Herning, Denmark—Aug. 10
Julien Epaillard set the standard in Wednesday’s speed competition, the first leg of the Agria FEI Jumping World Championship, aboard Caracole De La Roque. Third to go for France, he zipped around Louis Konickx’s course in 79.08 seconds, edging out Great Britain’s Scott Brash (Hello Jefferson) with Switzerland’s Martin Fuchs and Leone Jei landing in third.
Rails fell all over the course, which was fairly long at 17 obstacles and contained three double combinations. Scores were calculated in seconds, and each rail added an extra 4 seconds to the time. A few lines were set on a half stride, forcing riders to decide whether to add or leave out a stride.
Epaillard has been riding Caracole De La Roque for one year, and this is by far their biggest competition together.
“I’m really happy,” said Epaillard, 45. “The mare was very relaxed today. She listened to me super. I had my Plan A—we always have plan A—and today I didn’t need to use Plan B. So it was a really good start for me today. I hope the mare is not too flat for the round of the Nations Cup. The footing was good; the last few jumps were good; she was listening to me well. … I hope we keep like this.”
Epaillard, the former European champion, is competing in his first world championship.
“She’s an amazing mare,” he said of the Selle Français (Zandor Z—Pocahontas D’Amaury). “She has a lot of blood, [she’s] careful and scopey—but, OK, she’s a mare. She’s not always really easy to ride. But she gets more and more experience every day. She’s only 10 years old, and every day she’s easier to ride.”
Brash was last to go for Great Britain, and his round on Hello Jefferson put them half a second off the lead.
“He just feels really good,” Brash said. “He was really good in Aachen [Germany] and just felt in great shape at home before coming. It’s nice to get that question under our belt and feel that he’s still top of his game [here].
“He was a very tricky horse to start with,” Brash added. “It’s taken years of producing and getting a good partnership with him. I’ve always felt that he’s a really special horse and has all the attributes, all the qualities that that you need to win any grand prix in the world, any championship, so it’s just been trying to get that get all together. It feels like we’re not far away now.”
Switzerland’s Fuchs was thrilled with his 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood.
“He was great today,” he said. “I could feel it already, after the course walk and before the warm-up, because I knew the course suited me very well; I could do all the leave-outs without taking too much risk. He has such an enormous stride, so this gives me a lot of confidence for the rest of the week.”
Epaillard’s round boosted France to second place behind the favorite team of Sweden, with Belgium in third. Swedes Peder Fredricson on H&M All In and Henrik von Eckermann on King Edward sit fourth and fifth, respectively.
“I walked the course this morning and made my plan, which I tried not to stray from too much,” said Fredricson, who has ridden in two Olympic Games with H&M All In, most recently earning team gold in Tokyo. “I had a good pace—a bit longer strides than I wanted, but it went well all the way around. It was good start with the team in the lead position after today, but it’s a long week, so we will take it one day at a time.”
World No. 1 von Eckermann was thrilled with King Edward’s quick clear. The pair joined Fredricson on the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games gold medal team and finished fourth individually there.
“He felt great,” von Eckermann said. “I didn’t get the turn from [Fence] 2 to 3 like I wanted—I took one too many, and I took a little bit of time—the rest felt really good.
“[He’s] the whole package: his brain, he’s clever, he’s so careful but still so brave and also such a sweet horse,” he added.
King Edward lives and competes barefoot.
“[He’s been barefoot] from the day I took them off 1.5 years ago,” he said. “Since then [his feet have been] great.”
At home, von Eckermann said, they use boots to walk him back and forth from stable to field, but otherwise the horse seems more comfortable without shoes. “His feet [toe-in] a little bit, so I believe it makes it easier for him to roll over because otherwise the shoe is there.”
Mixed Results For Team USA
Team USA sits ninth in the standings after the first round of competition. Pathfinder Lillie Keenan, making her major team championship debut, put in a clear round aboard Argan De Beliard to sit 38th. She consulted with coach and teammate McLain Ward before entering the arena.
“He told me this is my first championship and not my last,” she said. “And he told me that I need to focus on my plan, and don’t forget to think.
“[Fences] 1-2 I was maybe a little bit shorter than I’d like, in that his step is so huge so in a speed round, you carry more rhythm, and I was able to do the leave-outs, but I was getting there quite easy,” she added. “I would have liked to do one less stride to 3, but then after that, I think I just kind of clicked in and just trusted him and didn’t push too hard.”
Keenan, who paired up with the 12-year-old gelding at the beginning of this year, compared the him to an equitation horse in his rideability.
“McLain had watched the horse for a while, and I think it was in July of last year that called me and said, ‘There’s this white horse, and you have to have it,’ ” she said. “To be honest, when I watched him with Luis [Sabino Gonçalves, his former rider], I really didn’t think he was the horse for me, and McLain pushed and pushed and pushed, and then about seven months later I ended up buying him.”
The best U.S. ride of the day came from championship debutante Brian Moggre on Balou Du Reventon. He and the 16-year-old stallion kept up a strong pace on their way to a clear round and 19th place.
Moggre, who rides with Laura Kraut and Nick Skelton, said Skelton put him on his toes just before his round: “Right before I walked in the ring, I do remember Nick said to me, ‘Are you nervous?’ and I said ‘Yes.’ And he said ‘Good, because you should be.’ But they’re such a fantastic support team that kind of everything they say is support.”
Moggre, third of the U.S. riders to go, went in planning to ride aggressively.
“I kind of thought, ‘Well I might as well go give it a shot and see what we have,’ ” he said. “So I went out there kind of going for it, and I think to finish where we did, towards the top of the group, is a really great start to the week.”
Adrienne Sternlicht didn’t have the day she wanted when the front plank of an oxer hit the dirt during her ride on Cristalline. It’s the mare’s second world championship, and she came out of her stall feeling her oats, prompting Sternlicht to work her down before the competition. They’re 69th.
“It was just a rider error,” she said. “The eight[-stride line] got early, and I think I took it for granted a little bit.”
After winning team gold two years ago, the 14-year-old Bavarian Warmblood battled injuries, but she came into form in time for this championship.
“She is something beyond a horse,” Sternlicht said. “To me she’s my best friend, absolutely, and has given me more than I could ever ask for in my life. So it’s really special that I get to be here with her, and I want to be able to do her justice—so expect a clear round coming.”
Anchor rider Ward aboard Contagious had the same oxer down as his former student Sternlicht. He sits 29th.
“I made a little mistake [Fence] 3 to 4. I didn’t quite get to the distance I wanted at 4, and that wasn’t the start of the round that I wanted to have, but Contagious dug in, and we kept it on a good score,” he said. “We just have to keep bringing out best rounds every day.
“He’s a very careful horse; he’s on the line of sometimes almost too careful. And I saw that a little bit today, as I said, by the time I went the ground was a little soft, which isn’t the most advantageous. It wasn’t bad; it was just a little soft for his perfect situation, so he was working a little bit. I hope tomorrow we maybe go a little bit earlier after a drag break, but that’s not an excuse. That’s the score. He tried hard, he fought hard, and he had a good score, and we keep going.”
Ward has mentored both Sternlicht and Keenan during their careers.
“That’s an incredible source of pride,” he said of having them on the team. “Adrienne four years ago making our team and winning [at the 2018 Tryon FEI World Equestrian Games in North Carolina] and to come back from a couple of injuries of her horse, it just shows that they learned well, and it’s a good program. Lillie Keenan had a little disappointment last year; she looked like she was in the running for the Olympics, and her horse got hurt. She came back with a different horse this year. And it just shows their education, the job they’re doing, and the quality of the horse people they are.”
Find full individual results here and team standings here. Want more from the ECCO FEI World Championships? Click here. Check out the Sept. 5 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse magazine for analysis from the competition.