Team GBR dressage finish fourth in Rotterdam
- Written By:
It’s been a rollercoaster day in Rotterdam at the FEI Longines Dressage European Championships. It was team medals day and the pressure was on not only for Euro medals but qualification spots for Tokyo.
The last 24 hours for Carl Hester have been emotional. Lottie Fry holds a very special place in his heart having ridden with her mum Laura on the 1992 Barcelona Olympic team and helped her throughout her career while Gareth Hughes is one of his best friends. He coached and watched them both perform above expectation yesterday but today, it was his turn to deliver the goods.
Few would expect someone with Carl’s experience, talent and gift to experience nerves, but he does. There’s always the pressure of expectation on his shoulders and his ride, Hawtins Delicato, who he owns with long term and loyal supporters Ann Cory and Lady Anne Evans, has not been the easiest of rides this year with a few niggly mistakes at competitions meaning a mistake free performance and top score have eluded them in the build-up.
As Hester’s test time neared, the heavens opened having been a fine but chilly morning and when he entered the arena and the crowd took time to settle in their seats, organise umbrellas and sort coats which didn’t help as Carl tried is best to reassure the 11 year old Diamond Hit British bred. The first halt was fairly square with ‘Del’ looking in relaxed mode. A couple of crows took residence in the ‘M’ corner of the arena, pecking about and totally unaware of the magnitude of what was going on around them, only flying off as Del rounded the corner to set sail in extended trot. It’s a moment when Carl will be grateful for his menagerie of birds at home as many horses would have spooked but it just made Del feel right at home, as if they were in the school back in Gloucestershire.
Carl and Del glided along in effortless half passes followed by a brief halt before the rein back and the sun then appeared from behind the crowd. Clean two and one time changes, sometimes an issue, were clean and earned over eight on average from the seven judges. Just the final tricky line which sometimes is a piaffe too far but not today, Del was obliging and then to a final jubilant halt. It looked like a good score was coming. 78.32% was the final percentage, a new personal best for the duo by just over 1% from their last championship outing at the World Equestrian Games.
“It’s a huge relief and I’m glad my plan for the year has worked out. I’ve kept him [Hawtins Delicato] at home most of the year to build his confidence and today, he went in and was brilliant. I always ride him on the careful side but today, I rode for everything. He has so much quality but quality means nothing where there are mistakes,” he told the mixed zone afterwards.
“If I only manage a mistake free test once a year, this is the time to do it! I’m still learning about him and in the warm up it was as if he rose out of ashes – he was wild! But once we were in the arena, I felt I could trust him. He’s still young experience wise and it’s all about letting go. I’m actually looking forward to the Special as that’s HIS test,” he concluded.
As the final riders then started for each team, thoughts not only turned to today’s medals but the all-important final qualification chance for the Tokyo Olympics next year. Denmark, Spain, Ireland, Portugal, Russia, France and Switzerland all vying for the three places on offer.
Then the drama of the day unfolded… The penultimate combination of the day were Charlotte Dujardin and Mount St John Freestyle, owned by Emma and Jill Blundell and the tension around the arena was at danger levels. Germany had already secured gold with a stellar performance from Isabell Werth and Bella Rose to score 85.65%. With Sweden’s final rider, Patrik Kittel giving them a team score of 229.92, Charlotte needed 75.24% to secure team silver.
A good entry was followed by a spectacular first trot extension to click click click click from the orchestra of photographers. The half passes were athletic and flowed across the arena with ease. There was a blip in one sweep of the zig zag which scored just 5.8 from the judges but as the end of the test neared, the nines were flowing for the final extended trot and passage/piaffe centre line. It was a performance which looked enough to give us silver and the final score of 81.91% confirmed it.
Edward Gal was the final rider with Glock’s Zonik for the home nation and the tension levels rose, if it were possible as the hunt was on for a bronze in a battle with Sweden. They posted 78.75% which was enough – it was a celebration of orange that their national hero had done it.
But after the initial elation of a job well done and a hard fought silver for the British came the news that Charlotte Had been eliminated during the FEI Steward check which happens post test for all competitors. A trace of blood had been found on the mare’s side. The rules stipulate that any blood is elimination and all the riders accept this – horse welfare is paramount.
This promoted the Netherlands to silver and Sweden up on to the podium in third with Germany the clear victors to retain their European title. This left Britain fourth, but only just. Our riders have performed amazingly and even with the devastating news of Charlotte’s elimination, we finished fourth and just 0.93% off a medal. Personal best performances from Carl and Gareth and a debut to be proud of from Lottie show the healthy state of dressage in Britain.
The dressage combinations have a rest day tomorrow and are back in action on Thursday in the Grand Prix Special where Carl, Gareth and Lottie will be competing for individual honours.
The para horses were all passed fit and well in their inspection so the action gets underway tomorrow with Mari Duward-Akhurst and Sky O’Hara in action in the Grade I and Georgia Wilson riding Midnight in Grade II. Times weren’t available at the time of writing. The action will be free to air on the FEI You Tube Channel so you can cheer Mari and Georgia on.
Photos: C Team GBR/Jon Stroud