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Breadtag Sagas ©: Authors Denise & Tony, 25 November 2015
Luhmühlen CCI**** Three Day Event (Horse Trials) 12-15 June, 2014
Introduction to the sport
Having covered an esoteric sport in Addicted to Sumo too a few weeks ago, Tony thought it was time to cover another: also a professional sport, but this time with horses. Denise is the expert at horse sports and apart from the introduction and final comment, the main text is all hers.
The modern sport of cross-country eventing or horse trials began in the twentieth century, but its precursor was the development and maintenance of cavalry horses and riders. The original eventing discipline included elements called roads and tracks, which were reminiscent of a military despatch rider and steeple chasing, but these have been dropped in recent years.
At the top level the competition is called a three-day event (but it often is held over 4 days because of the number of entrants). The first discipline (over two days) is dressage. Dressage is the art of riding and training a horse in a manner that develops obedience, flexibility, and balance. Dressage is held in an arena and horse and rider go through a set of predetermined exercises to demonstrate these abilities.
Twenty or thirty years ago when eventing was in transition from an amateur discipline, dressage was not as important as it is today, on the theory that the good dressage riders would not perform well or not finish the cross-country element. Today the three disciplines are more balanced and unless you perform at the highest level in each, you have no chance of winning.
The cross-country discipline is the most exciting phase on day two. It involves horse and rider galloping a set course over a series of fixed-jumps or obstacles, often huge and sometimes into water. Jumping a cross-country course requires both courage and technical skill on the part of the rider and the horse. The sport is very much a partnership between horse and rider. There are usually around 30 jumps (maximum 45) and a specified time of 11-13 minutes is set to maintain an average speed of 375 metres per minute around the course. Penalties are incurred for refusals, not jumping between the flags, and exceeding the specified time.
On day three the horse must complete a show jumping course within a specified time, aimed at showing that the horse is still alert and capable of accuracy and precision. Penalties are incurred for dropping rails and for exceeding the time limit. Tiredness in horse and rider can play a role in this phase and each competitor who has done well in the previous two phases can drop quite a number of places, with a poor show jumping round. There is also a concurrent teams competition at these events based on nationality. Eventing and equestrian sports generally are one of the rare sports where women can compete equally with men.
At the top International level it is a strenuous and potentially dangerous sport for both horse and rider, but the horses and riders appear to relish the challenge. Because of the strenuous nature of the event for the horses, they are required to pass a veterinary check before each stage of the competition.
Luhmühlen CCI**** Horse Trials 2014
Tony covered Luhmühlen briefly in What travel costs 5: Germany and said:
Luhmühlen horse trials are a CCI**** Event [see Further Information below] one of only six of this type of event in the world. The others are Badminton and Burghley in the UK, Pau in France, Kentucky in the USA and Adelaide in Australia. 2014 was a world championship year so the cross-country course was tough. Horse trials are also called three-day events and comprise riding the same horse in dressage, cross-country over huge jumps and on the last of the three days over a show jumping course.
Because Luhmühlen is only three hours drive from Großenkneten, where we were housesitting, and Denise comes from an equestrian background, we decided to go. The event was from 12-15 June 2014. We went on Friday morning and so missed the first day’s dressage.
Parking was easy on Friday. Although on Saturday for cross-country day and on Sunday, the driving approach was slower and the walk longer, it was not difficult.
The ground at Luhmühlen is purpose built for the event, though it also gets used for music and other functions through the year. Luhmühlen originally held only CCI** and CCI*** events. The CCI**** event was first held in 2005, making it the first venue in mainland Europe to hold a competition at the top level. Located in beautiful German countryside, the venue sits just outside a typical quaint German village.
There was not a big crowd so we were easily able to stand by the fence at the arena and watch the four-star horses complete their dressage tests.
Twenty seven four-star competitors had completed their dressage test on Thursday, including three Australians; Kevin McNab on Fernhill Quality Street (52nd on a score of 76 and withdrawn before cross-country), Seumas Marwood on Wild Oats (34th on 61.50) and Natalie Blundell on Algebra (23rd on 54.50). The leader of the dressage after Day 1 was the 12-year-old chestnut, Dutch Warmblood mare, Vira ridden by Elaine Pen from the Netherlands. I was sorry to miss her in the dressage as they were very impressive over the rest of the weekend. Elaine is a first-time four-star competitor and a law student. Her mother bought Vira (Jazz—Option V, Whinny Jackson) as a foal and Pen has developed her to the four-star level. One to watch I think.
On the second day of dressage, Australian Lucinda Fredericks set the standard with a lovely expressive test to take the lead with final penalties of only 38.70. Flying Finish, a 12-year-old Holsteiner gelding, is very impressive. They held the lead all-day finishing with a clear margin over World, Olympic and European champion Michael Jung (fischerRocana FST on 41.50) and Ingrid Klimke (Horseware Hale Bob 42.00), both representing Germany.
Walking the course
After the dressage we walked the course with great excitement. Captain Mark Phillips has come back to the course he designed over 5 years ago, when Luhmühlen hosted the European Eventing Championships in 2011. The showground was completely rebuilt for that event. He also redesigned the course for last year and has made more changes this year. We saw him driving around on a quad bike making last minute checks.
Our program had graphic descriptions and drawings of each fence (see below). We trekked around the course gasping at some of the fences. The Meßmer Teich complex with 5 jumping efforts and water looked challenging with a tight bounce over a big hedge out of water.
Another water complex the Jeep big four Station with arrows and narrow options on curves demanded respect. We saw Sir Mark Todd in board shorts and bare feet walking through the water between jumps here with some trepidation. The Lotto Kombination was over a very large ditch and hedge, with two more elements on a bending five strides. Mark Phillips comments read: ‘as you approach the hedge, the turn and angle look impossible, but it opens up when you get there, riders don’t get too excited over the hedge.’ This proved true enough and in fact it rode well, even forgiving those overbold over the hedge which did encourage big jumps.
On course we took some photos for a young Indian man on his own and fell into conversation. Prateeq is a 2-star rider on the Indian team. He is in the army. We met his lovely new wife Bhagyashree back at the arena. She valiantly supports his ambition though not a rider herself. He and I were equally excited about the whole thing, eagerly discussing the merits or problems of the fences. They were big fans of Mark Todd. Their weekend was crowned by getting a photo with him after the show jumping. We enjoyed their company during the weekend, sharing drinks, meals and general excitement.
Tony should have written this article before the Luhmühlen 2015 competition when graphic and animated descriptions of the course and a sample ridden round were all over the Internet. Luhmühlen 2015 wasn’t a championship year and the course wasn’t as challenging but Tony will include some video material, at least to show what the event looks like.
An early morning emergency call came from Prateeq, their lift had fallen through and they found that public transport on Saturdays is not great, we swung by and collected he and his wife enroute.
Fifty-two competitors presented for the cross-country. Five horses were withdrawn beforehand, including one of the leaders after the dressage Cool Mountain (William Fox-Pitt, an ex-world champion).
Coolys Luxury (Tom Crisp GBR) was the first horse we saw to jump on course in the cross-country. We had positioned ourselves up near the Meßmer Teich (pond) combination fences 13 to 15. I thought this looked really scary, particularly the jump out of the water, with a bounce to a big hedge. Apparently, the course designer thought the rails into the water were a little more scary and if that was not enough, this was preceded by an enormous Trakehner (a ditch spanned by centre rails) with a 3-metre wide ditch, which Captain Mark Phillips said: ‘should provide a nice 5 strides across the island.’ This spectator thought the whole thing more likely to provide a heart attack, but real riders are made of course of much sterner stuff and in fact this combination rode reasonably well. Tom Crisp and Coolys Luxury made the whole thing look effortless, flowing through with impulsion, great balance and rhythm.
Our plan was to walk around the course and watch a few horses over fences that had caught our fancy or chilled our bones!
After Meßmer Teich we cut across to the big hedge at fence 27. We see Elaine Penn and Vira sail past confidently here on their way home. From here we trek backwards to the Am Waldrand in time to see Natalie Blundell and Algebra storm over this imposing wall and brush, looking huge perched on a big mound. The bold grey looks the picture of a cross-country horse just eating up this course. By a bit of sprinting we managed to see them at a distance safely over fence 26 and the big hedge at 27.
A bit of a trek and we arrive over at the Jeep big four Station to see the action through the big water complex, just in time to see Tim Price and Wesko and Andreas Osholt on the impressive So is Et through. Kate Wood (NZL) on Easy Tiger survives a misstep on landing over the last element in the water, clinging on in sheer determination (the photographs say it all). After climbing from one end to the other of her long-suffering and still cantering horse, she arrives back in the saddle and to the cheers of an appreciative audience she collects her reins and thunders off to complete with just a few time faults. Unfortunately Chris Burton (AUS) was not so lucky, being unseated at the same element when getting a little off line into the last narrow arrow-head out of the water. Tempranillo bravely attempted to bank the fence, kept his feet but despite best efforts of both horse and rider Chris was in the water (again the photographs say it all).
Of the 47 who started, only 32 completed the course. There were 7 retired on course and these were usually associated with refusals. For one reason or another the rider decides the horse is not right: this may be tiredness, an injury or not coping with the course. There were 6 rider falls and 2 horse falls. The horse falls were both over big plain fences. One rider broke her collarbone. One rider was killed tragically.
Talented young German rider Benjamin Winter who had a clear round early in the day on his first horse, riding his second horse Ipso, suffered a rotational fall at fence number 20, a big plain fence after the jeep station water complex. He was air-lifted to hospital, but died of his injuries.
Rotational falls occur when a horse hits an upright, solid fence between his knees and his chest. Horses that hit below the knees are typically able to scramble over the fence, but when a horse moving at speed hits a jump with his chest a rotational fall is inevitable.
The German team trainer Chris Bartle said: ‘We lost a superb sportsman and friend. Ben was so passionate about his horses and his sport. It was his biggest dream to compete in Luhmühlen’s CCI**** and he was overjoyed about his copy-book round on Wild Thing Z earlier yesterday morning. Both Ben and his horses were fit and well prepared for this event. He was a truly cool competitor, a dream for any trainer. We will all miss him very much. Our thoughts are now with his family and close friends.’
Winter’s family expressed the wish that Benjamin would have wanted the event to continue and all competing riders in a meeting on Saturday night decided to continue in Benjamin’s memory. All entertainment and other ring programing were cancelled. Only the concluding phase of the show jumping was to be completed on Sunday.
This tragic death left all subdued. Unfortunately more was to come with Tom Crisp’s second horse Liberal tragically collapsing and dying of a heart aneurysm between jumps. Neither event could have been predicted. The sport is dangerous and all efforts are made, particularly in recent years, to ensure the safety of horse and rider as much as is possible.
Frangible pins were specifically introduced in response to the dangers of rotational falls. These are made to break under pressure to lessen the impact if a horse falls over a fixed rail. Course designers, builders and organising committees constantly analyse what happens with their courses to improve safety standards.
The results of the Cross-Country
Leading after the dressage, Lucinda Fredericks parted company with Flying Finish at fence 22 Am Waldrand, such a shame for this lovely horse. This big fence perches on a mound, which then drops away to a big brush corner four strides away. Eventing is certainly character building, delivering regular highs and lows.
Twenty-six competitors go clear round, with eleven of these going through on their dressage scores with no time faults. At the end of the day, Michael Jung (fischerRocana FST) leads Tim Price (NZL) Wesko . Bettina Hoy (GER) on Designer 10 collects 1.20 time faults, but holds off Oliver Townend (GBR) on Black Tie to hold third position. The best of the Australians is Bill Levett on Improvise who comes up the list from 11th after dressage to hold 6th position. Andrew Hoy (AUS) Rutherglen) and Natalie Blundell (AUS) Algebra are at 13th and 14th respectively, after strong rounds. Andrew remains on his dressage score, and Natalie collects a small time penalty on the cross-country.
A commemoration for Benjamin Winter was held on Sunday at 11am at the showground in the arena before the start of the show jumping phase.
Several early clear rounds, including for Ingrid Klimke seemed to indicate that the course is not too testing. Soon enough though the poles started to fall. The first and second fences (spread to upright) certainly caught out a few, but other mistakes occurred all round the course. Classic Monet Jonelle Price (NZ) tapped rails on her way around, but only collected 8 faults. Jonelle’s careful and clever riding prevented a worse result. She had made steady progress over the weekend moving up from 22nd after dressage to 15th after the cross-country and eventually placing 12th.
Natalie Blundell was standing 13th just behind Andrew Hoy, but 16 faults sent her toppling down the placings. Algebra looked full of running and not too inclined to listen to his rider. At least he didn’t look tired as some others did, but that may be small consolation to his team. He touched #3 but it stayed up.
Andrew Hoy also had rails down. He took an interesting short path to fence #3 a spread, which got a reaction from the crowd, but unfortunately he ended up with 3 rails down and 12th place.
Elaine Penn and Vira did a nice round. The mare was keen but listening, and just touched an element in the treble giving her 5th place.
Improvise did not look like she was giving Bill Levett an easy ride, fighting at the bit and flattening over fences. They collected 12 faults plus 1 for time, dropping from 6th to 10th place.
It was not proving so easy to get a clear round today. There were only 7 clear rounds on my count and some of those had time-faults, so it was neither easy on the technical questions or on time.
In the final five after cross-country, both Phillip Dutton (USA) Mighty Nice and Bettina Hoy (GER) Designer 10 had 12 faults, dropping respectively to 8th and 9th places.
Oliver Townend had more luck with Black Tie, who only had one rail down and held onto his position of 4th. However, these mistakes helped Boyd Martin on Shamwari 4 with a clear round to sneak up from 7th to come 3rd.
Second last to jump, Tim Price on Wesko gave a cool and elegant display to go clear on time and jumping. Their balance and rhythm through the treble and around the course were memorable. The heat was on for final competitor Michael Jung on fisherRocana FST. The crowd held their breath and all looked good until the first part of the double. An upright off a corner brought a moment of unbalance and a rail down relegated them to second. It is a tough game and on any day there are several capable of winning. Sometimes it is your day and sometimes not. Tim Price and Wesko came 1st and Michael Jung on fisherRocana FST had to settle for 2nd.
To produce horses capable of competing at this level, to keep them sound and well, then pilot them around all phases, not losing concentration, and neither horse nor rider becoming distracted at any crucial moment, is a credit to all those who finish.
The oldest horse entered was 19-year old Asih who safely partnered Alexander Peternell representing South Africa to the end of this demanding competition. Ten out of the original 53 entries were 15 or more years old. Only fourteen were mares.
Tim Price dedicated his win to Benjamin Winter in a moving speech. All riders rode in and out at the walk, making a subdued and solemn closing ceremony.
This was Tony’s second top level international event, though he’d attended lower level cross-country one and three-day events in Australia. Tony’s first event was the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and then only cross-country day.
The four days were interesting enough to keep Tony entertained. The cross-country was exciting as Tony hopes his photos show and Luhmühlen a wonderful venue. The Germans are efficient and welcoming. The event is small, the crowds manageable and you are much closer to the competitors and sometimes meet with them relatively informally.
We went to Burghley Horse Trials in the UK three months later (also newly designed by Captain Mark Phillips) and enjoyed ourselves again, but Burghley and Badminton, the two four-star events in the UK, attract much larger crowds than Luhmühlen and one is not allowed to walk on the course itself but only parallel to it. Burghley is wonderful and extremely well-organised, but it lacks the more intimate atmosphere of Luhmühlen.
Andrew Nicholson (NZL) won Burghley in 2014. We were at the massive Stamford Station Jump # 27 when Nicholson passed in the cross-country and he had a wicked grin on his face when he cleared it and set his horse Avebury for the finish. We also witnessed Aoife Clarke’s (IRL) spectacular fall from Vaguely North at the same jump a few minutes before and we were amazed and relieved that both horse and rider were OK, because neither looked it immediately afterwards.
Eventing is a dangerous sport. Andrew Nicholson fell at a 3-star cross-country event at Gatcombe in the UK on 9 August 2015 and broke his neck. He was incredibly lucky not to be paralysed and could not defend his 2014 win at Burghley. William Fox-Pitt sustained a head injury at a two-star competition at Le Lion de Angers on 17 October 2015. He flew home to Britain on 17 November and will recuperate over the winter as will Andrew Nicholson.
Photos and Slides of Luhmühlen in detail
You’ll notice there are few photos of the dressage and none of the show jumping. This is because as a non-accredited photographer you cannot get close to either and one is restricted to the equipment one takes when travelling. That said, there are some advantages to not being accredited and to doing the best that you can in the circumstances. It frees you up!
The more extensive photographs and particularly the slideshow format are worth viewing because they give the sequences of events. In particular Kate Wood’s (NZL) determination to stay on Easy Tiger and Chris Burton’s (AUS) inability to stay on Tempranillo both at the Jeep big four Station.
The photos are on Picasa albums; to return use the back arrow on your browser. The slideshows can also be used as click through carousels. You can also navigate into a slideshow or carousel in Picasa. Top left or click on photo.
Photos of Luhmühlen
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Key words: cross-country, eventing, horse trials, three-day event, Luhmühlen 2014, CCI**** Event, Captain Mark Phillips, Burghley, Badminton, Pau, Kentucky, Adelaide, dressage, show jumping, Lucinda Fredericks, Flying Finish, Elaine Pen, Vira, Natalie Blundell, Algebra, Tim Price, Wesko, Andreas Osholt, So is Et, Kate Wood, Easy Tiger, Chris Burton, Tempranillo, Benjamin Winter, Michael Jung, fischerRocana FST, Bettina Hoy, Designer, Oliver Townend, Black Tie, Boyd Martin, Otis Barbotiere, Bill Levett, Improvise, Tom Crisp, Liberal, Andrew Hoy, Rutherglen, Jonelle Price, Classic Monet, Ingrid Klimke, Horseware Hale Bob, Mark Todd, Oloa, Meßmer Teich complex, Lotto Kombination, Jeep big four Station, DHL Paket Komplex, Andrew Nicholson, Avebury, William Fox-Pitt, Aoife Clarke, Vaguely North
CCI and star system
Wikipedia on Dressage
History of modern eventing
The Olympic’s equipment & history of eventing
Horses in warfare
Luhmühlen 2013, 2014 and 2015
A ride around the 3-star course at Luhmühlen in 2013 gives some idea of what it might be like to ride an eventing horse around Luhmühlen (8 min 17)
Cross country course at Luhmühlen 2014 (30 jumps)
There were numerous videos of the course and riding over the 2014 course earlier in 2015 but these seem to have disappeared, since Luhmühlen 2015 has been held.
FEITV video summary of the cross-country and show jumping 2014
FEITV Preview video of Luhmühlen 2015 (2 min 05)
Map of the course 2015