Monday, Feb. 26, 2024

Riders React To The Rio Olympic Cross-Country

Find out what the rider thought about their rounds—good and bad!


Important links: COTH’s round-by-round coverage / results / a look at the Rio Olympic cross-country course / all the Chronicle eventing coverage

Chris Burton of Australia on Santano II

Burton started the day in second place after dressage, but when leader William Fox-Pitt crossed his tracks and picked up penalties (see below) and Burton jumped clean and with no time faults, he moved into the lead. The Australian team also leads that portion of the competition.

Chris Burton on Santano II. Photo by Lindsay Berreth

COTH: Tell us about your day out there.

Burton: “This is a very green, very inexperienced horse. We decided for me to take the long route to Fence 6 because for a horse doing his first four-star it’s pretty difficult. 

COTH: It didn’t necessarily look that fast. He looked very fluid, was that your goal out there?

“I couldn’t believe it, for a horse with very little blood in his breeding he is a rocket. I’m delighted at this stage—couldn’t be happier. We always try to ride like that because it’s never that easy; it didn’t feel fluid so that’s very nice, thank you.”

COTH: It looked like he grew in confidence as he went.

Burton: “He did, didn’t he? The guys were having fun with me saying that he started out like the pre-novice horse that he is and he finished a four-star horse.”

COTH: You looked like you were testing your brakes going into the start box, doing a few halts.

Burton: “He can get a bit strong and a bit keen—I do it with all of my horses because it’s become habit when I’m nervous now.”

COTH: How did he feel pulling up?

Burton: “It was good; we’ve got a great team and he’s got all his shoes on, so we’re going to enjoy the rest of today and tomorrow whatever happens.”

Phillip Dutton of USA on Mighty Nice

Phillip Dutton, as the last U.S. team member, put in a great clear round at the end of the day, surviving a near-miss early in the course at a brush corner when Mighty Nice just barely got inside the red flag. The U.S. team was eliminated, but Dutton now stands in fifth individually. 

Phillip Dutton on Mighty Nice during their near-miss.

COTH: That was an amazing save!

Dutton: “It surprised me a bit. He must have misread it and didn’t undersetand it and I had to hold him in and just got it done. Then after that I was trying to catch up the time. He jumped beautifully after that. He’s no Thoroughbred, so it was a little hard to catch it up. He fought really hard up to the end and came home nicely. I didn’t have much to lose, just go out there and go as fast as I could. I was planning on going direct there at Fence 6, but after we had the hairy moment we had to go to plan B.”

Phillip Dutton and Mighty Nice at the last water.

COTH: What did you think of the day’s results? 

Dutton: “I think everyone’s pretty shocked. At most of the Olympics, cross-country hasn’t played a bigger part. It is what it is, and probably not my favorite type of course, but it was the same for everybody.

“Our first rider out, Boyd, rode like a demon on probably one of the greenest horses here and he just rode incredibly well. Obiously Clark’s horse didn’t want to play at all by the look of it. Lauren was pretty unlucky; I think she was having a super round. I was pleased with my guy, it brings home to us that the cross-country is still very important and no one’s worrying about their dressage score at this moment.” 

COTH: How is Mighty Nice? 

Dutton: “He was tired, but he’s a tough horse. Hopefully he’ll be OK tomorrow.”

Clark Montgomery of USA on Loughan Glen

Montgomery experienced problems early on course when “Glen” bulged his shoulder and ran out at the first water. More refusals later on course eliminated them.

COTH: What happened out there?

Montgomery: “I’m disappointed. The horse not steering was a problem that he used to do a couple years ago that we’ve found out how to fix. Obviously we’ve missed it somewhere in his preparation.”

COTH: So what exactly went wrong? He looked like he was not wanting to turn

Montgomery: “It’s an adjustability issue; he’s very difficult to make come back and then to turn to the right especially, and so it’s something that I know needs a good fix. We were unable to fix it before we got here and we thought everything was OK and apparently it wasn’t. We didn’t know we needed to work on it.”  

Lauren Kieffer of the USA on Veronica

Kieffer and Veronica took a fall at the gate at fence 24 when the mare hooked a leg.

Veronica and Lauren Kieffer.

COTH: How are you feeling?

Kieffer: “Um, pretty pissed off.”

COTH: I see you have your hand bandaged.

Kieffer: “Yeah, we’ll be fine. I’ll get some stuff checked out back at the village. I’m fine.”

COTH: Can you talk us through what exactly happened?

Kieffer: “I think… she was being really good and it’s stupid not to go the straight way. Then she just kind of hit that gate with her right front and for a second I thought she might save it but down we went.”

COTH: So was it at your discretion as to whether you wanted to the straight way there.

Kieffer: “Absolutely, yeah. My job was to get a clean round first and foremost, so it’s pretty disappointing to let the team down.”

COTH: How’s Veronica feeling?

“She’s fine. By the time I got back to the vet box she was jigging and trying to bite me.That’s her usual self. She’s a tough mare. I think she was more just winded. The mares, they are so stinking smart. The rein was stuck around her knee so I think she was just waiting for someone to let her up. She’s really smart.”

Michael Jung of Germany on Sam FBW

Jung was fifth after the dressage and brought Sam home with no jump or time penalties on cross-country to move into second place. 

Michael Jung on Sam FBW

COTH: How did things go out there?

Jung: “My horse was feeling a lot of pressure in the warm-up arena—the speakers are very loud and they can see other horses galloping on the track around the warm-up. He was really, really nervous in the warm-up and then out of the start box he was so motivated that he was running too much and not always listening to me like he normally does. We needed a bit more time on the fences but all in all he gave me a good feeling; he jumped everything really well.”

COTH: What did you think were the most difficult parts of the course?
Jung: “Nearly everywhere; you had to concentrate from the beginning to the finish. The first water came very early so there have been a lot of mistakes at the first water, and then the first combination with the two corners comes quick, and then the middle part was a bit more soft I think. But there have been run-outs on every combination and then near then finish when the horse is a bit tired, that last water for example. You need very good motivation and concentration for every fence.”

COTH: Do you normally watch other riders before you go?

Jung: “Yes I sit in the tent and watch many riders on the television. You get a lot of information from it; it helps a bit.”

COTH: How would you rate this in comparison with the London Olympic Games, the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Kentucky, etc.

Jung: “Everywhere is special, everywhere is a bit different. In Greenwich Park there were many, many more spectators; it was beautiful to gallop through the spectators. The feeling, the help when you’re galloping from fence to fence through the spectators, was an unbelievable feeling.”

COTH: And it wasn’t quite like that out there?

Jung: “No. It’s also very nice but you are focused and galloping, not really looking at how many people are standing on the track, but the feeling in London was better”.


William Fox-Pitt of Great Britain on Chilli Morning

The individual leader after the dressage, Fox-Pit picked up 20 jump penalties on cross-country for crossing his tracks at the ski jump fence at #20. 

William Fox-Pitt on Chilli Morning

COTH: What happened out there?

Fox-Pitt: “I had a really good round, it was just annoying that I went past that third element. It’s just really unfortunate—it was my fault entirely. I went too quickly, I think, for him. I knew I had to go forward but I think he was going quicker than I thought and there was just no way I could turn him. He didn’t do anything wrong.”

COTH: He looked good around the course.

“He was great. He’s a lovely horse, he really is. To be riding around there is a luxury and I’m just very sad that I’ve wasted it.”

COTH: What do you think of the course?

“No, it’s not nice. No. It’s not pleasurable, but I don’t think today is a pleasurable day, it’s a hard work day. Watching those first few horses you can see it’s asking questions all the way and a lot of them weren’t coming up with the answers.”

COTH: How did he feel when he pulled up?

“He felt OK, I mean he felt tired, it’s a decent work out there. I’ve not seen any finishing not tired. It’s a short course, 10 minutes 15 [seconds], but it’s still quite humid,quite warm, and the ground is very firm, so it’s demanding.”

Mark Todd of New Zealand on Leonidas II

A clean round with just 2 time penalties moved Todd up from 17th after dressage to fourth place individually. The New Zealand team is also in second place.

COTH: How did Leonidas feel out there?

Todd: “When I asked him for a bit more effort he had it in him. I had a bit of trouble stopping him at the end actually. He’s very fit and he was very economical all the whole way around. Sometimes he can get a bit strong and fight me but today he was really good and he listened and conserved his energy. I was under orders to go long at the house to the gate where Tim [Price of New Zealand] slipped [and fell] on the flat. I had to take it steady because if Tim was out I needed to get around.”

COTH: He looks like he added a stride in at Fence 4, that first water jump?

Todd: “The first water he did, but he’s always like that. The first water on the course, he just drops like a stone, so this one I wasn’t worried about him shooting off and running past, but I wasn’t quite expecting him to put an extra stride in. He’s so brave and honest, he just does it.”

COTH: Some said the frog skinny jump in the water as the last element of the last water jump was very difficult—did you find it difficult?

Todd: “It’s difficult at the end of the course and it’s a big effort for the horses there. And that frog at the end, they get through the two brushes and suddenly you’ve got to say, ‘turn left and jump this,’ but he did it really well. It’s a relief to get over that one, and then there were just three more fences to go.”

COTH: So was the course as hard as you originally thought?

Todd: “It’s hard when you’re trying to go fast, when you’re going at 570 meters-per-minute around there the fences come at you thick and fast and there’s no room for error. It’s one question after another. The horses have got to stay really focused and the riders, we’ve got to stay really focused. When we were walking it we were saying this is a real riders’ course and I think it’s proving that.”

COTH: How is Leonidas in show jumping?

Todd: “Touch wood, he’s normally a good jumper. He looked like he pulled up really well so hopefully tomorrow he’ll come bouncing out in fine form.”

Kathryn Robinson of Canada on Let It Bee

Robinson was eliminated for three refusals on course. 

COTH: What happened out there?

Robinson: “A couple of people have fallen on the turns and he’s a big horse, so I rode a bit overprotective, but we came back in one piece. We’ll do another competition, but it’s just disappointing for the team and everyone involved.”

COTH: Is it hard to get into a rhythm on this course?

Robinson: “For me, yeah it was, because he’s quite a big horse and it’s quite twisty and turny, and maybe I was riding a bit overprotective because it was causing a hell of a lot of problems. My plans changed in the warm-up. I mean if it was down to me I should have attacked it a bit more.”

COTH: How did your plans change in the warm-up?

Robinson: “Well at the first water people were having problems. I was always going to go direct there when I walked it and then my partner—after he had watched a couple go—said maybe go long there. Then the other place was the table to the gate and he said on the turn up to it be careful because people had slipped there. So maybe just that sort of stuck in my head—rather than just thinking, “Grrrr, yeah, come on, go and attack it,” I was thinking,”Oh be careful on this turn, be careful on this turn.” You learn from your mistakes.”

Sandra Auffarth of Germany on Opgun Louvo

Auffarth, who was eighth individually after the dressage, helping the German team claim the lead in that phase, picked up 40 jump penalties and 4.8 time faults with a stop at the first water and crossing her tracks at the final water.

COTH: What happened at the first water?

Auffarth: “He was a bit strong at the beginning, he landed and I wanted to turn and he just kept going and going and it was so quick that it was too late to go to the jump.”

COTH: And what happened in the water at the end?

Auffarth: “Then he did one less stride between the hedges.”

COTH: It looked like you were really trying to make up the time there

Auffarth: “Yeah, but not in that moment! I tried to wait but it was again a bit difficult. Of course I’m not happy.”

Boyd Martin of the USA on Blackfoot Mystery

The pathfinder for the U.S. team, Martin jumped clean on “Red” with just 3.2 time penalties.

COTH: How are you feeling at this moment?

Martin: “I’m feeling exhausted. That was one of the most physically demanding courses. You had to jump a jump, turn, accelerate. You know, it was tiring and it was laboring and it was intense. For the horse it was question after question after question. You get through one tough jump and then you come onto another tough jump and I’m so thankful I was on an old racehorse from Kentucky because he kept fighting the whole way home.

“He was definitely on empty coming to the last three and he just tried his heart out and jumped every jump. I’m so pleased with him”

COTH: Did you end up going the long route at the 17AB corners?

Martin: “That was my direction from [U.S. chef d’equipe David O’Connor]; he said to us last night that he wants this first horse to give us a clear round and give confidence to the rest of the team. My fella’s a bit green and he was a bit dodgy at the corners at the last start and so I was actually a bit relieved when they ordered me to go long there. The double of hedges, he climbed over the first hedge and I quickly spun him around. I knew I was on a fast horse—he has speed and endurance and I knew I could catch up though I didn’t quite get the time.”

“He’s a wonderful galloper and he’s pretty light in the mouth. To have 3 time penalties with two long routes is a testament to his speed and how much he tries because usually if you take two options you get 20 time penalties.”

COTH: So what intel have you taken back to the team?

Martin: “There were a couple slippery corners; a couple turns that I’ve told the guys to balance around. It’s one of these courses that you can’t ease up for one second. You’ve got to get through the flags of one fence and then think about the next. They do get tired so you’ve got to be a good horseman; know how hard to push them and how hard to balance. But we’ve got three class cross-country horses coming up so I think America’s in good shape.”

COTH: How did you feel when you pulled him up?

Martin: “Relieved. My biggest fear is letting everyone down, especially the group that bought him and my teammates, and my country. The biggest thing that motivates me is to not fail.”

“He’s good. He’s fit and he’s a very sound horse. The guys are just cooling him out now and within a minute or two he picked right up; his ears were pricked and he was munching on grass so I think I’ll have plenty of horse for tomorrow.”

Jessica Phoenix of Canada with A Litte Romance, first on the course 

Phoenix and A Little Romance finished with 40 jump penalties and 35.6 time penalties. She had run-outs at fences 17 and 23, and a miscommunication at the first water that resulted in a penalty being awarded then removed.

COTH: It seemed like a battle out there from the start, tell us about it.

Phoenix: “Oh man, we were definitely anticipating going out to war today; that is a serious course. I think it’s going to be a real game-changer out there today. To go out first from the box at the Olympics is amazing and I’m glad I could be here on A Little Romance to do it.”


COTH: What happened there going into the first water?

Phoenix: “She was just a little bit shy coming out in this venue. She’s never really seen anything this big, so definitely I had to really get behind her and get going. She drifted a hard left going into that water so we had to be really tricky about how we turned back so we avoided that penalty. Then honestly she dug down and she gave it her all. I couldn’t have been more proud of A Little Romance today.

COTH: So how did she feel pulling up? 

Phoenix: “She didn’t [feel tired]; she felt great. Honestly as the course went on and she really came into her own I feel like she really grew as a horse out there and I’m really excited for the future.”

COTH: What are you going to tell the rest of your team?

Phoenix: “To dig down and draw on all the experience that they have to get their horses around this course.”

Padraig McCarthy of Ireland on Simon Porloe

McCarthy and Simon Porloe were eliminated after a rider fall at 17B, the second of a combination of corners after an earlier refusal as well.

COTH: So obviously it didn’t go quite as planned but how did the beginning feel?

McCarthy: “I started off very good actually, [fences] 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 were really good. The combination at 6 is a big combination and it came very early for a horse like him that’s very careful. He did a very good jump over the first corner and I think he just frightened himself slightly because he was very green over the second corner [and ran out]. And from there we had to work hard—he didn’t really travel after that.

“We had the mistake at the step up, but then I thought by the time we had gotten up to the top of the hill that he was, you know, confident again and he got his front legs out of the way but he didn’t just manage to get the spread.”

COTH: And how is Simon Porloe doing now?

McCarthy: “He’s OK, he’s fine. He walked back and the vet team are there. He’s fine.”

COTH: So how are you feeling?

McCarthy: “I’m OK, I’m annoyed. I’m very disappointed for the team—it puts a lot of pressure on the rest of the team members, but what do you do?”

Sam Griffiths of Australia on Paulank Brockagh

Griffiths put in a very fast clear round, with just 6.8 times faults.

COTH: Congratulations!

Griffiths: “Yeah, my horse is a star! She’s a cross-country machine and tries her heart out. I just have to steer her and she’s does it for me, so what a star.”

COTH: You took some lovely lines there like through the last water

Griffiths: “She was beautiful through there. I just saw sort of a lovely attacking stride out there through the last water, that is tough. She jumped through great and you know, you just have to hope that they want to jump the jump and that’s tough jumping the frogs. Always sounds strange, jumping frogs but, you know that’s a tough line. Particularly on a tired horse at the end of the course. But I think class will show out there.”

COTH: So was she pretty tired towards the end?

Griffiths: “Not too bad actually. I had her super-fit, our management has all of our horses super-fit. So I was just pleased that she went well. It’s a course that’s going to cause trouble.  I think you’ll see people sort of changing what they do and the routes they go but I’m just pleased to get the score on the board.”

COTH: What have you gone back and told everyone else?

Griffiths: “To go for it! I told them it’s a little bit slippery on a couple of the turns, there’s a couple of wet patches so you just have to be slightly careful. But we all had plans so I would just say stick to the plan.”

COTH: And huge hugs there at the end?

Griffiths: “Imogen [Mercer] is my groom, she puts probably more into it than I do, she’s a star. She absolutely loves that horse and takes tremendous care of her so it’s a real team effort. She’s worked with me for a long time and followed this horse up through the grades so it’s as big a thrill for her as it is for me.” 

Astier Nicolas of France on Piaf de B’Neville

Nicolas was first out for France as the second rider of the day and jumped a clean round within the time!

COTH: That was amazing!

Nicolas: “Thanks, thanks, that was indeed a great ride and such a good feeling to go clear for the team. I realize the pressure I had to go clear for my team. It became clearer yesterday and today, it’s a huge feeling. I didn’t expect to have such stress and joy for the team competition.”

COTH: Was there anything on the course that you thought might be a bit difficult?

Nicolas: “I thought that the corners are not clear, as we all said before. My horse prefers to be on the long route instead of the tight corners which made it tricky but he’s so genuine he did it OK. And I didn’t like at all the house to the gate combination, I just saw quite a nasty fall just a minute ago and when I rode it, you know, Jessica [Phoenix] had just ran out. When you go down a hill on a tired horse it’s too difficult to turn and put the horse in a good enough balance to jump the gate safely.”

COTH: So did he feel quite tired towards the end?

Nicolas: “He was a bit tired. There’s never a place to drop your reins, even on the gallop straight it’s a tricky straight.”

Gemma Tattersall of Great Britain on Quicklook V

Tattersall had 40 jump penalties for two stops and 49.6 time penalties.

COTH: Talk us through what happened.

Tattersall: “Unfortunately today for whatever reason she went very green. She jumped Fence 3 absolutely enormous and I think it frightened her a little bit. Then she ran a little bit with her head up, a bit blind into Fence 4 and I just had literally no steering at all. Just completely lost my ability to steer.

“And then obviously that slightly frazzled her and she just went very very careful on me and sort of was just going up so high over everything and then not making the distances forward. So up the step to the angled hedges she just really backed off that step and never went anywhere and then I couldn’t turn her so obviously we had another 20 there. And then I just basically wanted to try and get home to get a score on the board for the team.

“I think maybe she was a bit surprised by the whole thing, she certainly would never want to do anything wrong, she’s not really naughty. I think she just got a bit of a fright and then I lost my steering.”

COTH: Well done for bringing her home. And she pulled up alright?

Tattersall: “Yeah, she seems OK. Maybe a bit hot but she seems OK.”

COTH: What will you pass on to the team?

Tattersall: “To be ready for anything. I think it’s really hard. We’ve been here for a really long time and I think it’s a really big surprise then when you suddenly go out on a really big, testing course that’s very undulating, very up to height, full of very tricky questions. It’s a serious track—all the riders are going to have to really use their heads and be careful.”

Tim Price of New Zealand on Ringwood Sky Boy

Price and Ringwood Sky Boy had a fall on a turn to a fence while trying to navigate the long route, which eliminated them.

COTH: So what happened with the fall?

Price: “It was always my plan to go long on him—he’s not the most technical type horse. He’s bravado day-in day-out, would jump the side of a house if I asked him to, so the plan with such a bold question as the corner was to the technical was never an option, I just didn’t fancy it.

“And I was fast enough, I’d had that time in the bank a little bit to go up to do that. So the long was the option; jump the long, which was the big wide table; direct and fast, take him up around fast and then set him up in balance for the gate on the last part of the turn. So when he got to the last part of the corner before everything just went sideways. You could question the studs but I think they’re the right studs for the job.

“Out there the grass is quite dry and so I wonder whether the roots aren’t quite what they are on living grass, and there was a bit of rain last night. Because when I looked back after I was walking away there were big clumps of turf out of the ground so I think the ground just gave way, so I think that definitely compounded the situation and, there we go.”

COTH: Do you think they could have done a better job preparing the course?

Price: “No, I think they’ve done a great job and they’ve put so much effort in. That’s just something that can happen in this game, and sometimes it can happen on the flat on a fairly straight line through some trees—it’s very changeable ground. It’s something that you’ve got to manage and I didn’t manage it well enough obviously in this case.”

COTH: You got huge cheers!

Price: “Yeah, it was great. I did hear it and it was awesome and it was great to get that spur on and confidence and then the double corners [at fence 6], he jumped them beautifully. And I thought this is definitely the right horse to be sat on for this today and started to really enjoy myself and everything was just happening as we had planned.”

COTH: What advice are you giving your teammates?

Price: “Just that our game plan will work and that the time is get-able. They are great riders these guys; they know their horses well. For me it was just one of those make or break moments but other than that it was a great round for me also, so I’d just tell them to crack on.” 



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