Great Britain’s Abigail Gray fourth on final day of FEI Pony European Championships
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Abigail Gray and George Clooney B.S concluded their 2023 FEI Dressage Pony European Championships with fourth place in today’s Freestyle final in Le Mans. The British pairing, who were fifth in yesterday’s Individual Test, achieved another personal best score to finish just outside the podium on the final day of competition.
The leading French venue of Boulerie Jump - Pôle Européan du Cheval, on the outskirts of Le Mans, once again provided the setting for a day of top-class Youth dressage as the final day’s contest for Individual Freestyle medals unfolded this morning.
The 19-strong class opened with a solid performance by Belgian pathfinder Alexine Herweyers with Terbofens Charico, though it was the Dutch combination of Sissi Gijsen and New Star 8 who set the early standard on 73.205%, until her teammate Nina van Rooij edged ahead piloting Le Formidable to a score of 73.330%.
Next down the centre line was the Danish duo of Rikke Maria Schoubye Johansen and Lykkesholms Cyperb who put a competitive score of 75.570% on the board. A harmonious test, accompanied by orchestral sounds of Britney Spears and Celine Dion, landed them at the top of the provisional leader board; a position held until the halfway break despite strong challenges from Ingeborg Elizabeth Schou of Denmark, and Poland’s 2022 Freestyle bronze medallist Veronica Pawluk (D’Artagnan 187).
Immediately following the midway break, Denmark’s Anna Munkebo laid down the new score to beat, posting 76.335% with the nine-year-old chestnut mare, Lyngdal’s Mira Puella; the Danish duo maintaining the advantage until the turn of the British, European Championship newcomer Abigail Gray.
Abigail (15) who hails from Banchory in Aberdeenshire, remarkably is still in only her first competition season with the well-known British-bred grey, George Clooney B.S (Caesar 171 x Santano). The young rider and 12-year-old George create a picture of power and precision together, with every movement extremely well prepared for. Performing to a selection of pieces composed by Murray Gold for the Dr Who series - music originally used by George's first owner, Sophie Taylor, and tweaked by Tom Hunt to fit Abigail's floorplan - this talented pairing rode a confident test showing super balance and exemplary presentation.
The judges panel, comprised of Susanne Baarup (DEN), Eva-Maria Vint-Warmington (EST), Isabelle Judet (FRA), Thomas Kessler (GER) and Magnus Ringmark (SWE), duly awarded no fewer than 37 marks of 8 between them, together with 11 8.5s, including four 8.5s for music and interpretation, and three 8.5s for choreography. A final mark of 78.640% was announced, a new personal best score for this combination, to propel them into the provisional gold medal position at the latter stages of the competition with just four riders remaining.
Germany’s Julie Sofie Schmitz-Heinen and the 11-year-old Chilly Morning WE (by Calido-G), who won Individual silver on Saturday, put up a strong challenge with 77.825%, but it wasn’t quite enough to catch the Brit. Then it was the turn of her German teammate and world number one, Lilly Marie Collin. Collin and the Westphalian stallion Cosmo Callidus NRW (Cosmopolyan NRW x Cyriac WE) won Individual gold at last year’s Pony Europeans in Strzegom, and again they reigned supreme here in Le Mans, earning the gold medal honours in yesterday’s Individual contest, before posting an outstanding 86.960% today to take the top of the leaderboard in convincing fashion.
Belgium’s Liezel Everars also made an impression earning 80.150% with her 12-year-old Rheinlander pony, FS Capelli De Niro (by FS Champion de Luxe) to edge into the silver medal position, followed by Germany’s Maria Teresa Pohl with the Oldenburg 12-year-old, Der Kleine Sunnyboy WE (Der Feine Lord x Valentino) who delivered a super test to clinch the bronze medal on 79.780%.
"It feels incredible and so rewarding!" said Abigail about her experience in Le Mans. "I hope, with continued hard work, that I can experience a European Championship again! Thank you to the selectors for giving George and I this opportunity. I felt very privileged to be a part of such a talented team of riders. Everyone was so supportive of each other, and we had a lot of fun too! I have made very special lifelong memories with the girls.
Describing George Clooney B.S she says; "George makes me laugh every day. He loves food and can be quite impatient at feed times. He is a big-moving pony and I’ve had to learn to sit to his huge canter and trot. He has made my dreams come true and I am so grateful to him for being so amazing.
"I’m very thankful to the team of people who have helped George and I, without them none of this would be possible."
British Dressage congratulates Abigail for her fantastic result today, and the whole British team for their performances throughout the Championships. Thanks go to Chef d’Equipe Nina Boex, Team Vet Robert Oulton, Coach Advisor Clive Halsall, Performance Manager Caroline Bell and all the dedicated and hardworking teams behind the scenes.
Freestyle top ten
1. Lilly Marie Collin and Cosmo Callidus NRW, 86.960% (GER)
2. Liezel Everars and FS Capelli De Niro, 80.150% (BEL)
3. Maria Teresa Pohl and Der Kleine Sunnyboy WE, 79.780% (GER)
4. Abigail Gray and George Clooney B.S, 78.640% (GBR)
5. Julie Sofie Schmitz-Heinen and Chilly Morning WE, 77.825% (GER)
6. Anna Munkebo and Lyngdal’s Mira Puella, 76.335% (DEN)
7. Rikke Maria Schoubye Johansen and Lykkesholms Cyperb, 75.570% (DEN)
8. Isabella Karajkovic and First Hummer, 74.890% (NED)
9. Veronica Pawluck and D’Artagnan 187, 74.885% (POL)
10. Emilie Herweyers and Lesch La Perla, 74.735% (BEL)
Photo © Les Garennes