Harry Meade: There are three riders way ahead of the rest of the world *H&H VIP*

  • We were given a display of dominance over the past fortnight, at Burghley and the European Championships at Blair, both of which were won by Germany’s Michael Jung.

    The course at Burghley was a triumph. It was big with some daunting combinations; it certainly got riders talking, but as is so often the case when a course is imposing, it rode well and horses and riders relished the challenge. The direct routes kept horses pointing in the direction of travel so they maintained the will to draw forwards.

    At both Burghley and Blair the cream rose to the top. The only change I’d make at both would be showjumping time, which was too easy and allowed riders to school round.

    Well done to Alec Lochore and Ian Stark at Blair for a superb championship.

    Michael Jung’s back-to-back victories are a staggering accomplishment. At Burghley it was wonderful to see one of the best partnerships of recent times win; Michael seemed overwhelmed by the public’s support. His Blair win was a masterclass on a young horse and the margin of 9.1 penalties was vast for a championship.

    At Blair seven British riders scored in the 30s in the dressage, although six of these then had refusals. There were standout performances Izzy Taylor and Kitty King were both close to the medals, while Pippa Funnell’s display with Sandman 7 could be the start of a new era of team appearances for her. We would love to have won gold, but silver behind such a strong German team is a great achievement.

    Assessing the Germans

    Ingrid Klimke, eventual fifth, was unlucky as she was the only rider in the top 10 to go late on when the going had deteriorated. She would have clocked fewer than her eight time-faults had she been earlier, and since she finished 1.4 penalties — or four seconds — off bronze, consistent conditions would have given all three individual medals to Germany.

    As for Michael Jung, his career bucket list must be almost complete. He has won every championship title, for both team and individual, and at European level he has done this three times over. He won Kentucky and Burghley on his debut, all but won Badminton on his first visit (when he had the last fence down — maybe his one challenge remaining), has taken Luhmühlen twice and is the world number one.

    Never before has the sport seen such consistent medal success from one individual. Going into the Olympic year he has four potential horses with stellar form — three have won at least one individual gold and the fourth an individual silver.

    Learning from history

    The reality is the Germans, or rather three riders — Michael, Ingrid and Sandra Auffarth — are way ahead of the rest of the world. Not long ago the Germans were pretty hit-and-miss across country and there was strong chance they could crash out (2009 Europeans at Fontainebleau and 2010 worlds at Kentucky); team trainer Chris Bartle has played a pivotal part in changing that and they now look infallible.

    Between 1967 and 1972 Britain won six consecutive team golds, including two Olympic Games — the longest period of success by any country across all championships (Olympic, world and European) in the sport’s history. The Germans are now on five; should they win in Rio and again in Strzegom (venue of the 2017 Europeans) they will set a new record.

    So how can we beat the Germans? The quick answer is that at the moment every other team could deliver their best ever team score and still fall short.

    As things stand, the British, Australians, New Zealanders, French and Americans are going into Rio expecting to battle it out for silver and bronze. Should the Germans slip up, which we all know can happen in eventing, then the best of the rest will take the gold, but outperforming them is a tall order.

    Longer term, we’ll keep working to improve, reviewing personal performances and approaches as well as the national training programmes.

    It is possible that another country, hopefully ours, will usurp the Germans by outperforming them.

    However, judging from history, it is more likely that the Germans will lose form; their three main riders are in a simultaneous purple patch, with their horses of a lifetime, settled coaching staff and they are full of confidence. But this will pass — it always does — even though it looks like a far-fetched notion now.

    We must not lose our heads, the sport in this country is very healthy. All periods of dominance come to an end; national success happens in waves, and every wave has a start, middle and end. We have a strong depth of riders and, while there are definitely changes we need to make to keep improving, we will be back on the top step again.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 17 September 2015