It was yet another momentous day for British dressage as the Olympic, World and European champion, Charlotte Dujardin, defended her Grand Prix Special title – and with it gained a European Championship record – after posting a huge 87.577% with her dancing partner Valegro, owned by Mrs Roly Luard, Mrs Anne Barrott and Carl Hester, at the FEI European Championships in Aachen, Germany (15 August 2015).
There was even more reason to celebrate as three of Britain’s team members will ride again, taking to the Aachen stadium for the final day of the competition, to compete in the Grand Prix Freestyle tomorrow.
The Individual Grand Prix Special got underway this morning with Worcestershire’s Michael Eilberg first into the arena for Great Britain. With Ferdi Eilberg’s Marakov the duo showcased some lovely work, with some great scores given in the passage and piaffe but were unfortunate to encounter a few mistakes in the one time changes, to be awarded a score of 69.930%.
Michael commented after his ride; “I’m a little bit annoyed about those mistakes; again he’s looking so good and everything he’s doing – his way of going, his physique – he’s coping in their fantastically and felt even better in there today than in the Grand Prix. But those mistakes just potentially knock him off what he could get, so I’m chuffed with the horse but a little bit annoyed about the mistakes.
“The one time changes are a bit tricky for him, but the rest of it feels fantastic, the horse feels like a proper piaffe, passage machine – I don’t have to do anything I just sit there. We’ve [the team] had a great week, the team has done fantastically and bringing back the silver medal is already a joy and today was for personal achievement, and I’m not going to go away unhappy.”
Next into the stadium was West Sussex based Fiona Bigwood aboard the very talented ten year old Atterupgaards Orthilia, owned by her mother Penny Bigwood. After riding in only her sixth international with Tillie in Wednesday’s Grand Prix, the talented duo produced yet another stunning test as a downpour descended. With highlights coming through the collected trot and passage, Fiona and Tillie were rewarded with a score of 74.510%.
Fiona said afterwards; “The water was pouring off us! She was a bit nervous of the photographers in their plastic coats but I can’t fault that mare. She went in there in her first year of Grand Prix and gave me that. I’ve had a great week; it’s such a good team.”
Carl Hester headed straight into the arena to compete, just as Fiona came out. Aboard Miss Jane de la Mare’s talented eleven year old Nip Tuck, with whom he partnered at the World Equestrian Games last year, the maestro produced the most special of tests. The duo didn’t put a foot wrong during the eight-minute test, with the proof of the pudding coming from Carl’s beaming smile upon his final halt and a score of 77.003%.
Commenting after Charlotte’s test Carl said; “That’s my gold medal in the bag for me; if someone could make me a little one out of plastic I’d feel like I had the real thing! He [Nip Tuck] was brilliant; for such a big horse I have to be able to make quite a lot of adjustments to keep him balanced.
“He absolutely did everything I asked. I love riding him; he has the perfect balance that you want in a dressage horse; he wants to go, he really wants to work, he is a little bit nervous and he’s on my side. I have such a great relationship with him and it just keeps growing.
“I’m smiling from ear to ear; it’s like having a pack of fruit pastilles all in one go! He’s come a long way and it’s very exciting for me for next year. Charlotte was great; I can relax now as well! She rode beautifully in there.”
Charlotte and her wonder horse Valegro were the last British combination to head into the arena, with three riders left to go. They were greeted not only by the 27,000 strong crowd but also the score of Germany’s Kristina Broring-Sprehe (Desperados FRH) who had thrown down the gauntlet with the first +80% of the day (83.067%).
The Gloucestershire based partners produced yet another stunning test, with a total of 28 ten’s awarded, the high marks really shone through in the extended trot and their two time changes. With the crowd showing their appreciation, there was an excited buzz in the air as a score of 87.577% was awarded to take them into first place.
With riders still to go, it was a nail-biting conclusion but the title was confirmed after The Netherlands’ Hans Peter Minderhoud (Glock’s Johnson TN) posted 79.034% and Edward Gal was eliminated. The Gold was Charlotte’s with the hosts Kristina Broring-Sprehe taking the Silver and Hans Peter Minderhoud the Bronze. Carl Hester and Nip Tuck finished fifth, with Fiona Bigwood and Atterupgaards Orthilia ninth and Michael Eilberg and Marakov nineteenth.
“I wasn’t so happy with myself after Thursday, I wanted to come in and do better today,” Charlotte said, “Valegro felt on top form outside and it was such an amazing feeling to know that I could go in there and ask for that today. I saw Kristina’s score when I went in but it doesn’t make me afraid it makes me fight harder. I’m really, really happy with my performance and Valegro tried really hard; I had a good ride from start to finish.”
“It’s tough with a German crowd; they really get behind their riders - a bit like we had in London,” Charlotte added; “Coming here and doing it is amazing; the crowd are fantastic and know what they’re watching. It’s such a great feeling to come out and know that they appreciate what they’re seeing and applauding what I’ve done. It’s tough; but I have to remember that this is my passion and what I love and that’s how I keep the nerves from kicking in. I know I have to go in there nail it and do my best but today, I really did enjoy it.”
Charlotte, Carl and Fiona will all go forward to compete in tomorrow’s Grand Prix Freestyle, which sees the top fifteen combinations battle it out for the second Individual title. The competition gets underway at 12.30pm (BST); fans can watch all the action via the BBC Red Button and Online, with coverage available to view on BBC 2 from 2.50pm (BST). Full coverage details at: www.equestrianteamgbr.co.uk/news/european-tv-schedule/
Equestrian Team GBR is supported by the UK Sport National Lottery funded World Class Programme; the British teams are very grateful to the support they receive from official Team GBR suppliers Dodson & Horrell, Equi-Trek, Land Rover, NAF, NuuMed, Point Two Equine, Tagg Equestrian and Toggi.