After this morning’s enormously influential show jumping session, which saw just five riders jump clear from 43 starters and a whopping 136 rails fall throughout the course of proceedings, this afternoon’s top 25 competitors at the FEI World Championships were achingly aware of how tough their job would be — and equally, that there was no one bogey fence on course that they could take a breath after jumping. Every single fence fell multiple times through the course of the day, bringing that total rail tally to 178.
So tight were the margins at the top that, with every team rider that entered the ring, the podium positions changed hands. Though Germany started the day in the lead, and was bolstered by a foot-perfect clear inside the time from first rider Christoph Wahler in the morning session, the shakedown started promptly as the top 25 took to the ring.
The USA’s Lauren Nicholson tipped two rails — the first part of the third double at 11A and the penultimate fence at 12 — but was already sitting in drop score position with Vermiculus after adding a smattering of time yesterday, and so when this year’s Aachen champions Sandra Auffarth and Viamant du Matz pulled a shocking three, including the hugely influential white oxer at 5, it threw the scores into a tailspin.
Germany, previously riding high atop the leaderboard by the slimmest of margins, slipped down to bronze and, after being bolstered by the classy double clear of U.S. individual Ariel Grald, Will Coleman‘s exceptional round aboard his own Aachen champion Off The Record pushed the Americans into gold medal position, with Britain lying close behind.
When celebrations happen at this midpoint, they happen swiftly, and in sharp focus, because there’s never much time to rest on one’s laurels: New Zealand, who’d looked out of the hunt entirely, pinged right back into contention when Jonelle Price‘s diminutive McClaren got the job done -– “I think this morning was the first morning I woke up and said, ‘I’m really happy to have McLaren here this week’,” she says wryly — and looked lost at sea once again when Monica Spencer‘s Artist tipped three rails.
The Brits, who’ve been riding a wave of extraordinary dominance since winning the last World Championships in 2018, found themselves on shaky footing when Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser, arguably one of the best show jumping pairs in the field, pulled the second part of the final double, giving the US a rail in hand to hold the gold.
Ros Canter‘s classy clear on the ten-year-old Lordships Graffalo meant that the pressure was on Boyd Martin and Tsetserleg, who entered the ring during the tumult of the British supporters’ cheers. But rail after rail fell, and when he left the ring with four to his name, the U.S. had dropped to bronze, below Great Britain.
But don’t start breathing again just yet: there are few horses in the world more consistent than Oliver Townend‘s Ballaghmor Class, who has finished in the top five in all seven of his CCI5* starts and the Olympics, but just two fences into his round, it all started to unravel. His four rails — arguably one of the most shocking pile-ups of the day — pushed the Brits off the podium entirely and guaranteed that, as long as anchors Tamie Smith and Mai Baum had no more than two rails down, the USA would take a medal at a World Championships for the first time 20 years.
Once again, we were looking at one of the best-rated show jumpers in the field. Once again, the unthinkable happened.
Mai Baum started his round in exceptional style, looking fit, fresh, and tidy over Uliano Vezzani’s dimensionally massive, technical track — but as he approached fence five, which fell a whopping 28 times through the day, he did what so many horses had done before: he peeked downwards at the tall shrubs laid underneath it, let his forehand lower almost infinitesimally, and then misread the breadth of the fence in front of him, tapping out the front rail. And then, excruciatingly, another fell, this time at the penultimate fence, which was the second-most influential with 26 rails through the day. The U.S. was still guaranteed a medal — and a silver one at that — but Tamie’s own grasp on individual bronze had slipped away.
Oh, did you think we were done here? If that’s exhausting to read, you’re halfway to imagining the experience of living it in real-time, which was a bit like watching a four-way ping-pong match on steroids. With the U.S. guaranteed silver, at least, and New Zealand having clawed their way back onto the podium for the first time in over a decade after Tim Price and his Pau winner Falco delivered one of the 12 clears inside the time of the day, it was down to the final two, and the match-race for the individual title.
There’s got to be something in the water on the Isle of Man, the teeny-tiny, 30-mile long and 10-mile wide, self-governing island that Great Britain’s Yasmin Ingham hails from. At just 25-years-old, she’s about as icy-veined as a rider can be: she’s won every single age title in the UK (that’s the under-16, under-18, under-21, and under-25 full gamut, for those unfamiliar); she’s been a double gold medallist at the Pony European Championships; she’s taken arguably the world’s biggest equine age title at the 2020 eight- and nine-year-old championship CCI4*-S, ordinarily held at Blenheim, and followed it up with the CCI4*-L last year, both with her ride this week, Banzai du Loir. And although she’s been an individual, rather than a team rider, this week, she’s been one of the most formidable presences at this week’s World Championships, which is her senior squad debut, never once shifting from the podium.
As the penultimate rider in the ring, the pressure must have been enormous — but the ice in those veins never thawed. The extravagant Selle Français gelding looked as fresh as he might at a short format, giving every fence on course extra inches without ever sacrificing efficiency. As she touched down from the last, clear and inside the time, Yaz had plenty to celebrate with her connections in the collecting ring: she was the new Reserve World Champion. Just one rider was left to go, and it was the infallible Michael Jung and fischerChipmunk FRH — and so, she knew, that silver medal was all hers.
Until it wasn’t. It’s not often you see a great sporting upset play out quite like this: Michi had a rail, and some time, in hand, and so although Chipmunk has become an excellent performer in this final phase, that disappointing rail at 11A wasn’t wholly out of the question, nor was it any reason for expectations to shift. He popped out over 11B clean, jumped that achingly tough water tray at 12 without an issue, and so, as he hit his stride perfectly to the final fence and lifted off, the German team supporters in the Kiss & Cry began their victory cheer.
It was stop short, of course, when that top rail wobbled, bounced, and then fell.
Yasmin Ingham wouldn’t take home a silver medal after all. Hers was to be gold.
“Words can’t even describe how I’m feeling right now,” says Yaz, who becomes the first-ever individual competitor to take the gold medal at a World Championships. “I went in there and just tried to block everything else out. I was under a heap of pressure going in in silver medal position, and obviously, with only Michi Jung to go, I didn’t think he would make any mistakes. But I mean everyone’s, you know, normal, and he’s obviously not a robot.”
Yaz’s was one of just thirteen clear rounds today, and one of the twelve of those that was inside the time — but even at the tender age of eleven, Banzai has exceeded expectations throughout his career, finishing second at Kentucky this spring on his ultimate campaign for the Paris 2024 Olympics.
“I’m just delighted that my horse went out there today and tried his absolute best,” says Yaz, who rides the gelding for longtime supporters Sue Davies and Jeanette Chin. “He probably jumped the best round he’s ever jumped, and he was listening to me the whole way around the course. It’s just an absolute dream finish to this event — I just never thought this would happen.”
Of the exquisite Banzai, she says: “He’s the best horse I’ve ever sat on, and I don’t think I’ll ever sit on a horse like him ever again. He’s the ultimate event horse: he’s incredible in the dressage; he has so much potential and so much presence, and he’s fast on the cross-country, and agile, and brave. And then coming into the showjumping today, he just showed everybody that he was jumping a clear round and there was no two ways about it. He took everything in his stride, and I wouldn’t want to be sat on any other horse.”
Sue and Jeanette, who are also from the Isle of Man, have supported Yaz through from those heady teenage years, giving a young girl whose enormously supportive, but not wealthy, family a shot at making her dreams become reality.
“I started out riding in the Pony Club at home and did all the local competitions, and then my amazing family supported me at some events in the UK. It was all sort of a very lucky, right place, right time thing when I met Sue Jeanette, who are also Isle of Man residents. They wanted to support a younger rider from the Isle of Man, and we’ve made this journey together. And I’m just so grateful that they chose to support me all those years ago — just to reward them today with a World Championship title is pretty special.”
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Along the way, she’s also been supported by Britain’s enviable structures, which help propel young riders through to senior level success.
“It’s amazing to be here with the amazing British team we’ve got here, and I’m so grateful for the World Class program, who have been supporting us in the lead-up to this event,” she says. “My trainers, family, the owners, especially, of the horse — I would not be here without them.It’s a huge team effort to be here and I’m just so glad that we delivered today.”
Yaz’s history-making victory doesn’t just fulfil her own wildest dreams — it’s also emblematic of a World Championships cycle that has seen young up-and-comers come to the fore. And for kids with ponies on the brain and posters on their walls? It’s a sure sign that no matter how lofty your ambitions, there’s a pathway to get there.
So few were the clear rounds today that big climbs were possible for those who could achieve them — and after Michi and Chipmunk slipped down to fifth place, the door was opened for newcomers on the podium. So it was that Olympic gold medallists Julia Krajewski and Amande de b’Neville, who has looked almost a new horse after a winter of maturing and strengthening, stepped up from fifth into individual silver medal position.
“I was super, super happy and delighted with my horse,” says Julia, who rode at the 2018 World Equestrian Games with Chipmunk before he changed hands that winter. “I’m again super proud of how she just delivers when it really matters — there’s the feeling that she knows.”
That silver isn’t the only medal she took today: despite the twist of fate at the end of the day, the Germans were rewarded with team gold — their first since that extraordinary period of dominance that came to a close after the 2016 Rio Olympics.
“For me this week, it’s felt like a real team effort,” she says. “We really thought ‘okay, let’s let’s make it a good team thing; let’s win a team medal’, and I think everyone did their bit. It went a little bit up and down but in the end, we really got it together, won the team gold — and then in the end to win individual as well, is just the icing on the cake. I’m so proud of the horse.”
Tim Price, too, was able to take home two medals: that long-awaited team bronze, and an individual bronze for good measure, too, after moving up from seventh place post-cross-country with Falco.
“It hasn’t sunk in — it’s only been a couple of minutes, and it’s not a position the Kiwis have been used to being in for some time,” he says with a laugh. “Andrew Nicholson came up and said, ‘you guys waited long enough for that, well done!’ but it’s just amazing, this team. We’ve had a great week and all stayed very solid. And what a finish! And what a horse.”
Though Falco wasn’t always an obvious champion — as a newly-minted four-star horse, his record was particularly up and down — but over the last eighteen months or so, he’s come into his own, winning Pau CCI5* last year and consistently delivering at the upper levels.
“We’ve had faith in him since the start,” says Tim. “He’s always been an out-and-out jumper but to get him to Sunday, so you can demonstrate that and have it in a useful way, is just incredible.”
For Tim, though, who has been so extraordinarily successful himself at the upper levels, it’s the team bronze that he picked up that, perhaps, means the most — particularly as the last few championships for the Kiwis have been so hard-fought and scantly rewarded.
“We’ve worked so hard for this, we’ve focused on this for years. It’s this kind of major event with the team behind you, with the nation behind you, that means absolutely everything.”
Ros Canter moved up from eighth to fourth to finish best of the British team, ahead of Michi and Chipmunk, while young Frenchman Gaspard Maksud was the runaway star for his country, putting a cap on an extraordinary week with the nine-year-old Zaragoza by jumping clear inside the time, moving himself up from a first-phase 21st place to sixth. Just behind him, best-placed American Will Coleman took seventh with Off the Record, while Japan’s Kazuma Tomoto had one rail down but still climbed from tenth to eighth with Vinci de la Vigne JRA — the same placing the horse finished on when he competed at the last World Championships with Astier Nicolas aboard. Tamie Smith wound up in a final ninth place with Mai Baum after her two rails pushed her out of bronze medal position, and Jonelle Price capped off the top ten with McClaren, after three phases in which he performed at his very best.
Germany’s team gold comes as former team rider Peter Thomsen dives into his first year as trainer, taking over from longtime head honcho Hans Melzer — and what a start he’s having to his tenure this week. With two former World Champions on his team, plus the current Olympic champion and an extraordinary new face on the team in Christoph Wahler — plus an extraordinary wealth of breadth and depth beyond them in the German ranks — it’s easy to forecast another wave of success after something of a fallow period at the championship level.
And speaking of breadth and depth, let’s talk about Team USA — and how sweet the relief of getting it done must be. Though many may have written them off, partly because it’s been two decades since they last stood on a podium at a World Championships and partly because the team exists in a funny sort of limbo period, with an interim (maybe!) chef d’equipe in Bobby Costello, it’s actually perhaps in part due to those things that this success happened. That, of course, and hard work by a number of riders, which made choosing a final line-up for the team unenviably difficult — and so good was the individual competitor, Ariel Grald, that if she’d been on the team this week, the USA would have been gold medallists.
At the start of competition, we posited that the USA’s secret weapon might be its period of sort-of instability, because it allowed for a less rigid program for team riders. This week, in a departure from the norm, we’ve seen each rider stick to their own system, and their own trainers, while coming together under a central care and management system that allowed them the support they needed along the way. That’s much more akin to the British system — and this week’s success could mean that we see the USA stick to it going forward. If they do, we could see them head into something of a renaissance, and a golden era that we’ve not seen in a long time. Bring it on, we say. (And, for more on the U.S. team — and our friends to the north in Canada — check out the North American end-of-day report!)
Of course, the medals weren’t the only thing that the 16 assembled teams were fighting for this week. This was also the first chance to qualify for the Paris Olympics, with seven team qualification spots on offer. Ordinarily, we see these primarily snapped up by the ‘big six’ nations — but a couple of countries on the up and up managed to punch their tickets today. Perhaps most excitingly is Switzerland, who have enjoyed a seriously impressive season with multiple four-star wins and Nations Cup victories, and have been riding with more gumption and educated risk-taking than ever before under the guidance of Andrew Nicholson. They took seventh place, clinched by top-place rider Felix Vogg and Cartania, and will take part in the next Olympics — as will Sweden, who finished sixth after a huge effort to consolidate their good form at Nations Cups and turn it into championship success. Ireland will also head to Paris after clinching fifth place, and Great Britain, who hold Olympic gold, will qualify with their fourth-place finish. For Brazil and Canada, there’ll be a Pan-American Games battle for a place, while the remaining European nations will work to secure spots at next year’s European Championships, and there’ll be spots to be grabbed through the Nations Cup, too, as well as an Asian and Middle-Eastern qualifier on the table. For our top seven, though, it’s time to relax, just briefly, and enjoy the spoils of their hard work.
And so, for now, we bid you adieu from Pratoni. It’s been a wild ride, a big slide, and now, we at EN are all, frankly, a bit cross-eyed. Go Eventing.
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