It all came down to the wire in the FEI Eventing World Championship in Pratoni, Italy, today. After four days of intense competition, with some of the biggest names in eventing battled it out for team and individual honours, however, it was a British rising star who stole the show.
Aged just 25, Yasmin Ingham was born and raised on the Isle of Man – a tiny island in the Irish Sea, just 34 miles across and home to around 80,000 people. Her first taste of competition came as a member of the island’s branch of the Pony Club, where going to an affiliated show required a trip on the ferry to the mainland. After leaving school at 16, she was taken under the wing of Manx-natives Sue Davies and Janette Chinn – owners of Banzai and a number of Yaz’s other rides – at their base in Cheshire. Her progression through the sport has been absolute, taking every national title on offer and caps at Pony and Young Rider level. In fact, her pair of Pony gold medals came from Italy in 2013, so clearly this is a happy hunting ground for her.
The partnership with French-bred Banzai du Loir began in 2019, after Sue and Janette purchased him as an eight-year-old. Just a year later, he and Yaz took the CCI4*-S class for eight- and nine-year olds at Burnham Market on their dressage score of 22.3. After a disjoined couple of seasons as a result of COVID-19, they finished their 2021 season by winning the CCI4*-L at Blenheim.
There are some who might have questioned the selectors’ decision – when there was such a pool of top-level talent to choose from – to send such an inexperienced pair to Pratoni. However, Yaz and Banzai have continually proved throughout the week that that faith was well-founded. They were lying third after dressage with a personal best score of 22.0, then followed up with a clear cross-country round just a few seconds over the optimum time. They came into today in silver medal position, quietly confident that they had the skills to get the job done – it was just a matter of actually doing it.
Course designer Uliano Vezzani’s clever track had been causing problems all day but, as they picked their way round, the British pair never seemed any doubt that they would go clear. Yaz rode all her lines with precision and perfect rhythm, allowing Banzai to give every fence plenty of clearance. They crossed the line with time to spare, adding nothing further to their two-phase total of 23.2.
“I went in there and just tried to block everything else out,” she explained. “I was under a heap of pressure, going in in silver medal position. I’m just delighted that my horse went out there and did his absolute best. It’s probably not the best round he’s ever jumped, but he listened to me the whole way round the course.”
The only thing now standing between Yaz and the top of the podium was the formidable pairing of Germany’s Michael Jung and fischerChipmunk FRH. They had lead the first two phases on a record-breaking score of 18.8, and it takes a brave person to bet against Michael when he’s got a medal in his sights. The last time that these two combinations went to head-to-head was at the Land Rover Kentucky CCI5* in the spring – Banzai’s debut at the level. There, clear rounds apiece raise the British pair for third to second, but also kept Michael and fischerChipmunk FRH ahead of them. Today, however, fortunes would go a different way.
The crowd held their breath as the German pair set out. Expectations were high – Michael is a previous holder of the individual title, and they had a fence in hand over Yasmin and Banzai. It was all going smoothly and they looked set to add another accolade to their collection, until the fourth from last came down. The gap was closing, but Michael and his bay gelding were only three from home – surely they could leave the rest up?
In eventing, however, it isn’t over until it’s over. In a mirroring of the World Equestrian Games in 2018 – where the last fence down for Germany’s Ingrid Klimke and SAP Hale Bob OLD handed the title to Ros Canter and Allstar B – fischerChipmunk took out the final plank and Great Britain once again snatched the individual title in the closing moment of the competition. The British support team and connections descended on Yaz, who’d been watching from the arena’s edge. She collapsed to the floor, under a pile of blue-clad bodies, unable to believe that she was the new World Champion.
“I dropped to the floor when it happened – all my emotions came flooding out,” said an emotional Yaz. “It was so nice to have my team around me, my family, my friends. It’s great to have everyone here – we can go out and celebrate together. Words can’t describe it – it’s a dream finish to this event.
“Banzai is the best horse I’ve ever sat on and I don’t think I’ll ever sit on one like him in the near future. I’m so confident in him, and he’s got confidence in me – we’ve got an amazing partnership together and I’m just so glad to have this this opportunity to come to the World Championships and do our thing. It’s incredible – my first senior championship! I think it’s a bit of right place, right time, and I think the path I’m on with Banzai is special – he deserves it. I’m delighted for the horse and his owners that we’ve got this result.
By staying on their dressage score of 23.2, the pair have recorded the best ever finishing score by a British combination at a World Championship – the only person to better them is Michael Jung, when he took the title with La Biosthetique Sam in 2010 with 22.0.
Today has been one for the history books. After an intense battle, the individual title stays with Great Britain, safe in the hands of a young lady who took on the best in the world and showed them she wasn’t to be underestimated.
British team finish just outside medals but collect Paris ticket
While Yasmin’s day was a fairytale come true, the same unfortunately couldn’t be said for the British team medal efforts. Having come into the competition as hot favourites and after taking a commanding lead in the dressage phase, mixed performances over Giuseppe Della Chiesa’s cross-country track had dropped the team of Ros Canter and Lordships Graffalo, Laura Collett and London 52, Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser, and Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class down to bronze position overnight.
With the competition running in reverse order of merit, it was Laura Collett with Karen Bartlett, Keith Scott and her own London 52 who would be first in. Starting on a score of 58.1, they were jumping well until fence five, a spread with an artificial hedge filler – ‘Dan’ got a little distracted coming into it and the fence came down. The rest of the round was a picture, and they finished still full of running. While it might not have been the individual result that Laura was hoping for, she could be secure in the knowledge that her special boy had completed his time in Italy fit and well.
“He jumped really well, but he felt like he had something in his ear coming round to that [fence],” explained Laura. “He had his ear to one side and he was shaking his head, so didn’t quite focus – but he got his concentration back and he then jumped amazing. That fence he had down was really hard to read – I cantered up to it in the beginning and the bushes at the back just draw you to where the front rail is – that’s clever. I was pleased with how he jumped and he came out fresh as anything, and he’ll go home a happy horse.
“It was a very clever track,” she commented “Bbeing in a big arena like that, there’s almost too many options on the distances, so you can change your mind a few too many times in there. If something is a three or a four stride, that’s what it is, but many were on seven, eight, nine, ten – it gives you more options, but that makes it harder for the riders. It was very square, big track, the ground is unbelievable in there, and we’re lucky to ride in such a fantastic arena on such great ground.”
Next in was Tom McEwen with the classy Toledo de Kerser. The gelding, owned by Fred and Penny Barker, Jane Coppell and Alison McEwen, is one of the most consistent showjumpers in the field – in fact, the last time he had a pole down was at the World Equestrian Games in 2018, which cost him and Tom an individual medal, but didn’t prevent the team from picking up gold. It was all happening in their usual faultless style until the final double, which had been causing problems throughout the day. Toledo touched the second element and the pole came tumbling down. They finished the rest of the course well, but 34.4 was not quite the counting score that the British team were hoping for from this combination with things so tight and ever-changing on the leaderboard.
“Some weeks aren’t your weeks,” said a philosophical Tom. “He jumped brilliantly and I just got caught out by a very clever course, that’s all. He was super – he’s had a great week, a bit over-enthusiastic, but he’s been absolutely phenomenal and I’ve loved it. It was a shame to have one down, he’s a fantastic jumper. It was a proper serious track, you’ve got opening up, shortening up, three doubles instead of a treble. I just got caught by the short distance and I couldn’t go forward because it was so short for him. It’s tight, it’s tense and that arena is like an amphitheater for the last day of eventing. The horses are jumping well on the whole – it’s mega here and they’ve put on a super show.”
Riding for the team but in sniffing distance of an individual medal was the reigning World Champion, Ros Canter. Her partner in Pratoni, Michele Saul’s Lordships Graffalo, is only 10 years old but has impressed all week with his precocious talent and sheer enjoyment for the job. A clear round would be essential if Britain was to have any chance to a podium placing, and that’s exactly what they delivered. ‘Walter’ skipped around the track, showing no sign of exertion from the previous day, and once again made things look rather easy. Ros punched the air as she crossed the finish line, delighted that her rising star had proven himself capable of mixing with the best horses on the world’s biggest stage. They finished on their dressage score of 26.2 – the question was now whether it would be enough for the team and perhaps put them on the podium.
“It was very nerve wracking today, I can’t say I enjoyed it at all!” said Ros. “He’s been fantastic all week, hasn’t he? He certainly needs this atmosphere, he thrives on it. It was great that the one before us jumped clear, so the cheers just brought him up a bit in a nice way. He just relishes this atmosphere, so I couldn’t be happier and more proud of him. He coped so well with the cross-country, he trotted up well last night and this morning. He is a true athlete, a true event horse and long may it continue. It’s a really tough track, lots of decisions to make, lots of long distances where you had to decide if to go on one extra or not, and that’s always a challenge mentally. I made my decisions early and I had to stick to it, and I was pleased I was able to do that.”
After yet more leaderboard shuffling and only four combinations still to go, Britain were looking secure in taking a medal – gold would require a lot of luck, but bronze or silver was still a definite possibility. The final charge of the campaign belonged to Oliver Townend and his talented grey, Ballaghmor Class, owned by Karyn Shuter, Angela Hislop and Val Ryan. Their clear round inside the time yesterday had been instrumental in keeping Britain in the medal hunt overnight, and now it was time to see if they could finish the job.
Unfortunately, it just wasn’t to be. Having the second fence down wasn’t the start they were hoping for, but the situation remained salvageable – that is, until the final line of fences. The first in the double at 11 came down, then both fences on the final line. It was an expensive 16 penalties to add to their dressage score of 24.3 for a final total of 40.3, with Great Britain dropping off the podium placings.
In the end, it was main rivals Germany who took the gold, way ahead of the pack on a total score of 95.2. The next three placings were decided by the narrowest of margins – the USA took silver on 100.3, New Zealand finished third with 100.7, and Great Britain were just off the podium with 100.9. However, the result does mean that the all-important primary goal of qualification for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games has been secured for the British.
In the final individual standings, Laura Collett and London 52 were down in 40th position. Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class dropped to 16th, while Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser were in 12th. Ros Canter and Lordships Graffalo were in the heart-breaking position of finishing on the same score of as bronze medallists Tim Price and Falco of New Zealand, but losing out on the medal due to the Kiwi pair being closer to the optimum time round yesterday’s cross-country track. However, Ros can’t be too disappointed because she’s certainly proved that she has on her hands a talented young horse with Olympic potential – we look forward to seeing where Walter goes next.