For the third week running, German riding skills have come to the fore. At the end of the first day of dressage, it is the reigning German World Champion, Sandra Auffarth, that heads the leaderboard in the CCI3* at the Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials.
Hot from the European championships, where she was part of the gold-medal winning team and the individual silver medallist, Auffarth is making her first appearance at Blenheim Horse Trials. She goes into a strong lead on Ipso (37.2), the former ride of the late Ben Winter, who lost his life at Luhmühlen last year. Sandra took over the ride in memory of her friend.
While not the best-moving horse in the field, nor the biggest, as he makes Sandra look tall, Ipso was correctly presented throughout an immaculately ridden test that displayed submission, regularity, correctness of movements, including flying changes and smooth forward transitions where they were meant to be. In essence, a proper dressage test that, German riders apart, are seemingly so few and far between in eventing.
Auffarth too was pleased with the test. “It was the best test we have done together,” she said, admitting that taking the ride was not an easy decision. “It was hard and emotional but I am really pleased that Ben’s mother (who owns the horse) is here to watch this weekend.”
It was German team trainer Chris Bartle that suggested Auffarth should stay in the UK to contest Blenheim. Ipso has taken a circuitous route via Blair with his best friend Opgun Louvo, Sandra’s team horse, for company.
“Chris thought it would be a good idea and I think he is right, it is such a beautiful park and beautifully built course,” said Sandra. “I am looking forward to the cross country. I think we will have fun together.”
Somerset-based Dani Evans, who had to withdraw from the British squad for the European Championships, has so far made up for the disappointment by taking second place with Raphael (40.2) with whom she placed third in the under 25 championship at Bramham this year.
Franky Reid-Warrilow and Dolley Whisper (40.6), gold medallists at the CIC2* championships for Rural Riders in The Netherlands last month, are marginally behind and take third place.
Not the thoroughbred type we are used to seeing Price ride, Cloud Dancer is of German bloodlines, being by San Remo out of a Sandro Hit mare, although he was bred in the Netherlands where his sire San Remo stands. Perhaps, therefore, dressage might have been his intended career, although his sire is descended from the great German eventing stallion Volturno, who contested two Olympic Games (1976 & 1980) and 27 international horse trials.
He was originally bought by Price and Jackie Green from a dealer’s yard although Price had doubts about his suitability for eventing.
“We saw him trot two steps and Jackie made it clear we had to buy him and I just said ‘that’s not an event horse,” said Price. “Anyway, we bought him and as yet he has answered every question — maybe his great grandfather is coming to the fore — although we take one step at a time.
“He is an amazing mover for an event horse and it’s quite a responsibility to produce the test he is capable of. Admittedly, he is no Ferrari cross country, however, and a few seconds in hand would be ideal.”
Don Geniro is also of dressage bloodlines, being by Don Kennedy out of a mare by Giorgione, who was owned and ridden by Dr Wilfried Bechtolsheimer and Carl Hester in British dressage teams, and indeed did start life as a dressage horse, being placed in British young horse classes with Sarah Higgins, who is Hua Tian’s girlfriend. Hua Tian gained the ride when he was sent to him to be sold. His career then took a sharp right turn and the pair won their first one-star. The eight-year-old is now owned by Higgins’ mother and his breeder Pamela Dewers.
“We are really excited about his future,” said Hua Tian. “He oozes scope, on a good day is unbeatable in dressage and as he gets older will get stronger and faster and he is definitely one of the best potential horses I have had.”
Jonty Evans and Cooleys Rorke Drift are currently third, albeit a massive 10penalties behind the leader, suggesting there is plenty of room for change tomorrow.
Image: Sandra Auffarth at the FEI European Eventing Championships, by Jon Stroud, courtesy of the FEI