knowing that she needed a clear to clinch the silver for her team, but could afford one down to be third individually at worst. Being an accomplished showjumper and consummate professional, only a clear round would do for the multi-championship medallist. A classy clear was bagged, the team silver was Germany’s and the pressure was applied for the two remaining competitors, both British.

And so Kitty King found herself in a familiar place with her faithful partner, Vendredi Biats, owned by Diana Bown, Samantha Wilson, Sally Lloyd-Baker and the late Sally Eyre – cantering into an arena to produce the round of her life with medals at stake. What made today unique, though, was that Kitty was not only jumping for team glory, but her first individual senior championship medal. The two know each other inside out and have such a degree of trust, but jumping in these conditions is something you can’t practice and you need that trust that your horse will try for you – try ‘Froggy’ did. With no room for error to keep the individual silver, they had a bit of luck at the treble where the grey just touched his way through, but it was clear. They then had a tricky time over the double but, again, Kitty kept with Froggy and reassured him, concentrating on leaving the fences up. They did just that, but just exceeded the time limit to accrue 1.2 time penalties. Their final score, 32.0, ensured they’d finish with silver at worst and Britain’s grip on the team gold began to tighten further.

“I’m just so proud of my horse,” exclaimed Kitty. “I rode like an absolute idiot in the showjumping, but he helped me out. We normally have a great partnership in the showjumping, it’s normally one of our strongest phases. When I came out, I was so cross with myself… Now I’m beginning to realise that it’s been a long time coming and he deserves it so much. I just didn’t give him a very easy job, I kept him guessing the whole way, I kept missing. Normally, he’s so smooth and it’s so easy and I just messed it up for him every time we came to a fence. I kicked when I should’ve pulled and I pulled when I should’ve kicked. But he was brilliant and he helped me out. It has been a rollercoaster with him. I always find he’s a little bit in the shadow of the other team horses, he’s not as flashy, but he’s gritty and he gets the job done and he’s proven himself today,” said an emotional Kitty.

Ros Canter and Lordships Graffalo

It was then the crucial final round. Weeks of preparation, days of concentrated effort all came downto a 75 second round of leaving the fences standing. Ros Canter and Michele Saul’s Lordships Graffalo were in the same situation just three months ago, entering an arena with a healthy margin to take the spoils. At Badminton in May they were successful – could they emulate that today?

The first three fences were cleared well, with ‘Walter’s’ ears pricked the entire way as if to say, ‘c’mon Mum, where next?’. They came around the corner to the long side of the arena where the treble was situated, and whether it was the close crowds or a moment’s lapse of concentration, they took the first upright pole out. It was one stride to the second part of the oxer, which Walter wasn’t going to touch, and out over the third element without incurring further fault. They cruised around the remainder of the course with no further issues and finished well inside the time. Ros looked at the scoreboard, just to get confirmation – she and Walter had taken double gold!

“I’m very relieved. I think when you have a bit of a margin, it almost makes it worse because there’s further to fall and the expectation was that I should win it today. So, I’ve had to try and keep myself in my own bubble a little bit, remind myself who I’m sat on, and just try and do the best job I could in that situation. It’s what we came here to do. Winning gold medals for Great Britain is what it’s all about for me.” explained Ros.

“It’s amazing. For me, the team has always come first – that’s why I love riding on the team. It’s what I do it for, it’s what I dream of doing, it always has been. I’ve got Walter to thank really, he’s just a really wonderful horse. He’s what dreams are made of. There are no words to describe him.

“Winning Badminton was a huge box ticked and I didn’t think he could get much better, so to win here as well… I didn’t come into this week really dreaming of winning or anything like that. It’s all about trying to do the best for your team and your country. So, winning is an absolute bonus. A few minutes ago, I don’t think it had sunk in, now I’m starting to feel quite emotional about it all.”

So, Britain has successfully defended their team gold won in Avenches two years ago – a third team gold for Ros – and narrowly missed emulating the individual podium clean sweep, with Ros taking gold and Kitty in silver. Laura was eventual ninth to give three inside the top 10.

Richard Waygood, Chef d’Equipe
The final word on a championship performance which puts Britain’s Paris 2024 campaign firmly on track came from Richard Waygood, British Chef d’Equipe and Eventing Performance Manager for British Equestrian’s World Class Programme; “A great way to finish the weekend, to finish with a gold and a silver, and a team gold is absolutely fantastic. The focus is always the team, but if we fulfill the team aspirations, then you’d like to think you’d fulfill the individual aspirations, so it was fantastic. The horses looked amazingly well on the last day, and if you look at their condition, the shine on their coat, they’re all coming out there feeling really good.

“We’ve got fantastic veterinary cover with Liz Brown, we’ve got Greig Elliott who is absolutely outstanding as a farrier, we’ve got Vicky Spalding as a physio, and our six world-class grooms. These guys and girls are behind the scenes, nobody sees them, they work day in day out. They were in the stables at 5:30 this morning, they’ll have been in the stables until it closed last night, looking after the horses. Then, of course, we’ve got all of the coaches at home who help train these athletes and help put these athletes on the podium, so huge thanks to them as well,” he said.

Final standings

Team
Gold Great Britain (103.9)
Silver Germany (131.2)
Bronze France (134.2)
4. Ireland (149.2)
5. Switzerland (162.7)
6. Sweden (207.0)
7. Belgium (209.6)
8. Netherlands (219.8)

Belgium and the Netherlands secure their qualification for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

British individuals
Gold Ros Canter and Lordships Graffalo (25.3)
Silver Kitty King and Vendredi Biats (32.0)
9. Laura Collett and London 52 (46.6)
25. Yasmin Ingham and Banzai du Loir (59.8)
29. Tom Jackson and Capels Hollow Drift (69.7)

Full results – WST | FEI Eventing European Championship (worldsporttiming.com)

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 our 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 courtesy of Peter Nixon

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