Germany triumphs at Le Lion d’Angers as Oliver Townend heads the Brits *H&H Plus*

Oliver Townend leads the British effort with a silver for his six-year-old, while German riders are dominant in both classes at the prestigious young horse World Championships

  • FEI WBFSH World Breeding Eventing Championship for Young Horses, Le Lion d’Angers, France, 15–18 October

    Germany’s riders showcased their potential, landing both the six- and seven-year-old titles. Le Lion is renowned as a Petri dish for future Olympians, with the best of this year’s cohort set to return to France for Paris 2024.

    Sophie Leube isn’t yet a star on the formidable German team, but she showed her mettle here with peerless performances in each phase to triumph in the seven-year-old CCI3*-L on Sweetwaters Ziethen TSF on 27.6.

    The Abendtanz-sired Trakehner stallion, owned by Sweetwater Stud in Bulgaria, was unlucky not to be among last year’s medals – he slipped on atrocious going in the showjumping. However, an assured round on the new sand surface ensured a copybook performance this time.

    “He didn’t want to touch a thing – he knew what he had to do and he did it,” said Sophie, 33. “I’ve had him since he was four and he’s never jumped a fence with another rider. He’s a stallion who wants to show off, yet he’s always relaxed and listening – he’s a lot of fun.”

    The silver and bronze flip-flopped on the final day between two Frenchmen, Donatien Schauly (Dgin Du Pestel Mili) and Nicolas Touzaint, who dropped to third when Diabolo Menthe lowered a pole. But the most striking charge through the jumping phases came from Briton Alex Bragg, who was 16th and nearly eight penalties adrift in the dressage on the Nuttalls’ Ardeo Premier. He was one of only three to finish on his dressage score, securing overall fourth.

    “My horse is as green as grass, he moved up to intermediate only two months ago,” said Alex. “It’s not that he can’t do the fancy dressage moves, but he’s off the pace because he’s immature and we’ve taken him slowly. I felt confident he’d jump double clear.”

    Britain’s six runners enjoyed mixed fortunes. Two caught the eye in the dressage – Laura Collett (Moonlight Charmer), sixth on 31.4; and Ros Canter, seventh on Izilot DHI on 31.5. The latter, last year’s national six-year-old champion, bounced out of the startbox with his usual panache, but incurred three refusals at different skinnies due to greenness. His time will surely come. Moonlight Charmer breezed round to hold fourth overnight.

    “He started green over all the undulations but finished confidently – he’s very honest,” said Laura – but their medal hopes evaporated when the horse was sadly spun the next day. Alex endured a nervous moment when the Irish-bred Ardeo Premier was also held at the inspection, but survived to jump an impeccable clear in the showjumping. Cross-county problems were spread out, with the offset hedges at 17ab proving influential as well as the twisty combinations at the first water (7abc) and ditches to corner (10abc). A third of the field failed to complete, but a quarter posted a clean sheet.

    Klimke’s fourth Le Lion winner

    Long-time leader Tom McEwen narrowly failed to frank his brilliant displays in the first two phases of the six-year-old CCI2*-L, lowering two fences in the latter part of the showjumping to slip from first to sixth on the Barkers’ MHS Brown Jack. Instead, Germany’s Le Lion specialist Ingrid Klimke, who lay 0.8 of a penalty behind Tom throughout, snatched victory with a double clear on Cascamara.

    But it wasn’t all downhill for the Brits; Oliver Townend moved up from fifth after dressage to land silver on a clean sheet with Paul Ridgeon’s dapple-grey, Cooley Rosalent. Dutch rider Merel Blom and her Holstein mare Corminta Vom Gwick took bronze.

    This was Ingrid’s fourth gold at Le Lion, following Sleep Late, Weisse Duene and Asha P.

    “In July Cascamara was so green, I couldn’t have Le Lion as an aim,” said Ingrid of the Cascadello II mare. “But she did so well at her first two-star, we decided to go just for experience. This victory shows her quality and she was a pleasure in all three disciplines.”

    The British trio was on form in phase one, with Kitty King (Monbeg Hendricks) joining Tom and Oliver in the top 10. Although Kitty ran out late on the cross-country, both men stormed home inside the 8min 58sec time.

    “Jack really learnt as he went round,” Tom said of his 17hh partner. “He started to feel it at seven minutes but kept going. Anything that was big or complicated, he threw in a lovely jump.”

    Oliver was dreaming of further glory with Cooley Rosalent after she fulfilled his expectations.

    “I thought beforehand she was one for the future and she showed she has enough blood for the top level,” said Oliver, who’s notched three wins with the Valent x Roselier mare this season. “We came here for education; the result is a bonus. It was the biggest test she’s had, and when I gave her a squeeze she sped up with her ears pricked.”

    Crowds – support jor distraction?

    In a normal year, 60,000 spectators flock to Le Lion. Enthusiastic crowds flanking the cross-country track create a serious buzz for these young horses. For many, their performance is as much down to how they deal with their first experience of this type of atmosphere as the obstacles themselves. Some horses thrive on that excitement, for others the muted setting proved a bonus this year.

    “It was good for [six-year-old champion] Cascamara there were no spectators because she was spooky,” said Ingrid Klimke. “A huge crowd would have taken her focus off the jumps. But now she is prepared for next year with spectators.”

    Alex Bragg said the colourful, well-dressed fences meant horses knew it was a big occasion, but that crowds would have been influential.

    “No spectators meant one less challenge to contend with, but as it’s my first Le Lion I don’t feel I’ve had the full experience,” he said. “I’ll have to come back!”

    “He tries so hard”

    “In two years he’ll be a top horse, watch this space,” said Alex Bragg, fourth in the seven-year-olds on Ardeo Premier. “He’s such a good jumper and tries so hard that we’ve saved him and we’ve been rewarded. He galloped with ease and found another gear when I asked him at the end. I’d be confident about doing a four-star in the spring.”

    The bay was sent to the holding box at both inspections, and Alex says he’ll be “practising trotting up”.

    “He doesn’t get lit up, which shows a great temperament, but it would help to show some spark instead of ambling along; it feels like I’m dragging a child to school!”

    Ref Horse & Hound; 22 October 2020