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Day six: Gothenburg Freestyle delight

last updated on August 26, 2017 18:40

Day six: Gothenburg Freestyle delight

The sun broke through the cloud just as the final day of dressage at the 2017 Longines FEI European Championships got underway to welcome the best 15 riders into the Ullevi stadium in Gothenburg. Two British riders were in the mix and hopes were high for a medal.

Drawn seventh to go, Spencer Wilton with his own and Jen Goodman’s Super Nova II is a bit of an unknown force when it comes to Freestyle as they’ve only done one together at Grand Prix level, last year at Stuttgart World Cup Show which Spencer feels was best forgotten. Added to this, drawn sixth was Patrik Kittel for Sweden…and the home country love to get behind a good freestyle with very audible support.

And support his Billy Idol programme they did! They clapped him down the centreline and then all the way out of the arena, an atmosphere like Neville has never experienced.

The floorplan for Spencer’s routine is tactful with a powerful first extended trot diagonal before it’s straight into canter to keep Neville’s attention. Two brave double pirouettes on the centre line were well executed so that’s the ‘bogey’ movement put to rest. Some nice walk work was set to a violin rendition of Adele’s ‘Hello’ while the trot work was accompanied by ‘Can’t stop the feeling’ from Justin Timberlake which got the crowd behind them. As he travelled down the centreline, some of the audience started a slow hand clap which unsettled Neville and then he caught sight of himself on the big screen which spoilt his final halt but they’d got through it with some impressive work.

75.443% was the confirmed score which gives them a new benchmark score for this test to build on in the coming months.

“Well, it could have been a lot worse! We had a tricky last few minutes with the applause for Pattrik – he’s never heard noise like it. I knew it’d be a challenge and I’ve always protected him from it but there’s no choice now. Hopefully he’s gained in confidence and will take it all as a positive,” said Spencer.

He continued; “It was a different type of pressure today – you have to hit your notes, not your markers! I learned from him today that he needs to know where he’s going, he felt a bit ‘lost’ at times today but he’s such a good boy really, he can’t help himself at times!”

What can Spencer take from his second Championship experience? “The whole experience has been great,” he responded. “I’ve learnt lots about him, and myself and it’s given us a good boost to get going over the winter ahead of next year and so I can be competitive against to top riders.”

At the halfway point it was Denmark’s Anna Zibrandtsen with Arlando who held the advantage on 77.829%. Then Therese Nilshagen and Dante Weltino OLD lit the home fans up further by nailing a 80.411% - the first to break the magic barrier.
And so to our team talisman, Carl Hester, making his 17th championship appearance, with his own and Jane de la Mare’s Nip Tuck. What Barney lacks in flash, he more than makes up in effort and Carl has designed his floorplan to play exactly to the Don Ruto gelding’s strengths with a high level of technical difficulty, matched only by Isabell Werth’s routine.

The first centre line certainly grabs the judges’ attention and Barney answered every question asked by his rider. Minor mistakes; a flat flying change, slight loss of regularity in the piaffe to start, nothing more obvious but what shone was a horse trying is heart out for his rider – even if he did find the opportunity to spook until Carl caught him out by turning left rather than right to catch him out.

The crowd began their now customary hand clap down the centre line to bring the final halt and Carl gave away both reins to give a huge pat as just reward for a fine performance.

It felt like forever for the score to come up….but then up flashed 80.571% and the lead was theirs. It was then confirmed as 80.614% as the Union flat sat atop the leader board.

Then on to the top three. First up was Danish young sensation Cathrine Dufour who revealed to the FEI in an interview that she’s here grooming for her own horse, Atterupgaards Cassidy. The Caprimond gelding has impressed this week under his young rider, with both showing a great attitude in the arena. Their floorplan was well executed, not perhaps at the same level of difficulty as Carl’s but she was the epitome of doing the basics brilliantly. Another long wait…and 84.561% was confirmed to knock Carl off top spot.

Germany have dominated in the white boards this week and the audience were treated to one final battle between the dressage legend and the young pretender. At just 22, Sonke Rothenberger wasn’t even born when Isabel Werth made her Championship debut in 1989 but he’s certainly made a name for himself in Gothenburg this week.

He performed an emotionally charged routine with his ten year old partner Cosmo which contained plenty of expression set against beautiful music which was well suited to the leggy, elegant duo. Again, it wasn’t technically challenging but artistically, it was a pleasure to watch. The judges were certainly captivated and 90.614% was the score. The crowd knew they’d been privileged to witness something special and a young man on his way to a place in the dressage history books.

The final combination of the day entered the arena and you could hear a pin drop after the euphoria of Sonke’s score announcement. Isabell Werth and Weihegold are world number one and they were the odds on favourites to sweep the board in Gothenburg so had Sonke done enough? Could Carl and Barney hang in there for a medal?

They started cautiously to ensure the confidence levels remained high but as the momentum grew, so Isabell ‘let go’ and the mare began to fly; easily carrying out her trade mark piaffe and passage, skipping through the tempi changes and as Isabell headed towards her final halt, she began to smile, knowing that it was a fantastic performance. But was it enough?

Up came 90.982% and Isobell jubilantly punched the air as she saw it. She’d taken gold with the second ever highest freestyle score at a European Championships and a new personal best with Weihegold.

It was a second fourth place of the Championships for Carl which could be seen as frustrating but he was still delighted; “I’m pleased but he was a little more difficult than I expected today. I gave him an easy morning to make sure he wasn’t too tired but he was very excited! His scores have gone up all week and that’s very satisfying. We never thought he’d get this far but it’s testament to his temperament, he’s a worker. He finds it easy to do the difficult stuff so time to work on a new freestyle, I know I can make it even harder!”

So far from disappointment, it’s a catalyst to continue get back on the podium next time.

The 2017 Longines FEI European Championships have been a challenge for our teams but the riders, owners, grooms and support staff have remained focused on the task at hand and turned around some amazing results. The para quartet demonstrated the strength in depth we have to win eight medals including retaining their unbeaten record while the seniors, with just a team of three, finished fourth, within a whisker of a medal and fourth and 13th amongst Europe’s elite. Tryon, we’ll be ready for you in a year’s time!

Full scores – click here