Germany’s Ingrid Klimke and FRH Butts Abraxxas thrilled the excited crowd at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials, scoring a perfect 10 for their halt and holding the overnight lead after the first day of dressage.
They scored 39 penalties and are three points clear of the two riders currently holding joint-second place: Andreas Dibowski (GER) on FRH Butts Leon and Jock Paget (NZL) on Clifton Lush. The competition is the final leg of the HSBC FEI Classics.
Surprisingly, Klimke, the newly crowned European team gold and individual silver medalist, has never been to Burghley before. She explained that she is usually at the national championships in Germany, but as “Braxxy” is now 16, it was a case of “now or never”.
The son of Heraldik XX (also the sire of Michael Jung’s European Champion Halunke, FRH Butts Leon and Sam Griffiths’s Burghley ride, Happy Times) is so established, soft and “through” in the dressage arena that the crowd knew they were watching something special. There was a gasp as Ground Jury President Nick Burton (GBR) awarded the only 10 of the day, for the halt in the middle of the test.
“He is so sweet and relaxed,” said Klimke of her six-time team horse. “When we come into the arena, he says: ‘What do you want me to do and I will do it’,” she said.
“He felt wonderful in the test; so supple. But this isn’t going to be a dressage competition. The cross country is one of the biggest tracks I’ve seen.”
Dibowski’s horse, FRH Butts Leon, another 16-year-old (both horses are bred by Friedrich Butt) has also been a great servant to the German team and won Luhmühlen in 2011, but was ridden at last year’s London Olympic Games by Thailand’s Nina Ligon.
“It’s an exciting story that we have been reunited,” said Dibowski, who has not competed at Burghley since the European Championships in 1987.
He said that the hot sunshine suits his horse. “He loved it in Hong Kong [at the 2008 Olympic Games]. He just gets better and better.
“His whole test was a highlight,” Dibowski said. “Normally he prefers a synthetic surface, but the grass here was so beautifully prepared that he really enjoyed working on it.”
Andrew Nicholson (NZL), the first rider to compete three horses at Burghley, is in fourth place on 42.3 with his 2012 winner, Avebury, and in eighth on Calico Joe. He still has his Pau 2012 winner Nereo to come on Friday.
Sarah Cohen (GBR), who gave birth to her second child earlier this year, is best of the British riders in seventh place on Treason; six-time Burghley winner William Fox-Pitt (GBR) is ninth on the first of his two rides Neuf des Coeurs; and Piggy French (GBR), who is back riding at CCI4* level after a two-year gap, is 10th on new ride Westwood Mariner with 49.2.
“This was our first four-star test together so I am very pleased,” said French, a member of the British team in 2011. “I think it’s about as good as we could have achieved at the moment; we’re still very much on a learning curve. It’s nice to be back!”
Badminton winner Jock Paget said he was “really stoked” with Clifton Lush. “”He did everything I asked,” said Paget, whose British dressage trainer Andrew Gould was on hand to oversee the Kiwi’s test preparation.
Gould, who has been helping Paget for two-and-a-half years, explained that the pair have devised a strategy to get the best out of the gelding, who is not blessed with natural aptitude for the first phase.
“The horse isn’t naturally talented and doesn’t have the most impressive paces, but now that Jock has developed a very structured training programme it has allowed Lush to work to his full capacity and for Jock to fine-tune him,” he said. “Not all horses can cope with this but this one has a great mind, which allows for this and he enjoys the work.”
Riders are impressed with Mark Phillips’s revamped cross-country track, where the most demanding fences come in the first half. Ingrid Klimke says that three courses stick in her mind as being big and imposing: the Sydney 2000 Olympics, the 2010 Kentucky track (at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games) and this one at Burghley.
Andrew Nicholson added that he thought Captain Phillips had been “very clever”. He explained: “The new FEI rule that asks designers to use less jumping efforts within the same distance is quite a challenge for them, but Mark has managed to slow us down without making it twisty. I don’t think many riders will get the optimum time.”
The dressage phase resumes on Friday with leading riders Kevin McNab (AUS), Bettina Hoy (GER) and Kristina Cook (GBR) to come, as well as William Fox-Pitt (GBR) and Jock Paget (NZL) on their second horses.
Nicholson is the runaway leader of the HSBC FEI Classics, but Burghley placings will be significant in the fortunes of Fox-Pitt and Jock Paget, who are currently in second and third. And any other rider who can win this challenging contest on Sunday will spring into the five cash prizes.
Additional reporting: Burghley Horse Trials
Images below © Mike Bain
Results after 1st day of Dressage
1 Ingrid Klimke/FRH Butts Abraxxas (GER) 39.0
2 eq Jock Paget/Clifton Lush (NZL) 42.0
2 eq Andreas Dibowski/FRH Butts Leon (GER) 42.0
4 Andrew Nicholson/Avebury (NZL) 42.3
5 Kai Rüder/Leprince des Bois (GER) 44.2
6 Paul Tapner/Kilronan (AUS) 47.5
7 Sarah Cohen/Treason (GBR) 48.0
8 Andrew Nicholson/Calico Joe (NZL) 48.3
9 William Fox-Pitt/Neuf des Coeurs (GBR) 49.0
10 Piggy French/Westwood Mariner (GBR) 49.2