Visit our shop Join BD View forums

Your shopping basket
is currently empty.


Day five: two in Europe's top six

last updated on August 26, 2017 09:37

Day five: two in Europe's top six

It was the Super Nova II that we all adore which entered the Ullevi stadium under cloudy skies for the Grand Prix Special medal battle with his rider Spencer Wilton at the 2017 Longines FEI European Championships in Gothenburg. The test started well with Spencer opting to start cautiously to make sure Jen Goodman’s De Niro 14 year old was more settled and focused on the task at hand. ‘Neville’ just showed a few nervous moments but his passage work was as impressive as ever, just effortless. The lines of canter tempi changes follow as a figure of eight in the Special and Spencer hit everyone one of the nine two-time and 15 one-time efforts required.

Then it was on to their nemesis, the canter pirouettes. As Spencer turned down the centre line and collected the canter, the British spectators drew a collective breath while Neville took an enormous first canter stride into the pirouette but Spencer was lightening quick to keep the shape and it was clean, if a little large. A collective sigh of relief from the onlookers before the nerves were back as they missed the fourth of the nine required one time changes on the centre line but, again Spencer was quick to correct and put him back on track. The second pirouette was much improved with the judges averaging 8.4.

The final centre line plays to Neville’s strengths with piaffe and passage so a few marks were added in a last flourish before he planted four square to end the test. 76.078% was the confirmed score to take a commanding lead at that stage from Agnete Kirk Thinggaard and Jojo AZ, who headed the leader board after the first group on 72.941%.

A clearly relieved Spencer said; “He was a good boy today. He felt a lot more at ease in the arena and more confident and, as a rider, I have to be pleased with that. He really tried and I’m delighted to get a mark like that, even with a mistake.”

We had just one horse to wait until Emile Faurie with Elena Knyaginicheva’s Lollipop 126, who impressed on Tuesday when in posting a 72%+ score to help the team to fourth He started brightly but a few green mistakes began to creep in alongside some very correct work. A cheeky kick out with the hind leg before going into piaffe showed Lollipop was up to mischief. Emile turned the corner to do his line of two time canter tempi changes and the horse decided ones were on the menu, again, just a sign of youthful exuberance from the 13 year old Lord Sinclair gelding. There was a miscommunication in the one time changes on the centre line between the canter pirouettes but Emile was quick to recover to ensure the second pirouette was beautifully performed. They ended on a high with no mistakes to bring the horse’s first ever Championship experience to a pleasing end.

The final score was confirmed on 70.840% which left Emile slightly disappointed. “He felt more alert in there today which caught me out a little bit. He’s only done one special and he got a bit ahead of me, he can be a bit cheeky like that,” he explained. “He didn’t settle into the rhythm of the piaffe like he did Tuesday but I’m thrilled with him considering his inexperience. I just love riding him, he’s quite a character and so much fun!”

Heading into the break before the final group of ten riders, Spencer and Neville held the lead and kept British hopes alive.

The second of the Swedish riders, Therese Nilshagen, gave the home crowd reason to cheer with a 78.585% to steal the lead away from Spencer. She held on well until the turn of the odds on favourite Isabell Werth for Germany entered the arena with Weihegold OLD and the tides turned. The late afternoon sun gave the black mare a magnificent aura and she simply floated over the surface with poise and grace. 25 perfect tens later, the score was settled on 83.613% to give the duo a commanding lead with three more to come.

Next to challenge was 25 year old Cathrine Dufour and her lovely chestnut Atterupgaards Cassidy. This pairing are what fairy tales are made of as they’ve come up through winning medals in the Junior and Young Rider ranks to represent Denmark in Rio last year and now in Gothenberg. Their Grand Prix performance to clinch a team silver on Wednesday rightly turned a few heads and that form continued today. The average didn’t quite trend through the test to match our leader but they finished on 79.761%to go second and sadly relegating Spencer and Neville off the podium.

The young rider challenge continued in the form of Germany’s Sönke Rothenberger, who at just 22 is making a name for himself at these Championships with his elegant partner, Cosmo 59. At one stage, the combination were averaging ahead of their team talisman but a few small errors just tailed off the final high marks for a score of 82.478%, just 1.1% away from Isabell. The young pretender had given the dressage doyenne close run.

And so it was Carl Hester to bring the tense affair to a close. Riding his own and Jane de la Mare’s Nip Tuck in their first Grand Prix Special since Rio, he entered the arena with an air of expectation from the crowd. On paper, Barney’s personal best was 79.12% so he’d have to better that to be in with a chance of a medal.

There was a fright before the start when Francis Verbeek van Rooy rang her bell from ‘C’ but the arena attendants hadn’t yet removed the boards or ‘A’ marker to let Carl enter and start. The clock was ticking and at 20 seconds, the crowd were restless. But Carl isn’t one to panic and he entered in a perfect collected canter with seconds to spare. True to form, the early trot work was trending around the 72% mark but the canter impressed and the aggregate score began to climb. Clean changes, a brave extended canter and tight pirouettes (for an 18hh plus horse) all impressed.

The final trot centre line even kept the marks flowing and as the crowd began to hand clap them down towards the halt, Barney looked to enjoy the praise from the crowd and planted himself four square and his rider saluted, smiled and dropped the reins to give him a huge pat of gratitude. 76.722% was the final score. Not enough for a medal but crucially put him fifth to put him in the final group for tomorrow’s Freestyle which he later revealed was his aim for the day.

“He was brilliant! I couldn’t be more happy with him. The special isn’t really his test but his extended trot work was better today. We slightly changed the warm up and did more trot than normal, I hardly cantered. He really relaxed and was nice to ride with just the right amount of excited but chilled. He was totally with me,” enthused Carl with a huge look of satisfaction.

He continued; “I didn’t expect a medal today but was hoping for top five so I go in the last group tomorrow where we can really go for it, let’s hope for a good draw now. I’m looking forward to it as we have a difficult freestyle and I believe he can medal if he’s like he was today.”

Spencer and Neville finished sixth, just behind Carl, to give both a spot in the Freestyle. To have two British representatives in Europe’s elite and Emile in 20th with Lollipop 126 shows that there is strength and depth in British dressage in the ‘post-Valegro era’.

Both riders are looking forward to the prospect of Freestyle tomorrow. Spencer will be riding his ‘edgy’ routine featuring music from Justin Timberlake and Adele which he’s only ridden once, at Stuttgart last year while Carl is sticking with his very technical floorplan set to music from the hit TV show Mr Selfridge which gave them bronze at this year’s FEI World Cup Final in Omaha.

Full results – including a breakdown of marks - click here

Photo: © Jon Stroud Media