Germany proved unstoppable yet again to take their fifth British eventing Nations Cup title on the trot.
To say the Saracen Horse Feeds Houghton International Horse Trials (23-26 May) is a happy hunting ground for the German side would be an understatement, with the team making it five wins in five years.
The youthful team led from the start, with Ingrid Klimke and the exciting young mare Asha P in pole position after the dressage on 23.2 and team-mate Christoph Walher and Carjatan S in second.
Two rolled poles for Ingrid gave other nations a glimmer of hope that they could be caught. Clear showjumping rounds from all four of the Brits resulted in the team moving up from sixth to fourth ahead of cross-country.
Christoph, 25, and Carjatan S produced a masterclass in how to ride Alec Lochore’s influential track, coming home five seconds inside the time to win individually and secure Germany’s victory.
But the result was close, with just 0.6 of a penalty separating Germany (90.6) and second-placed Sweden (91.2), who are chasing Olympic qualification this year.
The Swedes showed their team’s consistency, with three riders inside the top 10, headed by second-placed Louise Romeike and Waikiki 207.
The British side, made up of three senior team debutants and Badminton winner Piggy French, continued their strong performances to record four clear jumping cross-country rounds and finish third on 99.2.
“We like it here!” laughed German chef d’equipe Hans Melzer.
“Every time we have come with a different team and everybody is so motivated to compete here.
“I thought in the beginning that the course was more twisty than in the past, but once we had walked it two or three times you could see it and in the end it was good to ride so I think Alec did a super job.”
Ingrid, 11th individually, added it is “always a pleasure” to win as a part of a team.
“It was really worth coming as it was a wonderful competition and I had two really lovely cross-country rounds with my two young mares,” she said, adding her horses “learned a lot” from the design of the course. “They showed me their quality and were a pleasure to ride.”
Jerome Robine (Quaddeldou R), who finished seventh, and Felix Etzel (Bandit 436), 19th, completed the winning side.
British team anchors Piggy French and Cooley Monsoon enjoyed a beautiful cross-country round, with the 10-year-old gelding’s ears pricked the whole way. The pair added nothing to their dressage score of 29.2 to finish fourth.
Civil engineering student Richard Coney was among the trio making their first British team appearance. The 20-year-old and his junior horse Kananaskis gave a confident performance to finish ninth individually.
“A huge amount of people put their names forwards, so to get picked is very nice, especially considering the calibre of the people here,” said Richard.
“You can never be sure how they are going to perform on the day, but he is pretty consistent across country, so he had it in him to go fast and clear, which is what he did. He was really on form.”
Bubby Upton, 20, added it was “a real honour” to be selected with Fernhill Rock Star.
“I said at the beginning of the week that I wanted a run that was fault free in every phase and that’s exactly what he did,” she said.
“He was quite feisty at the start of the cross-country and I was thinking, ‘come on, let’s concentrate on the fences here’, but he knows his job so well and really helped me out, especially in the water when I lost a rein. He just said, ‘I’ve got it, Mum’. He knows exactly what he is doing and I love him so much.”
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Eliza Stoddart was “absolutely thrilled” with the consistently improving Dick O Malley and said being part of the team was “an amazing experience”.
“It’s my first team appeareance and it was a huge honour to be selected,” she said.
“I’ve had the horse for just over two seasons now, so this is amazing for his owners [the Flint Syndicate]. This was brilliant preparation for Luhmühlen, where he heads next, I hope I can build on this in the future.
“He is an unbelievable jumping horse and he really travels and gallops. His dressage is improving all the time. When he came to me he didn’t know anything on the flat, so there was a lot of work to do there and I’m sure there’s still lots to come from him.”
For the full report from Houghton, plus all the latest news analysis, competition reports, interviews, features and much more, don’t miss this week’s Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday, 30 May