Laura Collett wins third five-star title aboard ‘horse of a lifetime’ to head spectacular British one-two-three at Luhmühlen

  • Laura Collett and London 52 led from the front to win their third five-star title in superb style and head a British one-two-three at the 2023 Longines Luhmühlen Horse Trials.

    They arrived in Germany as favourites – a label they rose to, by delivering a masterclass in all three phases to win on their dressage score of 20.3. Kitty King and Vendredi Biats gave a world-class performance to finish second on 27.2 with world champion Yasmin Ingham and Rehy DJ third on 27.9.

    Watch interviews with Laura and other leading riders in the video below

    “He’s my horse of a lifetime and I will never sit on another like him,” said Laura.

    Of course there was pressure coming here. “Pressure is a privilege”, Laura said earlier this week, admitting with a chuckle that it didn’t feel quite so much like a privilege before their showjumping round this morning.

    But the hiccups in their past, including a rider fall at the European Championships here in 2019, are firmly behind them. Boekelo at the end of 2019 was their turning point and they have now claimed their rightful crowns at three different five-stars, as well as an Olympic team gold medal.

    The key has been trust. Laura echoed tennis legend Billie Jean King when she spoke of pressure being a privilege. But there’s a second part to that quote, equally as fitting to Laura and London’s story.

    “It only comes to those who earn it,” added Billie Jean. And there’s no doubt that this pair have earned every inch of their success.

    British Equestrian performance coach Chris Bartle piped up at the end of the press conference to stress that point.

    “They are absolutely right in appreciating what their horses do. Obviously, without a super horse who really tries for you and is a partner, you’re not going to succeed,” said Chris.

    “But don’t underestimate the work that these girls put in to improving their own communication system with the horse, developing the horses, building up their physical and mental competence, it’s not to be underestimated.

    “It’s a partnership between horse and rider, that’s what they’ve developed and I applaud them for that.”

    Laura has produced her own, Keith Scott and Karen Bartlett’s 14-year-old gelding from a young horse, building that bond through years of work and patience.

    “If you don’t have the trust and the partnership there, then things are going to go wrong,” said Laura.

    “It’s taken a good few years to really cement the partnership I have with him and I think the reason that I’m so proud of him is that I know he’s not a natural cross-country horse. He’s had to learn to be a cross country horse. And the way he stormed round that track yesterday, making it feel so easy, is what makes me just so unbelievably proud and why I do it.

    “I love building a partnership with the horses and when they come out and reward you like that after years of trying to get it right… it’s just an unbelievable feeling.”

    A European title is “first on the list” of her next aims, and she is also looking ahead to Paris 2024 with a “score to settle” on her mind.

    “I feel like I messed up at the Tokyo Olympics and should have won an individual medal. So I’ll try and do that next year, and maybe Kentucky the year after,” she said.

    But today is about Luhmühlen.

    “He’s got such a reputation that I just don’t want to let him down; he deserves to be a multiple five star winning horse so I’m just glad I’ve allowed him to be that,” said Laura.

    She added that the timing to get him to peak at Luhmühlen has worked out “pretty perfectly” even with 10 days off for an overreach in April and the British calendar hampered by the wet spring.

    “As soon as he struck into himself, the decision was made that he wasn’t going to go to Badminton. Then it was just a case working backwards from here,” she said.

    “We only had one option of a four-star short run and that was at Bicton – they always build such a good cross-country track, so I thought that was perfect, and they had dressage and showjumping on a surface.

    “It’s been such a funny year, but with him everything has just fallen into place. It was almost like he saw the weather forecast for Badminton and decided that maybe we would go and try to win a different five star instead!”

    Luhmühlen Horse Trials showjumping: A British podium

    Kitty and Vendredi Biats put the memories of their pin at Burghley and early fall amid a difficult week at Badminton to bed with a foot-perfect double jumping clear, picking up 0.4 of a showjumping time-penalty, which they could afford.

    “Today, I felt the least pressure I’ve ever felt with him in a showjumping arena,” said Kitty.

    “I know what a good jumper is. And to be honest, we’ve had so much rotten luck recently, I thought, ‘no more can go wrong so what will be will be here – I’ve coped with all the downs at Badminton and Burghley. It can’t get any worse, so we will just go in and do our round’. He felt like he was on springs; he’s just such a game jumper – he lives for jumping.”

    “Froggy”, as Diana Bown, Sally Lloyd Baker, Samantha Wilson and the late Sally Eyre’s 13-year-old Winning Mood gelding is known, came to Luhmühlen with course form, having finished seventh and best of the Brits at the 2019 Europeans over the CCI4*-L championship track. While he and Kitty have gelled, the cheeky grey hasn’t always been the easiest.

    “He used to like to buck people off all the time, so he moved around quite a few yards until I got him as a five year old,” she said.

    “When I saw him in the stable, he had the most beautiful head, then they pulled him out, he dragged his feet and didn’t look very inspiring or very impressed about life, to be honest. But as soon as I sat on him, there was just something really special about him.

    “We get on really well. I think he’s only bucked me off twice, so I’ve done all right! He’s a clown and a comedian. And really, we’re here to amuse him.

    “He loves to be kept busy and adores cross-country. Now we’ve got his bitting sorted, so I’ve got a little bit more control and he’s happy, he’s always looking to jump the fences. He just had a blast yesterday.”

    Yasmin and Rehy DJ, known as Piglet because of his love of food, also kept a clean jumping sheet and, like Kitty, added 0.4 of a showjumping time-penalty to secure their place.

    “I have a lot of trust in Piglet. He’s usually a very good jumper and I’ve known him for a long time now, so we have a great partnership and it’s probably his strongest phase out of all the three,” said Yasmin, who has produced the Sue Davies Fund’s 13-year-old Irish gelding from a six-year-old.

    “I think it’s all about the bond and the partnership and the trust. It comes from the training at home, looking after the horses, and like Laura said, getting to know them inside out.

    “They have to trust us. It’s all about the partnership and the bond, so I love spending time with all the horses and getting to know them and all their quirks – the good parts and the bad parts – and trying to improve them.”

    The top five after cross-country all retained their overnight positions, while Britain filled seven of the top 10 places. Boyd Martin finished fourth with Luke 140 for the US, also scooping eighth with Federman B, with Harry Meade and Tenareze fifth.

    Tom Jackson and Farndon climbed from 22nd after dressage to sixth (34.9), thanks to their clean jumping sheets. Oliver Townend finished seventh and ninth with Swallow Springs (35.7) and Tregilder (39.1) respectively, while Jerôme Robiné and Black Ice were the top German combination in 10th (44.1).

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