Great Britain in pole position after day one of dressage

Thursday, 15 September 2022

The FEI Eventing World Championship got underway today in the hills of Pratoni del Vivaro, located just outside of Rome. The morning dawned wet and grey, but the sun came out in time for the start of the dressage phase and further rain held off until almost the end of play. 

Today, it was all about girl power for the British squad – and our first three combinations really showed that they’re a force to be reckoned with, taking first, second and fourth on the individual leaderboard by the end of the day. Their performances also gave the team a commanding hold at the halfway stage in the dressage. 

Ros Canter and Laura Collett put in the first two rounds for the team aboard Lordships Graffalo and London 52 respectively, while young guns Yasmin Ingham and Banzai du Loir are competing as individuals. 

Ros Canter and Lordships Graffalo

Pathfinder and first in for the team was defending World Champion Ros Canter, this time riding Michele Saul’s Lordships Graffalo. While Ros been a stalwart of the British team alongside her World Equestrian Games double gold medallist Allstar B, who sadly passed away earlier this year, this week is an opportunity for the Lincolnshire rider to show off a new talent in British-bred ‘Walter’. The precocious 10-year-old impressed on his CCI5* debut at Badminton in spring, where he and Ros finished second on their dressage score of 26.0, followed another runners-up placing at the CCI4*-S at Hartpury in August. While Ros herself admits that a team place was never an aim at the start of the season, the pair has certainly earned their place here in Pratoni.

“He’s a very self-confident horse, he’s very happy in his own skin and adores attention," she explained. "When I was practising outside, Ian Woodhead, our dressage trainer, said ‘don’t do a halt too close to the crowd because they’re going to clap’, but [Walter] just doesn’t give a monkey’s – he’s in his element when people clap, he thinks it’s all for him!’

Walter certainly did look to be in his element in the main arena, pulling off a lovely, consistent test that was very pleasing to watch. The judges certainly agreed, leaning heavily on their seven buttons throughout. After the final halt, Ros was clearly delighted with her young star, giving him a hug as they exited the arena to meet their cheering support team. The judges awarded them with a score of 26.2, providing the perfect foundation for the rest of the team to build on.

“I’m absolutely delighted with Walter,” said Ros. “He’s only a ten-year-old, so coming here is a big occasion for him. We were lucky enough to practise our test at Burghley and I said then how every day is still a school day for him, so we’re only just scratching the surface at this level. I truly believe that in the next few years, you’re going to see a bigger and better Walter. I’m just delighted that he went in there today, he was a complete professional – I don’t think he acts his age.

“As soon as I went in there, I knew he was with me – we got the preparation right today, I think. When he’s like that, he’s very easy and has beautiful balance, so I can sit up and he comes back to me, which is what makes him a lovely cross-country horse.’

While Walter may have impressed today, Ros is still conscious of his inexperience at this level – and of the primary goal of being part of a wider team. 

“I love being on a team – I love the pressure of it, I love having time for the one horse, time to really focus, I enjoy supporting my teammates,” she said. “The team is only in my mind this week – obviously, something individual is a bonus – but this week, with Walter being a young horse, it’s all about doing my best for the team and giving them the insights they need to go and do their best performances.”

Yasmin Ingham and Banzai du Loir

Yasmin Ingham and Banzai du Loir have arrived in Pratoni for their senior championship debut. Originally from the Isle of Man but now based in Cheshire, Yasmin gained plenty of experience from youth eventing teams. This may be her first time on a senior squad, but she and Banzai come here off the back of a runners-up placing at Land Rover Kentucky CCI5* in the spring and a win in the CCI4*-L at Blenheim last year, so they’re real contenders for a strong finish as individuals.

From the moment they set off, it was poetry in motion. Yasmin kept control of the notoriously hot French-bred 11-year-old gelding, and Banzai stayed perfectly in rhythm – every moment was crisp, clean and right on the marker. Their trending score had them ahead of the pack throughout, with plenty of eights being awarded by the three judges. 

‘Honestly, it’s the first time we’ve gone in the boards at an event and he’s felt completely with me and listening, even with the crowd and obviously the cameras and everything atmosphere-wise," said an emotional Yaz afterwards. “He didn’t seem to flinch or bother, so I’m just so proud of him – he’s a really special horse and I still think there is plenty more in there, which is even more exciting.

“I think we’ve had more experience now in bigger, atmospheric arenas – Kentucky this year, Blenheim last year, then we also had Burghley just before we came here – so we’ve been trying different techniques with the warm-up and how long we work him in for, and what we do with him in those work-ins, and I think we’ve come to the bottom of that now. We’ve had Chris Bartle out here and he’s been amazing – we’ve worked really closely with him.”

Yaz had tears of happiness running down her face as she made her final salute and hugged her dancing partner. They left the arena to rapturous applause and a provisional score of 21.9, before being engulfed in hugs from owners Sue Davies and Janette Chinn, Yaz’s proud parents and the delighted British support team. 

“It’s so special,” she explained. “I’ve worked towards this since I started riding. It’s always something that I’ve wanted to do, and it’s always been one of my goals, and to achieve that has just been a dream come true. Obviously, the team behind the scenes is what helped me get there – my owners Janette Chinn and Sue Davies and my family, all my trainers, the World Class team – there’s an army behind every rider and they’ve all helped me get here so, yeah, big moment.’

Even when the score was revised to 22.0, the celebrations continued. Not only was it was a personal best test for Yasmin and Banzai, but it was – briefly – the best ever dressage test by a British rider at a World Championship, and the fourth best ever test by any nation. It was also enough for them to take the lead heading into the lunch break.

Laura Collett and London 52

As we reached the tail end of the day, all eyes turned to the second combination for the British team – Laura Collett and her Olympic team gold medallist and two-time CCI5* winner London 52, owned by Karen Bartlett, Keith Scott and Laura herself. 

This pair is very capable of pulling off a low-20s score in the first phase – their best score of this season came at Badminton in the spring, when they earned 21.0 before adding on just one jumping time penalty to take the title. That type of pressure to perform might affect some people, but Laura has arrived at Pratoni determined to prove what her beloved horse can do.

‘Oh my God, I felt the pressure,” she laughed. “I’m well aware that I’m sat on one of the very best horses in the world and people expect you to deliver. But, luckily, he delivered.”

Delivered, London 52 certainly did. The test was fluid, supple and packed with power. Particular highlights included the extended trot and canter, both of which earned nines, and the mid-test halt before the rein-back. The time that the pair have been spending with Olympic dressage medallist Carl Hester, fine-tuning their skills – particularly on the first centre line – had clearly paid off. 

“He was pretty good at Badminton, but there were bits that weren’t quite good enough and we’ve just been really working on those,” explained Laura. “Once we got the first centre line out the way, I thought, ‘well, Carl will be happy now!’. And from then on it felt like he just got better and better and I felt like I could just have a lovely time basically. He definitely loves a crowd. He went in that arena and he was like, 'yeah everyone is here to see me', and he is just a pleasure to ride when he’s like that. I’m just the luckiest person to be sat on him, and he really does just keep getting better and better.”

As their test ended, many around the arena – public and professionals alike – were left mouthing a silent ‘wow’ in reaction to what they’d just witnessed. There was a nervous wait to find out whether the judges agreed, but soon the score was echoing across the main arena – 19.3, a new international personal best, and straight into the lead. To make it even more special, a quick check of the history books revealed that it was the best World Championship dressage score seen in 20 years.

The bond between Laura and ‘Dan’ is clear, but it hasn’t always been an easy road to the world stage. The gelding, who Laura bought as a seven-year-old from Germany, where he was competing as a showjumper, hasn’t always been the confident crowd-pleaser that he is today. While Laura may have seen his star potential, Dan himself wasn’t always so convinced. Now 13 years old, it’s taken a lot of work from Laura and her team to bring him out of his shell, and it was only when they took their first CCI5* win that this changed. 

“He’s confident now, but he never used to be, explained Laura. “Pau was a turning point two years ago, so now he’s pretty confident in himself – fingers crossed he stays that way.”

“It comes down to trusting him, really,” she reflected. “We got that wrong in Tokyo last year - in a number of ways – and we learnt a lot from that. The main thing with him is keeping him happy and not stressing him out. If you do too much and ask too much, then he worries. He’s a trier and he wants to do it right, and if he thinks he’s not doing it right he gets a bit nervous, so it’s just about telling him he’s amazing, which he is. At the moment he’s a very happy horse and we’re very lucky that he’s in such good form coming here.”

Standing after day one

At the end of the first day, it’s Laura Collett and London 52 who sit out in front on their amazing score of 19.3. Close behind in second place are championship debutants Yasmin Ingham and Banzai du Loir on 22.0. A lovely test from Ros Canter and Lordships Graffalo seeing them sitting fourth on 26.2.

In the team competition, Great Britain are out in front on 45.5, seven and a half penalties ahead of second-placed New Zealand. The final two combinations for the team will compete tomorrow – Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser at 11:16 BST, and Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class at 15:54 BST. 

Find out how you can follow all the action at Pratoni and access the live scoring here.