Gold for von Bredow-Werndl; Dujardin, Fry and Hester in the top six of Europe
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After Great Britain's team silver success, this evening was all about the race for individual Grand Prix Special honours at the Longines FEI European Championships. It was a battle of the giants, with the Germans ablaze and a number of riders ready to give them a run for their money. It promised an exciting evening’s viewing as the sun started to set over the hills behind Hof Kasselmann, and it didn’t disappoint.
First in for Great Britain, under floodlights and in front of a building crowd, was our Tokyo reserve partnership of Gareth Hughes and Sintano Van Hof Olympia (Sandro Hit x Silvano) riding only their third Grand Prix Special together. Sintano, who he co-owns with Judy Firmston-Williams, is only 11 years old and has little experience at this level, but the natural ability he shows and suppleness through his body is incredible. Gareth rode sensitively, giving the gelding confidence to earn a score of 73.723%.
“I’m happy, very happy actually,” said Gareth. “You know what, Sintano is a star! His character, his heart, how he tries in there. He was a little bit more tired tonight; he’s a scopey, slow moving horse but he had a bit more electricity about him last night which I presume the judges preferred because they haven’t marked him up as much. I came out thinking it was going to be more of a 75%-plus test.
“There were two little blips – I patted him at the end of the twos because I was so happy but he did a funny step and then I had to tell myself off around the corner and I said to the judge in my head ‘that was too soon wasn’t it’. Then he went to the loo just before the first piaffe – those things affect your marks. But I was pleased by how he just picked up when I asked. That last centreline I felt like I could have piaffed for five minutes and just sat there. He’s a star.”
Germany’s Helen Langehanenberg and the mare Annabelle took the early lead in group two with a score of 75.228%. Gareth’s ride wasn’t quite enough to catch her but two horses later, down the centre line came Carl Hester and En Vogue, who decisively went to the top of the group.
The pair’s test was beautiful to witness. Vogue, who Carl owns with Sandra Biddlecombe, Charlotte Dujardin and Lady Anne Evans, was intelligently and sensitively ridden by his rider to earn a score of 77.310%. The horse’s frame was textbook throughout, he showed power, precision and so much quality.
“I got the ride I wanted tonight. He was really great, so steady, really calm. I always know if he’s going to be funny, it’ll be in the piaffes, but tonight he was fine. All you want in a championship is for the horse to grow, I don’t expect to win when he’s this young but I do hope he gets better as it means he’s had a good experience each day.
“He was different tonight, he was tired,” continued Carl. “I was thinking when I was warming up, it must be like a crash for them. He never feels tired – he wasn’t tired in there but warming up he was. And it’s really hot! Really close too, like Tokyo.
“My changes tonight were spot on, his piaffes were showing what he can do – I think there’s a ten in there for those, not tonight but we’re progressing the right way and his pirouettes, I think I got nines for those. His canter work is the bit he’s good at and most confident with. When you’re riding a big horse like that and you have to fit the two pirouettes and changes in you’ve got to push your heels down!”
An exemplary test from Germany’s Isabell Werth and Weihegold OLD in the final group earned 81.702% to take the lead from Carl. Isabell is a master of test riding and the mare showed incredible balance and rhythm throughout. As Isabell exited the arena to an applauding German crowd, she passed Charlotte and Gio going the opposite way, and a friendly high five was a nice touch.
Charlotte and the charming Gio (Apache x Tango) continue to capture hearts. The diminutive yet powerful gelding, who Charlotte co-owns with Renai Hart and Carl Hester once again tried his heart and their beautiful performance tonight, full of verve, earned a score of 79.787% - not quite enough to knock Isabell of the top spot but a remarkable achievement for a young horse.
“I’m over the moon with Pumpkin tonight,” said Charlotte. “We pretty much had a clear round and that’s obviously only his third ever Special so for him I’m delighted. He’s still a young, inexperienced horse. I think with time, more will come and everything will get ‘bigger’. He just needs more time to strengthen up. He gets better every show and that’s all I can ask for.
“He went in there, really tried and did his best – that’s enough for me. He’s just brilliant. He’s hardly done anything under floodlights, and we’ve got a crowd. It’s probably the biggest atmosphere he’s been in.”
Denmark’s Cathrine Dufour and Bohemian followed. Currently one of the top combinations in the world, they produced a sensational test to step into second place a fraction behind Werth.
The penultimate rider to go was young Brit, Lottie Fry. Competing at her second Senior European Championships, the Dutch-based star rode an astonishing test with Everdale, the Lord Leatherdale x Negro breeding stallion she co-owns with Van Olst Horses. The dynamic partnership earned a new PB of 78.146% to propel them into fifth place behind teammate Charlotte.
“He was really amazing – probably the best feeling he’s ever given me in a test,” said Lottie. “He really concentrated and as soon as I went into canter he just gave me this massive canter and I was like ‘okay this is how we’re going to do it then!’ so the changes were only just fitting in the arena – they were huge!
“He gave everything he had and it was an incredible feeling in there. When you go in after Cathrine [Dufour] and before Jessica [von Bredow-Werndl] you have to ride for everything and he really did.
“Everything was great tonight – his passage was really nice, the half passes in trot, his changes, the last centreline I was really happy with. He loves the crowds – he’s a real show off. He found it quite exciting going in with all the cheering for the one before but as soon as I went down the centreline he was concentrating and ready to do his job.”
And on Saturday’s Freestyle; “I've only just started thinking about the music but I’m really excited about riding to it – I can’t wait to get back in that arena with him! I’m using a slightly different music – a few more lyrics, a bit of singing and everyone can have a dance!” she smiled.
Tokyo dual gold medallist Jessica von Werndl-Bredow brought the class to a close with a decisive win with wonder mare TSF Dalera BB. The quality of work from Jessica and the her light-footed dance partner was sublime, and in front of their home crowd earned a score of 84.271% for gold, with her teammate Isabell Werth taking silver, and Denmark's Cathrine Dufour, the bronze medal.
In the most elite company, Charlotte and Gio achieved a fantastic fourth place, with Lottie and Everdale fifth, Carl and En Vogue sixth and Gareth and Sintano Van Hof Olympia, 15th.
Although 15 combinations go through to the Freestyle on Saturday, a maximum of three athletes per nation may participate so sadly Gareth will not have the opportunity to take part.
Thank you to the team behind the team from Team GBR, which is only possible through our vital funding from UK Sport, via the National Lottery. And thank you to the owners and grooms who support these combinations and enable the dressage public to enjoy their performances and make us proud.
Photo ©Kevin Sparrow