John Whitaker’s new horse goes viral, a teenager clears 1.85m and a warm-up fall doesn’t stop the world number one

  • Never has one rider’s new horse got people talking as much as John Whitaker’s potential Olympic hope Arqana De Riverland and the pair’s sublime clear round at CHI Al Shaqab in Doha at the weekend was shared all over social media as they continue to step up to the bigger classes.

    Plus, we saw a 16-year-old rider clearing 1.85m to win her first CSI4* and a 24-year-old beating two Olympic legends in a World Cup qualifier, where the world number one rider bounced back from a warm-up fall to finish second. Read on for all this week’s showjumping news and results.

    Showjumping news: “She’s going to be really competitive” says John Whitaker

    A video of John Whitaker jumping clear on new ride Arqana De Riverland – touted as a prospect to take the 68-year-old to the Paris Olympics – was circulating far and wide on social media this week, such is the global love for our British showjumping legend. Their clear round at the CSI5* Al Shaqab in Doha was shared alongside hundreds of appreciation posts for John as they stepped up to 1.50m level at just their third show together, and he told H&H the mare was “jumping very well”.

    “She’d been with her previous rider Juliette Faligot for seven years so she was a bit set in her ways, but she jumps brilliantly – just sometimes we don’t have that control yet and there’s been the odd misunderstanding, but I think we’re coming together more and more,” he said. “She’s really careful, she’s quick and I think she’s going to be really competitive.”

    John also jumped into the placings with two masterful double clears on his Nations Cup hero Equine America Unick Du Francport at the show, including a fifth-placed finish behind winner Malin Baryard Johnsson (H&M Indiana) in the grand prix.

    “He has had a rest and seems to have come back really well, we just did a couple of small shows in Belgium before we came out here and to get used to the mare too,” said John. “You walk the courses out here thinking ‘Oh this is big’, then everyone goes in and jumps clear. But he feels fantastic.”

    Ireland’s Richard Howley was another rider making showjumping news by finishing in the ribbons, landing the 1.50m with nine-year-old multi-winner Zodiak Du Buisson Z.

    “I am absolutely over the moon,” he said. “My horse is in great shape, he is really growing into this level so easily and week after week he is impressing me more. This gives me great belief for the future that my horse can win at grand prix level.”

    Richard finished ahead of France’s Simon Delestre (Dexter Fontenis Z) and Mark McAuley in third on GRS Lady Amaro for Ireland.

    The action continues at the same venue this coming week when the 2024 Longines Global Champions Tour (LGCT) season kicks off.

    Teenager clears 1.85m to beat her older rivals

    The youngest rider in the 12-strong field contesting Saturday’s six-bar on the Andalucia Sunshine Tour in Spain, British teenager Tabitha Kyle, smashed the opposition, throwing both hands in the air as she celebrated clearing 1.85m to win her first ever CSI4* class.

    Tabitha, 16, was riding Su and Gordon Hall’s 16-year-old mare Desterly at her first international show after recovering from a neck fracture sustained in a car accident which meant she missed the last few months of 2023, her last year on ponies.

    Home-bred secures “unbelievable” World Cup glory for 24-year-old rider

    Dutch showjumper Lars Kersten made showjumping news headlines as a surprise winner of the final leg of the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup series of Western Europe in Gothenburg, Sweden, riding grey mare Hallilea. World number one Henrik von Eckermann bounced back from a collecting ring fall to claim the runner-up spot on King Edward, with fellow Swede Peder Fredricson third on 18-year-old Catch Me Not S after a seven-way jump-off.

    The 24-year-old Dutchman, part of the Young Riders Academy, is trained by his father Pieter and was riding his father’s 12-year-old home-bred mare to beat two of the greatest Olympic riders in the world in a thrilling jump-off.

    “That makes it even more special – I’ve been working with Hallilea all her life and she has been a big part of my career,” said Lars. “To grow together to this level and to win a World Cup in Gothenburg is unbelievable.

    “The moment she turned five, I took her over and it’s special that we’ve done this journey together. We already had some nice placings, but almost nothing beats winning the World Cup here in Gothenburg – it feels a bit unreal!

    “I’ve seen Henrik and Peder in so many jump-offs so I know they are capable of being faster than me,” he added. “To sit in front of these guys is not easy and most of the time I will be behind them, so today is a big, big day. But I think I was pretty fast and in the end it showed that it was not that easy to beat me, so I’m very, very pleased with my mare. She absolutely gave 100% today.”

    Lars has also had training from his “idol growing up”, Marcus Ehning, and six-time Olympian Jos Lansink.

    “I was told the Scandinavium Arena wasn’t an easy ring to ride in, but I found it quite comfortable,” he said.“Maybe it fits my riding, I’m maybe a bit of a light rider and I try to stay fluent throughout the turns, so actually maybe the [oval] shape of it suited me very well. And obviously the horse felt really great as well so it all came together.”

    Henrik’s jump-off performance came only minutes after he slipped out of the saddle on landing over a warm-up fence on King Edward during the preceding rider’s round. Ever the professional, he put his unscheduled dismount behind him and his world championship-winning partner scorched round, but couldn’t quite catch the time set by the young winner.

    “Maybe my horse jumped too well in the jump-off and he lost a bit of time,” Henrik said. “But this is a good way to lose.”

    Peder Fredricson batted off questions about Paris this summer by saying, “Asking me about the Olympics in February is like asking how the weather will be in August! We are building up the horses but there is still a long way to go. It is for sure my main goal this year. I am giving all my horses in the stables a chance now and we will see in the next months how it is going.

    “Lars is a great rider. It is nice to see the next generation doing so well.”

    Among the top 18 riders who have qualified for the World Cup Final in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in April are title-holder Henrik von Eckermann, who topped this year’s league, Steve Guerdat, Ireland’s Richard Howley and a quartet of British showjumpers; Robert Whitaker, Harry Charles, Scott Brash and Ben Maher.

    Showjumping news: “Dreams really do come true”

    British showjumper Claudia Moore proclaimed that “dreams really do come true” when winning her first CSI3* 1.50m grand prix in the final week of the Moura Spring Tour in Valencia, Spain, riding Hardesther. The only other double clear came from another Brit, Chloe Aston, riding the Arko III nine-year-old Akito Von Rocherath Z.

    “’Hardy’ is my horse of a lifetime, I trust her and didn’t overpush her as she’s naturally fast,” said Claudia, one of a strong contingent of British winners at this week’s show.

    In showjumping news, Daniel Coyle wins the $100,000 grand prix on Farrel

    Daniel Coyle wins the $100,000 grand prix on Farrel.

    There’s just no stopping Daniel Coyle, “I stared death in the face at the Liverpool”

    Continuing a phenomenal winning streak, Irish rider Daniel Coyle made more showjumping news when he lifted the CSI3* $100,000 LeMieux grand prix at the World Equestrian Center, Ocala, Florida, this time riding Farrel, after a 15-way jump-off.

    “On Farrel, you can turn on half a stride,” said Daniel of the 14-year-old KWPN gelding (Cardento 933 x Stakkato) owned by Ariel Grange.

    “He’s an amazing horse to turn back to a vertical. He’s had a few years off but he’s very handy. Turning back so tight to the second-last jump, that’s all to do with the horse there. [Second-placed] Aaron Vale and I both took risks, but at the end it comes back to the horse and if you can nail it.

    “I galloped to fence one and hoped everything came up good, I was really risky across the centre to the Liverpool – I couldn’t see the flags and I stared death in the face, but he pricked his ears and jumped it.

    “The celebration in the end is the only part of the sport when we get to interact with the crowd,” added Daniel about his third win of this week; he also finished third behind Aaron Vale (Obi Wan) on another 14-year-old, Quintin. “It’s usually just the horse, the owners and the people, so when the audience comes out screaming and are having a great time, it makes it so special for us.”

    Showjumping news: Vogel has the magic Touch again

    Germany’s Richard Vogel, ranked 11 in the world, and United Touch S captured top spot in the $385,000 Lugano Diamonds CSI5* grand prix at Wellington International’s Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) after a four-way jump-off in which the quartet all produced double clears over Anthony D’Ambrosio’s tracks.

    “I have been lucky enough to ride a lot of good horses in my life, but he’s outstanding,” said Richard. “When he leaves the ground, that power and scope is something very unique and I’m very happy to be in his saddle.”

    Darragh Kenny had set the early standard on 17-year-old Holstein stallion VDL Cartello before the lead jumped first to US Olympic team gold medallist McLain Ward on 16-year-old Callas and Shane Sweetnam on James Kann Cruz, back from a break, settled for third.

    “I was very lucky that I went behind all three of these guys, and I knew I had to risk it all,” said 26-year-old Richard, whose groom Felicia Wallin won the $500 grooms’ award presented by Double H Farm. “If I had a rail, I was fourth and if I was a slow clear, I was fourth so there was not so much to lose.”

    In showjumping news, Ben Maher and Dallas Vegas Batilly are back in the winner's enclosure

    Ben Maher and Dallas Vegas Batilly are back in the winner’s enclosure.

    Ben Maher is back at the top

    And finally in this week’s international showjumping news round-up, world number two Ben Maher won the $116,000 Adequan WEF Challenge Cup round seven at WEF with Dallas Vegas Batilly, with less than a second separating the top three riders.

    “I’m lucky with Tilly – she has a huge stride, so I was able to get going and make up some time,” said Ben, 41. “It was lucky for me that I stayed ahead today. It’s always difficult to win here, whether on Thursday or Saturday night. When you have riders like Kent Farrington and Richard Vogel coming behind you, it’s never over until it’s over.

    “She’s been an incredible horse early in her career. She jumped great in the five-star a couple weeks ago and I felt she was on form, which is why we brought her back this week.

    “My 18-month-old son Cooper can sit on her and she’s the sweetest horse ever. But when you’re on her, she has a lot of opinions. I have to be the passenger, not the pilot, and get her to do things by asking her, not telling her. We’ve come with a great relationship, and I want to bring out the best in her. We saw today that she’s a real fighter for me.”

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