Two top class performances put Britain in silver
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It’s been fabulous day one at the Longines FEI European Championships in Rotterdam for Team GBR with two riders complete for most teams. Charlotte Fry rode for the first time under the Senior flag with Dark Legend while Gareth Hughes firmly laid a few demons to rest with Classic Briolinca and both gave the assembled British contingent of fans much to cheer about.
It was a meteoric start to Charlotte Fry’s senior Team GBR career riding the 11 year old Zucchero x Tango gelding Dark Legend whom she jointly owns with her employers, Van Olst Horses. There was a sharp intake of breath as ‘Darkie’ routed himself to the spot as he caught sight of the imposing Rotterdam Arena but it’s a normal trick for the cheeky chap and like a well-oiled machine, her support team leapt to action to coax him in. There was another anxious moment as groom Claire struggled to unclip the lead rein but once free, the pair set sail on their familiarisation lap around the arena and they looked at home.
After an inattentive first halt, he first passage/piaffe tour was super and the changes all secure, easily getting the 15 one time changes in. The canter zig zag was exceptionally tidy and accomplished and the final halt was also short but present to end a performance all concerned could be proud of. All seven members of the judging panel agreed on their performance with each awarding 74% with differing fractions afterwards but 74.31% was the final score which put them, and the team, into second after the first round of riders.
For someone so young, she appeared to thrive from the added pressure of going first for the team and while Darkie was nervous, she kept him fairly calm and impressed with her ability under the extreme conditions. Afterwards she said; “I’m really pleased – he was amazing. He was a little nervous going in – almost star struck – but he gave me all he had in there. He can be a nervy horse but we’ve been together such a long time and I know his so well. I quite enjoy the pressure and the hype! I don’t think it really sunk in until I arrived.”
Second last rider of the day was Gareth Hughes for Team GBR with his own, wife Rebecca and Julia Hornig’s Classic Briolinca (Trento B x Royal Dance). The duo has been in fine fettle this year with strong performances but today was the ideal opportunity to shine. And they did just that.
As the 13 year old trotted up the centre line, memories of Compiegne CDIO still fresh where she didn’t halt sprung to mind but today, there was no sign and four feet planted square and still. Moments later, that was followed by a second square halt and neat reign back which was rewarded with an aggregate 8.2 from the seven judges. The first extended trot diagonals were conservative but with good reason. She’d done two excellent halts and the piaffes was next, her nemisys...but no worries, they were duly executed, the first tentatively, the second looking very secure. As a violin rendition of Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’ echoed out of the tannoy, a really pleasing canter tour unfolded. Fifteen clean one time changes and two tight pirouettes, all scoring eight or more followed.
Confidence now high, Gareth let Briolinca fly on the final extended trot to further boost the marks. It looked good and he needed 75% plus to keep Britain’s hopes of silver strong. The final score was confirmed as 76.31% which was exactly what was needed and even better, a new personal best score for the duo. It’s also Gareth’s career best Grand Prix score – what a day to do it!
“Phew…it’s been such a long day! I had about four hours sleep last night with anxiety and then that horrible fall fast asleep just before your alarm. When you’re riding that late in the day it’s tough here. There’s nowhere to go and have some quiet time. The lorries are a long way away and when I’m nervous, I get tired so normally I’d go and watch a DVD or sleep but instead I’ve been watching the others. That gives you time worry about what could go wrong which isn’t good as you focus on the negative. But I didn’t let that happen today!
“Normally if I get the halt and walk, I don’t get the piaffe and vice versa but today, I got them all! She tried so hard and I couldn’t be happier. Everyone knows the issues we’ve had with the horse; I owe so much to my team. Ben [Benson] the farrier, Rob [Cnockaert] and Steph [Sharples] my groom have worked hard to get her here and myself, Rebecca and Julia [Hornig] are so grateful. Lottie did a great job to ride with nerves of steel.”
Sadly the team from Luxembourg are out of the competition as Nicolas Wagner was eliminated for blood in the mouth after his ride reared and must have nicked his mouth in the process. As they had a team of three, this rules them out. France’s Charlotte Chalvignac also fell foul of the judges when the judge at C, Isabel Judet, rang the bell for unlevel strides.
The Germans were in a dominant mood as expected and look untouchable for gold with an 80.23% already on the board from Dorothee Schneider and Showtime FRH but the battle for silver will make day two a nail biter!
Photos © Jon Stroud/Team GBR