Andrew Nicholson: ‘Top event horses still need to be able to gallop’


  • Multiple five-star winner Andrew Nicholson reflects on last week’s European Eventing Championships and looks ahead to Burghley

    The site for the European Eventing Championships – Haras du Pin – was a vast improvement from when it hosted the World Equestrian Games (WEG) in 2014. This time, all the stabling was permanent, there were lots of all-weather arenas and other touches, such as a nice restaurant-coffee bar overlooking the dressage arenas.

    I thought the fences on the first half of the Europeans cross-country course were very big; perhaps a warning from designer Pierre le Goupil that his Paris Olympics track next year might not be too small, either. He had used all the hilly areas in a nice way, and the entire course was on undulating ground.

    It was just unfortunate that it has rained in that area of France like it has here this summer, which meant plenty of green grass, but that the ground was soft enough already before heavy rain on Friday afternoon and night.

    After that wet WEG, the organisers knew what to expect and wisely, I think, took a loop of nearly two minutes off the track. Bearing in mind that Ros Canter was the only rider inside the time, it was the right decision.

    Obviously taking out a section of the cross-country upsets the plan the designer has for the track as a whole, and I think fence 18 was more influential than it would have been otherwise as a result. It was a corner into water that appeared quite straightforward when I first walked it, but the changes meant that competitors went from fence 11 direct to 17ab and that probably affected their approach to 18.

    Initially, the brush fences were pretty high, but they were trimmed when it was clear that conditions would be demanding. Both the jump into the first water and the skinny in the water were lowered, and that probably meant more people got through there clear than I had thought would.

    Cross-country day was a good one, overall – the results sheet was shaken up nicely and in general, riders rode to the conditions and horses looked tired but not excessively so at the finish.

    Still but strong

    Ros Canter gave an absolute masterclass – for sure Lordships Graffalo is a very good galloper, but Ros does a brilliant job. She sits still but is very strong and effective.

    Michi Jung looked to be doing it all very easily until his horse just didn’t put its front feet out on landing for some reason, knuckled on to its knees and shot him through the air.

    Ros – and Ireland’s Sarah Ennis, first of the day – made it look easy. But as more and more of the warmblood-bred horses left the start box, it was apparent that the time would be difficult to get. Riders had to make sure they kept enough of a rhythm to jump the big fences at the beginning, but with enough gas left in the tank to get them to the finish.

    It was good to see Kitty King doing well, too. Her horse isn’t the galloper on soft ground that Ros’s is and she had to work hard in the final third, but she has been rewarded for her preparation and her riding.

    Some riders will be disappointed with their day and might need to look at why. Perhaps they had overdone the dressage training and neglected the fitness, thinking it was “just” a Europeans. Then the weather came along and caught them out.

    On to Burghley Horse Trials now, where I am judging the final gallop phase of the Burghley young event horse championships. That’s definitely a new role for me at the event I consider the best in the world, but I’m looking forward to it. After all, big events so far this year have proved how essential gallop is to top event horses.

    ● Who impressed you at the Europeans? Write to hhletters@futurenet.com, including your name, nearest town and county, for the chance to have your views published in a future edition of Horse & Hound magazine

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 17 August, 2023

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