Riesenbeck 2023: Brits claim lead in senior team medal race
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Great Britain hold provisional gold medal position as overnight leaders in the team competition at FEI European Championships following two virtuoso performances by team maestros Hester and Hughes.
With the scene set at the impressive Surenburg Equestrian Centre in Riesenbeck, home to President of the European Championships and four time Olympic Champion Ludger Beerbaum, the first part of the battle for the team medals provided a full day of inspiring action and leading performances by the British riders.
Pathfinder Gareth Hughes demonstrated a textbook picture of harmony as the first rider to present for Great Britain on board his own, Julia Hornig, Rebecca Hughes and Ruby Hughes’ Classic Briolinca (Trento B x Royal Dance). The first halt for the 17 year old mare was good and immobile, and the work that followed was consistent, with Gareth displaying the combination’s sympathetic way of going and light frame to a tee. The big earners within their score came for the collected movements, with the piaffe and passage a sure-fire highlight, and the canter pirouettes earning nines.
The judges panel of Kurt Christensen at K (DEN), Ulrike Nivelle at E (GER), Michael Osinski at H (USA), Maria Colliander at C (FIN), Isobel Wessels at M (GBR), Raphaël Saleh at B (FRA) and Eduard de Wolff van Westerrode at F (NED) rewarded 74.565%, putting Great Britain into a provisional silver medal position after the first rider rotation, as Gareth slotted in just a fraction of marks behind Germany’s Matthias Alexander Rath.
Speaking after his test Gareth said, “It was hot and it got hotter! I’m over the moon with her, I thought that was actually one of the best tests she’s done. It was very clean there were no real mistakes; I was so happy with the test but slightly disappointed with the mark. I’m so happy with my mare, she’s 17 now and has done several championships, she’s been amazing for me and the team and I thought maybe she deserved a bit more.”
“We know the GP really well, there’s two things I really try and aim for throughout the test – one is to be mistake free and the other is to do nice riding and portray a nice picture with good harmony. I’m sure I could ask for more and for her to be a bit more flamboyant but I like the feeling I have throughout the test and I like to have the feeling I have when I finished.”
Gareth was full of praise for the Dutch-bred mare, who’s been a firm part of the Hughes family for over 14 years: “The family has ridden her and she was never going to go anywhere. She’s owned by ourselves and Julia Hornig who’s been a huge supporter over the years. When you have a young horse like that and she’s done Europeans, World Championships, it’s amazing.”
The second frontman to step forward on day one was Newent’s Carl Hester, making his 22nd appearance at a major championship. This time it would be the newcomer Fame, owned by Fiona Bigwood, to enter the spotlight, with the talented 13 year old stallion having shown exceptional form throughout the year in his first season as partner to Britain’s team stalwart. Today under the late afternoon sunshine, the combination produced a personal best performance full of energy and precision. The light-footed son of Bordeaux showed active yet balanced trot work, before a convincing piaffe-passage tour elevated the running score, giving Carl an early advantage over then-leader Isabel Werth. The canter work showed expressive changes and secure pirouettes, before the final centre line notched up further high marks, with Fame’s party piece passage earning nines. An ultimate score of 78.540% gave Carl the top spot at the end of the opening session.
Carl was full of praise following his test: “I absolutely love this horse, I worship him. I look forward to riding him every day and I just wanted him to be able to do it in a show because I know that he is one of the best horses we have, and he delivered today. It's boiling here today, but think of the horses, and when a horse goes like that for you in these weather conditions, when they’re hot it’s amazing. He’s very explosive or quiet, so it can go both ways but he was the perfect mix today. If I never did another test again that would be a lovely one to finish on.”
“It’s nice when the horse goes his best,” he continued, reflecting on what went well, and what more’s to come of their new partnership, “that's what I feel at the moment – of course it could be better but otherwise you get 100%. I’m still missing 22% so there’s lots of things still to get better and that’s what’s so exciting about him, I don’t feel like I’m at the end of the road yet. I’ve only been riding him since December and I’ve had a big plan this year, you have to have selectors that trust you when you come up with plans and the plan has worked.”
The Dutch-bred Fame has been owned by Carl’s Rio 2016 team mate Fiona Bigwood from the age of eight and she began his career at Grand Prix level, “I’m so grateful to Fiona for letting me ride him, she always said this was a horse for me and she was absolutely right – it was love at first ride.”
“He’s the sort of horse I love, a bit quirky and hot, but wonderful and kind. You’d have no idea he’s a stallion, he’s just amazing. It’s his desire to go – to be able to look good on a horse you need them to be sensitive, a horse like him enables you have even more pleasure when you’re riding them. You’ve got to have things to work on too, he still needs to improve on his self-carriage and things like that.”
It takes a master of a competitor to understand how to balance giving a green horse a positive experience with the need to post a vital score on the board for your team; when asked about how much he could ‘let go’ of his ride today, Carl concluded, “I know how important his score was and I need to be able to make it level instead of going for all nines, today wasn’t the day for that. He was so rideable today, and if I could let go earlier it could be even better. I will do that when he’s ready and when I’m ready, and I need to stay fit enough to be able to do it too!”
After two top performances by Carl and Gareth, Great Britain hold a provisional gold medal position overnight, ahead of host nation Germany and reigning team World Champions Denmark. Tonight we await the performances by countless major players on day two of the team event, including Britain’s Charlotte Dujardin and Lottie Fry. The final rotation of riders is one to keep a close eye on, as spectators are treated to the much-awaited dual between reigning Olympic champion Dalera BB and reigning World champion Glamourdale. It’s all to play for on day two, and today’s competition well and truly set the stage for an epic European Championship team medal showdown.
Results – Wednesday 6 September
Team standings – top five
1. Great Britain – 78.540
2. Germany – 77.174
3. Denmark – 74.410
4. Austria – 71.724
=5. Spain – 71.584
=5. France – 71.584
=5. Netherlands – 71.584
Individual standings – top ten
1. Carl Hester and Fame, 78.540% (GBR)
2. Isabell Werth and DSP Quantaz, 77.174% (GER)
3. Matthias Alexander Rath and Thiago GS, 74.845% (GER)
4. Gareth Hughes and Classic Briolinca, 74.564% (GBR)
5. Andreas Helgstrand and Jovian, 74.410% (DEN)
6. Daniel Bachmann Andersen and Vayron, 74.146% (DEN)
7. Florian Bacher and Fidertraum OLD, 71.724% (AUT)
=8. Alexandre Ayache and Jolene, 71.584% (FRA)
=8. Alejandro Sánchez del Barco and Quincallo de Indalo, 71.854% (ESP)
=8. Marlies van Baalen and Habibi DVB, 71.584% (NED)
Photo © Kevin Sparrow Photography