Tonight, the Blue Hors FEI Dressage World Championship reached its stunning finale – the Grand Prix Freestyle test to music. With a team silver already in the bag and an individual gold for Lottie Fry and Glamourdale in the Grand Prix Special, could any more medals be added to the Brits’ championship tally?
Gareth Hughes and Classic Briolinca
The first British duo under the bright lights of the Stutteri Ask Stadium and its rocking 11,000 strong crowd was Gareth Hughes with the simply stunning Classic Briolinca, owned by Julia Horning and Gareth, Rebecca and Ruby Hughes. Indeed, it was Rebecca who spotted the star potential in the then three-year-old Trento B x Royal Dance mare, while on a horse shopping expedition to the Netherlands.
Gareth and Briolinca impressed on their last championship appearance at the FEI European Championships at Rotterdam in 2019, where a top-10 freestyle finish cemented the duo’s credentials as a world-leading combination. Armed with a new floorplan and music to match, they were ready to take on the world as the unmistakable sound of Madonna echoed throughout the stadium.
The floor plan made perfect use of the mare’s party pieces – piaffe/passage work, canter pirouettes, which one judge gave a ten for, and secure tempi changes set to perfectly matched music. It was the princess of dressage perfectly paired with the princess of pop! The test was a joy to behold, epitomising the concept of partnership and harmony. As was the case in Sunday’s Grand Prix, the crowd clapped them down the centreline, but tonight was dancing night and so it added to the party atmosphere – albeit at the expense of a final halt. It was good – but how good? Previously, their personal best sat at a smidge over 80% but, tonight, that was blown out of the water with the performance of the duo’s lifetime – 84.043%, which gave them the lead.
“That’s a pretty special arena. How often do you get to ride in front of that many people? Such an enthusiastic crowd, the size, the scope, it’s amazing – these are dreams,” exclaimed Gareth.
He went on to detail his music, which can been compiled by Tom Hunt. “This is a new one. It’s Madonna, and we thought it would suit her. That’s actually the first time I’ve ridden through the whole floor plan. I’ve been watching it on my phone – you always put this music together, but until you ride through it, you don’t really know how it feels, but also doing it at home and then going into an arena like that? It’s really different, but that was a lot of fun and I felt it really suited her.
“I actually was smiling. This is her third competition this year, we’re just building her up. She’s 16 and I want another couple years out of her, so we’re being careful. She’s just come out and she just amazes me.
“She’s got so much heart. She holds a lot of tension but, now that she’s experienced, I can really feel her when she goes tight. She tries so hard not to make a mistake – in the second piaffe, I heard the crowd and she wobbled a little bit, but she always comes back to me. What makes a Grand Prix horse? A horse that lets you train it to Grand Prix. What makes a good Grand Prix horse? A horse with heart.
“I think I can still be better, but she’s just amazing. She holds herself so well, so we’ll aim for the Euros next year and then Paris.
‘’It’s really special when you do well as an individual. I’ve come here and got better results than I was hoping for – the Grand Prix was great, the Special was great, the freestyle has been unbelievable. Briolina has done more than I could have ever dreamed. We also have a great team, the team mates – Carl’s come out as well, it makes it all so much more special,” he finished.
Charlotte Dujardin and Imhotep
It was then the turn of current World Freestyle Champion, Charlotte Dujardin – a title she’s held for a prolonged period, having won with the legend Valegro at Caen in 2014, then having the chance to defend it four years later stolen by the arrival of Hurricane Florence at Tryon, which lead to the final day being cancelled. This time around, it was her new kid on the block, Imhotep, owned by Coral Ingham and Carl Hester, who would be taking on the world’s elite.
At just nine, the Everdale-sired chestnut is one of the youngest in the field, but he’s impressed this week with his clear potential and hunger for work. However, tonight’s test would be a different matter because he’d never actually contested a freestyle in his career. Indeed, a Facebook post today by Carl’s former stable jockey, Sadie Smith, who did a first class job in giving the horse his grounding, reminded us that on this day three year’s ago, young ‘Pete’ had just won the Elementary Regional Championships with her. In the time since Charlotte took over the reins, however, he’s gone from raw youngster to a polished performer.
Charlotte had kept everyone waiting on what music she’d ride to, but when the notes began to play it was instantly recognisable as her Tokyo Freestyle score, which helped her secure an Olympic bronze with former chestnut partner, Gio. Ever the performer, Charlotte held Pete’s hand as she guided him through the routine, but the gelding was not always sure of just what was to come next. Still, there was plenty of quality in his work, positive outlook and willingness to please, but some of the technicality couldn’t quite match the artistry. The final score was 83.132% – a mammoth tally for a debut Freestyle – and there was no disappointment shown by his rider, only praise for what the youngster had given.
“I’m so happy with Pete. That is the first time I’ve ever done that on him – he’s never done a Grand Prix Freestyle, so to have gone out there tonight and done it with that test, I’m absolutely delighted with him. He’s nine years old, this is his fourth Grand Prix, his first ever Special, and he’s done absolutely amazing this week and I couldn’t have asked any more from him,” Charlotte enthused.
“He has taken everything in his stride, he’s gone beyond what I thought he could have done here. He’s dealt with the atmosphere and the crowd amazingly – when I go in, they all applaud and he stays very calm. He’s never been in that environment before, so I’m absolutely thrilled with him.
“He’s just got better and better – even just here at this show, he’s felt more and more relaxed. It’s been an absolute please, and it’s been a great experience here and he’s learned a lot, and this time next year he’s going to be like a different horse.
“He’s an incredibly talented horse. I love the horse to bits and I think he’s going to be a superstar, absolutely,” she said. We know Charlotte has a talent for these things, so few would doubt her prediction.
Lottie Fry and Glamourdale
It was then the turn of our golden duo, Charlotte ‘Lottie’ Fry and the Van Olst’s goosebump-inducing black Lord Leatherdale x Negro stallion, Glamourdale. Lottie and ‘Glammy’ have captivated the Herning crowds this week and they were expectant for what was to come. Lottie had put out several social media teasers on what her new Joost Peters-masterminded music entailed, but it did little to prepare us for just how special it was.
Brian May’s rock rendition of God Save the Queen got us underway as the pair passaged to halt, then it was out again in perfect synchronicity to Queen’s ‘Another One Bites The Dust’. A complicated floorplan had been ideally crafted to showcase all of Glammy’s party piece moves – Robbie Williams’ ‘Let Me Entertain You’ was set to the breathtaking extended trot, which merged into Millennium for the extended canter, then Genesis’ ‘Land of Confusion’ made an appearance for further canter work. The pesky pirouettes were nailed against another Robbie track, ‘She’s The One’. Then, the Verve’s ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ was used for the two-time tempis, while – of course, we had to – the Beatles’ ‘Hey Jude’ set the tempo for the one-time changes. A clever passage tour to God Save the Queen had the stadium crowd clapping in time, followed by a standing ovation after the final salute.
The audience knew they’d witnessed something truly special – and the birth of a new freestyle queen. It was a captivating routine that used the best of British music as the background to a floorplan of maximum difficulty, expertly executed by a young, almost precocious, pairing who blew everyone away with their power, personality and presence. They’d been trending in the high 80s throughout, based on the technical marks, but where would the artistic scores land them? The answer – a whopping 90.654%. A total of 24 10s were awarded across the seven judges, and each one was fully warranted.
“It’s absolutely incredible, like unbelievable,” gushed Lottie. “I just had the best feeling in there I’ve ever had. I had so much fun and he had so much fun and we literally just loving it the whole way round. It’s just a really nice, relaxed feeling the crowd seriously amazing. Glamourdale went in there and knew what he had to do and he could feel the atmosphere. If there’s a lot of crowd, he’s going to show off even more – I can just sit there, it felt so easy and he was just bouncing through his music.”
“I didn’t dare to imagine this. I know everything is possible with Glamourdale – he is the best horse in the world, but to be able to show off what he did tonight is amazing. I guess there is more pressure today, but I love the music and he loved the music, and my main thing was I wanted us both to enjoy it. Hopefully, this is just the beginning – it’s his first major championships, and I think the next few years will be really exciting for him. Getting a +90% is something all my idols do, and I didn’t expect to do it,” she reflected.
“I was loving every second – as soon as the music started, I could hear the crowd. Some were even singing along to it, it was just the most incredible feeling. I could really sit up and relax and he was enjoying it, and it was just the most amazing feeling in the world. I picked the lines to show off his incredible extended canter, but there is so much, it took weeks to get a floorplan to fit inside the time because I wanted to do a 10-minute freestyle, and that’s just not possible. It really captured all his amazing points. I’m speechless about the music. We knew we wanted a special British theme and he’s heard these songs at stallion shows before, so he basically picked them out for me. He really danced to it tonight.
“What Glamourdale did was just out of this world, I was loving every second,” she said. At least 11,000 others loved every second too, and the millions watching from all over the world, too.
Waiting for the final results
Two competitors remained and they were Lottie’s biggest medal rivals. Dutch duo Dinja van Liere and Hermes have seriously impressed this week and were leaders on day one of the Grand Prix test. A bronze in the Grand Prix Special cemented their credentials as potential prize winners. They put up a spirited performance, which Dinja said felt more controlled, to score 86.900% to go second behind Lottie.
It was then the turn of the host nation’s dressage darling, Cathrine Laudrup-Dufor with Sarah Pidgely’s uber-talented 10-year-old, Vamos Amigos – the favourite of many to take the freestyle gold heading into the championships. Their Les Misérables-inspired score was impressive and correct – the judges really rewarded the artistic elements of the performance. It was going to be close as Lottie waited expectantly for the score in the media mixed zone with her dad, Simon. The announcer gave out each judge’s score and some were over 90% – it was agonizingly close, but 89.411% was the final average percentage. A second world championship gold belonged to the petite, unassuming Yorkshire rider.
There were few dry eyes in the house as she climbed the podium to take her medal, but the tears of joy quickly turned to laughter as she was soaked with champagne spray by Cathrine and Dinja because, in her youthful inexperience, Lottie struggled to open her bottle of fizz! So, Britain has a new Freestyle World Champion, one of the sport’s most coveted prizes.
Britain’s dressage quartet end a very successful week – Olympic qualification secured, a team silver and Lottie taking double gold. With a team of young horses coupled with low milage established rides and some of the most talented riders around, Paris can’t come soon enough.
Check out all the scores from today by visiting our online Herning Hub.