Ben Maher (GBR) crowned a season of a lifetime winning the LGCT Grand Prix final in Doha at the weekend on the superstar young stallion Explosion W and was crowned the new 2018 Champion of Champions.
It was to be a double celebration for Maher too. His London Knights squad also wrapped up the team Global Champions League title.
It was a phenomenal end to 2018 for Ben with no less than five LGCT Grand Prix wins and after Saturday's triumph the British Olympic gold medallist paid tribute to his horses, Explosion in particular, and his team:
“I can’t quite take it in to be honest. I have such a good bond with Explosion W.
“I’ve been lucky to have many great horses in my career so far, and I’ve been doing the Longines Global Champions Tour for many years now but have never been in a position to contend for the Championship. I don’t know if I’ll have another season like this - I did nothing different this year, but fortunately for me everything went right and I had a great team of horses. But it’s also to my team around me, they get us here every week - there’s a lot of people to thank behind the scenes. Explosion has been in our programme for a while but Shanghai was my first big show on him. We had quite a surprise result there and then built on that. The horses give you such confidence, but I think many riders in today’s course changed their mind - I think I even asked Harrie at one point what his thoughts were! I trust Explosion, and that’s the difference - the quality of horse that he is and the luck I’m having at the moment.
Ben Maher thanks Explosion W for his performance ph. Stefano Grasso/LGCT
“You believe you can do anything riding a horse like Explosion. He’s just such a fun horse to be around, he enjoys his work - he enjoys his job. He could probably come out now and be happy to jump again. Fortunately it’s gone my way this year. Prague will be new territory - I haven’t jumped him indoors yet, we’ll give him a break and then produce him for the Playoffs. But we’ll just enjoy this one right now and let it sink in.”
Follow the fortunes of Jumping Team GBR at the World Equestrian Games™, Tyron...
September 19: Team Competition/ Individual Round 1
September 20: Team Competition Round 2/Individual Qualifier (Round 2)
September 21: Team Finals & Medal Ceremony
September 23: Individual Finals & Medal Ceremony
Showjumping Team GBR
William Whitaker with UTAMARO D'ECAUSSINES
Holly Smith with HEARTS DESTINY
William Funnell with BILLY BUCKINGHAM
Amanda Derbyshire with LUIBANTA BH
Alexandra Thornton with CORNETTO K
Britain’s William Funnell joined an illustrious group of four-time winners when claiming the Al Shira’aa Derby last Sunday at Hickstead.
Riding the homebred 10-year-old Billy Buckingham, William was one of just two riders to go clear in the first round, meaning he had to jump-off for honours against Holly Smith and Quality Old Joker.
The first to go in the jump-off, William’s horse never looked in danger of touching a fence, although a foot in the water meant they finished with four faults in a time of 89.62sec.
Holly Smith and Quality Old Joker
It gave Holly a bit of breathing space, but she was caught out first by the black gate and then by the water as well, meaning she retired into second place.
William, 52, is the fifth rider to have four wins in the Hickstead Derby, having previously clocked up a hat-trick of victories in 2006, 2008 and 2009 with Cortaflex Mondriaan. He joins Harvey Smith, John and Michael Whitaker, and Ireland’s Eddie Macken, who have all had four wins in this iconic class.
The Dorking-based rider now believes he could add to his Derby tally with Billy Buckingham.
“As long as I’m fit and the horse is fit you’d like to think you could go on and win it a fifth time. It’s nice to be in the record books with those guys, and to do it this year on a home-bred is special,”
His horse was previously ridden by Lucy Townley, the daughter of Hickstead Director Edward Bunn. William took over the ride in 2017, and the pair finished sixth on their Derby debut last summer having hesitated at the top of the Bank and getting a time fault as well.
“We’ve done a bit of practice to make sure he’d come down the Bank. Last year I wondered if I’d wasted a clear round because they don’t come round here very often, so it’s nice to get another one and win it on a home-bred by [William’s championship horse] Billy Congo.”
The 57th Al Shira’aa Derby took place in perfect conditions, with dry, sunny weather all week.
“I’d like to congratulate the Bunns on the work they’ve done in the arena, this is the best grass ring in the world with the best footing,” added William.
Holly was bidding to become the first female winner since 2011, and only the sixth in history, but she had to settle for second place following her third place debut in 2017 with Quality Old Joker.
Harriet Nuttall and A Touch Imperious
In equal third place was the ultra-consistent Harriet Nuttall and A Touch Imperious, who yet again left all the fences standing but were another pair to be caught out by the 15ft Open Water; and Shane Breen and his Bunn Leisure Derby Trial winner Can Ya Makan, who knocked down the Balustrade fence at 14.
Shane Breen and Can Ya Makan
James Whitaker ended up in fifth place with one fence down and a time fault on Glenavadra Brilliant, the horse James’ elder brother William Whitaker rode to victory in 2016.
A second British rider is at the centre of a social media storm over whip abuse.
Show jumper Ben Talbot, 32, who is based in the Netherlands was expelled from a four-star show in Germany at the weekend after striking his horse, Everglade six times when the grey refused.
The incident occurred at the Gros Viegeln show, organized by leading rider Holger Wulschner, who has made the following statement
"During the two-phase jumping competition there was a disturbing scene in the big arena. British (rider) Ben Talbot punished his horse Everglade with such hardness that he was called directly to the judges box." The Judges with Rob Hatz, Peter-Jürgen Nissen and Bent Schultz and show master Holger Wulschner agreed immediately. Talbot was expelled from the tournament. "I have absolutely no understanding for this behavior", stressed Wulschner. "We have to make a clear position and draw signs." Viewers welcomed this quick and clear decision with loud applause."
Since this incident, there have been social media demands for both the FEI and British Showjumping to take action. The FEI is reviewing eventing whip rules following the furore over Oliver Townend at Badminton. Talbot also jabbed the nine-year-old in the mouth as he rode away from the fence, after the commentator asked him to stop and visit the judges’ box immediately.
“It was a reaction from anger, it should never have happened. I care a lot about my horses and they always come first to me. I understand very well that I was wrong. For now, we are waiting for the consequences.”
“I am very sad and sorry for what happened this weekend. My reaction was wrong and there are no words ..., as most of my friends know I love my horses.”
Both the FEI and British Showjumping have been asked for comment.
International showjumper William Funnell is hoping to achieve a fourth win at this month’s Al Shira’aa Derby at Hickstead.
The Surrey-based rider has a very good chance of adding to his tally of wins with the talented Billy Buckingham, who finished sixth in the class last year. The pair left all the fences standing, but a hesitation at the top of the Derby Bank resulted in a backward step and four faults, along with a single time fault.
“I was very pleased with the horse’s first attempt – having left all the fences up, it was technically a clear jumping round, and those don’t come around very often in the Derby,” says William.
Although the Bank caused them issues twelve months ago, William believes this year the horse will be more confident about going down the famous 10ft 6in slope.
“Now he’s been down the Bank safely, I’d like to think it was a nice experience for him. Billy Buckingham is quite a sensitive horse, and when you’re at the top of the Bank there’s a fine line between reassuring the horse and overdoing it. If you’re too strong and use too much leg, he might think there’s something to be wary of,” William adds.
According to Funnell, the 10-year-old homebred is reminiscent of Cortaflex Mondriaan, the horse who gave him three Hickstead Derby victories in 2006, 2008 and 2009.
“Mondriaan was a pure natural, and while Billy Buckingham hasn’t got the same experience he feels as much as a natural as Mondriaan, so I’d like to think he’ll have his chance too.”
While William holds a place in the Hickstead history books as one of the few three-time winners, he has come very close on several other occasions. In 1997, he finished runner up after Comex knocked down the 1m high jump on top of the Derby Bank, and in 2012, he jumped a clear in the first round with Dorada but ended up second to Ireland’s Paul Beecher after a jump-off.
“There are a lot of unlucky stories in the Derby,” William adds. “With 21 jumping efforts, it’s common to have just one fence down that costs you the win. I’d always wanted to win the class and to have lost on Comex because of knocking down the smallest fence on the course was really tough. Although it was disappointing to come so close with Dorada as well, it was a bit easier because I’d won the class three times by that stage.”
William now bids to join the elusive group of four-time winners, including Harvey Smith, Michael Whitaker and John Whitaker. Ireland’s Eddie Macken is the only rider to claim four consecutive Hickstead Derby titles, having won every year from 1976 to 1979 with the incomparable Boomerang.
The Al Shira'aa Derby at Hickstead is now in its 57th year, but William believes it has lost none of its magic.
“For me, it’s the most exciting class in showjumping in the UK. For the public, it’s special, because the course stays the same every year, and everyone knows the history of the class. It’s always been my ‘local’ show and winning the Derby was always something I aspired to. It’s a big part of my season every year.”
On the very wettest of days
"This place is a shit-ing shithole" - Overheard from a frustrated and rather wet trainer who proceeded to stamp through knee deep puddles, in a manner similar to a pissed off toddler!
On the long days
"The only thing I like about this place is that this is second time I've pressed E3 and it's given me two Yorkies" - Overheard from a desperately hungry and sugar starved boyfriend at a three day show in a very wet April.
On the eventing days
"She doesn't want to fall off, she doesn't want to waste an air canister" - Overheard in response to a rider desperately clinging on to their horse after taking a flyer at a fence and trying not to hit the deck.
On the bad days
Shouting "NO" to your horse, and then in a whisper "Why did you do it? We talked about this!" - Overheard in response to any silly behaviour which you really wish your horse wouldn't do in public!
On the hot days
"Water is good for you, why won't you drink for me!" - A regular comment overheard when your horse decides the water out of the container that came from home isn't the same as the stuff that it actually AT home.
On the showjumping days
From affiliated competitions where you overhear "This collecting ring is a bit scary..."
To the unaffiliated days where you overhear "I can't cope with the faffing in this collecting ring". The particularly appropriate response to this was, "I think you've done too much showjumping." - Guilty as charged on that one I'm afraid!
On nearly every show and training day
"Don't just sit there!" - Overheard from nearly every trainer. Words nearly every rider has had shouted at them at some point I'm sure, particularly when nerves get the better of you.
On days where the tack shop has a sale
Person 1 - "Do you really need more <insert any horsey item>?"
Person 2 - "Well no, but it's on sale!!" - Overheard on a regular basis, usually related to some superfluous item of tack. Most commonly when you're trying to buy rugs you don't really need!
On days when the pony classes are on
"She's ten and she's making that course look like sticks on the floor. Why the hell can't I do that?" - Overheard from depressed adults who realise these kids are always going smash us when it comes to guts and speed!
On days when the non horsey family come to watch
"I'm surprised, I thought everyone would be really stuffy and posh"
Oh the irony. Us equestrians are muddy, smelly, sweaty and dirty most of the time, that is apart from the few moments when we are in the ring and then we gleam.
On all days
Exclamations of love and delight followed up with loud wet sloppy kisses and lots of hugs. Words being shouted out or whispered softly by so many riders as they exit the ring or untack at the lorry. Despite all the heartache and disasters these wonderful animals are simply fabulous in every way.
As it says on the tin, this is a personal blog about the journey Archie and I are taking in discovering the world of eventing. Archie is a 6 year old Irish gelding, and I am a 26 year old horse addict. I didn’t grow up in a family with horses, and Archie was the first horse I ever owned, having loaned for over 20 years. I hope that we can show other riders who perhaps don’t feel that they can achieve their dreams, that anything is possible!
Edwina Tops-Alexander (AUS) reigned victorious at the Longines Global Champions Tour of Grand Prix of Miami Beach triggering the prospect of a thrilling contest with current ranking leader Scott Brash (GBR) for a record third championship title.
Speaking after her victory lap of honour Edwina said it was “amazing” to have qualified for the Longines Global Champions Super Grand Prix at the new GC Prague Play Offs in December.
With a hefty contest shaping up between Tops-Alexander and Brash, at this early stage of the LGCT season, she admitted: “I know the two of us are going to be at it again to win."
“Ursula jumped amazingly. Just that last fence was one fence too many today. If I was to ride it again, I’d maybe have held her off the front bar a bit more, but I was delighted with her.” Scott Brash
Both hugely talented Olympians have won the sought-after individual LGCT Championship title twice already and, if either rider can triumph at this season’s finale, they will make history as the first to accomplish the feat three times.
Scott Brash riding Ursula XII LGCT / Stefano Grasso
The overall LGCT Ranking battle is already an intense affair, with Brash (GBR) leading the charge for the 2018 season. Tops-Alexander is the second rider — after Mexico City Grand Prix winner Brash — to qualify for the Longines Global Champons Super Grand Prix which will take place at the GC Prague Play Offs this December.
As the sun set on the show’s final day on the magnificent Miami Beach setting, Tops-Alexander once again stepped up to the top of the podium in the balmy evening — repeating her feat from 2016, when she won on Lintea Tequila.
Competing on her gutsy 11-year-old Dutch mare, California, she snatched glory as the final combination to jump in today’s LGCT Grand Prix of Miami Beach, edging out Qatar’s Bassem Mohammed, the only other rider who pulled off a double clear. Ireland’s Darragh Kenny rounded out the podium after an unlucky fence down with Cassini Z.
Victory was by no means assured for the top Australian athlete: “I didn’t even know until 11am that I was going to ride her today,” said Tops-Alexander, who missed the majority of last year’s Tour as she was pregnant and took a break from riding until September 2017. "We all work hard and sometimes is pays off. You have to believe in yourself.”
“It’s an amazing venue with a great atmosphere and I feel a bit like I’m on vacation. There are kites and parachutes and waves and people in bikinis everywhere — there’s lots happening. It’s fresh and different; unique and original. We’ve never had show like this in the world before, and every year it gets better and better.” Edwina Tops-Alexander
Michael Bloomberg was among guests at the event and watched his daughter Georgina compete with her team New York Empire in the GCL showdown in Miami Beach. The billionaire businessman and former New York Mayor said of the Longines Global Champions Tour and GCL event: “This is such a spectacular location. It is good for the sport and great for all the people who come here, the aficionados and the tourists who can walk by and watch. I am always interested to come and see my daughter, it’s is great she’s riding."
All the riders at the show — even those who came out with more faults than they would have liked — praised Uliano Vezzani’s technical and intricate course-designing. They were light and delicate, meaning that the smallest of mistakes influenced the outcome, but also not gigantic, intimidating fences, so even horses making mistakes did not have their confidence dented. Still, with the proximity of the sea and the crowds, the venue has the feel and intensity of an indoor show — just without a roof.
Tops-Alexander added: “Uliano’s done an unbelievable job all weekend. What was really amazing was that the faults were everywhere — often there’s a tricky line or a particular fence, but he is very clever with what he does [so faults were evenly spread]. It means you have to ride your own course and know your horse.”
Five riders (all from different nations) from the 35 starters pulled off first-round clears to qualify for the jump-off, with the final two fences hard up along the shoreline side of the arena and towards the in-gate proving particularly influential. Final-fence faults meant many riders’ jump-off hopes were dashed at the last minute amid groans from the packed out crowds watching.
Belgium’s Pieter Devos had the tricky task of tackling the seven-jump second round first, and emerged with an unlucky four faults on Claire Z after the lightest of rubs on the first element of the double sent the poll skittering out of its shallow cups.
Spain’s Eduardo Alvarez Aznar was next out, but his tactic of a slow clear was scuppered when 13-year-old Fidux simply didn’t get high enough in the air over the penultimate obstacle. One more four-fault round followed him when Darragh Kenny’s mount Cassini Z punched out the front rail of the final spread. But his time was better and, with two left to jump, he had secured a podium position.
Bassem Hassan Mohammed on Gunder ph.Stefano Grasso/GCL
The ever-consistent Bassem Mohammed and 12-year-old Gunder put in the first clear of the jump-off, making absolutely sure every rail stayed up. It was a cautious, tactically ridden round that did the job and put him at the head of affairs with only one rider left to jump. But it wasn’t pedal to the metal — and that one rider was the formidable Tops-Alexander, who had the advantage of complete intel about the course as the last to jump.
Her round on the 11-year-old Esprit mare California shaved more than three seconds off Mohammed’s time, handing her victory and the lion’s share of the class’s €300,000 prize-fund.
He’s 1,72m high, full of a special kind of horsepower and can rival Usain Bolt with his own celebration after finishing a round… Dutch Olympic rider Maikel van der Vleuten’s Verdi is undoubtably one of the most consistent stallions on the Longines Global Champions Tour and GCL circuit, with the 16 year old horse a prominent figure in the sport he’s competed in for over 12 years. We caught up with the show jumping superstar at his home in The Netherlands, where Maikel gives us an exclusive insight into the secret life of the very vibrant Verdi.
Verdi likes to take the mornings slow… "He starts off with a gentle stretch. 30 mins on the walker [almost like a treadmill for horses] first thing is enough to wake his body up."
But he gets his heart rate going at least once a day… “Depending on his competition schedule it might be we ride out into the forest, or work on some fitness training on the canter tracks or a gentle lunging session."
If the weather is good Verdi gets turned out in the field at the end of the day like every normal horse... "If the weather isn’t good, the grooms hand walk him around the yard for a nibble on grass."
Maikel believes careful management is key to Verdi’s success. “I know what I need to work on with him. We have a plan and a routine that has developed over the years. We know each other inside out."
Verdi is a yoga kind of guy… “I never do big jumping at home - he knows what to do already! Instead I focus on gymnastics with him to keep his body loose. It’s important that his body stays athletic - he’s very supple naturally and it’s important to keep it in top condition."
But it all starts and ends with the mind… “What’s most important is to keep him clear in his mind, and happy. So that’s why we often go for walks in the woods after a show, or take time to graze him in-hand.”
It’s taken years of practice… “We grew up with this routine together, since he was four years old and I was 17. It helps that he has an athletic body, but it’s my job to help him stay that way and keep him happy.”
Maikel and Verdi at home in The Netherlands
Maikel reckons if Verdi was a human, he’d be the David Beckham of the horse world… “He’s very honest. He’s quiet but very focused... Good looking! He’s an easy person who likes to work, loves his sport and loves his job.”
But he’s also a master of getting it just right… “Under saddle he knows what he has to do - he’s never a horse who is aggressive or wild, he saves his energy for the show ring. I’ve been in all different kinds of situations with him; sand, grass, rain, sun... And he’s always consistent which is what makes him very special.”
He likes to communicate… “It’s funny, when I give him an easy day on the lunge and he thinks he’s finished, he’ll always give a small whinny at me as I walk to him. I do ten minutes on the left rein, ten minutes on the right and then I walk over to pat him and he always gives a nicker, as if to say “Great, I’m done!”… Every time. It’s as though he’s talking to me.”
Verdi might be gentle but he likes to think he’s in control… “I have to let him think everything is his idea. He’s quiet but if I ask too much of him for things that are not needed, he can get mad. He’s very clever, you never need to over-ask him.”
Maikel reckons Verdi is the "David Beckham" of the horse world...
He eats like the absolute athlete he is… “Verdi has three meals a day. In the morning, afternoon and evening he gets 'Red Mills Horse Care 14' - a combined mix of an oat based formula, antioxidants and pro balance vitamins and minerals. He also gets hay of course. I try to keep it simple and very easy.”
He’s become famous in the equestrian world for his celebratory leap and buck at the end of each round - his own signature celebration display a la Usain Bolt or Mo Farah… “It’s become his “thing”, to leap once the round is over. It’s always after the last jump. It’s nice that he does it because he know he’s finished, he can feel it, but he has to be careful he doesn’t kick the fence out!”
Maikel and Verdi in action for the GCL team Madrid in Motion
The shocking footage shared on social media last year taken during the CSI1* in Wiener Neustadt, Germany showed Bernhard Maier crashing his horse, Paddy's Darco, through most of the fences. He carried on despite loud boos and whistles from the audience, until he was eliminated after two refusals. Such behaviour angered our readers, being read over 85,500 times here on Trot On.
The Austrian Equestrian Association imposed a provisional suspension of three months for participation in all equestrian events, on Maier after this event. It was then reported that he had also mistreated another horse - a disciplinary procedure was started against him.
The Austrian federation has now imposed a five-year suspension on Maier and a fine of 1,120 euros.
Bernhard Maier has been found guilty of unsporting behavior and unfair treatment and excessive demands on a horse. He was also found guilty of causing damage to the equestrian sport's reputation.
Maier has announced that he will appeal against the decision. He will also face disciplinary proceedings.
He’s long been one of the fastest riders on the circuit, and the French speedster Julien Epaillard (40) showed the rest a very clean pair of heels as he galloped to victory in the eighth leg of the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping 2017/2018 Western European League at Olympia in London (GBR) on Sunday. At the tail end of an afternoon of tough sport there were only four qualified for the jump-off from a star-studded field of 36. Last to go, Epaillard was chasing the target-time set by 2016 winner, Great Britain’s Scott Brash (32) who broke the beam in 37.34 seconds. But that wouldn’t be quick enough to hold back the flying Frenchman.
“I saw Scott go - he started quickly but I thought he was a bit careful over the last two fences so I had nothing to lose and I took a lot of risk at the last two jumps and it worked!” said Epaillard who stopped the clock in the winning time of 36.91 seconds. And he had extra reason to celebrate as he is the first French winner of the FEI World Cup™ at Olympia in 32 years.
The first-round track set by Bob Ellis proved very testing indeed, with horses and riders barely having time to draw breath between fences and often running out of steam towards the end of the course. This summer’s newly-crowned individual European champion, Sweden’s Peder Fredricson, led the way against the clock with H&M Christian K, producing a cautious second clear in 41.34 seconds. And although Australia’s Edwina Tops-Alexander posted a quicker time of 41.05 seconds with her young horse Inca Boy van T Vianahof, the lady who topped the previous round at La Coruna (ESP) also left the door open for the remaining pair.
Scott Brash (GBR) & Ursula XII Photo FEI/Jon Stroud
Brash’s 16-year-old mare Ursula has all the experience in the world, and as the London 2012 Olympic team gold medallist set off it seemed a back-to-back double of Olympia wins was well on the cards. But he under-estimated the threat from Epaillard.
“I kinda thought he would be faster, but I was hoping he was going to have a jump down which he didn’t have!”, Brash said after his French rival stole the show with Toupie de la Roque.
“I have been riding her since March” said Epaillard of his bold and brave 10-year-old chestnut mare. “She comes from the Hecart family who are my neighbours and have been very good to me. I’m really pleased that we are doing our best together!”
Meanwhile Sunday's third placing sees Tops-Alexander move to the head of the Western European League table, sharing 50 points along with Frenchman Kevin Staut and now well-qualified for the Longines 2018 Final in Paris next April. After today’s win, that is Epaillard’s target now.
“I really want to qualify for Paris so I will go to the next qualifer in Mechelen (December 30th) and then Bordeaux (February 4th). To ride at the Final in my own country would be fantastic!” he said.