Aug. 30—Haras du Pin, France
“Every footfall for 11 minutes was hard work.” Thus spoke Great Britain’s William Fox-Pitt, the leader after cross-country in the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games aboard Chilli Morning.
The difficult conditions were no surprise after persistent rain soaked the area around the track at Haras du Pin for days leading up to cross-country. The organizers worked feverishly to improve the situation, draining the course, taking a loop off along with two fences, and reducing the time from 11:30 to 10:30.
But despite their best efforts, Pierre Michelet’s already testing world championship track took its toll and then some on the field of 87 starters with only 37 clear rounds and no one making the time.
The top individual standings didn’t shuffle too much—Fox-Pitt moved up to first from second by adding 12.8 time penalties to his score. Dressage leader Sandra Auffarth of Germany moved down to second with Opgun Louvo, and her teammate Michael Jung is hot on their heels in third with Fischerrocana FST. Germany still stands first, with Great Britain and Australia in second and third.
But those results don’t really tell the story of the day—how riders from every nation struggled with the conditions regardless of their experience. How horses failed to reach the finish line, going down or running out of gas at the last water complex.
The U.S. hopes for a team medal were dashed almost immediately when first Buck Davidson and then Phillip Dutton had to retire their exhausted mounts on course. The heavily favored Kiwis suffered a similar fate—the only team rider to even finish was Andrew Nicholson with Nereo, although he moved up from 13th to fifth. Jock Paget pulled up Clifton Promise when he had a runout early in course, fence 5, and he'll re-route to Badminton. Mark Todd fell off at the bounce bank at fence 30 ABC, the Rolex L’Abreuvoir, where 18 riders faulted throughout the day. Tim Price tried to nurse his exhausted Wesko home to finish a team score, but he was pulled up by officials two from the finish.
“It’s an outdoor sport, but I would say it’s the worst ground I’ve ever ridden on,” said Nicholson. “That’s including national competitions in England in the springtime when it’s wet and heavy. It just felt holding and bottomless.”
“This morning everyone was thinking that the footing looked great, but after a few horses went, I looked at the ground, and the prints were six inches deep,” said U.S. rider Kim Severson, who finished in 30th with one stop on Fernhill Fearless.
“I think the jumps are all riding fine; it’s the combination of it’s been a pretty wet summer and new ground and hilly terrain,” said Dutton. “The endurance part of the course is pretty tough. You have to forget about minute markers and your watch and go as fast as you can and save some for the end.”
Of the 27 riders who didn’t cross the finish line, 17 were eliminated and 10 chose to retire. And the day was not without tragedy. Great Britain’s Harry Meade completed a clear round with Wild Lone only to have him collapse shortly thereafter and die. A full necropsy is in the works, but Meade said the 13-year-old gelding felt brilliant on course and didn’t blame the conditions.
Sweden’s Anna Hilton suffered a scary fall at fence 30, and Matrix W stayed down for several minutes, but the gelding appeared to only be winded and walked off the course eventually. The second combination out, Belgium’s Joris Van Springel on Lully Des Aulnes also fell at 30, and the horse was taken off site to be treated for a wound on the left hind fetlock.
“The course isn’t the hardest I’ve ever seen, but the terrain and ground would make [the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton CCI**** this spring] look like a piece of cake,” said Fox-Pitt. “At Badminton you had wet and heavy bits, but you had good bits as well. There were areas of good ground where you could get a breather.”
“The weather is something we have very little control over,” said Michelet. “The forecast has been quite inaccurate. We had been promised 0.1 millimeters of rain, and we had 20 millimeters or perhaps even more. The organizing committee has done tremendous work and drained the course, which was a major risk, because of the nature of the soil, that it would become very heavy. This work was also very expensive, but without it we wouldn’t have been able to run today.”
And while the riders agreed it was difficult going, many of them were also very positive about the day’s sport.
“It was an exciting cross-country,” said Auffarth. “It wasn’t easy today because the ground was really deep, but I think that was the same for every horse and every rider. We really had to concentrate and to fight, but the horses did an amazing job. I am really proud of my horse. He did a really good round. He was so concentrated and wanted to go.”
“We know it’s a demanding sport,” said Fox-Pitt. “We know that cross-country day sometimes has more or less influence. Today was one of those days when we’re refreshingly not necessarily looking at all the dressage scores going clear inside the time. I think that’s always a good thing. I think it was a great day of competition. The horses that came home, came home well and hopefully will jog well tomorrow. You’re never going to get all the horses finished. As competitors we don’t expect that.”
The horses will trot up at 7:30 a.m. at Haras du Pin and then caravan the 1½ hour drive over to the main stadium in Caen to show jump at 2:30 p.m.
How did the U.S. riders fare on cross-country? Make sure to check out our coverage of them.
Finishers Within The Time: 0
Finishers With One Stop: 18
Finishers With Two Stops: 8
Fastest Round: Jonelle Price on Classic Moet (4.0 time penalties)
Slowest Round: Alena Tseliapushkina on Passat (88.0 time penalties)
Fence With Most Problems: Fence 30 ABC, the Rolex L’Abreuvoir—18 riders faulted there
Fence With Second-Most Problems: Fence 9 ABCD, the Alltech Le Deversoir Nointel—10 riders faulted there.
Fence With Third-Most Problems: Fence 5, La Cour Colbert—8 riders faulted there.
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