British showjumpers begin their World Championship campaign in Herning

Wednesday, 10 August 2022

Today, the Agria FEI Jumping World Championship – the fourth and final competition to get underway at Herning – kicked off in a fast and furious fashion.

Run over five days, the competition begins with a speed class – combinations tackle a 155cm course of 14 fences, with the aim being to get round in as short a time as possible. Fast clear rounds would be rewarded with high placings – a fence down would result in an additional four seconds added to their time.

Britain has brought a team to Herning that combines championship experience with youthful vigour – and they’re hungry for success on the world stage.

Joseph Stockdale and Equine America Cacharel

Pathfinders for the British team were Joseph ‘Joe’ Stockdale and Equine America Cacharel. Despite only being 10 years old, ‘Cash’ is already proving her star quality. A real family affair, owned as she is by Joe’s grandmother Joy Cocklin and mother Laura Stockdale, she’s been at the Stockdales’ yard since Joe’s father Tim recognised her potential as a three year old at a young horse loose auction. She and Joe have been finding their feet together on the senior circuit over the last few years.

They made their senior championship debut last year as part of a very young British team at the FEI European Championship in Riesenbeck, where they showed plenty of the brilliance still to come. Since then, she and Joe have been familiar faces on this year’s Nations Cup series and have put in some excellent results, including a double clear at Rotterdam in June, which built their case for Herning selection.

“It’s very special for me to be bringing this mare, Cacharel, with me,” Joe explained. “She was a horse that my father found, and we always said that she was going to be a championship horse, so to be able to bring her here, having produced her and done all the work with her, is a special one for me.

“She’s got a fantastic mind, she’s a really good learner. If you teach her something one day, she’ll come out the next day and she’ll really be thinking about what she learnt the day before.”

The round started well, with Joe and Cash settling in a forward rhythm and making the fences look easy. However, a very unlucky rub on a triple bar near the end of the course added four seconds to their time of 91.85. While disappointed to have one down, Joe was still pleased with how mare coped with the challenge that had been laid at her feet.

“I was pretty happy with how my mare jumped there,” said Joe afterwards. “I thought she went really solid, she was good in the arena and in the atmosphere. A little bit of a mistake from me, maybe had too much of a gap there, trying to get the time in the speed class, but overall, she jumped well.

“It’s a tough balance to have because your heart makes you want to be straight away up at the top, but the course is providing enough challenges for you, so it’s a careful balance and maybe I just got too caught up in the time.”

Harry Charles and Romeo 88

After bursting onto the senior scene at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games last year, Harry Charles has taken the showjumping world by storm. With multiple Grand Prix wins to his name and an enviable string of horses at his disposal, he’s riding the crest the of wave. The son of London 2012 team gold medallist Peter Charles may just be 22 years old, but he’s emulating his father’s talent.

In Herning, Harry brings forward his Tokyo partner, Romeo 88, who’s owned by Ann Thompson. Last summer, the pair were still building their partnership – talent got them through, but there were still a few raw edges that needed polishing. Now, after a year and a half together, they’re truly looking like a true force to be reckoned with and that showed in their round today. Harry pulled out all the stops to quickly guide Romeo around Louis Konickx and Quintin Maetens’ course in the most efficient way possible.

It was all going exactly to plan, but a risky stride out to the last fence failed to pay off and sent a pole tumbling. The time had been fast, but four to add left them on 88.50 seconds.

“It was very good,” summed up Harry. “A shame to have the last fence down, but overall a very good round. He’s a really sharp horse with so much stamina and fitness, so I knew he would be a bit fresh today.

“He jumped the other 13 jumps fantastic and it was the last one – a small mistakes and we paid the price. It was nine strides rather than the eight strides, and I’d watched a few and did change my plan last minute, and paid the price for it. We’ve still got more rounds, though, and he’s got so much left in the tank.

“We’ve been together a year and a half and we’re just growing and growing, and he’s getting better and better. He’s in great form and hopefully we can jump some clear rounds now the rest of the week.”

While Harry might be regretting that last pole, tomorrow is another day and there’s still plenty of competition to come. The equestrian world is fast learning never to underestimate him – if he and Romeo can show some more of the what they offered today, they’ll be ones to watch this week.

Ben Maher and Faltic HB

Ben Maher’s journey to Herning hasn’t been without its bumps in the road. Originally selected with Olympic gold medallist Explosion W, the late decision was made to instead bring forward his direct reserve horse, Faltic HB, after Ben and owners Charlotte Rossetter and Pamela Wright decided that Explosion just wasn’t at the peak fitness necessary for the demands of a championship.

While Faltic, owned by The Oakingham Stud, might not have been Ben’s first choice for this week, he’s the sort of talented horse that many of the field would love to have in their stable. The pair have been regulars on the Global Champions Tour this season and joined the British team for the Hickstead leg of the Nations Cup series.

“It’s hard to leave [Explosion] back home, but I had the grace with Faltic that he could step in,” explained Ben. “I’m in a very lucky position with the horsepower that I have right now, he’s been sort of holding us together a little bit this year. It was just a team decision at the very last moment [to change horses] and I couldn’t ask for a better horse to step into his shoes.

While Explosion – affectionately known as the BFG – is a big, rangy horse, 12-year-old Faltic has a very different stamp.

“He’s like an overgrown pony, he’s a lot smaller than I’m used to," explained Ben. "He can be a bit of a stallion sometimes on the outside, but he’s very brave and has got a lot of ability and is quite athletic, so hopefully he’ll grow this week and show us what he’s made of."

Today, Faltic would have to step up. After a pole down apiece from Joe and Harry, the British team was in need of a clear round – luckily, there’s few more cool under pressure than Ben Maher. He and the bay stallion set off, going deceptively quickly as they navigated the course. The round was fast and, most importantly, the poles stayed in the cups.

“Everything went to plan. Faltic stepped in last minute for me and he’s on good form this year. It’s a new experience for him in the championships – it’s his first time, but he’s very brave and we set off with a bit of a rhythm.

“We had a team discussion that the first two riders of our team had very good rounds but with an unlucky pole and also were not the fastest rounds. Scott [Brash] normally is quite reliable at the end, so I decided to take a little bit more risk just to claw us back a little bit, and everything went to plan.

“He’s actually was quite a slow horse. I started riding him back in November and we were struggling to make the time allowed, but he’s gradually got quicker with experience – but he’s a horse that, if it looks fast, I’m going to get into trouble, so I have to ride him in a way that he’s going fast without realising he’s going fast. Everything was very smooth and went to plan and that’s the start we needed this week.’

A time of 82.52 seconds was enough to slot them into second place as we neared the end of the third rotation.

Scott Brash and Hello Jefferson

And so we were down to the final rider group of 20.

Scott Brash and Hello Jefferson have put the disappointments of the Tokyo Olympic Games – where they missed out on the individual final by one time fault, then had to withdraw from the team competition due to a minor horse injury – and are currently flying high. A runner-up placing at the Rolex Grand Prix in Aachen last month was the perfect preparation for their trip to Denmark, and the 13-year-old bay gelding is looking on excellent form.

‘He’s at the top of his game now,” said Scott. “I’m just delighted with how he’s feeling and how he’s jumping – I’ve always felt he’s a really special horse with all the attributes you need for a world championship. He’s so clever, with a really busy brain, a great stride, loves doing the job – he’s got a big engine in him, he’s keen to be active and do his job.”

And do his job, he certainly did. There never seemed to be any doubt that Jefferson, who’s owned by Scott’s long-time owners, Lady Pauline Harris and Lady Pauline Kirkham, would leave the fences up as Scott expertly piloted him through smooth, tight lines. The time that flashed up as they crossed the finish line was 79.54 seconds – enough to slot them into second place.

“I’m absolutely delighted with Jefferson’s performance,” said a very happy Scott. ‘He felt really comfortable in the round – he feels fantastic and the course suited him.

“It’s taken years to get the partnership together and I feel like we’ve been knocking on the door many times, but lately it feels like we’ve put in some really fantastic rounds. He was amazing in Aachen, and he feels like he’s bringing that through to the championships – he feels amazing on day one. There’s a lot of jumping to be done, but I’m delighted with the round today and we’ll keep it up”.

Herning is a happy hunt ground for Scott – it’s where he won European Championship medals with the great Hello Sanctos in 2013.

‘I’ve got great memories of being here in Herning,” he mused. “Sanctos was amazing here, winning team gold and the individual bronze. It’s a fantastic stadium to ride in, so I’m happy to be back.’

‘I think we’ve got a really good chance with the team, we all rode solid rounds. Could do with a touch more luck but, if we keep that up, we’re going to do well this week.’

As the dust settles

Once the speed round is complete, the final scores are converted into points – the rider with the fastest time and fewest accrued penalties for fences down or refusals is given zero, with all athletes then given penalties dependent on the difference between their score and the rider on zero penalties. The three lowest scores for each team are combined to give the team total, which is carried into the next round.

This system leaves the British team in fourth on an overnight score of 6.6 – Sweden sit out in front with 3.69, while France and Belgium on 5.44 and 5.49 respectively.

In the individual standings, Scott and Hello Jefferson held on to their runner-up position. Ben and Faltic HB finished in 10th, Harry and Romeo 88 in 48th, and Joe and Equine America Cacharel in 65th from a huge field of 103 combinations. However, tomorrow could really shake up the leaderboard in both team and individual stakes, so make sure you tune in to ClipMyHorse.TV from 11:50 BST.