Friday, 24 September 2021
Uninterrupted sunshine greeted everyone in Avenches for day two of dressage at the FEI European Championships in Switzerland. As competition got underway, Britain had the advantage in both the team and individual contests, but what could today bring?
Our first rider in front of the Ground Jury of Andrew Bennie (NZL), Christian Steiner (AUT) and Christian Landolt (SUI) was Kitty King with her Tokyo first-reserve horse Vendredi Biats. The eye-catching grey, owned by Diana Bown, Sally Eyre, Samantha Wilson and Sally Lloyd- Baker, was reportedly very fresh during his early morning leg stretch, but looked focused as he entered the main arena. The duo showed excellent suppleness and relaxation, with the half-passes, extended walk and flying changes all scoring well as a result. A great final centreline crowned a strong test and the judges rewarded their performance with 24.1
“I was really chuffed with him,” she said after her test. “He tried really hard and I think it was pretty mistake-free. We got his halt and changes, which can be a bit spicy sometimes with him – he got everything and tried really hard. If I could have kept him a little more in front of me, maybe I could have squeezed a few more marks, but overall I chuffed with him and no mistakes, and we didn’t let the team down.
“You want to do as good a job as you can so you don’t let anyone down and be the one that’s being held above water by your team mates. You want to be there for them and get as good a score as possible to support one another. It’s great to be a part of such a great band of girls.”
On her preparation to get to the Championships, she said: “It has been tricky to keep him up this year. First we were prepping for Badminton, then Luhmühlen, which we didn’t go to and then for Tokyo. He travelled to Liege with the others for Tokyo [in case he was needed as a reserve], then when he came home we gave him ten days in the field just to try and let him down a bit. Then we had to prepare for another strong run prior to selection, so we’ve always had to perform under pressure each time out this year, which has been hard work, but it’s been good for us both. He came out nicely at Hartpury and did a nice solid performance, and then just one slow run across country, which was my plan to prepare for here. It’s a relief to finally get here!”
With the cross-country as the next opportunity to build on their score, Kitty is already thinking ahead to the challenges of the course. “It’s a very different track to what we get in the UK. Lots of twists and turns and I think that’s going to slow us down a lot – your average cruising speed is going to be a lot slower than a normal gallopy track. You’re always on a turn here, so you’re going to have be on your A-game and keep your focus. There’s plenty of places where you could have a silly mistake – but there’s also making sure you’re on the right side of the string. We’ll have to stay on the ball and focused from fence one to the last fence. It’s going to be quite intense for the horses the whole way round, there aren’t many areas for let-ups. They’ve done a great job with the facilities and space they’ve got.”
It was then the turn of our second individual combination, Sarah Bullimore and her homebred Corouet whom she owns with the Kew Jumping Syndicate and husband Brett Bullimore. This is a special combination because Sarah rode ‘Elfie’s’ mother, Lilly Corinne, the last time she rode for Britain – the 2015 European Championships at Blair Castle. The pocket-sized chestnut – who barely tops 15.2hh – is by the renowned jumping sire Balou de Rouet and what he may lack in size, he makes up for in character and talent.
He buzzed about the arena with great presence and purred through test with great flow – marks were lost in the walk due to a bit of tension, but Elfie’s focus returned in the canter work. A final centreline, which earned 26 out of 30, brought a super end to their round. The score was 22.8, which would certainly leave them amongst the leaders once the day was done.
“He was fabulous!” a delighted Sarah exclaimed. “He went in and got a little bit tight and excited, but he kept in all together. I’m a little frustrated – there are still bits which could be so much better. His changes are normally a highlight, but both today weren’t quite right. Normally with him, even when they’re bad, they’re good, though. He’s still a work in progress and there’s so much more to come from him.”
Sarah was quizzed on what it means to compete on a homebred. “That makes it all the more special,” she said. “I’ve known him all his life and he is a big attitude in a very small package. It’s fabulous to have ridden his mother at my last Europeans and then have him here is really special.”
And her thoughts on the course? “Hopefully the course won’t feel so twisty for me! It should feel easier for him than the others on the big horses. He does still have a huge stride, so there’s that, but he’s so well balanced so will cope with it really well,” she explained.
As the afternoon progressed, Britain’s stranglehold on the leaderboard was eased as reigning European champions Ingrid Klimke and 17-year-old star, SAP Hale Bob, out-scored yesterday’s leaders Nicola Wilson and JL Dublin by just 0.7 penalties to take top spot.
And so to our final team combination, and what better duo to have than the reigning world champions, Ros Canter and Allstar B, who she owns alongside Caroline Moore. Having travelled to Tokyo as reserves but never going in the area as competitors, Ros and ‘Alby’ may feel they have a point to prove in Avanches. As the diminutive rider cantered the tall gelding around the arena in preparation to enter, it was certainly ‘game faces on’. The score to better was 20.2 and the British duo can go sub-20, so would today be one of those occasions?
They started brightly with three scores of 8.5 from the judges, and the sevens, eights and nines flowed from there. There was lovely energy in the trot half-passes and the activity throughout the test was excellent. They finished with a flourish, with an impressive final extended trot across the diagonal followed by a straight centreline. With two nines for the harmony mark, the score continued to improve until it settled on a final 20.6. Excellent for the team, but not quite enough for the lead individually – just 0.4 behind Ingrid and ‘Bobby’.
“He was his usual lazy self!” Ros admitted afterwards, where she was joined in the mixed zone by her 18-month-old daughter, Ziggy. “I asked everyone [in the British camp] to clap and cheer as we came in – he pricked his ears for about half a second!”
However, she had nothing but praise for her equine partner: “He’s just the most ridable horse I’ve ever had in a dressage test, he doesn’t change regardless of the atmosphere or anything else, which means I can ride for every mark. That’s where his heart shines – it’s how he always has been. Time and time again, he does a mistake-free test. It’s a lot of pressure on him, but I want to enjoy every minute as I know I haven’t got many left with him.”
“He always makes me work for it, but we know each other inside and out. I know that when we get in there, he’s pretty solid so that I can really attack it – it’s what makes him such a special horse, really.”
At the end of the dressage phase, Britain holds a 4.9 penalty lead over the defending champions Germany as our all-female team press on in their bid to win back the title, which would make Britain champions across European, World and Olympic level concurrently. France’s Maxim Livio pulled out a striking test to score 21.3 and leave him fourth, boosting the nation’s medal chances to complete the podium places heading into tomorrow’s cross-country.
Individually, Britain’s six riders all occupy places in the top 20. Ros Canter and Nicola Wilson are on the podium with Ingrid Klimke and just 0.7 of a penalty separates the three. Sarah Bullimore is fifth, Piggy March sixth and Kitty King eight. Izzy Taylor is in 20th, but only 3.5 penalties adrift of the top ten.
Mike Etherington-Smith has prepared a true championship cross country test – you can see the course and fences via Cross Country App ahead of the tomorrow’s action.
You can watch the cross country on the BBC via iPlayer, IPTV and the BBC Sport website from 09.50am or with a subscription to FEI.TV, powered by ClipMyHorse. Remember, all British Equestrian members are eligible for a 10% discount on new subscriptions – it’s free to join!
For times and results, click here.