In a sport where weather can make or break a ride, it bears mentioning the beautiful forecast set for the 2024 edition of the Defender Kentucky Three Day Event.

The sun shone for every test of the day from the 4*-S to the 5*. For one rider in particular, the atmosphere, the venue, and the competition, all feels surreal.

“I mean, to be very honest, it took me literally three days to just like realize where I am,” Calvin Böckmann said after his test. “Two days ago, driving from the hotel to [the Horse Park] was the first morning where I was like, ‘I am actually here.’ I get goosebumps again when I think about that.”

Böckmann made the trek from Germany for his five-star debut, and he made it count between the boards today by claiming the early lead in the first group of five-star dressage. His equine partner, the 13-year-old chestnut Holsteiner gelding named The Phantom of the Opera, or “Phantom” for short, brought focus and reliability to their test. Their 31.4 gives them a 47% chance for a top-10 finish and a 9% chance of a top-3, according to the Equiratings Prediction Centre. 

The two have not finished outside the top-10 in their 2024 season so far, so the only question is, can they bring that same consistency to the new level?

“Being here now it feels quite unreal and actually being the leader after the first few riders is quite amazing,” Böckmann enthused.

It will come to no one’s surprise that he was pipped into fourth by British and German domination. Reigning World Champion Yasmin Ingham is in first, British five-star veteran Kirsty Chabert in second, and fellow German Malin Hansen-Hotopp beat Böckmann to third by 0.3 points.

Ingham with Banzai Du Loir, who has an 18% win chance and a 70% chance for a top-10 finish, put down a 26.0, a full five points ahead of Aachen 2023 team member Chabert who ended the day with a 31.0.

“[Banzai] carries himself so beautifully in the arena now and holds so much presence when he’s in between the boards, so I think he’s definitely displayed that today,” Ingham said of her test.

Indeed, there was very little to pick apart in their beautifully presented test. The 13-year-old Selle Francais gelding and his partner look ready to put their name into the mix for British Olympic selection.

Chabert and the bay Anglo European mare, Classic VI went immediately before Ingham and received a 31.0 from the ground jury. 

“It sounds a bit daft but at 15 years old, she actually is improving. So hopefully she’s a really nice bottle of red wine and just keeps maturing.”

Final rider of the day, Hansen-Hotopp, along with her steed Carlitos Quidditch K were given a 31.1. Hansen-Hottopp begrudgingly bought the now 12-year-old Holsteiner when he was only 5. 

“He was really grumpy, bucking all the time so it was not easy—now we built this together.”

Heavy hitters such as Oliver Townend (GBR), Tom McEwan (GBR), and Liz Halliday (USA) lay waiting in the wings for the second day of dressage, and a five-star event is never a dressage show.

When Böckmann was asked about the cross-country, he said: “It’s so beautiful. You don’t really see that on video. I think it is really, really fair, but it’s also something where you always need to be focused.”

Five-star action resumes in the Rolex Stadium at the Kentucky Horse Park at 1pm EST Friday.