Herning Headlines

Wednesday, 17 August 2022

What a rollercoaster our 12 days in Herning was! Highs, lows, ups, downs, tears and joy – the Danish trip had them all. If you missed any of what went on, or just want to relive it all again, we’ve pulled a round up of the action and how the medals were won.

A silver start from dressage

The team competition was contested across two days of Grand Prix tests. Richard Davison and Bubblingh were first up on day one – this was a poignant moment for Richard, as he’d also competed the gelding’s mother at the World Equestrian Games in Jerez exactly 20 years ago. The sensitive Bubblingh struggled slightly with the atmosphere of the Stutteri Ask Stadium and their final score of 68.851% was a little way off what they’re normally capable of producing. However, it was a firm foundation from which the other three members of the team could build.

The second British combination to ride that day was another experienced one. Gareth Hughes and Classic Briolinca made their return to the British team after competing at the FEI European Championship in Rotterdam in 2019, where they were the highest placed British pairing and pulled out three personal bests. As predicted, they put in a lovely, fluid test that was correct and very pleasing to the eye. Their final score of 75.978% was enough overnight sixth, with Richard and Bubblingh in 25th place. In the team standings, Britain sat fifth behind Sweden, Denmark, Germany and overnight leaders, the Netherlands. 

The British campaign on day two began with Charlotte Dujardin and her new rising star, Imhotep. The rangy chestnut gelding had just two international starts to his name prior to arriving in Herning so, while certainly talented, was a bit of an unknown entity. During their test, Charlotte used every inch of the arena and every ounce of her experience to produce a ride that – while not without mistakes, including an early strike-off into canter – was impressive enough to pick up every available mark without pushing her budding star beyond his current capabilities, giving them a score of 77.407% for eventual fourth.

Taking over Charlotte’s usual anchor role were Charlotte ‘Lottie’ Fry and Glamourdale. The judges threw nines and tens at the pair throughout their test, with particularly highlights being their one- and two-time tempis, the canter zig-zag and the extended canter – the latter of which earned 10s from all but one judge thanks to some incredible suspension and expression. After the final salute, the crowds waited on bated breath. Lottie and Glamourdale looked sure to go into the lead, but by how much? The answer soon flashed up – 80.838%, which was not only the first +80% score of the competition, but a new international personal best and enough to give Britain the team silver medal.

The British team had arrived in Herning unsure of what to expect. With two untested young horses, one lacking in match practice following injury, and the fourth making his championship debut, it was hard to predict where they would end up. The priority had been to secure team qualification for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games in just two years’ time – they did that but also finished in silver medal position achieved that with ease and demonstrated the depth of talent available for selection.

A new queen of dressage is crowned

The first opportunity for individual medals came in the Grand Prix Special. Three of our combinations progressed through, sadly Richard and Bubblingh finished outside the qualification spots. The Special is, to quote Gareth, ‘Briolinca’s test’. The increased difficulty and technicality over the Grand Prix suits her talent for collection and this is where she really shows how special – pun intended – she can be. Gareth is such a quiet but effective rider, able to coax the best out of his horses while seeming to do very little. He kept the 16-year-old Trento B x Royal Dance mare’s energy flowing while still contained enough to bring her back for the more collected movements, including her party piece pirouettes, which scored 10s. Their final score was 77.280%, with the judge at B putting them at a whopping 80.00%. This was enough to take the lead as the competition neared its latter stages.

Next was Charlotte and Imhotep. One of the real standout qualities of the nine-year-old gelding is his endless supply of energy and power. If Olympic and European medallist Gio was Charlotte’s pocket rocket, Imhotep is more akin to a souped-up Bugatti Veyron. While the test wasn’t without mistakes – most of which can be put down to sheer overexuberance from ‘Pete’, Charlotte was clearly delighted with her newest star as she left the arena. Charlotte and Imhotep’s score of 77.523% slotted then into second, immediately ahead of Gareth and Classic Briolinca, who had dropped two placings since their earlier test.

Charlotte ‘Lottie’ Fry and Glamourdale were the penultimate pairing into the arena in an atmosphere which had built to fever-pitch. From the moment they set foot in the arena, it was clear that Lottie and her stallion meant business. Glamourdale is the sort of horse that, quite simply, takes your breath away. Jet black, immensely powerful and with the soul of a true showman, he has enough presence to command the attention of an arena as big as the Stutteri Ask Stadium. Their first halt earned them nines and 10s from the judges and, from that point on, the high marks just kept flowing. Everything was big, powerful and accurate – the audience watched in rapt silence as a dressage masterclass unfolded before them. It seemed almost impossible that they wouldn’t go into the lead. The question, really, was by how much. A score of 82.508% flashed up – a full 1.529% above their previous personal best – and into the lead they went.

There was just one combination standing between Lottie, Glamourdale and the top of the podium. Germany’s Isabell Werth is never one to give up without a fight – and she has a bulging trophy cabinet to prove it – but she and DSP Quantaz just couldn’t catch the British pair. Within minutes, it was confirmed – Britain had a new dressage world champion – and Lottie was mid-interview with Swedish television when the news broke!

Double gold for Lottie Fry and Glamourdale

After a day off, it was time for the thrilling climax of the dressage competition – the freestyle to music. First in for the Brits were Gareth Hughes and Classic Briolinca, dancing to a new medley of Madonna tracks. Their test was light, harmonious and incredibly elegant, highlighting all their collected party pieces. Their score of 84.043%, as well as being a personal best by some four percent, was enough to give them the lead going into the first break – one they held for some time as the night progressed.

Charlotte Dujardin and Imhotep were next. Those watching had no idea of what to expect, given that this was Imhotep’s first ever Grand Prix freestyle – what a place to make that debut! Charlotte had been close-lipped about her music choice all week, but as she raised her hand and the first distinctive beats filled the Stutteri Ask Stadium, it was apparent that Imhotep would be borrowing Gio’s technically demanding routine from the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Although lacking in mileage, Imhotep is brimming with raw power, and there is no more skilled rider than Charlotte to channel that energy into elegance. The test showed real promise of what’s to come from this talented Everdale-sired gelding and there was plenty for the judges to like. They awarded them with a score of 83.046% – enough for eventual 10th place.

Last in for the Brits and the third last combination to go were Lottie Fry and Glamourdale. At this closing stage of the competition, the atmosphere in the stadium was electric – now was the time when medals would be won or lost. Would Monday’s gold medallist be able to do the double?

Before her arrival in Herning, Lottie had posted a teaser of her new music on Instagram, promising a ‘best of British’ theme, and tonight she certainly delivered that. At the raise of her hand, the sound of Brian May’s cover of ‘God Save The Queen’ began to sound, before merging into the unmistakable beat of ‘Another One Bites The Dust’ by Queen. The striking black stallion and his diminutive partner passaged into the arena and stood square for the first halt – “Let’s go!” cried Freddie Mercury, and we were off. What followed was a spellbinding demonstration of all that is good about freestyle dressage. The catchy British pop hits kept flowing, Lottie and Glamourdale danced their hearts out, and the judges leant on their 10 buttons.

The crowd audibly gasped as the pair flew across the diagonal in extended canter to the strains of ‘She’s The One’ by Robbie Williams, then again when a line of two-time tempis seamlessly changed to one-times against The Beatles’ ‘Hey Jude’. It was then onto the final line and back to ‘Another One Bites The Dust’ for a passage zig-zig, with the crowd clapping along, and lastly ‘God Save The Queen’ for a passage pirouette and final salute. Lottie punched the air, and the crowd were on their feet for a standing ovation. They knew it would be a very good score, but the question was just how good – could they go above 90%? The answer, as it turns out, was yes! A total of 90.654% flashed up, with an artistic score of 96.914%. It was just a matter of Lottie waiting to see if she’d done enough for another gold medal – but whatever the result, it had earned the duo a place in the small but elite 90% club.

First to challenge her were the orange clad Dinja van Liere and Hermes for the Netherlands. They put in a brave attempt, but their score of 86.900% fell short. Last in was the deserved darling of Danish dressage, Cathrine Laudrup-Dufour, riding the British-owned Vamos Amigos. They were the real threat to Lottie’s chances, having scored +88% at Aachen in July, and so everyone watched with bated breath as they performed their Les Misérables-inspired floorplan. It was certainly impressive but seemed to lack a little of the spectacle that Lottie and Glamourdale had produced. The score reflected this – 89.411% – and the title went to Britain. Backstage, as the scores were read out, an overcome Lottie broke down in tears. This, for her, was the big one – as a child, she’d spent hours devising freestyle floorplans for her ponies and now, aged just 26, she was the undisputed champion of the world.

Historic team bronze for the showjumpers

The jumping competition was the last to kick off. Split across three rounds, the team competition was a closely fought battle with an ever-changing leaderboard. Fast clears from Scott Brash and Hello Jefferson, and Ben Maher and Faltic HB in the speed round saw Great Britain sitting in fourth overnight, ably backed up with four faults apiece from Harry Charles and Romeo 88, and Joe Stockdale and Equine America Cacharel.

Competition resumed the next day – while Ben and Scott were able to pull off more clear rounds, it was disappointment for Harry and Joe, who notched up eight and 12 faults apiece respectively due to minor mistakes. The team slipped to sixth position but, with only a pole separating third to eighth place, were still in touch of a podium placing and the all-important Olympic qualification that would be granted to the top five nations excluding hosts France. Scott, Ben and Harry all passed this first qualifier for the individual competition, but unfortunately Joe and Equine America Cacharel didn’t make the cut – although they would still return for the team final the following day.

 The team final was held under floodlights. With the scoreboard so tightly packed, it promised to be a top-notch night of sport – and what followed certainly didn’t disappoint! Each nation competed in reverse order of merit based on their starting position, meaning our British combinations were the sixth out of ten to jump in each rotation. The drama started from the outset – literally – when pathfinders Ben Maher and Faltic HB uncharacteristically had the very first fence down. However, the rest of their round was faultless and clear rounds were proving a premium among the other nations, so the hunt was still on.

Joe and Equine America Cacharel were in next – after a tough round the day before, they were able to put their disappointment behind them and jump a great round with just one unfortunate fence down. While the team was still clinging to the qualification zone, what was really needed was a clear round. Luckily, that’s what Harry Charles and Romeo 88 were able to deliver, storming round in fine style to breathe new life into the British campaign. Last in was Scott Brash and Hello Jefferson, who had been so reliable all week. However, their good fortune ran out and it was eight penalties to add, which also damaged their hopes of an individual medal. With the last of the final rotation still to jump, it looked as though Olympic qualification was assured, but a medal would be one step too far.

However, showjumping is a fickle sport. As the penultimate pair, Kevin Staut and Scuderia 1918 Viking d’la Rousserie, entered the arena for the French team, some quick maths revealed that if they had two fences down, France would drop below Great Britain and move them up into bronze medal position. It may have seemed a fleeting chance, but it was one that become much closer to a reality when the first fence came down. The British team watched with their hearts in the mouth as Kevin and his mount tapped their way round the course and then, four from home, it happened – a second pole hit the sand and Great Britain had won its first World Championship medal in 24 years. Not since the World Equestrian Games in 1998, when Chef d’Equipe Di Lampard was on the team, had a British quartet stood on the podium but, against all the odds, it happened again in Herning.

After a day of rest, the individual final came around. Ben and Scott had qualified by merit of their performance over the past three rounds – Harry had also qualified after several withdrawals moved him up the pecking order, but sensibly chose to save Romeo 88 for another day. The final would be contested over two rounds, with the top 25 combinations competing in the first and the resulting top 12 moving forward to the second.

Clear rounds would be essential for those lower down the group if they wanted to progress to the second round, and unfortunately 11th placed Scott Brash and Hello Jefferson just weren’t able to deliver – their campaign for individual honours would end here with an  unlucky rail after the water.

Ben Maher and Faltic HB, however, produced another fantastic clear and moved up to fifth position. They started the second round strongly, but unfortunately knocked in a pole in the middle of the class, seemingly jeopardising any hopes of a medal. However, those around him lowered fence after fence and the duo rose up the leaderboard…could they snatch a medal after all?  At the close of play, they finished just off the podium in angonising fourth, but Ben could still be hugely proud of the little stallion who had only joined the team from the reserves bench mere days before the start of competition and had proved himself to be a true championship horse.

Paris qualification secured for para dressage

Britain might have been fielding the same para dressage squad as they took to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games but, with spectators filling the stands and less than ideal preparations, Herning would prove a greater challenge for our team of still inexperienced horses. Competition started with the fight for individual medals and it soon become apparent that the rest of the world hadn’t come to Denmark to mess around, with strong scores being posted across the board. The British didn’t take that lying down, though, and Sophie Wells and Don Cara M, and Natasha Baker and Keystone Dawn Chorus, both took silver medals in Grades 5 and 3 respectively, while Grade 2 riders Lee Pearson and Breezer secured bronze with Georgia and Sakura just missing a place on the podium.

The priority in Herning was to secure qualification for the Paralympic Games, which would require a top eight seven placing. Grade 2 combinations Georgia Wilson and Sakura, and Lee and Breezer, put in pleasing tests on the first day of the team competition, but their scores were a little off those needed to put in a strong bid for the podium. Natasha and Keystone Dawn Chorus laid down their score the following morning, but huge tests from the Netherlands, Denmark and the USA were still keeping Britain from the podium. It was all down to Sophie and Don Cara M to finish up the qualification campaign – they danced their hearts out but, in the end, the Brits had to settle for fourth place. Importantly, though, that precious Paralympic qualification was secured and all four horses had gained vital experience in bigger atmospheres.

Sunday was freestyle day – a fresh opportunity for medals and to end the competition on a high. All four of our combinations put forward strong performances and were awarded with a medal apiece – silver for Lee and Breezer, and bronze for Sophie and Don Cara M, Natasha Baker and Keystone Dawn Chorus, and Georgia Wilson and Sakura. This fabulous outcome brought the total medal haul to seven, with each combination gaining at least one. The team could leave Herning with a sense of satisfaction – the qualification mission had been a success.

Happy results in vaulting

Herning provided an opportunity to integrate vaulting with the Olympic and Paralympic disciplines. The Brits fielding a squad – in the form of the English Vaulting Squad, with lunger Suzi Cusick and horse Demezza – and two individuals in the form of Carys Morgan, with lunger Suzi Cusick and horse Demezza, and Mhairi Hume, with lunger Nienke de Wolff and horse Christmas PS Z. Across three days of compulsory, technical and freestyle tests, all competitors put in great performances that combined technical expertise with artistic flair.

The English Vaulting Squad finished ninth overall out of 14 nations – a result they were very happy with – and produced some personal best scores along the way. In the individual competition, Mhairi finished 31st thanks to a powerful freestyle themed around pollution of the oceans, while Cary’s Les Misérables-themed routine helped her to secure 35th place. Both girls did a fantastic job to compete against the best of the world at the pinnacle event of the sport.