Brits off to a flyer in Hagen

Tuesday, 07 September 2021

The British campaign at the FEI Dressage European Championships in Hagen, Germany got off to the ideal start with Lottie Fry and Everdale holding pole position. The duo, who were part of the Olympic bronze medal-winning team, secured a new PB score of 77.671% to lead the way individually and propel Britain to top of the team rankings, with Denmark second and Germany third. Our U25s lie third, with two riders have gone in the first day of Inter II competition.

Gareth Hughes and Sintano Van Hof Olympia

The pathfinder role was given to Olympic travelling reserve combination Gareth Hughes and Judy Firmston-Williams and his own Sintano van Hof Olympia, and it was amazing to see this duo finally cantering down the centre line in British team colours after fulfilling their duties so honourably in Tokyo. Their test was mistake-free and packed full of highlights, but a few nerves crept into the Sandro Hit-sired 11-year-old gelding – hardly surprising when you consider this was just his third international Grand Prix and first season at the level. The piaffes were strong with almost no forward movement, and both canter pirouettes on point with the seven strong judging panel all rewarding the duo well. The final score was 74.394% – an improvement on Sintano’s previous personal best by around 0.2% – providing a solid foundation for the team that will allow the others to ride for a bit more.

A relieved Gareth said afterwards: “Do you know what, it’s been a long year! Sintano is only in his first year of Grand Prix and I honestly didn’t have him in mind for something like this in January, but he started the year and in his first couple of competitions impressed and we ended up going to Tokyo as the alternate, which was amazing. There was disappointment, though – not of the team, they did unbelievable – but I didn’t get to go down the centre line. We’ve then had the big build up to here, and we’ve got to go down the centre line!

“Last night, I must have woken up about 20 times and rode half-passes and transitions and going through every movement in my head. When he gets nervous, he goes into himself and sucks back but, as such a big-moving horse, you need to be able to get your leg on and go forward. But do you know what, he went through the test, was nervous and I held his hand, but he’s just done a mistake-free test. He tried so hard – I could feel him wiggling all over the place, it’s like riding a horse with no bones. He stayed with me and I’m over the moon.

“He pulled me into the last centre line passages and it showed – he’s young and immature, so in another 12 months he’s going to be fabulous. I’ve been really working on his pirouettes – with an inexperienced horse, it’s about getting the set-up right, and I knew how I was going to ride and went through it with Carl [Hester].

“It feels like I’ve been building up to this for three months. Tokyo was tough – emotionally it was really difficult and to have to prepare to ride means your adrenaline goes up and down. It was a great experience, but you still come home disappointed because you didn’t get to do what you want to do and that’s help the team, so it was tough.

“I’ve not been able to compete since coming back and this is only Sintano’s third international Grand Prix – he hasn’t seen anything like this. What I Ioved about him today is he cantered in, he halted, he walked when needed, he tried, and if I can get him to the point I can ride him and gain some confidence, it’ll be perfect!”

Charlotte Fry and Everdale

Charlotte, or Lottie, had has a year to remember – and for all the right reasons. Aside from taking home team bronze on her Olympic debut with PB scores, just last week she claimed the FEI World Breeding Championships six-year-old title in Verden with Kjento, the newest superstar stallion from Van Olst Horses where she’s the stable rider. Then, if that wasn’t enough, today she added topping the leader board after day one at the FEI European Championships to her 2021 list of achievements. Again partnering her Tokyo ride, Van Olst Horses and her own 12-year-old stallion Everdale (Lord Leatherdale x Negro), Lottie rode with great maturity and neither showed any fatigue from their Japanese adventure.

Tokyo has clearly given both horse and rider the confidence that they belong in such esteemed company, and Everdale’s power was evident from the off. Their test included a clean line of one-time changes, an extended canter that took the breath away and an impressive final line of passage and piaffe to end on a high. The score flashed up as 77.671% – an new personal best for the duo that, importantly, sent them to the top of the leader board individually. It also saw the British team take pole position based on two riders gone for each team with one discard score.

“He’s been amazing since we got back from Tokyo – so fresh and raring to go,” beamed a delighted Lottie. “His energy never runs out – he’ll go all day every day, he just loves to work. As soon as I get on, he’s ready to work, focused and wants to do the job as best he can. He had the week off last week while I was in Verden, I had a quick sit on Sunday and we travelled here.

“Today felt like a really good test, but I feel there are so many more marks to come in the future, which is really exciting. It’s inspiring to think what may come in the future, but for today I’m really happy with him. I really trust him and feel I can take a risk with him like in the extended canter. That’s such a fun movement with him – you really feel like you’re flying, then you get to the end and it’s ‘gosh, next movement!’.

“He’s really grown up through Tokyo – he feels more mature and he’s not been tired at all! I’m happy with today for the rest of the team and fingers crossed for tomorrow.”

As if Tokyo, Verden and Hartpury weren’t enough, Lottie is competing at Aachen CHIO next week with Dark Legend. “I love it – I just love competing and I’m so lucky that I have so many wonderful horses to ride,” she explained. “I think I’m just running on adrenaline from show to show at the moment. It’s been a great few months.”

After the first day in Hagen, it’s Great Britain who lead the way and the scores are tight at the top, so tomorrow certainly promises to be a huge day of sport with some of the world’s best combinations to come. Denmark lie second after a great test by Nanna Skodborg Merrald and former British team horse Atterupgards Orthilia and Germany hold third. Tomorrow will see Carl Hester and Charlotte, along with their Olympic rides En Vogue and Gio, look to carry on the British charge.

Lucy Amy and Rudy

A quick change of judges and a harrow of the impressive main arena at Hof Kassleman, and the U25 European Championships were underway.

First in for Britain were championship debutantes Lucy Amy and Rudy, owned by Richard Amy. A World Class Podium Potential Pathway rider, Lucy has concentrated on dressage full time for about four years, having previously enjoyed time in jumping. Rudy came to her as a two-year-old and was purchased with jumping in mind, but a lesson with Roland Tong put him on a path towards dressage – although the duo still have jumping 1m20 at Hickstead to their credit! 

Their test today started a bit nervy and the first passage piaffe tour was a little uncertain, but they warmed to the test and the higher marks began to flow. The relaxation improved, which gave a great extended walk, and there was just a final blip in a one-time change. A final halt and salute brought up the score of 66.912% for their first championship test together – a huge achievement for a partnership who started their dressage career as Prelim National Champions.

Lucy was slightly disappointed with her score but reflected: “We started really well – I was happy with the entry, the trot felt really good, but he’s only really just started at this level so when we went into passage he went green. He got a bit wobbly and we broke into canter and had a few more blips. On the whole, I was really pleased with him – he just needs a bit more confidence.

“He’s a great character and tries really hard – he’s very honest. He seems very confident, but is sensitive and really wants to try for you. You can’t over-ride him because he then panics and wonders what he’s doing wrong. I feel like I now know a bit more what to look out for and the Grand Prix test suits him better really.

“I never imagined I’d be here. I always dreamt of jumping 1.30m and doing a Prix St Georges test when I started in dressage – I think I’ve done a bit better than that now!”

Lewis Carrier and Diego V

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Hagen is Lewis Carrier’s third U25 Europeans with his partner of nine years, Diego V. The duo have grown together – Lewis was just 16 when he bought the four-year-old by Welt Hit and he’s produced him up through the levels.

An average score of eight for the first halt got them off to a great start. There was a bit of hesitation in the first piaffe passage tour, but once the canter work started the highlights flowed – good, tight pirouettes and clean, expressive two- and one-time changes bumped up the marks – all crowned with a great four-square halt to finish. The scoreboard had been trending around the 70% mark by the end and, true to form, the announcer revealed 70.471% and a new international personal best for the partnership.

World Class Podium Potential Pathway rider Lewis said afterward: “I was really pleased. Only very minor mistakes, very happy we got all the changes and he did everything I wanted him to. The atmosphere was really good – I’m thrilled with 70% and a nice, clean test. International personal best, fantastic. His expressive changes are a highlight, but I’ve got a bit of paranoia about them so I’m really pleased. I have to work on his piaffe and passage because I started that quite late with him, so we’re playing catch-up a little bit. I got him when I was young, he was young and we were just inexperienced, so I didn’t play with any of the Grand Prix movements when he was a youngster. I’m absolutely thrilled with him – he’s done fantastically well. It’s our third U25 Europeans together and it’s more than I could have hoped for.”

When asked what he thought of the venue and the remainder of the competition, Lewis said: “Being with the seniors is unbelievable. The arena here is amazing and I’ve never ridden in a ring quite like it – big grandstands, it just makes the occasion so much better. I’m glad we have a few days to rest and recoup, but I’m feeling confident and looking forward to it. I think we can go out there with a bit more confidence and a bit more fire. Lucy got us off to a good start and we have a fabulous team. We’re feeling confident, we have great combinations, we couldn’t be in a better competition environment, so we’re really looking forward what comes next. Watching the seniors train and compete and to be alongside them just spurs us on to be better!”

Lewis and Diego’s score was enough to give Britain third place after day one with two riders gone – and sixth place individually, while Lucy and Rudy lie in 15th place.

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