Mixed fortunes for first team riders at European Championships on ‘gluey’ ground

  • Kitty King has put in a great trailblazing performance for Britain over the European Eventing Championships cross-country course, finishing with 3.6 time-faults – the second-fastest round from the first rotation of team riders.

    Kitty said Luhmühlen Horse Trials runner-up Vendredi Biats, owned by Diana Bown, Sally Lloyd Baker, Samantha Wilson and the late Sally Eyre, had to work hard today, but her performance will give confidence to the rest of the British squad as they look forward to tackling Pierre Le Goupil’s track.

    “It was hard work – ‘Froggy’ lives for his cross-country and today he wasn’t enjoying himself quite as much as he normally does, which is a huge shame,” said Kitty.

    “Today he had to dig really deep and try hard. He kept jumping and galloping for me even when he was finding it a little bit trickier, so I’m very proud of how hard he tried for me.”

    Kitty explained that the ground meant the pair’s normal stride pattern to fences was disrupted and that showed in a slightly less smooth jump at some fences, including at the fox’s tail (Le retour du renard) at fence five and when Vendredi Biats pitched her forward at the log at fence 26 (Le tronc sous les marronniers Antarès)

    She explained: “On the approaches to the fences, he was a bit unsure of himself compared to normal and his stride pattern changed, which I think threw both of us. I’d normally set up and the stride would just kind of keep coming up nicely, whereas today, we were always a half stride off, either half deep or long. It was just trying to get our eye in and work out how the ground took their stride away from them more than normal.”

    Kitty added that warming up on a surface meant horses didn’t have any chance to get accustomed to the ground.

    “As soon as he set out on course, he wasn’t jumping how he normally would out of the ground,” she said. “He was finding it really hard work – he’s normally such a springy little horse and it just took all his spring and stride away from him.

    “By the time he got to the first water, he suddenly started to pick up and jump really well again, but the first four or five fences I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is going to be a terribly long way around if we’re going to be like this the whole way. It was a little bit kind of unnerving for both of us, but he kept trying and he finished really well.

    “It’s very dead ground – like he doesn’t mind sloppy, dirty mud, but he found that really really hard work.”

    The Brit said this was the most tired Vendredi Biats has ever finished a cross-country course – more so than over a much longer course than at Burghley Horse Trials – and officials made the right decision in shortening the track.

    European Eventing Championships cross-country: great pathfinding round

    Pathfinders Sarah Ennis and Grantstown Jackson made the track look relatively easy when they finished six seconds over the 8min 18sec time for the Irish team, the fastest round so far.

    European Eventing Championships cross-country: Sarah Ennis and Grantstown Jackson

    Sarah Ennis and Grantstown Jackson at the 2023 European Championships. Credit: Peter Nixon

    “He’s a very fast horse and we had a bit of ground to make up after our dressage. I knew that these conditions would suit him – he’s very light, he’s out of a thoroughbred mare,” said Sarah.

    “It is gluey – the take-offs and landings are very sticky. They’ve done an amazing job on the ground, they’ve dug out take-offs, put gravel in.”

    Watch the full interview with Sarah in the video below

    Sarah said riding the European Eventing Championships cross-country shortened course is “like going round in a tumble dryer”.

    She added: “It just happened so fast and you’re going round and round and round and round. It’s just fast and furious, really quick. I think I was as out of breath as he was coming through the finish line.”

    Sarah took a long route at Le bivouac du Domaine Cécile Tremblay at fence 20ab, turning back to take a second tent rather than going for the left-hand corner as element b on the direct route. She said she never liked the direct route here and Grantstown Jackson was also more tired than she expected jumping the preceding cart.

    After Sarah, these first riders and horses generally made heavier weather of the track.

    Cyril Gavrilovic and Elmundo De Gasco – the discard score for the third-placed Belgium team after dressage – finished clear, but with a heavy load of time-faults (26.8) as they came home 1min 18 sec over the target.

    German trailblazer Malin Hansen-Hotopp had a risky moment at fence 27, Le lavoir du Conseil Departemental De L’Orne, when Carlitos Quidditch K put his back feet down in the ditch in front of the skinny house at element b, but survived to finish with 18.4 time-faults. She was the discard score for the second-placed German team after dressage and the Germans will hope their other riders can improve on that performance and not use her score.

    The first Dutch rider, Andrew Heffernan (Gideon), incurred 20 penalties at the corner at fence 18 – the L’étang du Conseil Departemental De L’Orne – and also had 21.6 time-penalties. He too took the long route at the tent complex.

    Italy’s Giovanni Ugolotti added 18.8 time-faults, for his round with Swirly Temptress, and Robin Godel 20.4 for his with Grandeur De Lully.

    Sweden’s Frida Andersen had to sit tight after Box Leo hit fence two – which Sarah said was the first sticky take-off and Grantstown Jackson also had to learn from, saying, “He knew then on you have to pull out the mud” – but survived to come home clear in 8min 54sec.

    The other outstanding performance in this first tranche of team riders came from French first man Stéphane Landois, who put in a great round on Ride For Thaïs Chaman Dumontceau. He rides this grey in memory of his friend and the horse’s former rider Thaïs Méheust. They came home with 8.8 time-faults.

    End of day update: Kitty King sits in the individual silver medal position overnight, Sarah Ennis is sixth and Stéphane Landois fourth. Full individual results

    Horse & Hound has a team of reporters covering all the action at the Europeans in Haras du Pin. To keep reading on our website after five articles, readers will need to buy a subscription. Visit horseandhound.co.uk/join to buy a Horse & Hound website unlimited subscription or, for great value, visit magazinesdirect.com/XHH-brandsite for a combined magazine and website subscription. If you are already a magazine subscriber, the cost to upgrade your subscription to include full website access is minimal – call 0330 333 1113 to find out more.

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