With 2016 drawing to a close we have been thinking about the highs and lows along with the stand out performances of the year.
HORSE OF THE YEAR: La Biosthetique Sam FBW
Without question Sam is our only possible winner of this category. He ran 5 times in 2016, winning 3 events (Fontainebleu, Badminton & Rio), and was 6th at Aachen. He was pulled up xc at Kreuth, but it was being used as a preparatory run for Badminton. Sam’s Badminton win in turn secured the Rolex Grand Slam for Michael Jung, after he won Burghley in 2015 and Fischerrocana FST won Kentucky this spring. The Olympics was another piece of eventing history with Sam defending his Olympic title, a feat only achieved previously by two other combinations (Mark Todd & Charisma ’84, ’88 and Charles Pahud de Mortanges & Marcroix ’28, ’32). Sam’s dressage doesn’t always lead the field but his jumping performances continue to ensure he stands out from the crowd, and he finished on his dressage score at both Greenwich and Rio, a phenomenal achievement.
At just 9 years old Santano II has had a meteoritic rise to the top. Originally bred and competed as a dressage horse, he moved to eventing in 2014. He regularly leads the dressage before producing fabulous jumping performances. He does have the occasional pole but if he is denied a win it is more due to time faults, as Chris Burton takes the time to properly prepare him. Saumur was his first stand out performance of the year, where, contesting his first CCI***, he took the top prize. Santano was then perhaps a surprise inclusion in the Australian team for Rio, with many thinking the horse too inexperienced; when the course was revealed many became even more nervous. Chris though used his undeniable ability to produce one of the stand out cross country rounds of the day and one of only 3 inside the time. Sadly two fences in each showjumping round cost him an individual medal (had he finished on his dressage score it would have been gold!) but he still finished an exceptional 5th. Santano has an exciting future ahead and it will be interesting to see him contest his first true 4*.
‘The Don’ is another 9yo with an exciting future who had an interesting year, whilst also drawing a whole new legion of supporters to the sport. At Chatsworth ERM a cricket score in the showjumping put him well out of contention but Alex and The Don bounced back at Bramham with a double clear to take the ERM leg there. Rio was without doubt the other season highlight where they finished 8th individually. Alex and the Don have become celebrities in China and in doing so are bringing a legion of new eventing fans to the sport. This may have contributed to Don Geniro winning the Equiratings Horse of the Year award which was voted for by the public on Twitter. Some may have been disappointed not to see Sam win but any combination who can bring so many new fans to the sport single-handedly should be supported.
The name alone will probably leave a few people saying “who?”, but if we clarify and say the chestnut Chilean horse ridden by Carlos Lobos Munoz at the Olympics almost all will then reply “I want him for my birthday please!”. Ranco will never be a world beater (he finished 29th at Rio) but he stole the hearts of so many by being utterly genuine and trying his heart out. Unlike the likes of Sam who most of us couldn’t ride one side of, Ranco looked liked you could and therefore became the one horse everyone wanted in their stable. No taking away from the riding ability of Carlos who belonged there on merit, putting many of his peers to shame and riding a great clear xc, but Ranco really is his horse of a lifetime.
Thomas Carlile’s 8yo Upsilon was pure class this year defying his minor years. From 4 international 3* starts he recorded a win, two 2nds and a fourth. The win was the hotly contested 8/9yo class at Blenheim, whilst one 2nd was Gatcombe and the other the CCI at Samur where he finished behind Santano. He is a very exciting horse that we can’t wait to see him progress.
RIDER OF THE YEAR: Michael Jung
Again how could it be anyone else? From 30 international starts in 2016 at only 6 he didn’t record a top 10 place, 4 of those he still recorded top 20 places. The remaining two were at Kreuth which he used as a prep run for Sam and Fisherrocana, he pulled up both xc before they went on to win Badminton and Kentucky 4*s respectively. These two wins on the back of his 2015 Burghley win secured Michael the Rolex Grand Slam, only the second rider after Pippa Funnell to do so. Next to Aachen CIC3* which saw a strong field of Rio horses having final runs. Michael won on Fischertakinou and finished 6th on Sam. Fischertakinou was to be Michael’s first choice for Rio but a late minor injury resulted in Sam going instead, how we wish we could have a string of such strength that Sam is considered your second choice!! The rest was History and they defended their Olympic title in style. To finish off the season in style Michael then finished 2nd and 3rd with Fischertakinou and Fisherrocana respectively. Also just because he can Michael continues to compete in pure SJ competitions up to and including 1m55 classes at 5* shows.
What will 2017 bring for Michael? Who knows, but he continually pushes everyone else to up their game to catch up with him in the same way Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro have done for dressage, so exciting times are without question ahead for the sport.
BANG OUT OF LUCK: Tim Price
Poor Tim really didn’t have the best of years at the big 4* events suffering a rider fall at Kentucky and again straight after at Badminton in the spring. He also fell on the flat with Ringwood Sky Boy at the Olympics and parted company with Kincooley Cruising at Pau. All was not lost though as Ringwood Sky boy finished 4th at both Burghley & Luhmühlen. Hopefully 2017 will be kinder to him!
HARD LUCK STORY OF THE YEAR: Sir Mark Todd
You couldn’t help but feel for Mark as Leonidas who is normally a careful showjumper, kept needlessly tapping out poles in the first showjumping round at Rio where he watched his medal chances disappear. To add insult to injury he then jumped a foot perfect clear in the second (bigger) round to finish 7th. Had his first round have been clear he would have finished with the Silver medal.
GRAVITY-DEFYING MR STICKABILITY: Phillip Dutton
Phillip plain and simply defied gravity at the Olympics on the cross country belying his 50+ years. It was truly a save a gymnast would be proud of, and he not only righted himself but got Mighty Nice between the flags a few strides later at the second element of the combination to finish clear and ultimately pick up the individual Bronze Medal. Well sat that man!
4* DÉBUTANTE OF THE YEAR: Becky Woolven
Becky made her 4* début at Burghley on Charlton Down Riverdance and did so in style. As always the XC course sorted out who did and didn’t belong there and Becky firmly stamped her mark. She produced a classic cross country round which was a pleasure to watch. When added to a respectable top half dressage and only two poles showjumping, which for the event was a good score, Becky must have been thrilled to finish in 17th from the original 71 starters
COME BACK OF THE YEAR: William Fox Pitt & Andrew Nicholson
Both Andrew and William suffered what could have easily been life ending never mind career ending falls at the end of the 2015 season, but yet both fought back to full fitness to successfully return to competition at the highest level. Although Andrew didn’t go to Rio predominantly due to continuing politics with the NZ selectors he belonged there, and elsewhere picked up numerous international places and wins including winning the 3* yet again at Barbury! William other than a minor blip in the Rio XC proved he was back to his best as well. William also picked up a good few international wins including Barbury 2* and Tattersalls 1*.
RUSH OF BLOOD TO THE HEAD MOMENT: Pippa Funnell
Pippa freely admitted she suffered an error of judgement at the final water at Rio resulting in a run out, although she wasn’t helped by suffering from an asthma attack at the time, so she can be easily forgiven! Sadly it put paid to her chances of an individual medal although ultimately she most likely wasn’t quite fast enough to have finished in the medal positions, and it wouldn’t have affected the team result. So a frustrating decision as otherwise her and Billy The Biz deserved to finish far higher than the 26th they did especially when jumping a clear showjumping round on the final day. There will though be another day for this combination and Pippa’s other Billy horses coming up the ranks. Billy Walk On won the British Eventing 2* league in 2016 so will be another to watch with her next year.
MR VERSATILITY: Oliver Townend
Oliver Townend has a reputation for riding the tricky horses that often no one else wants, but you have to give it to him he gets results on all manner of different horses. In 2016 he picked up 11 international wins on 7 different horses. Those wins included three on Cillnabradden Evo the horse Andrew Nicholson suffered his fall from at Gatcombe in 2015. These results were more impressive after suffering a crashing fall at Barbury ERM when Evo completely misread a ditch brush fence. Another ride Oliver inherited from Andrew was MHS King Joules who is renown for being exceptionally strong. Their season highlight was a win in the 3* at Burgham and they picked up 3 further 3* top 10 placings including 3rd in the CCI3* at Bramham. Oliver didn’t quite have a horse ready with the right consistency for Rio but he will be there in the mix for European selection in 2017 on a few horses.
BRITISH 4* PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR: Gemma Tattersall & Arctic Soul – Badminton
Gemma & the 13yo Arctic Soul produced an outstanding performance at Badminton this year. They added nothing to their dressage score of 44.6, which was a personal best dressage at the level for Acrtic Soul. They skipped round the cross country with ease and then under immense pressure produced an exemplary show jumping performance to finish 3rd. With Arctic Soul’s dressage continuing to improve you have to wonder if they might be able to climb a few more placings at 4* in 2017…
EVENT OF THE YEAR: Rio
Unsurprisingly the Rio Olympics have featured heavily in our review of the year, and after careful consideration it is also our event of the year. Typically the Olympics are thought to be a 3* test and so many nations picked their teams accordingly, opting for better dressage horses that lacked 4* XC experience thinking it may well become a dressage competition. Oh how wrong they were! Pierre Michele’s’ course may have been 3* in dimensions but it was a solid 4* course in technicality. It was a true championship track which rewarded those that rode it well but penalised any even brief lapses in accuracy with run outs. Even normally reliable XC horses were picking up 20 penalties here there and everywhere. The French understandably know Pierre’s style well and sent the perfect team as proven by the team gold. Team GBR in hindsight though could have made some different choices especially regarding horses rather than riders as they finished a distant 5th.
HONOURABLE MENTION: Burghley
On the same vein as Rio, Burghley again proved it was not a dressage competition with the XC proving highly influential. Our only disappointment would be that a 4* can be won with 4 poles showjumping but that shouldn’t take away from Chris Burton’s winning performance.
BEST INITIATIVE OF THE YEAR: Event Riders Masters series
We are thrilled to see ERM not only being successful but moving on to a second year where we hope it can become even more successful. The reverse merit running order, rolling podium and live streaming brought a new level of excitement to not just those attending but also those who couldn’t be and therefore watched from home or even work!! We are excited to see how the series develops in 2017.
QUESTIONABLE INITIATIVE OF THE YEAR: Olympic format changes
In case you have missed the FEI announcement there are big changes a foot for eventing at the Olympics. They will officially lose their 4* rating with the XC being a 3* test. Teams are down to 3 and a penalty will be enforced if a team brings in their reserve horse at late notice (not 100% on at which point this penalty will be applied yet). Teams will no longer be able to be put together if enough riders from a nation qualify through individual rankings. The biggest change is that a combination will be allowed to continue through the event even if eliminated in a previous phase as long as the ground jury pass them as fit to do so. They will incur a phase dependant penalty for the phase not completed but it will increase the chances of team completion (this will not apply to individual combinations). All these changes in addition to others not mentioned could well result in a change to team selection. With no discard score horses will need to have unquestionable soundness and exemplary XC records. The wildcard dressage supremo medal chance is far less likely to get a team slot unless it has the jumping form to match.