Tuesday, 07 September 2021
It was a day of dressage sport to remember at the FEI European Championships in Hagen, with a close contest for the medal honours. Overnight leaders Great Britain couldn’t quite keep their grip on the gold in the wake of experience of the host team Germany, who took their 25th European Championship title. Denmark put up a real battle for the silver, but our Tokyo heroes won through for second spot on the podium.
Carl Hester is no stranger to riding under pressure for a medal, but today the demands were multiplied by the fact he was partnering the relative Grand Prix newcomer En Vogue, owned by Charlotte Dujardin, Lady Anne Evans and Sandra Biddlecombe, in just his fifth international start at the level. However, Tokyo proved a great learning experience for Vogue and, after a week in the field, Carl felt he’d bounced back sufficiently from his travels and the decision was made to come to Hagen in search of medals.
The Jazz x Contango gelding initially looked a bit nervy in the sun-soaked Hagen arena. He got a bit stuck in his first piaffe, almost trying to give too much, and there were a number of very small errors that mounted up. Many of the more taxing movements were well executed, including a collective 8.2 for the canter zig-zag, but each mistake added up to peg the score at 74.845% – short of what he’d perhaps hoped for.
“Today it was brilliant in parts, disappointing in others,” lamented Carl. “Last night it [the competition] all looked exciting and he’s capable of the very big scores, so I did think it was worth having a good shot. It doesn’t always work like that and he’s one month back from the Games where he did three amazing tests. Some of the things he does are so brilliant – his piaffe is like a ten, but then he gets a bit stuck and a bit nervous. In between all the things he does, he feels amazing.
“I didn’t deserve any more points – there were too many mistakes, so the score is absolutely fine. I’m disappointed I made the mistakes! They weren’t huge mistakes, but just in places before the difficult things, which impact on the mark – but, if I look at his experience and what he’s done in one year, he’s come on so much. He’d have never done that test when he came here [Hagen] in April. Today, I just didn’t get the ride I wanted.
“His canter work generally gets his high marks and today I got my first proper canter zig-zag on him, so I’m happy. He’s certainly one of the best horses I’ve ridden and has so much potential – one day he’ll be phenomenal!”
The performances that Charlotte Dujardin and her pocket rocket Gio, who she jointly owns with Renai Hart and Carl Hester, pulled off in Tokyo captivated hearts across the world – the little horse who gave his all for a rider who believed in his huge talent despite his small stature. In Hagen, Charlotte had a few ghosts to put to rest after the nightmare of the 2019 Europeans in Rotterdam, when she was eliminated with Mount St John Freestyle, and today ‘Pumpkin’ helped her do just that.
The start wasn’t perfect after Pumpkin took fright at the board, which he accidentally kicked it going into canter, but after an unsteady first centreline, they were soon in their groove. The diminutive chestnut gelding is a real passage machine, making it look effortless, and the seven-strong judging panel agreed. Some trademark transition riding also brought the marks in and the one-time changes, pirouettes and extended canter were real highlights. It wasn’t quite the personal best performance of Tokyo, but the duo produced the necessary score – something over 78.649%, the calculators told us – to secure the silver. The announcer declared a final score of 79.829% and the silver belonged to Britain.
Charlotte explained: “I’m really pleased – with Tokyo, that’s only his fifth or sixth Grand Prix, so he’s still so inexperienced. He was a little scared of the boards today. I knew that if he hit them and they moved, he’d be scared of that and, of course, when he went it to canter, he hit them! That made him spook a bit, but generally I’m very pleased. He felt a little bit greener than I expected in there, but I have to remember what he’s done – he’d done so little. I keep going in the arena with all the pressure and to keep it all together for a silver medal, which was the aim, and we’ve done it.
“He’s so keen to do it – that last centreline he wanted to do his piaffe and I kept saying ‘no, not yet’ – that’s him just getting to know a bit more what he’s doing now. He’s still green, but definitely feels more established and it makes my job a little easier. He’s just a cheeky little pony who goes in there with all the pressure in the world, but he delivers it. He’s such a good boy.
“He’s definitely come on from Tokyo – 100%. There, I had to set up everything and there was so much to think about – I had to fast-track to make it all happen. Here, I felt like I had to do a bit less, but did need to keep his attention – he just makes me laugh.
“I’m absolutely over the moon and so happy for Gareth getting a medal. The Europeans in 2019 didn’t quite go to plan and then Tokyo as travelling reserve, but now he has one.”
The home team had their anchor combination as Olympic gold medallists Jessica von Bredow-Werndl and TSF Dalera BB, so it was always going to be a huge task for Great Britain, despite the confidence boost of lying in gold overnight. Germany finished on 238.944%, Great Britain 232.345% and Denmark secured bronze with 231.165%.
Individually, our riders all finished in the money – Charlotte and Gio finished third, Lottie Fry and Everdale in fifth, Carl and En Vogue were 12th and Gareth and Sinatno Van Hof Olympia rounded the quartet out in 14th. This sees all four combinations qualified for the individual competition, which gets underway tomorrow with the Grand Prix Special.
The winning team’s average horse age is 14, compared to the 11.25 of Great Britain – these horses are only just building up to their prime, with so much more to come. With the World Championships held in Denmark next year and some exiting rides today from the host nation-to-be, particularly the +76% from Daniel Bachmann Andersen and the nine-year-old Marshall-Bell, that promises to be quite a showdown – and, of course, the Paris Games is just three years away.
Senior medal ceremony done, it was the turn of the U25s riding the Inter II to determine their medals, and the contest for a place on that podium promised to be every bit as fierce, with no less than eight teams in contention. Our first combination on day two was U25 debutant Alexander Harrison riding his own Diamond Hill, a 10-year-old that he’s produced himself since finding him in a hunting yard aged just three while working for international Grand Prix rider Matt Frost. They competed in the FEI Young Rider European Championship in 2018, but this is their first championships in this age group.
‘Damo’ has experienced a bit of travel sickness since arriving at the weekend and the team has been working hard to have him ready to compete. The duo started brightly, so the practitioners had clearly done a great job behind the scenes, and there was plenty to like throughout the test – the only large mistake came in the one-time changes. The final score was 67.971%, which is their second best ever score internationally.
“He tried his hardest in there, I felt – it’s a big atmosphere in there,” said Alex afterwards. “Because of Brexit, we had a four-hour delay in Calais – he had a six-hour drive one day, 18 hours the next, so he was a bit travel sick when he arrived. It’s been so helpful having the World Class support team here and Andre [Buthe, team vet] has been so helpful in trying to get him on top form. But he wasn’t quite the horse I’d normally have – he wasn’t spooky and I had to ask for more than usual but, for being a bit under the weather, I thought he tried really hard. The bits we know are weak were weak and those we know are good were good.
“His ones are usually really good, but they didn’t quite come off today – such is life. He wasn’t quite as active as I’d have like in the piaffe, but his frame was good and I rode for the marks where I know I could, such as the extended walk and the extended canter. He really dug deep down that final centre line today.
“It’s been nice having the Seniors here – watching them do well, but also seeing they make mistakes too – so you think ‘it’s not just me, then!’.”
Ellie McCarthy and father Spencer’s GB Londero V Worrenberg are still a relatively new partnership but, under the tuition of Charlotte Dujardin, they’ve come on in leaps and bounds – resulting in selection for the championship following good scores at their only international together at Wellington in May. Ellie has featured in British squads at Young Rider and U25 levels previously, including a trip to Budapest last year with Sir Lancelot, but this was a debut trip for ‘Londy’.
Alex’s score had kept the Brits in medal contention, so there was huge pressure on Ellie and Londy for a clean test. They started well with a bright entry and first halt, but then the tension crept in – as did the mistakes in the trot work. The marks began climbing again in the canter work, with the sevens beginning to flow, and both sets of tempi-changes were clean. There was just a moment of hesitation on the final centre line, but Ellie was quick to rescue the final halt.
The final mark was announced as 64.353% – the mistakes just proved too costly in the end and, with margins so tight for the medals, it looked as though our riders would just miss out.
“Obviously I’m disappointed. He’s been going so well in training and, even in the warm-up, he felt great. I was really hoping for about ten percent more than that. I think a bit of tension crept in – the last test I did was the Grand Prix, so on the last centreline he thought we were piaffing at X and I was like ‘no, keep going!’. It’s just not quite the mark I wanted unfortunately,” explained a very disheartened Ellie.
“I knew it needed to be pretty much mistake-free to get us a medal today, so that was very much in my mind. I didn’t want to go for too much – just a clean, safe round – but that just didn’t happen today. I’m very disappointed, but it happens – at least I’ve got another test to go!”
At the end of the final rotation of riders, Germany were the resounding victors on a total of 225.206%, the Netherlands took silver with 218.000%, and it was Sweden who won the tight battle for bronze with a two-day total of 207.264%. The British quartet finished on 205.354%, less than two percent off a medal. This proves that this group have really raised the game at this level, with the highest team finish since bronze in 2018.
Wednesday is a rest day for the U25 athletes, while the Seniors will ride in the Grand Prix Special under the lights in the main Hagen arena for individual medals.
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