It says everything about how far British dressage has travelled in recent times that a tinge of disappointment accompanied the team silver-medal success at the FEI European Championships at Aachen on Thursday.
Barely 20 years ago, Emile Faurie won Great Britain’s first European dressage medal of any description when he clinched individual bronze and also joined team-mates Richard Davison, Laura Fry and Maria Eilberg in securing a podium finish at the same event. Then it was another 10 years before the next one came along — a team medal at Hickstead thanks to the combined efforts of Faurie, Davison, Emma Hindle and Nicole McGivern.
Starting at Windsor Castle in 2009, though, and across four successive European Championships, British dressage has gone from a relative medal drought to showers of success, with four team and six individual gongs being collected, including three gold.
Much of that success, of course, is down to Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro — the greatest combination dressage has ever seen, and one that currently has Olympic, World and European individual crowns in their collection, plus grand prix, grand prix special and freestyle world records — and the evergreen, ultra-consistent Carl Hester, who does so much for dressage in Britain on top of his outstanding riding.
Dujardin and Hester are rightly lauded as pillars of the team, but there is considerable strength and depth underlined by riders like Laura Tomlinson (née Bechtolsheimer), Michael Eilberg and this week’s star of the show in Aachen, Fiona Bigwood. A year away from Rio, where Great Britain will defend the Olympic team title, prospects are bright.
“This result has proved the depth that we still carry,” said Hester, after Britain finished just 1.4% behind Holland following two days of intense competition in Aachen’s main stadium.
“The best thing for us is how long we have been winning medals now, and with very different people. We’ve had people coming and going on and off the team, so that is exciting because it shows there can be change and we can still be successful.
“Gold definitely was our aim, and it was nearly there. It is disappointing on one hand, as gold is always the dream, but silver is fantastic and it just means our funding continues and the inspiration continues.
“Due to the fact that we were so close to the gold, it will really make me push to the gold next year in Rio. We are in a great position, and with Fiona’s horse clearly having a fantastic future, it is a great way to be heading into next year.”
GB chef d’equipe Richard Waywood also underscored the feel-good factor, adding: “What a fantastic day for the sport. It was very exciting right up until the end, and we’re very proud of all our riders. We have got some great potential for next year, and it’s going to make the Olympics very exciting.
“Looking forward to Rio, that is the ultimate goal. This week has been a fantastic opportunity for someone like Fiona to come out and shine, and she came out and did that. There is plenty more to come.
“We have not plateaued, and things are looking very exciting for us. We’ve got the horses and we really have got strength in depth, which is a wonderful position to be in. We will be going to Rio with a competitive team, and we are still on that upward curve.”
Watch a summary of the team dressage competition at Aachen.
Image: Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro perform their test at Aachen by Hippo Foto – Dirk Caremans, courtesy of the FEI