Charlotte Dujardin put her Aachen demons behind her to retain the European grand prix special title on Saturday after an emphatic gold-medal performance.
The world number one suffered a rare defeat in Aachen last year, and her display on Valegro in Thursday’s team competition was slightly below-par — but they made amends spectacularly.
Their score of 87.577% was just short of the grand-prix-special world record they set in Hagen more than three years ago, but it set much too hot a pace for the rest to handle.
Germany’s Kristina Broring-Sprehe, riding Desperados FRH, took the silver medal on 83.067%, while Holland’s Hans Peter Minderhoud claimed bronze aboard Glock’s Johnson. His team-mate Edward Gal was eliminated with Glock’s Undercover and Swedish star Patrik Kittel retired, meaning both riders are out of Sunday’s freestyle final, when Dujardin will be joined by her British colleagues Carl Hester and Fiona Bigwood.
Hester, riding the richly-promising Nip Tuck, finished fifth, while Bigwood filled ninth spot on Atterupgaards Orthilia, but Michael Eilberg and Marakov bowed out in 19th spot.
There will, though, be no European showdown between Valegro and former world record-breaking stallion Totilas after the ride of Germany’s Matthias Rath was withdrawn prior to the grand prix special.
Dujardin said: “On Thursday, I think I was maybe a little too laid-back and just rode for a clear round. But today, because of my mistakes, I thought ‘right, I’m sick of this,’ and I wanted to go in and better my performance as I know Valegro can do much better than that.
“Last year, coming here wasn’t that great. It’s not a place I get the nicest vibes from, should I say. Today he felt on great form, and I knew I just had to go in and ride him. 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. Coming here and doing it is amazing. The crowd are fantastic and know what they’re watching, and it’s such a great feeling to come out and know that they appreciate what they are 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.”
While 30-year-old Dujardin added another title to her enviable collection, Hester’s score of 77.003% on Nip Tuck served further notice that this is a combination with serious designs on next year’s Rio Olympics, and Hester was suitably thrilled.
“That’s my gold medal in the bag for me,” he said, reflecting on Nip Tuck’s fine showing. “If someone could make me a little one out of plastic, I would feel like I had the real thing!
“He 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, and 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 am smiling from ear to ear — it’s like having a pack of fruit pastilles all in one go! For me, it was amazing. I mean, he’s never going to beat Valegro, but he’s ended up fifth in a European Championships, which is just great. I am so proud to bring it out of him, and he offers it. It’s a great moment for me today.”
Hester, meanwhile, also paid tribute to Dujardin, whose imperious major championship record features Olympic, World and European crowns, plus all three dressage world records — grand prix, grand prix special and freestyle — currently being in her possession.
“I am really happy for Charlotte,” he added. “I want people to love the horse (Valegro) as we love him at home. Today, he was back at his best. The weather suited him more, as it was a bit cooler. He loves the atmosphere, and today he was back to full power.
“Charlotte is happy, and I am relieved that she has put her Aachen demons to bed.”
Watch an interview with Charlotte Dujardin:
Main image: Charlotte Dujardin by FEI / Arnd Bronkhorst / Pool Pic