British jumping team secures first World Championship medal in 24 years

Saturday, 13 August 2022

Tonight, under the floodlights of the Stutteri Ask Stadium, the final battle of jumping team medals at the 2022 Agria FEI World Jumping Championship presented by Helgstrand played out. With the scores tightly bunched and Olympic qualification slots up for grabs, it proved to be an exciting night of top-class sport. A tricky course by Louis Konickx and Quintin Maetens caught out many a top combination, and the leaderboard went through so many twists and turns that the crowds could barely keep track of who was holding onto one of the all-important placings at the top of the table.

In a fact that might surprise many, the last time that Britain won a medal at a World Championship was in Rome in 1998. Collecting a bronze medal alongside John Whitaker, Geoff Billington and Nick Skelton was Di Lampard, who would go on to become Showjumping Performance Manager for British Equestrian’s World Class Programme. Tonight history would repeat itself, as the team collected another bronze, their first world championship medal in 24 years, but this time with Di at the helm.

Ben Maher and Faltic HB

Ben Maher and the 12-year-old Faltic HB were once again pathfinders for the British team. Unfortunately, their round didn’t get off to the best start when Faltic touched the back bar of the opening oxer, earning them a very early four faults. A start like that that would rattle some riders – especially with a tightly packed scoreboard to add extra pressure – but certainly not Ben. Ever the ice man and knowing full what could to be won and lost tonight, he picked up the Oakingham Stud’s bay stallion and set about making things right.

The rest of the round was pure perfection – smooth, rhythmic and perfectly judged against the clock. The final line of a treble into a related distance, which had caught out several of the other first rotation combinations, didn’t prove an issue and they crossed the last with just the early four penalties to add to the British tally and a new personal score of 5.42.

“It was a terrible start, the first fence down – normally he’s very, very focused on the first fence, so maybe he just needed a little bit of an adjustment in the light between outside and in,” mused Ben. “It was just a minor judgement error – he just threw a toe and knocked it down.

“That course is a long way after the first fence down, but I just told myself to settle down and jump one jump at a time, and he jumped unbelievably, he jumped fantastic. Faltic’s done an amazing job this week and he’s really proved that he’s a championship horse”

While it might not have been the start that the team wanted, the course was causing plenty of problems elsewhere – the hunt was still on.

Joe Stockdale and Equine America Cacharel

Jumping at a senior championship takes incredible mental fortitude – with three rounds of jumping in the team competition, the ability not to let mistakes affect your future performance is essential. Yesterday was not Joe Stockdale and Equine America Cacharel’s day – one tiny mistake caused a domino effect that brought three fences down, and a despondent Joe was left feeling as though he’d let his team down.

“I just keep replaying that one mistake over and over again in my head,” he explained. “I didn’t sleep at all last night.”

What’s done was done, though, and Joe had no choice but to put yesterday behind him and focus on the challenge ahead.

“It was a long competition yesterday, and I think I watched one or two too many rounds and just started to over-analyse the course and my plan. Today, I walked the course twice, made a plan, watched the first two and didn’t watch any more go.”

Joe had made his plan and it was time to put it into action. He and 10-year-old Cash set off, seemingly unfazed by what is definitely the biggest atmosphere they’ve ever experienced. The pair looked as though they’d had left the disappointment of the day before far behind them and truly come into their own. Just one unlucky pole on the second part of the combination at fence nine marred an otherwise perfect round, and Joe left the arena with a look of satisfaction on his face.

“I’m so proud of my horse. She was all over it today and she was good enough yesterday to jump a clear, it was only my error that caused those few fences. The whole week, she’s jumped far better than the scores will look. It was nice to come back today and sort of put it to right – nearly.

“The guys on the team have been amazing. I was really kicking myself last night and I don’t want to let them down. Having the result yesterday wasn’t what I came here to do, so they were very good to me. They didn’t turn their backs on me and they’ve been supporting me all day, and when I was working the mare this morning, they were there with me. Really, I put a lot down to them – they’ve helped me out. And William Funnell, he’s here training me as well and he’s been by my side the whole time, which is nice.”

Joe’s crucial round – which would act as a counting score on account of being faster than Ben’s four-faulter – was made even more poignant because today would have been his dad’s 58th birthday. When Tim died in 2018, Joe gave up a promising career in cricket to concentrate on jumping in honour of his dad, and he admitted that his round on Thursday made him question if it was the right decision. However, the outcome of today will have surely laid those doubts to rest.

Harry Charles and Romeo 88

As the competition entered its third rotation, the fight for a podium placing was showing no signs of abating. The pressure was on for Great Britain as Harry Charles and Romeo 88 came under the floodlights. The first two rounds of the competition hadn’t been quite what they were hoping for, with an uncharacteristic two down yesterday and one in the speed round, and so they were hoping to change their fortunes this evening.

And change them, they did. Romeo looked full of fire as he set off, with Harry expertly channelling him through tight, punchy lines that set him up well for the fences. Fence by fence, they flew round without ever looking as though they’d touch a fence – the pair were back on form. They crossed the line with time to spare and all the poles still in the cups, adding nothing to the British tally.

“That was definitely better than yesterday. It couldn’t be better. To be honest, the whole week’s been so unlucky, even yesterday was one tiny mistake that made us have two down. The horse has jumped amazing all week, really.

“It certainly feels like one of the hardest courses in the world to jump tonight, but it felt fantastic. It wasn’t the easiest ride we’ve ever had. He was quite strong today – after three days, he was still somehow absolutely wild in the warm-up, bucking and kicking, so he was quite fresh. He needed that a bit of zip for how high the jumps were and he fought so hard for me.”

Being in the third rotation gave Harry the advantage of feedback from his team mates, meaning he could adjust his plan accordingly.

“We knew the time was going to be very tight. He’s not the quickest horse in the world, but he’s not the slowest either. All the distances came up perfectly – I think the biggest thing was getting to that double [fence nine] as slow as you can, waiting to jump those two verticals before you even think about the oxer. That’s what I was being told by Ben and Joe, so that’s what I tried to do, but he was pulling me down to it and he managed to get over it well. He jumped it super.

While Harry was pleased with his round tonight and being able to deliver an all-important clear for the team, the problems earlier in the week meant qualification for the individual final was looking uncertain.

The icing on the cake for Harry tonight was having Romeo’s owner, Ann Thompson, here in Herning to support him.

“It’s lovely to have her here,” said Harry, who gave Ann a big hug soon after dismounting. “She’s changed my career – I definitely wouldn’t be here without her, I wouldn’t have gone to the Olympics last year. She’s trusted me with so much and I’m forever thankful to her, and so happy that I could give her a round like that.”

Scott Brash and Hello Jefferson

It was down to Scott Brash and Hello Jefferson to sew up the British efforts. The 13-year-old gelding has looked class all week and the pair were sitting second in the individual standings, so Scott’s sights were firmly fixed on continuing that trend. They set off well, but the heightened atmosphere behind the scenes had put Jefferson in a feisty mood and Scott was clearly having to work hard to keep the round smooth. A touch on the third fence had the crowd gasping, but it stayed up and they carried on. However, their luck ran out at the second part of the combination at nine – the bogey fence of the evening – and the back bar hit the sand.

“The lads were brilliant – Joe, Harry and Ben really dug deep,” said Scott. “It’s great for the two young lads pulling out great scores there today – I’m delighted for the team.”

“I’m disappointed [in my own round]. The warm-up was bad. There were a lot of guys getting excited at the practice fences and he’s a sharp horse – he doesn’t need that sort of thing going on. I was pretty disappointed with that, he came in tense and I wasn’t really happy with it. I think the tension came through into the ring and we didn’t do our best round – it wasn’t bad considering, though. Jefferson has been amazing – he still is amazing.”

Taking it to the wire

The night wasn’t over yet, though. As the fourth round progressed and more poles hit the sand, Britain suddenly found themselves within touching distance of the podium. There were two combinations still to go – Kevin Staut and Scuderia 1918 Viking d'la Rousserie for France, and Peder Fredricson and H&M All In for Sweden. While Sweden had proved uncatchable and already secured the gold medal, and the Netherlands looked comfortable in silver, France were hanging on to the bronze by a thread. They afford one fence to stay ahead of Britain, but not two.

That buffer evaporated almost immediately, however, when Kevin and his horse lowered the first. The crowds held their breath as they progressed through the course, tapping fences as they went. They cleared the tricky combination at nine and looped around the turn by the arena gate, with just fence 12 and the final line to go, before disaster struck – a miscalculation into the white and gold oxer at 12 sent the poles tumbling. At the last minute, the bronze passed into British hands.

Wrapping it up

After a night of thrills, one spill and high emotions, it was the consistent quartet of Sweden who got the job done and the gold medal secured by a staggering margin – nearly three fences – before their final rider, Peder Fredericson, had jumped a fence. The team from the Netherlands improved two places from their position after round one thanks to a crucial clear from anchor rider Harrie Smoulders to take the silver, with Britain marginally behind bronze.

The biggest movers of the night proved to be Ireland, who moved from eighth after Thursday’s round to fourth, while Germany secured the final Olympic qualification place up for grabs in fifth place.

It’s a quiet day tomorrow for the horses, riders and grooms, before the thrilling finale on Sunday afternoon when the top 25 come forward and the individual World Champion will be crowned. Two of the British contingent have qualified – Ben Maher and Faltic HB lie in eighth on a score of 5.72, while Scott Brash and Hello Jefferson drop to 13th with their two rails down today but are still in contention with a score of 8.23. The man to beat is Henrick von Eckerman for Sweden with King Edward, who start on just 0.58. If the excitement of tonight is anything to go by, it promises to be a cracker – don’t miss it!