Championship medal number 20 for Charlotte Dujardin

Friday, 10 September 2021

The bright sunshine, which has bathed the showground at Hof Kasselman in Hagen for the FEI Dressage European Championships, was replaced today with a bit more cloud cover, but the competition was as bright as ever for the crowd-pleasing Freestyle. It was a dance-off featuring the best of Europe and the end result didn’t disappoint.

Carl Hester and En Vogue

Carl Hester was first up riding En Vogue for Charlotte Dujardin, Sandra Biddlecombe and Lady Anne Evans. The 12-year-old Jazz gelding certainly looked very spritely – almost with sense of mischief – as he began to perform to the same music as he and Carl did some six weeks ago in Tokyo, which is an original score by Tom Hunt. The first centre line was packed with difficulty and it didn’t let up – flitting between piaffe pirouettes with changes in direction, double canter pirouettes and changes on a bending line. However, Vogue’s cheekiness got the better of him at times with a few spooks preventing the judges from giving the higher marks – 78.375% was the end result.

“It was a good learning curve for me because at the end of a championship you don’t want to work them too hard and he was very fresh today, fresher than he was at the beginning. I rode him this morning, took him for a walk, and he was excited, and then he was nervous in the warm-up, and when he got in the ring he was just thinking ‘I want to go home’ – and I was, too! We both felt the same way. We’ve had six tests in six weeks and we’re both over it!” reflected Carl with a smile.

“That’s a difficult test and he has to be relaxed, and he just wasn’t. He did the best he could, considering how he was feeling. Me trying to go back the other way is because he knows where the entrance is – he wasn’t spooking, I’ll let everything think that, but he was napping. He knows where the entrance is, and I tried to go back up the arena and he wanted to go out. That’s why Charlotte gave him to me – I thought we’d got it out of him, but I think it’ll always be there.

“He doesn’t mean to do it, he just wants to get out. If he’s got another horse with him, he’s fine, but when he’s on his own, he’s not. The way to get over it, though, is to think of the five tests out of six that he’s done where he has been brilliant, considering his lack of experience – when I think of that then I can’t be upset,” he finished.

Charlotte Dujardin and Gio

Freestyle day usually brings the very best out of Charlotte Dujardin and today was no exception. Having narrowly missed out on a podium place in Thursday’s Grand Prix Special, she was ready for business with Renai Hart, Carl Hester and her own Gio, and was hoping to emulate their performance just over three weeks ago – or even better it! The Japanese tones of their music rang out over the speakers as the diminutive but powerful chestnut entered the arena, and they were straight to it. From passage half-pass into a huge trot half-pass that devoured the ground, then an extended canter at full stretch into the ultimate collection of a pirouette – it was a test packed full of difficulty set to music from Tom Hunt. The only blip was a slight miss in the ones, which stopped the score quite reaching the levels of Tokyo, but it still achieved 87.246%. At this stage, it gave the duo the lead but, with four combinations left to go, would it be a medal-winning score?

Charlotte was beaming afterwards: “I was absolutely delighted with him, he tried his heart out and I couldn’t have asked for much more. I made a mistake in the last set of ones on the centre line, which has probably cost me a medal, I’m not sure, but he tried incredibly hard and it was a bit of a rider error rather than him. I think I just got out there, I waited for the music and then I wasn’t ready and I got in a bit of a muddle, but apart from that he was just super.

“He’s only done that floorplan once before and that was at the Olympics. It went so well at the Olympics, it was like he’d done it all his life and to go and pull that off again – I was so nearly there! These things happen, though, and he’s such an inexperienced horse. He’s just brilliant, he’s upped his game and I was absolutely thrilled. He’s never been in an environment like that to compete in, but he just stays with me, you don’t feel him get hot or distracted.

“It’s been great. I haven’t pushed him that hard all week, I thought I’d save him, and we really tried for everything today. I’m so, so happy with him, he’s brilliant.”

Charlotte Fry and Everdale

Charlotte Fry had the honour of going last with Van Olst Horses and her own Everdale, and with three crowd-pleasing performances coming before of her, the atmosphere was at fever pitch. If there’s a rider in the field who thrives on that, though, this is the one – she and the powerful stallion were ready to dance. Set to music from Whitney Houston and Rhianna, the floorplan showed of all the Lord Leatherdale x Negro stallion’s highlights and was full of controlled power and poise, and it was one of those performances where it all fell into place and everything went to plan. With technical and artistic marks all calculated, the final score was 84.721% – a new personal best by over two percent.

A delighted Lottie said afterwards: “He was amazing in there – he was really focused and just enjoying his music. There was one tiny mistake in the one-tempis, which is a shame, but the rest of the test was incredible and he was just with me the whole way. He was supple and nice and so easy to ride in there, and it was a great feeling.

“I love riding to that music, especially when I come to the extended canter and the lyrics come on, and he knows – I always have to say ‘wait, wait, wait’ as we go because he’s ready for it, and it’s so fun to ride.

“Hagen has been amazing, he’s given me three personal bests and he just keeps getting better and better – now I feel that we’re ready to go to another championships! Bring on next year!”

Lottie and Everdale have certainly come of age during this championship, taking their learnings from Tokyo and putting them into practice to further build their partnership and take their place amongst the world’s elite.

Lottie now heads to Aachen CHIO to ride in the Nations Cup team with Dark Legend – what are her thoughts? “I’m really looking forward to Aachen, it’ll be a new team there and I can’t wait to get Dark Legend out and put what I’ve learned in these championships onto him. Hopefully we can do our best there,” she said. 

Final scores

The final scores all in and it was confirmed that Charlotte and Gio had taken bronze – a fourth championship medal this year and Charlotte’s 20th championship medal in her decade-long career at this level. Jessica von Bredow-Werndl completed a magical golden hat-trick and cemented her place as Germany’s current number one with TSF Dalera BB with a score of 91,021%, the only combination to break the 90% barrier. The silver belongs to Denmark’s Cathrine Dufour, who continues to improve with the 11-year-old Bohemian, with a score of 88.436%.

Lottie and Everdale finished in a very commendable fifth, while Carl and En Vogue were in 13th place.

Under 25 Grand Prix

Earlier in the morning, the U25 Grand Prix reached its conclusion and the home nation were in dominant form, with the German flag occupying four of the top five positions, including the gold and silver spots on the podium.

Alex Harrison and Diamond Hill

Our first rider in on the second day of U25 Grand Prix was Alex Harrison with his own Diamond  Hill. ‘Damo’ is the third youngest horse in the competition at just 10-years-old, and the team has been working hard to help him recover from a touch of travel sickness. Today, he looked much brighter entering the main arena through the archway, and they made a strong start. Having a bit more energy just got the better of him, though, with a break into canter in the trot zig-zag and an early change at the end of the extended canter. However, the duo’s tempi change lines were both well executed, which hasn’t always been the case with the U25 field. The final score was 65.282%, which left them in 27th overall.

“He felt much better in the warm up today and it was the first day he’s really been awake – he’s been bit poorly [with travel sickness] and felt more himself today,” Alex explained. “He was spooking at the camera and looking at things, so I didn’t really have his full attention at the beginning of the test and he just felt a little more nervous in there today. We had some really big mistakes in our trot work and in the extended canter where we missed the change. You know, 65% with some big mistakes that would be threes or fours means there was some good stuff in there. A good use of the classic half-halt and I got my one- and two-time changes. Another day here and he’d improve more. He’s a young horse at this level, he’s only ten, so there’s lots more to come.”

Lucy Amy and Rudy

Hagen is Lucy and Rudy’s championship debut together – in fact it’s only their second international start together. Today’s test had much to like, but some expensive errors pegged the score back. The piaffes were a little insecure, but Rudy’s extended walk was, as ever, a highlight, scoring an average of eight from the five strong judging panel. The confirmed score was given as 64.667%, which gave them a final standing of 30th.

After the test, Lucy said: “Today it was a much harder test for him. He felt really good in the warm-up and started well, but then just got tight in the piaffe. There were then a few mistakes, but I was really happy that he felt more ‘under’ in the passage, which we struggle with. Normally, the piaffe isn’t a problem, but today it was! He’s got a great walk, which helps get marks, and I was happy with my final line because he was straight. Sometimes he gets a bit tired and wide behind.

“It’s been great here [in Hagen] – a great experience and to see what everyone does, it’s the best of the best here. Gaining experience in the ring has been amazing and as this is my first championship experience, it was great to go in and look all the judges in the eye.”

Coming up

After the two full days of U25 competition, Lewis Carrier and Diego V, who went yesterday and scored 69.051%, finished 12th overall and therefore qualify for the individual Freestyle on Sunday morning – they’re on at 09.10 BST.

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