Much excitement and speculation surrounded the hours leading up to the World Equestrian Games' cross-country competition.
Whether or not Hurricane Florence would rear her ugly head, the bigger questions were around the final team performances. Would the USA deliver strong cross-country performance, galloping on home turf? Would the Germans run away with the competition after Julia Krajewski's overnight lead?
As is typical of cross-country, nothing quite unfolded as expected. Overnight leader Julia Krajewski and Chipmunk FRH were put out of the running for an individual gold medal. By day's end, Great Britain would come out in the top team position with exceptional performances by Gemma Tattersall, Piggy French, Tom McEwen, and Rosalind Canter.
Rosalind Canter (GBR) and Allstar B. Shannon Brinkman photo.
Rosalind, who sat in third after yesterday's dressage phase, has now advanced to sit in second with a beautiful trip, free of jumping penalties and a time of 24.60.
"I can't believe we're actually here and this is happening. It's what you dream about."
"It's my first time at a world championship so we're entering the unknown a little but Allstar B is just the most fantastic horse. We've grown up together and learning at this level together really. I had a good feeling from him today and he really delivered for me," she shared. "Today was all about the team, as was yesterday, that's on my number one [mind] and the fact that I'm in the silver medal position is just a bonus."
Ireland has never won a team medal at the WEG, but that could be about to change with two riders in the top ten.
Sarah Ennis (IRE) and Horseware Stellor Rebound. Shannon Brinkman photo.
"I can't believe it, we've fought so hard!" said anchor rider and now, in the individual bronze position, Sarah Ennis. "We've done so much through the year. We've got such an amazing team and a real team camaraderie. I can't believe we're actually here and this is happening. It's what you dream about."
The French squad, sitting in the bronze position headed into show jumping, is elated with such a strong showing from their four riders.
Astier Nicholas (FRA) and Vinci de la Vigne. Shannon Brinkman photo.
The upsets were, of course, the lack of a strong team score by early front-runners Germany, and host country the USA. A runout at the B element of jump 10 in the water complex of Mars Sustainability Bay resulted in a disappointing round from the USA's Boyd Martin.
"I started off really good. He was galloping really well and jumping everything out of step," he said. "He was almost going too good and I was feeling bulletproof. To be honest, I just completely rode that jump wrong. It was a crushing moment because that kind of destroyed the team and the momentum we had so, just came up short today."
But a strong ride from fellow teammate Lynn Symansky riding veteran partner Donner closed out the American's efforts.
"The sport of Eventing had a wonderful day."
"I'm pretty lucky to be on this horse today. I tried to put out of my head what happened earlier with the team and made a plan with my own ride and just went out and relied on what I know he does so well and I trust him and he trusts me and everything really did ride really according to plan. He dug so deep for me, it was awesome."
Lynn Symansky (USA) and Donner. Shannon Brinkman photo.
More penalties ensued for the Germans, including a run-out at jump 14, the CSZ Junction, for the previous first placed pair Julia Krajewski and Chipmunk FRH. Eventually, Germany found themselves surprisingly low on the team leaderboard - in the sixth place position.
But as they say, it ain't over till it's over. Germany's top guns, Ingrid Klimke, remained composed and determined, delivering a sensational trip aboard SAP Hale Bob OLD clocking near perfect to the optimal time of 10:00 minutes to secure the leading position after this phase.
"I had a lovely round and I really enjoyed the course a lot," said Ingrid. "Especially, Bob was very fit, he cantered up the hill nicely. I was lucky because I was quite at the end so my team really helped me a lot."
Ingrid Klimke (GER) and SAP Hale Bob OLD. Shannon Brinkman photo.
With close to 15 riders incurring penalties in the water, and a daunting, long steep hill at the end of an already very technical and undulating course, was the course a bit of a tall order for an already very controversial Games? After speaking with many riders after their course, the majority answer is, no. The best of the best are here to win it all, the course is expected to be a strong test.
"There is a lot of water in all of the water jumps. After that, we can see that many mistakes start to come with top riders so I would say that it's not technical mistakes," Maxime Livio of France shared when asked about the difficulties seen at the water. "With cross-country, there is technique but there is also the atmosphere, the people, the water over the bank, and there are many fences everywhere when we get in the combinations with options. So it's not really technical problems because all of the combinations look quite clear. But we really have to keep the connection with the horses and keep them focused."
"We had a lot of good four-star horses here and the best riders in the world, so it was a difficult one. We saw a lot of people get around that you may not have thought would get around and when we see [riders like] Mark Todd and Christopher Burton and others having a problem, then the course probably did its job," course designer Capt. Mark Phillips commented on the upsets that were seen predominantly in the water elements.
Piggy French (GBR) and Quarrycrest Echo. Shannon Brinkman photo.
"We got lucky with the weather," he continued."It could've been hotter but to see the way the horses came into the arena with their ears pricked, it's what we want to see at the end of the cross-country course and I thought in that respect, the sport of eventing had a wonderful day."
Due to the progression of Hurricane Florence, the Helgstrand Dressage Freestyle has been cancelled. The show jumping phase for Eventing has been rescheduled to Monday, September 17, a start time and whether the competition will be held indoors or not, is still to be decided.
Thoughts on an additional day being added between the cross-country and the show jumping final:
Lynn Symansky "It's very odd, I don't think any of us have practiced for that before. I mean, it's nice in a way, you get to take a little bit longer to take care of the horses but sometimes if you go out and run a really long race, you feel kind of ok the next day and then you're more sore the day after that with muscle fatigue. So, it will be a big shakeup on Monday when everyone jumps because I don't think we quite know how to prepare the horses."
Sir Mark Todd "We'll have to see what this storm does. If the weather comes in like they say, I suppose there's not much we can do about it. I suppose it'll give the horses more time to recover."
On how the ground held up throughout the course:
Rosalind Canter "The only place it felt soft was after the landing at the last corner but I actually could see that anyway while I was watching the TVs before I went. Everywhere else felt fantastic."
Water complex, water complex. Why so many difficulties?
Mark Phillips, Course Designer "The fence into the water was a normal three-star fence with a 170 drop. The unknown quality was the waterfall but there were a lot of options and it's a championship and it's sort of fun to put a joker in the pack like that because, in a team competition, that can make all the difference."
All photos: Shannon Brinkman