Wednesday, 22 September 2021
Britain’s eventing team got off to the perfect start today at the Avenches National Equestrian Institute (IENA) as they campaign to do the triple by adding a European title to their current World and Olympic accolades.
In the early autumn sunshine, Piggy March and Brookfield Inocent, owned by Alison Swinburn and John and Chloe Perry, got the British campaign underway.
Piggy and ‘Arthur’ cantered into the main arena brimming with confidence and started with an excellent halt to announce their arrival – it certainly got the judges’ attention, with two eights and a nine awarded. The trot work continued with a great flow and accuracy, which saw scores ranging from seven to nine. There was a bit of tension in the canter work, which just allowed a few sixes to creep into the marks, but the pair finished right on the money with four-square final halt.
Piggy could tell it was a job well done and rewarded Arthur with plenty of pats and fuss, secure in the knowledge that they’d fulfilled their debut pathfinder role perfectly. The judges’ gave their verdict – an eight and two nines, and an overall score of 23.3 penalties, which is Piggy’s best ever championship score. This sent them straight into an early lead, both individually and in the team competition.
“That’s probably one of the best tests he’s done – just from the consistency in his work and his mind all the way through,” said a delighted Piggy afterwards. “I don’t think if I gave him another ten goes he could do better, he gave me his all and that’s all we can ask for. I’m over the moon, what a good boy. He was as good as he can be – not one swear word entered my mind during the whole test! He felt really good.”
On her role as pathfinder, she commented: “First to go for the team, I’ve never done that before so that gives confidence and a good vibe for everyone else. When Dickie [Waygood] asked me about being pathfinder, I thought ‘surely I’m old enough now, just deal with it!’. It’s another day’s sport, so we just need to do what we do normally and hopefully I’ll be of use.”
With the first phase out of the way, Piggy’s thoughts can now turn towards Mike Etherington-Smith’s cross-country course. “The course is a real championship course,” was her verdict. “I’ll need to walk it a number of times because there’s great potential for getting lost and there’s plenty of places for just running off things. It’s very technical and the single fences are big enough and there’s plenty of twists and turns. We’ll have to be on our A-game that’s for sure. It’s not going to be a dressage competition.
“I’ll need to make sure he’s with me because he can just be a bit spooky – that’s my priority. I’ve only walked it once, but will be walking a few times in detail. The time should be fast, but lots happens on the course quite quickly, so I’ll need him to be in the right place.”
Second up for Great Britain was individual combination Izzy Taylor and Monkeying Around, whom she jointly owns with Mark Sartori. The dark bay certainly catches the eye with his four white socks and dressage breeding (Bertoli W x Donnerhall II), and he and Izzy presented a very pleasing picture. Unfortunately, a blip in their first flying change pegged the score somewhat, but a total of 27.9 was still enough to slot them into second behind squad mates Piggy and Brookfield Inocent at the halfway point of the day.
After her test, Izzy said: “I was pleased with him. He looked at the crowd like a giraffe and I thought ‘oh no, here we go’, but he then basically did everything he should have. I’ve been doing normal, quiet work since we arrived, nothing exciting, and kept it just like any other event. He’s an attractive horse and there’s loads more to come from him, he’s just ten. It’s easy to forget that with him, he’s been around since a six-year-old, so I was pleased overall that he behaved himself. He’s called Monkey for a reason – it’s not by chance!
“He’s an extravagant person. We bought him as a four year old – he actually came to me to be sold, but we put him over a pole and he was so athletic and exciting. He keeps everyone on their toes, but puts a smile on your face because he’s so talented and there’s so much going on underneath you. It’s just about managing and focusing it all. He just enjoys every aspect of life!
While the score not have been quite than Izzy was hoping for, she isn’t throwing in the towel just yet. “The competition is definitely not going to be all about dressage!” she noted. “The first few fences are nice and lull you in – it’s a smooth start, but by the end it’ll feel like a washing machine! There’s a lot to do out there, but it’s a very good track.”
Our second pair to go for the British team was Nicola Wilson with her newest championship partner, JL Dublin, owned by Deirdre Johnston and James and Jo Lambert. The duo have certainly arrived in Switzerland on top form, having won at Bicton CCI4*-L in June, then Hartpury CCI4*-S in July, and their purple patch continued today.
Nicola cantered in with her trademark beaming smile and rode every inch of the test with positivity. JL Dublin filled the eye with just the right balance of relaxation and energy, and the scores began to reflect the picture, trending in the lead. The rein-back was the only area to lose marks because some of the steps weren’t quite diagonal pairs, earning them a 6.5 from one judge – but every other mark was between seven and nine throughout the test. The final penalty score was announced as 20.9 – al career best for the partnership by some three points.
“I’m just so delighted – what a fabulous horse he is! He’s really come of age this year and he’s just getting better and better weekly, it feels!” beamed Nicola. “He was such a professional in there. He worked in well, I didn’t do a great deal because he felt on the money and only did what was needed. He loves to show off – he’s confident now in himself, which he wasn’t before. I think he thought all the people had come to see him so he thought ‘I’m going to show my best’. He was super, really level-headed throughout and stayed with me. He was 100% focused and I’m so, so proud – I just needed to remember where I was going!
“Diedre Johnson and James and Jo Lambert bought him as a four-year-old and we’ve had a lovely journey to this date. He’s just ten, which is quite young for this level, and I had a neck injury where he lost some time and then, with COVID, he’s relatively inexperienced, but he’s still trained well and got established in his mind. The time has given him the chance to get stronger, develop the ability to cope with the dressage and carry himself more. I couldn’t be more proud of him, he’s a really lovely, lovely horse and I feel very lucky to have him.
“There’s an awful lot more to go, but to have him so focused is amazing and he’s been superb up to now. I can’t thank Ian Woodhead and Chris Bartle enough for their help and support – and, of course, [groom] Ruth Asquith for looking after him so beautifully,” she added.
“I’m positively terrified!” she said with a wry smile when asked about the cross country test. “I walked the course and thought ‘that’s a nice first fence, quite wide’ and then by two, I was like ‘oh, okay’ and then by four it was more ‘okay, we just need to draw breath and get on with it!’. It’s demanding, both mentally and physically, right until the very end. I think it gets very intense toward the end with lots of twists and turns – and it’s all on the level, there’s no downhill to give them a bit of recovery time. The questions are thick and fast right to even the final fence, which is a big table. There’s a great deal to jump out there and I’m looking forward to the challenge on Saturday – I hope the both of us are up to it.”
At the end of day one, Britain holds first, second and eighth in the individual standings and, with two riders gone for all but one of the teams, we have a commanding lead of 11.8 penalties over France, with defending champions Germany a further 1.10 penalties adrift.
The full results are available here.
In action tomorrow are Kitty King and Vendredi Biats (10.52) and Ros Canter with Allstar B (14.15) for the team, and Sarah Bullimore with her homebred Corouet at 11.37 (all times BST).
For all the information you need to follow and watch the championships, head to our FEI Eventing Europeans information page.