Joy and heartbreak were served in equal measure to the British riders on cross-country day at the Longines Luhmühlen Horse Trials (16 to 19 June).
Eventing is a sport of highs and lows – an overworn cliché made even more frustrating by its truth. Some were dealt aces – the Badminton Horse Trials redemptions, five-star break-throughs and an amateur realising a life-long dream – others were not. Overnight leaders Bubby Upton and Cannavaro’s 2022 Luhmühlen five-star fairytale was not to be, while Tom McEwen’s misplaced luck included an unseating within sight of home after an incident with a dog on course.
Tom and Bob Chaplin, owned by Fred and Penny Barker, were on the final approach to the corner at 29a (Kombination “Close to Home”), when a dog on an extendable lead ran out onto the track.
“This is why I hate extendable leads,” said Tom. “Bob had been an absolute star. He had grown in confidence as he went round and he was jumping really well. He was cruising round, I wasn’t worried about the time, it was more for me about the jumping.
“I found my line to the corner and then I could hear the extendable lead extending, with this lady screaming at a dog. Sadly the line is so tight, the dog came from Bob’s right side so it pushed him further out left that put him into the corner.
“Horses at that point in the course are tired and they are also unbelievably honest and love what they are doing. Bob, being Bob, went, ‘I can do it’ and just jumped in. Sadly for him we went into the widest part of the corner all because a dog came in and popped him off his line.”
Bob managed to stay on his feet and Tom was unseated.
The Olympic medallist added that thoughts were first and foremost with the horse’s wellbeing.
“It’s probably the first time that I’ve properly been angry in a long time, but I just felt gutted for the horse, for the owners and everyone involved because he was a star and didn’t deserve that from a dog running onto the course on an extendable lead,” he said.
“With the extendable leads people can’t pull them back, because it’s a little bit of wire.”
Tom had a tumble with his pathfinding ride, Braveheart B, at the middle of the three gates at fence 11 (Gatter).
“That was really unlucky, he just caught his right leg on it,” said Tom. “It’s just one of those things. He is absolutely fine, which is the main thing. They both gave me great feelings, even though it hasn’t been the exact day we were hoping for.
“I’m really excited for their futures, to be honest. They have come out and popped, dealt with circumstances really well. It will be nice to find out what Braveheart does beyond three minutes, but Bob Chaplin was two from home so there was nothing really left to do.
“I’m gutted but we are going through one of those patches at the moment, and we will keep plugging away until it turns around.
He added: “The main thing is that they [the horses] are alright. It’s alright about me, I can keep bouncing.”
Bubby’s five-star leading ride Cannavaro, owned by Rachel Upton, stumbled and fell on landing at the drop at fence 16b (LVM Wellenbahn).
“To be honest, you have to keep perspective with all these things, haven’t you?” said Bubby, who is a “little bit battered, but fine”, as is Cannavaro.
“Obviously he is an amazing horse and deserved more than what happened. So it’s a real shame and I just hope his day will come.”
The 23-year-old picked herself up to pilot her two rides in the CCI4*-S Meßmer Trophy, Cheddington Estate’s Jefferson 18 and Clever Louis, to clear cross-country jumping rounds. She holds 13th and 30th places respectively with the pair.
“I’ve got a very sore collarbone, I broke it last summer in my fall, but I wasn’t going to leave it on that note,” she added. “I was thrilled with Jefferson, he was green, particularly into that first water. It was a lot for them coming off that tight turn into the crowd, but he just kept on going and believing in me and just grew in confidence as the round went on. I’m chuffed with the feeling he gave me.
“Clever Louis was also really good, it’s early days in cementing our partnership and that’s definitely the best feeling he’s given me so far in a round. It was very promising, obviously slow, but that’s what I think needs to happen at the moment until things are 100% solidified between him and I. He got better and better as the round went on, which is the first time that’s happened as often as the round goes on he gets stronger when the adrenaline kicks in.”
Luhmühlen Horse Trials cross-country results: British success stories
Oliver Townend heads the British results after cross-country, sitting in provisional third place on the leaderboard on a score of 29.6 with the Chamberlaynes’ homebred Dreamliner.
“Whatever happens tomorrow, they have bred a horse who has got to five-star, which takes some doing,” he said.
“Dreamliner is a bit of a hunter, to tell you the truth, but it takes all sorts and at the end of the day not many horses get to five-star and not many go round inside the time as easily as he just has.
“It’s more to do with the brain and the character. I try and give them as smooth ride and as much help as possible, but they’ve obviously still got to give me a little bit back and he definitely did that today.”
Oliver is also in eighth with Sir John Peace’s Lukas, on a score of 34. This was a notable milestone for these rising stars of Oliver’s string, both contesting their first CCI5* this week, and who both came home clear and inside the time over Mike Etherington-Smith’s testing track.
“Lukas was very genuine, he is definitely not my production yet. At the same time he wants to go between the flags and that’s all that counts. I’m very fortunate to be riding him for me new employers, Caunton Manor Stud, so hopefully that will put a smile on Sir John and Victoria’s [Wright] faces.
“Fingers crossed for tomorrow. It was a fact-finding mission and to be competitive is a very big bonus”.
Kirsty Chabert and Classic IV and Kylie Roddy on SRS Kan Do, both re-routed to Luhmühlen after their plans went awry at Badminton. Their fault-free rounds have propelled them up the leaderboard, from 11th and 12th respectively after dressage, to fourth and fifth ahead of the final day.
“There were swings and roundabouts out there – there were times when I helped him, and times where he helped me,” said Kylie, who rides “George” for the Fox family.
“At the first water, I would have liked a better shot in, but naughty Roddy, I got in front of the movement and lost my stirrups, jammed my feet back down, got my leg in the right place and carried on through there with no pedals.
“He really was an amazing horse then, he really held his line and was looking for the flags. It shows the journey those horses go on, because two years ago that might not have been the case. He really helped me, and it was a bit the same in the arena. I’m lucky that I’m sat on a jumper as he found the scope and went.
“He got a tired towards the end, and that was when I could help him out. It’s all part of cross-country riding, the swings and the roundabouts, and it worked well in the end.”
This was also a result for farrier, Greig Elliott, who is the one responsible for finding a solution to keeping George’s shoes in place.
The 12-year-old Irish sport horse lost a front shoe at Badminton and Kylie pulled him up at the Vicarage Ditch line to save him for another day. He then lost a hind shoe in his Luhmühlen prep run, an open intermediate section at Little Downham, leading to a shoeing rethink. The new approach paid off, with George crossing the finish line with all four shoes.
No sooner had Kylie caught her breath, than her friend Fiona Kashel and WSF Carthago, owned by Frank Breach, powered through the finish.
“He was so bold, I saw a lot of horses come back tired and Liz, our vet, was saying that the ground was taking it out of them. I thought ‘he’s going to tire soon, he’s going to tire soon… he’s just not tiring!’,” said Fiona, who added 5.6 cross-country time-faults to their first phase score of 30.9, putting them in 11th place at this stage in the competition.
“I walked it and thought it was jumpable and that it was going to be one of those courses of ifs, buts and maybes. I’m absolutely thrilled to bits with him.
“He stayed on his lines, there was no wobble, no question, he was mega the whole way round. I just had the best time.”
Fiona stepped up to five-star for the first time at Badminton in May, aboard Creevagh Silver De Haar, making Luhmühlen her second run at this level.
“I’m a bit older and I’ve done probably a lot more four-stars than a lot of people do before they do their first five-star,” she said. “They perhaps do their first five-star having done five years of four-star, I’ve done 15 years.”
David Doel and Ferro Point added nothing to their dressage score of 40.4 to climb 18 places, putting them in provisional 13th, while barrister Max Gordon jumped clear at his first five-star with family horse, Redwood Clover. The pair are in 19th position ahead of the showjumping.
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