This week Luhmuehlen in Germany hosts the third leg of the HSBC FEI ClassicsTM, the new series which links the five great 4-Star three-day events, and Germany's Frank Ostholt is determined to put his name up there on the leaderboard at this halfway stage of this inaugural season.
"In Germany we love this event," the 32-year old rider says, "and it has been very special for me - I have enjoyed great success in Luhmuehlen over the last few years".
Lying in the heart of the Luneburger Heath in Lower Saxony, Luhmuehlen village is next to the town of Salzhausen and about 40 kilometres south of Hamburg. The region is extremely popular with holiday-makers who come to enjoy the glorious countryside.
"Many families spend time here, and many people rent a house and bring their horses with them because there are is lovely farmland to ride over - it is a very popular place," Frank explains.
Frank has a busy week ahead of him because he will be competing in both the CIC 3-Star and the CCI 4-Star in which the top-finishing riders will earn points on the HSBC FEI ClassicsTM rankings.
The 3-Star competition is compulsory for a number of those on the German three-day-event Olympic long-list including Frank, who will partner Air Jordan in an effort to convince selectors that he should be put on the short-list.
With the Hannovarian gelding, who is now 13 years old, he claimed team gold at the European Championships at Blenheim in 2005 and team gold again at the FEI World Equestrian Games in Aachen a year later. "He is an amazing horse," Frank says. "He has been competing at top level since he was eight years old. He ran at the European Championships in Punchestown in 2003 and he has been going really well ever since, always staying sound, so I am very lucky to have him - he is a great horse," he points out. He will also take Air Jordan to Aachen early next month after which the Olympic decision-making process will be completed.
But for all of Air Jordan's great talents, Frank also has high hopes for Little Paint - the 10-year old with which he finished ninth in the Luhmuehlen 4-Star last year. Frank believes he will be an even better 4-Star contender this time around. "He is good at his ground-work, good show jumping and very consistent cross-country," he explains. He thinks Little Paint is still on a bit of a learning curve when it comes to coping with the excitement of major competition however. "He is still affected by the atmosphere at an event, he can get irritated and nervous and so far he has not shown himself to be totally ready for the big moment. I think there is still a little more learning for him, but he is a very talented horse," he adds.
Little Paint also has the added advantage that his rider knows every inch of Luhmuehlen and the surrounding countryside. Frank's track record here is highly impressive - third in the 4-Star in 2005 with Air Jordan behind Britain's Zara Philips and Toytown in second and German compatriot Bettina Hoy in pole position with Ringwood Cockatoo, he came back in 2006 to claim the honours himself. This time Bettina had to settle for second place after Air Jordan's speedier cross-country run reversed the placings established in the dressage phase.
Britain's Ruth Edge and Two Thyme pipped the home side's Dirk Schrader and Gadget de la Cere to take the 4-Star title last year but Frank's ninth-placed finish was all the more creditable for the fact that Little Paint picked up 20 cross-country jumping penalties. An excellent dressage test left them a close fourth after the opening phase and without that blip on cross-country day the partnership would have slotted into fourth in the final analysis. He will be hoping things go more according to plan this week.
Describing the cross-country course in Luhmuehlen Frank says, "the ground is flat, and normally the going is very good. The course design changed last year and it was a good, fair track with some serious 4-Star questions. One of the things I like most about Luhmuehlen is that normally you can get your horse into a nice rhythm - there is plenty of nice galloping," he says.
A SPECIAL PLACE
One of the other things he likes about it is the warm welcome that all riders receive at this popular venue. "The people are very friendly and they look after us very well. There is a great spirit and that creates good sport between the riders. For me it is a very special place," he explains. With all this positivity in the air it seems very likely indeed that he will be in line for some of those all-important HSBC FEI ClassicsTM points available to all the riders finishing in the top ten next Sunday afternoon.
At present the series leaderboard is headed by America's Philip Dutton who came out on top with Connaught at the opening leg in Kentucky at the end of April. He is followed by reigning European Champion Nicolas Touzaint who, last month, made eventing history when becoming the first ever Frenchman, and the first continental European since Switzerland's Capt Hans Schwarzenbach and Vae Victus secured victory in 1951, to clinch the Badminton trophy. The runners-up at Kentucky and Badminton - America's Becky Holder and Great Britain's Lucy Wiegersma respectively - hold third and fourth ahead of that other great British star William Fox-Pitt in fifth, but Frank will be giving it his best shot to adjust that order with a satisfactory result this week.
HSBC contributes US$1million to the series over the next three years and at the end of this season the rider who heads the leaderboard will take home a handsome US$150,000, with US$75,000 going to the runner-up, US$50,000 for third place and US$33,333 and US$25,000 up for grabs for the fourth and fifth-place finishers.
Following the German fixture there are two further rounds - at Burghley in September and then at Pau in October where the final leg takes place - so it is still wide open and all to play for as the HSBC FEI ClassicsTM comes to lovely Luhmuehlen. And Frank is hoping to make his mark.
To find out more about Luhmuehlen, checke the official website http://www.luhmuehlen.de/