Sarah Wells-Gaston reports ..

Gemma Tattersall claimed her first win in the 2019 Event Rider Masters in the series finale at the Concours Complet International Lignières en Berry.

Riding the 11-year-old mare Jalepeno III, owned by Christopher Stone, the British Olympian took control of the competition in the jumping phases to close out the series in style.

Two-time ERM winner Michael Jung took an early lead in the dressage, scoring an incredible 21.7 with Star Connection FRH.

“He was very nice to ride – he was very relaxed, but still with positive power,” commented Michael of the eleven-year-old Hanoverian. “I always have him in front of me, and so I can do as I wish. He’s a very easy horse; he’s a super character, and every day is nice with him – to train with him, to work with him in every discipline. He’s a beautiful horse.

Eventual winner Tattersall posted a score of 22.3 Jalapeno III, who is a new ride this year. She commented: “I feel like we’re actually starting to get the hang of each other now. We’ve been pushing for this score for a while now, but have made mistakes that have dropped us to 25 or 26. She’s been beautifully produced by Karin Donckers, so it’s just been about getting to know each other.”

Professional-turned-amateur Sarah Cohen and Treason produced a precise, flowing test for a score of 23.0 – the horse’s best-ever international mark – to sit in third after the third phase (a position they would hold throughout).

She commented: “I thought, well, it’s the last event of the year – we better give it our all. He was awesome in there – he’s Mr Consistent. The little bit of atmosphere gives him a lift, so I just have to control the balance and control the power.”

The drama of the jumping phases was evident from the off as our competitors braved a deluge to tackle what was described as ‘the toughest show jumping course in Event Rider Masters’ history.’

Not a single combination jumped a fault-free round. There were five jumping fault free rounds but all of these riders incurred time penalties. Tim Price (Ascona M) and dressage leader Michael Jung (Star Connection FRH) were the only two riders to make the tight optimum time yet both also had a rail down a piece.

France’s Gireg le Cozproduced the round of the morning to add just 1.2 time penalties to rise from 13thto fifth ahead of the final phase, whilst second placed Gemma Tattersall and Jalapenopicked up two time penalties to take the lead with one phase to go.

The cross country was full of drama from the off with the first three riders all having problems on the 24-fence test. British young rider Phoebe Locke had a tumble from Pica d’Or at the final element of Fence 20 (SAP Water Fort). And then Belgium’s Tom Goemanfell at Fence 2 ((Credit Agricole Sheep Shelter) whilst French superstar Maxime Livio picked up 20 penalties with Api du Libaireat the first element of Fence 17 (Forestier Log Pile Skinny) – David Doel and Mr Hiho also faulted at this fence.

Sitting in tenth place before cross-country, series leader Christopher Burton had everything to lose – and everything to gain – as he left the start box with Quality Purdey.To maintain his standing, he needed to go fast and clear – but no one before him had come close to the 6 minute 55 seconds optimum time. A scrappy start paved the way for one of the most significant rounds of the day, and Chris crossed the finish line eleven seconds under the time – despite taking two long routes – which proved to be the fastest round of the day.

Cohen and seventeen-year-old Treasonproduced the round of their lives to cross the finish line one second inside the time, securing themselves a podium finish on both the leg and series podiums.

“It’s taken the whole season, but he was just magic out there – he’s a star. I could really do with a back-up horse for him. Just having the one horse, it’s amazing to be competitive with these top guys – and it makes me want to do a little bit more. I’ll be on the search now.”

A foot-perfect round from Michael Jung and Star Connection FRH put him in second place on the podium.

“It was really all there to enjoy,” he said. “Star Connection is a really great horse, and I know I have to let him run from the beginning because he’s not a racehorse, and he doesn’t have a big stride like a racehorse. But that keeps me fast to the jumps.”

As the last rider to go, 2017 series champion Tattersall left the start box on a mission with Jalapeno III. The pair ate up the course and romping home with three seconds to spare giving the British rider victory.

Of her win she commented: “I’ve been really good at winning the other four-star section when ERMs have been at venues, and today I’ve managed to win the ERM. I’m so happy, and so pleased with the horse today. It’s a new partnership – she’s been beautifully produced by Karin Dockers. I’ve had to take the reins and we’ve had to get used to each other. We’ve had a couple of whoopsies, but we’ve done our homework, and today it came good.”

Just five points separated the top three in the final series standings. But reclaiming the title he won last year, Chris Burton edged ahead to claim the £30,000 prize with a total of 95 points thanks to his sixth placed finish at Lignières. Of his series win he commented: “It’s amazing – I still can’t believe it. I had such a good year last year that I really didn’t think I could ever do it again. We’re stoked! It’s a wonderful series to be a part of – and right now, we’re just going to enjoy the moment.”

France’s Greg Le Coz finished second in the standings with Britain’s Sarah Cohen taking third in the final standings – a remarkable accomplishment for the passionate amateur, who balances family life with competing Treason, her only horse with whom she hopes to compete one more season of the series with in 2020.

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