Today’s action in Riesenbeck for the FEI European Championships in dressage and para dressage was as hot as the temperatures and, in an exciting battle, it was Britain who took the dressage team honours thanks to a 2.5% margin of victory over hosts Germany, with Denmark completing the podium in bronze.
With two British para dressage combinations also in action, both posting +74% scores in Grade 1 and 2 divisions, we’re firmly in the hunt for team honours in that discipline, too. The medals will be decided tomorrow, 8 September.
Dressage Grand Prix – team competition
Charlotte Dujardin and Imhotep
The second day of the Grand Prix test to decide the team placings promised so much – and it delivered on every level. While the much-hyped battle between the host nation’s Jessica von Bredow-Werndl and Britain’s own Charlotte Fry was billed by many to be the main event, Charlotte Dujardin decided she wanted in on the party.
Charlotte’s 2023 hasn’t gone to script. With the arrival of baby Isabella in early March, she’d planned a quiet year but, once recovered from the rigors of giving birth and back in the saddle, she felt fit and confident. A quick decision to enter the Windsor CDI with Carl Hester and Coral Ingham’s Imhotep reaped benefits with two stellar performances and the return of Charlotte’s self-belief, and the notion of pushing for a European Championship place began to feel realistic. A good run at Wellington CDI on home soil again showed progress and the decision was made to head to CHIO Aachen – a show Charlotte adores – to put ‘Pete’ in the spotlight for his biggest test since the World Championships in 2022. It was an exam the Everdale-sired 10-year-old passed with flying colours, and so Operation Riesenbeck began.
Pete’s journey to Riesenbeck was made a bit longer by paperwork delays and the increased travel time meant he wasn’t at his spritely best on arrival but, thanks to the care of groom Francesca Gorni and team vet Andre Buthe, he was quicky back on form. Then, little Issabella also became poorly with a high temperature, giving Charlotte and partner Dean a sleepless night. It might not have been the perfect start to a championship but, by yesterday, things had fallen back into place ready for when it mattered most.
Since having Isabella, a calm has fallen over Charlotte – her motivations are different, as is her outlook, and she had a laugh and joke with the British support team as they prepared her and Pete for the ring. She entered the main arena looking relaxed, but still with the steely Dujardin determination we all know. A super halt to get the test underway was followed by a majestic – but not over produced-extended – trot. The half passes were elastic with good reach, which the judges gave an average of 8.7, and the halt to rein-back was well presented. Pete has a flair for piaffe and passage, and it was clear that Charlotte had been working hard on this since Aachen because what had been good then had become superb – regular, effortless and controlled. The eights and nines were flowing from the judges.
The walk section showed fair relaxation and she got a good transition into passage. The next piaffe showed tremendous ‘sit’ with regular steps and was absolutely on point, without a hint of forward travel. The two-time flying changes were joyous to watch and Charlotte really opened up the gelding for the extended canter, his large stride eating up the arena. The zig-zag was mistake-free and the line of one-time changes was incredibly expressive. The canter pirouettes were a hightlight, with the second to the right getting an average of 9.2 from the judges.
There was a final flourish across the long diagonal in extended trot before it was time to turn down the centerline. The final piaffe was almost foot-perfect, and the last halt tidy. The visible sigh of relief from both horse and rider was followed by an eruption from the crowd in reward for what they’d just watched. Charlotte left the arena visibly moved by the performance – her chestnut powerhouse has given his all for her. The final score was given as 82.422%, giving the lead to Charlotte and, importantly, the team and also marking a new personal best for Pete by nearly 2%.
Lottie Fry and Glamourdale
After three riders gone for each nation, Britain had the ascendency by a near six percent margin but, with a final rotation featuring some of dressage’s stellar scorers, the gold medal wasn’t a given by any means – it would be a tough fight to the end.
The crunch point came when it was the turn of world number ones Jessica von Bredow-Werndl and TSF Dalera BB for Germany. This was the long-awaited Dalera-Glamourdale stand off that so many had been desperately waiting for – two dressage heavyweights, ready to do battle in the arena. Dalera is fleet-footed and almost glides above the surface with effortless grace, and she and Jessica know each other inside and out. They started brightly, but were trending just below Charlotte and Pete. As the test progressed, their marks crept up and up and, eventually, as they completed their centreline, surpassed Charlotte’s total to end on 84.612% – a little over two percent more than Charlotte to claw back some of Britain’s cushion. Next up was Nanna Skodborg Merrald and Blue Hors Zepter for Denmark, who’s chance at gold had all but petered away but were looking to consolidate bronze. Nana and Zepter’s 78.556% did just that.
So, it was all down to World Champion Lottie Fry with Van Olst Horse’s Glamourdale. Many in the audience had taken to their phones to calculate what score was needed to hold onto gold. The answer was 78.712% – a big score, but more than within the combination’s capabilities.
Lottie cantered down the centreline with her ‘game face’ on – away from the arena, she’s bright, bubbly and always smiling but, once in the saddle, her competitive side takes over. With steely eyed focus, she and Glamourdale approached the judge at C, halted with a salute, then set off into an extended trot that ate up the ground with elegant ease. Lottie rounded the top of the arena, using the corner to almost slingshot the stallion into half-pass, then neatly right with a change of bend.
The piaffe/passage work, which is has noticeably improved since the World Championships last year, didn’t disappoint. There was pleasing stretch in the extended walk but, at this point, where Lottie had been trending above Jessica’s score, the marks began to draw closer. Glamourdale’s show piece is his canter tour and the two-time flying changer bounded across the arena with great expression – they were straight and clean. While it was apparent the stallion wasn’t quite fully focused on his task and rider, Lottie still rode every movement for a 10, as is her way. The extended canter was as breathtaking as always, and the zig-zag well-presented and executed. A clean line of one-time changes gave a sense of relief for onlookers and marks from the judges – the scores were about level. The pirouettes were tight and powerful in both directions, and the final extended trot a masterpiece.
As they came down the final centreline, ‘Glammy’ began to distracted again – the final piaffe faltered, but Lottie did her utmost to urge him on for one final push to the finish line. They halted and saluted, and Lottie’s game face finally slipped as she gave Glammy a huge pat. It was a huge performance, but could it secure a first team gold medal since London 2012. The marks from each judge were read out and the final score of 81.258% followed. Although not enough to get ahead of Jessica and team mates Charlotte and Pete, it was still a new personal best score and third overall for the duo. Most importantly, though, it was enough for that coveted team gold medal.
“Glammy is completely amazing and very special,” beamed Lottie. “Of course, I knew he was capable of taking us to gold, but we also need four of us on the team and four amazing horses. He felt amazing in there. He had a few small distractions, some noises from outside causing some tension, which is a shame, but it’s still a personal best score. We’ve improved on a lot of things from last year and I’m excited to get back out there this weekend.
“He went in there to a lot of applause, which was a bit distracting in the beginning, but in my rein-back I think he could hear something in the VIP area that caught his attention, which is a shame because it’s usually a good movement for him. Then, there were just a few little distractions, I could feel him just looking at things outside the arena, which isn’t normally like him. There were a few miscommunications, but I think a lot of it has improved so much and we were still able to get a personal best today. There were still so many amazing things in the test.
“It’s so special to win the team gold, especially with the team we’ve got here. We’ve done so many championships together as a team, and now we get gold at the Europeans. It’s really exciting and a very special feeling. I’m really excited about the next couple of days, especially now I’ve been in there once. I think I gave him a really good ride and a great feeling, so it will be exciting to get back in there, for sure,” she explained.
Britain first claimed the European gold at the FEI European Championships in Rotterdam in 2011, before going on to win a historic Olympic team gold at London 2012, so today’s achievement puts us in good stead to repeat that feat. Paris here we come!
Taking the three best scores form each nation, the final team scores were:
Gold – Great Britain, 242.220
Silver – Germany, 239.674
Bronze – Denmark, 228.727
4th – Sweden, 221.522
5th – The Netherlands, 218.603
6th – France, 216.770
7th – Austria, 216.119
8th – Belgium, 214.582
9th – Spain, 213.727
10th – Portugal, 210.249
The three Paris Olympic qualification places go to Austria, Belgium and Spain – congratulations.
Proud Performance Manager Caroline Griffth reflected on the team gold; “I am absolutely thrilled and euphoric. You know, this team has been building towards this for so long. We’ve set targets for ourselves and for each individual combination throughout the years and building up to this, and when you see the riding and the tests they produce, it is phenomenal.
“They support each other so very well. I can’t tell you, as a team they are super to work with, as are the much wider team we have – the support staff, the grooms and people that work behind the scenes. We all know each other very well and that’s what gels together and, when you see it come together, it’s amazing.
“We’ve definitely got Paris on our mind – that’s on our radar and that’s what we’re doing. This is part of that bigger plan. I’d also actually just like to say thank you to the organisers and the committee here, it’s been super facilities and that’s allowed these horses to shine,” she said.
Para dressage team competition
Georgia Wilson and Sakura – Grade 2
Buoyed by their silver medal performance in the individual test and the rest day that followed, Georgia Wilson and the chestnut Sakura, who she owns with parents Geoff and Julie, were raring to get back in the arena in a bid to improve on Tuesday’s score. The Grand Prix B test is the one which suits the duo best, so hopes were high. The final rider to go in the class, they had a score of 77.567% to beat, set by the gold medallist in their first meeting earlier in the week – Germany’s Heidemarie Dresing and Horse24 Dooloop.
Georgia and ‘Suki’ got off to a lovely start with a straight entry to a square halt. With a smooth transition into a forward, rhythmical trot, it was clear that Suki was tuned into her rider and together they meant business. They had a slight loss of rhythm in the medium walk across the diagonal, but Georgia was quick to regain the pace. The halt wasn’t quite square with one hind leg just trailing, but the required immobility was there.
The right leg-yield was on point, and the transitions crisp and neat. The leg-yield to the left was also good with strong steps. Georgia used her corner well to set up for the medium trot across the diagonal, which demonstrated a clear difference in pace. Every movement had a active rhythm, but never pushed out of what was natural. A super final halt brought what had been a superb performance to an end, then it was plenty of pats for Suki while Georgia’s characteristic smile lit up the arena.
There was an expectant wait for the score – it was a grand performance, but what would the tally be for the team? The final confirmed mark was 74.169% – just off their personal best, but a perfect start for the team and second overall, which bodes well for Saturday’s Freestyle.
“It was very hot out there, but I was really pleased with Suki and apparently two out of three halts were square, so I’ve gotten better!” said a delighted Georgia. “I’ve only got two in the freestyle, so hopefully I’ll get them both!”, she quipped.
“Suki hasn’t got the most uphill trot like some of the other horses have, so we’ve worked really hard on trying to get that trot a bit more expressive for the mediums. I was really happy with my trot work and she’s feeling much more of a powerful horse now. This test suits her more than the Grand Prix A because it’s not as stop-starty, so it’s much more flowing.
“I was quite nervous today because I really wanted to get a better score for the team, so I’m happy I did that. When we started at the start of the year, I got 67% in February, so to get a PB in my individual here is great. Nicky [Lickley, coach] has helped me, picked me up from the start of the year, so I’m really grateful,” she finished.
Gabriella Blake and Strong Beau, Grade 1
Coming to your first championship is a huge undertaking for any athlete – new experiences, a different type of pressure, extreme apprehension – it can take its toll. But it would appear that Gabriella ‘Gabby’ Blake is relishing her new-found status. Like Georgia, she had a good first ride – and won her first medal – for a huge shot of confidence, and was looking to better that performance during her second time in front of the judging panel.
Once again, her gleaming grey partner, the Irish Sport Horse cross Connemara Strong Beau, proudly marched down the centreline with his rider and it was clear that they were here with a purpose. This is a test which calls for accuracy because there are plenty of turns and circles. From the start, the walk showed excellent forward movement and you could see Gabby looking at every turn, visualising the perfect line and then guiding ‘Beau’ to follow her planned route – and he was intently following her every command, with his cheery nature and expression winning over the crowd and, importantly, the judges.
As they came across the arena and into the halt at X, Gabby momentarily lost Beau’s attention and he fidgeted, which resulted in the only blip to an otherwise pleasing performance. They were quickly back into their rhythm, though, with the mistake behind them. The free walk showed a fair stretch and good stride length, and the last centre line was a super final flourish that ended with a good halt. It was a performance that oozed new-found confidence, but would that reflect in the score? The final percentage was 74.417% – so very close to a new personal best but, importantly, another +74% score towards the team tally.
“It was absolutely amazing, I don’t think he’s ever given me a ride like that ever! He was completely with me. I can’t ask for more. I’ve been struggling with getting the left bend – that would be my worst thing for a few years now, but today I nailed it. I’m not sure what happened in the halt, maybe he wanted to correct himself. I’m really happy with that – delighted! I’m ready for the freestyle and have something good planned! I’ll be rooting for Sophie and Charlotte tomorrow and see what happens!” said Gabby.
As the dust settles on the dressage team competition, all eyes must now turn to the battle for individual honours. The Grand Prix Special gets underway tomorrow, featuring the top 30 combinations after the Grand Prix. All four of Britain’s combinations will be in the mix:
- Gareth Hughes and Classic Briolinca – 14:00 (13:00 BST)
- Lottie Fry and Glamourdale – 16:00 (15:00 BST)
- Charlotte Dujardin and Imhotep – 16:20 (15:20 BST)
- Carl Hester and Fame – 16:30 (15:30 BST)
Over in the para dressage arena, there are still team medals to be awarded. After a great start today thanks to Georgia and Gabby, it’s now the turn of our two Grade 5 combinations to add their scores to Britain’s tally:
- Charlotte Cundall and FJ Veyron – 10:54 (09:54 BST)
- Sophie Wells and LJT Egebjerggards Samoa – 11:39 (10:39 BST)
Running orders and results are available from Longines Equestrian Timing.
The funding that the British Equestrian World Class Programme receives from the National Lottery and UK Sport is pivotal in preparing our teams for senior championships and supporting them on the ground.
British Equestrian is also extremely grateful for the support we enjoy from our partners – Bates Saddles, Dodson & Horrell, Fairfax & Favor, NAF, SEIB and Toggi – and team suppliers – Equi-Trek, Horseware, Lotus Romeo, Marksway Horsehage and Point Two. We’re indebted for the year-round support they provide to the World Class Programme and British teams.