Michael Jung and fischerChipmunk FRH add another accolade to their roster — and the ‘perfect preparation’ for Pratoni. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

How must it feel, we wonder, to be Michael Jung, Ze Terminator himself, who has won everything there is to win and still just keeps on keeping on? Does it get boring, all this victory? Does the idea of taking a wire-to-wire win, as he did this week with fischerChipmunk FRH, fail to inspire him these days?

“It’s never boring,” he laughs, just after his win with the gelding, which saw him add 2.8 time penalties yesterday and nothing at all today to his dressage score of 20. “It’s always a new game, always a new competition, and we all start, always, from zero. We start with the dressage, and it’s just an amazing feeling with this unbelievable horse, how he performs everything so calm and powerful, everything together and everything on the point.”

Even as the winningest man in the world, though, the pressure was on today. He went into the ring without a rail in hand, and with just three seconds to spare — and there was every chance he would need them, because the clock was the real enemy to vanquish in this final phase.

“The time was quite short, and that makes everything a bit more stressful,” he says. “You go a bit more forward, and think ‘time, time, time’, and then quickly there’s here a mistake, there a mistake. If you just looked at the lines or jumps today, it wasn’t that spectacular, but all together with the time, and the way the place is up and down, it wasn’t so easy.”

Though Haras du Pin is the final World Championships selection trial for Germany, as for several other countries, Michael didn’t have anything to prove to earn his spot here — but the hilly, open, galloping course, which is designed by Paris 2024 designer Pierre le Goupil, is the ideal prep run for Italy’s rolling hills, and one that Michi rates for all his horses as part of their ongoing education.

“We’re here to prepare for Pratoni, and it’s a very nice place to do so. I like it, because it’s much nicer to gallop a cross-country horse on a hilly place, because the horse gets more quickly into the cross-country rhythm,” he says. “Directly at the first hill you lose a little bit of power, so then you can start to drive a bit more and not just sit on the brakes all the time. It’s nice balance work up and down the hills, too; you can use the hills to push the horse a little bit, or you can stay a bit quieter. For the young horses, it’s very important to learn this. Here, they also have interesting combinations with the hills, the angled ground, and everything, so this feels like real cross-country.”

Mollie Summerland and Charly van ter Heiden take a decisive second place, having hold the spot all week. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“He knows when he needs to leave the fences up,” laughs 24-year-old Mollie Summerland after her clear round with Charly van ter Heiden, which secured her the second place position she’d held all week. “He’s just getting them out of the way at the other shows!”

Though Mollie is quick to proclaim that this phase is her weakest, there’s certainly something to be said for her theory: it held true last summer at Luhmühlen, when the pair led from pillar to post, and it was the case again today, even with the 0.8 time penalties they added along the way. But today’s round was a testament to the work she’s been putting in with the thirteen-year-old Hanoverian, which has included putting plenty of weekends aside to skip the ‘fun stuff’ — which, as Mollie is truly a rare breed of event rider, includes dressage — and going to jumper shows instead with her string. Where her round at Luhmühlen last year was gutsy but occasionally a little too thrilling to watch, with a stumble mid-course and plenty of jumping by Braille on the way around, today’s round was considerably smoother. In fact, the only rail they touched was the first part of the treble combination, which soared inches into the air in slow motion, and then landed back in its cup as the gathered crowd exhaled.

“I’m literally on cloud nine — he’s just my absolute horse of a lifetime,” says Mollie, who has owned Charly since she was sixteen and produced him throughout her first steps into a career as an event rider. “He’s not an out and out jumper, but he jumps clear when it matters. I felt pressure going in there today, but I tried to just remember how he jumped at Luhmühlen — and actually, I think he jumped a better round today. He just felt amazing.”

Mollie had made the decision to come to Haras du Pin’s packed CCIO4*-S, rather than staying home in England and competing at the relatively local Hartpury CCI4*-S, partly because the continental style of event suits her horse — and partly because the eye-watering quality of this field offered up a unique challenge.

“When I saw the field and the calibre of riders that were coming here — I mean, it’s basically most of the riders that are going to be at the World Championships, bar our Brits back home,” she says. “So I definitely thought that if I could get a top ten finish here, that would be a serious achievement among most of the world’s best. But this is definitely more than I expected. That horse just has so much to give and it’s just so exciting — even in the dressage, I actually think he has more to give, which is just phenomenal to be able to say about a horse that’s just pulled off a result like that. I’m so grateful to be able to ride him and be able to get all this enjoyment out of him. He just goes in the ring and he’s a showman; he rises to the occasion.”

Mollie celebrates a super result with Charly van ter Heiden. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Mollie led the first day of dressage with her excellent score of 22.5, and though Michael Jung pushed her into second on Friday when he posted a 20, she kept the pressure on him in each phase. In yesterday’s cross-country phase, she added just 0.8 time penalties, never missing a beat around a tough track designed by Paris Olympics designer-to-be Pierre le Goupil.

“The time was tough out there, and while I was obviously riding competitively, my main aim was for Charly to finish confident and sound, and for him, it was definitely a tough enough course, because he can be a little bit green into waters — and there are some serious waters here,” says Mollie. “So just to finish with him confident and sound was my main priority, and he gave me a great feeling.”

Mollie praised Haras du Pin’s organising team, who rallied to draw lake water from nearby sources and were thus able to keep the ground sufficiently watered, despite a drought and a water crisis in the Normandy area.

“The ground was amazing, and we were really lucky with how hard they worked with it,” she says. “It meant we could run our horses competitively, and actually, it was even a little bit muddy first thing in the morning after they’d watered it through the night. That’s just a credit to the whole team here; they’ve managed to get the conditions so perfect, considering the lack of rain.”

Now, Mollie’s looking ahead to an end-of-season goal that’ll require her to brush up on her (admittedly terrible) French once again: she and Charly are aiming for a return trip to Pau, where they made their five-star debut in 2020, finishing tenth.

“I wanted to see how he ran here, but he feels in great form and I think he could be competitive there,” she says. “He loves these foreign events, the twisty galloping courses with arrowheads and corners and things. They’re right up his street, and he likes getting to do dressage and jumping on a surface, too, so I think Pau’s a great event for us to aim for.”

Alina Dibowski and Barbados 26 continue to prove themselves against the best in the world. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“I think I need some time to process it — I think in a few days maybe I can feel it,” says Alina Dibowski with a laugh. And fair enough, too: at just 21-years-old, she finished third in this extraordinary field, bettering even the excellent sixth-place finish they notched up in Germany’s National Championship CCI4*-S back in June. For a rider who’s technically not even aged out of Young Riders yet, she’s certainly making a major impression in the Senior rankings, proving a force to be reckoned with alongside Barbados 26, with whom she successfully contested several Junior and Young Rider European Championships. Now, she’s showing she has what it takes to play with the big boys.

“At the moment, it feels unreal — standing next to Michael Jung on the podium is kind of incredible,” she says. “It’s a very nice feeling — and one I could get used to!”

A long partnership with the Polish-bred 13-year-old gelding has certainly helped to make plenty of Alina’s dreams come true along the way.

“I have an incredible horse,” she says. “I just can’t say that enough — I’m very happy to have him, and very grateful and thankful, especially to my parents. They’re here with me with just me riding, and they’re putting so much effort in; it’s very nice.”

It’s not often that you get an Olympian in his own right on groom duties, but father Andreas, who’s been a stalwart of the German team, looks right at home at the end of the leadrope as spicy Barbados is led around the collecting ring.

“My horse is a little special with the celebration thing,” laughs Alina, “so my dad has to be supergroom!”

Though Barbados might have his quirks on the ground, though, he’s certainly an exceptional athlete by anyone’s standards under saddle, and consolidated his first-phase 27.4 with two totally penalty-free rounds, moving up from 11th to third.

“My dad told me before I started cross-country that it’s possible to beat the time, so that gave me some confidence, because I know my horse can be fast,” she says. “We gave 10o%, me and my horse, and today was the same — I was very calm, and I felt my inner peace, and when I was on the last three jumps, I had a very good feeling. It was going very smoothly, and then I heard someone — I don’t know if it was my dad — but they gave me a little push and I was like, okay, the time is good or it can be beaten! In the end, I looked at the score and I was so happy.”

Best of the French is Gaspard Maksud, who pilots his enormously impressive Zaragoza to fourth place. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“If,” I posited to UK-based Frenchman Gaspard Maksud, “I had told you on the ferry the other day that you’d finish fourth in this, a world-class field, what would you have said?”

Gaspard thinks for a moment, and then replies: “I’d have been disappointed not to be on the podium,” he says with a wink.

But for all he jokes about it, this — a career-best finish for the 29-year-old — is a serious milestone moment, forged from the fire of hard work that saw him leave his home country over a decade ago in pursuit of eventing excellence.

“I might get a little bit emotional talking about it,” he says, and right on cue, his eyes start to dampen. “Zaragoza is just fantastic; she did a very good event. Aachen was a bad day, but going back out in a big field again, you try to put it behind you.”

Last month’s CHIO Aachen, which saw Surrey-based Gaspard and the nine-year-old mare make their French team debut, had started well enough, with a top ten dressage and a storming cross-country round — right up until the final minute, when they fell in the water after a particularly exuberant jump in. But although the disappointment was enormous, horse and rider’s faith in one another never wavered. They added nothing to their dressage score of 27.4 yesterday, and jumped an attacking clear today to add just 0.4 time, moving up two places in the process.

“You work hard for this moment, and when it happens, it’s just lovely,” he says. “She’s got such a big heart; it’s like she’s going to war, and she just wants to go and do well. Even today, she just tried so hard. She’s probably not the scopiest horse, but actually she just tries and tries. She’s got some other qualities; she always does the best she can for me.”

For Gaspard, returning to his home country for his greatest success so far is an interesting experience – it’s special, of course, but after so long in England, he’s much better known to his UK friends and compatriots.

“The French probably don’t necessarily know me — the riders do, but some of the people who come here to watch will never have heard my name before,” he says. “But then I’m announced as a French rider, and the pressure is there.”

For Gaspard’s owners, Jane Young and Martin Thurlow, the result is also particularly special: Zaragoza is a homebred of Jane’s, and a testament to the power of stolid faith in a very good horse.

Julia Krajewski and Amande de b’Neville round out the top five. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Olympic champions Julia Krajewski and Amande de b’Neville capped off the top five after delivering three excellent performances to finish on their dressage score of 27.9, boosting them up the leaderboards from a first-phase fourteenth place. Though the mare has had a reasonably quiet year, a win at Wiesbaden CCI4*-S, ninth at Aachen, and now this excellent result in the final selection trial — not to mention that individual gold medal last year in Tokyo — should ensure them a spot on the German team for the World Championships next month.

Beyond that, though, there’s plenty for the German selectors to think about. Julia, Michi, who are each in Tier One of the shortlist, should be just about set in stone, barring an eleventh hour catastrophe, and their fellow Tier One rider Sandra Auffarth looks to be on pretty safe ground with her Aachen champion Viamant du Matz, despite a reasonably steady round yesterday and a rail today granting her a middle-of-the-pack finish. For the two remaining sets, though, competition remains fierce: Christoph Wahler and Carjatan S have had some excellent results, including second at Luhmühlen CCI5* last year, a great run at Badminton this year, and seventh place at the European Championships last year, but their showjumping this season has something of a question mark over it, which will have been compounded by two rails today, which dropped them from fourth to eighteenth. Sophie Leube and Jadore Moi are relatively low-mileage at four-star, but they did win Boekelo CCIO4*-L on their second run at the level last year, and they’ve twice been top ten in the pressure cooker of Luhmühlen; on their day, like Christoph and Carjatan S, they’re strong shouts for an individual medal, but an early retirement in their CCI5* debut at Luhmühlen could yet count against them. Arguably the obvious third candidate for one of the spots is Dirk Schrade and Casino 80, who are on a real upward trajectory; they finished second in the German National Championships CCI4*-S at Luhmühlen in June and were fourth at the level at Marbach in the spring, but they’ve also had a shock fall in the water at CCI3*-S in May and a 20 and a retirement in the CCI4*-S at Jardy since that Luhmühlen success. This week, they finished ninth and looked excellent doing so, adding just 2 time penalties across the country and 0.4 today, but they, too, have question marks to consider.

Still, before the hard work of final selections begins, the Germans will need to take a moment to celebrate their wire-to-wire win in the Nations Cup this week, which saw the team of Alina, Sophie, eleventh-placed Malin Hansen-Hotopp and Carlitos Quidditch K and 27th-placed Nicolai Aldinger and Timmo lead the way by a landslide throughout, proving that Germany has more strength in depth than, perhaps, it’s been given credit for in recent years. Behind them, the French team of Gaspard, 19th-placed Cyrielle Lefevre and Armanjo Serosah, 21st-placed Stephane Landois and Chamant Dumontceau, and 39th-placed Heloïse Le Guern and Canakine du Sudre Z took an ebullient second place, and the perennially successful British team of Mollie, 28th-placed Wills Oakden and A Class Cooley, 56th-placed Kirsty Chabert and Opposition Heraldik Girl, and 30th-placed David Doel and Galileo Nieuwmoed finished third.

We’ll be expecting team announcements for Pratoni to start flooding in in the next few days, and certainly, there are some riders who’ve all but guaranteed themselves their spot: Andrew Hoy and Vassily de Lassos were always pretty much a sure thing for Australia, but their seventh place finish is a decisive final point. Over in the Kiwi squad, Tim Price has an embarrassment of riches — but 2021 Pau winner Falco looks best of the bunch, adding just 1.6 time yesterday to his 28.6 dressage for eighth place. A rail may have dropped overnight third placed Maxime Livio and Api du Libaire to 15th, but the pair — who were sixth at last year’s Europeans — still look a firm shout, and a thirteenth-place finish for Astier Nicolas and Alertamalib’or is certainly worth a second or third thought. In any case, this week’s competition has certainly been a Pratoni Lite, and a sterling indicator of what could play out on the main stage next month. We hope Michi is prepared for the Brits.

The final top ten after an influential showjumping finale at Haras du Pin.

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