Aug. 29—Haras du Pin, France
After two days of eventing dressage, the best was saved for last at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.
Sandra Auffarth and Opgun Louvo put in a stellar test to score 35.2 and strengthen Germany’s lead over New Zealand heading into tomorrow’s cross-country. She edged ahead of Great Britain's William Fox-Pitt (Chilli Morning), and Jock Paget’s midday ride on Clifton Promise put that Kiwi in overall third.
“During the test he became better and better,” said Auffarth. “His canter work is his strength, and he showed that at the end. There I think we could get lots more points, so that was good for us.”
Auffarth was especially excited to bring the 12-year-old Selle Français to France as the gelding was bred in Normandy. She bought him as a 5-year-old from a Belgian friend and brought him along herself. She never imagined he’d be her first four-star horse, let alone help her win individual bronze and team gold at the London Olympic Games. She’d planned to compete him at last year’s HSBC FEI European Championships (Sweden), but the gelding pulled a shoe cross-country at the Aachen CHIO (Germany) and came back to the barn not quite right. He was never lame, and he stayed in work the entire time, but she decided to cross Malmö off the calendar.
“It was just a little thing, but he’s such a wonderful horse, I knew I’d never get another horse like that, so I have to be really careful with him,” said Auffarth, 27.
“He’s a small horse, and when you see him in the stable he just looks like one of a hundred,” she continued. “But he’s got such a good attitude. I still know I can do things better with him. He wants to learn. He’s so clever and intelligent. It’s really fun to work with him.”
Paget and Clifton Promise were back on form after a Fédération Equestre Internationale-sanctioned vacation following a positive drug test for the tranquilizer reserpine after winning the Land Rover Burghley CCI**** (Great Britain) in September of 2013. Paget’s suspension was lifted in June, and the FEI cleared him of any wrongdoing in August. This is his first major track since then.
“It’s good to be back there,” said Paget, whose strong test boosted the Kiwis to within 8.4 points of the Germans. “It’s been a while, and it’s good to see that 'Promise' hasn’t forgotten his job. There was nothing I was disappointed with. I was really proud of him just to go in there and do the last thing he did when he went into a four-star. He was very straight and very accurate.”
In The Hunt
Team USA is very much in the hunt, laying third, but France, Great Britain and the Netherlands are within 3 points.
Team riders Boyd Martin and Lynn Symansky took a turn around the dressage ring today, as did Kim Severson, who’s riding as an individual.
Martin’s test with Shamwari 4 started strong, but in the canterwork the horse lost focus and had some costly mistakes. The final warm-up area is right next to the main arena, and cheering from the crowd had many fit mounts on alert before they went in the ring.
“He’s normally a very quiet horse, but unfortunately in the warm-up for dressage there was a break in the stands with people going up and down the stairs, and in that moment on we were in all sorts of trouble,” said Martin, who sits 17th individually. “We were bucking and rearing, going sideways and whatnot. Everyone’s got to deal with it.
“The sad part is, I feel like we’ve improved his canterwork a little bit since we got him, the last couple weeks we’ve been getting really good canterwork,” he continued.
Symansky’s Donner perked up in the dressage ring, and their mark of 53.2 puts them in 47th individually.
“It actually could have been more the other way, I was actually really proud of him,” said Symansky. “I did my final salute, and he sort of went up. He was really overwhelmed. That’s was absolutely the most up he’s ever been, the most environment he’s ever been in.”
Severson, in her first major championship since the 2006 FEI World Equestrian Games (Germany), had a few tense moments in her test with Fernhill Fearless to land in equal 38th with fellow U.S. individual Sinead Halpin and Manoir de Carneville.
“I could have ridden better,” she admitted. “I’m really happy for him. He went down centerline and kind of got really tall and a little tense.”
The Real Test
Canada’s Hawley Bennett-Awad didn’t mince words when describing the toughest part of the cross-country course.
“Start to finish, honestly I don’t think there’s a giving fence out there,” she said. “I’m not going to take a breath start to finish. It’s big, by far the biggest, toughest thing that I’ve ever done.”
A day of sunshine has started the massive task of drying out Pierre Michelet’s track, but soggy going will still be the story of the day. The ground jury removed fences 20 and 23, which eliminates a galloping loop from the track and reduces the optimum time by one minute.
“They’ve taken one of the hills out, and the hill had quite a few soft patches in it,” said Andrew Nicholson, who suffered a few mistakes with Nereo in the canterwork to lay 13th after dressage for New Zealand. “Between that and being a hill, and it’s got quite a sizeable jump on top of it.”
“It’s a serious enough track in good condition, and given the going it’s going to be very hard,” said Fox-Pitt. “The distances are going and could be hard to achieve. The combinations are built on a forward stride, so we will have to keep the horses and riders attacking and not riding defensively."
Buck Davidson will be the pathfinder for tomorrow's cross-country, which kicks off at 10 a.m. local time, and you can find a start list and standings here. Catch up on all the eventing news from the Normandy and catch up on all the news from all the sports with the Chronicle as well.