Britain's Showjumpers remain in the hunt for medals in Herning

Thursday, 11 August 2022

Day two of the Agria FEI World Jumping Championship presented by Helgstrand dawned under bright blue skies with the anticipation that the competition was heating up to match the weather. The Brits had mixed start to open the competition but clears from team stalwarts Ben Maher and Scott Brash left the team in fourth and Scott second individually.

Today’s competition was a Table A single round competition where clear rounds inside the time were the order of the day for both the team total and progression to Sunday’s individual finale. The course used every inch of the Stutteri Ask Stadium and it was set to maximum dimensions with a number of testing lines.

Ben Maher and Faltic HB

Stepping into the pathfinder role this morning were Ben Maher and the Oakingham Stud’s Faltic HB. Yesterday’s speed classes might not be Faltic’s favourite, given that he’s not a naturally fast horse, but he got the job done to add an important clear round to the team tally and achieve a top-10 individual placing for him and Ben. Today, however, was much more his ball game – a course of 14 fences to complete within an allowed time.

‘It’s different,” Ben explained. “The same sport, but different. Experience comes into play a little between yesterday and today. Yesterday, it’s about risk management – keeping yourself up there individually and in the team. You can’t win the first day, but you can lose the first day.”

It takes a true master to make a full-height 165cm track look easy, but that’s exactly what Ben achieved today. He settled the 12-year-old stallion into an easy, natural rhythm, and Faltic never seemed to sway from it. Their round wasn’t flashy and they never seemed to be rushing, but still they finished comfortably inside the time to add nothing to the team score or their individual overnight score of 1.72 from yesterday. This will certainly add confidence for the British combinations still to come – Joe Stockdale and Equine America Cacharel, Harry Charles and Romeo 88, and Scott Brash and Hello Jefferson.

‘Everything went to plan again, so it makes my life a lot easier when I don’t have to adjust and change the rhythm – everything seems to be happening how I planned so far this week,” explained Ben. “The pace was right, the angles, the numbers, everything came up exactly as they did, and I don’t think he could jump the round any better than he did today.”

“We kept ourselves well positioned [yesterday], so now it’s just about jumping one jump at a time and trying to knock off the rounds, and hopefully I’ve given the team good positive confidence to finish the day well.’

The team started today in fourth position on a score of 6.6, with Sweden out in front with 3.69, then France and Belgium on 5.44 and 5.49 respectively. While there’s still plenty of jumping to be done before the team final tomorrow, nobody can afford to throw away points.

‘I think we’re positive, we have a good team,” said Ben. “Everyone is on form – obviously, we have a good mix of experience and slightly less experience, but I thought everyone jumped well yesterday and we are pretty positive for this week.”

Joseph Stockdale and Equine America Cacharel

Yesterday’s pathfinder duo, Joe Stockdale and Equine America Cacharel, owned by mum Laura and grandmother Joy Cocklin, stepped down the team order to take the second rotation. Joe was visibly disappointed with a rail down yesterday because ‘Cash’ was a horse very much in form ahead of their second championship together, and today’s round would be a chance to address the balance.

They set off their customary relaxed canter and confidently cleared the first half of the course. A turn across the sweeping arena to a wide oxer, which Cash pinged over, was followed by a dog leg to the tricky treble combination. The 10-year-old mare was travelling straight and true and looked to be in the perfect position for the first part, but a slight stutter on the final stride brought down the back rail. Joe pushed for the two strides and cleared the second element, an upright, but just lost the momentum to the final fence. Cash put in every effort she could, but couldn’t make the wide spread and sent the poles flying.

A momentary loss of confidence for the careful mare brought the next fence tumbling down, too, despite her almost turning herself inside out in an attempt to clear it. Sympathetic riding from Joe reassured his partner and they were clear the rest of the way, looking much more the pair who are started the round. It was a total of 12 faults for the Northamptonshire-based duo – not the day two performance that Joe was aiming for out of today.

“Obviously, it’s not the result I wanted. I made a mistake and it basically cost me three fences,” said a despondent Joe. “Of course, it’s good to be here. It would have been nice to do well today, but I’ll come back tomorrow and see how we do,” he added philosophically.

Harry Charles and Romeo 88

The third rotation rider was Harry Charles with Ann Thompson’s Romeo 88. The 22-year-old was another one keen to make up for the disappointment of day one, when he and the Contact van de Heffinck gelding dislodged the final upright to mar an otherwise brilliant round.

The pair started well, meeting each fence in a forward rhythm, and the gelding was responding to his rider’s every ask – the first eight fences were cleared with ease. Fence nine was the treble combination that had caught Joe and Cash, with wide airy parallel into a tall upright with a parallel out. Romeo jumped in with a spot-on stride, but inexplicably lowered the top rail of the upright with his hindleg, then brought down both poles of the parallel on the way out for a total of eight faults.

Harry is a calm rider when the pressure is on, and he quickly regained Romeo’s composure and finished the course error-free. This meant it was eight to add which, with two riders gone for each country, lowered Britain from third to tenth.

“It was nearly a perfect round, I still don’t know what happened to be honest,” said a bemused Harry. “I’ll have to watch the video back, but he seemed to get into the combination really good and just somehow ended up a bit of a mess in the middle. I still don’t really know why, but apart from that he never touched a pole, he jumped amazing. It’s just frustrating, I guess,” he lamented.

“He jumped better than yesterday and there’s still loads of energy in him. I don’t know – it was uncharacteristic, but he jumped good and after that he finished as good as he started, so hopefully tomorrow we won’t be too far behind. We have to be pushing a bit for the lead today, so it’s a bit disappointing, but hopefully Scott will pull it out of the bag,” he summed up.

Scott Brash and Hello Jefferson

With Great Britain last in the team draw, anchor combination Scott Brash and Hello Jefferson had a long wait before they were able to walk down the tunnel into the Stutteri Ask Stadium. As well as needed to secure an all-important clear round to qualify the British team for tomorrow’s final, they had the added pressure of wanting to hang on to the runner-up placing that they’d secured in yesterday’s speed class.

From the moment they set foot on the sand, Lady Pauline Harris and Lady Pauline Kirkham’s bay gelding looked raring to go. He and Scott flew round the course, making the enormous fences look like a Pony Club track. There was just one fraction of a second where Jefferson seemed to be backing off from the water, but everything else was pure perfection.

‘It’s quite a long time – we walked the course at midday and, to remember what I walked at the end, you watch a lot of different horses and riders and they have bigger strides and smaller strides, but then you have to remember that the way you walked is focused on what suits your horse, so you have to remember that plan.

“I just stayed focused on the horse and the plan. I thought he was a bit sharper today, a bit more tense, not just as smooth as yesterday I didn’t think, but he was jumping great and I think he’ll be good tomorrow.”

Their clear round, easily inside the time, was the boost that Britain needed – lifting the team from tenth to sixth overnight. A second stylish clear has further pressed their suit as individuals and now maintain their silver medal position after two rounds. After the disappointments of Tokyo, where one time fault stopped them jumping off for an individual medal, then being the bridesmaids at Aachen last month, Scott and Jefferson seem hungry for success.

“He’s in really good form, said Scott. “He jumped amazing in Aachen and it feels like he can do anything, so I was pretty confident coming here that he was in good shape. But to come and go well the first day, to keep all the poles up every day, inside the time allowed, it’s so demanding so you need a bit of luck along the way. You never know what’s going to happen, but I was very happy with where he was and in his fitness and leading into the championships.

Things haven’t always been easy, though. Hello Jefferson had a reputation for being a bit of a wild child in his younger days, but Scott has never waivered in his belief in the gelding. His years of dedication and the relationship they’ve built together are truly shining through in Herning. 

“He was quite tricky to start with, I think because he’s such a busy brain,” explained Scott. “He’s strong-minded so he always thinks he knows best, so that’s taken time to get a partnership. He always wants to be doing something. The other horses could be sleeping in their stable, but he’s always got his head out the stable door and seeing what we’re doing and what we’re doing next, he’s just that sort of horse. He’s very energetic so everyone loves him.

When asked what it was that’s changed in the gelding, Scott’s answer was both simple and emotive.

“It’s hours of training, and hours spending time every day, working him every day – you’re soulmates at the end of the day, they’re who we spend most time with, they’re like our family,” he said “I spend more time with him than my family.

“It’s just a great partnership. It’s just getting to know them, having a great partnership, just hacking them around the hills – you get to know them and get to understand one another, so it’s just how we’re sort of training and getting to know one another that’s brought out that partnership.”

Looking ahead

Once the results of today are totted up, it’s the top 10 nations who qualify for tomorrow’s final, when the team medals will be decided. In addition, the top 60 combinations will progress in the individual competition, which will reach its conclusion on Sunday.

Finishing in sixth position means that Great Britain will be back in the Stutteri Ask Stadium tomorrow night. Now sitting on a score of 14.66, it will take good results and not a little bit of luck to make the podium tomorrow – but this is showjumping, and anything can happen – and just a pole separates Germany in third and Canada in eighth.

“I think we’re still in the hunt,” summed up Scott. “The two lads, Joe and Harry – they ran very good rounds, they just had a little mistake each and apart from that they rode really well. They’re both mature lads, they’re great competitors, they’re great teammates and I think they’ll come back tomorrow and give good performances.’

In terms of the individual competition, Scott and Hello Jefferson hold onto their silver medal position. Ben and Faltic HB are in touch from sixth, while Harry and Romeo 88 will continue their campaign from 56th place. Joe and Equine America Cacharel will unfortunately not progress to Sunday’s individual final, but will continue to play their part for the team tomorrow.

You can access the full results via our Herning Hub. Tomorrow’s team final will be available to stream on ClipMyHorse.TV from 20:00 BST.