Mark Phillips: The best horse in the world could prove useless [H&H VIP]

  • Following on from H&H eventing editor Pippa Roome’s comments about selection last week, Bramham this week and Luhmühlen next will have a huge influence on who gets the call-up for the European Championships at Blair Castle.

    I’ve been involved with selection for more than 25 years now and I’ve found that often horses and riders choose themselves. The first rule is don’t give selectors an excuse not to select you — they find it difficult to ignore results!

    The second part is having a sound horse — the veterinary input is often decisive. By the time a horse has proved itself, almost by definition it will have a few aches and pains. If those are manageable within the rules all well and good, but the best horse in the world who fails the final trot-up is worthless. You cannot win a medal if the team don’t finish. This is so often why apparently inexplicably a partnership will be selected as an individual and not for the team, or left out altogether.

    As hosts the Brits have the luxury of 12 combinations at Blair, so selectors can give valuable experience to up-and-coming stars.

    I’m sure the team will be the A-team, as Yogi Breisner will be keener than ever to knock the Germans off their perch — a tall order as Germany seems to have increasing depth. But with the home advantage, could the formbook be overturned?

    Luhmühlen (pictured) looks to have its strongest four-star field yet. It makes me a little nervous as the course-designer as while still a four-star track, it’s not as tough as sometimes. In Britain we don’t understand the depth of the “green feeling” on the Continent. After the tragic demise of the French horse P’tite Bombe in 2013 and Ben Winter last year, there is unprecedented pressure to produce an incident-free cross-country day.

    Michael Jung plans to run his Kentucky horses at Luhmühlen. Two four-stars within eight weeks is unusual — most people find the intensity of the modern test does not let them run more often at three- or four-star than in the with-steeplechase days.

    Despite the wet, both horses must have had an easy trip around Lexington and these days equines seem to cross the Atlantic as easily as the road, such are the advances in veterinary science and air transportation.

    The ends of the spectrum

    I was in Aachen to see Scott Brash win the second leg of the Rolex Grand Slam of Showjumping — he was lucky as he used some Braille technique in the first two rounds, but was outstandingly brilliant in the jump-off.

    I was not quite so lucky, being bumped off my flight afterwards, leading to a catalogue of events which left me out of love with British Airways!

    Over in America, I designed CCI and CIC one- and two-star courses at Roebke’s Run in Minnesota, 100 miles west of Minneapolis in the heart of corn (maize) country. Each division struggled to get 10 starters. What a contrast to the glamour of Aachen, but these small events are still special in their own way.

    Back in England I designed the two-star and intermediate tracks at Rockingham Castle. It’s fun to be associated with such energy and enthusiasm — this is an event “on the move”.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 11 June 2015